Major league baseball on pace to set home run record — and strikeouts too

On June 26, Yankees starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi gave up back-to-back-to-back home runs to the middle of the Minnesota Twins line up. They were three of the six home runs that solidified a 7-1 Twins demolition of the pinstripes.

Here's the thing: Six home runs in a game is becoming less unusual. Home runs are way up this year. In fact, we are averaging 1.16 home runs per game this season, just shy of the all-time record of 1.17 per game. That record was set in 2000, at the height of the sport's steroids era. Batters are swinging for the fences like never before, according to a CNBC analysis of baseball statistics.

Home runs are at their second-highest ever, strikeouts are at a record high and singles are at a record low, under six per game. That means batters are trying to connect for power: Get home or get out.

As CNBC reported last year, a focus on sluggers 20 years ago created a void in pitching. The talent went into developing arms, and the sport got a new generation of top-notch pitchers. "It's like capitalism," said Billy Beane, the Oakland A's manager famous for his role in Moneyball. "Any normal market will tell you: When there's a scarcity of something, it'll increase the price."

Pitchers are throwing harder than ever, with the average speed of a fastball 2-3 mph faster than a generation ago. Umpires are also letting pitchers get away with a bigger strike zone.

The increased speed of pitches also helps home-run hitters, if they can cut it. It's easier to hit a long ball off a 95-mph fastball (if you make contact) than a 80 mph slider. That's just basic physics. But the operative phrase there is "if you make contact." It's a lot harder to hit that four-seamer, which is one reason we're seeing strikeouts on the rise too.

Hitters are now just swinging for power. Strikeouts are worth it as long as they homer every once in a while. This wasn't always true.

"Guys would rather swing and miss rather than work a walk," said Rick Honeycutt, pitching coach for the L.A. Dodgers. "Twenty years ago, people prided themselves on not striking out," he told CNBC last year. "The game has changed to point where everybody wants to be power — be it power arms or power bats."

So we're seeing more multi-homer games than almost ever before. By the All Star break in 2008, just under 7 percent of games had five or more home runs. This year, that figure is more than 10 percent.

And the crowd goes wild

All that extra power is leading to extra seats in the audience. While average attendance is down 0.3 percent this year, according to baseball-reference, there is a clear pattern in hitting for power and getting fans to show up. For each home run hit this year by a major league team, that correlates to an extra 65 fans per game — or about 3,000 total fans this season.

The sport's popularity is helped as well by new corporate sponsorships and an expanded audience base. MLB opened a new office in Mexico this year and hosted a number of games there. The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Cuba national team in an exhibition game in March, which was watched from the stands by President Obama and Raul Castro.

Buying home runs for peanuts

They may be dead last in their division, but on a monetary basis, the Rays have found an efficient way to buy power. With a total payroll of $73 million, and 118 home runs hit this year, that's a measly $616,000 spent per homer. The Orioles, who are first place in the AL East and whose Mark Trumbo is leading in home runs for the season, have spent around $1.1 million per homer.

Contrast that with the Dodgers, who have spent $2.6 million per home run. L.A.'s $258 million payroll is $24 million above the Yankees, according to Spotrac.

Even a Wall Street bank has noticed. BMO Private Bank ran an analysis this week showing the Dodgers' 51-40 record "could have been purchased for $66 million less than" the team actually spent.