Climate change is making major league sluggers into even hotter hitters, sending an extra 50 or so home runs a year over the fences, a new study found.
Hotter, thinner air that allows balls to fly farther contributed a tiny bit to a surge in home runs since 2010, according to a statistical analysis by New Hampshire's Dartmouth College scientists published in Friday's Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. They analyzed 100,000 major league games and more than 200,000 balls put into play in the last few years along with weather conditions, stadiums and other factors.
When air heats up, molecules move faster and away from each other, making the air less dense. Baseballs launched off a bat go farther through thinner air because there's less resistance to slow the ball. Just a little bit farther can mean the difference between a homer and a flyout, said Alan Nathan, a University of Illinois physicist who wasn't part of the Dartmouth study.
Non-climate factors contribute even more to the barrage of balls flying out of the park, scientists and baseball veterans said. The biggest is the ball and the size of the stitches, Nathan said, and MLB made slight adjustments to deaden the ball prior to the 2021 season. Others include batters' recent attention to launch angle; stronger hitters; and faster pitches. The study started after the end of baseball's infamous steroids era saw a spike in home runs.
Veteran baseball players and executives said the research fits with what they've seen on the field.