If you've been thinking there are more home runs than usual in Major League Baseball these days, you're right. It looks like the league is going to set a record this year for the number of home runs hit in a season. KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick about why this is happening.
SO MANY HOMERS
Mariners fans have certainly noticed an uptick in home runs. The team is second in the American League in home runs right now. Just this week, Mariners first baseman and designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach hit two home runs in one game. And Tim Beckham hit his second grand slam of the season.
"Overall in baseball, they're on a pace to hit more than 6,600 home runs, which is 1,000 more than they hit last year and 500 more than when the record was set in 2017," Thiel said. "Not only that, but the balls are traveling farther. Clearly, something strange is happening."
DEFENSIVE SHIFT = MORE HOME RUNS
Thiel said the defensive shift that's been prevalent in baseball the past several years is one of the reasons for the increase in home runs.
"The analytic data on each hitter is so overwhelming that defenses are shifting every batter to end the infield single or any ground ball. So, coaches have taught their players the upper-cut swing," he said. "As opposed to a flat swing to try to generate ground balls, now they're trying to hit over the defensive shift. "
He said in addition to resulting in more home runs, this has also had the unintended consquence of causing more strikeouts and more walks.
'MORE AERODYNAMIC' BALL
Recent studies have shown that the ball is more aerodynamic than it's ever been.
Thiel said Major League Baseball even convened a home run committee last year to look into all the elements that go into producing baseballs.
"The conclusion was the ball is different. In fact, Commissioner Rob Manfred at the All-Star game said that there is a difference in drag, meaning that there is less drag on the ball. It's more aerodynamic, which would explain this rapid increase in the length of the home runs as well as the number."
Thiel said there's been a change in how the baseball is manufactured. He pointed to a story in The Athletic that featured an astrophysicist who compared all the baseballs from 2014 to 2019 and found differences.
"The balls now have thinner seams. The surface is smoother. And the ball is rounder."
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
You might assume, like many players did, that Major League Baseball is behind the change — to generate more home runs and increase ratings and attendance. But the league says it had nothing to do with it.
"What's happened is more efficient technology producing these baseballs has removed the flaws in the balls, or at least changed how they are produced, to the point where it has changed, fundamentally, how the game is played," Thiel said.
"I look at this as another one of those unintended consequences of technological improvement. It's impacted baseball and I'm not sure how they roll it back.
"Now they have to make a bad baseball to get rid of bad baseball in the game."