Four games into the new season, Boston Red Sox games have been nothing if not action packed. The BoSox are 2-2 and the final scores of their four games were 10-9, 9-8, 9-5, and 7-6. Three times -- three! -- the opposing team has made an error with two outs in the ninth inning, giving the Red Sox new life. On Saturday, .
Duvall's walk-off homer was baseball's first walk-off of the new season and it was one of 18 home runs hit in Boston's four games, the most of any team in baseball. Red Sox hitters have gone deep eight times. Their pitchers have surrendered 10 homers. On Monday, the Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates combined for six home runs in the first four innings alone.
"This is different, man. I've never seen anything like this so early in the season. The ball is flying in the air," Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters Monday about all the home runs (via NESN). Star third baseman Rafael Devers added: "The balls are running a lot in this ballpark this year ... (You) can see the difference between last year and this year."
Of course, Boston's four games have not featured the most fearsome pitching staffs, which has likely contributed to all the home runs. The Red Sox and their two opponents, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles, all project to have middle of the road or worse pitching staffs, according to FanGraphs. Different opponents could have led to fewer (or more!) home runs.
That said, home runs are up league-wide in the early going. Here are the first five days of this season compared to the first five days of the last few seasons (ignoring the bizarre 2020 campaign):
|HR per 9 innings||HR per fly ball||HR per ball in play|
The league home run rate is indeed up in the early going this season. It's up quite a bit compared to the last two years, and thus far the homer rate is roughly the same as the early days of the 2019 season,. Cora and Devers are not imagining things. Home runs are up league-wide.
Why is that? There are many potential reasons. It's been unseasonably warm in the Northeast, for example. This was also the first normal spring training in quite some time. Last spring was truncated by the owners' lockout and the spring before that featured a condensed schedule amid the pandemic, so it could just be that hitters entered this season more prepared.
There are also the new rules. The pitch timer forces pitchers to work more quickly and perhaps that leads to worse execution and thus more home runs. Infield shifts hurt left-handed pull hitters the most. With extreme shifts banned, those pull heavy lefties are encouraged to pull the ball even more. Is it a coincidence Joey Gallo has three home runs already?
Home runs are up in the early going this year. We can say that definitively. Why home runs are up is another matter, and we really should wait a few more weeks to see how things play out. This may be nothing more than a five-day blip. Keep in mind though, home runs typically peak in the hot summer months. We could be in for even more home runs soon.