Too Many Home Runs? Surely, You Jest!

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.

24 thoughts on “Too Many Home Runs? Surely, You Jest!

  1. I'm not here to defend the MSM, but only to clarify what the argument is I think they're trying to make. Honestly, it's a fear I have in my own heart for this team:

    Due to their dreadful BA with RISP and the way they constantly seem to leave men on base, it seems that this team is incapable of scoring unless they are hitting home runs. And while that is all well and good in the regular season when you will face a slew of mediocre pitchers who will routinely throw mistake pitches, in the postseason this could come back to bite us. When the postseason arrives, you're not only seeing the best pitching staffs, but the best pitchers on those staffs as managers usually shorten their depth.

    I think the point everyone is trying to make is: I hope you can score runs in the "traditional" method (stringing hits, moving runners, etc.) because when you hit the postseason and face the likes of Lincecum, Halladay, etc., you're NOT going to hit 5 or 6 home runs a game. And if the HR is the only way you can score, you're not going to score.

    • I think you're right about what they're attempting to say, but I don't think that makes their arguments any more valid or less illogical. This in particular has always bothered me:

      "And while that is all well and good in the regular season when you will face a slew of mediocre pitchers who will routinely throw mistake pitches, in the postseason this could come back to bite us. When the postseason arrives, you're not only seeing the best pitching staffs, but the best pitchers on those staffs as managers usually shorten their depth. "

      There's no real supporting evidence to the claim that you have to beat good pitchers with small ball because good pitchers don't allow home runs. That's just something that's been accepted as a stated premise by some who then argue from the assumption. But, to me, it seems at least equally as hard to imagine stringing a bunch of hits together off of good pitchers, especially good pitchers who get a lot of strikeouts. Good pitchers are just good pitchers, and sort of by definition they don't make many mistakes. There's no real secret to beating them, but having a bunch of guys who can pound those mistakes certainly doesn't hurt.

      • I agree with both points. There are, perhaps, potential arguments to make that are valid. But the MSM is not making those arguments. They're making sweeping generalizations based on no actual analysis of data. I've read how the Yankees' HR totals are inflated by their home-heavy schedule thus far, but a quick look at Baseball Reference shows they have hit almost exactly the same amount of HR per game on the road as at home.

    • BA with RISP will tend to correlate with overall team BA in the long run. The BA with RISP should rise to correlate a few pts below overall team BA by the end of the season, and even if they don't keep mashing as many HRs, they should still finish at or near the top in runs scored.

      Also if they didn't bunt every freaking time with runners on they'd get more shots with RISP (though Larry has pointed out there are times when it does make sense, it seems like Joey G is overusing it).

    • That may be the point they're trying to make, but they're doing it very poorly. Honestly, it's kind of ironic if you think about it. These people are paid based on their ability to communicate their viewpoint to the public at large; yet, struggle to get their point across coherently.

      Another issue I have with the argument is that these writers are assuming that hitting with RISP is a repeatable skill. It's not. Much of hitting in RISP is predicated on two things: opportunity and luck. Sure, 3-4-5 hitters will drive in more runs, but they're not only better hitters (and therefore, more likely to get a hit in that situation), but also have more opportunities to do so than a 7-8-9 hitter.

      Furthermore, BA with RISP is a small sample cherry picking stat. To start, batting average takes more than 650 PAs to normalize per individual (hat tip to Pizza Cutter of Fangraphs for that stat). Secondly, it's way too early to assume the Yankees will either continue to hit this way with RISP, or continue to hit HRs at the rate they're hitting them. Making judgments based on 50 games worth of data seems a little silly. Unfortunately, that's the MO of the MSM.

  2. Good work on digging up all those teams, figures, and stats from the past – good read, good info, and I'm lazy.

    Is it too soon to get meaningful numbers on this year's team? While a good record, and "being in first" is not to be sneezed at, it would be nice to know the Yankees' record against probable playoff teams. And then, to either prove or disprove the "best pitcher" theory, how have we done against the top 3 pitchers of those teams?

    Saying that, since the guys can obviously kill against someone like yesterday's starter – if he's lost 27 in a row, I like the chances that our lineup can get some hits and longballs. If we can do the same against King Felix, then I'll start feeling better about our chances.

    • I could maybe look this up later if I get the time, but as a general rule playoff teams beat up on sub-.500 teams and have a record somewhere around .500 against teams with a winning record. As to the other part of the question; a) top 3 pitchers is probably too broad (I mean, that's Freddy Garcia for the Yankees right now) and b) I'm not sure you could get a big enough sample or control for enough variables on a single year basis to really make anything of that.

