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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What’s Behind Baseball’s Right-Handed Power Decline?

Although eight of the top 10 home run hitters in 2014 are right-handed, such success comes on the heels of some very fallow years, and it belies the larger trend. Only eight right-handed hitters reached 30 home runs in 2013, and only 36 hit 20 homers, both the fewest in a non-strike-shortened season since 1992. Only 11 righties posted a slugging percentage above .500 last year, also the fewest in any season since 1992. And even though the top of the current leaderboard is righty heavy, there’s been no appreciable change in the overall rate of right-handed home run hitting: The overall HR/AB and slugging numbers for righties in 2014 are only a modicum better than the 2013 figures, and they are still worse than 2011 and 2012.

“It’s hard to find power,” Braves general manager Frank Wren says, “and it’s really hard to find right-handed power in today’s game.”...

No one interviewed for this story is confident in a catchall answer to explain the decline, and the most common theory is that this is merely the natural ebb and flow.

“I’m sure we’ll get right-handed hitters back,” one AL scout says. “I’ve got to think it’s cyclical. This is the Bronze Age of right-handed hitters. There’ll be a Golden Age coming.”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 11, 2014 at 12:54 PM | 13 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: braves, right-handed power, scouting

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: June 11, 2014 at 05:30 PM (#4723606)
Strikeouts.

How bizarre? Did you know that b-r does not have the simple league split "as RHB" and "as LHB" under batting? They've got "vs. RHP as RHB" and LHP but not combined. Also "pulled/middle/opp" as RHB. Strange but then I guess this is the first time I've looked for it for like a decade.

Fortunately you can find the equivalent under pitching splits.

AL 2013, RHB hit 254/316/400 with .0295 HR/AB ... but also .2213 K/AB ... leading to .0379 HR/contact AB. (too lazy to adjust for SF)
AL 2008, HR/AB was .0286 ... that's already LOWER than 2013. HR/contact of .0351.
AL 2003, HR/AB was .0319 ... HR/contact of .0387
AL 1998, HR/AB was .0316 ... HR/contact of .0388

There is no power shortage. There is no power shortage among RHB, there is no power shortage among LHB. What there is is a ton of strikeouts.

Do folks not notice that guys like Brandon Hicks and Mike Olt are playing?

In the early 90s, batters started K'ing more. This was fine from their standpoint because they had even greater gains in terms of on-contact production. Quite massive changes really and this led to the sillyball era.

The new deadball era appears to be a function of the pitchers or the strike zone. K's are up but on-contact production has only maintained. Obviously if you swap contact ABs for Ks without an increase in on-contact production then you're decreasing the numerator while maintaining the denominator (or possibly even increasing it if BBs are down). Voila, lower overall rate stats while "hitting" exactly the same.
   2. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: June 11, 2014 at 06:29 PM (#4723626)
Why, it must be a vast leftist conspiracy, of course.
   3. Joey B.: posting for the kids of northeast Ohio Posted: June 11, 2014 at 07:26 PM (#4723652)
Hey look, it's another recitation of BBTF's First Catechism.

Sure, by all means let's go ahead and completely ignore the fact that teams are increasingly moving the fences in to appease their frustrated hitters.
   4. Willie Mayspedes Posted: June 11, 2014 at 07:46 PM (#4723662)
I think righties masturbate too much and have lingering effects.
   5. John DiFool2 Posted: June 11, 2014 at 09:22 PM (#4723702)
Only if they use their right (power) hand.
   6. cardsfanboy Posted: June 11, 2014 at 10:06 PM (#4723717)
Only if they use their right (power) hand.


Technically the power hand is the left hand. Whichever hand is at the bottom of the bat is your power, while the upper hand is control.
   7. Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October Posted: June 11, 2014 at 10:08 PM (#4723718)
Strikeouts.

Since 1992, MLB's OPS has increased from .700 to .709, and the RPG have gone from 4.12 to 4.17. Meanwhile, strikeouts during that same time frame have increased by 39%, putting the Majors on a pace for setting a strikeout record for the seventh straight year.
   8. Golfing Great Mitch Cumstein Posted: June 11, 2014 at 11:04 PM (#4723744)
This article is really weak on the stats. There is really no explicit statistical statement of the decline in RH power hitting, just a few cherry picked stats over a few years. And where is the comparison with overall rates or LH rates?

Only eight right-handed hitters reached 30 home runs in 2013, and only 36 hit 20 homers, both the fewest in a non-strike-shortened season since 1992. Only 11 righties posted a slugging percentage above .500 last year, also the fewest in any season since 1992. And even though the top of the current leaderboard is righty heavy, there’s been no appreciable change in the overall rate of right-handed home run hitting: The overall HR/AB and slugging numbers for righties in 2014 are only a modicum better than the 2013 figures, and they are still worse than 2011 and 2012.


