By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — “Going, going, gone!”
That’s what baseball fans have heard more of in the first half of the 2017 season than they ever have. Entering play Thursday, MLB teams are averaging 1.27 home runs per game, which when Fangraphs released comparative numbers in early June was the most to this point of the season in baseball history.
Here in Chicago, Cubs right-hander John Lackey has allowed 20 homers in 14 starts, one year after giving up 23 in 29 starts. Right-hander Jake Arrieta has given up 12 home runs in 14 starts after giving up 16 homers in 2016. And right-hander Kyle Hendricks has allowed nine homers in 11 starts after allowing 15 in 31 starts last season.
In their case, they have little choice but to pitch around this new wave of slugging threats. The long ball can mess up their games and play with their minds. Some have surmised the ball is more juiced.
“This falls under the ‘it is what it is’ department,” Cubs left-hander Jon Lester said of the slugfest going on this season. “You can’t really change how the ball is made or anything like that. You just try to minimize the damage. If you do that by giving up just a couple of solo home runs, hopefully your offense scores more than just those two runs.”
Lester did just that in his last start, allowing two solo homers to the Padres in a game the Cubs would come back to win 3-2.
“As I said, you can’t really worry about how they make the ball,” Lester said. “You must keep the ball on the ground and give your fielders a chance to help you out. As a pitcher, it’s a subject you can’t really talk about. If you go on about it, seems like you are just making excuses. It is a fine line between what a pitcher can and can’t say about a ball potentially or not potentially (being) juiced. It appears any ball hit in the air has a good chance of going out now. You are not seeing jumps in batting averages, you are seeing jumps in home runs.”
The taboo side of this conversation makes it tough for pitchers to converse about.
“I agree with Jon,” Lackey said. “We go nowhere talking about this subject. Yeah, pitching in Wrigley when the wind is blowing out is tough enough. You just have to try and make adjustments and get more swings and misses. Those fly balls can get out of here pretty easy. Here at Wrigley, we all know how small it is. As a visitor, I did not know how different it plays.”
Pitching coach Chris Bosio has his own theory.
“Throw strikes, change speeds and get them off of the plate,” Bosio tells his pitchers of how to combat the home run ball. “We can’t allow ourselves to get caught up in a ball being more lively or not.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.