Why All The Long Balls?

Why All The Long Balls?

After Aaron Judge’s 496-foot blast on June 10th at Yankee Stadium -- the longest home run to that point of the season -- we got to thinking about long balls. Namely, that there have been lots of them this year and lots that have flown great distances.

Thanks to recent technological advances -- like Major League Baseball’s Statcast player-analysis tool and ESPN’s Home Run Tracker -- it’s easy to measure just about anything that happens on a baseball field. Including the distance a batted ball has traveled away from home plate, whether it leaves the yard or not.

So far, the 2017 season is shaping up as a record-setter for ones that do leave the yard. A quick glance at Baseball Reference.com’s year-by-year batting stats shows that if the 2.54 home runs per game average through June 21st is maintained, it would be the highest average for a season in history (dating to 1871).

Another reason so many fans, analysts, and even players themselves are asking, “Why so many long balls this season?” is because of outliers like Scooter Gennett. He’s the little-known second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds who became just the 17th man in 150 years of professional baseball to hit four home runs in one game.

Juiced Balls
The thing that’s particularly interesting about the high rate of home runs is that in 2014, MLB teams combined for just 1.72 home runs per game, which was the lowest since 1992. That means that in the span of just three seasons, we’ve gone from having the fewest HR per game in over two decades to having potentially the most HR per game ever.

This would seem to indicate something has changed, and rather abruptly. And the one thing that always gets discussed when MLB experiences seasons such as this one is the topic of “juiced balls.”

That’s the theory that the baseballs used in games are altered to make them travel farther off the bat, the idea being it will increase scoring and make games more exciting. But since higher-scoring games are usually longer games, juiced balls don’t seem to jibe with the league’s recent exploration of ways to makes games shorter.

Maybe it’s not the balls.

Are PEDs Back?
The cynics among us will chuckle and remark that Performance Enhancing Drugs have never really gone away, especially given how much the home run numbers are up this year. But in 2017, with the routine drug testing and heightened awareness around the league, can rampant doping really be happening again?

Sure, players these days are healthier than ever -- teams have specialized trainers, nutritionists, and physical therapists on staff -- so there’s a certain degree of “performance enhancing” still going on with players’ bodies. But are these specialists really shrewd enough and bold enough to try cheating the system again?

Not to mention the fact that it seems highly unlikely the people in power positions would turn a blind eye to this kind of shenanigans after all we went through in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

Maybe it’s not the drugs.

Better Health
Okay, so if the expert treatment the players receive in the trainer’s room and at the training table most likely isn’t tainted by PEDs, is this kind of clean living really able to make players more powerful and more focused than ever before, to the degree we’re seeing today?

In order for it to have such a direct impact, all position players would need to participate. Across the board, catchers, infielders, outfielders -- big-man sluggers and Scooter Gennetts -- would all be eating healthily, optimizing their rest schedules, having therapy sessions habitually, and working out religiously. Which seems unlikely.

And if it were rampant among position players, wouldn’t pitchers be partaking, too? And if they were, it would surely present a sort of counterbalance to the progress the hitters were making, right?

Maybe it’s not the hitters’ health.

Elite Training
The current record for home runs in a season occurred in 2000, right at the peak of steroid use in baseball, so it’s safe to assume that PEDs probably contributed to that high-powered performance.

But if they haven’t contributed this year -- and neither have juiced balls, improved health and wellness, or magic spells -- then what’s putting hitters on the pace to hit 500 more homers than 2000’s record-setting season? And is it even possible for just one single phenomenon to cause such a severe surge?

At Rick Strickland Baseball, we think the obvious things are to blame: enhanced lower-body strength, improved pitch-recognition skills, and biometric technology that helps players optimize body and hand positioning, bat movement, swing power, follow through, eye level, and more.

Yeah, maybe it’s the advanced training techniques causing all the long balls.

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