Might baseball be cycling back to a pitching-dominant period? Last year we saw indications that pitchers were starting to get a leg up on hitters. There are many different ways to explain the change, but the facts are in front of us. The league hit 4,878 home runs in 2008, followed by 5,042 in 2009. In 2010 that dropped to 4,613. Determined to reverse course, this weekend teams set the bar high for the 2010 season. With the season just 1.9 percent complete, batters have already hit 2.3 percent of last year’s home run totals.
Clearly there were some aberrant performances involved in the season’s first 92 games. For instance, Red Sox pitching has allowed more than 10 percent of the 108 total home runs hit. That will not continue to be the case throughout the season (nor will, on the flipside, Texas continue to have 10 percent of the home run total). But that’s kind of the point. We know that we can’t trust the stats early on. So why not take a look at the weirdness of opening weekend and appreciate it for what it is?
While homers were up in general, there are a few teams that truly stood out in terms of home run production. The Reds, Angels, Yankees, Rangers, and Blue Jays all hit seven or more homers this weekend. The Brewers and Royals added six each of their own, which, since they faced the Reds and the Angels, might indicate some type of park anomaly (though in the case of the Royals and the Angels, they played four games while most teams played three). At the same time 16 teams — i.e., the majority — hit only one or two home runs.
Home runs were also concentrated among players. Four players hit three home runs this weekend. In an odd coincidence, three of them hit one in each game. Ian Kinsler hit homers to lead off the game in both of his first two, and then followed up with one on Sunday. His teammate, Nelson Cruz, added two of his own. Mark Teixeira got the most out of his homers, driving in seven runs with them, including a pair of three-run shots in his first two games. Howie Kendrick added one on Friday and another two on Sunday.
(Late add: David Ortiz hit a game-tying homer on Friday and a go-ahead homer on Saturday.)
For good measure, nine other players added two home runs. Torii Hunter hit the two longest homers of the weekend, at 461 and 457 feet. Jose Bautista kept his critics at bay by smashing a pair. His teammate, J.P. Arencibia, also hit two. Rickie Weeks led off Thursday’s and Sunday’s games with home runs; his teammate Ryan Braun also added a pair. Mike Napoli helped pad Texas’ total with two bombs, one off Jon Lester. Pat Burrell got the job done out in LA even though his team lost the series. Finally, both Jorge Posada and Miguel Cabrera hit two homers in Sunday’s game.
This kind of performance flies in the face of conventional knowledge regarding April power. We’ve heard, and observed, that power tends to increase as the weather gets warmer. We saw this last year, as there was a homer hit for every 40 PA, but one every 41 PA in April. Yet this year hitters have, so far, hit a home run once every 33 trips to the plate. While it wouldn’t take much for that number to start moving towards last year’s baseline, it’s still an interesting twist to opening weekend.
It is safe to say, though, that this trend will not continue. Were batters to continue mashing homers at their current rate, they’d hit 5,705 in a full 4,860-game season. That’s 12 more than the league hit in 2000, which is the current record. Sure, maybe if the league has decided to juice the ball it’s a possibility. But barring that, we should see a slowdown in homers during the next few weeks and throughout this season. Which is just fine. The homer happiness already added to the allure of opening weekend. No matter what happens the rest of the season, we can still look back on this weekend and say, “Holy schnikes, they hit a ton of homers in those four days.”