Who Would Hit the Most Home Runs in 2013?

Dalton joined me for lunch a few weeks ago in the land of lobster and oversized novelty boots.  We got to talking about Barry Bonds, offensive environments, and asterisks.  Both of us are irked by fans willing to completely ignore individual accomplishments based on single factors like PEDs or Coors Field.

Rather than removing these numbers from history with asterisks, official or personal, the thinking fan, we agreed, has an obligation to adjust certain individual accomplishments for context.  Roger Maris had eight more games in which to hit his 61 homers than Babe Ruth got to hit his 60.  Mark McGwire took 3,500 CCs more androstenedione than Maris in hitting his 70.  Barry Bonds got to play six more games in Coors Field than McGwire when he hit his 70 (but also played 78 more in San Francisco).  While some of these factors are more difficult to control for, we should be able to determine who hit the most home runs relative to his peers.

I looked at every 30-homer season in baseball history and the average home runs per game that year.  Then I adjusted the player’s home run total to the 2013 rate of .0900 homers per player game.  In theory, this adjustment applies today’s offensive environment to each player’s season, estimating how many home runs he would hit in 2013.  You won’t be surprised to see who comes out on top.

Ruth, 1920, 204 adjHR

Ruth, 1927, 163 adjHR

Ruth, 1921, 152 adjHR

Two spots further down the list, we arrive at the first non-Ruth player, teammate Lou Gehrig, whose 128 adjHR in 1927 would have given the Yankees 291 homers from the #3 and 4 spots in the order.  That’s better than having two August 2013 Alfonso Sorianos in the lineup.

Ok, the ’20s were different.  The home run was far less a part of the game and very few players came up through school and the minors with an emphasis on hitting home runs.  Ruth and Gehrig deserve credit for hitting in bigger parks and, particularly in the early ’20s, their home runs were worth more relative to the scoring environment of the time.

The first season outside the twenties is Jimmie Foxx’s 1933, when he hit 112 “2013 home runs”.  Offense was at an all-time high at this point, but homers only ended 1.13% of plate appearances, vs. 2.55% today.

If we skip forward to the first post-1950 season, I think you’ll be surprised who hit the most adjHR.  In fact, I’ll let you guess.

Think about it.  Nope, it’s not him.

Guess again.  Get creative this time.

Ok, let’s get back to the post.  We’re all busy.

In 1968, Frank Howard hit 44 home runs.  The league home run rate was only 54 percent what it is today, so that translates to 81 of today’s dingers.  He didn’t approach Ruth’s record, but he took a run at the post-WWII mark, shared by Johnny Mize and Ralph Kiner in 1947 with 86.

2001, of course, was a ridiculously friendly environment for hitters.  Blame steroids, juiced balls, watered-down pitching, or chicks digging the long ball as you see fit, but almost three percent of plate appearances ended in a home run.  Barry’s 63 adjBombs are still the best figure since McGwire’s 66 in ’98, but they’re adjusted down because everyone was hitting bombs, regardless of whether his performance was enhanced or diminished by the cheaters.

The best figure since then was Jose Bautista’s 56 in 2010, when the home run rate was actually lower than it is now.

The least impressive 30-homer season was shared by five players- Moises Alou, Bobby Higginson, Richie Sexson, Miguel Tejada and Bernie Williams- who hit exactly 30 in 2000.  That translates to 25 in 2013.

If you’re wondering about Roger Maris’s 1961, he hit 73 adjHR, the 50th best total in history.

 

This adjustment leaves a lot to be desired if we’re trying to measure pure slugging prowess.  One factor further muddying the waters is the disparity in plate appearances.  The issue of more games having been played in recent seasons is eliminated by the homers per game adjustment, but it still gives a major edge to players who hit near the top of the order and are healthy for most of the season.  Gehrig was the only player in the top 75 adjHR seasons who got 715 plate appearances.  He did it three times.

By making a similar adjustment and scaling home runs to 640 plate appearances (the average number of PAs in the 1,211 30-homer seasons on record), I arrived at adjHR/640.  The leaderboard will look familiar:

Ruth, 1920, 215 HR

Ruth, 1927, 147 HR

Ruth, 1921, 142 HR

Cy Williams jumps to eighth by virtue of his 41 HR in 604 PA in 1923, which translate to 109 adjHR per 640 PA in 2013.

We’ve also got a new post-1950 leader.  Dave Kingman’s 37 HR in 510 PA in 1976 give him 78 adjHR/640.

The new least impressive 30-HR season of all time belongs to Luis Gonzalez, whose 31 dingers in 722 appearances in 2000 are reduced to 23.

