EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – It’s been one of the most incredible feats to watch all season in baseball: the El Paso Chihuahuas belting home runs left and right.
“Every night it seems like we hit 4 or 5 and it seems like we just feed off each other,” third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean said.
Through 69 games, El Paso has belted a ridiculous 152 home runs, which is on pace to break the professional baseball record. It’s already 10 more than they hit all of last season, and they’re averaging 2.2 home runs per game as team. What’s more, eight different Chihuahuas have already hit 10 or more round trippers this season.
“One through nine, you can call on someone and someone will put one out during the game,” infielder Ty France said. “I don’t think we’re trying to, it’s just part of the game and we’re definitely having fun doing it.”
The Chihuahuas’ power surge is part of a baseball-wide trend. Home run numbers have skyrocketed since 2016, as teams value the big fly over small ball.
“We’ve seen before the middle infielders, shortstops and second basemen, they didn’t have to hit home runs,” Chihuahuas manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “Nowadays, yeah they do hit home runs. So pretty much everywhere, they’re expecting power.”
Science has played a role; there’s more data and technology available to hitters than ever before. Many of them use new statistics like launch angle and exit velocity to create more lift and bat speed, which equals balls that are hit harder and farther.
“After batting practice, or after they hit in the cage, they go in and they can tell what was the launch angle, the exit velocity, the attack angle,” Rodriguez said. “They can see it, not only feel it.”
Since its inception in 2014, El Paso has hit at least 114 home runs every season. Part of that is the stadium factor. The Chihuahuas play half their games at hitter-friendly Southwest University Park, in the summertime heat at almost 4,000 feet above sea level. Around the Pacific Coast League, El Paso frequents plenty of home run-friendly ballparks, including Albuquerque, Reno and Salt Lake. All those trips to hitter’s parks mean that home runs can add up in a hurry.
Batting analytics and hitter friendly ballparks both could be factoring into the Chihuahuas epic home run pace in 2019, but one reason stands out above everything else.
This year, Triple A baseball is using the same baseballs that are used in MLB. The seams are a little bit lower on the ball, the balls are wound a bit tighter on the inside, and it’s made of a slightly different material than the balls that were used in the Minors until last season, which allows a little more pop when the bat hits the ball.
“I think it’s condensed a little more, it’s a little bit harder. so when it gets squared up it goes a lot farther. When you get a hold of it, you can really tell the difference,” said Mejias-Brean.
The difference is especially noticeable during batting practice.
“When we take batting practice with the major league ball, you can tell. How far it goes, how it jumps off the bat,” Rodriguez said.
It’s not just the Chihuahuas that have seen a home run spike. Across Triple A, dingers are up this year. At the midway point, nine different teams across the Pacific Coast League and the International League have already hit at least 100 home runs. What’s more, an additional 10 teams have already gone yard at least 80 times.
“We’re almost half way through and the leader has like 25 home runs. Most guys at most levels don’t hit that in a whole season,” France said.
The record for team home runs in a season at any level of baseball, MLB or Minor League Baseball, is 305 homers, set in 1974 by Sacramento. However, that number has an asterisk.
“That team played in a converted football stadium in which left field was only 250 feet away,” Chihuahuas broadcaster Tim Hagerty said. “So the official league record book puts an asterisk there. If they can hit 306 home runs, then you’re talking about the most home runs any team has ever hit in the long history of baseball.”
The Chihuahuas are currently on track to hit 308 home runs, which would set a new asterisk-free record. Based on the first half of the season, it appears the home run barrage is here to stay.