If you’re a fan of walk-off home runs, the 2018 season has been your cup of tea.
With September still three days away, Major League Baseball established a new single-season record Wednesday afternoon of 81 walk-off home runs thanks to Tyler White and the Houston Astros.
White delivered the record-setting home run in truly improbable fashion, which we’ll further explain shortly. The ninth-inning solo blast clinched a massive 5-4 win over the hard-charging Oakland Athletics.
The record-setter comes less than 24 hours after New York Yankees pinch-hitter Neil Walker hit the 80th walk-off home run of the season against the Chicago White Sox. That tied the previous record set in 2004.
What is a walk-off home run?
A walk-off home run simply means a home run that immediately ends (and wins) the game. It can only be done by the home team, since the home team gets the last at-bat. Walk-off home runs can also be referred to as game-winners or game-enders, but walk-off is the term most often used because the losing team literally walks off the field while winners celebrate.
Why was this home run improbable?
White’s home run was by no means a no-doubter. In fact, it was actually the shortest walk-off home run hit this season, traveling just 332 feet before landing in the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park.
Exit velocity: 96mph
— Home Run Tracker (@DingerTracker) August 29, 2018
Based on launch angle, exit velocity and distance traveled, it’s the only ballpark in MLB this particular hit would have resulted in a home run. In fact, White’s home run is the only baseball put in play this season with that launch angle and exit velocity that hasn’t been an out.
batted balls hit like Tyler White's walk-off home run pic.twitter.com/Izj7ueqYsc
— Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) August 29, 2018
The Astros will absolutely take it though. With the win, they’ve increased their lead in the AL West to 2 1/2 games over Oakland.
Why the sudden increase in walk-off homers?
Honestly, it’s probably more random than anything.
Last season an MLB record 6,105 home runs were hit during the regular season. If walk-off home runs increased at the same pace, then last season would have blown past the 80 mark. Instead, of those 6,105 home runs, only 75 were walk-offs.
This season, we’ve already seen 81, and that’s with White’s home run only being No. 4,573 in MLB this season. Overall, the home run pace is well behind last season’s, but it’s possible we could reach 90-100 walk-off home runs this season.
Perhaps a connection could be drawn to a higher percentage of relief pitchers allowing home runs this season, but that would take some serious digging into the numbers to find any true evidence. It’s more likely that batters just happen to be hitting more home runs at just the right moment. Sometimes baseball can be just that simple, even when the results seem confusing or impossible.
Regardless of the hows or whys, the increase in walk-off home runs has definitely led to an increase in thrills around the league. For that, no one can complain.
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