ISn't all that meaningless if we don't know what is happening to LH hitters?

Also, I thought I read once that the hands don't matter in generating power. (I know I have read it doesn't matter in a golf swing) And where is the proof that the stronger hand, if it is even material, affects loft? How much can handedness be a factor if batters are hitting year round and working out more? Wouldn't any natural strength advantage be lessened by all this work?
   9. PreservedFish Posted: June 12, 2014 at 12:15 AM (#4723772)
Whichever hand is at the bottom of the bat is your power, while the upper hand is control.


Two hands? I'm impressed.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: June 12, 2014 at 01:51 AM (#4723800)
Since 1992, MLB's OPS has increased from .700 to .709

There were a few peaks in between there.

Nevertheless, in 1992, MLB hit 305/453 on-contact with a (contact AB)/HR rate (including SFs) of about 37.

Through mid-2013, MLB hit 324/516 on-contact with a (contact AB)/HR rate of about 25.6. See post #66 here

As that post shows, over the period 1994-mid 2013, the average was 326/519, peaking in 2000 at 332/534 ... so again, we have seen no change in the outcomes of contact.

(I've also dug out HR/FB which was 7.5% in 2013 MLB compared to 5.4% in 1992 MLB ... some of which is Denver ... it was 7.8% in 98, 7.9% in 03 and 7.5% in 08.)

That is how you can maintain a 700ish OPS with a 39% increase in K rate (assuming your figure is correct).

That is my entire point. The sillyball era consisted of batters increasing their K-rate in exchange for much better on-contact production. This led to higher scoring despite higher K-rates. What we have seen over the last 4 seasons or so is an increase in K-rates while on-contact production has remained the same which, mathematically speaking, means scoring had to go down. That suggests the underlying change is one in pitchers or umpires, not batters although all things are possible in this best of all possible worlds.
   11. Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October Posted: June 12, 2014 at 07:07 AM (#4723816)
That is my entire point. The sillyball era consisted of batters increasing their K-rate in exchange for much better on-contact production. This led to higher scoring despite higher K-rates. What we have seen over the last 4 seasons or so is an increase in K-rates while on-contact production has remained the same which, mathematically speaking, means scoring had to go down.

Just to be clear, Walt, I was trying to reinforce your point, not contradict it. I saw all the interim rates, but I still thought the contrast between 1992 and today was the key set of stats.

That suggests the underlying change is one in pitchers or umpires, not batters although all things are possible in this best of all possible worlds.

Based purely on observation, I'd try the following rough chronological narrative, beginning in the early 90's:

The much-discussed combination of smaller parks, steroids/weights, and batting approaches led to increased power production. How those factors ranked in importance isn't the point.

The copycat effect took place with all three of those factors, and power peaked around the end of the 20th century.

In reaction, teams doubled down their efforts to ration pitching innings for maximum effect, and began to stockpile pitchers who could approach or even exceed the 100MPH limit, while at the same time accepting the fact that some of them weren't capable of being successful starters.

In addition, the pitch count mentality eventually wore down the resistance of even old school managers (more copycat effect), and as a result you're now seeing practically every team with a group of relievers capable of hitting the mid- to high 90's with nasty stuff, even if only for one inning.

Result: Starters who don't pace themselves as much. Managers who are quicker to pull the plug on them. Middle relievers like Betances who failed as starters but for an inning or two can strike out nearly every other batter. Closers like Robertson who occasionally get lit up but who maintain K/9 rates in mid-double digits.

Or to summarize: As batters have accepted sacrificing contact for power, managers have reacted by running out one pitcher after another who is more than capable of reinforcing that trend.

It's all quite rational, but the overall effect is kind of deadening. I was listening to the Orioles-Red Sox radio broadcast the other night, and when Tazawa and Uehara came in for the last two innings, what stood out wasn't the fact that they each struck out two batters, but that the Orioles' announcer had such a complete sense of inevitability in his voice when he was giving the pitch-by-pitch of those four at bats. No drama, even though it was a 1-0 game; it was as if each pitch were the equivalent of a five or ten second screen shot of a soldier killed in Afghanistan of the sort you see every week on the NewsHour, with little else that could be said as they pass by in succession other than "so it goes". Domination like that can make a 1-0 game seem like an 8-0 blowout, even if in your head you know it can theoretically change with one swing of the bat.


   12. RMc's desperate, often sordid world Posted: June 12, 2014 at 08:10 AM (#4723830)
Whichever hand is at the bottom of the bat is your power, while the upper hand is control.

Two hands? I'm impressed.


Would that be Option J^2?
   13. Greg K Posted: June 12, 2014 at 01:16 PM (#4724063)
You certainly see the right-handers struggling to hit home runs in Toronto. Bautista's HR% is down for the third straight year, and Edwin Encarnacion only hit one home run in the 20th game of the season.

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