Back, back, back, back, back. Gone! Chris Berman would be out of breath if he was covering Major League Baseball this season. The former broadcaster used to track home runs with his speech. Now, we’re just tracking them with absurd analytics.
Baseball has always been a stat man’s dream sport. Filling out scorebooks and scratching out lineup cards is as much America’s pastime as, well, America’s pastime.
But stats have grown to much more than a classic “Who’s on first?” bit. Major League Baseball introduced Statcast in 2015, giving teams a new way to track previously unquantifiable parts of the sport. And it’s starting to pay dividends.
The 2017 season has been a casual fan’s dream. Yep, present company included.
Big Leaguers are mashing taters this year, hitting dingers, blasting moon balls. Whatever you want to call them, home runs are back and better than ever.
Well, maybe not ever. Shouts to Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Bring back steroids!
But the balls are flying. Even more so than the steroid era. Even more so than any era.
The month of June saw 1,101 home runs, an MLB record. It broke the previous record, set in May 2000, by more than 30.
That same 2000 season, the league finished with 5,693 home runs. If this year’s pace holds steady, it’ll demolish that number — by, like, 400.
While guys like Sosa, McGwire and Barry Bonds will go down in history as monsters with biceps like Big Poppa Pump, the new batch of MLB superstars are swinging for the fences.
The fences don’t stand a chance.
Judge put away 30 long balls before the All-Star break, just the 36th player in league history to do so (remember, this league has been around for a while) and the first since Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera in 2013. Since the steroid-era ended in 2005, only eight players have had 30 or more dingers at the All-Star break.
The Yankees slugger is the league leader for distance with his 496-foot skyscraper at Yankee Stadium on June 11. He hit one 513(!) feet as he cruised to a Home Run Derby title Monday. I think he was a villain in a James Bond movie at one point, too.
Twenty-four players in the league have 20 or more home runs, six with 25 or more. According to Baseball Reference, 14.2 percent of hits this year have been home runs — an MLB record up nearly a full percent from a season ago. For comparison, the Long Ball era (1994-2005) had a home-run percentage of 11.8 percent.
The league hit a 20-year low for homers just three years ago (4,186).
Major League Baseball has quickly transitioned to a hitter’s league, and advanced analytics have been the catalyst, aside from the sheer size of some of these behemoths.
But size isn’t everything.
Statcast data shows a launch angle of 10 degrees in 2015. This year, it’s up to 10.9 degrees. Guys are adjusting their swings to get extra-base hits — homers included — at nearly a record rate.
While MLB frantically adjusts and — gasp! — changes its rules to speed up the pace of play and bring excitement back to a game that lost it for a while, guys like Judge, Cody Bellinger and Bryce Harper alleviate that pressure. They’re exactly what the league needs at the exact right time.
I could sit here and make an argument that MLB needs to crap on the purity of the game and let all players jam needles in their butts so I can sit at home eating Cheetos as guys hit baseballs to Neptune. But I’ll sacrifice the potential rage-monster repercussions so long as these young bucks uppercut their ways to new league records.
Long live the long ball.
Photo by: Arturo Pardavila — Used via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode