CINCINNATI, OH – AUGUST 31: Scooter Gennett #4 of the Cincinnati Reds hits a two-run home run in the second inning against the New York Mets at Great American Ball Park on August 31, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

In the top of the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game between the Royals and Blue Jays, Kansas City outfielder Alex Gordon whacked a hanging breaking ball over the right-centerfield fence at the Rogers Centre for his eighth home run of the season.

The long ball was nondescript except for one fact: It was Major League Baseball’s 5,694th homer of the season, breaking a record previously set in 2000. With nearly two weeks left to play, the league has plenty of time to blow past every other season in baseball history.

Some fans might hear that home runs are at an all-time high and think, “Wow, excellent! Home runs are great!” And yes, it’s true that dingers are dramatic and decisive and awe-inspiring. They’re easy to understand for newbie fans, exciting to witness for casual fans and fun to admire and analyze for diehards. When you go to a baseball game, you’re probably hoping to see a home run or two.

But this spike in home runs carries several problems. For one thing, it is cheapening the benchmarks that we supposedly hold dear. Thirty home runs used to be a mark of power-hitting excellence. Now it’s attainable for the likes of Rougned Odor, Travis Shaw and Scooter Gennett. Twenty home runs used to require some genuine pop. Now Tommy Pham, Zack Cozart and Marwin Gonzalez have gotten there with time to spare. Our entire frame of reference for what is a lot of home runs has shifted.

More importantly, all these home runs are bringing with them a swell of a strikeouts. As batters are rewarded for swinging for the fences, they have every incentive to keep up the big upper-cut swings that result in lots of long balls and also lots of whiffs. Here is the list of the highest-strikeout seasons in MLB history:

  1. 2016
  2. 2015
  3. 2014
  4. 2017
  5. 2013
  6. 2012
  7. 2011
  8. 2010
  9. 2009
  10. 2008

In all likelihood, 2017 will soon eclipse 2016, making this the 12th straight season Ks have increased. This season, there have been 37,330 strikeouts and 39,409 hits. At this rate, Ks will soon eclipse hits, for the first time in history.

Everything that makes home runs fun—the crack of the bat, the drama of how far the ball will fly, the consequences of its landing—are absent from strikeouts, which can pass without notice if you’re not watching closely. All the most exciting parts of baseball happen when the ball is in play. Diving plays, great throws, smart base-running and defensive gaffes are what keep the game entertaining. Too many strikeouts can slow it to a crawl.

And finally, these home runs are a problem because they’re almost certainly a mirage. No one except Rob Manfred doubts at this point that MLB’s baseball’s are juiced, with lower seams and/or a tighter composition that allows them to fly farther. That means unless the change in the ball was a deliberate plan to increase scoring (and we have no reason to think it was), the ball could swing back the other way at any point, without warning. As Joe Sheehan is fond of pointing out, home runs are the only thing propping up offense, and if they disappear, so do all the runs. Then baseball will be a strikeout-riddled game without any scoring, at least until hitters un-learn their uppercuts. If you think baseball is slow now, imagine a season full of 3-2 games in which both teams strike out 16 times.

There’s no easy solution here (although deeper fences would be a good start), but one way or another baseball needs to correct itself before home runs and strikeouts—or worse, strikeouts alone–overpower every other aspect of the game. In the moment, each home run is an adventure, a burst of excitement to stand and celebrate. But collectively, those home runs are changing baseball faster than is healthy.

In 2014, Scooter Gennett batted 474 times. He hit only nine home runs, but also struck out only 67 times. He was the type of plucky, undersized infielder baseball fans like to see alongside the gargantuan sluggers. Now, Gennett’s entire profile has changed. In 453 plate appearances this year, he has nearly triple the home runs as he did three seasons ago, with 50 percent more strikeouts. He has become, somehow, a swing-for-the-fences slugger.

That change is good for Gennett, who is a much more valuable player than he was in 2014, but is it good for baseball fans? Or do we maybe need a mix of sluggers and slap hitters, strikeouts and singles? If everyone is hitting the ball far, and if those deep flies are accompanied by a barrage of Ks, home runs just aren’t as cool as they’re supposed to be.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports,, and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

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