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?)
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).