Thursday, July 8, 2010

Home run outliers

I was thinking the other day about home run outliers.

Everybody remembers when Brady Anderson hit 50 homers for the Orioles in 1996, one of the all-time statistical anomalies. Anderson never hit more than half that number in any other season - his next highest HR total was 24 in 1999. Of course, we can probably wager a guess as to how Anderson was able to put up such a head-scratching total during what we now know was a steroid-fueled era, even though the notorious workout fiend never actually been implicated in performance enhancing.

There were plenty of other guys with out-of-whack home run numbers from that time: Luis Gonzalez's 57 HRs in 2001 (next highest total: 28); Adrian Beltre's 48 dingers in 2004 (hasn't hit more than 26 before or since); and of course Barry Bonds' record 73 in 2001 (granted, Bonds was a big-time, likely chemically-enhanced slugger, but that number was off the charts, and he never had a 50-homer season otherwise).

That leads us to probably the most famous home run outlier of all time: Roger Maris' 61 round-trippers in 1961. Though we're fairly certain his then-record number of homers had nothing to do with performance enhancing, Maris posted only two other 30-homer seasons in his career - 39 the year before, and 33 the year after.

That leads us to a few other home run outliers we're seeing in 2010, though none seem to be as egregiously odd or record-setting as those already mentioned. Still, here are guys who've stuck out like sore thumbs on the HR leaderboard so far, and what we can expect from them the rest of the way:

Let's start with Toronto's Jose Bautista, your major league home run leader so far (22). That's pretty shocking since the journeyman's been around the block for a while and is already well beyond his career HR total (The past four seasons: 13, 15, 15 and 16). A lot of the credit has to go to new Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, whose emphasis on driving the ball rather than simply getting on base plays to Bautista's strengths (He is, after all, a career .238 hitter batting exactly .238 as of this posting). Still, 18 percent of Bautista's fly balls are going for home runs this year, and his career average in that department is around 10 percent, which means there's likely to be a significant drop-off sometime soon in the homer department. Bautista is a good sell-high candidate because if the power's not there he doesn't do a lot else for fantasy purposes.

Sticking with the homer-happy Blue Jays, who lead the majors in long balls, we'll next look at shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who's gone deep 16 times this year. Gonzalez, though he does have a 23-homer season on his resume, has been known more for his glove than his bat in his 12-year big-league career. In fact, Gonzalez hit just eight homers last year, yet is on pace to crack 30 this season. Sounds like a possible outlier to me and another potential sell-high candidate, although I'd be more apt to hang on to Gonzalez due to the lack of power potential at the SS position.

Finally, we'll examine Corey Hart, whose 19 home runs have been a pleasant surprise for the Brewers after he hit just 12 last season and started 2010 sharing playing time with Jim Edmonds (yes, he still plays baseball). Hart does have a few 20-homer campaigns to his credit, showed power potential in his minor league career and plays in hitter-friendly Miller Park in a hitting-happy Brewers lineup. Trade rumors and the possibility of a Home Run Derby jinx are concerns going forward, but even if Hart's homer rate does slow down, he's still a proven run producer who can hit for a nice average, which add to his fantasy value.