In a few hours, Bronson Arroyo takes the mound in Cincinnati looking to avoid edging closer to a record set by Bert Blyleven. Usually, it would be an honor to be mentioned alongside the Hall of Fame Dutchman, but not when it comes to the all-time single season record for home runs surrendered. Arroyo has served up 44 dingers in 2011, putting him six shy of Blyleven's record set in 1986.
Arroyo has always had issues with the long ball (his career HR/9 mark is 1.23), but nothing like what he has experienced this year. Heading into today's start, his 2.18 homers per nine innings is the second-highest mark ever among pitchers who qualified for the ERA title, according to Baseball Reference. Only the late Jose Lima (2.20 per nine in 2000) got taken deep more often. Blyleven tossed a league-leading 271.2 innings during his record-setting '86 season, so his HR/9 total was "only" 1.7
Some will point to Arroyo's career-high 16.3 home run per fly ball rate as a sign that he has endured some poor luck this season. That HR/FB total is way above his career high of 10.6 percent, and his average opponent fly ball distance of 309 feet is actually below the 314 average he posted the previous two seasons. However, it's also true that Arroyo is giving lots up homers on pitches that are right down the middle of the plate:
Twenty-six of Arroyo's home runs have come on pitches located down the horizontal middle of the plate. He's missing down the middle more often overall this year, and he's getting burned more often:
2009: 21.8% of pitches thrown down the middle, 15.2 HR/FB%
2010: 22.1% down the middle, 17.6 HR/FB%
2011: 24.1% down the middle, 23.6 HR/FB%
When you're a soft-tosser like Arroyo, you can't afford to put the ball on a tee for the hitter. Opponents are slugging a MLB-high .738 on pitches that Arroyo throws down the middle, 265 points higher than the league average. If Bronson wants to stop singing the home run blues, he's gotta hit his spots more often.