With tonight’s home run by *checks notes* uh, Alex Gordon (his 7th of the year), a new single-season home run record has been set. No, Barry Bonds’ 762 still stands. As does his 73. (Yes, those are the records, PEDs aside.) This new record, though, still might be more surprising than one might guess.
That home run was the 5,694th of the year, meaning more homers have been hit during the 2017 Major League Baseball season than during any other Major League Baseball season dating back to 1871.
The previous record — of 5,693 — was set back during the 2000 season. Sixteen (!!) hitters hit more than 40 home runs that year. Sammy Sosa led the Majors with “only” 50. Still, though the heights of individual home run hitting were still to come, the steroid era was alive and well.
Let’s compare the home run leaders from 2017 to those from 2000:
Home Run Leaders, 2017 vs. 2000
|Giancarlo Stanton||55||Sammy Sosa||50|
|Aaron Judge||44||Barry Bonds||49|
|JD Martinez||40||Troy Glaus||47|
|Khris Davis||39||Jeff Bagwell||47|
|Cody Bellinger||38||Richard Hidalgo||44|
|Justin Smoak||38||Vladimir Guerrero||44|
|Joey Gallo||38||Jason Giambi||43|
|Logan Morrison||36||Gary Scheffield||43|
|Mike Moustakas||36||Frank Thomas||43|
|Edwin Encarnacion||36||2 tied||42|
As you can see from the table, the 2000 home run leaderboard was a lot more top-heavy. As I said, 16 hitters hit 40 or more homers that year, while only two have 40 so far this year.
What makes 2017 different from the steroid era is the league-wide change. Obviously, a lot of those hitters on the 2000 list are either suspected or confirmed juicers, creating this top-heavy pattern. But, the steroid era only impacted the best-of-the-best hitters. What is happening in 2017 is happening across baseball.
Home Run Distribution, 2017 vs. 2000
|50+ HR hitters||1||1|
|40-49 HR hitters||2||15|
|30-39 HR hitters||28||29|
|20-29 HR hitters||77||39|
|10-19 HR hitters||123||54|
As you can see, while the top hitters aren’t hitting as many home runs as they were back in 2000, the overall league is just hitting more. A 20-home run season isn’t as elite as it used to be; the 10-home run season even less so. Just 11 qualified batters (of 147) have fewer than 10 home runs this year. That’s insane.
We’ve all heard stories similar to that of Elvis Andrus. Andrus, who had 35 home runs total before this season (even after hitting a career-high eight last year) has 20 home runs this season.
The baseball is flying father. There is absolutely zero doubt in my mind that this is the case. You can see the stark contrasts between this season and the 2000 season as I’ve pointed out above. More homers are being hit by non-home run hitters this year, suggesting that it’s not the players who are juiced, but the ball.
I do think, though, that the “elevate and celebrate” trend among hitters has something to do with 2017’s surge. An obsession with Statcast data like exit velocity and launch angle has more players focused on hitting home runs as they realize the value of a power-focused approach. Small-ball baseball is dead. Players like Rhys Hoskins are the future of this league; players that hit homers and draw walks are those who will be the most successful.
Is this a side effect of being in the Statcast era? Probably. Ever since Major League Baseball introduced the Statcast system to all 30 Major League stadiums in 2015, home runs have been on the rise. Players are able to access more data about their swings than ever before. Still, though, a curious spike in home runs midway through the 2016 season leaves a lot of unanswered questions (like whether MLB introduced the juiced ball at that time). It should be noted, of course, that the 2016 season almost broke this record, falling just 83 homers short (or about two to three days worth of bombs) short.
With a few weeks left in the year, the 2017 season has the ability to celebrate and elevate its new home run record to heights never before seen in the history of Major League Baseball.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.