The Trouble with Home Runs

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So 35 games into the season there are two facts that are A) undeniable and B) probably related: Home runs and strikeouts are at all-time highs. By “all-time” I mean … all time. If the trends continue (and there’s no reason to believe they won’t) we will see more home runs and strikeouts than ever. This is all the talk on baseball sites, so why should this site be different? There’s plenty of analysis and stories about what’s causing this, but to me the more important question is:

Are these trends something to worry about?

While baseball fans tend to over-worry about a lot of things, especially when it comes to the fabric of the game, I believe the answer in this case is yes. Especially when it comes to home runs.

First, a quick summary that will save you some Google time. Home runs are at historic highs since mid-2015 because of one or more of the following factors:

  • The ball is wound tighter.
  • Players are swinging harder, resulting in mighty blows and mightier misses.
  • Analytics has revealed optimal swing angles for home runs, and batters are making adjustments that result in geometrically guided smart bombs.
  • Analytics has revealed that from a run-producing standpoint, there’s nothing embarrassing about a strikeout, especially if the trade-off is a home run. A box score line of 4-1-1-1-0-2 is perfectly acceptable.
  • The use of defensive shifts WORK, so frustrated batters are trying  harder than ever to place the ball where defenders can’t shift to (namely, over an outfield fence).
  • The use of performance-enhancing products (oops did I say that?)

You can read more insightful articles about this stuff here and here, among many others.

The main reason I think we need to reverse this trend (and I offer one solution below) is not because I don’t like homers. I love homers. But I love them when they’re special. Homers have become routine. And where’s the joy in that?

Take our man Hank Aaron, above, still the true Home Run King. Aaron never hit more than 47 home runs in a season. In a wonderful homerun-ic convergence, by the way, No. 44 hit exactly 44 home runs in a season four times. Forty seems like a good number for a home run leader. That’s a lot of home runs – more than one every four games – but the past two seasons we’ve had nine and eight players hit the 40-homer mark. Back in the 1970s, an exciting baseball time that achieved great statistical balance, you’d have two guys each year hit 40. And sometimes nobody would. And we can get there again — we were JUST THERE a few years ago, as a matter of fact.

But if we assume the ball is NOT juiced, and we assume the parade of 1-inning flame throwing relievers will continue, as will defensive shifts, what can be done?

To me there’s one obvious answer. We need to move the fences back – everywhere. Moving the fences back universally in every park might seem drastic, but it’s no more so than lowering the mound or introducing a designated hitter, or moving three infielders to one side of second base. By moving the fences back, hitters will be less inclined to pull out their drivers and play mash and smash at the plate. They will be forced to work on their contact to beat the shifts. We will get more doubles and triples, which are also exciting! And it will restore some balance and make the home run special again.

There are a few other larger ideas to address this, but I’m saving all of that for my big five-part Baseball MAP project coming in June. (MAP: Major Adjustment Plan).

 

 

 

 

Power of the Baseball Cap

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I wore my vintage 1977 gold “pillbox” Pittsburgh Pirates cap to a high school baseball game tonight. I love that cap; it represents an era, the late 1970s Pirates. They mixed and matched colors and caps and uniforms. No matter what they wore, they won. From 1975 to 1979, their win totals were 92, 92, 96, 88, 98. And in that last season, 1979, they won the World Series. I never really saw them play, mind you, but I loved how the team fit statistically, from the box scores and my baseball cards: Dave Parker, the slugger; Omar Moreno, the light-hitting speedster; Willie Stargell, the senior captain; Kent Tekulve, the sidearm relief ace.

Anyway, so here I was at the high school game — we’re friends with one of the players, a sophomore starting shortstop, It was a tough go for the Local Nine, who just can’t get key hits lately, to the tune of a 2-0 loss. BUT my geeky-looking authentic Pirates cap got the attention of the assistant coach, to the tune of this conversation:

Coach: “Hey, nice Pirates cap!”

Me: “Thanks! 1977!”

Coach: “Kent Tekulve!”

Me, nodding: “Kent Tekulve!”

Though they don’t happen often, these are the kinds of conversations my cap generates, between knowing fans. The best one was at Fenway Park about three years ago. Wearing my Pirates cap, I was on the concourse between innings and some guy, probably around my age, yells out …

Him: “Hey, 1977 Pirates!”

Me: “You know it! Kent Tekulve!”

Him: “Willie Stargell!”

Me: “Dave Parker!”

(His eyebrows raise, the game is on; he speaks slower, and with more importance)

Him: “John Candelaria!”

Me, even slower, pronouncing each syllable carefully: “O-mar Mor-e-no!”

He nods and smiles. I nod and smile. And we moved on, two strangers having shared a pure, unscripted moment for a few seconds in the hallways of fabled Fenway. It remains a cherished conversation, one that required hardly a verb and nary an adjective but overflowed with meaning and memory, sparked by the sight of an ungainly gold pillbox baseball cap.

Those 9-7 Cubs? Almost 6-10

After losing five out of six to drop to 6-7 overall, here’s what happened to the Cubs in their last three games:

Wednesday: Down 7-4 to the Brewers, Cubs rally to win 9-7.

Thursday: Down 4-2 to the Brewers, Cubs rally to win 7-4 in the ninth.

Friday: Down 5-2 to the Reds, Cubs rally to tie it in the ninth and win 6-5 in 11.

So you could argue that the Cubs have staved off a miserable 6-10 start with this amazing comeback streak. Or you could argue that the Cubs are so great that this is just what they do.

Yeah, I agree. It’s the latter.

What, Another Baseball Blog?

Why another baseball blog? Mostly selfish reasons, I guess: I need to share some of the joy I find in the game and hope that you, new reader, will delight in it too. I’m stuck to the game like a baseball on Yadier Molina’s chest protector. I love everything about baseball: the history, the statistics, the strategic nuances, the mundane events, and the unexpected surprises it constantly provides. I love scorecards and sweeping curveballs and watching a sharply-hit ball land JUST fair as it careens into the far corners of the outfield and rattles around like a pinball as the batter cruises in for a stand-up double. Among a million other things.

Most of all, I love learning about baseball, a sport that eludes complete knowledge but constantly urges its fans to pursue such understanding — through analysis, historical comparison, and observation. This blog will share statistical insights but not heavy math because, well, I don’t do heavy math. I like learning statistical concepts and what we can learn about which baseball numbers truly matter (and which ones don’t). I’ll also share opinions, observations, links to stories or other interesting facts, and maybe even a fictional story or two.

I hope you find the blog enjoyable and worth sharing with others who find the game endlessly fascinating.  So please join me for Baseball Delights. That’s enough warm-up; time for the first few pitches.