Oh my, the home runs! Major League hitters are on pace to slug over 6,000 total home runs this season. 6,000! That would shatter the record of 5,693 hit back in 2000, right in the heart of the Steroid era. Right now, there are eight players with the potential to hit 50 or more home runs this season.
Naturally, when you think about who was hitting most of the bombs in 2000 and then look at the home run rate this season, the first thing to come to mind is “steroids?” As much as the Steroid era made me a skeptic, I honestly believe that’s not the case. Instead, I think what we are seeing are two things: A completely new strategy in hitting, and juiced baseballs. With the rise in sabremetrics, striking out is no longer seen as such a negative. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the records for single-season strikeouts by hitters. Seven of the top 11 came within the last five years. This season, Miguel Sano is on pace for 240 strikeouts, but 40 home runs. In fact, ten players on are on pace to strikeout over 200 times, but eight of them are on pace to hit 30 or more home runs. It’s all about go big or go home. Rob Deer and Adam Dunn would be megastars in today’s MLB.
As for juiced balls, you can’t possibly tell me there’s not something fishy going on there. What do most people want to see when they watch a baseball game? A pitcher’s duel? Stolen bases? Singles? Doubles? Well, according to MLB Commissioner Adam Silver, “our research shows that people love to see home runs.” (I hate to think of how much was spent on that research…but I am also thinking of how I could get paid to do a research job that reaches obvious conclusions.) So if MLB could find a way to tweak the balls a bit so that we see more home runs, you don’t think that they would? You’d be naive to think they wouldn’t.
I suspect we will continue to see massive home run production throughout the rest of the season, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m more of a fan of pitching, which is also great for me because so many hitters are striking out at record paces. Needless to say, the sport has been exciting to watch this year…unless you are a fan of the Padres, Giants, Phillies or any team in the AL West not named “Houston Astros.” (Side note, the team that hit the most home runs in 2000? The Houston Astros. The team that currently leads MLB in home runs in 2017? The Houston Astros.)
On to the mid-season awards!
AL Rookie of the Year: Aaron Judge, Yankees. No one in either league is playing to his level right now.
NL Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger, Dodgers. While he’ll likely have a second half slowdown, his first half was one for the record books.
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Red Sox. Mowing down hitters like they’re ugly throwback White Sox jerseys.
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Nationals. You get a lot of strikeouts when you pitch a lot of innings, and you get a lot of innings when your bullpen is a dumpster fire.
AL MVP: Aaron Judge, Yankees. I know sports writers hate giving two awards to the same person, but can you see anyone else making a case for this award?
NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals. I want to put Paul Goldschmidt here, but let’s face it: MVP winners almost never come from teams not in first. The D-backs have cooled off as of late. If they make it to the wild card, PG could have a chance, but the Nats are too strong right now and Harper is more visible.
AL Manager of the half-year: Paul Molitor, Twins. Despite the fact that the Twins give up more runs than they score, Molitor still finds ways for this scrappy team to to stay in the hunt.
NL Manager of the half-year: Craig Counsell, Brewers. In a division featuring the Cubs and Cardinals, Counsell has kept his team atop the standings, surprising everyone.
The Brady Anderson “Where the hell did that come from?” Award: Dan Straily, Marlins. Straily has played on five teams in six seasons and sported an ERA well north of 4.00 before this season. The key to his success this season is cutting his 2:1 K:BB ratio down to 3:1. Must be the calm silence in Marlins Park that has settled him down.
The Kevin Maas “Where did he go?” Award: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies. I thought about putting Jose Bautista here, but his decline really began last year. Alex Gordon also makes a strong case for this award. But CarGo was a home run hitting and batting average machine for years. Now in the last year of his contract, he is hitting a paltry .221 with 6 HRs and 22 RBI in 74 games. A far cry from his 40 HR season of 2015 and his 100 RBI season of 2016. Anyone who signs him risks an Andruw Jones contract-style fiasco.
Best Player No One Talks About: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks. He has a good shot at winning the NL MVP, but if he came to your door in street clothes, would you recognize him?
Player Least Deserving of a Roster Spot (Tie): Keon Broxton, Brewers and Chris Hatcher, Dodgers. There are a lot of players that can win this award, but these two stand out the most right now. As mentioned earlier, strikeouts for a hitter are no longer seen as such a negative stat…as long as you are hitting home runs and have a decent on-base percentage. Broxton leads the NL in strikeouts and is hitting only .227 with a .304 OBP. He also has only 14 home runs and 35 RBI, so the only thing he contributes are automatic outs. Hatcher is the player that terrifies Dodger fans the most. The way he seems to get hitters on base and blow leads is almost artistic. He always finds creative ways to let opponents into games. How he’s been able to stay on the roster this long is still a mystery.