There’s one thing sticking out early in this baseball season (you know, besides the growths on Barry Bonds’ head) and it’s defining the success of at least a few teams early in the season. It’s actually a very Barry related statistic; the large amount of home run hitters in the league this season.
Now we knew the Yankees were going to have a few of these guys. This team has always been known, among many other things, as the bombers, and with at least 5 starters (including the DH) having hit 30 homers at least once in their career none of this is suprising. In addition we kind of knew this team would have to produce in this fashion to win a lot of games (although the starting pitching and bull pen have been better than expected). It’s the other teams that have been more surprising. The Orioles’ and Reds’ early season fast starts were defined by home run hitting (and have cooled with the lack of slugging production) while the Rangers we’re trying to keep pace with the Yankees before Josh Hamilton got hurt (and they still have four guys that aren’t him in the top 30 in the league in home runs).
A quick aside on Hamilton’s injury: Didn’t we used to call a guy a gamer for trying to make a play like that? I realize it’s early in the season, I realize that maybe he shouldn’t have been sent home and I know that you leave yourself relatively vulnerable by sliding head first. Still, if that play had been successful and Hamilton had remained healthy we’d all have been praising how smart and tough he was to go head first and reach around the tag instead of sliding. We can’t sit there and scold guys for not selling out on plays then turn around and bash them when it results in them getting injured (and god knows I’ve been guilty of this mistake with my own team in the past). Make up your mind on how you want the game played and stick with it.
Back to the home runs: Seven teams (LA Dodgers, White Sox, Yankees, Rangers, Braves, Brewers and Cardinals) have multiple players in the top 30 in homers and only two have losing records. Now that’s not terribly surprising; we’re now using OPS as the bench mark for hitters in baseball and home runs are a big part of the slugging percentage that goes into that statistic. It’s not a surprise when good home run hitting teams are playing at least .500 baseball.
The really crazy part of the home run craze is the following; as of early Tuesday April 26th, with only one team having played more than 23 games (the Braves at 24) we already have 29 players with at least 5 home runs. Most teams are barely an eighth of the way through the year and 29 guys are on pace for 40 homers. Doesn’t that seem like a lot? Expand the list to guys with at least 4 home runs and all of a sudden 48 players are on pace to hit at least 30 this season. That’s an average of one and a half of those guys per team. In the post steroid era, where pitchers are having far greater overall success (just look at last year’s Cy Young races in both leagues) these stats become even more astounding. And it’s not like these guys wouldn’t be caught if they were juicing (just ask Manny Ramirez). At the worst a few might slip through the cracks, but even one-sixth of those guys being juicers would still leave us with 40 “regular” guys on pace to break the 30 homer threshold. It will be a development to monitor the rest of the season and I’ll do my best to keep all of you halfwits out there up to date.
On the flip side of the sports world lacrosse is really heating up in the college ranks. Syracuse’s loss to Cornell (a 12-7 lambasting no less) opened up the top spot to fellow Big East team Notre Dame. Still it’s not as if this undefeated NCAA finals team from 2010 is without its flaws. The match-up between both heading into the conference tournament should be one of the best games of the season…if either team can actually score. The Big East is turning into a formidable lacrosse conference in its second year (not surprising when you build around a team like Syracuse). With three teams in the top 10 (Villanova is the other), this league may start rivaling the ACC for strength. Until the other major athletic conferences get their respective acts together (trust me when I say the Big XII, SEC and Pac-12 could quickly dominate this sport) these two will continue to entrench themselves into Division I’s elite.
Hopkins has been a revelation this year after a losing season in 2010 (the first in god knows how long). With six sophomores regularly starting for “the Hop” they weren’t supposed to be quite back to their 2007 NCAA Title and 2008 NCAA Finalist levels, but a 10-2 record against typically stiff competition has them eyeing a top four seed in the NCAAs in May. They’ve found their rhythm offensively and are peaking at the right time.
Some other notable teams include Denver, Penn, Maryland, Duke and Cornell. Denver is coached by former Princeton great Bill Tierney and is in line to win the ECAC and make some noise in the top half of the bracket. They’re strength of schedule is somewhat weak, but they did beat Duke recently and played Notre Dame to a one goal contest. Penn has helped make the Ivy League stand out top to bottom this year while Cornell has been typically strong (and the only team to knock of Syracuse this year). I’m worried about Cornell’s reliance on Rob Pannell (hands down the player of the year), but Penn has gone 3-3 against the top 20 this year as part of a rigorous schedule that should have them prepped for NCAA play. Combine that with a 10 win Yale team and a tough Harvard team and the Ivy is right up there with the ACC and Big East. Lastly, two ACC squads appear to be on the way up while their brethren are struggling to keep up. ACC champ Maryland and defending national champ Duke each have been impressive at different parts of the season. The ACC beat up on itself a bit (in typical fashion) but the fact remains that it’s the most talented collection of four teams in the country at any one time. If Virginia even remotely gets its act together we’ll have a three headed monster coming out of the south. But if not, I still expect to see the Terps and Blue Devils very much in the picture by the tournament’s second weekend.
That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for; “Ichiro Update: .304 batting average, 31 hits in 24 games, 5 doubles, 12 runs, 8 stolen bases and an OPS (.702) that would be higher if this guy didn’t like getting regular hits so much,” “The NCAA is to me as the Iliad is to Homer…impossible,” “Just so we’re clear the lockout is not not over…see how confusing that is NFL,” and “Memorial Day weekend 2011 in Baltimore; it’s gonna get laxy…”