Giancarlo Stanton’s Shot at 74

You’ve probably noticed that Giancarlo Stanton has been on fire lately. After hitting exactly seven home runs in each of the first three months of the season, he powered up and hit 12 in July, the most home runs anyone had hit in a month this season besides Cody Bellinger’s 13 in June. But that was just him getting warmed up, because after his home run yesterday, he’s already hit 17 in August.

Since July 1st, Stanton has hit 29 home runs. Nelson Cruz, in second place, has hit 17. Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, who are tied for sixth-most home runs hit since the beginning of July, have combined to hit 28. And they play in Colorado. Stanton is, by himself, hitting bombs at the rate of two power hitters on hot streaks who get to play at altitude.

Any time a guy has 50 homers by the end of August, the conversation inevitably shifts to the home run record. Stanton himself has declared that he thinks of 62 as the record, given that it’s pretty well established that Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire were enjoying some chemical assistance when they surpassed Roger Maris‘ old record. And with 33 games remaining on the Marlins schedule, Stanton looks to be a pretty decent bet to get to 62 at this point; he would only need to homer once every 2.75 games from here on out; he’s averaged one homer every 2.54 games on the season, and a ridiculous one homer per 1.72 games since the start of July.

But despite protestations and Stanton’s own statements, MLB’s official home run record is 73, set by Barry Bonds in 2001. Yes, he was on “stuff”. So were the pitchers. Stanton is now pounding a ball that is probably flying further than balls have in recent years. Babe Ruth didn’t have to face non-white pitchers. There has never been a time when baseball was “clean”, however you want to define that term. There have always been reasons to claim that the current generation is getting help that prior generations did not.

If you want to pass a moral judgment on Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa for “cheating”, that’s fine. MLB has not done that, however, so their records still stand. Officially, the number Stanton is actually chasing is 74. So what are his odds of getting there?

Well, they aren’t zero, which is something in and of itself. But to get to 74, he’d have to hit 24 more home runs in the team’s final 33 games, while playing every single one of those games. That’s a home run every 1.38 games, or just slightly better than his August pace, which is at one homer every 1.47 games. If we just extrapolated out his August home run rate over 33 games, he’d hit 22 more by season’s end, finishing with 72 on the season, one shy of tying Bonds’ record.

So as crazy as Stanton’s home run binge has been of late, he’d actually have to take it up a notch. And you’d have to believe his recent home run trend represents a new sustainable level for him to have any kind of shot.

Even if we give him a 50% chance of hitting a home run in any given game, meaning he’d have a not-believable true talent level of 81 HR per 162 games, a binomial distribution would still only give him a 0.7% chance of hitting 24 homers in his final 33 games. At his August home run rate, which translates out to a laughable 110 homers per 162 game pace, he’d get all the way up to a 35% chance of finishing the season with 74 home runs. To get him up to a 50/50 chance of ending the season with 74 homers, you’d have to give him a projected home run rate of 115 homers per 162 games.

Even for Stanton, with this ball, that’s not reasonable. It doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but think about how amazed at what he’s done for the last 25 games; he now needs to be even better for the next 33. And he can’t miss any games. And opposing teams can’t start intentionally walking him.

While no one wants to be the guy who denies baseball a chance to see history, Mike Petriello noted last week that Stanton’s last road trip takes him to Arizona and Colorado for six games, and the park effects there could help him add to his total. But those two teams are also fighting for Wild Card spots, and if their chances of reaching the postseason rely on the results of those games, Stanton won’t see a strike in any situation where there’s a runner on and first base open. And he might not see many strikes even when that isn’t the situation.

Right now, Stanton has only been intentionally walked five times since the All-Star break. In his 2001 season, Bonds was intentionally walked 15 times in the second half, with eight of those coming in September. If Stanton remains a one-man wrecking ball, managers of teams with something to play for will be self-interested enough to pitch around him, and at this point, Stanton would need every at-bat he could get to get anywhere near Bonds’ record.

So, yeah, it’s probably not happening. Our rest-of-season projections, which regress him back towards his career norms have him hitting just nine more home runs over the rest of the year, finishing one shy of 60 on the year. It’s easy enough to argue that ZIPS and Steamer aren’t adjusting heavily enough for the ball or his weak remaining schedule of opponents — 15 of the Marlins’ final 33 games are against the Braves and Phillies — and perhaps those factors should be enough to expect him to end up with more than 62.

But 62 isn’t the record. 74 is the record. And despite Stanton’s absurd tear of late, Bonds’ record still appears safe for now.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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6 years ago

Good stuff, Dave.

I think that as we look at baseball as a whole, that each of the record/outlier seasons (Ruth, Maris, McGwire, Bonds) tell a story of where baseball was and what made it both beautiful and flawed. Seeing Stanton get 62, I think, would be another tent pole in baseball’s story that would give fans a reason to argue and debate and marvel and tall about this season for years to come. Even if it isn’t 74, it’ll feel like it has that weight and significance to a lot of folks, and the story will be one worth remembering and telling. Here’s hoping he can get it!