Home runs ruined our ability to appreciate production
By Scott Allen
We’re in a drought.
No, not the literal kind (unless you live in California), I’m talking about the offensive kind. Still a little murky? Fine, we’re in a pitching heavy era of baseball. Does that clear it up? See, the steroid era that lasted for more than 20 years allowed us as fans to become accustomed with 40-50-60 home runs and not bat an eye. It wasn’t just the non-authentic human strength either, a great deal of the blame falls on owners who were desperate to fill seats following the 1994 strike. Fences were moved in, ballparks were built with the specific idea that they’d generate as much offense as possible, and umpires strike zones shrank down to shoebox size.
The result was this – too many home runs, too much offense, not enough of an appreciation for the finer things like taking a walk, on purpose, sacrificing runners over, spraying balls into the gaps and aggressively running the bases. An entire generation of children who are now in their twenties and thirties speak of the epic seasons of Bonds, McGwire and Sosa, and yet the truly great ones from last decade like Vlad Guerrero and Ichiro rarely enter the conversation.
The idea that we’re in what is considered a pitching heavy era may simply be a byproduct of an entire generation of false reality. 50 home runs is an epic season and the climax of a career, not a routine benchmark of a power hitter. Hitting .330 is an MVP caliber season and a famed batting title, not the expected mark of one who is proficient at making contact. The reality is, 20 home runs is what’s expected from a player with power. 30 is what we expect from an all-star with power. 40 is the neighborhood of the elite. .300 batting average is where we expect from the likes of Joe Mauer and Mike Trout to compete. .290 is where borderline all-star players like Starling Marte and Yasiel Puig sit and .280 is where solid guys like Pablo Sandoval and Martin Prado should be hitting.
Undoubtedly, we’re in an era of less home runs, but does that mean power has all but disappeared from our game? Not at all, in fact you could argue that the natural progression of the game dictates that players today are faster, stronger, smarter and just plain better than they were a decade and a half ago when 40 home runs was the norm. But perhaps a new type of star has emerged. One that sacrifices the home runs for consistent and controlled swings. One that puts less of an emphasis on batting average and RBI and more of an emphasis on reaching base and scoring runs. The unsung heroes who are a different kind of elite. It’s too easy to pick the Trouts, McCutchens and Stantons of the world. What about these guys?
Jonathan Lucroy: He may have been able to hit 30 HRs in the past decades, but last year the most productive catcher in baseball hit 50 doubles and only 13 home runs. He also reached base 37% of the time. Those are great numbers given the context.
Matt Holliday: Is age catching up with Holliday and turning him into more of a doubles and OBP hitter, or is it the difference between the game of 2006 and 2015? It may even be the move away from Colorado. Whatever the case, Holliday now fits the bill of under appreciated power hitter.
Alex Gordon: The ultimate post-hype sleeper, Gordon went from elite power hitting 3B to bust, to extremely athletic LF. He’ll still hit upward for 40 doubles, 20 HRs, steal a fair amount of bases and reach base at a clip that won’t hurt anyone. But he’s also the sort that deserves for recognition than he gets.
Billy Butler: Country Breakfast has bucked the trend of power hitting for a while now. He had a year there where his line drives were turning into home runs, but it isn’t uncommon to see this first baseman hitting 40+ doubles and only 15 home runs.
Matt Carpenter: He’s perhaps the perfect example of what I’m talking about. Carpenter can hit for power. Anyone that’s watched him take BP can attest to that. But during the season, 40 doubles and 10 home runs comes with 100 runs scored and an OBP near .380.
Just so I’m not reamed later; Nick Markakis, Joe Mauer, Martin Prado, Melky Cabrera, Ben Zobrist and Yadi Molina also fit the mold.
This trend doesn’t look like it’s likely to disappear anytime soon either, as we’re beginning to see a boom of players entering the league and coming into their own with this approach and skill set, Starling Marte, Kole Calhoun, Mookie Betts, Anthony Rendon and Eric Hosmer just to name a few.
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