Increased Power Seasons: Round 2
Last year, I wrote about MLB power increases. We are going to go there again today as I look at some of the more interesting examples. I have generated a chart of 50 players who experienced a significant jump in power from one year to the next. Sometimes it was Babe Ruth going from 47 HRs to 60 HRs. Sometimes it's an outlier like Brady Anderson's 1996 jump from 16 to 50 longballs.
My chart is designed to find interesting increases in power. Both in a sense of how star players led into some of their best seasons, as well as trying to find some outlier players who experienced a sudden and surprising increase in power. There's going to be a couple longtime sluggers in there, as well as some one off surprise seasons. My chart isn't really designed to draw specific conclusions like finding evidence that certain players were cheating. Nor was it to find overall trends in power. It's basically to find surprising increases in power, and compare them to contemporaries so you see just how historical some of these numbers are.
The stats I used:
• Year 1/Year 2: So you know exactly what years these seasons took place. All seasons are sequential, showing annual improvements
• Age, from year one. Allows you to see when most of these guys unlock their power. Is it in their 20s as they figure out the game? Or are some of these guys strapping it on later in their careers?
• HR: The home run totals from that year
• HR%: Percentage of plate appearances where a home run is hit. Not at bats. so if a player has a 5% home run %, that means they are hitting a home run 5% of the time they come up to bat.
• HR/FB: % of outfield hits that were home runs. Includes fly balls and line drives. Essentially measuring how many home runs were hit based off of deep contact. a 25% HR/FB means that one quarter of all hits going to the outfield will leave the park.
• SLG: Slugging percentage, total bases/At bats. Just so you get a feel for what their production was like, year over year. Some guys would hit a lot of doubles, then those doubles would start leaving the yard. Other guys would discover power and go to just hitting home runs.
Here's my huge chart again:
• Babe Ruth: His career statistics are insane. He put up some single season SLG numbers of .840. His career SLG is .690, which would rank tied for 5th on the above list if it were a single season. That's a career statistic. Holy smokes. I really wish HR/FB rate was a thing back then, so we could know more about him.
• Barry Bonds: He charted twice because he did have two large season over season increases. His age 34 1999 season was great, with a 34 long ball campaign. He'd essentially double that total and rate for his massive 73 HR age 36 campaign.
• Jose Bautista: His increase still surprises me. Age 29, he goes from 13 to 54 home runs. Talk about a late bloomer. His increase was 4.7%. Only behind JD Martinez and Brady Anderson.
• Brady Anderson had that ridiculous age 32 1996 50 HR campaign. Career average: 19. His second best season was 24. But 50 just that one year. He hit 210 home runs, so nearly 25% of his career total (15 years) came in that one year. Nuts.
• JD Martinez stands out as another outlier on my chart. 4.9% increase as he went from 22 to 45 home runs 2016->2017. It's a little misleading, because he did hit 38 home runs in 2015, so his graph is a bit of a roller coaster. But his SLG did go from a solid .535 to a Ruthian .690.
• As Cubs fans, we love us some Javy Baez. We loved seeing him go from a free swinger to an MVP candidate. Somewhat ironically, his HR rates only increase .8% for that solid 2018. He's on the lower end of that list. While the overall numbers were up, he didn't have a huge jump in peripherals, which means he's hopefully going to be a consistent producer.
• No players on my list had a decrease in home run rate, but one remained flat: Nelson Cruz. Despite hitting 13 more home runs, his rate was dormant.
• Normally when home runs increase, HR/FB rates increase. Makes logical sense. However, several players actually had a decrease on my chart: Bonds, Cruz, Acuna, and Schwarber. How that happens... I'm not sure. Maybe more line drives? Somehow less fly balls than before? It's tough to do.
• Four players had decreases in slugging %: Albert Belle, Mo Vaughn (barely), Jose Ramirez, and Ronald Acuna. What a peculiar statistical outlier. Each one of those only had a modest increase in home run rate, so I'm assuming doubles dropped for each of those players.
• On my chart, there are four players who experienced a double digit percentage increase in HR/FB rates: Bonds (duh), Anderson (another duh), Bautista (makes sense), and Jose Altuve (what?). That little cheater had an 18 home run increase from 2018->2019. That was despite a batting average that was his lowest in 6 seasons. He also put up a career high slugging percentage in 2019. Seems like his game shifted from being a hitter first to a slugger first. His 149 hits were the lowest full season total he's ever had.
• Three players had home run totals jump by 30 or more: Sammy Sosa (from his down 1997 to MVP 1998), Brady Anderson (34, that same outlier year), and Jose Bautista (leading the way with 41). Bryce Harper knocks on the door with 29 HRs, but leads the way with a .226 SLG increase.
• Only two players on my chart had a HR% in double digits: Bonds and McGwire. Sosa and JD Martinez put up some 9%s, with Ruth and Maris tied at 8.7%.
• Christian Yelich had an improbable power increase. 18 HRs seems modest on this list, and the 3% increase is above average. The 9.2% HR/FB rate increase is 7th on the list behind 3 likely steroid seasons, and the more recent outliers I've mentioned of Martinez, Bautista, and Altuve. But I'm sure it's just launch angle (sarcasm).
• Mike Trout is a statistical outlier. He has the smallest HR increase of just 4. But SLG increased by .079. He's consistent.
That was fun. What bits of trivia do you notice?