The Orioles Have a Shot at the All-Time Home Run Record

From last Friday’s chat:

10:30
Denji: I’m expecting the average Orioles game to be a 7-5 loss where they hit 3 solo home runs and strike out 15 times. Could they threaten both HR and K team records?

10:32
Jeff Sullivan: They’re not going to hit 264 home runs.

Twist!

I was too hasty with my answer. In a live-chat format, you don’t really get to do a lot of research. In answering the home-run part, I just assumed it was unreasonable, on account of the different strikeout environment these days. My heart was in the right place, but my head was mistaken. Yes, the Orioles could threaten the all-time home-run record for a team. You might even say it would be surprising if they didn’t.

Last year, the Orioles hit 217 home runs. The year before, they hit 211. The year before that, they hit 212. The year before that, they hit 214. The all-time record is 264, set by the 1997 Mariners. Back in 2005, the Rangers finished at 260. In 1996, the Orioles hit 257; in 2010, the Blue Jays did the same. But anyway, 264 is the target. And wouldn’t you know, but we have player projections.

Now, if you look at our team depth-charts pages, you’ll see that we don’t have a section for projected homers. But it’s pretty easy to work around that, so we can apply the blended Steamer/ZiPS projected home-run rates to our playing-time estimates. I went ahead and did that for every team. I should note that we don’t actually bother to project pitchers hitting. That doesn’t matter much for the Orioles. So this is where things stand — these are basically our current projected home-run totals:

projected-2016-team-home-runs

The average is 163, with a standard deviation of 29. It’s hardly surprising to see the Braves bringing up the rear, and, of course, they’re close to the Royals. The Giants are back there, although their offense isn’t built around the longball, for good reason. Move toward the left and the Blue Jays are in third, at 212. Then the Astros are at 215. And the Orioles are all the way up at 245. The Orioles are close to three standard deviations north of the mean, and the difference of 30 homers between first and second place is as big as the gap between second and seventh.

I don’t know when you go from being kind of close to a record to actually threatening it. The Orioles, by this measure, would still be 19 homers off the mark. That’s a lot of homers, but if the Orioles were to finish at 245, that would tie them for seventh place. And what if the league-wide homer rate spikes again? What if conditions in Baltimore end up unusually warm? What if there are some extra windy days? What if Chris Davis channels 2013?

Here’s the individual breakdown:

Projected Orioles Home Runs
Name PA HR
Manny Machado 644 28
Adam Jones 637 28
Chris Davis 630 41
J.J. Hardy 581 13
Hyun-soo Kim 560 18
Mark Trumbo 546 27
Jonathan Schoop 525 21
Pedro Alvarez 518 29
Matt Wieters 384 13
Ryan Flaherty 273 8
Nolan Reimold 238 6
Caleb Joseph 192 5
Joey Rickard 168 1
Jimmy Paredes 140 3
Henry Urrutia 119 2
Francisco Pena 64 2
Dariel Alvarez 14 0
Christian Walker 7 0
Total 6240 245

Obviously, Kim is kind of a shot in the dark. Maybe his total is optimistic, but this is a reasonable table. Just last year, Machado left the yard 35 times, and he could match or exceed that. Davis comes with a lot of variability. Wieters is a little bit of a wild card, and then there’s Schoop’s raw strength. It should go without saying that, if the Orioles are to break the all-time record, they’re going to need plenty to go right, which is how it goes with positive all-time records. But at least by the projections, if the record is to go down in 2016, the Orioles would need less to go right than any other team. They probably won’t set a new mark, but it is within their reach.

You might notice that, despite the power, the Orioles rank eighth in baseball in projected WAR from position players. Hitting a home run is the best individual thing any player can do, but it’s also important to get on base and not play Mark Trumbo in the outfield. I don’t need to go into detail on this. In your imagination, the Orioles are going to be an all-or-nothing lineup. You’re basically right.

As for the other part of the question from the chat? The all-time strikeout record is 1,535, set by the 2013 Astros. That team actually even played in the American League. Using the same method from above, the Orioles are projected for about 1,336 strikeouts, or 200 fewer. Put another way, the Orioles project to finish 7% short of the all-time homer record, but 13% short of the all-time strikeout record. Kim just doesn’t look like he’s going to strike out. Machado seldom strikes out. Jones doesn’t strike out that much. The Orioles certainly have a number of strikeout-prone bats, but compared to what they’d need to go right to set the homer mark, they’d need a lot to go wrong to set this record instead. Maybe you can’t put it past them, but it’s not a pleasant thing to imagine.

I don’t know if the Orioles are going to be good, but they’re going to be good at hitting home runs. They have a decent chance of hitting more than any other team ever has. That’s not exactly why people watch, but then, it’s not not why people watch.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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free-range turducken
6 years ago

Sigh. Another FanGraphs Orioles puff piece.