In addition to forestalling the Red Sox’ attempt to clinch an AL East title on the Yankees’ turf, Neil Walker’s three-run shot off the Boston’s Ryan Brasier on Tuesday night gave New York a share of one major-league record. Wednesday night’s pair of homers from Luke Voit and another from Miguel Andujar gave the club a share of a franchise record and inched them closer to two more major-league ones. In these homer-happy times, nobody loves the long ball as much as the Bronx Bombers.
Walker’s homer, a towering, second-deck blast to right field, was his 10th of the season.
That gave the Yankees 11 players in double digits, tying a mark that has been matched in each of the past four years, a period that admittedly has produced three of the four highest per-game home run rates in history (1.26 per team per game in 2017, 1.16 in 2016, and 1.15 this year).
|2018||Yankees||Miguel Andujar / Greg Bird / Brett Gardner / Didi Gregorius / Aaron Hicks / Aaron Judge / Austin Romine / Gary Sanchez / Giancarlo Stanton / Gleyber Torres / Neil Walker|
|2017||Astros||Jose Altuve / Carlos Beltran / Alex Bregman / Carlos Correa / Evan Gattis / Marwin Gonzalez / Yuli Gurriel / Jake Marisnick / Brian McCann / Josh Reddick / George Springer|
|2016||Twins||Byron Buxton / Brian Dozier / Robbie Grossman / Max Kepler / Joe Mauer / Eduardo Nunez / ByungHo Park / Trevor Plouffe / Eddie Rosario / Miguel Sano / Kennys Vargas|
|2015||Astros||Jose Altuve / Chris Carter / Jason Castro / Hank Conger / Carlos Correa / Evan Gattis / Marwin Gonzalez / Colby Rasmus / George Springer / Preston Tucker / Luis Valbuena|
|2004||Tigers||Carlos Guillen / Bobby Higginson / Omar Infante / Brandon Inge / Craig Monroe / Eric Munson / Carlos Pena / Ivan Rodriguez / Marcus Thames / Rondell White / Dmitri Young|
This year’s Blue Jays could join the above 11×10 list if rookie Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hits two more homers over the remainder of the season, while the Yankees similarly have a shot at separating themselves from this pack if Voit, who didn’t even debut with the team until August 2, adds one more. Voit’s homers on Wednesday night, which were less majestic than Walker’s, represented his eighth and ninth since joining the team.
On that note, it’s worth acknowledging that appearing on the list above doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. The 2004 Tigers, who were just one year removed from the ignominy of a 119-loss season, went 72-90, while the 2016 Twins lost 103 games. This year’s Blue Jays, if they join the party, will now officially do so with a sub-.500 record after losing their 82nd game last Friday. On the other hand, the 2015 Astros, the first Houston team to finish above .500 in seven years following a dramatic rebuilding effort, claimed a Wild Card spot, and the 2017 edition won the World Series. This year’s Yankees are 93-58, owners of the majors’ third-best record. A roster featuring so many hitters to reach the 10-homer mark might indicate outstanding depth; it might also point to interchangeable mediocrity. Mostly, though, it’s a sign of these homer-happy times, as 74 of the 85 teams to have featured nine players with at least 10 homers hail from the post-1994 strike era, a sustained period of previously unprecedented home-run levels.
Back to the Yankees, though: Walker’s home run was the team’s 242nd of the season, pushing them past last year’s total of 241. With three more on Wednesday, they’re up to 245, the runaway highest total in the majors:
The Dodgers (who have 10 players with 10 homers) rank second overall with a mere 218 homers, while the A’s are second in the AL with 206.
The Yankees’ 245-homer total matches their franchise record, set in 2012, and is tied for the eighth-highest season total in history:
In the wake of the club’s prodigious homer output last year and offseason addition of NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton — who swatted an MLB-high 59 in 2017 — many folks, including colleague Jeff Sullivan, suggested that this team was capable of breaking the record set by those 1997 Mariners, who had Ken Griffey Jr. (56), Jay Buhner (40), Paul Sorrento (31), Edgar Martinez (28), Alex Rodriguez (23), and Russ Davis (20) leading the way. As of February 22, when Jeff published this piece, our Depth Charts projections, which rely in part upon playing time estimates, forecast the team for 269 homers. By March 25, when Walker (who was signed on March 12) was in the fold, the team projection was up to 278.
