Why is offense down in 2024, AKA is the juice(d ball) loose?

dynomite

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This has been debated a bunch in recent years, with no clarity either way. So let's talk about it again!

There's been so much change across the baseball landscape -- from the pitch clock to banning sticky stuff and enlarging the bases, to banning the shift to the explosion in off-speed pitches -- that it's incredibly hard (at least for me) to tease apart what's impacting what. And given that it's May 3rd, an easy explanation here is "Wait for the weather to warm up before drawing conclusions."

Still, here's an article that tries to break it down a bit, comparing the first 750ish games in 2023 to 2024: https://www.si.com/mlb/diamondbacks/offense-is-down-across-mlb-and-rob-manfred-cant-be-happy#:~:text=Conclusion,such as sliders and cutters.

When Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball instituted the pitch clock, placed limitations on defensive shifts, and made moves to increase base stealing, it's not likely that they anticipated a decrease in scoring in 2024. But in fact, run scoring is down 0.18 runs per game across MLB compared to last season. That's about a 4% reduction in runs.

All comparisons in this article are covering the first 744 team games last year with the first 742 this year. So it's apples to apples, so to speak. It should also be noted that full scoring was 4.28 R/G in 2022 and jumped to a year-end 4.62 last year in the first year under the new rules. But the trends causing lower scoring appear to have resumed.

Drilling down further, we can see that walk and strike out rates are mostly unchanged, and in fact the strikeout rate is slightly lower this year compared to the same time period last year. However there is a whopping 13% drop in the home run rate, and BABIP, or Batting Average on Balls in Play (excludes homers, walks and strikeouts) is down six points.

Clearly the league's effort to increase base hits on balls in play through the elimination of the shift has not worked. A side note of interest is that 6.9% of runs scored were unearned in 2023. That percentage has jumped to 10.3% in 2024. The increase in runs, as well as the decrease in batting average and BABIP could also be partly attributed to more errors. (When an error is charged to a fielder the batter is charged with an out)
...
Run scoring is down across major league baseball. A decrease in the quality of contact has resulted in lower batting average and fewer homers. One possible cause for the decreases in these areas is the increased reliance on hard breaking pitches, such as sliders and cutters. Defense may also be a factor based on the increase in unearned runs. Not touched upon in this article, as I have no evidence for it, is whether or not there may have been changes to the baseball.
Re juiced balls, what are we to think? Basically nothing concrete. There was a ton of smoke about this in 2019 and 2022, with someone testing the baseballs and claiming that there were clearly different types of balls being used, which Manfred at first denied and then seemed to admit? https://sports.yahoo.com/mlb-reportedly-used-three-baseballs-during-2022-season-and-yankees-mightve-benefitted-most-171038661.html

It wouldn't be an MLB offseason without a baseball-related scandal. Despite commissioner Rob Manfred insisting that one baseball would be used during the 2022 MLB season, there is evidence that three different baseballs were utilized, according to Bradford William Davis of Insider.

That conclusion comes courtesy of Dr. Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist who has conducted various studies on MLB balls the past couple of years. Dr. Wills managed to collect a sample of 204 baseballs from the 2022 MLB season and determined that three types of balls were used in games: The dead ball MLB promised it would use, the "juiced" balls that were used in previous seasons and a third ball that split the difference. Dr. Wills dubbed the third ball the "Goldilocks ball" given that its measurements were between those of the "juiced" ball and the dead ball.

Every ball obtained by Dr. Wills met MLB's manufacturing specifications. Those specifications have come under scrutiny, however, as some have argued that the acceptable range for a legal baseball is too large and can result in "legal" baseballs that vary wildly in performance.

MLB purchased Rawlings, the company that makes baseballs for the league, in 2018.

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MLB initially fought back against research suggesting that a different, livelier ball was used in 2019. Eventually, Manfred acknowledged that the balls had less drag due to a manufacturing change. Balls with less drag travel farther, which led to a home run explosion in 2019. A whopping 6,776 home runs were hit that year, shattering the all-time record for home runs in a season. Manfred later said the change was not intentional.

Manfred has attempted to correct the issue since, though evidence suggests that two different types of balls were used in 2021, which MLB confirmed. The league said the balls were used as a result of production delays stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
So what say ye?
 

Sandy Leon Trotsky

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Mar 11, 2007
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First thought- we know the Sox have been throwing way less 4-seamers. I assume most hard hit balls are against 4-seamers..... probably other teams are doing similar things in perhaps other ways if not the same way- reducing the pitch that produces the most runs against it.
 

dynomite

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First thought- we know the Sox have been throwing way less 4-seamers. I assume most hard hit balls are against 4-seamers..... probably other teams are doing similar things in perhaps other ways if not the same way- reducing the pitch that produces the most runs against it.
Yes, the article has an interesting chart that shows this is a league-wide trend:



It makes intuitive sense that it's tougher to make solid contact on the slider and cutter. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo likes to use the phrase "Major League hitters can put wood on a bullet" when it comes to hitting high velocity fastballs. Clearly teams, coaches, and pitchers have decided chasing harder breaking pitches, i.e. cutters and sliders is the way to go. The drop in curveball usage is notable in this regard as well.
I would have suspected that this would lead to more strikeouts though? It does seem to be leading to more popups, but strikeouts are down.
 

Max Power

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Jul 20, 2005
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The Red Sox are probably responsible for most of the jump in unearned runs this year.

The ball has almost certainly been de-juiced. I wonder if hitters will be able to adapt now that there's a lower success rate in homers per fly ball. Can they go from trying to launch to trying to hit line drives?
 

Sandy Leon Trotsky

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Mar 11, 2007
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Yes, the article has an interesting chart that shows this is a league-wide trend:





I would have suspected that this would lead to more strikeouts though? It does seem to be leading to more popups, but strikeouts are down.
I would guess it would in fact induce more pop ups and ground balls myself.
 

dynomite

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I would guess it would in fact induce more pop ups and ground balls myself.
Interesting. Maybe I'm reading the data wrong (definitely possible) but aren't the whiff rates a lot higher on breaking pitches than fastballs?

I would have thought fewer fastballs and more sliders would lead to more strikeouts, but maybe that changes if hitters are expecting more sliders?

https://blogs.fangraphs.com/instagraphs/in-zone-whiff-rate-leaderboards-and-league-averages/

Or:

Access to individual pitch-type data has led to interesting findings. For instance, hitters across MLB perform significantly better on fastballs compared with offspeed and breaking pitches. The below chart, which was featured in my article on hitters that possessed the ability to hit multiple pitch types, exemplifies this differential. In 2018, the league median xwOBA against fastballs was .356 with a 19.8% whiff rate compared with a .268 xwOBA and 33.6% whiff rate on breaking pitches.
https://pitcherlist.com/going-deep-count-data-and-pitch-type-performance/
 

grimshaw

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May 16, 2007
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Had some fun checking out the old statcast.

I would venture a guess that the sweeper has a little to do with it. Not solely because it is very difficult to hit hard (31.8% median hard hit rate last season close to sliders), but because it is another weapon in the arsenal that is gaining momentum and that batters have to think about. For reference - 4 seamers were 57%, and curveballs 35.7%. Now batters have to look horizontally (14 inches on average) for sweepers as well as sliders that move down and fastballs with extra hair.

In 2022 50 players with a minimum of 25 PA faced a sweeper
In 2023 it was 127
I'm guessing that will go up this season.
 
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