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Volume 24 No. 117
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Touch 'Em All: Theories Abound About MLB's Record-Breaking Season For Home Runs

Royals LF Alex Gordon last night hit the 5,694th homer of '17, breaking MLB’s "all-time record for homers in a single season," cementing a "new era of power in baseball," according to Rustin Dodd of the K.C. STAR. The old mark was set in '00, at the "height of baseball’s so-called Steroid Era" (K.C. STAR, 9/20). The AP's Ian Harrison notes there were 5,610 homers last year, an "average of 2.31 per game, and this year’s average of 2.53" entering yesterday’s action projects to 6,139. That would be up 47% from 4,186 in '14" (AP, 9/20). YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan notes "two dozen teams" are scoring at least 40% of their runs on home runs. A decade ago, that number "was three." Additionally, 231 hitters have "whacked at least 10 home runs," which breaks the previous record by 14 hitters, and it will only "grow over the next two weeks" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/20).

READY FOR LAUNCH (ANGLE): In N.Y., Tyler Kepner notes data on launch angles and exit velocity is now "readily available to show the precise bat path needed to hit a ball hard and far." Players like D-backs RF J.D. Martinez, Blue Jays 3B Josh Donaldson, Nationals 2B Daniel Murphy and Dodgers 3B Justin Turner have all made a "dedicated effort in recent years to hit more balls in the air" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/20). USA TODAY's Jorge Ortiz notes the emergence of MLB’s Statcast system has "provided players a tool to assess what kind of drives are less likely to get caught, and as a result hitters have increasingly tailored their swings to get more loft and beat defensive shifts" (USA TODAY, 9/20). FS1’s Nick Swisher said players are "trying to do different things now." Swisher noted he had a shift put on him when he played and hitting ground balls in that situation "is the worst thing you can do." Swisher: "You’re trying to elevate baseballs, put them in the seats. You put them in the seats, you make more money” (“MLB Whiparound,” FS1, 9/20). Cubs 3B Kris Bryant said, "Guys are throwing harder, and the harder it comes in, the harder it goes out." Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, "I do believe the (higher) launch angle (of hitters) trying to do that more intentionally has something to do with it" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/20).

ALL-OR-NOTHING APPROACH
: In San Diego, Dennis Lin notes Padres C Austin Hedges is an "example of how modern players have traded contact for distance." Hedges entered yesterday's game batting .210 but with 18 home runs in 113 games. He said, "I'm definitely trying to hit the ball in the air. Not necessarily hit a home run, but I’m looking to drive the ball. I feel like unless you’re a fast lefty, there’s no reason to really hit the ball on the ground." Lin notes the leaguewide record for strikeouts will "rise for a 10th consecutive year." Sacrifices, hit-and-runs and other, more subtle forms of offense have been "scrapped in favor of all-or-nothing approaches" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 9/20). MLB Network's Dan O'Dowd said, "The game is more exciting for me from a viewer’s standpoint when the ball is put into play. You see the tremendous athleticism of our players actually take place on the field when the ball is put into play on a regular basis. Though I understand the dramatic nature of home runs, I think we’re getting at a point in time where we need to come back a little bit and we need to start playing a different game of baseball” ("MLB Now," MLB Network, 9/19).

Judge has 44 home runs and 198 strikeouts, symbolizing a new approach to hitting
IS THE JUICE LOOSE? ESPN.com's David Schoenfield asks, "Where are all the 2017 home runs coming from?" Rookies are "hitting a lot." Entering yesterday, they had "hit 708 home runs, the most by rookies in one season and nearly double the total" that rookies hit in '00 (363). Yankees RF Aaron Judge has a "chance to break" Mark McGwire's rookie record of 49 set in '87, while Dodgers 1B Cody Bellinger with 38 homers is "tied for third most by a rookie." While PED use is often mentioned, the "most likely answer ... is a change in the way the ball is manufactured" (ESPN.com, 9/20). CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Axisa noted there has been "widespread speculation the ball is juiced and changes to the baseball have allowed it to travel farther." MLB denies that theory, but it is "possible changes have been made to the ball, perhaps unintentionally, that have led to it flying out of the park even while conforming to MLB standards" (CBSSPORTS.com, 9/19). Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo said believes the balls are juiced and compared it to inflating a football. He said, "The range where it can be, it's probably on the high end" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/20). ESPN's Mike Greenberg said, "It’s not that complicated, it's the ball." He said, "If everyone is using the same ball but the ball is a little more prone to going out of the ballpark, I don't think that is a problem. I don't think it’s a bad thing, I don’t think it’s something you need to hide” ("Mike & Mike," ESPN Radio, 9/20).

PLAYERS GETTING STRONGER: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said players are “bigger, stronger, faster” today, which has contributed to the home run record. He added that there has been a “really significant change in the way that the game’s being played and taught to young people." Manfred: "You’re seeing the results of that at the big-league level” ("Angels Live," FS West, 9/19). FS1’s Dontrelle Willis said, “Guys are just naturally stronger. Everybody is squatting and lifting and getting stronger all-season long. ... It’s just the evolution of humans in baseball and the game” ("MLB Whiparound," FS1, 9/19).

STILL DIGGING THE LONG BALL
: The GLOBE & MAIL's Cathal Kelly writes under the header, "Baseball Is Becoming More Fun. Why Not Just Enjoy?" Setting a new home run record is "great news" for MLB. Kelly: "What sport would not want its single most exciting element happening as often as possible?" As long as the change "does not tend to advantage any one team over the others, offence can increase limitlessly without impacting competitive balance." Nobody has "suggested anyone is cheating." Baseball has just "become a little more fun to watch" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/19). MLB Network's Kelly Nash said, "It is fun to watch. ... When you see the fly ball revolution in full effect with everybody trying to launch the ball with more launch angle, it plays out right. Definitely more entertaining” (“The Rundown,” MLB Network, 9/19).