The obsession of the San Diego Padres and all of major league baseball in regards to the home run.
This season balls fly over fences on such a regular basis that batters are on pace to hit 6,668 homers by the end of the season. To put this into perspective, if the trend continues, it would annihilate the record of 6,105 set just two years ago. In this year’s Home Run Derby, 312 balls sailed out of Progressive Field in Cleveland – almost 100 more than the previous record of 221 set just the year before.
The Padres have joined in the power display and ranked 10thin home runs with 143 at the All-Star break. That’s both good and bad news. The Padres hit a home run in every 21.8 at-bats and rank 8thin that stat. But the team also ranks 29th in doubles with 126, 21stin triples with 12, 23rd in walks per game with 2.92, and, more importantly, 21stin RBI.
Hunter Renfroe leads the Padres with 27, on a pace to hit 50 home runs. However, despite hitting fewer home runs, Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado lead the team in RBI with 63 and 62 respectively compared to Renfroe’s 49. Solo homers certainly score a run but also can act as rally stoppers.
FanGraphs’ Dan Szymborski projects that 46 players could hit 30 or more home runs this season. In the meantime, strikeouts have increased from 17.3 percent in 2008 to 19.3 percent this year, at least partly a result of swinging for the fences. This year the Padres are tied for the worst strikeout rate in all of baseball with the Texas Rangers at 26 percent.
In that very important calculation of run differential, San Diego ranks 22nd at -47.0. Compare that to the Dodgers’ +147.0 or the Yankees’ +122.0 or the Twins’ +120.0. Obviously, smashing dingers doesn’t ensure wins, especially if too many occur with no one on base or when the game is out of reach.
The increase in home runs across baseball has been attributed to many factors, including batters concentrating on launch angle and exit velocity. Inevitably, the art of situational hitting suffers in San Diego and across the sport.
Veteran ace Justin Verlander has called out the baseballs themselves as the culprit. Early this month he told John Altavilla of tiebreaker.com exactly how he feels about the situation:
Major League Baseball’s turning this game into a joke. They own Rawlings, and you’ve got Manfred up here saying it might be the way they center the pill. They own the f—ing company. If any other $40 billion company bought out a $400 million company and the product changed dramatically, it’s not a guess as to what happened. We all know what happened. Manfred the first time he came in, what’d he say? He said we want more offense. All of a sudden he comes in, the balls are juiced? It’s no coincidence. We’re not idiots.
Verlander refers to Rob (show me the money) Manfred, the Commissioner of Baseball, in his justifiable rant. Manfred has become obsessed with offense and pace of play, instituted controversial rules for minor league games (including placing a runner on second in extra innings), and leaves one wondering if he even likes baseball.
Last year, MLB released a study in which scientists found that “a change in aerodynamic properties of the baseball,” which caused less drag, dramatically increased the numbers of home runs. Obviously, a combination of a juiced ball and batters obsessed with launch angle have fueled this onslaught of home runs.
Padres’ hitters have been no exception. In fact, earlier this season, the majority of runs scored for the Padres came on home runs. That tendency, unsustainable over a baseball season, has changed as the season has progressed and Padres hitters take a more balanced approach at the plate.
However, Green also admitted to Kevin Acee after Dallas Keuchel and the Atlanta Braves beat the Padres last week, “We have a number of power hitting guys that aren’t going to thrive if we’re on the ground.”
But baseball has always been a game of adjustments. Opposing teams and pitchers will adjust. The Padres must adjust as well.