Why are so many homers being hit this year?

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Way back in June we were talking about how home runs were on pace to match that of the record-setting year for dingers: 2000. Since then the homers have kept flying and the record pace has continued: at the moment, teams are hitting 1.17 home runs per team, per game.

Benjamin Hoffman of the New York Times takes a look at that and tries to figure out why. The ultimate conclusion of the article is “well, who knows?” but given the column inches and primacy devoted to the possible causes, it seems like he’s favoring PEDs as the most likely culprit:

One possibility is that players have continued to skirt antidoping protocols, despite the league’s efforts to strengthen them in recent years. (None of the current players cited above, except for Ortiz, has been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.)

As demonstrated in many Olympic sports, which generally have the most stringent antidoping programs, athletes are often undeterred by drug-testing programs. They adapt to new protocols and find ways around them, like computer hackers evading antivirus programs.

He also talks about speculation, unconfirmed at this point, that the ball is juiced. He likewise talks to players who tend to believe that it’s the swing-for-the-fences approach taken by hitters these days, paired with hard-throwing pitchers who have come to believe that they can throw their heat by anyone.

I’m skeptical of the PED-as-culprit explanation. The home run “spike” is not a spike as much as it is a broad-based rise. As Hoffman notes, there are no real individual outliers — no 50-homer dudes — but, rather, just a ton of guys who are hitting a few more homers than they did before. Even at the height of the PED-era it was not thought that everyone was juicing. Indeed, the most pessimistic assumptions said that maybe half of the hitters were. Baseball’s drug testing regime in place now is certainly not perfect, but if there was a new PED epidemic now, as opposed to just the usual handful of cheaters, I feel like we’d notice it and I feel like we’d see at least some freakish outlier individual home run totals.

I think the juiced ball explanation has more going for it than the PED thing. Not everything going for it, obviously — no one has been able to verify that the ball is juiced via testing or observation — but the homer surge in 2016 sure looks a lot like it did in 1987, which many suspect was due to a juiced ball. While no one has determined that the balls are made with different materials, it doesn’t take radical, easily observable changes to change a ball’s flight characteristics. Even subtle changes in the manner in which balls are stored can make a ball fly a few extra feet and a few extra feet are the difference between an F-7 and a homer.

Ultimately, though, I think about this the same way I viewed the offensive surge of the 1990s-2000s and, for that matter, almost any notable change in a given phenomenon: the product of a combination of factors.

Everyone wanted to blame Jose Canseco and a bunch of needles for offensive levels going crazy from 1993-on, but few wanted to acknowledge that smaller ballparks with shorter porches and radically decreased foul territory came online then too. People didn’t want to note how the strike zone had shrunk, at least for guys not named Glavine and Maddux. People talked a lot about “Moneyball” and take-and-rake approaches and a preference for all-offense, no-defense players in their own right, but they rarely paired those observations up with the offensive surge. Rather, it was “the offense is all about steroids!” in one conversation and “Moneyball is ruining baseball!” in a separate conversation. In reality, though, it was all of a piece.

Just watching baseball today it’s clear that guys are sitting dead red more and swinging for the fences. A lot of this likely has to do with the surge in pitchers’ velocity over the years. If guys are routinely throwing 97, you can either (a) try to guess when he’s going to back off to a changeup; or (b) assume 97 is coming and do everything you can to mash it. I suspect (b) is a bit easier to do and that results in more homers and more strikeouts. When you add that to some possible minor changes in PED use or the composition of the ball and then acknowledge that, well, sometimes stuff just happens, 2016’s home run rates likely have many contributors, even if we can’t do an accurate accounting.

It’s always tempting to look for a single explanation for a given event. Most of the time there are multiple factors at play.

New bill to build Athletics stadium on Las Vegas Strip caps Nevada’s cost at $380 million

D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

CARSON CITY, Nev. — A bill introduced in the Nevada Legislature would give the Oakland Athletics up to $380 million for a potential 30,000 seat, $1.5 billion retractable roof stadium on the Las Vegas Strip.

The bulk of the public funding would come from $180 million in transferable tax credits from the state and $120 million in county bonds, which can vary based on interest rate returns. Clark County also would contribute $25 million in credit toward infrastructure costs.

The A’s have been looking for a home to replace Oakland Coliseum, where the team has played since arriving from Kansas City for the 1968 season. The team had sought to build a stadium in Fremont, San Jose and finally the Oakland waterfront, all ideas that never materialized.

The plan in the Nevada Legislature won’t directly raise taxes. It can move forward with a simply majority vote in the Senate and Assembly. Lawmakers have a little more than a week to consider the proposal before they adjourn June 5, though it could be voted on if a special session is called.

The Athletics have agreed to use land on the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip, where the Tropicana Las Vegas casino resort sits. Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao has said he is disappointed the team didn’t negotiate with Oakland as a “true partner.”

Las Vegas would be the fourth home for a franchise that started as the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901-54. It would become the smallest TV market in Major League Baseball and the smallest market to be home to three major professional sports franchises.

The team and Las Vegas are hoping to draw from the nearly 40 million tourists who visit the city annually to help fill the stadium. The 30,000-seat capacity would make it the smallest MLB stadium.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said a vote on the Oakland Athletics’ prospective move to Las Vegas could take place when owners meet June 13-15 in New York.

The plan faces an uncertain path in the Nevada Legislature. Democratic leaders said financing bills, including for the A’s, may not go through if Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoes the five budget bills, which he has threatened to do as many of his priorities have stalled or faded in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Under the bill, the Clark County Board of Commissioners would create a homelessness prevention and assistance fund along the stadium’s area in coordination with MLB and the Nevada Resort Association. There, they would manage funds for services, including emergency rental and utility assistance, job training, rehabilitation and counseling services for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The lease agreement with the Las Vegas Stadium Authority would be up for renewal after 30 years.

Nevada’s legislative leadership is reviewing the proposal, Democratic state Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager said in a statement.

“No commitment will be made until we have both evaluated the official proposal and received input from interested parties, including impacted community members,” Yeager said.