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    Friday, June 23, 2017

    2017 Teams With a Chance to Set Home Run History: The Double-Digit Dinger Club

    A few years ago, the Houston Astros shocked everyone by jumping out to a surprising early division lead, and they did it in part by hitting a lot of dingers. As I watched the season progress, an interesting subplot cropped up, beneath the question of whether the surprising young club would hold on to make the playoffs: they had a chance to make home run history.

    No individual player was challenging any records, though. Rather, it was a team record the announcers would update viewers on: Most players with double-digit home runs. The all-time record was 11, set by the 2004 Detroit Tigers, who, like the 2015 ‘Stros, had no big masher leading the way; both teams were led by 27-homer guys (Carlos Pena and Evan Gattis, respectively). The Astros ended up tying this mark towards the end of the year, and had two more players finishing the season with 9.*

    *Trivia time: almost half of those players aren’t on the Astros anymore, just a season and a half later. I’ll let you know who they are later in the column.

    It’s a remarkable set of circumstances that leads to a team having more 10-home run guys than available lineup spots, but MLB was entering a period ideal for this, given the overall upward shift in home run totals. That trend continued in 2016, and another team joined those two atop the leaderboards: the 2016 Twins. Despite losing 103 games, just shy of a dozen Minnesota players went yard ten or more times last year.

    MLB has seen yet another increase in home run totals this year, which got me wondering: could we see our fourth 11-10-homer team this year? Is there a better name for that exclusive club? And most importantly, what are the odds that some time has a full twelve players reach that mark? With just over 70 games in the books, lets take a look at the early leaders in 10-homer players, and who else they might see reach that total.

    Texas Rangers (5)
    10 Homers Already: Joey Gallo (19), Mike Napoli (14), Rougned Odor (12), Shin-Soo Choo (11), Nomar Mazara (10)
    Almost There: Robinson Chirinos (9), Carlos Gomez (9), Elvis Andrus (7)
    Anyone Else: Jonathan Lucroy (4), Ryan Rua (3), Adrian Beltre (2)

    The Rangers are the first of a quartet of teams with five double-digit dinger dudes.* The ones who have pulled this off so far aren’t too surprising. Gallo and Mazara are both young, but had their power touted as they rose through the minors, Odor hit 33 last year at the age of 22, and Napoli has hit 10 or more homers in all 12 seasons that he’s played. Choo is a bit of a bounceback, after only hitting 7 in 48 games last year, but not too shocking.

    *And if a team sets the record this year, they can be the Double-Digit Dinger Dozen! I like this name idea.

    It’s probably safe to assume that Chirinos, Gomez, and Andrus will make it, given how close they are. Chirinos is the only one who isn’t an everyday player, but he’s only one away. Andrus is the only one who has never reached double digits before, with a high last year of 8, but he’s pretty close to breaking that mark already.

    That only gets them to 8 players, though. They’d need every other player on their roster with multiple home runs at the moment to get to ten just to tie. Lucroy is in a bit of a slump, but has reached that mark before. Adrian Beltre has missed a lot of time this year, but if he stays healthy and doesn’t have any lingering power loss, he could easily hit 8 in the last half of the year, although those are reasonably-sized “ifs”. But Rua is currently in the minors and has never played a full season; if someone gets hurt, he maybe has a chance, although he still wouldn’t even be starting. Overall, it seems safe to say the Rangers are very unlikely to tie the record, and almost certainly won’t break it.

    Tampa Bay Rays (5)
    10 Homers Already: Logan Morrison (21), Corey Dickerson (16), Steven Souza (14), Tim Beckham (10), Evan Longoria (10)
    Almost There: Colby Rasmus (9), Derek Norris (8), Kevin Kiermaier (7), Daniel Robertson (5)
    Anyone Else: Jesus Sucre (3), Peter Bourjos (3), Brad Miller (2), Rickie Weeks (2)

    Another team with some surprises at the top. Morrison, Dickerson, Souza, and Beckham are all well on their ways to career highs in home runs. Sure, we knew some of them had pop before this year, but it’s cool all the same. Longoria, by contrast, is having a big of a down-year for him, but he still looks like it’ll be borderline-all-star quality, and he definitely still has his power.

    Colby Rasmus is a pretty sure bet to join them, barring injuries. Even if he weren’t this close, he’s posted 14 or more homers every year of his career. Derek Norris looks to be on pace for a new high in home runs (his previous one is 14), but he might also be facing a domestic violence suspension, and I have no desire to discuss him any further. Kiermaier has enough pop to reach double digits (his last three seasons, he’s hit 10, 10, and 12 homers), but his hip injury might keep him out enough games to offset his early pace. Robertson is going at a good pace, but has never been much of a power hitter even in the minors and might lose playing time when Brad Miller comes off the DL.

