Home Runs Are Back and 8 Other May Takeaways from the 2022 MLB Season
What did we learn this month in Major League Baseball?
Well, for starters, home runs are back in style, especially for the New York Yankees' Aaron Judge and basically the entire Boston Red Sox lineup.
Yet despite a sharp uptick in long balls, Josh Hader remains darn near unhittable while the Houston Astros pitching staff has been lights-out across the board. And the Toronto Blue Jays—expected to feature one of the best offenses—remained anemic at the plate for a second consecutive month.
The Miami Marlins and Colorado Rockies have fallen off after solid Aprils, but the Minnesota Twins are still in great shape atop the American League Central.
Oh, and last year's American League and National League MVPs? They're looking good for possible repeats.
The season is still young, but here are our biggest takeaways from May.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics accurate through Friday.
After April Power Outage, Home Runs Are Happening Again
Balls still aren't flying out of yards at anywhere near the rate they did over the past three seasons. However, we have at least progressed from an April full of conspiracy theories about humidors and the composition of the baseballs to a May wherein home runs have been more typical.
Through April 30, pitchers leaguewide were allowing 0.9 home runs per nine innings—a staggering drop-off from 1.4 in 2019 and 1.3 in 2020 and 2021. At that point, we were on pace for 4,400 home runs, compared to 5,944 last season.
In May, though, there has been a 17.5 percent increase to a leaguewide rate of 1.1 HR/9.
Whether that increase is actually a good trend or a bad one is up to the eye of the beholder. Pitching duels are fun. So are slugfests. But the fact of the matter is home runs have been on the rise for more than just Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts and Trevor Story. They should keep climbing, too, as the weather continues to get warmer.
Home Runs Are Back, but Runs Are Still Down for Toronto
One year ago, Toronto had one of Major League Baseball's most insatiable offenses. The Blue Jays mashed 21 more home runs than their closest challengers, led the majors in slugging and ranked in the top four in batting average, on-base percentage and runs.
But they can't seem to buy a hit this season, especially in May.
Most teams have scored 100 runs this month. A handful are well over the 120 threshold. However, the Blue Jays have just 79, fewer than all teams not named the Pittsburgh Pirates or Detroit Tigers.
And because of it, they have an 11-12 record despite some of the best pitching in the majors.
Bo Bichette has been respectable, batting .280 with four home runs. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and George Springer have been OK. But Matt Chapman, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez have been a mess, each batting below .175, while Raimel Tapia has zero extra-base hits in 66 plate appearances.
Somehow, the Jays are still in great shape for a postseason berth. But they're going to need to do serious shopping at the trade deadline if these bats don't wake up soon.
The Red Sox Are on the Prowl
Boston is still three games below .500 largely because of a pitching staff that has been underwhelming. (See: Blowing an 8-2 lead in a 12-8 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night.)
But at least at the plate, the Red Sox have woken up in a huge way.
Through their first 22 games, they were batting .225 with 12 home runs and an OPS of .609. It often felt like Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers were the only players capable of getting hits, and rarely with runners on base.
Through their first 23 games of May, however, the Red Sox hit .286 with 31 home runs and an OPS of .833. Trevor Story started mashing (nine home runs in May after zero in April), J.D. Martinez started hitting like Ted Williams on steroids (.440 average in May), and all of Devers' extra-base hits finally amounted to some RBI (16 RBI on 19 XBH in May after nine on 10 in April).
Simply put, Boston looks like a contender after an awful first month.
Catching the Yankees in the American League East might not be feasible, but the Red Sox are only four games out of the third wild card, and Chris Sale and James Paxton will presumably take the mound at some point this season to bolster the rotation.
Josh Hader Deserves the NL Cy Young Award
Closers almost never win the Cy Young Award. The best ones get some votes each year, sure, but Eric Gagne was the only fireman to actually win the trophy in the past 29 years—and even that was back in 2003, when he went 55-for-55 in save opportunities.
Well, Milwaukee's Josh Hader has been even more perfect than Gagne was.
In 14.2 innings, Hader has allowed just three hits and six walks with 22 strikeouts. And all he does is save games: 16 appearances, 16 saves.
He actually got 10 of those in April, but now that he's almost through May with a 0.00 ERA intact, we are into "Hey, remember when Zack Britton had a 0.54 ERA in 67 innings in 2016 and almost won the American League Cy Young Award?" territory with Hader.
Carlos Rodon recently got lit up by the St. Louis Cardinals. Max Scherzer is out indefinitely with a strained left oblique. Hold the Cy Young vote right now, and Hader's stiffest competition may well be teammate Corbin Burnes, who has been potent in his quest to repeat as the National League Cy Young Award winner.
But with each passing week that Hader goes without allowing a run or blowing a save, his Cy Young odds should improve.
Houston's Pitching Has Been Ridiculous
When the ace of a pitching staff makes 25 starts with 18 wins and a 2.29 ERA, chances are he's a top candidate for the Cy Young Award.
So with a 2.29 staff ERA, Houston sure is on one heck of a heater.
The wild part is the Astros did have one colossal dud, giving up 13 runs in a loss to the Washington Nationals. Take that outlier out of the equation, and they're sitting at 43 earned runs allowed in 212 innings, otherwise expressed as an ERA of 1.83.
