Strikeouts are on the Rise in the MLB, but Home Runs are, too.

Strikeouts are on the rise in baseball, but so is the home run. In 2014 Major League Baseball hitters combined to hit 4,186 balls out of the park, marking the lowest total since 1993 – a time in which the MLB had two fewer teams.

With pitchers pitching at high velocities within an expanding strike zone, varying pitch selection, and going 5 to 7 innings before being replaced by fresh arms from the bullpen, rather than pitching complete games, it’s understandable that offense would decrease.

However, in 2015, things changed. The MLB saw a 17.3 percent increase (723 home runs) in home runs. The spike was not only unusual because of the downward trend that was being seen previously, but also because the MLB had not seen a spike like this since 1996 during the steroid era where home runs increased 21.6 percent. But steroids don’t seem to be the problem this time around. Instead, there’s not one explanation that explains why this is the case, rather it’s more likely to be a combination of factors.

As more players aim to hit the ball out of the park, their swings are changing, causing them to swing with more of an uppercut, rather than level. This allows for not only more home runs, but also more strikeouts, and players are increasingly more willing to strikeout if it means taking an opportunity to hit one over the fence.

Source: Baseball Reference

Source: Baseball Reference

Source: Baseball Reference

In terms of which side of the MLB is hitting more home runs, numbers from American League Parks show that AL hitters have hit the ball out of the park more often than the National League, which can be explained by the implementing of a designated hitter (DH) in place of the pitcher’s spot in the batting order. In 2016, DHs combined to produce 341 home runs. Home runs have also increased in parks due to fences being moved in.

Source: ESPN Hit Tracker

As the home run comes back into the mainstream of baseball, it is safe to assume that strikeouts will continue to rise, but whether this will affect the overall strategy of the game is still in question. For a game that is usually praised by a team’s ability to win using small ball, is the long ball going to become the focus of batters instead? As shown from the 2014 to 2015 season, trends change very quickly in baseball and only time will tell if the trend of home run power hitters lasts.

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