On the opening day of the season, Giancarlo Stanton—who last year hit 59 home runs en route to the National League MVP award before a December trade brought him to the New York Yankees—muscled two homers out of Toronto’s Rogers Centre. The first came on a low fastball that he shot to right. MLB’s Statcast measured it as the hardest-hit opposite-field blast since the system’s inception in 2015. The second went to straightaway center and landed well up into the second deck; no advanced numbers were needed to appreciate it. For Yankees fans who had spent the winter envisioning how Stanton would pair with Aaron Judge, who in a 2017 Rookie of the Year campaign hit 52 homers of his own, the 6–1 win doubled as a welcome forecast. It was easy to imagine six months of long balls and blowouts.
At New York’s home-opener victory five days later, though, concern cut the celebration. Stanton struck out each of the five times he stepped to the plate, and after his last appearance, a smattering of boos sounded. To someone just now joining the season, highlights from those two games could provide a handy summary: of the much-hyped Yankees’ 5–5 start and of their star hitters’ boom-or-bust tendencies, yes, but more importantly of the risk-reward calculations that increasingly govern baseball. Since the days of Babe Ruth, players have wanted to hit home runs, and teams have wanted to employ the players who do. Now, as homers and strikeouts alike pile up in record numbers, the question of how to find the balance between them is among the most pressing in the sport.