FanPost

Why Home Runs Might Not Be THAT Important (but They Most Definitely Still Are)

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Why Home Runs Might Not Be THAT Important (but They Most Definitely Still Are)

Below is the initial post for my new website Royals Prospect where I'll be rambling about the Royals and more often about their prospects. I'll still continue to post things here because I love our community, but they'll also be posted on my website going forward too.

Coming into today's game the Royals are 29th in wRC+, 18th in fWAR offensively, and 26th in RE24. That's not a good offensive profile and it's of no surprise if you've been watching this Royals team all this year. They've had a deep inability to score runs, but it is "runs" deeper than the lack of home runs. They aren't coming up in high leverage situations (24th overall in WPA) and aren't scoring when they are in good run scoring positions (26th in RE24).

I've seen a lot on Royals Twitter about the lack of home runs (of course you can always follow me there @Shauncore) and it's a problem for this team. Even so much that the Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol has chimed in on the teams lack of over the wall power. Currently the Royals rank last in home runs with 18. Alex Gordon hit two home runs today but even including that they'll still be in last unless somehow the Cardinals can hit negative home runs. We'll talk about the Cardinals a little later as well.

But what correlation, right now, does hitting home runs have with winning games? Here are the Top-5 teams in the standings and their overall rank in home runs:

  1. Detroit Tigers 26-12 (17th overall in home runs)
  2. Oakland Athletics 28-16 (4th overall in home runs)
  3. Milwaukee 27-17 (11th overall in home runs)
  4. San Francisco Giants 27-17 (3rd overall in home runs)
  5. New York Yankees 23-19 (10th overall in home runs)

Four of the Top-5 teams are essentially Top-10 in home runs overall.

Now the inverse; the MLB team leaders in home runs and their overall standings:

  1. Colorado Rockies 58 HR (8th overall)
  2. Toronto Blue Jays 57 HR (15th overall)
  3. San Francisco Giants 49 HR (4th overall)
  4. Oakland Athletics 48 HR (3rd overall)
  5. L.A. Angels 47 HR (7th overall)


So again it looks like the precedent remains. Teams that homer tend to be near the top of the standings.

This isn't a surprise. It shouldn't be. Homers score runs. Scoring a lot of runs wins games. Teams that score a lot of runs generally win a lot of games...but home runs don't always equal success and vice versa.

For instance here are the 2013 leaders in home runs and their overall standings at the end of the season:

  1. Baltimore Orioles 212 HR (15th overall; missed playoffs)
  2. Seattle Mariners 188 HR (25th overall; missed playoffs)
  3. Oakland Athletics 186 HR (4th overall; won division)
  4. Toronto Blue Jays 185 HR (22nd overall; missed playoffs)
  5. Boston Red Sox 178 HR (2nd overall; won division)


So despite hitting almost 25 more home runs than the next best team, thanks Chris Davis, the Orioles would miss the Wild Card by 6 1/2 games. They also hit almost 35 more home runs than the team that won the division they play in.

Now this list is shortened and if it were expanded admittedly you'd see the Braves, Tigers, Indians, and Rays occupying several of the next few spots in the home runs leaders and all were playoff teams (if you count the WC play in game as the playoffs).

On the other hand the playoff picture is missing the Reds (who finished 16th in home runs), the Pirates (who finished 13th), and the Dodgers (who finished 24th) all made the playoffs as well.

Now let's look at the 2013 overall standings and the teams ranking in home runs:

  1. St Louis Cardinals 97-65 (27th in home runs)
  2. Boston Red Sox 97-65 (5th in home runs)
  3. Atlanta Braves 96-66 (6th in home runs)
  4. Oakland Athletics 96-66 (3rd in home runs)
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates 94-68 (13th in home runs)

Let's go back one more year and look at a couple things.

First, the home run team leaders and their overall finish in 2012:

  1. New York Yankees 245 HR (3rd overall)
  2. Baltimore Orioles 214 HR (8th overall)
  3. Chicago White Sox 211 HR (14th overall)
  4. Milwaukee Brewers 200 HR (15th overall)
  5. Texas Rangers 200 HR (7th overall)

Now let's look at the overall standings and the teams ranking in home runs:

  1. Washington Nationals 98-64 (8th in home runs)
  2. Cincinnati Reds 97-65 (12th in home runs)
  3. New York Yankees 95-67 (1st in home runs)
  4. Oakland Athletics 94-68 (7th in home runs)
  5. San Francisco Giants 94-68 (30th in home runs)

That's right... the Giants not only won their division, but won the World Series despite being last in home runs by nearly 20 home runs. I'm sure the ball park they played in helped in this matter.

Let's again fill out the full playoff picture.

  1. Washington Nationals 98-64 (8th in home runs)
  2. Cincinnati Reds 97-65 (12th in home runs)
  3. New York Yankees 95-67 (1st in home runs)
  4. Oakland Athletics 94-68 (7th in home runs)
  5. San Francisco Giants 94-68 (30th in home runs)
  6. Atlanta Braves 94-68 (19th in home runs)
  7. Texas Rangers 93-69 (5th in home runs)
  8. Baltimore Orioles 93-69 (2nd in home runs)
  9. Detroit Tigers 88-74 (15th in home runs)
  10. St Louis Cardinals 88-74 (17th in home runs)

So it looks like the same as usual. Some of the teams that make the playoffs hit a lot of home runs, some of the teams don't.

In perhaps summation it seems like you need to be in the front half of the league in home runs to make the playoffs. In both 2012 and 2013 only three playoffs teams (2012: Cardinals, Braves, and Giants; 2013: Cardinals, Dodgers, and Reds) made the playoffs without finishing in the Top-15 of the home run leader board.

