If you thought the 2016 season had an unusually high number of homers, your eyes weren't lying to you: We saw 5,610 of them in 2016, far more than the 4,909 homers in 2015 and the 4,186 homers in 2014. A season full of home runs isn't the most unusual sight for a baseball fan, given that the home run rate was historically high in the era between 1994 and 2009.
We either grew up in a homer-centric game or spent a large chunk of our baseball lives watching balls clear fences, and pitchers kicking rosin bags or destroying Gatorade coolers in the dugout.
But 2016 was a surprise in that home runs jumped, with 3.04 percent of plate appearances ending in a home run. That's the most frequent rate in major league history, ahead of the 2000 season at 2.99 percent. And with 2016 having a much lower rate of other non-home run hits than at any time during the Home Run Era -- batters hit .270 overall in 2000 compared with .255 in 2016 -- the home run was a larger part of a team's offensive output than it ever had been.
Seasons with big home run spikes aren't always predictive of a new era, though. While the 1994 home run chases -- short-circuited by the strike -- did portend a new offensive environment, the original "Year of the Homer," the 1987 season, did not. For those who don't remember, the home run rate in baseball suddenly jumped nearly 20 percent that year, and players who had never hit home runs before were suddenly hitting a lot of them. Wade Boggs, an easy Hall of Famer but never a power hitter, hit 24 homers, 20 percent of his career total. The number of players who hit 30 home runs more than doubled, from 13 in 1986 to 28 in 1987.
Then a funny thing happened. The home runs stopped. It's not remembered these days, but the mini-era of 1988-1992 was a mini pitchers' era snuggled between years of digging the long ball. For example, in 1989, the AL scored only 4.29 runs a game. Knock off about 0.4 runs, the usual DH benefit or so, and only a few years in the late '60s and early '70s (1967, 1968, 1971, and 1972) featured less run-scoring. And remember, 1968 was the year Bob Gibson put up a 1.12 ERA. You'd have to go back to the dead ball era to find less offense.