Early Season MLB Trends

Early Season MLB Trends

After a season in which Major League Baseball faced backlash for a “juiced ball” in 2017, the ball was mysteriously “un-juiced” in 2018 and scoring returned to normalized levels. However, some early season number suggest that the juiced ball may have made a return for the 2019 season.

Here are some numbers to consider through the first two weeks of games (numbers courtesy of Statcast via @FreezeStats on Twitter):

2017 (a perceived juiced ball)

  • 52.1% HR per Barrel
  • 31.1% Hard Contact Rate
  • 12.2% HR per Fly Ball

2018 (mysterious un-juiced ball)

  • 46.0% HR per Barrel
  • 32.5% Hard Contact Rate
  • 11.6% HR per Fly Ball

2019 (probably juiced again)

  • 56.7% HR per Barrel
  • 36.8% Hard Contact Rate
  • 14.2% HR per Fly Ball

The problem is that while the ball returned to its previous state in 2018, technology has continued to aid pitchers in throwing harder and with more spin than ever before. Pitchers have a distinct advantage compared to hitters when it comes to using modern technology to improve their effectiveness.

Any baseball fan will tell you that there has never been a harder time to hit in the history of the game dating back to the dead-ball era. Throwing near 100 miles per hour used to be an incredible feat. Now, if a guy can throw 100 it’s no big deal. So, you can’t blame the league if they decided hitters and fans needed a little extra juice in their lives. Everyone knows that “chicks dig the long ball,” and it’s likely that we have another juiced ball on our hands in 2019.

Everyone knows that “chicks dig the long ball,” and it’s likely that we have another juiced ball on our hands in 2019.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the ball has become more aerodynamic in 2019 compared to a season ago. Looking at drag coefficient, the ball is seeing less drag when flying through the air, which will lead it to fly further.

The new juiced ball was on display during Opening Day, which saw a record 48 home runs hit on the first day of games across MLB.

With a juiced ball, of course, you’d think that OVER would be more likely to hit than the UNDER in a given game. As of this writing, there have been 110 games that have gone over the total, compared to 99 games going under. That is a rate of 52.63 percent for overs and 47.37 percent for unders. While that may not seem significant, 52.63 percent is just barely enough to consistently make money betting on sports, and as the weather heats up, so should the scoring.

The sportsbooks are obviously aware of increased scoring and a possibly juiced ball, so it’s not as if totals are going to easily fly over the number. As the weather heats up though, it may take the books some time before they find the perfect medium in setting totals. Leaning towards the over early in the season may or may not be actionable. Honestly, I would have thought that overs were hitting more consistently than they have, but this is a trend worth watching throughout the year.

Another trend to monitor is home favorites. Through 129 games, home favorites have gone 78-51 straight up, good for a rate of 60.47 percent. Conversely though, when looking against the spread, which in baseball is always 1.5 runs, home favorites are just 56-77, hitting at 42.11 percent. Home dogs, on the other hand, have been very profitable. In the early going home dogs are 51-33, hitting at a rate of 60.71 percent.