Seattle Mariners (1997) – 90-72 (1st Place); 925 runs; 264 home runs
This Mariners team finished fourth in the AL in batting average, third in OBP, and first in SLG, so it’s pretty clear they found plenty of ways to score runs. With Randy Johnson, Jeff Fassero, and Jamie Moyer all posting 197, 124, and 116 ERA+ respectively, the Mariners had a pretty strong front line of starting pitching. Instead, their problem was their abysmal bullpen that consisted of Norm Charlton (7.27 ERA in 69.1 innings), Bob Wells (5.75 in 67.1), Scott Sanders (6.47 in 65.1), Bobby Ayala (3.82 in 96.2), Greg McCarthy (5.46 in 29.2), and Heathcliff Slocum (4.13 in 28.1). Yikes! I don’t care how many runs you score; when you’re bullpen is that bad, you’re going to lose some games you shouldn’t.
Texas Rangers (2005) – 79-83 (16 GB); 865 runs; 260 home runs
The 2005 Rangers had nine players hit at least 16 home runs. Unfortunately, their pitching staff was bad (4.96 ERA and 932/522 K/BB ration in 1440 innings), and their defense was even worse (-29 runs per Baseball Reference). Any time you have not only Alfonso Soriano and Michael Young as your double play combo, but also Kevin Mench, Gary Matthews, Jr., and David Dellucci as part of your outfield alignment, your defense is going to hemorrhage runs.
Baltimore Orioles (1996) – 88-74 (4 GB); 949 runs; 257 home runs
The offensive talent on this ballclub was pretty impressive with Brady Anderson, Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Bonilla, and Roberto Alomar playing prominent roles in the Oriole’s success. Sadly, they needed each and every one of the 949 runs they created as their pitching staff coughed up lead after lead on their way to giving up 903 runs. Even staff ace (and potential Hall of Famer) Mike Mussina struggled posting a 4.81 ERA. (Surprisingly, he still registered a 103 ERA+.) While there’s evidence their defense was at least partially to blame for the staff’s ugly 5.14 ERA, there’s no excuse for giving Rocky Coppinger, Kent Mercker, Jimmy Haynes, and Rick Krivda 353-2/3 innings of 6.33 ERA baseball.
Toronto Blue Jays (2010) – 85-77 (11 GB); 755 runs; 257 home runs
How can a team hit 257 home runs while only scoring 755 runs? It’s not easy, but if you field a squad of aggressive, walk-averse hitters, it’s certainly possible. Essentially, that’s what the Blue Jays did. Despite posting a league high .454 slugging percentage, their abysmal .312 OBP hindered much of their run creating abilities. Only three Toronto regulars posted an OBP above the .328 league average: Jose Bautista (.378), Vernon Wells (.331), and Lyle Overbay (.329).
Houston Astros (2000) – 72-90 (23 GB); 938 runs; 249 home runs
Moving from the extreme pitching friendly environment of the Astrodome to the hyper-offensive environment of (then named) Enron Field had a major effect on the Houston Astros. In their first season in the new ball park, the Astros not only hit 249 home runs, but also allowed 236 of them! The pitcher most affected by the ballpark change was former 21-game winner Jose Lima. Lima had always been a homer-prone fly ball pitcher, but changing parks did quite a number on him. In 2000, he gave up an eye popping 48 dingers on the season. 48! Unfortunately for the Astros, the rest of the pitching staff struggled nearly as much as Lima, giving up 944 runs on the season.
Texas Rangers (2001) – 73-89 (43 GB); 890 runs; 246 home runs
This pitching staff is full of replacement level-y goodness. It’s so bad that I’m not even going to say anything more about them. I can’t. It just hurts too much. Clicking this link (scroll down to the pitching area) will tell you everything you need to know about why the 2001 Rangers were awful despite having one of the best offenses in baseball—and no, it wasn’t A-Rod’s fault.
Seattle Mariners (1996) – 85-76 (4.5 GB); 993 runs; 245 home runs
How does a team score 993 runs, and only win 85 games? It’s not easy. “Luckily” for the Mariners, they endured the perfect storm that allowed such a feat to occur. Their starting rotation was doomed almost from the very beginning. While losing ace Randy Johnson for all but eight starts certainly hurt, nothing could match the pain of sending out a rotation consisting of Bob Wolcott, Sterling Hitchcock, Matt Wagner, Terry Milholland, and Jamie Moyer (for only 11 starts) every day. Add in a pretty ineffective bullpen, and it becomes pretty clear how the Mariners managed to give up a whopping 895 runs.
