Why So Many Home Runs? John Smoltz Has A Theory

The ball might be juiced, but there's another reason why home runs are up

Tiki and Tierney
July 10, 2019 - 7:53 pm

More than 300 home runs were hit during the Home Run Derby at Progressive Field in Cleveland. In fact, three of the top four individual Derby performances occurred Monday, as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (91 home runs), Joc Pederson (60) and Pete Alonso (57) rank first, third and fourth, respectively, all-time. Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 61 in 2016, ranks second.

Are today’s power hitters just that much better than hitters from previous generations?

“No, I don’t think they’re better,” MLB Network analyst John Smoltz said on Tiki & Tierney. “I think the style of which the game has played has allowed them to stick out more. They train differently, they’re stronger – they’re not playing the brand of baseball (we did). And no sport 20, 30 years apart ever plays the same brand of that sport.”

Take basketball, for example. The game used to be dominated by big men who could score in the paint. Now it’s dominated by guards who can shoot from the perimeter.

“There’s not necessarily better shooters today; they just shoot more threes,” Smoltz said. “They don’t necessarily take the greatest shots; they just take more of them, and it equated to the analytical-driven data that you got to shoot 40 threes a game. It’s the same thing with baseball. It’s not necessarily their approach at the plate is better or their swings are better. They just understand and learn how to manufacture a swing to hit a home run.”

Smoltz played 21 seasons in the majors, was an eight-time All-Star, and won a World Series and a Cy Young. He is among the most accomplished pitchers of his generation and faced some of the greatest hitters in MLB history, including Tony Gwynn.

“I say this all the time,” Smoltz said. “Tony Gwynn, if you just said to him as an owner, ‘Tony, you’re one of the best hitters in the game, but we really need 30 home runs out of you this year,’ he’d hit 30 home runs and hit 25 points lower. So he’d go from .350 to .325 with 30 home runs. We say the next year, ‘We really need to you to hit 40.’ He’d go to .310 with 40 home runs. That’s the kind of hitter he was and capabilities he had. But that’s not the style that was asked of him. So it’s tough to compare eras. It’s tough to quantify what other guys would have done.”

Click below to listen to Smoltz’s interview in its entirety.