The Jackson Generals reclaimed first place in the Southern League’s North Division on Wednesday, and they did it in familiar fashion. To begin, Kelly Dugan bopped a home run in the third inning off the scoreboard beyond right-center field. Four innings later, Rudy Flores whistled a shot down the right field line that cleared the wall by inches. They were the 24th and 25th solo homers that Jackson has propelled out of the park in their first 32 games, marking an even 40 blasts as a team in total.
There is a reason Baseball America’s first-month data says the Generals have the minor leagues’ premier offense so far: Jackson has hit the ball a long way, and they have done it a lot. You wouldn’t easily score 164 runs in 32 games without knowing how to dinger, and they do. Remember, the 2016 Mobile BayBears jacked a league-best 109 homers, and that team featured 10 position players who are now Generals.
Can you recall what you were doing five days ago? Well, that’s how long it’s been since the Generals last scored a run without a baseball leaving the yard. Over the past five games, the Generals have scored all 14 of their runs using seven round-trippers. The Generals batted just .192 in that span, averaging six hits a game. They won two of those contests.
In the Major Leagues, there’s only been one occasion over the last four seasons where the top-ranked team in home runs has also been the top-ranked team in scoring (2015’s Toronto Blue Jays). That said, if you were one of the top four teams in home runs during these past four seasons, your average rank in total run production was roughly eighth among all Major League clubs.
A bat rack loaded with long-ball power can certainly provide the bone structure for a top-flight offense, but one doesn’t necessarily come as a result of the other. Some of those aforementioned homer-heavy teams in the majors (2013’s Seattle Mariners, 2014’s Houston Astros) finished in the bottom third of the big leagues in overall runs despite having a top-four ranking in four-baggers.
So, how do the Generals parlay their homer-happy ways into more consistent run production? One answer is reasonably simple: get on base. A bases-empty home run probably doesn’t stand out in the baseball nightmares of opposing managers and pitching coaches. But a clout with runners aboard that turns a two-run lead into a one-run deficit? That’s enough to make anyone wake up in a cold sweat.
The Generals have struggled a bit so far with teams that keep them off the basepaths. In seven contests against Montgomery and Tennessee–two teams allowing fewer than 1.20 walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP) on average–the Generals are 2-5. The weekend series coming up features a Pensacola team with a league-leading 1.15 WHIP, creating another stout challenge for the Generals’ offense.
The good news is that the Generals have been both aggressive and appropriately level-headed at the plate so far. Jason Camilli’s hitters have struck out at a lesser rate than any other Southern League team (once every 4.3 at-bats), and they have the second-best walks-to-strikeouts ratio of any offense in the circuit.
If Jackson can find ways to reach base against the stingier staffs in the league, it will be a little be easier for them to continue their early-season success on offense. Nonetheless, don’t expect the dingers to dissipate any time soon.