It is way, way too early in the season to be predicting season-defining trends that are going to last all the way through the fall months. Yet, at the same time, isn’t “too early” the best time to predict something outlandish that might or might not be bubbling up across the league?
One week into the season predictions either make me look super smart if it pans out, and if it fizzles out somewhere between now and the all-star break I can write off calling this shot as an April whim that was only ever going to be a limited-time trend. So yes, this is the perfect time to make a big prediction and I’ll admit it.
With three inside-the-park home runs and the season barely a week old, this is shaping up to be the “Year of the Inside-The-Park Home Run”. I’m calling it now — on top of the waterfall of dingers that is likely coming our way again this season — there will also be a ton of inside-the-parkers. In 2016 there was a mere nine trips around the diamond with the ball still ping-ponging around the outfield somewhere, while in 2017 there was more than double that amount.
So far in 2018, seven days into the season, there have already been three inside-the-park home runs. If that rate keeps up (which is unlikely, but humor me) we’d be heading to a 79 ITPHRs in one year. Even if the rate only slows by half instead of completely dropping off, that’s still nearly 40 circular sprints on the year. And even if you resign yourself to only, say, 0.4 percent of all home runs this season being inside-the-park homers (double the percentage from 2016) and extrapolate from 2017’s home run total, that’s still almost 25.
You should be rooting for this to happen, too. Inside-the-park home runs are some of the most entertaining occurrences, not just because they’re rare, but because everything that happens while the batter is hustling around the bases is usually some of the most farcical events in baseball.
Sure, normal dingers take strength and coordination and they’re still very entertaining. We are not here to disparage everyday dingers. But inside-the-park home runs take strength and coordination plus luck, speed (or at least an effort to go as fast as you can in the moment), and maybe even a mistake (or three) by the outfielders responsible for getting the ball towards the plate. It’s another level of fun, and if there are more than a handful this year than that means the season is more fun and who wants to turn the idea of that down?
Carlos Correa, Edwin Encarnacion, and Eduardo Nunez are all responsible for ITPHRs so far, and each one displays a different facet of why they’re great. Nunez’s never even reached the wall, requiring one Rays outfielder to somersault over another one to avoid a collision as they both went for the ball and then hop up and sprint all the way over to the ball before throwing it. Plus his helmet fell off, but that’s more of a Nunez feature than an inside-the-park homer bug.
Encarnacion’s was emblematic of the joy that stems from unexpected players trucking it around the bases and finding themselves safe at home, as well as the hilarity of watching an outfielder (in this case Justin Upton) not realize the ball is still fair and completely failing to hustle to the ball and make any effort to throw the batter out.
Correa’s was the purest of them all, the ball careening off the outfield wall at Minute Maid Park and out of reach of both outfielders for just long enough that Correa was able to complete the feat.
There’s a thousand other out of control inside-the-park home run permutations where that came from, and don’t you want to see them all? You should. The flailing left fielders, the careening baseballs, the 35-year-old players realizing they have a shot at touching all four bases in one go without the ball reaching the hands of a drunk fan in the centerfield bleachers. The bubbling enthusiasm of the crowd as they realize a cutoff man bobbled the throw, or that the outfielders don’t realize the ball is behind them for a full three seconds.
With three in the books already and April still young, this could shape up to be a marquee season for the inside-the-park home run. This could be the inside-the-park home run’s time. The year it finally breaks out of the shadow of its more-accomplished older sibling and proves that accidental home runs are home runs too.
Thrive, inside-the-park home run. Own the moment. This is your year, and you have all the momentum.
I’m calling it now.