In case you didn’t see the cover of any newspaper in the New York-metro area, all of Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton homered against the Rays on Wednesday. It was something a lot of fans have fantasized about since Stanton came over from the Marlins: with those three players bunched together in the lineup, one could envision 140 home runs in this offensive environment.
Well, about that offensive environment. While 2017 yielded the most home runs in a single season by 412 (!) home runs, 2018 looks to continue that trend. Here are the fly ball rates since 2014:
- 2014: 34.4%
- 2015: 33.8%
- 2016: 34.6%
- 2017: 35.5%
- 2018: 37.0%
It has also been reflected in the league’s launch angles as well:
- 2015: 10.1 degrees
- 2016: 10.8
- 2017: 11.1
- 2018: 12.5
You would imagine this would also be reflected in how these players are trying to lift the ball. Well, you would be correct. Here is their average launch angle over the last three years, respectively:
- Gary Sanchez: 7.9, 13.2, 28.2
- Giancarlo Stanton: 14.0, 11.1, 12.7
- Aaron Judge: 20.6, 15.7, 26.1
It’s odd that Stanton has remained relatively stagnant so far, but what’s very interesting about him in particular is the way in which he changed his stance:
Giancarlo Stanton's stance when he first came up vs. now. Night and day difference, same results. pic.twitter.com/9TH0zbcMJ4— Allan Perkins (@patientperk) March 31, 2018
Small sample aside, it’s very interesting comparing his 2017 spray chart...
...with his 2018 spray chart:
If you combine that with the short porch in right field, that’s... absolutely more home runs.
OK, so we have all the ingredients for a home run-hitting monster: a significant amount of raw power, a juiced baseball, a higher launch angle, and a tendency to hit to the smaller part of the park. What’s the historical precedent for something like this?
According to the FanGraphs depth chart rest-of-season projections, Stanton, Judge, and Sanchez are projected for 56, 40, and 29 home runs, respectively. To find something even remotely similar, you would have to go back to the 2001 Giants, 1997 Rockies, 1996 Mariners, or 1998 Cardinals, for example.
You might say to yourself: the 2001 Giants had Barry Bonds; the 1997 Rockies were pre-humidor, and the rest were in the steroid era. The difference this time is that the balls are the steroids, and the information is like taking the ball out of the humidor; random blips in playing condition happen all the time in baseball, but it takes an acute data science sense to capitalize on that to the nth degree.
Which means that as exaggerated as it may seem, we’re entering in a different era altogether, one without non-asterisked precedent. This three-headed monster is likely to herald that, and while this era likely won’t end in punishment, the result is all the same, and just as fun.