Brewers: Should We be Concerned about the Deadened Ball?
In Rob Manfred’s continual effort to make sure no one knows what exactly is going on in MLB at any time, reports are the league is deadening the ball to combat the home run surge of the past several years.
That raises the question: how will that impact the Brewers and their home run totals?
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, changes to the ball were found to cause the ball to lose 1 to 2 feet of distance on balls hit over 375 feet per lab studies.
Baseball Savant breaks down home runs based on distance, and how many stadiums a home run would be over the fence. There are 3 categories: Doubters (out in 7 or fewer stadiums), Mostly Gone (out in 8 – 29 stadiums) and No Doubters (out in all 30 stadiums). This metric only goes back to 2019, which does limit the usefulness, but still may provide insight as to what can be expected with the new balls.
2020 has been a much analyzed year for Christian Yelich. However, he appears primed for a bounce back season. Yelich did hit 12 home runs last season, with three registering as no-doubters. Over the past two seasons Yelich has over performed his expected home run, or xHR total, in 2019 by 6.8 and in 2020 by 2.4 home runs (Assuming that rate would have continued for a full 162 season, the difference would have been 6.48, no real meaning to that, just a cool coincidence).
Yelich had three no doubters this season, which made up 25.0% of his total home runs. In 2019, he was up to 43.2% as no doubters.
Yelich had an average HR distance of 405 feet, which even if reigned in the 2 feet according to the league memo, that would still be over 400 feet. On those home runs that are to dead center, Yelich may see a slight decline. Given the advantage that Yelich has as a left-handed power hitter playing in American Family Field, with a 345 foot wall in right field, Yelich hopefully will not see a drastic decline in home runs hit.
After years of increasing home run totals, Major League Baseball is reportedly working to deaden the ball for the 2021 season.
The Brewers leader in home runs last season, Keston Hiura suffered from a sophomore slump. He did manage to outperform his xHR again in 2020, as he did in 2019 (outperformed by 1.6 in 2020 and 1.0 in 2019). Hiura hit four no doubters, which was 30.8% of his home runs.
Hiura did average a distance of 408 feet on his home runs in 2020. That, just as with Yelich, should not be in danger of a dramatic decrease. Hiura does tend to hit home runs more into left-center field. Just as the case with Yelich, assuming there is a 1-2 foot decrease on balls over 375, there may be fewer home runs that Hiura hits to dead center. Ideally Hiura will not see a significant decline in home runs, especially as his shift to first base comes with more emphasis placed on his offensive production.
According to a memo obtained by Ken Rosenthal, the new ball will see a decrease of 1-2 feet on balls hit over 375 feet.
Players such as Lorenzo Cain, Kolten Wong, Orlando Arcia, and Luis Urias, who do not have much power, may be the most impacted. Unlike Christian Yelich or Keston Hiura, who have the ability to drive the ball far, many of the home runs by Cain and others have less distance, and a deadened ball will limit that distance even more. Balls that just cleared the fence in previous years, may instead be destined to be caught at the warning track.
Until this report is confirmed, or data is available it is tough to say exactly what the impact will be. According to Derek Carty, creator of THE BAT, based on knowledge available, we should expect a five percent decrease in home runs across the league. The biggest decrease is expected to be from those home runs that barely clear the wall, with no doubters expected to not see the same drop off.
Ultimately, it is difficult to say exactly how much the Brewers will or will not be impacted by the changes in the ball. However, the Brewers have an advantage playing half of their games in the hitter friendly American Family Field.
Home runs have become ingrained into the game of baseball, it will take more than slight alterations in the ball to change that. It is not yet known the exact impact the ball changes will have, but knowing what to expect is a good start.