A monster second half propelled Bobby Witt Jr. to the first 30 home run/30 stolen base Royals season in history. It is not a feat that many players ever accomplish, so I wanted to take a little time to put his season in a greater context. The combination of power and speed that he has shown, especially over the last three months of the season, puts him in rarefied air, but not in the truly elite power-speed combos of all-time.
There are a few different ways to go about quantifying the combination of home runs and stolen bases in a season. If you pick the most direct route, just add the two together, Witt ranks very high in modern baseball. Among qualified hitters from 1930 on (avoiding dead ball era), his 79 HR+SBs is a tie for 64th along with Mike Trout, Matt Kemp, Corbin Carroll, Vladimir Guerrero, Tim Raines, and Lou Brock. I love seeing Royals keeping company with names like those. If 64th does not sound very good to you, remember we covering over 12,000 player years here, so it is in the top half a percent of all seasons. The top players by this measure are of course those who have elite stolen base totals since no one has ever hit anywhere near 100 home runs.
|Ronald Acuna Jr.||2023||41||73||114|
This is clearly not the best way to measure power/speed combos. Lou Brock’s three home runs are not inspiring the power part of the equation, and his .381 slug that season is pedestrian at best. I decided to come up with a few different formulations to measure the best power/speed seasons ever and only one of them worked because this is maybe not as intuitive as people might assume.
First, I thought maybe we could do the ratio of home runs-to-stolen bases to value them by rarity, but home runs are much more common than stolen bases in baseball going back all the way to 1930. In that time there have been 303,461 homers and only 195,922 stolen bases, so about 1.5 HR/SB, so by this metric stolen bases should be even more valuable as they are rarer. I actually think this is a selection bias, not a rarity issue. Players that hit home runs are more valuable, and coveted, so they get to the big leagues more often and play more than pure stolen base threats who need other skills to get a shot. I had some other ideas and ended up liking none of them, so I moved to pure value.
There are several formulations for the value of a home run, but this was the one I went with and they are all somewhat similar. Their values have been somewhat stable over the years, and I am going to be somewhat conservative and go toward the bottom end of the range at 1.9 runs in value. Stolen bases are harder to quantify in this way, but I saw most things in the 1.2 to 1.3 run territory. For instance, wSB uses .2 per stolen base. I’ll go toward the top end of the possibilities, again to mitigate the gap conservatively. So, if a home run is worth 1.9 and a stolen base is worth 0.3, what does that leader board look like now?
Well, I am not going to show you because we ended up all the way back the other side with Barry Bonds’ 73 HRs leading the way. It means I had to do what I was trying to avoid and set minimum thresholds for the two statistics. I felt like you need at least a 25/25 to be a combo season. Why? Not sure, that just felt right, and you can argue with me in the comments if you are so inclined. Now the table looks like this:
|Ronald Acuna Jr.||2023||41||73||99.8|
I think all of these are legitimate power and speed seasons. Everyone cracked 40 home runs, and only two missed 30 steals, both by just one. Sure, Larry Walker did it in pre-humidor Colorado, but he still had to get the steals which are not helped by elevation, and it’s not like Eric Young Sr. hit 40 over the wall for the Rockies that season. On this list Bobby ranked 66th, so very similarly. An impressive season either way.
I think the answer to what is the greatest power/speed season might actually be in these tables, though not at the top of the list. There is one name that showed up in both, and that is 2023 Ronald Acuña Jr. He might have just set the bar for this style of play. Getting over 40 home runs is hard enough, but to tack on 73 stolen bases, which no player has even managed while hitting 30 before, is quite a feat. The best home run season for a player with over 70 bombs before this season was the Rickey Henderson season in the first table, so maybe that is the other contender with. Rickey would tell you that Rickey deserves the crown any way.