Biogenesis has been a distraction: the players aren't juicing, it's Rawlings! Stop the presses and get out the asterisks, because this just got serious like a sharknado.
That's what I WANTED to say. I look around Fantasy league numbers, stat charts, and MLB leaderboards and see bombs piling up like the Cold War. I will admit outright to you that I'm not a very experienced statistician, but the homerun is a pretty straightforward one that I felt like I could tackle. I kept asking myself the same question: why are so many balls leaving the stadium in 2013? So I decided to look into the numbers, and found mixed results.
We know from history that the design of the baseball can wildly impact the speed of the game. The "Dead-ball Era", an aptly-named 20 or so years at the turn of the century, proved that the ball that is in play might possibly be the biggest factor in determining homeruns. An update to the equipment in the year 1919 saw this guy named George Herman Ruth, Jr hit 29 homeruns in a season, which was considered a big deal.
Sidenote: Ruth played for 22 seasons and hit 714 homers. His career began in 1914, so he spent half a decade playing with a ball that carried itself like a sloth, and STILL tore it up.
Back to 2013 -- what were we thinking about again? Baseballs in play for this year's season: are they different from last year? There's no direct evidence that says so in the form of a statement from manufacturer's or MLB executives.
I only think that they might be because, well, the professionals are just crushing. Let's look at the numbers.
In 2012, at the end of the regular season, MLB had six players with over 40 homeruns: Miguel Cabrera (44), Josh Hamilton (43), Curtis Granderson (43), Edwin Encarnacion (42), Adam Dunn (41), and Ryan Braun (41).
We're just a bit over halfway through 2013, and we have 14 players who have hit 20+ homeruns. There are seven players with 24 homeruns, and it is within reasonable doubt that those seven players could all continue their year and finish with 50. Not one guy hit 50 last year.
This was my main perspective. If all of these guys are suddenly finding themselves at the plate, at the same time, in the same season, then maybe there's something else in play. Rawlings could stitch the baseballs tighter, which would create less vibrations upon impact, resulting in less energy lost in the transfer from bat-to-ball, so the baseball would go further (or something science-y like that).
Makes sense, maybe? Well, there's some conflict in this argument. If the baseballs were juiced, we'd be seeing LONGER homeruns. ESPN's Home Run Tracker is a tool that can be used to measure such things. The 2012 average true distance, which is a number that is as it reads, was 393.8 feet for MLB. That number has risen by 3 feet (396.8) in 2013. A 1% jump in distance is negligible, and probably within ESPN's margin of error.
Additionally, 2013 has yet to feature a homerun with more distance than one hit in 2012. Mark Trumbo and Anthony Rizzo have both gone 475 feet deep this year, while Giancarlo Stanton mashed one 494 feet last year. 2012 is also featuring just slightly more homeruns per game at 2.18 vs 2.14 for this year (ESPN).
So, are players hitting more homeruns? Through 96 games, MLB has had 2,804 blasts. In 162 last year, there were 4934. It doesn't seem to be a big difference overall.
Case closed? All of the league leaders in homeruns are reputedly clean and in good standing with MLB's drug testing, and no quantifiable argument seems available through stats, so maybe. I could be missing something -- please point it out if I am -- but I'm gunna say this year we just have a lot of players figuring themselves out at the plate. One happens to play for my team, so I'm not going to complain.