We keep waiting on the 39-year-old Justin Verlander to regress to the mean, but he keeps refusing to do so. In his first four May starts, he went 4-0 with a 0.70 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 25.2 innings. (He finally had a bad outing Friday, allowing six runs in six innings in a loss to the Seattle Mariners.)
But that wasn't even Houston's lowest ERA, as Jake Odorizzi made three starts with a 0.54 ERA before suffering a left leg injury. And relievers Rafael Montero, Ryne Stanek and Seth Martinez combined for 25.1 innings without allowing an earned run. (The bullpen is 3-1 in May.) In fact, the only Astros pitcher with an ERA north of 3.60 this month is Blake Taylor (6.75), who gave up four of his six earned runs in that game against the Nats.
It won't last forever, but that stingy pitching has paved the way for the Astros to blow right by the Los Angeles Angels and into first place in the American League West.
Repeat MVPs in Both Leagues Is On the Table
Let's start in the National League, as 2021 MVP Bryce Harper is obliterating baseballs despite a UCL injury that has limited him to designated hitter duties since mid-April.
Harper started slow, finishing April with a .253 batting average and just three home runs. But in May, he has hit three home runs each against the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers, batting .375 with a .763 slugging percentage that ranks ahead of all players not named Paul Goldschmidt.
In the American League, a slugging pitcher is seeking to go back-to-back.
The Angels have mostly given Shohei Ohtani six or seven days off between pitching performances, and he was great against the Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers. Even on an off night against the Blue Jays on Thursday, he still struck out 10 batters, finishing the month with a line of 25 IP, 20 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 5 BB and 33 K. (He also hit five home runs and stole a trio of bases.)
In MLB history, there have been plenty of instances of a player winning MVP Awards in consecutive years. Heck, Barry Bonds did it four straight times from 2001 to 2004. But never have both leagues produced back-to-back MVPs in the same seasons.
After a strong May by both of last year's recipients, it just might happen.
Manny Machado has distanced himself from the field in the NL race, but Harper is certainly among the crowd battling for second place. And even with Aaron Judge homering like there's no tomorrow, Ohtani remains the betting favorite to win in the AL.
All Rise for Your Home Run King
Thirteen games into the season, Aaron Judge was batting .255 with one home run and two RBI for the 7-6 Yankees.
Since then, he's batting .325 with 16 home runs, including four multi-homer performances, while the Yankees have gone 26-7.
Coincidence? I think not.
Judge is four home runs ahead of his closest challenger (Mookie Betts) and has a .665 slugging percentage, which is absurd, even by his standards. His best slugging percentage of the past four years was .554 in 2020. Even when he led the league with 52 home runs as a rookie in 2017, his slugging percentage was still 38 points lower than it is now.
A hot start is nothing new for Judge, though. In his career, he has a 1.024 OPS in May, a 1.011 OPS in March/April and a .950 OPS or lower in each of the other four months.
We'll see if he can carry this momentum into the summer. But he has been nearly as dangerous on the road as he has been in the slugger-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium (with a better home run rate in away games), so he might still be warming up.
The Marlins and Rockies Were Fool's Gold
On the morning of May 1, the Marlins were 12-8 and the Rockies were 12-9. Each upstart National League squad was two games behind its division leader, barely ahead of the Cardinals and barely behind the Dodgers and San Diego Padres in the wild-card mix.
Since then, however, they've gone a combined 14-32 and would need to leapfrog a bunch of teams just to get back into wild-card position.
With the Rockies, it's not much of a surprise. Not only does their roster lack star power—they're also trying to navigate Kris Bryant's second stint on the injured list—but they also had a run differential of minus-15 even during their hot start. They scraped by for a while with an overachieving bullpen, but it was always going to be just a matter of time before Daniel Bard, Ashton Goudeau and Co. came crashing back to earth.
With the Marlins, though, it makes no sense that they have MLB's worst record this month.
The Fish are even in run differential, having scored and allowed 96, yet they have a record 11 games below .500. Eleven of their 17 losses have come by one run, including a torturous stretch from May 2-9 in which they surrounded an 8-0 win with seven one-run losses. During that time, they plummeted from 12-9 to 13-16.
Maybe Miami could still make a push for the playoffs if that luck turns. At any rate, it's worth noting that the 18-25 Marlins have the same run differential (plus-10) as the 26-19 Rays. But for now at least, Miami and Colorado are afterthoughts at best.
But the Twins Look Like the Real Deal
The White Sox have rallied from their 7-12 start with victories in 15 of their past 25 games. Some lot of good it has done in the American League Central, though, with the Twins winning 17 of 26 during that window.
Minnesota did get outscored 21-3 in a three-game home series against Houston in what may well be a sign of things to come in October. After all, this franchise has lost 18 consecutive postseason games.
But don't let that jab obscure the fact that the Twins—who finished last in a bad division last year—will enter June with one of the better records in baseball and a path to the postseason that looks better by the day.
Perhaps most impressive about their continued success is that it has come with Byron Buxton sputtering through a .155 batting average. Rather, Luis Arraez, Jorge Polanco and the finally-delivering-on-his-$35.1 million-salary Carlos Correa have shouldered the load at the plate, while Devin Smeltzer, Jhoan Duran and Caleb Thielbar have routinely put zeroes on the scoreboard.
Unless you eat, sleep and breathe Twins baseball, chances are you've never heard of all those pitchers before now. Get to know them, though, because Minnesota is the bandwagon team du jour.