Counting Balls: Foul Ball Averages in the American League between 1988 and 1990

A few months back the attorney for the girl hit in the Atlanta Braves claimed that players are hitting more fouls and they are harder. This seemingly illogical statement piqued my interest since this is the type of thing I’m interested in understanding.

 

I can’t prove they are harder hit (I don’t think that’s even possible to test), but what I can do is see if he’s correct about the number of foul balls hit.
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As a result of the attorney’s comments, I’ve started the first of its kind investigation into foul ball numbers. I started counting every single foul ball recorded in the Retrosheet database. But there’s a limit to the amount of data we have available to use. The records for even 50 years ago isn’t the best; there are gaps in statistics. But what I have will give us all a very clear understanding of what’s happened across the last 25+ years of Major League Baseball; the span between 1988 to the present offers more than enough data to give us an idea as to whether or not he’s right.

Methodology:

I added the total fouls hit by each team in a game. Our parameters are for games lasting no longer than 9 innings. Day or Night. Any weather. I counted all at-bats with one or more fouls. Once the total number of fouls were tallied, those numbers were divided by the number of teams played against, for the AL it was 12 teams between 1988 and 1990.

This gives us a “per team” average for foul balls hit at home games during each season. Once all “per team” averages were calculated, all teams averages were together to get the league average.

My results thus far:

You can see there’s not an increase in the average number of balls hit during this small time period. The opposite actually. Between 1988 and 1990 each of the next two seasons saw a marginal, statistically insignificant (as of now) drop in the averages. 1988 had 44.896/game; 1989 dropped .7 to 44.1; and 1990 dropped a bit more form 1988 and 1989 to 43.73 fouls per game for the American League. This drop of one complete foul ball per game between 1988 and 1990 currently doesn’t mean much because of such a small sample; it could be just a normal ebb and flow of foul ball counts. We’ll see.
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The above doesn’t yet include the Texas Rangers. Once done, this will be updated.