 

Do I think a 25-year-old Babe Ruth would hit 215 home runs if he were given 640 plate appearances in 2013? Absolutely not.  I’m not convinced he would hit 30 against modern pitching.  But I do think there’s some meaning to that number.  In 1920, fans were about as prepared for the Bambino to hit 60 clouts as they would have been for Miguel Cabrera to launch 215 today.  At a time when teams were hitting fewer than 60 homers in a season, Babe Ruth knocked one out every 11 trips, often over the 483-foot center field fence at the Polo Grounds.

This data would be more valuable with park effects factored in, but that seems like a colossal undertaking.  If anyone wants to give it a go, I’m happy to turn over my work.  It would also be useful to have some sort of pitching talent index, but that’s never going to happen.

For the moment, I’m happy to conclude that George Ruth was the most dominant home run hitter of all time, that Mark McGwire’s 70 homers in 1998 were slightly more impressive than Bonds’s 73 in 2001, and that Frank Howard’s 44 in 1968 were an ever bigger deal.

__________________________________________________________

In the comments, bstar asked for the top 10 in adjHR by decade from 1950 on.  Here they are from 1920 on, not scaled to 640 PA:

1920s

1. Ruth, 1920, 204

2. Ruth, 1927, 163

3. Ruth, 1921, 152

4. Ruth, 1926, 138

5. Gehrig, 1927, 128

.   Ruth, 1924, 128

7. Ruth, 1928, 124

8. Cy Williams, 1923, 103

.   Ruth, 1923, 103

10. Hornsby, 1922, 98

 

1930s

1. Foxx, 1933, 112

2. Ruth, 1931, 108

.   Gehrig, 1931, 108

4. Foxx, 1932, 107

5. Greenberg, 1938, 96

6. Gehrig, 1934, 91

7. Wilson, 1930, 90

.   Gehrig, 1936, 90

9. Foxx, 1938, 83

10. Foxx, 1934, 81

 

1940s

1. Greenberg, 1946, 96

2. Rudy York, 1943, 94

3. Mize, 1947, 86

.   Kiner, 1947, 86

5. Charlie Keller, 1943, 85

6. Kiner, 1949, 84

7. Williams, 1942, 83

.   Williams, 1946, 83

9. Bill Nicholson, 1944, 81

10. Williams, 1941, 71

 

1950s

1. Ted Kluszewski, 1954, 69

2. Mantle, 1956, 64

.   Mays, 1955, 64

4. Mathews, 1953, 62

5. Kiner, 1951, 60

.   Banks, 1958, 60

.   Kiner, 1950, 60

8. Gil Hodges, 1954, 59

.   Kluszewski, 1955, 59

10. Mathews, 1959, 58

 

1960s

1. Frank Howard, 1968, 81

2. Mays, 1965, 73

.    Maris, 1961, 73

4. Yastrzemski, 1967, 72

.   Killebrew, 1967, 72

6. Killebrew, 1969, 71

7. Frank Howard, 1969, 69

8. Jackson, 1969, 68

9. Frank Robinson, 1966, 67

10. Willie Horton, 1968, 66

 

1970s

1. Stargell, 1971, 74

2. Aaron, 1971, 72

3. Bench, 1972, 66

4. Schmidt, 1976, 64

5. Rice, 1978, 63

6. Nate Colbert, 1972, 63

.   Dave Kingman, 1976, 63

8. Dick Allen, 1972, 61

9. Billy Williams, 1972, 61

10. Lee May, 1971, 60

 

1980s

1. Schmidt, 1980, 64

2. Kevin Mitchell, 1989, 63

3. Tony Armas, 1984, 55

.   Jackson, 1980, 55

.   Ben Oglivie, 1980, 55

6. Canseco, 1988, 54

7. Gorman Thomas, 1980, 51

8. Schmidt, 1983, 50

.   Darryl Strawberry, 1988, 50

10. Rice, 1983, 49

 

1990s

1. Mark McGwire, 1998, 66

2. Cecil Fielder, 1990, 64

3. Sammy Sosa, 1998, 62

4. Juan Gonzalez, 1992, 58

.   Mark McGwire, 1992, 58

6. Mark McGwire, 1999, 56

7. Mark McGwire, 1997, 55

8. Jose Canseco, 1991, 54

.   Cecil Fielder, 1991, 54

.   Sammy Sosa, 1999, 54

 

