Friday, August 4, 2017

The usual suspects, unsuspected

Max Scherzer deserves a tip of the Blob's cap this a.m., even though it's not wearing one. He turned on a lightbulb the other night that should have been turned on awhile ago.

What Scherzer did was hit his first career home run, and it was no gasping shot that needed a ladder to clear the fence. It was a monster he hit 381 feet into the second deck.

A pitcher. Hitting one into the second deck.

Think about that for a second, and then think about what's happening in baseball generally, and then tell me your next thought doesn't travel back in time 20 years. To, I don't know, 1997 or '98. When suddenly there were all these muscle-y guys in baseball. When suddenly baseballs were flying out of parks -- way out of parks -- in unbecoming numbers.

Back then, the explanations were that the ball was juiced, and that players were spending more time in the weight room, and that they were simply swinging for the fences more than they used to.

Which is exactly what we're hearing now, as baseballs fly out of parks -- way out of parks -- at unbecoming rates again.

Some numbers: Since 2014, the number of home runs hit in the major leagues is up a staggering 38 percent. The number of homers tagged 450 feet or longer is up 31 percent in the last two years. And this year, the number of home runs per team per game is at an all-time high of 1.19.

We all know what that sort of trend augured 20 years ago. We've even got a name for it: the Steroids Era.

Yet now, somehow, hardly anyone is talking about PEDs in relation to the latest power surge. It's the ball. It's swinging for the fences. But it can't be PEDs, because that would mean MLB's stern drug policy was doing what all drug policies eventually do: Lag behind the development of new performance enhancements.

I don't want to be the buzzkill who says that's what's happening. I have no evidence that it is, other than the fact that the players getting busted for PEDs these days are all getting busted for using old-school steroids. Which, taken with the power surge and all the muscle-y guys showing up again, at the very least suggests the possibility there's new stuff out there baseball can't test for yet.

I hate the cynic in me who compels me to say that. But we've seen this before, haven't we? And heard the same things before?

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