Karpin: Power Surge or Spike in 2018

Will there be more home runs and more strikeouts in the 2018 season?

Baseballs were flying out of the ballpark at a record pace last season. A new mark of 6,105 home runs was hit, breaking the old mark that was set in 2000. The “collateral damage” from all these four-baggers of course is that the strikeouts went up to a record number (40,105) as well.

This result was being credited in part to the hitters making an adjustment with their swings. A batter’s “launch angle” joined the lexicon of baseball in recent years and more and more hitters are trying to make the adjustment. But what about the adjustments that the pitchers will make.

The theory is that if the hitters’ increase the launch angle of their swing, their stats, especially power numbers, will improve. Mets CF Juan Lagares, who has the defensive skills of an All Star but has struggled to develop his offensive game, is working with noted swing instructor Craig Wallenbrock who has had success with the Dodgers’ Chris Taylor and free agent J.D. Martinez.

Baseball has always been a game of adjustments so when do the pitchers start making theirs. I’m sure these record power numbers don’t sit well in the pitcher’s fraternity.

Mets analyst and former first-baseman Keith Hernandez made an interesting observation towards the end of last season when addressing this new theory of adjusting one’s “launch angle.” Hernandez said (I’m paraphrasing) he “expects pitchers to start throwing more fastballs up high” because if the hitter is swinging up, those will be difficult to hit.

The Mets continued their inexpensive but, they hope, efficient, blueprint for signing free agents as they landed left handed pitcher Jason Vargas to add depth to their starting rotation. Vargas, who reportedly came to terms on a two year deal with an option for a third, pending a physical, came off TJ surgery in August 2015 to go 12-3 with a 2.62 ERA in the first half of 2017 for Kansas City. The 34-year old was named to the AL All Star team, but faltered in the second half. Vargas knows how to pitch and he provides a nice insurance policy for a rotation that couldn’t stay healthy last season.

There may be some smoke signals coming out of Port St. Lucie from some of Vargas’ new teammates. According to reports, Zack Wheeler wasn’t exactly doing cartwheels over the news. Wheeler looked annoyed when asked by reporters about the signing which gives the Mets eight potential starting pitchers in camp. Even if new Manager Mickey Callaway wants to use a six-man rotation, two of those pitchers (provided health is not an issue) will either go to the bullpen, or end up as a trade chip down the road. Wheeler’s body language may be nothing but it may be something to keep an eye on, especially when Vargas gets to camp.

Yankee Manager Aaron Boone has begun putting together potential lineups for his “powerhouse” offense. The first time skipper has flirted with the idea of using Aaron Judge in the two-hole, followed by Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird for the 3-4-5 spots. Didi Gregorius would hit sixth followed by TBA’s as the Yankees have yet to have a starting second baseman, or third baseman.

The Yankees have an awful lot of power which leaves the fantasy crowd salivating but there will be strikeouts. They will need to make more contact as a team to overcome their road woes last season. Remember, the Yankees essentially lost the ALCS because they couldn’t win a game in Houston and much of the blame was on the offense.

I’m not big on Judge hitting second. I know about his on-base numbers and all that, but he struck out a lot in big spots and killed potential rallies. You can’t “on-base” your way to a championship, sometimes you just have to swing the bat. Brett Gardner rarely ran with Judge hitting behind him, especially during the post season where you can’t just rely on home runs. Boone said Judge and Giancarlo Stanton would hit back-to-back to start off. I’d rather have Stanton ahead of Judge.

Is this a Yankee lineup that’s going to pound teams one night for double digit run totals and impressive power numbers, while the next night, they lose 3-2 because they fail to hit a home run or get a clutch single or strikeout in a big spot? Stay tuned.

Free agent pitchers are starting to get signed but none of the marquee names remaining has found a new home yet. The Twins grabbed Anibal Sanchez, Andrew Cashner went to the Orioles and the St. Louis Post Dispatch is reporting Jason Motte has come to terms with the Cardinals on a minor league contract. The Rangers signed Edinson Volquez to a two year, minor league deal but he won’t pitch in 2018 as he is coming off Tommy John surgery late last season.

Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are still out there. So is Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and JD Martinez. Despite their signing of Sanchez, the Twins may be in on Arrieta or Cobb. It’s been reported that as many as “seven to eight teams” have shown interest in Lynn, including the Cardinals.

Moustakas may end up back with the Royals while Hosmer and his agent, Scott Boras, are reportedly holding out for an eighth year from the Padres. San Diego may want to make a splash this year in free agency because they feel they wouldn’t be able to compete in next year’s market for players like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Hosmer wants to play there, the next move is up to the Padres.

Martinez is said to prefer playing the outfield, rather than being a DH, which puts his old team, Arizona, ahead of Boston in the race to sign the slugging free agent. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy, whose stock plummeted in the last year and a half, is still out there.

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