Seattle Mariners (1999) – 79-83 (16 GB); 859 runs; 244 home runs
1999 was the first full season with out Randy Johnson, last one with Ken Griffey, Jr., and the first time the crippling effects of Safeco were experienced by right-handed power hitters everywhere. Unlike the two previous Mariner installments, this season’s lineup was pretty average. Low OBP guys like Dan Wilson, Russ Davis, and Brian Hunter received far too many plate appearances; Jay Buhner suffered through both injuries and a decline in abilities; and David Bell managed to receive 667 PAs. (I think that last one speaks for itself.) If not for Hall of Fame caliber hitters like Griffey, Rodriguez, and Martinez, the Mariners would have been in much rougher shape.
As average as their lineup was, their pitching staff was far worse. While Moyer and Freddy Garcia pitched well, the rest of the rotation was either brutal (see Fassero) or maddeningly inconsistent (see Gil Meche). To add further insult to injury, the bullpen continued to be among the league’s worse with Jose Mesa (EWWW!) closing out games. In the end, the pitching staff allowed a whopping 905 runs on the season.
Toronto Blue Jays (2000) – 83-79 (4.5 GB); 861 runs; 244 home runs
If I gave you a list of six names, which three starting pitchers would you guess as being the worst on the staff: David Wells, Chris Carpenter, Kelvim Escobar, Frank Castillo, Roy Halladay, and/or Esteban Loaiza? If you guessed Carpenter, Escobar, and Halladay, you’d be correct. Weird, huh? They combined to go 24-34 with a 6.57 ERA in 423 innings. Frank Castillo, by the way, posted a 3.42 ERA (142 ERA+). Clearly, Mercury was in retrograde and the moon was in Vega…yeah, I don’t know what I’m talking about…
New York Yankees (2009) – 103-59 (1st Place); 915 runs; 244 home runs
Hmmm…The Yankees hit a ton of home runs, won 103 games during the regular season, and breezed through the playoffs en route to championship number 27. Who says you can’t win a championship via the long ball?
Oakland Athletics (1996) – 78-84 (12 GB); 861 runs; 243 home runs
Yeah, their OBP was pretty low for the era (.344, 10th in the AL), but even despite that they scored 861 runs. The problem with the A’s was that their pitching staff was so brutal, it’s hard to understand why they didn’t lose more games. How bad was it? Let’s put it this way. The following pitchers started at least 10 games for the A’s in 1996: Don Wengert (5.58 ERA), Doug Johns (5.98), John Wasdin (5.96), Ariel Prieto (4.15), Steve Wojciechowski (5.65), Dave Telgheder (4.65), Carlos Reyes (4.78), Willie Adams (4.01), and Bobby Chouinard (6.10). They were so terrible that the lineup could’ve hit 300 home runs that season, and probably still have missed the playoffs by a few games.
Chicago White Sox (2004) – 83-79 (9 GB); 865 runs; 242 home runs
Funny thing about this White Sox crew…there’s nothing really wrong with them. They were just average. While their lineup had plenty of power, their hitters were only average in terms of on-base abilities. Their defense was solid, but nothing to write home about. Their pitching staff was decent, but flawed. In fact, their actual and projected records even match-up pretty well. They’re just average. Nothing to see here.
New York Yankees (2004) – 101-61 (1st Place); 897 runs; 242 home runs
While the Yankees easily had one of the two best offenses in baseball in 2004 (with the Red Sox being the other), their defense (-54 defensive runs per Baseball Reference) and pitching staff (4.69 ERA, 96 ERA+) were their downfalls. Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, and Bernie Williams were absolute butchers in the field. The rotation consisted of Javier Vazquez (struggling), Mike Mussina, Orlando Hernandez, Jon Lieber, and Kevin Brown (all aging). Yeah. To me, the bigger surprise is that they built a 3-0 lead in the ALCS—not that they blew it. Their 89-73 Pythagorean record supports that viewpoint.
New York Yankees (1961) – 109-53 (1st Place); 827 runs; 240 home runs
Yeah, another team that did pretty well for themselves despite all of the home runs. All they did was energize the baseball world with a dueling home run record chase, win a ridiculous number of games (109), and win one of the closest, most exciting World Series ever. Not bad for a team that “defied the odds” and won in spite of all of the home runs. Ho hum…
That pretty much sums it up for me. When you hear a baseball writer, commentator, talking head, or so-called “analyst” spew conventional wisdom in your direction, it’s your right (and your duty) to question it. This isn’t to say that all conventional wisdom is B.S., but for the most part it’s completely unfounded. This is especially true when it comes to inane arguments like “the Yankees will fail in their quest for a championship if they continue to hit too many home runs.” Essentially what they’re telling you is that they want the Yankees to create more outs and manufacture runs. That’s fine and good, but any sane, intelligent person sees the flaws in this argument. A team can’t possibly hit too many home runs. Furthermore, a team’s home run tendencies are not the reason behind their failures in either reaching the playoffs or winning the World Series. Typically, that failure exists because the team wasn’t able to hit enough home runs to cover up deficiencies in other areas. Plain and simple.
Home runs are always better than outs. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.