There’s a power outage in one section of the San Gabriel Valley.
Yes, your lights still work if you’re in the Pasadena Star-News coverage area. But no, your favorite local high school baseball team can’t hit the ball over the fence with any regularity.
Yep, the most popular moment in baseball, the one chicks dig, has almost vanished from these parts. In fact, home runs are so rare among local baseball teams that a white smoke signal should go out whenever one happens.
The funny thing is, the issue seems to be only effecting teams playing in the east of Glendale but west of the 605 Freeway. Go east of the 605 and there’s a sophomore masher at Gladstone named Aldo Perez, who leads the entire Southern Section in home runs with nine.
Further down from Perez in the standings is Glendora’s Nick Kaye with four. As for the Pasadena Star-News coverage area, there’s three players — Monrovia’s Eric Herrera and Pasadena’s Niko Lopez and Tyler Bradley — tied with two apiece.
So what’s the problem? It’s a question that befuddles area coaches who swear they still allow their players to swing for the fences.
Coaches contacted for this story all pointed to the CIF-Southern Section’s requirement that baseball teams use less-lethal BBCOR bats. This started in 2012. BBCOR stands for Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution. In lay terms, balls come off BBCOR bats with less velocity. But that can only be part of the explanation. So why everyone else hitting more homers?
“In general, on our side of the Valley I don’t think we have the same size guys that the east side of the Valley has in terms of natural build,” Monrovia head coach Brad Blackmore said. “You get out in the Inland Empire and you just see some big dudes. To make the answer real simple, we’re not growing those guys at Monrovia or Alhambra.
“You can get them as strong as you can in the weight room, but you can’t replace natural height. You just can’t. You can offset it by asking how many D-1 college pitchers have come out of this area in the past few years, but where are the D-1 hitters? All of the guys on our side of the Valley who have been monsters the past couple years have all been pitchers.”
For some perspective, Blackmore said that Monrovia’s 1998 team had six players with six or more home runs. Contrast that with last year’s Alhambra team, which won 22 games but hit only three home runs last season, and you can see there’s a definite lack of pop that appears to be getting worse.
Don’t get it wrong, the area is still formidable. The reason can be traced to strong pitching. So while win totals may look the same as 10 or 20 or even 30 years ago, they’re merely masking the power outage that’s taking place.
So far this season, there are seven area pitchers with ERAs of less than 1.00. However, postseason success has eluded the area’s top teams in recent years because they’re too often forced to manufacture runs rather than enjoy the two-second jackpot a home run can provide.
In addition to making chicks happy, home runs eliminate mistakes and take pressure off. They change the momentum of a game the way nothing else can. Without them, or at least the threat of them, the pressure to score can be too much and it wouldn’t matter if Clayton Kershaw was on the mound.
“It’s absolutely frustrating,” veteran Alhambra head coach Steve Gewecke said. “Because here’s what has to happen: we have to play absolutely perfect. We have to take chances to score that we wouldn’t otherwise take if we had a big bopper on our team.
“We played pretty darn well at Laguna Beach in the playoffs last year, hung a slider and it was game over, basically. Because their guy overpowered us.”
Alhambra is the perfect case in point. Marco Briones, who graduated last June, was one of the best pitchers in school history. Yet the Moors couldn’t make it past the second round in Briones’ junior and senior seasons and scored just six runs total in four playoff games.
It appears the same fate awaits Alhambra and several other area teams this postseason. Yes, pitching wins championships. But the amount of wasted great pitching performances by local teams in the playoffs are starting to pile up.
Hopefully, this year stockpile of good arms don’t go to waste again. But that means the ball has to start leaving the yard sooner rather than later.