A lot of dingers are being hit in the opening weeks of this season. What’s the deal?
Home runs are flying out of ballparks at a faster pace than ever before. Through Tuesday’s games, 30 clubs have combined to hit 673 dingers in 512 games. That puts the league on track for 6,388 home runs—smashing the single-season record of 6,105 …. from 2017. There are a number of factors to take into account, including the integrity of the actual baseball.
So with that, we asked our staff: Does Major League Baseball have a home run problem?
It’s been less than two weeks since this year’s first study indicating that there’s something different about the ball, and the home run rate has only gotten higher since then. It seems clear that something has changed here, and given that we’ve already seen multiple home runs from players like Jarrod Dyson and Orlando Arcia… it really looks like it might be the ball. While there are some crucial questions here about what this does to players’ statistics and what it does to fans’ experience of the game, I’m most intrigued by what it does for the league’s accountability and sense of control.
It seems obvious that Major League Baseball should be able to easily track and declare any changes to the major league baseball. Yet the differences in the ball in 2015 and 2016 were initially brushed aside and only formally acknowledged by the league after an external study was commissioned—and even that left questions about just how the ball had been able to change so much. If it really has changed again? It’s going to raise some valid questions about what’s going on here and how, and why, the league is operating in this space in the way that it has been.
Like most baseball fans, I want more balls in play. I’m less worried about homers, though, than I am the strikeout scourge. When a pitcher like Max Scherzer or Jacob deGrom goes all Kerry Wood on an opponent, it’s thrilling. When a couple starters and a parade of relievers combine for 30 strikeouts in a 54-out game, it’s a slog. The more contact the better, even if that contact is resulting in a record pace of homers per non-strikeout plate appearance.
I consider MLB’s homer explosion analogous to the three-pointer boom well underway in the NBA. A homer, like a three-pointer, enlivens the game, and, stripped of any context, I’d more rather see a homer or a three than a single or a two. But when those happenings… uh… happen, I want them to be special, the result of circumstances (rather than analyst-identified incentives) aligning just so. When you see James Harden mindlessly bombing away, or Joey Gallo trying to launch-angle every pitch he’s thrown, it kinda devalues the whole thing. MLB can’t force hitters to swing a certain way, and it can’t turn every pitcher into a sinker-baller. But it can make sure, by way of focusing on the ball, that things don’t get any more out of whack than they already are.
I consider most things in life, and sports, to be cyclical. Home runs, strikeouts and extreme velocity are the hallmarks of Major League Baseball in 2019. Specific to homers, is the rate they’re being hit a problem? No. Is it concerning? A bit. Weird fluctuations without explanation deserve our curiosity if nothing else, and the sport finds itself in a strange spot. It doesn’t help that the league regards the home run spike like some powerful figures regard climate change: ¯_(ツ)_/¯
The home run rate will fall eventually. This I feel certain about. In the mean time, enjoy the long ball like it’s 2000 all over again.
As I wrote in my Nine Innings column on Tuesday (shameless plug!), the home run spike is a problem only insofar as no one knows where it came from. Well, to be fair, you can make a pretty educated guess as to where it came from, and that’s the ball itself. All the numbers point to a ball that’s so juiced it’s practically leaking, one that goes further than years previous. A league that’s now gunning for homers via elevated swing planes only compounds that. Overall, I don’t think the huge jump in home runs is in and of itself a huge problem (though I’m sure pitchers would disagree). But it does lend the game a sort of silly feel, like a video game with cheat mode on or the current era of college football, where none of the numbers feel real. For a sport built on the sanctity of statistics, that’s dangerous territory in which to be.