Home runs being hit at a pace not seen since 2000

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2,598 home runs have been hit already this season, putting the league on pace for over 5,500. The only two times the league has combined for 5,500 or more home runs in a season was in 2000 (5,693) and 1999 (5,528), per Baseball Almanac. This is also reflected in the per-game averages. The current average of 1.15 home runs per game is ahead of the 1999 pace (1.14) and behind 2000 (1.17).

As for other trends, run scoring is at its highest level since 2009. Hitters are still striking out at unseen rates and the league batting average and on-base percentages aren’t noticeably different than in the past. The power trend sticks out like a sore thumb.

While nine players last season hit 40-plus homers, which was a massive jump up from the one player who hit 40-plus in 2014, hitters are generally not reaching lofty dinger totals to pad the count. This season could be another story. Teams are just shy of the halfway point of their schedules, and already four players have crossed the 20-homer threshold while an additional six have 19, six have 18, and four have 17. The 2000 season, unsurprisingly, saw 16 players cross the 40-plus homer mark. This season could match or surpass that.

The league is testing for performance-enhancing drugs more frequently and punishing offenders more harshly than ever before. It would be quite the stretch to suggest that the league’s newfound power is owed to PEDs. One potential explanation is that, due to the ubiquity of analytics, teams are having an increasingly easier time finding competent hitters. They’re making fewer mistakes based on the eye test or gut instinct. This is just an observation which could be biased, but to me it seems like teams are not giving as much playing time to players with immeasurable traits like “grit.” The best players are typically getting the most playing time.

Teams are also focusing heavily on power pitchers, which helps explain the booming strikeout rate. The pitchers, in this case, are helping supply some of the power with their 100 MPH fastballs. The biggest offenders this season:

It’s could be that the power surge is due to a bout of statistical randomness. With so many data points at this point in the season, it’s statistically unlikely that randomness is a better explanation than anything else. And power increased significantly from 2014 to ’15 as well. But it’s possible that this is just a blip.

Whatever the explanation, the return of power to Major League Baseball is a welcome sight.

RHP Fairbanks, Rays agree to 3-year, $12 million contract

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Reliever Pete Fairbanks and the Tampa Bay Rays avoided arbitration when they agreed Friday to a three-year, $12 million contract that could be worth up to $24.6 million over four seasons.

The deal includes salaries of $3,666,666 this year and $3,666,667 in each of the next two seasons. The Rays have a $7 million option for 2026 with a $1 million buyout.

His 2024 and 2025 salaries could increase by $300,000 each based on games finished in the previous season: $150,000 each for 35 and 40.

Tampa Bay’s option price could increase by up to $6 million, including $4 million for appearances: $1 million each for 60 and 70 in 2025; $500,000 for 125 from 2023-25 and $1 million each for 135, 150 and 165 from 2023-25. The option price could increase by $2 million for games finished in 2025: $500,000 each for 25, 30, 35 and 40.

Fairbanks also has a $500,000 award bonus for winning the Hoffman/Rivera reliever of the year award and $200,000 for finishing second or third.

The 29-year-old right-hander is 11-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 15 saves in 111 appearances, with all but two of the outings coming out of the bullpen since being acquired by the Rays from the Texas Rangers in July 2019.

Fairbanks was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 24 appearances last year after beginning the season on the 60-day injured list with a right lat strain.

Fairbanks made his 2022 debut on July 17 and tied for the team lead with eight saves despite being sidelined more than three months. In addition, he is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 12 career postseason appearances, all with Tampa Bay.

He had asked for a raise from $714,400 to $1.9 million when proposed arbitration salaries were exchanged Jan. 13, and the Rays had offered for $1.5 million.

Fairbanks’ agreement was announced two days after left-hander Jeffrey Springs agreed to a $31 million, four-year contract with Tampa Bay that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

Tampa Bay remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.