CINCINNATI, OH: Bronson Arroyo #61 of the Cincinnati Reds reacts after giving up a home run in the second inning to Greg Dobbs #29 of the Florida Marlins at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Marlins defeated the Reds 9-5. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Bronson Arroyo has given up 44 home runs this season.
That's a lot of home runs.
The American League record is 50 (Bert Blyleven, 1986).
The National League record is 48 (Jose Lima, 2000).
Even with two more scheduled starts, it's highly unlikely that Arroyo will catch Blyleven, and somewhat unlikely that he'll catch Lima.
Still, only three pitchers in major-league history have surrendered more than 44 home runs in a single season: Robin Roberts, Lima, and Blyleven (twice). And it's worth mentioning that Blyleven and Roberts both threw a great deal more innings than Arroyo's going to throw. Among all-time ERA qualifiers, Lima (2.20) and Arroyo (2.18) are the "leaders" in home runs per nine innings ... and Arroyo obviously has a great chance of passing Lima.
He's having a historical season, in a season that's seen the power numbers actually go down somewhat around the majors.
"I couldn’t care less how many home runs I give up in a season," Arroyo said. "Having a five ERA (5.34) is going to bother me 30 times more than how those runs scored. If I gave up 100 homers this year and they were all solo shots and my ERA was 2.7, I’d be completely content."
Arroyo is 8-12 with the aforementioned 5.34 ERA, his worst year since joining the Reds in 2006. Arroyo last season was 17-10 with a 3.88 ERA, setting a career high for wins.
Arroyo's comment might seem ridiculous, but it's not.
Well, it's sort of ridiculous. You can actually pitch pretty well despite giving up oodles of home runs. When Blyleven gave up 96 home runs over the course of 1987 and '87, his ERA was just 4.01 in both seasons. Which was significantly better than league average. On the other hand, when Roberts gave up 86 home runs exactly 30 years earlier, that was actually the worst two-season run of his Hall of Fame career (not counting the end).
Again, though, what really distinguishes Arroyo's season isn't the raw number, but the rate. Neither Blyleven nor Roberts ever game up anything like two home runs per nine innings. And that rate is obviously a real problem, because you can't make them all solo shots.
The question is whether or not Arroyo will bounce back with a lower home-run rate next season.
Aside from Lima and Arroyo, the only other two ERA qualifiers to give up more than two homers per nine innings were Sid Fernandez and Jim DeShaies. Both did that in 1994, and both -- as things turned out -- were essentially finished as good major-league pitchers (which they had been). Dave Mlicki, Brandon Backe, Eric Milton ... Same thing.
One real counter-example is Jamie Moyer, who gave up 1.96 home runs per nine in 2004, at 41 ... and seven years later he's still pitching (well, after a fashion).
So history's not optimistic about pitchers who do what Arroyo has done.
Which might be a little scary for the Reds, since they still owe Arroyo $13.5 million to pitch through the 2013 season.*
* A little less in real terms, actually, because a goodly chunk of that $13.5 million will be deferred, with no interest.
But if Arroyo pitches more like he did before 2011, he'll actually be something of a bargain. And the indicators are not uniformly negative. Yes, he's throwing slightly softer this season: average fastball 87 miles an hour, down from its customary 88 and change. But Arroyo's line-drive rate is slightly lower than his career rate, his ground-ball rate just slightly lower. The only real difference in Arroyo's statistical markers is the difference you would expect: His rate of home runs per fly ball is way, way up, from around 10.5 percent for his career to 16.3 this season.
I'm not saying you can't fault Arroyo for all those home runs. He's always been susceptible to them, and so when then go wrong for him, they can really go wrong. But there's some bad luck here, too. I suspect that we've seen the best of Arroyo, and won't ever see a sub-4.00 ERA from him again. But he seems to have a pretty good shot at becoming a league-average innings-eater in at least one of his two remaining seasons with the Reds.