Baseball Notebook: Even in Midwest League, it has become all about strikeouts and home runs

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CEDAR RAPIDS — That professional baseball has become more and more a two-true-outcome game offensively has trickled down to low-Class A and the Midwest League.

Those two true outcomes, of course, are strikeouts and home runs. Major League Baseball is on pace to break season records in both categories.

According to research done by Great Lakes Loons play-by-play broadcaster Brad Tunney, the MWL also is on a record-breaking pace for Ks and for a top-five finish in home runs.

Through July, teams were averaging 8.35 Ks per game, which would break the record of 8.19 in 1964. The 2016 season saw an average of 8.12 strikeouts per team per game, which was third all-time, according to Tunney.

Going into August, Midwest League clubs were averaging .715 homers per game per team, which would rank fourth. In 1961, teams averaged an all-time high .756 longballs per game.

“I think guys aren’t concerned about strikeouts anymore, they’re more concerned about power,” said Cedar Rapids Kernels hitting coach Brian Dinkelman. “The game is about power now, so you’re seeing bigger swings at times, guys trying to drive balls into the gaps. Bigger swings are going to lead to more swings and misses.”

Dinkelman was asked if he felt the preponderance of more power pitchers in the game also is leading to more strikeouts. As a whole, pitchers are throwing harder than they ever have.

Every team, even at this level, seems to have plenty of those guys.

“Yeah, I think it’s a combination of both: bigger swings and power arms,” he said. “It is a little bit (surprising) to me, when you are talking about an all-time record in the league. But I know there are more power arms in baseball now, especially when you get into bullpens and stuff. Seems like (starters) are only going four or five innings in games anymore, so you’re going to get power arms the last four or five innings.”

The Kernels rank fifth in the 16-team Midwest League with 93 home runs this season, going into Saturday, and have the sixth-most strikeouts (1,007). Lake County has the most homers in the league (125) and Fort Wayne the most whiffs (1,156).

Those clubs rank top four in both the home run and strikeout categories, all of which goes right back to the two-true-outcome theory.

“I think there’s a balance,” Dinkelman said. “We don’t want to strikeout. You don’t just want to give away an at-bat by striking out. When we get to two strikes, we talk about taking a shorter swing, battling a little bit. Don’t look for the perfect pitch with two strikes ... Foul them away until you get one you can handle.”

PLAYOFF TALK

With about three weeks left in the regular season, the Midwest League playoff picture has become more and more clear.

First-half qualifiers were the Kernels and Kane County in the Western Division and Dayton and West Michigan in the Eastern Division.

Going into Saturday, West Michigan was in first place again in the East, with Fort Wayne and Bowling Green well in front of the pack for second and third and what would be the two second-half playoff spots.

In the Western Division, it appears to be a three-team race between Quad Cities, Peoria and Beloit. QC was in first place, 4.5 games ahead of second-place Beloit and five up on third-place Peoria. Wisconsin was four games behind Peoria.

WEST MICHIGAN SETS LEAGUE RECORD

The West Michigan Whitecaps threw their 24th shutout of the season Friday night against Great Lakes, breaking a longstanding Midwest League record.

Quad Cities had 23 shutouts in 1974.

West Michigan’s pitching staff has accounted for the best earned run average in the league (2.77), leads in WHIP and saves and is second in strikeouts. The Whitecaps went into Saturday with a league-best overall record of 79-34.

HOW THEY'RE DOING

Jake Adams (University of Iowa) — First baseman hitting .179 in 38 games for Short Season-A Tri-City (Astros), with eight home runs and 18 RBIs. Has struck out 55 times in 134 at-bats.

Joel Booker (University of Iowa) — Outfielder has played 37 games since being promoted to high-A Winston-Salem (White Sox) and has a .212 average with a home run and 10 RBIs.

Matt Dermody (University of Iowa) — Relief pitcher sent back to Triple-A Buffalo after a short stint in the big leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays. Went 1-0 with a 15.75 ERA in five appearances for the Jays.

Ryan Erickson (University of Iowa) — Picked up his second save this week for Arizona Rookie League White Sox. Has no record and 8.53 ERA in 10 appearances.

Blake Hickman (University of Iowa) — Is 3-5 with a 4.19 ERA in 13 starts for low-A Kannapolis (White Sox).

Jon Keller (Cedar Rapids Xavier) — Reliever is 0-1 with a save and 3.12 ERA since being sent to high-A Frederick (Orioles).

Mitch Keller (Cedar Rapids Xavier) — Went six innings in his first start for Double-A Erie (Pirates), allowing five hits and two runs, walking three and striking out four. Got a no decision.

Derrick Loveless (Solon) — Outfielder hitting .253 in 58 games for Double-A New Hampshire (Blue Jays), with a homer and 18 RBIs.

Mason McCoy (University of Iowa) — The New York-Penn League all-star is hitting .308 in 33 games for Short Season-A Aberdeen (Orioles), with a home run and 21 RBIs.

Tyler Peyton (University of Iowa) — Has 3-3 record and 3.74 ERA in 14 games, four starts for low-A South Bend (Cubs).

A.J. Puk (Cedar Rapids Washington) — Is 1-3 with a 5.63 ERA in nine starts since being promoted to Double-A Midland (Athletics). Has struck out 52 in 40 innings.

Jake Yacinich (University of Iowa) — Shortstop hitting .265 in 76 games for high-A Inland Empire (Angels), with four homers and 24 RBIs.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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