2000s

1. Barry Bonds, 2001, 63

2. Sammy Sosa, 2001, 55

3. Alex Rodriguez, 2002, 54

4. Alex Rodriguez, 2007, 53

5. Ryan Howard, 2006, 52

6. Jim Thome, 2002, 50

7. Luis Gonzalez, 2001, 49

.   Prince Fielder, 2007, 49

.   Andruw Jones, 2005, 49

10 David Ortiz, 2006, 48

 

2010s to-date

1. Jose Bautista, 2010, 56

2. Chris Davis, 2013, 50 and counting

3. Jose Bautista, 2011, 45

4. Albert Pujols, 2010, 43

.   Miguel Cabrera, 2013, 43 and counting

Leave a Reply

35 Comments on "Who Would Hit the Most Home Runs in 2013?"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dalton Mack
Editor

I dunno–this Ruth guy’s numbers reek of PEDs.

GrandyMan
Guest

I wonder what Ruth’s total looks like if you scale it to 1996 or 1999-2001.

Hartvig
Guest
“In 1920, fans were about as prepared for the Bambino to hit 60 clouts as they would have been for Miguel Cabrera to launch 215 today.” Wouldn’t surprise me in the least;) And almost every time I’ve had reason to think about some of Frank Thomas’s seasons in Griffith Stadium in the late 60’s it’s crossed my mind that in almost any other live-ball era circumstances you could name we very possibly could have had the first player to hit 50 or more home runs in 3 consecutive seasons and there would be a very real chance of Frank Howard… Read more »
bstar
Guest

Bryan, do you have time to list the decade leaders in this adjHR category (1950 on) ? I’m just wondering who won for the ’50s, ’70s, etc.

e pluribus munu
Guest
“Do I think a 25-year-old Babe Ruth would hit 215 home runs if he were given 640 plate appearances in 2013? Absolutely not. I’m not convinced he would hit 30 against modern pitching.” Bryan, I assume you mean that if we picked Ruth up out of 1920 and put him down in the batter’s box facing contemporary pitching, I’m sure you’re on the right track: he would never have seen this type of pitching before, and he’d literally be out of his league. But if you are picturing the Babe learning his ball in a contemporary St. Mary’s School, Class… Read more »
MikeD
Guest
That would be my assumption, too, which is why as fascinated as we all can be trying to figure out what player X would do if he played during period Y, it’s all kind of meaningless. 1923 Ruth could not exist in today’s game anymore than 2013 Braun could exist in 1923. As I’ve said before, I have no problem believing that the greatest HR hitter ever happened to have played the game in the 1920s. If he played today he would not be a career .340 hitter, and he would not dominate the league to the level he did… Read more »
Mike L
Guest
What Ruth did in 1920 and 1921 was redefine the possible. Clearly, he was monumentally talented (which is why Bryan @19’s comment about him being Willy Mo Pena is so aberrant.) But by playing the game in a way that had not been done before he showed other talented players (and MLB) that this was new, exciting, and winning baseball. In 1918, Ruth and Walker had 11 HR’s each, an no one else had more than 8. In 1920, Ruth had 54 HR’s and no one else had more than 19. In 1921, Ruth hit 59, and there were two… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest
In my mind this general approach (that is, comparison of a player’s statistics to league average during his career), is a good one, but I wouldn’t scale those numbers into another time frame’s because that’s a recipe for mistaken conclusions by the unwary. The problem with comparing such values across eras is accounting for trends in league averages over time, which is very hard to do with validity, and in the “paradigm shift effect”, for lack of a better phrase. As you note, Ruth sort of took MLB by surprise with his slugging, coming out of an era of a… Read more »
PaulE
Guest

Bryan:
Re “…both of us are really irked at fans willing to completely ignore…..”, apparently some judge has just decided to uphold Bonds’ obstruction of justice conviction. Apparently, she don’t dig the long ball, either 🙁

Jeff Hill
Guest

I what way exactly is McGwire’s ’98 season better than Bonds ’01?

Mcgwire had 32 more AB’s, 15 FEWER BB’s, 63 MORE K’s, 12 FEWER SB’s, batted 29 points lower(.299-.328), had a lower OB(.470-.515), and way lower SLG%(.752-.863). His OPS+ was 212, Bonds 259, Total bases Bonds had 411 to his 383. WAR had Bonds at 11.9 to BigMac’s 7.5…

Please explain…

fireworks
Guest
I find this exercise interesting but I don’t think the conclusion at the end holds any water in terms of determining whose season was more impressive. Others have already addressed that however so I’ll move onto a part of the bird that hasn’t been picked over yet: “At a time when teams were hitting fewer than 60 homers in a season, Babe Ruth knocked one out every 11 trips, often over the 483-foot center field fence at the Polo Grounds.” What?! Every bit of information I’ve read about the Polo Grounds states that *no one* ever hit the ball over… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest

fw, your comment has gotten me thinking. That kind of data (i.e. how many balls were hit over walls of a certain distance (and height) from home plate, in former times) could be informative wrt questions regarding ease of hitting the long ball in different eras, and hence pitchers’ velocities, since distance depends partially on that velocity. Since we have no precise hit location data for anything before hit f/x data (2009 I think), such data might be the only way to address the question.

