It might be the storyline of 2019, especially if the Mets make the playoffs. Pete Alonso the joyous innocent rookie slugger has amped up a fading franchise and pushed them to back competitiveness with 400+ foot bombs and the tearing of jerseys. As a fan, it doesn’t get much better than that. Unfortunately for Alonso and the Mets, the story of his meteoric rise may get superseded by the other storyline of 2019: the new baseball.
Ever since the 2015 All-Star Break the seams on the major league baseball (which is also now used in AAA) have become ever so slightly lower making it harder to throw breaking pitches as well as harder for forces of drag to slow down fly balls. This has led to an unprecedented home run rate where hitters are hitting more home runs than in the height of the steroid era.
It is not merely just because of a different ball. Advances in health and training methods make athletes generally stronger over time. Pitchers are throwing faster and hitters are swinging harder. Today’s hitters have also learned to use this strength to go against what most were taught growing up and try for fly balls instead of line drives. Our own Daniel Murphy was one of the first to figure out this new style of hitting back in 2015.
One can not fault Alonso for coming up at the all-time high for home runs, but it is interesting to put his season in comparison to the Mets that have come before him with adjusted home run rates.
The season with the least amount of home runs was, as you could guess, 1968 with a grand total of 1,995 home runs. Now back then there were less teams, so we will use the percentage (HR/PA) which was 1.65%. Today in 2019 the percentage is 3.65%. The league average home run rate during the existence of the franchise is 2.42%.
Using these percentages, extrapolating some great Mets seasons to today’s environment we see that Pete Alonso would not have quite broke the season home run record yet. Darryl Strawberry’s league-leading 39 home run campaign in 1988 which had a league rate of 2.00% gives him 71 home runs by 2019 standards! This figure is ridiculous to compare to making the extrapolation unbelievable and gives validity to Alonso’s season despite friendly hitting conditions. For some other comparisons, Mike Piazza would have hit 50 in 1999, and Todd Hundley would have hit 53 in 1996.
This comparison is reminiscent of the Roger Maris debate back in 1961 when fans cried that Babe Ruth still held the record because the lengthened season allowed Maris to hit number 61 on the season’s final day. That record was then broken during the steroid era, but again the modern feat remains ingenuine, this time due to steroids. When comparing eras, where do we draw the line?
These are difficult questions, but I believe Alonso’s season should be celebrated as the crowning achievement of Mets’ sluggers for two reasons. One, he without the use of extra game or steroids did indeed hit the ball over the fence more times than any other Met and two, he did it with still a month to play. There should be no doubters, and we should now look to what the future holds instead of what the past portrays.