    Even with all those question marks, that only brings us to nine players, two shy of tying. Sucre and Bourjos have never really shown themselves to be all that much of power hitters, and it’s been many years since Weeks looked that way (not to mention that he’s basically injury depth that is himself currently injured). Miller hit 30 home runs just last year, so if he comes back healthy he’s probably the best bet in this bunch, but overall it doesn’t seem like the Rays have the depth of power that they need to pull this off.

    San Diego Padres (5)
    10 Homers Already: Hunter Renfroe (15), Wil Myers (14), Ryan Schimpf (14), Austin Hedges (11), Yangervis Solarte (10)
    Almost There: Erick Aybar (5)
    Anyone Else: Manuel Margot (4), Cory Spangenberg (4), Allen Cordoba (3), Franchy Cordero (3), Jose Pirela (3), Matt Szczur (2)

    One of the things that I find the neatest about this stat is that you see both teams like the 50-win Astros AND sub-30-win teams like the Padres making runs for the mark. Myers and Schimpf aren’t too surprising here, but Renfroe, Hedges, and Solarte have all shown new power this year.

    In spite of that, the rest of the team looks like a bunch of long-shots. The only “close” one is Erick Aybar, who probably doesn’t have the power to carry on this relatively hot start; his career high in homers is just 10, set way back in 2011. The other six listed are all young and showed varying degrees of home run potential in the minors, but none of them seems like a traditional power hitter (or certainly not yet, at the very least). Given that there’s almost certainly going to be competition that forces some of those players to the bench at the expense of others (Margot, Cordoba, Cordero, and Szczur are all competing for two outfield spots, Pirela and Spangenberg are utility infielders who have seen increased playing time due to injuries to starters), plus that there’s no designated hitter slot to stick in extra bat in the lineup, and things aren’t looking to likely for them to tie or set the record.

    Milwaukee Brewers (5)
    10 Homers Already: Eric Thames (20), Travis Shaw (14), Domingo Santana (12), Keon Broxton (11), Hernan Perez (10)
    Almost There: Ryan Braun (7), Jonathan Villar (6), Jett Bandy (6), Jesus Aguilar (6), Orlando Arcia (5)
    Anyone Else: Manny Pina (4), Eric Sogard (3), Nick Franklin (2)

    It’s fitting that a surprise team like the Brewers has so many surprising names atop their team leaderboard here. If you had asked me who would be leading the team at this point, I would have probably gotten just Santana and Thames, and they would have been last-minute guess based on pedigree and playing on a largely-anonymous roster rather than expecting them to play this well so far. Of the five over 10 homers, only Shaw (2 more) and Perez (3 more) haven’t already set personal best marks.

    And there’s a lot of promise here, too. Braun and Villar are both hurt, but both reached double digits as recently as last season (30 and 19, respectively), so if they come back healthy, there’s two more very likely candidates (and though Braun is a perpetual trade candidate, he might hit his tenth even before getting traded, and that would open up his lineup spot to someone else looking to reach the mark). Bandy and Piña have split time behind the plate pretty evenly so far, so it’s an open question if either will get the playing time to reach 10 homers since neither is much of a power hitter, but if one ends up asserting themselves and taking the lion’s share of the time, it could happen. Aguilar showed power in the minors, and Arcia seems to have claimed a starting job at shortstop, so both will probably at least get the needed plate appearances. And neither Sogard nor Franklin aren’t especially likely, given both are mostly just injury fill-ins without histories of power surges, but given how many players have come from nowhere to post big numbers this year, neither would be entirely unheard-of, at least. That’s at least enough names that they don’t need every single one to break ideally, but once again, a DH slot would help their chances greatly.

    Chicago Cubs (5)
    10 Homers Already: Anthony Rizzo (17), Kris Bryant (16), Kyle Schwarber (12), Javier Baez (10), Ian Happ (10)
    Almost There: Willson Contreras (7), Addison Russell (7), Ben Zobrist (7), Jason Heyward (6)
    Anyone Else: Miguel Montero (4), Albert Almora (3)

    The Cubs might have a chance to tie the record, thanks to their flexibility. Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist get moved around the diamond enough that the names under 10 probably won’t be totally locked out of regular at-bats. Schwarber being sent down temporarily opens up a spot as well, although with Zobrist and Heyward both on the DL, the biggest beneficiaries for now will probably be Almora and Jon Jay (1), neither of whom is close right now. It’s also fair to wonder if Montero will get enough at-bats, given that he’s now Contreras’s back-up. Like Derek Norris, Addison Russell might be facing a domestic violence suspension, and my thoughts on that matter apply here as well.

