After receiving a slow IV drip of not-baseball over the last 36 hours, I’m ready to talk about the World Series again. Like most seven-game World Series, this one was a whiplash-inducing collection of stunning moments and shifting narratives. The Dodgers were clearly going to win the World Series after Game 1. The Astros were clearly going to win after Game 2. It went back and forth like that until there was a Game 7, in which nobody knew what was going to happen.
Good. That’s how it should be, every year.
In the middle of all that, though, there was Game 5, which was a delirious mess that was more like a tanker truck tipping over and spilling a baseball-like substance all over the highway. The cars behind it couldn’t slow down in time, and they spun off a cliff and into the abyss. We clapped when the cars spun into the abyss, and we impatiently waited for more cars, which kept coming. I get chills thinking about it days later.
It was unrepentantly awful baseball, of course. Filled with hitters succeeding, sure, but also filled with pitchers failing. And umpires failing. And fielders. It was the world’s largest bag of Cheetos, and after inhaling thousands of them, we were left with a pleasant taste in our mouth, stained fingers, and rickets.
The worry here is that this is going to be the new norm. Arena baseball is fun when it visits for the weekend, but it’s awful when it sleeps on the pullout sofa bed for seven months. I’m here to assuage your fears. And my own. Mostly my own. But are we entering an era in which it’s not that unusual for two teams to combine for seven home runs, six half-innings with three or more runs scored, and violent lead changes?
Probably not. If you wanted evidence to the contrary, you could look at Game 6, in which the Dodgers won, 3-1. Or Game 7, in which the Dodgers scored just a single run and the two teams combined for just 11 hits. Game 5 seems like an aberration compared to those two games.
While I have no idea if the weirdness with the baseball manufacturing is intentional or just the byproduct of where the balls are made (I’m guessing the latter), I know what would happen if the sport didn’t resemble itself because of too many seven-homer games. There would be a metaphorical humidor put in place. Not an actual humidor, but something to help the pitchers out, whether it’s another change to the baseball, a larger strike zone, or some other sort of rule change. The proper analog would be 1968, when the entire National League had a collective 2.99 ERA, which was boring as heck and followed by Major League Baseball lowering the height of the pitcher’s mound.
The future of baseball is not a future of Game 5s. I’m pretty confident in the ability of the sport to self-regulate, even if it does so unwittingly. Imagine explaining someone in 2000 that there wasn’t a single National League team to crack 200 homers just 14 seasons later. The Giants hit the fewest home runs in the majors by a couple dozen this year, but they would have been right around the league average in 2014. That’s how quickly this can all change, and I wouldn’t extrapolate too much from this postseason.
So that’s that, and we can move on to more important things, like Jay Bruce and Lance Lynn rumors.
Except I think I phrased the question in the headline incorrectly. Was Game 5 of the 2017 World Series the future of baseball? No, probably not. Will there be more Game 5s in the future of baseball?
The reason for this is we’re kind of reaching a singularity in baseball, with two lines converging to a single, obvious point. The first part of the singularity is the ability to throw a baseball hard. You’ve seen the graphs. Velocity is going up, up, up, just as it’s gone up throughout baseball history. The 100m times in 2017 are certainly different than they were in 1957. So it goes for fastballs, too. There is no stopping this trend, unless MLB teams decide that actually, less velocity is good, and then draft accordingly.
The other component is the science of hitting a baseball. There are more data, more visual aids. There are electrodes and slow-motion visualizations and information regarding the best possible swing path. We’ve already accepted that we’ve reached terminal distance when it comes to how far a baseball can be hit — sorry, Mickey — and now the next stage is how often those home runs can be hit.
Which is all to say that I’m pretty sure the high-strikeout, launch-angle era is here indefinitely. The higher velocities will mean less time for hitters to react, which will mean more strikeouts. The big-data, launch-angle revolution will mean more hitters perfecting their perfect home run swing. Baseball is cyclical, but this feels more like the post-Babe era, when teams realized that home runs were a good thing and a new floor was established.
And if that’s the case, there will be more Game 5s. Not enough to be normal. But more. Think of baseball as a 1,305-sided die. As of 2014, there were just a few sides that ended with a home run. Now there are more sides. And you can roll and roll and roll for an entire postseason — maybe a dozen postseasons — without getting another Game 5. But it’s more likely, and it will continue to be more likely until something I’m not thinking of becomes the new normal*.
* Say, pitchers evolving to Aroldis Chapman-like fastballs, but doing it with pinpoint control that neutralizes the big-data revolution ... for a couple years, at least.
That doesn’t mean it will become a blight on the game. On the contrary, Game 5 was a tremendous amount of fun, and I enjoyed looking around and watching writers laugh and laugh while the fans screamed and screamed. It was hilarious and fun. As long as it was isolated.
It probably will be. But there are a couple more chances to roll that kind of game now. Considering the limits of the human body and how quickly baseball is approaching those limits, it’s hard to see how that will change.
Idea: Steroids for the pitchers, not the hitters, and make breaking balls illegal. Think about it.