MikeD
Guest

Just for clarification, are you saying that greater velocity from pitchers equals greater distance for HRs? I’m not agreeing or disagreeing; just curious since I’ve wondered that myself.

Overall velocity has increased, yet it seems that Ruth hit some extremely long HRs off of what was probably lower velocity, so that means he was generating more bat speed and power to drive balls at times in excess of 500 feet. Or perhaps his longest HRs occurred off of pitchers who did throw harder for their times?

It’s an interesting question. I just don’t know if there’s anyway to answer it.

Richard Chester
Guest

I have found a source of information on ball-bat contact. Go to Google and search for “What If Superman Played Baseball”. Despite the comical title it is a highly technical and scientific study of ball-bat contact. Scroll down a short way and click on the violet shaded words “the physics of baseball” and/or “a study done” for the pertinent information. The reading is not easy. There is a conclusion paragraph at the end of the “a study done” article which makes things easier.

fireworks
Guest
Read that before. Fun read. I remember when I was a lad I’d take at face value the claims that this guy hit the ball 650′! Or that this guy’s ball was still rising when it hit the roof/light standard/face of God. Anyway, from what I’ve read about the physics of thumping baseballs–light bat, heavy bat, long bat, short bat, doesn’t much matter if the bat has pretty much the same properties in transmitting force to the ball during the swing. Heavier bats will get through the zone slower and lighter bats faster, but in the end nothing I’ve read… Read more »
MikeD
Guest

Well since Superman could potentially hit a baseball up to just short of a mile, it’s quite clear that Babe Ruth’s 500-foot shots means he was a mere mortal!

Jim Bouldin
Guest

Yes, but it’s only one factor. Other important ones are the spin rate/direction of the ball off the bat, the trajectory off the bat, the momentum of the bat at impact, the location along the barrel where contact is made, the orientation of the wood grain at impact, and the “coefficient of restitution” (COR; i.e. elasticity) of the ball, as determined by atmospheric pressure, temperature and humidity (especially pressure).

You can find a bunch of stuff by Alan Nathan on all of this at his website and via Google Scholar–he’s been a leading baseball physics researcher for quite a while.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

I mis-stated part of that. Pressure does not affect the COR (as far as I know anyway), only the temp and humidity. Pressure affects the drag on the ball, hence a big part of the Coors Field effect (along with T and RH).

Richard Chester
Guest
During the time that the Yankees and Ruth played at the Polo Grounds the distance to the center field bleachers was 433 feet, according to ballparks.com. The bleachers were reconstructed for the start of the 1923 season. The reconstruction included the clubhouse in dead center field and that’s where the 483 foot distance was. The height of the clubhouse was something like 60 feet. No one hit a ball over the clubhouse. The bleachers on either side of the clubhouse were closer to home plate by something like 30-40 feet. Three players have hit HRs into the bleachers during ML… Read more »
fireworks
Guest

I didn’t remember when the fence got moved back. I just know that everything I read said no one ever hit it over the 483′ incarnation. If he had referenced the shorter distance I wouldn’t have said anything.

Lawrence Azrin
Guest

I’ve read that several times Ruth hit a HR completely out of the Polo Grounds (so did Joe Jackson), but he would’ve pulled it down the right field line and over the bleachers. …Still an amazing shot.

I’m not sure about him hitting it over the fence in dead center.

Chad
Guest

No George Foster in the top 10 in the 70’s??

Wow.

Chad
Guest

Even though he led the majors by 11, I guess there were a bunch of guys who hit 30+ that year.

Lawrence Azrin
Guest
Bryan, I understand your approach, but I think that it would be better to express HR dominance in percentages above league-average performance, as does OPS+ and ERA+. The raw numbers listed above defy credibility. Another approach might be “HR above league-average player”. For example, in 1921 the average AL player hit about 7 HR a year: (477 total in the AL)/8 teams X 9 batting order positions) = 7 HR So Ruth would have 59 -7 = 52. Ruth would still have an enormous dominance. Bonds in 2001 would be 73 – 21 = 52. Hmmm… No one here really… Read more »
wpDiscuz