“I’m getting weak contact, lots of weak contact, getting ground balls,” Wheeler said. “A lot of balls are getting through the infield. I’m not talking about these guys not getting them; it’s just: a lot of balls are getting through the infield, which is unfortunate. When that starts adding up, runs are going to score.”
He has a point – the Mets ranked 28th of the 30 teams in overall defense before Tuesday’s games, according to Fangraphs – but there is no defense for the home run. Wheeler allowed two on Tuesday, bringing his total to 13 allowed in 14 starts. With one more, he will match his total from last season, when he made 29 starts.
This is consistent with the trend around baseball, where fly balls are clearing fences like never before. The average game featured 1.35 homers before Tuesday, up from the record of 1.26 per game in 2017.
“I think everybody knows, sort of, what’s going on,” Wheeler said. “It is what it is, I guess.”
You could sense Wheeler squirming with his words; he did not want to make excuses, but it’s no secret that a tighter baseball is changing the game. The league commissioned a study last year that said baseballs were flying greater distances through the air because of a decrease in wind resistance, though it could find no reason that would be happening.
In any case, when Class AAA switched this season to the same ball used in the majors, home runs – surprise, surprise — soared. Through Monday, the El Paso Chihuahuas, a San Diego Padres’ affiliate, had a team slugging percentage of .546, which fits right between the career slugging percentages of Giancarlo Stanton (.547) and Mike Piazza (.545).
There seems to be a new home run achievement in the majors every day. On Sunday in San Diego, four batters in a row hit home runs for the Washington Nationals. On Monday in Philadelphia, the Phillies and the Arizona Diamondbacks combined for 13 homers, a single-game record.