MLB’s new single-season home run king—itself

If you’ve felt like there have been a lot of home runs hit this season, you’re not alone. There have been more home runs hit this season than any other in Major League Baseball history for that matter. On Monday night, Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon set the major league mark at 5,694 with his eighth dinger of the season.

So, why are players hitting home runs at a faster rate than any year before? I’ve read some ideas and come up with a couple of my own.

The main theory people are kicking around is “juiced baseballs.” The idea behind juiced baseballs is that the rubber core of the ball is harder than the previous cork cores Rawlings used. It’s also theorized that the string is wrapped tighter around the core, which makes the ball itself harder. A harder baseball means it travels faster and bounces harder off the bat.

I don’t buy this idea. To make the balls the same size and wrap them tighter, they would weigh more because there would be more string. I also believe a harder, denser core would contribute to a heavier baseball, which would be noticed by any pitcher.

I think pitching has something to do with the increase of home runs, which have been on the rise since the 2015 All-Star Break. With the increase of Tommy John surgeries from UCL tears, teams are trying to be more careful with pitch counts and the way pitchers are used. This requires teams to carry bigger bullpen rosters, because pitchers aren’t throwing 130-pitch complete games anymore. Expanded bullpens means pitchers who might not necessarily be ready to be pitching in the show, are, indeed, pitching in the show and giving up dingers.

In the end, we should be giving hitters more credit. With pitchers throwing harder with better breaking balls, hitters have to be better.

The common approach to pitching is to keep the ball down, because it gets hitters to swing down at the ball and hit it on the ground. If a pitcher instead misses up in the zone, it’s likely the batter will lift the ball and either fly out or send it into the upper deck for a moon shot. In recent years, it seems hitters have gotten better at driving pitches from anywhere in the zone, even down or below it. Couple better hitting with improved bat technology, and you’ve got guys hitting more home runs.

Whatever it is that’s leading to players hitting more home runs, give credit where it’s due. It’s not easy to hit baseballs out of the yard, and guys are doing it at an extraordinary rate. It’ll be interesting to see if this record is broken again sometime in the next two or three years.

Photo by Brigham Berthold

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