Gil LeBreton

Something not measuring up with MLB’s record homers and strikeouts

In the new physics of baseball, it’s apparently OK to swing at the high ones. And the low ones. And the way outside ones.

Swing hard. Swing often.

A strikeout is just another out. A Scooter Gennett is a record maker.

In baseball’s new physics, Exit Velocity times Max Fastball equals Look Out Section 413.

As of Saturday morning, 2,812 home runs had been hit in the major leagues this season, a pace that would shatter the record 5,693 of the steroids-enhanced 2000 season.

No one is safe. The best pitcher in the game, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, already has allowed 17 homers. Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees, who pitched against the Rangers on Friday night, has given up 21.

Theories have sprouted. Maybe the ball is juiced. Maybe the players are juiced. Maybe it’s global warming.

Any dissection of the rash in home runs, however, must be prefaced by an acceptance of your perspective. Are viral homers a bad thing or a good thing? As Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux once wondered, do chicks still dig the long ball?

Does it even matter?

While the world has raced by, baseball has prided itself on its hidebound, ballpark organ-accompanied pace. The NFL amends its rules annually, adjusting to trends. Wimbledon tennis, founded in 1870, now uses video replay.

But half of MLB still doesn’t use the designated hitter — too radical. And TV color announcers still fidget this season when a pitcher doesn’t have to throw the traditional four wide ones for an intentional walk.

No wonder, then, that when asked to speculate on the reasons for the homer explosion, baseball people have been scratching their heads and answering, “D—all of the above.”

“I just don’t know,” said Joe Maddon, manager of the World Series champion Chicago Cubs. “I don’t have a solid reason.

“Maybe if you broke it down, if you get the dudes from Freakonomics to look at it, they might be able to break it down properly.”

Among the theories:

Players are stronger. Pitchers are throwing harder. Hitters are using available advanced data and altering their swings to elevate the ball.

Yes, yes and probably so. But that doesn’t explain the sudden boost in home run frequencies and distances that can be traced to mid-season of 2015.

The other two prominent theories suggest that either the baseball has changed, or the hitters are using performance-enhancing drugs again.

The latter doesn’t fit the timeline, either, however. Unless MLB and the players association have suddenly, surreptitiously diminished their enforcement of baseball’s drug-testing rules, it’s unlikely hitters could have discovered and propagated some new wonder drug.

My best guess: the baseball.

MLB’s official statement was that there is no data to support evidence that the ball has been changed. But as recently as two years ago, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that altering the baseball was one of the things commissioner Rob Manfred was considering to liven up the game.

Before implementing changes, MLB has made use of the Arizona instructional camps, college baseball and the Japanese and Mexican leagues as its experimental labs.

In changing the baseball, all MLB had to do was look at what happened in the NCAA when it lowered the seams two years ago. Claims that the batted ball would fly 20 feet further have proven correct.

The numbers-trackers pinpoint the 2015 MLB All-Star break as when the smaller, more tightly seamed baseballs likely were suddenly introduced.

You can judge for yourself whether it’s real or just an optical illusion. And whether you embrace the added homers or disdain them.

Me, I miss the line-drive double. There are too many strikeouts.

If it is a new baseball, MLB, loosen up.

Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton

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