Here is what I want to look at though; RE24. I love RE24 and I think that over a large enough sample size RE24 is the perfect summation of a players hitting contributions. wRC+ will always be nice for simplicity and especially so if you want league and park neutrality, but I believe a 2-out grand slam should be weighted more than a no-out solo fly (WPA is also crucial of course).

*Note* if you're unfamiliar with RE24 then go read Fangraph's wonderful post on the subject here and here via Tom Tango and Dave Appleman

So using the same approach as above, let's look at the 2013 playoff picture and their overall rank in RE24 and then home runs:

  1. St Louis Cardinals 97-65 (1st in RE24 and 27th in home runs)
  2. Boston Red Sox 97-65 (2nd in RE24 and 5th in home runs)
  3. Atlanta Braves 96-66 (3rd in RE24 and 6th in home runs)
  4. Oakland Athletics 96-66 (4th in RE24 and 3rd in home runs)
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates 94-68 (8th RE24 and 13th in home runs)
  6. Detroit Tigers 93-69 (6th in RE24 and 7th in home runs)
  7. L.A. Dodgers 92-70 (9th in RE24 and 24th in home runs)
  8. Cleveland Indians 92-70 (7th in RE24 and 9th in home runs)
  9. Tampa Bay Rays 92-71 (15th in RE24 and 11th in home runs)
  10. Cincinnati 90-72 (5th in RE24 and 16th in home runs)

No I didn't just make this up... the #1-4 teams were all exactly 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in RE24 respectively.

Every playoff team but one finished Top-10 in RE24 and all but one were ranked higher in RE24 than home runs.

Now let's do 2012 as well.

  1. Washington Nationals 98-64 (5th in RE24 and 8th in home runs)
  2. Cincinnati Reds 97-65 (12th in RE24 and 12th in home runs)
  3. New York Yankees 95-67 (3rd in RE24 and 1st in home runs)
  4. Oakland Athletics 94-68 (13th in RE24 and 7th in home runs)
  5. San Francisco Giants 94-68 (2nd in RE24 and 30th in home runs)
  6. Atlanta Braves 94-68 (7th in RE24 and 19th in home runs)
  7. Texas Rangers 93-69 (8th in RE24 and 5th in home runs)
  8. Baltimore Orioles 93-69 (25th in RE24 and 2nd in home runs)
  9. Detroit Tigers 88-74 (18th in RE24 and 15th in home runs)
  10. St Louis Cardinals 88-74 (1st in RE24 and 17th in home runs)

So it looks like this year we see a bit of a different split. Six of the playoff teams were in the Top-10 in Re24 and six of the playoff teams were in the Top-10 in home runs. Four of the playoff teams had a higher ranking RE24, five had a better home run standing, and one was tied (Reds).

So over the past two years 15 of the 20 teams to make the playoffs have all finished Top-10 in RE24 while 10 finished Top-10 in home runs.

What stands out to me the most is the 2012 Giants and 2013 cardinals. Both those teams finished Bottom-5 in home runs (30th and 27th), but both finished Top-5 (2nd and 1st) in RE24. Both teams played in parks that suppressed home runs (89 HR park factor for the '12 Giants; 92 HR park factor for the '13 Cardinals) and both teams won games, most importantly the World Series for the Giants and the NLCS for the Cardinals, despite lacking in home runs.

Both teams also had strong pitching staffs. The '12 Giants finished 9th in the league in FIP at 3.78 and the '13 Cardinals 2nd overall with 3.39 FIP.

Since we're talking about home runs we should also probably mention xFIP too: '12 Giants 13th in xFIP (3.95), '13 Cardinals 3rd overall (3.72).

So even with league average home run rates, the Giants were still good, and the Cardinals were real good.

What does this mean for the Royals? It's pretty obvious: they need to score more runs probably. That was a lot of writing just to say that, but it's an obvious answer. Scoring more runs will likely lead to them winning more games...but I want to go a bit beyond that.

Like the 2012 Giants and 2013 Cardinals, the 2014 Royals aren't going to likely hit a lot of home runs. They probably won't even finish in the Top-25 in home runs, but like the '12 Giants and '13 Cardinals the lack of home runs might not doom them.

Like those two teams, the Royals play in a park that suppresses home runs (94 HR park factor in '13), and they have a strong pitching staff (currently 11th in FIP).

There is also something that separates the Royals from those two teams; a bullpen.

The 2013 Cardinals bullpen finished 14th overall in RE24, 10th in WPA and 17th in fWAR

The 2012 Giants bullpen finished 24th in RE24, 16th in WPA, and 26th in fWAR

The 2014 Royals bullpen hasn't been AS good as last year (which would be incredibly hard to repeat), but they are 2nd in fWAR, 13th in WPA, and 13th in RE24.

Perhaps a strong bullpen can make up for part of the weak offense, and the Royals don't necessarily need to hit home runs to win games, but they need to score runs when they are in higher run expectancy situations. That's something the Royals aren't currently doing.

Here are the current RE24 standings for the Royals players:

Escobar - 6.80

Cain - 2.66

Infante - 1.46

Hosmer - 1.22

Aoki - (1.29)

Gordon - (3.18)

Moustakas - (3.25)

Butler - (5.33)

Perez - (5.89)

That's five of the regular starting nine with negative RE24 values. That's gonna have to improve if the 2014 Royals want to possibly be the 2013 Cardinals or 2012 Giants...

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.

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