After a one-year dip, home runs are back in a big way in the first month of the major-league season — so big that questions once again are being raised about the aerodynamics of the balls.
Through Sunday, hitters had slugged 1.33 homers per team per game. That’s even higher than the 1.26 per team per game that resulted in a record 6,105 homers in 2017.
The Cubs have contributed to the rise, but the White Sox are homering at about the same rate as last season.
Led by Javy Baez with nine and Willson Contreras with seven, the Cubs have 38 homers in 26 games, 1.46 per game. That’s after they hit 25 in 26 games last March/April for .96 per game.
On the South Side, the leaders have been Yoan Moncada with six and Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu with five each. The Sox have 33 homers in 25 games, 1.32 per game. Last March/April, they hit 34 in 26 games, 1.31 per game.
Last year, Major League Baseball acknowledged the ball had contributed to a homer spike. A committee headed by Alan Nathan, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois, found a reduced drag coefficient on baseballs starting in 2015. MLB planned to continue research.
There were 520 fewer homers in 2018 than in 2017, but there wasn’t exactly a power outage. The 1.15 average was the fourth-highest in MLB history.
We’re seeing another great leap forward in 2019, and we haven’t even reached the summer heat. Home-run rates usually are lower in the March/April cold than they are later in the season.
When hitters smashed the homer record two years ago, the March/April average was 1.17 per team per game. Over the rest of the season, it was 1.27.
There are no guarantees we’ll see a similar leap into summer this season. There might just be some random fluctuation at work. Balls with higher drag coefficients might be put into play. The wind might blow in every day at Wrigley Field.
But that homers are already on a record pace at least sends out a flying-baseballs alert.
A few other notes from early-season trends:
• Walks and strikeouts continue their yearly increase. Strikeouts are at 8.88 per team per game after 8.48 in 2018. The MLB strikeout record has increased every year since 2008, when it stood at 6.77.
Walks are up to 3.49 per team per game after 3.23 last season. If it holds up, it would be the highest walk rate since 3.75 in 1999.
• Batting average is .246 after the .248 last season was MLB’s lowest since .244 in 1972.
• Non-homer hits are down to 6.98 per team per game after 7.29 last season.
• Nevertheless, scoring is at 4.67 runs per team per game, up from 4.45 last season and, if it holds up, the highest average since 4.80 in 2008. Chalk it up to the explosion in homers.