Stop hating on homers: Between Innings

The Los Angeles Angels are in desperation mode as they attempt to catch the Minnesota Twins for the second AL Wild Card spot in the season’s closing weeks (1.5 games back). The Cleveland Indians have clinched the AL Central division. It would be nice for the Tribe to finish with the best record in the American League (1.5 games up on the Houston Astros) or even MLB (1.0 games back of Los Angeles Dodgers), but it is not an absolute necessity. Yet, the Indians just keep on beating the Angels anyway as they did on Wednesday, 6-5.

Starting pitcher Josh Tomlin did what Josh Tomlin does. He gave up seven hits and two earned runs, which included a customary solo home run. However, he spread out those hits over 5.2 innings pitched and issued zero walks (striking out five). The bullpen did him no favors. Or, specifically, Joe Smith had a horrid night.1 Smith recorded just two outs as he gave up four hits and three runs- including a solo home run to the remains of Albert Pujols. Thankfully, Tyler Olson before him and Bryan Shaw (two innings of Shaw!) shut the door on any thoughts the Angels had of stealing a win.

As expected, the offense had a nice night facing Ricky Nolasco, and they continued to hit the Angels bullpen well. In all, 13 hits with six of them being extra base hits (five doubles and a home run) were smacked around the ballpark. Giovanny Urshela continued his magnificent play as of late as he continues to hit the ball hard, and he also made a spectacular snare of a Mike Trout smoking shot down the third base line. However, the most important hit of the night belonged to Jason Kipnis, who continues to ramp back up to speed after coming off the DL.


With the Elevation Revelation in full swing in 2017, MLB set a new all-time record for home runs in a season. Hitters of all shapes, sizes, and ability are hitting home runs at a crazy rate as the Indians know full well with players such as Francisco Lindor eschewing the slap doubles for the long ball. Lindor set the all-time records for both an Indians shortstop and MLB switch-hitting shortstop for home runs in a season with 31.

Yahoo! Sports Jeff Passan notes the power of the home run. However, he also joins a growing chorus of baseball writers who have begun to question its overall effect on the game.

Baseball loves the home run. Hitters love it. Managers love it. Executives love it. Owners love it. Everybody but pitchers love it, and even they respect it. The home run engenders that sort of response. Fans didn’t stop tuning in, coming to games or consuming baseball on account of the home run zenith, and no signs of active opposition to it appear to be burbling anywhere. Which brings us to the home run itself. Three years ago, it looked like an endangered species. Today, it is the undisputed king of baseball.

This, with the record-setting 5,694th home run this season struck Tuesday night, leaves the sport trying to answer an existential question for which it does not yet know the proper response: Is the home run’s hostile takeover of baseball a good thing for the sport?

The entire read is well-worth the time, but a singular sentence sticks out to me. One that I have seen from many baseball writers who are bemoaning for a time when fielding and baserunning were more important pieces of the baseball game.

The game’s evolution can be considered, quite reasonably, a devolution – a contempt for the game’s tradition, and some of what made it so beautiful, for the statistically optimal play.

The New York Post’s Joel Sherman went so far as to suggest MLB has reached a breaking point in the home run binge. He wisely details the evolution baseball has required to reach the point we are at today. How advances in science for training have created Yandy Diaz sized individuals.2 How defensive shifts have forced hitters to adjust how they acquire hits.3 How the move to analytics have demonstrated shifting to power and going for binge runs is the logical approach. However, he suggests the game has gone too far and the product is suffering as a result. Again, a similar line to Passan’s above is written.

The game is at its best when the ball is in play, and we see the athletic genius and team coordination necessary to create runs and outs.

Even before the great year of the home run, there were writers pining for days of the past. The Athletic-Chicago’s Joe Sheehan opined how home runs and strikeouts were boring. How the game was losing its appeal. Most of his items are behind a paywall, but this message sums up his thoughts.

Here’s the thing. They are missing the beauty.

The best battle on the baseball diamond is one between the individual on the mound and the one in the batter’s box. The pitcher attempts to alter the pitch speed, curve, placement, and timing to throw off the hitter who is trying to put the barrel on the baseball. There is a reason hitting a baseball is considered the most difficult task in sports.

The ultimate payoff for the pitcher is the strikeout; for the hitter, a home run. Having these payoffs happen more often is a cause for celebration, not one to deride. People such as Rob Friedman (Pitching Ninja) and Ryan Paker (Airball Aficionado) have developed communities of people online for those who appreciate this beauty. Baseball Savant has developed a new statistic called barrels to add the understanding.4 Brooks Baseball has charted every aspect from the pitching side, including release point, velocity, pitch type, sequencing, and outcomes. So, the modern baseball fan has an ability to dive into these aspects of the continual chess match like never before, and it’s not like casual fans without such desire for stat-digging don’t appreciate the whiffle ball nature of a Corey Kluber curve or the ascension of a Edwin Encarnacion moonshot.

Baseball writers are skeptics by nature. It should be expected a push against a new direction that MLB is taking, and there is a beauty to watching Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons one-up each other from the shortstop position in this series as they make difficult plays seem routine. Still, the true beauty and understanding of baseball is 60 feet, 6 inches apart and repeats about 300 times per game. Let’s appreciate it.

  1. Craig Breslow also walked the only batter he faced. []
  2. I inserted Diaz as the reference point. []
  3. Hit it over their heads! []
  4. Exit velocity and launch angle combinations that create the most probably hits for power. []