With teams combining for 730 home runs through 560 games entering play Friday, Major League Baseball is on pace to see a record number of home runs for the second time in three seasons.
The Orioles, having allowed a league-high 46 home runs in 20 games, are on their own record pace. With 11 games remaining in April, including two Saturday in a doubleheader with the Minnesota Twins following Friday’s rainout, the Orioles are only four shy of the 1996 Detroit Tigers’ record of 50 home runs allowed before May 1.
Even as baseball shifts in the direction of a more homer-centric game, manager Brandon Hyde would prefer to avoid seeing the Orioles atop that leaderboard.
"We're leading the direction right now,” Hyde said. “Not the place I want to be leading.”
With many of the Orioles’ pitchers early in their careers, the ability to execute pitches and avoid the middle of the plate has yet to fully develop. Notably, 18 of the home runs the Orioles have allowed have come in two-strike counts; that’s only one fewer than Orioles batters have hit all season in any count.
“A lot of our damage is done when we have the advantage, and we're continuing to get better and continuing to develop,” Hyde said. “It's confidence and it's executing and it's understanding how to pitch not just to one side of the plate. A lot of different factors that our guys just haven't had a ton of experience and/or success here in the big leagues understanding how to kind of get through that.”
On a staff that has allowed at least one home run in all but one game, 17 Orioles pitchers have surrendered a home run, with 11 giving up multiple. Right-handers Dylan Bundy and David Hess are tied for the American League lead with seven allowed.
Hess in particular is an interesting case study as he adapts to the team’s data-driven suggestion that he use his four-seam fastball up in the strike zone more often.
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“If you don't get it up there [enough], it's kind of a high risk, high reward in a sense,” Hess said.
Hess said his home run issues are traced to leaving pitches in hittable places. He also made sure to mention that modern hitters, in an era of Statcast-stroked launch angles and exit velocities, are pursuing and capable of delivering home runs at a higher rate than ever before.
“I think really more than anything it's just the culture that hitters are creating among the whole league,” Hess said. “You look at the way that they're kind of establishing themselves, and power is paying right now, so that's what they're focused on and that's what they're really pushing for."
The Orioles aren’t alone in giving up a bevy of home runs, with four others teams already having allowed at least 33, but none of them were within nine of Baltimore entering play Friday. Slowing down that trend will be vital; more than 60 percent of the runs the Orioles’ opponents have scored this season have come via long balls.
Hyde said he would like to see his pitchers do a better job of having their breaking pitches start in then move out of the strike zone, while being able to go inside and make a batter move his feet on occasion. He was especially pleased with John Means’ ability to do that in Thursday’s extra-innings victory over the American League East-leading Tampa Bay Rays. Means, who has allowed only two homers while pitching the fourth-most innings on the team, ended the game with a strikeout of Avisail Garcia, who had tied the game in the ninth with a moonshot.
The formula, at least as Means put it, seems to be a simple one.
“If you make your pitches, you can get 'em out,” he said. “You make mistakes, they'll hit it out."