Chris Graham: Power outage in the Valley League?

baseball600If you’ve noticed a lot of medium-distance flyball outs from Valley League hitters this year, and not nearly as many home runs as in previous years, well, you’re onto something.

Hitting numbers are down across the league and across the spectrum, from the banner year for hitters that was 2012, which seems upon analysis to have been very much an outlier, but also even from more statistically consistent years in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Through games on Saturday, June 22, VBL hitters had combined for just 51 home runs leaguewide, an average of .274 homers per game per team, a pace that would produce 152 home runs leaguewide if the season played to a 556-game total as it did in 2012.

For comparison sake, VBL hitters hit an otherworldly 469 homers in those 556 games in 2012. We call that total otherworldly because in 2009, the best year of the previous three, there were 329 homers hit in the Valley League, with a dip to 275 homers in 2010 and a slight bump up to 287 in 2011.

It’s not just home runs that are being impacted in 2013. Runs per team per game are also down significantly – with Valley League teams scoring 4.75 runs per game in 2013, compared to 5.91 runs per team per game in 2012, 5.61 runs per game per team in 2011, 5.11 runs per game per team in 2010 and 5.23 runs per game per team in 2009.

The league is also hitting just .247 collectively in 2013, after hitting .278 in 2012, .270 in 2011, .261 in 2010 and .267 in 2009. Also down: on-base percentage (.321 in 2013, .365 in 2012, .356 in 2011, .346 in 2010 and .355 in 2009) and slugging percentage (.321 in 2013, .413 in 2012, .372 in 2011, .361 in 2010 and .374 in 2009).

What gives? Your guess is as good as mine. This is just anecdotal, but it’s not to me as if hitters aren’t getting as many good swings and good contacts as in years past. At least two or three times a game, we’re still hearing the sound of balls coming off the bat that make you think home run, only to see balls die not even on the warning track, but several feet short.

It could be the pitching, but – no offense to VBL pitchers in 2013 – it’s not to me as if we’ve seen a dramatic improvement in the quality of arms this year compared to the previous four.

It could be the unusually damp late spring is forcing fly balls to die early deaths, but one thing I’ve come to notice about the weather patterns in the Valley in my years broadcasting Waynesboro Generals baseball is that the early part of the season tends to be the rainy season. Without going back and looking at weather data for the past five Junes to back that theory up, I’d still suggest that the weather isn’t that much of a factor, if a factor at all.

That leaves us at one of two things – bad wood, or softer baseballs. My money is on the baseballs, personally. As I noted earlier, anecdotally, it sounds as if batters are still making as good a contact on a consistent basis as before. The baseballs themselves, then, have to be the reason for the power outage. Maybe we’re getting baseballs that have been wound a bit looser, and thus aren’t as springy as baseballs from past seasons.

Might be that we need to get the guys from “Sport Science” to come and run their battery of tests to help us figure this one out.

For now, all I have is a conspiracy theory to explain why we’re seeing what we’re seeing.

You can ignore the conspiracy theory, and that won’t offend me. But you can’t ignore the data analysis. Something is going on in the VBL in 2013 based on the numbers. We know that much for sure.

 

Inside the Numbers

A statistical look back at the past five VBL seasons.

2013: 51 HR, 26 3B, 269 2B, 883 R, .247 BA, .337 OBP, .321 SLG in 186 G
AVG: .274 HR/G, .139 3B/G, 1.45 2B/G, 4.75 R/G
PROJ (556 G): 152 HR, 77 3B, 806 2B, 2641 R

2012: 469 HR, 95 3B, 966 2B, 3289 R, .278 BA, .365 OBP, .413 SLG in 556 G

2011: 287 HR, 95 3B, 934 2B, 3164 R, .270 BA, .356 OBP, .372 SLG in 564 G

2010: 275 HR, 90 3B, 785 2B, 2655 R, .261 BA, .346 OBP, .361 SLG in 520 G

2009: 329 HR, 85 3B, 876 2B, 2927 R, .267 BA, .355 OBP, .374 SLG in 560 G

Update

Since my first post looking specifically at the VBL, I’ve cross-checked numbers from other summer college leagues and noticed a similar trend.

  • Cape Cod: .221 HR/G in 2013, .872 HR/G in 2012
  • Atlantic: .104 HR/G in 2013, .673 HR/G in 2012
  • Florida: .235 HR/G in 2013, .658 HR/G in 2012
  • Great Lakes: .103 HR/G in 2013, .645 HR/G in 2012
  • New England: .239 HR/G in 2013, 1.094 HR/G in 2012
  • New York: .386 HR/G in 2013, .656 HR/G in 2012
  • Northwoods: .508 HR/G in 2013, .660 HR/G in 2012

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