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2019 could be another record-breaking year for home runs

After a slight downtick last year, the league is on-pace to smash 2017’s record for most home runs in a season.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve only watched the Giants this year, it may come as a surprise that MLB teams are on pace to once again break the home run record. Teams that aren’t the San Francisco Giants are seeing more balls go over the fence than ever. The Mariners lead all of baseball with 53 homers. The Dodgers hit eight homers on Opening Day. Christian Yelich already has 13 homers, and there’s still a week left in April.

Meanwhile, the Giants have 15 homers. Somehow, that’s not the lowest mark. The Pirates also have 15 homers (though they’ve played four fewer games). Cleveland and Detroit come in at 14 and 10 respectively, but again, they’ve played two and three fewer games than the Giants.

But the teams languishing at the bottom are the exception, not the rule. The average team has already hit 27 bombs through the first few weeks. Before games began on Sunday, there had been 309 games played and 819 home runs hit. That’s a pace of 2.65 home runs per game.

The previous record, which was set in 2017, is 6,105 home runs. That’s a pace of 2.51 homers per game. A tenth of a home run per game may not seem like a lot, but if teams kept hitting home runs at the same rate, they would hit 6,440 home runs, shattering the previous record by 335 dingers.

It’s possible that the pace slows. Through the first month of the season, there were more home runs hit in 2018 than in the record 2017 year. 2018 still had a high number of homers hit, but it wasn’t a record. Since it had gone down, some thought homers had reached their apex, but homers are on the rise again.

Remember, it hasn’t even gotten warm yet. It’s just as likely that the pace increases because home run rates increase over the summer.

The home run boom has completely passed by AT&T/Oracle Park, and it’s interesting to think about what this means for the Giants. In 2014, the Giants hit 132 home runs. That was good enough to rank them 17th in baseball or a little below the middle of the pack. The Giants were 12th in runs scored with 665. In 2018, the Giants hit 133 home runs, essentially the same as what they hit in 2014. That was second-worst in the majors. They were also second-worst in runs scored with 603, noticeably worse than 2014, but if they had scored 665 runs, that still wouldn’t have gotten them out of the bottom-10.

Rob Manfred’s insistence that the ball isn’t juiced despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary probably means that homers aren’t going away any time soon. If the commissioner won’t admit/accept that the ball is the cause of the surge (even when a report MLB commissioned says it’s the ball), it’s hard to imagine that anything will change.

The combination of temperature, dimensions, and altitude makes Oracle Park the least home run-friendly park in baseball. So much that changes to the ball aren’t enough to move home run rates. Meanwhile, the league has become more dependent on home runs for scoring.

The Guillen Number is the percentage of runs a team scored via a home run. The average Guillen Number in 2014, the year before home runs rose, was 33.4 percent. In 2018, the average Guillen Number was 40.0 percent. This year, 43.7 percent of runs scored have come from home runs.

Does this put the Giants at a competitive disadvantage? Do they need to bring the fences in to remain competitive? It’s hard to say exactly how much the home run surge has hurt the Giants. Regardless of how many home runs the rest of the league is hitting, a teamwide OBP of .302 since the start of 2017 is going to lead to poor offense. But it’s possible that missing out on this trend is exacerbating the problems already there.