Without emotional investment, there is little in baseball quite as boring as a home run. Honestly.
Among the league leaders in home runs this season are Adam Dunn, Jay Bruce, Mike Napoli and Matt Holiday. What do they have in common, besides having between six and 10 home runs this season? They’re patient hitters, they walk a lot, the have their share of strikeouts and, for the most part, they’re boring.
They’re effective, and smart teams try to get as many of these players as they can. Players who can reach base that often and are that patient at the plate certainly have value. General managers love them, and many fans find them fascinating.
But beyond the spreadsheet, they don’t do much for me, mostly because they specialize in the three most boring aspects of the game, the “three true outcomes” of home runs, walks and strikeouts.
Coming in typical situations — not much especially on the line, maybe one guy or none on base — the walk and the strikeout are awful. Walks are a testament to nothing happening, or perhaps a pitcher who doesn’t have it. Strikeouts are slightly better, assuming the pitcher has imposed his will on the player. But if that player is a slug like Jack Cust, then it’s just a continuation of the inevitable.
And home runs? They’re fine, I guess. But watching one go out more times than not doesn’t carry much excitement. Most home runs are like elongated walks. They’re long, they’re slow and they usually come as a result of a mistake.
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Home run hitters, then, are the secret. There has to be a certain joy and unpredictability that comes with it. David Ortiz, a long-time favorite of this writer, has always played the game with a smile, and when he’s hot, he’s just as likely to rip a line drive the other way as he is to send one into the Fenway Park bullpen. There are others, as well, who transcend that image of the sluggish brute mashing them out of the park, including Matt Kemp, Josh Hamilton and Curtis Granderson. The home runs are an extension of an expanded skill set.
But Giancarlo Stanton, certainly, holds court as the most exciting power hitter of the day.
It goes beyond merely hitting a lot of home runs, though he has that down. He plays the game with a flair that many of the prolific bashers seem to lack. And, unlike many others, he has a knack for the amazing. Such as last night in Houston, when he broke his bat and still managed to send a line drive more than 360 feet over the fence.
According to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, that home run was his shortest of the season so far. Two of his six this season have already hit or topped 425 feet. Whether or not he can smack a ball to the next state hasn’t really been in question.
But watch the video of that home run. He has a smile as he’s rounding the bases, a kind of simple joy at sending a rocket off of a splintered handle. It’s a fun game, and he knows when to appreciate the ridiculous.
Watching some of the other typical home run hitters, there’s not much fun to be found. They step up, they’re patient and they help their team win games. But they’re also a bore.
Baseball is at its most interesting when the unbelievable happens. But, in between those moments far and few, a little fun or luck would be nice. Stanton is an incredible talent, but so are a lot of players. He seems like a good guy, which is a bonus. And he’s fun to watch. Put it all together, and what’s left is perhaps the most exciting player in the league, home runs and all.