      • Same with pitchers, unless your name is Jack Morris. Then, you beat up the crappy teams, while getting mauled by the average and good teams.

        • I don't know, Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez have pretty much owned the Yankees as long as I can remember.

  3. I'd still like to know whether there's a correlation between the ration or home runs to runs and a team's underperforming or overperforming its Pythagorean wins.

  4. I'll say one thing – Granderson is really showing homself to be a phenomenal talent. He basically singlehandedly carries the offense for the beginning of the season. But when the media complain about the Yankees being too homer-dependent, he immediately obliges by cutting down on those unproductive homers and having a 4-single and 2-double game. The guy can do it all!!

  5. I don't know if this is the argument that the MSM is trying to make, but it seems a reasonable one to me that I haven't seen dis-proven (It would require more analysis than I feel like doing right now to prove either way):

    1. It is possible that a batter swinging for the fences is an approach that leads to more home runs at the expense of missing more base hits and other productive outs. It is I believe a tendency for certain batters to be OBP guys and others to be slugging guys in order to earn their keep. A power hitter behind a power hitter behind a power hitter is wasting effort without having table setters (this is basically how batting orders are determined) . SO, HR, HR to lead off an inning nets you fewer runs than BB, single, HR. Basically the problem is that power in isolation does less good than a mix of power and runners. This argument of course is only based on the thought that hitting for power somewhat reduces a players batting average and walk rate, and this argument is simply hypothetical situation based, because as I said, I haven't run the numbers to see what the overall effect of this is. Really, I just want to say that it does seem possible that swinging for power could have some negative effects (obviously the times they succeed in hitting a home run are not the negative effect I am describing and we should all be happy when that occurs)

    • I would argue one thing. Are there really productive outs, or are there outs that are created at more fortunate times than others? For example, hitting a lazy fly ball to CF with nobody on is an "unproductive out". Hitting a lazy fly ball to CF with a runner on third (thus allowing the runner to score) is a "productive out." To me, I can't differentiate between the two. An out is an out. Regardless of whether something good happened in the aftermath is a matter of circumstance, not skill. Either way, the batter ultimately failed in his sole goal–getting on base.

      • That's not totally true. Attempting to hit a flyball or shortening up a swing to hit the ball to the right side with 2 strikes is at least somewhat in a hitter's control.

        • I'm not saying it's not within the hitters control. Far from it. I'm saying that purposely creating a productive out is still unproductive over the long haul. Like it or not, it's just as bad as bunting.

          • Depends on the situation though. If I get into an 0-2 a 1-2 count with a runner on second and no outs, shortening up my swing to hit the ball to the right side (if it's a strike, of course) isn't a bad idea, because there's a lot more value to that then a strike out. Plus, the ball could get through or you could Texas leaguer it or something and get a hit. Similarly, trying to hit a ball in the air to at least get a sac fly isn't terrbile, because it could end up a hit, could get lost in the sun in a day game, or could end up going over the fence. So while they're less ideal than not making an out, they're definitely better than a bunt.

          • Bunts could just as easily turn into a hit as a sac fly–or at the very least an error. Bunts are irritating b/c they're the epitome of giving up, but people don't seem to realize that sac flies are pretty much the same thing.

          • Well with sac flies:

            a) you aren't necessarily trying to give yourself up, you're just looking for a pitch you can hit well in the air.

            b) Most of the time you're "trying" for a sac fly, the runner is at 3rd base, so they directly lead to runs, not just a theoretically better chance of runs.

  6. I don't really see this as a valid argument in this case since the Yanx are being selective (3rd in OBP, 2nd highest BB%, 14th lowest K%) unlike the Jays team of last year that mashed tons of HRs with no one on base (5th worst OBP in 2010, middle of the pack K% with 8th worst BB%). To me this is like saying in the event of a hit, you'd want the optimal outcome to occur less often (more singles and doubles or sacrifices). It's not like they are hitting HRs at the expense of something more valuable.

  7. Well sure, that's the old "swinging for the fences" mantra, meaning that a guy is swinging the bat too hard and his mechanics are getting sloppy. But that's usually visible when you watch at bats, and I don't really see any indication that it's a problem for the Yankees. The guys who are hitting home runs are mostly having good at bats otherwise as well. Tex might be the big exception (and there's A-Rod's slump, but that was probably an anomaly), but he's maintaining a good OBP and strong IsoD as well.

      • This article addresses my point thoroughly. I concede that in this case the data is strongly against my hypothesis, but I still think that that analysis was necessary to prove that home runs aren't a (somewhat) bad thing.