    Like the Padres and Brewers, the Cubs would greatly benefit in this regard from the extra lineup spot the DH brings. They might still be able to tie the NL record of 10, though, set by the 1999 and 2000 Cincinnati Reds; they only fell one player shy of that each of the last two seasons.

    New York Yankees (6)
    10 Homers Already: Aaron Judge (25), Matt Holliday (15), Brett Gardner (13), Gary Sanchez (12), Starlin Castro (12) Aaron Hicks (10)
    Almost There: Chris Carter (8), Didi Gregorius (8)
    Anyone Else: Chase Headley (4), Jacoby Ellsbury (4), Austin Romine (2)

    Baltimore Orioles (6)
    10 Homers Already: Manny Machado (15), Chris Davis (14), Jonathan Schoop (14), Trey Mancini (12), Adam Jones (12), Mark Trumbo (10)
    Almost There: Seth Smith (8), Welington Castillo (7)
    Anyone Else: J.J. Hardy (3), Caleb Joseph (2), Joey Rickard (2), Francisco Pena (2)

    Despite being over halfway to the record, neither of these teams looks to be in good shape to break even the 10-person mark. Carter, Gregorius, Smith, and Castillo are all pretty much locks to make it to 10 homers if they stay healthy (and employed, in the case of Carter, who’s sporting a 74 OPS+). After those four, every other name comes with massive red flags. Romine, Joseph, and Pena are all backup catchers unlikely to get the plate appearances needed to make a run at the mark, in addition to questions of whether they can hit with enough power anyway. Hardy and Headley have both taken massive steps back at the plate from their already declining numbers of the last few years, and getting the rest of the way looks to be a massive uphill climb even without questions of whether they’d lose playing time. Joey Rickard likely doesn’t have the power to reach 10 homers even if Baltimore’s outfield wasn’t too crowded to start regularly. Ellsbury has missed a lot of time on the Disabled List so far, and will have to unseat Judge, Holliday, Gardner, or Hicks to win playing time when he does make it back.

    Houston Astros (7)
    10 Homers Already: George Springer (21), Carlos Correa (13), Marwin Gonzalez (13), Brian McCann (10), Jose Altuve (10), Carlos Beltran (10), Jake Marisnick (10)
    Almost There: Yuli Gurriel (7), Alex Bregman (7), Josh Reddick (7)
    Anyone Else: Evan Gattis (4), Derek Fisher (2), Juan Centeno (2)

    The Astros’ offense has been so on-fire lately, they added two names to their 10-homer club just since I started writing this article two days ago. And having not just three players three-quarters of the way to the mark in Gurriel, Bregman, and Reddick, but three players who are guaranteed regular playing time as the starting first and third basemen and right fielder, respectively, is a massive boost to their chances.

    All of that would get them to one short of the record. Of course, having Evan Gattis just under half the way in only 180 plate appearances is also a big help to their chances. Gattis has never hit fewer than 20 homers in a season, and has in fact led the Astros each of the last two seasons since he arrived in town with 27 and 32.* He might not hit those marks given his reduced playing time, but he only needs to get 10 for our purposes, which definitely seems achievable.

    *While we’re talking about those 2015 Astros, I should answer that trivia question from earlier: Gattis, Correa, Springer, Altuve, and Gonzalez are all still in Houston. Preston Tucker is still with the Astros, but playing at AAA. And Colby Rasmus, Chris Carter, Luis Valbuena, Jason Castro, and Hank Conger are all elsewhere now. The9-home run, just-missed duo is also evenly-split, between Marisnick and Jed Lowrie.

    All of that would get the 2017 Astros a tie for the record, but is there any chance of breaking the record? Their only other players with multiple homers are Juan Centeno and Derek Fisher. Centeno is the third string catcher and hit those two homers in only two games, which is impressive but I would guess not sustainable. Fisher is much more interesting, though. He was only called up for five games, but hit two homers in that time. On top of that, he’s a top prospect who has shown power in the minors (16 more homers this year while at AAA, 20-plus each of the two before that). If there’s another injury, he could be the first name called upon to fill the gap now. Even if there’s not, he might get called up towards the end of the season as the rosters start resting players for October and September call-ups happen. It’s would take some very specific breaks, but that’s kind of what you’d expect for a team to have three more 10-homer guys than they do spots in the batting order.

    1 comment:

    1. Go Astros! They have the best chance to set the record.