It’s a bummer that baseball’s evolution over the past five years has sapped some of the joy out of two of the coolest things that can happen in your garden variety at-bat: a flamethrowing pitcher burning a batter down with untouchable heat, and the majestic dinger. Like a sandwich you make yourself and which indulges your perfectly human desire for maximum meat and maximum cheese but which ultimately suffers from having too much meat and too much cheese, MLB’s product now suffers from the over-saturation of good things. Like our regrettable sandwich, the returns are diminishing, and dingers and strikeouts, as categories of outcomes, have become something to rue rather than celebrate.
Thankfully, the individual dinger at least can still be a source of slack-jawed wonder. There’s still a subset of home runs that force their way into prominence, even if there are simply too many total home runs now for the average round-tripper to be highlight material. Some wind-carried glorified fly-out that bounces off the top padding of the outfield wall might make you acutely nostalgic for the days of flat swings and directional hitting, but this titanic blast off the bat of Ronald Acuña Jr. Tuesday night has all the juice you could ever want from a third-inning at-bat in an early June baseball game. The violent swing, the outrageous crack of the bat, the 116-mph shot into the upper deck—this is a baseball sent screaming into the very fires of hell:
You would think the hardest hit home run of Acuña’s career, and the hardest Braves dinger in the Statcast era, would stand as the mightiest dong of the night. No! Wrong! Acuña is a strong masher of taters but no one in baseball more consistently murders an impertinent baseball than Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani. Royals pitcher Kris Bubic lobbed a fat breaking pitch in Ohtani’s first at-bat Tuesday night and Ohtani simply powderized it. The reason the broadcasters couldn’t track this ball to its landing is because it broke up in flight due to extreme aerodynamic forces, and was dispersed as a chalky vapor. Simply do not attempt to convince me otherwise:
It’s worth watching this swing in slow-motion, to appreciate the pure ungoverned violence of Ohtani’s swing. That amount of kinetic energy is not meant to course through the human body. Either he is going to pound this ball into another dimension or his limbs are going to liquify and shred apart in a spectacle of gore:
Ohtani’s bomb was one of two extra base hits he produced Tuesday night with exit velocities of over 111 miles per hour. Acuña’s was already his sixth career dinger to travel at least 460 feet, the most in the majors since 2018. Acuña and Ohtani are ranked second and first, respectively, in percent of plate appearances that end with barrel contact, essentially a measure of how likely a player is to crank the bejeezus out of a baseball. They’re third and ninth in average exit velocity, and second and eighth in hard hit percentage. These men crush the ball.
You need a real interplanetary blast now and again to yank home runs all the way out of the abstract, and to remind you of their redeeming and extremely bitchin’ aesthetic qualities. Tuesday night we got two such blasts, from a couple of the premier sluggers in baseball. So baseball can have too many dingers. Injecting more variety back into the game is a job for the suits, and any return to the before times will mostly mean fewer dingers for whole tiers of pretenders who juiced balls and uppercut swings have made into nominal power hitters. It is the job of the true slugger to kill baseballs, and that at least has never changed.