The Yankees won’t hit quite that many, but with 11 games remaining, they’re on pace for 263, giving them a very realistic shot at the record. What’s impressive is that they’ve done this not only against the backdrop of a league where per-game home run rates are down 8.4% relative to last year, but with their top five sluggers (by projected homer totals) missing their respective marks by at least 11 apiece:
|Name||Proj HR||Actual HR||Dif|
** Acquired in-season; no projection with team.
My point isn’t to complain about the quality of the projections (which are based on those of both Steamer and ZiPS); this seems like a fairly typical result, and of course there’s time for players to trim their margins. Nonetheless, injuries have been a huge factor in these shortfalls. Judge, who hit an AL-high 52 last year en route to AL Rookie of the Year honors, missed 45 games due to a chip fracture in his right wrist and hasn’t homered since July 21. Sanchez has served two stints on the disabled list for a groin injury and played just 81 games. Bird missed 40 games at the outset of the season due to right ankle surgery and has essentially lost his job to Voit, playing in just four games since August 29 and 79 overall. Walker has run hot and cold, with some big hits such as Tuesday’s homer, but an overall performance well below his career standard. Ellsbury missed the entire season due to injuries, and it’s been mostly a lost year for Frazier due to a concussion. Even Stanton, who has played in 149 games, has homered just twice in his past 27 games while playing through left hamstring tightness.
Despite all of that, the Yankees have had no power shortage. Gregorius and Hicks have set new career highs, the latter while accumulating enough playing time to qualify for the batting title for the first time, but the big reason the team has a shot at history has been the performances of the two rookies, Andujar and Torres. Projected for modest amounts of playing time at the outset of the season (245 plate appearances for Torres, 210 for Andujar), they have more than doubled those PA totals and more or less tripled their home-run projections. Torres, who wasn’t called up until April 22 and who missed 15 games in July due to a right hip strain, has 445 PA, while Andujar is third on the team with 562. Factor in defense and the rest of the pair’s contributions — not to mention the historic nature of the top alternative — and I’d still vote for Shohei Ohtani for AL Rookie of the Year, if you’re asking.
Of course, no discussion of the Yankees’ home-run totals would be complete without mentioning their ballpark’s short porch in right field, with the 314-foot distance down the line and estimated 360 feet to right-center, both among the shortest distances in the majors. It’s true that the Yankees have hit 138 of their 245 homers at home — 30 more than the Dodgers (second overall) and 34 more than the Angels (second in the AL) — but some of that is certainly attributable to the talent on hand. This team may be less built for the short porch than any since they moved into the new Yankee Stadium in 2009; their 41 homers by left-handed hitters at home is the fewest of any Yankees squad in that span and likely to finish in the bottom three, in the company of 2013 (43) and 2017 (50). While I’m sure that there are more elaborate ways to show this with Statcast, a quick tally of home runs hit at home with an estimated distance of 350 feet or less shows them with an MLB-leading 12 (including all three on Wednesday night), all of them hit to right field, but hey, it’s not like the Kingdome was a hard place to hit ’em out, either. The Astros rank second with nine, eight of them hit into the Crawford Boxes in left field. The Indians (six), Blue Jays, and White Sox (five apiece) round out the top five.
With just four remaining home games, the Yankees aren’t likely to catch the 2005 Rangers, who hold the record for homers hit at home in a single season, with 153. Right now, they’re merely tied for ninth and two away from the franchise record of 140, set last year. Even as they continue their quest to claim home-field advantage in the Wild Card race, where they lead the A’s (91-61) by 2.5 games, they’ve got something riding on every dinger the rest of the way.
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.