Is the 21st Century Getting Its Own Dead Ball Era?

Expected home runs are down in MLB this season

Is something wrong in MLB this season?
Mike Bowman/Unsplash

For the first 20 years of the 20th century, professional baseball experienced what’s known as the dead ball era, a time before power hitters ruled the landscape and when home runs were relatively rare occurrences. When it comes to analysis of the 2022 season to date, though, a number of observers are getting a sense of deja vu. Major League Baseball’s adjustments made to game balls in recent years have drawn some attention, with plenty of fans and professionals eager to see how modifications to a central part of the game alter batting, pitching and fielding.

Writing at The Washington Post, Chelsea Janes analyzed this year’s statistics to date, along with anecdotal evidence from pitchers concerned about their grip on the latest crop of baseballs. Janes notes that “the ball has emerged as both cause and symptom of a historically slow offensive start to the season” — all of which makes any conclusive findings particularly challenging to arrive at.

Janes cited the findings of Alan Nathan at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which were that — in Janes’s words — “the 2022 baseball experiences more drag in flight than it did in April 2021, in 2019 or 2018.” This might explain why the percentage of fly balls that become home runs is at its lowest level this season since 2014.

The officials that Janes spoke with said that they expected this to change as the weather becomes more humid across the country. It’s an intriguing hypothesis — and one we should have an answer to soon enough.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!