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“Did you happen to notice I’m destroying our league’s home run record?” That statement/question was made to me last week by a friend who plays in my Fantasy Baseball league. I didn’t think much of the statement because he’s having a great season; he’s going to win the league this year going away. But, I took a closer look at what he said because the team that’s in second place in home runs is right behind him. If he’s destroying the home run record, the team right behind him must be too. But I thought: how can that be? Home runs are supposed to be down. How can two teams be eclipsing our league’s home run record that’s stood for 14 years?
Our league started in 2000 and is in its 17th season. The league’s home record has stood since 2002, in the midst of baseball’s power surge. That season, a team owner put together an offense that hit 295 home runs. With one week left in this season, the league leader who bragged to me, had already hit 324 bombs…the team on his tail had hit 317: also blowing past the previous record. Again, I’m forced to question how this could happen with the steroid era behind MLB, and the ascension of the pitcher.
I took a closer look at the numbers. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the total number of home runs for the season was consistently between 5,300 and 5,500. By the time 2010 rolled around the number of home runs was down dramatically. In 2011, 4,552 home runs were hit, while 2012 and 2013 produced almost identical figures of 4,613 and 4,661. In 2014, home run production fell dramatically to 4,186.
Fantasy teams had to take notice of the dip and re-adjust their mindset. The day of multiple players hitting 40-plus bombs were gone; money would need to be allocated differently. Maybe spending a few extra bucks on that ace pitcher instead of the home run hitter was the way to go because the home runs just weren’t there anymore.
But, as the saying goes, something funny happened on the way to the theater. In 2015 there was an increase of 723 home runs over the previous year, which translates to an increase of 17.2 percent. It wasn’t an expansion year and no new “small” ballparks were built. Was the jump a one year aberration, or is there a renaissance of power developing? And if there is, what is the reason or reasons for the increased output?
It definitely seems like the home run may be back for good. As Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux famously said, “chicks love the long ball.” The increased power surge was definitely not a one hit wonder. With the 2016 season at an end, 5609 home runs have been hit. This season’s total places 2016 second all time, in front of 1999’s season of 5528 and just behind the all time record in 2000 of 5693. In just two seasons, home run production is up over 33 percent.
So what are some of the reasons and how could this impact your thinking for your 2017 Fantasy Baseball drafts?
We’ve already established that there is no expansion and no new ballparks have been built, so those aren’t reasons. Major league baseball has a very strict drug policy and a few players have been hit with suspensions. I honestly don’t think we’re back into a new “steroid era.” Could some players be taking chances? Sure. Could there be some new HGH products that don’t show up on drug tests? Sure. But overall, I think baseball has cleansed itself of the pervasive and extensive drug use of the 90s and early 00s. So what else could be going on? One solution could be that MLB has tinkered with the ball; instead of allowing the players to “juice”, they’ve “juiced” the ball. If that’s the case, the trend of more home runs will continue.
At next year’s draft, while others are still deluding themselves that baseball is in the midst of a pitching era, focus on power hitters. Select players who have shown power potential, like Mike Trumbo. Entering this season he had two 30-plus home run seasons, in 2012 and 2013. Now, at age 30, he has 47 bombs. Brian Dozier just broke the home run record for second basemen, with 42. And, two other second basemen have more than 30 bombs (Rougned Odor and Robinson Cano). And David Ortiz, Big Papi himself in his swan song season, has hit 38 home runs, which is the most of any player in their last season. Be very aggressive and allocate your money on under the radar hitters who are ready to break through. Players like George Springer (29 HRs this season), and Carlos Correa (20 HRs this season), will be two great options.
Another possible reason for this resurgence is that so much focus has been made on the back end of games (innings six through nine) that nobody seems concerned with the first five innings. Teams are looking to be three or four relievers deep to cover those innings and keep the other team scoreless, but they don’t seem to care if their starters consistently give up three or four runs at the start of the game. This logic has produced a whole slew of mediocre starting pitchers. The adage was always that your best pitchers would be molded into starters and relievers were always the scrap heap guys. Today, anyone with good “stuff” is being converted to be that eighth inning setup man, or possible closer who can go multiple innings. Two perfect examples are Jonathan Papelbon and Andrew Miller. In years’ past they would have absolutely remained starters, but in today’s baseball they are deemed more valuable coming out of the bullpen. So the net result is fewer and fewer good starting pitchers. Baseball will always have a handful of aces, but I can’t remember ever seeing more mediocre fourth and fifth starters. Think about it for a second. There is a stat for starting pitchers called a “quality start.” “A quality start is when a pitcher pitches at least six innings and gives up three or fewer runs.” If a pitcher goes six innings and gives up three runs that’s an ERA of 4.50. General managers have accepted mediocrity. With so much bad pitching throughout baseball, can there be any doubt about why hitters are feasting again?
As one season ends, another one is always just around the corner. Before you know it, the World Series will begin…followed by the winter meetings…followed by spring training…followed by your 2017 draft. Be ahead of the curve before your fellow competitors realize that we are entering another age of the home run.