We normally bring up home run robberies at the beginning of the season and then again in The Bill James Handbook. But we have reason to bring them up again two months into 2023. Our company has been tracking home run robberies in detail since 2004. We take this seriously. Our Video Scouts discuss and audit their decisions as to whether a ball cleared or was going to clear a fence when it was brought back.
There have been 34 home run robberies so far in 2023 (33 catches and one ball not caught that was knocked down). That’s just over two-thirds of the way to last year’s total (53) and nearly halfway to the highest total within the last 20 years, 69 in 2019. The season is only about 40% complete to this point.
Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, and Luis Robert Jr. have each robbed two home runs this season. Twenty eight other players have snagged one apiece. The Red Sox got one in back-to-back innings earlier this week, the second team to do that in the last three seasons (the 2021 Rangers are the other). Before those two, the last team with a home run-robbing catch in back-to-back innings was the Tigers, both by Nook Logan, against the Orioles in 2005.
But back to this season, what’s going on here?
We can pinpoint one aspect. Lowered outfield fences in two ballparks have led to five home run robberies that may not have happened in other seasons.
In Rogers Centre, the height of the center field fence was lowered from 10 feet to 8 feet this past offseason. That has enabled two robberies, one by Kevin Kiermaier and the other by Robert Jr. Those were the first home run robberies in that ballpark since Kevin Pillar stole one in 2018.
In Comerica Park, the heights of the center and right field walls was lowered from 8.5 feet to 7 feet and the height of the wall in right center was lowered from 13.5 feet to 7 feet. That made three home run robberies by Tigers outfielders more likely – ones by Matt Vierling, Kerry Carpenter, and Riley Greene.
Comerica is typically a friendly park for outfielders who can rob home runs (there were five home run robberies in 2022). Watch Carpenter’s robbery and you’ll see it wouldn’t have been one with an 8.5-foot wall. Vierling’s and Greene’s would have been close calls.
It’s hard to project an “on-pace-for” total with home run robberies, as from 2004 to 2022 (not including the 2020 season), 20% of them came in August, the highest percentage for any calendar month, with May, June, July, and September all around 16% to 17%.
In terms of this season in comparison to the record-setting 2019: The 2023 and 2019 seasons started on approximately the same day and in looking at home run robberies by date, the 2023 season is about three weeks ahead of the 2019 season’s pace. In 2019, the 34th home run robbery came on June 30. This season, it came on June 7.