If you've paid any attention to baseball these past few years, you'll know about the change in offensive environment that's permeated through both leagues. Offense overall has been down, but in 2015 and again in 2016, the home run has come back with a vengeance, bringing offense back from the dead. In fact, June of this year was the home-runniest month in baseball history, surpassing all those months in the early 2000s when everyone was on PEDs and dammit, baseball was fun as could be.
The return of the dinger is a Stephen King level mystery
The return of the home run doesn't come without some meaning, or at least a boatload of questions. No one really knows why the home run is back, especially when other stats have remained fairly stagnant. Many have floated the idea of a juiced ball, but it's a theory that doesn't seem to have legs. More likely, the huge increase in home runs is due to a multitude of factors including hotter weather, faster fastballs, better rookies, and a springkle of the unknown.
With an unknown cause comes an unknown future. Will the home run stay a huge part of the game? How will that affect the Oakland A's? Let's talk about it.
The A's have been a bad offensive team so far this year. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, though there is a Butler involved. Who has been most affected by the return of the longball?
As a ballplayer, Marcus is far from a one trick pony. His defense has made its way to the acceptable realm, meaning even without being a power-hitting stud, Semien could be an average, acceptable player.
That's not the case though. Semien has flexed his muscles all year, hitting 20 home runs already. Many an internet blogger have taken a look at how Semien made the transformation to power hitter. At some level, Semien has sold out to hit home runs, and that's fine: it's working. But what will happen if the home run vanishes?
Of course, it comes back to the question of why is the home run here. If it's as simple as the ball is juiced, Semien has the tools to be successful. A higher batting average and on base percentage would boost Semien's value if those dingers are turned into doubles and flyouts for reasons out of his control, and with a low BABIP, it's possible Semien will see better numbers in both categories with no changes at all.
Semien has the tools to to make a change if one is needed. On the broadcast just last night, Ray remarked how Semien was concerned about his low BA and OBP, and low and behold he went 2-3 with a walk. The man is as malleable as Silly Putty with his baseball abilities. His 8.9% walk rate won't inspire angry comments on Facebook from people misunderstanding Moneyball, but it's good enough to create an above average player without relying on dingers. His contact skills and batting average haven't quite reached his superb minor league marks, but again, good enough. Semien easily has the skills to succeed even if his home runs vanish from thin air.
Davis is probably worthy of a post all on his own. Hint hint, FanPosters of AN.
After a miserable start, Davis has been a pretty dang good hitter in Oakland. He ranks ninth in home runs and has proven that his power wasn't a Miller Park fluke.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we still haven't seen peak Davis with the bat. His plate discipline has abandoned him as his walk rate has dropped from a respectable 10% last year to a paltry 3.5% this year. His stat line is much more dependent on the dinger and unlike Semien, his defense can't support him if his offense does start to falter. His range seems decent but unspectacular, and you're probably too well acquainted with his throwing arm, conceived of children's tears and cotton candy.
Davis's track record as a slugger spans through his whole career, so it's less likely the home run will abandon him than other players if the current trend is axed for reasons out of his control. Either way, it'd be in his best interest to find a more discerning eye at the plate.
With an increase in home runs comes a congruent increase importance on home run prevention.
In spite of playing their home games at the Coliseum, the A's rank 19th in HR/9, having given up 109 home runs on the season. There's good news and bad news: the good? It's a team that's equipped with pitchers who have the ability to prevent longballs, and they're unlikely to pitch as poorly as they did for the better part of the first half of the season. The bad? That first half of the season.
With groundball pitchers like Sonny Gray, Kendall Graveman, and Jesse Hahn, the A's should be somewhat immune to the dinger. They haven't been thus far for varying reasons, but it's not unreasonable to expect them to be going forward.
We're all aware of Gray's problems this year, and they transcend well beyond the return of the home run. Still, Gray has given up four fewer dingers this year than he did all of last year in 110 fewer innings. His HR/9 has jumped almost half a point (.74 last year compared to 1.21 this year). Sonny's got a lot to figure out on the arsenal front but if he could return to form as a home run preventing ace, he could find himself even more valuable a player than he was before.
Graveman has undergone an arsenal overhaul in the recent weeks, pitching like a new man and making projections all the more difficult. In spite of his tremendous ability to generate groundballs, he's always had a bit of trouble with the longball, more than you'd expect from a groundball guy. Start in and start out, he seems to leave a pitch or two over the plate, leading to a ball departing the yard.
Can he cut down on the home runs? If he can find consistency and keep the ball in the yard, he's a guy who could very well exceed expectations and be a key player in a very good staff. But the home runs have certainly been a problem.
With a minuscule home run rate, Hahn is the kind of guy who could skate through the recent home run burst unscathed. Of course, he's been far from right since his injury last July but if you want to find a reason for optimism with the A's number two in 2015, it's not hard to find. He was a good pitcher who should be immune to this specific bump in offense. Can he make his way back to the A's and be a valuable pitcher? An impressive ability to limit the longball would be a good start.
The emergence of the home run had lead to a whole lotta ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Is the home run around to stay? What does it all mean for the A's? Let us know your thoughts!