Monday, July 17, 2017

Why Are So Many HR's Being Hit In Baseball?

Image result for giancarlo stanton home run

Home run hitters have always had great nicknames like The Sultan of Swat, Hammerin’ Hank and The Big Hurt.
And, now, Scooter.
Cincinnati utilityman Scooter Gennett — whose given name is Ryan — last month became the 17th player in major league history to hit four homers in a game, accomplishing the feat in a Reds win over St. Louis.
“For a guy like me to have done it, it’s amazing,” Gennett told reporters afterwards. “It’s maybe a little bit short of a miracle.”
Not this season, in what seems destined to go down as “The Year of the Homer.”
At the All-Star break, 3,343 home runs had been hit this season in the major leagues (15 of them from Scooter, by the way). That pace would produce 6,126 homers, which would not just break but obliterate the record 5,693 homers hit in 2000 season during the height of the Steroid Era.
At least this time around it’s the ball that’s suspected of being juiced and not the players (a topic addressed elsewhere today in these pages).
“There’s just something different about the baseballs,’’ Miami reliever Brad Ziegler said in a recent USA Today story. “I don’t have anything to quantify it, but the balls just don’t feel the same. It just feels different to me, a little harder, tighter than the past. ...
“Balls aren’t moving as much. And they’re being hit a long ways. Basically, it feels like every park is Colorado.’’
New York Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen, in the same story, said, “There’s a lot of people unhappy with the baseball, and I’m getting the same feedback. You’re seeing guys going opposite field, breaking their bats, and the balls are flying out.
“It’s the balls. They’re throwing harder with it, but they’re getting less movement, so they’re just hanging there.
“There has got to be some investigation.’’
Speaking to the Baseball Writers Association of America hours before last week's all-star game, Commissioner Rob Manfred said they have “done more testing on the baseballs in the last few years than (ever), and we know with certainty the baseball falls within the specifications that have existed for many years.”
Added Manfred: “We are in the process of trying to come to a conclusion as to what is going on.”
MLB uses Rawlings balls that are produced by hand at a factory in Costa Rica. The balls that don’t meet minimum standards are pulled aside, stamped with the word “PRACTICE” on them and used for BP.
Balls have been produced to exacting specifications — 9 to 9.25 inches in circumference and 5 to 5.25 ounces in weight — for more than a century. They still have a cushion cork center and four layers of tightly-wound wool wrapped with two strips of horsehide that is secured with 108 stitches.

“To be honest, I haven’t noticed anything (with the ball),” Padres starting pitcher Clayton Richard said. “I think the game constantly advances and it’s ever adapting, and pitching becomes more difficult, as I’m sure hitting does. It’s a game of adjustments. To me, it doesn’t seem like it’s changed much.”
Walking through Padres clubhouse during the discussion was first baseman Wil Myers, who said: “Strikeouts and home runs, baby! It’s what we’re about.”
He’s right.
Interestingly enough, this HR explosion has occurred just after homers had dropped to their lowest level since MLB expanded to its present 30 teams — with only 4,186 hit in 2014.
That year, Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz led the majors with 40 homers. The most 40-homer seasons in history was in 2000 when 16 players did it. Nine players did it in 2015 and eight players last season.
This year, there were 24 players with at least 20 homers — led by New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge with 30 — and were roughly at a 40-homer pace at the All-Star break.
The surge in home runs has brought an even greater increase in strikeouts, which have gone up every year since 2006. There were a record 38,982 strikeouts last season. Hitters are on pace to surpass the 40,000 mark this year.
By comparison, there were 31,356 strikeouts in 2000 when the HR record was set.

“Everything that research shows is we’re not (juicing the balls),” Padres Executive Chairman Ron Fowler said during a radio interview this week. “I think part of it is that guys are all or nothing. That’s the mentality. I don’t know if I necessarily agree with it. I like balls in play, but there are fewer balls in play and more home runs and more strikeouts.
“I like (Paul) Goldschmidt, for instance, from the Diamondbacks. He changes his approach at the plate when he has two strikes. He might be a free swinger on the first two, but after that he puts the ball in play. There’s a lot to be said for it.”
Much more is said these days about launch angle and exit velocity. Players are swinging for the fences and don’t seem to mind much if they swing and miss.
Richard, for one, has noticed different approaches at the plate.
“It seems as if hitters’ holes have changed,” he said. “Four, five years ago, you tried to stay down with everything and you’d be right. Now, a lot of guys’ holes are at the top of the strike zone. It’s changing all the time.”
Among the revelations in a recent story by The Ringer was that there has been a significant increase in the home run rate per batted ball.
“That increase coincided with a significant rise in the average exit velocity of batted balls,” the Ringer story said, “which largely explained the extra home runs but effectively replaced one mystery with another, leaving us wondering instead why balls were leaving bats with such speed.”
Back to the ball. Is it wound tighter? Are the seams lower (explaining why more pitchers have complained about blisters)? Or, what?
“That’s something for a scientist to figure out,” Padres reliever Craig Stammen said. “There are a lot more home runs. I think the hitters’ approach is a lot different. ...
“I mean, it could be the baseballs. I’m not denying that. But I don’t know. I can’t speak on something I don’t know anything about. I’m just out there to pitch, and whatever baseballs they give us I’m happy to use.”

(San Diego Union-Tribune) 

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