With the 2017 regular season over, now’s a good time to focus on the top three stories that are all related to the mighty home run ball
The big home run stories in 2017 were Giancarlo Stanton’s 59 home runs, Aaron Judge’s new rookie HR record and the 6,000-plus home runs hit by all MLB teams.
Stanton shoots for Maris’s “record,” but comes up short.
While Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins was unable to join the hallowed 60-homer club—he clubbed 59—he does enter the record books with a top 10 all-time home run season. He’s just the sixth player in history to reach 59 home runs in a season.
The only players who have hit more in one season are Barry Bonds (73), Mark McGwire (70, 65), Sammy Sosa (66, 64) Roger Maris (61) and Babe Ruth (60). Ruth also had a 59-home run season.
In early September, Stanton stirred up controversy by saying that when it came to the home run record, the only number he considered valid was 61. In other words, he was hinting (and thousands of fans might agree) that the home run achievements of Bonds, McGwire and Sosa are all tainted (and are not legitimate) because they took place during a time when, as we now know, many players were using performance-enhancing drugs. Stanton is 6' 6" and 245 pounds and plays in an improved league with stricter and ongoing drug testing.
In the last weeks and days of the season, Stanton had a chance to reach Maris’s mark of 61 and even pass it. But in the end, his season ended just one shy of the magical “60,” and a full 14 homers shy of Bonds’ mark.
If anything, it proves how difficult it is to hit 60 home runs in a season—and how next to impossible it would be to hit 70 or more…at least without some sort of extra help.
Here comes the Judge.
Mark McGwire was a great home run hitter right out of the gate. He set the rookie mark of 49 home runs way back in 1987 while playing for the Oakland A’s.
Thirty years later in 2017, McGwire’s rookie record was broken by New York Yankees sensation Aaron Judge. Judge belted 52 home runs, second only to Stanton’s 59 this season, making him the only rookie in MLB history to reach at least 50 home runs.
On most teams, 52 home runs might be the franchise record, but Judge is on a team that has an impressive list of sluggers who’ve worn pinstripes over the decades. Four other Yankees have hit 50 home runs: Ruth, Maris, Mickey Mantle and Alex Rodriguez.
The rookie did break one of Ruth’s records though: Judge hit 33 home runs at home, the most ever by any Yankees player.
But let’s face it—50 home runs is still impressive and somewhat rare, no matter who you play for. But for a rookie to reach 50? Now that’s impressive.
What amazed most fans and writers was Judge’s power. On his last home run of the season, number 52, the ball traveled 484 feet. In June at Yankee Stadium, he hit one an estimated 495 feet that exited the outfield clocked at 121.1 mph, making it the hardest-hit ball of 2017. He also sent homers flying into the bleachers at 119.4, 118.6 and 118.4 mph.
Where does he get that kind of power? Well, Judge stands 6' 7" and weighs 282 pounds.
Swinging for the bleachers.
For the first time in history, MLB broke the 6,000-home-run barrier for a season. The total of home runs for all teams reached 6,105, which is 495 more than last season and 412 more than the previous highest season total of 5,693 set during the year 2000…the heart of the steroid era.
There are differing opinions on what caused the jump.
“It’s the ball.”
A lot of people don’t think that today’s players are juiced…they think the ball is.
Commissioner Manfred says the increase in home runs has nothing to do with the ball. He attributes it to stronger athletes and a focus on power. “We are in a period where we have bigger, stronger, faster athletes—like all sports,” Manfred says. “I don’t think it’s surprising that there’s an emphasis on power pitching, which produces strikeouts, and there’s an emphasis on power hitting that gives you a lot of home runs and less balls in play.”
The sports company Rawlings, which manufactures all the balls for Major League Baseball, also says it’s not the ball. They responded to an inquiry by CBS This Morning in writing, saying, “MLB has not asked us to change or alter the ball in any way, shape or fashion. And we haven’t.”
But others don’t buy those answers and they claim that the ball has changed.
A few studies cited online indicate that tests on newer baseballs show they fly a bit farther and even measure up a little differently. And some players claim there’s a difference too. Broadcaster Ron Darling, who is a former big-league pitcher, weighed in on the topic. Does he think there’s something going on with the ball? “I do.” Darling said. “I’ve touched a lot of baseballs. I’ve held them.”
“It’s the launch angle.” Anyone who’s ever played golf knows that much careful and detailed study goes into analyzing golf swings and the results of a good swing. That level of swing analysis is now a big part of baseball.
A good launch angle, analysts have concluded based on statistics, is credited with producing more home runs by more baseball players.
The great Ted Williams said that a good swing should have a slight uppercut to get the ball in the air. He didn’t have stats and analysis to back that up, but it seemed to work for him. Today’s research backs Williams’ approach. In fact, they’re analyzing it down to very minute details. To tenths of a degree.
The new approach is this: A level swing (zero degrees) or even swinging down (negative degrees) is out. Those swings produce only ground balls that lead mostly to outs.
The uppercut is in. Only it’s now called a “launch angle.” And it’s producing balls that have a chance of being hits, doubles, triples and even home runs.
The average uppercut is about 10.5 degrees. But stats show that almost 60% of the 5,500 home runs hit this season left a bat swung at a 25- to 35-degree angle.
So, the uppercut…excuse us…the LAUNCH ANGLE is here to stay.
Many teams and plenty of players are now obsessed with this focus on their loft or launch angle. One of the most committed is Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson, who was the AL MVP a few years ago.
He says, “Ground balls are outs. If you see me hit a ground ball, even if it’s a hit, I can tell you: It was an accident.”
Bigger players. Juicier baseballs. Launch angles. Take your choice on what produced more dingers this year.
Just be sure to take your glove to the game next season.
cbssports.com/mlb/news/marlins-giancarlo-stanton-finishes-2017; rollingstone.com/sports/news/aaron-judge-breaks-mlb-rookie-record; mlb.com/news/article/256063058; washingtonpost.com/news/fancy-stats/wp/2017/06/01; washingtonpost.com/graphics/sports/mlb-launch-angles; The Wall Street Journal/Sports: “Stanton Stokes a Home-Run Derby,” 9/12/2017