Major League Baseball’s conglomerate of batters has never produced as many home runs in any single month as they did in May 2019 and the records may not be done falling.
On Friday, May 31, Toronto Blue rookie third baseman Jays Vlad Guerrero Jr. went yard in the eighth inning in Colorado against off Rockies reliever Chris Rusin. That raised the month’s total to 1,120 between all MLB hitters in all games played from May 1 to May 31, which breaks the old record set in Aug. 2017.
The record was tied earlier in the evening in the same game when Colorado shortstop Trevor Story added to his career story with two home runs, the first coming in the first inning off Blue Jays starter Edwin Jackson and the second coming in the seventh inning off Toronto reliever Sam Gaviglio.
May 2019 also represents the second consecutive month that a league record for a particular calendar month was broken. MLB hitters mashed 1,144 dingers in the season’s opening month which is the most ever for any March/April of any season. Part of the reason for the record-breaking pace is the pitching of the Baltimore Orioles, which shattered the previous home runs allowed in March/April record by nearly 25 percent. Baltimore allowed opponents to hit 73 home runs in “Marpril,” surpassing the old mark of 50 by a comfortable margin.
Speaking of pace, as would be expected, MLB as a whole is setting itself up to destroy the previous single-season home run record entering June. The running total of 2,279 through games played on May 31 creates a projected total of 6,395 for the 2019 regular season. That would break 2017’s total of 6,105 by nearly 300 long balls. 43 players are currently on pace to hit at least 35 home runs this season, which would also shatter the previous record of 27 in 1996.
Juiced Balls The Reason for the Upswing?
Research has shown that there are physical differences in baseballs used in MLB games after the All-Star Break in 2015 as compared to baseballs used prior. X-Rays done by FiveThirtyEight showed the core of the post-2015-ASG balls weighed about an ounce less, which could lead them to travel about six inches further. A study commissioned by MLB found that drag on the newer baseballs was decreased, which would also lead to further travel. As these changes have been implemented, home run totals in MLB have increased every season since to the point where new league records are being set every month.
MLB Batters Adjusting
As could be expected MLB batters have adjusted their approaches at the plate to maximize this change in the baseballs. They have collectively gotten better at making hard contact to pitches and adjusted their swings to create a launch angle more conducive to getting balls in the air. As defenses have embraced extreme shifts to curtail run production on ground balls, the priority on getting balls out of the park has increased as well.
It remains to be seen how long this new record will stand given MLB hitters’ current proficiency at smacking balls out of parks. June 2019 might see the record fall after just a month.