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Exactly how out of control are MLB home run numbers this year?

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Over half of MLB teams are on pace to break their single season home run records.

Anthony Rizzo hits a towering opposite field HR in the Little League Classic
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

As you may have surmised one of my favorite things about baseball is the numbers aspect of the game. I’m not sure exactly how old I was the first time I cracked open my the giant book of baseball players and stats that my parents kept on their coffee table, but I do know I was hooked immediately. There were whole teams and leagues that didn’t exist anymore. There were periods where the game fundamentally changed like the Dead Ball Era. There were scandals and characters. Most importantly, there were numbers. Numbers that told the tale of this game across the years:

  • 61
  • 715
  • 191
  • 2,632
  • 511
  • 5,714

It was part of what made the home run race of 1998 so compelling, not one, but two players chasing down the home run record. It was also part of what made the home run records that fell during the Steroid Era so galling and dare I say even a little heartbreaking to me as a young, idealistic fan who loved the game and the numbers behind it.

It’s also why I just couldn’t get all that excited as four players passed 40 homers over the weekend. Is it possible that Mike Trout had a historic season or two like this in him even without the changes in the baseball? Absolutely. Unfortunately, we’ll never be able to untangle that from the changes in the ball. Similarly, is there some world where Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich unlocked another level of offense without the changes in the ball? I suppose there might be. We’ll never know. And while Pete Alonso is incredible, is he really the greatest power-hitting rookie ever? Chalk another one up to what will surely be known as the Juiced Ball Era some day.

However, it did get me thinking. I’d read a lot about individual player breakouts, and more about how MLB was on pace to shatter the HR record it set in 2017, as ESPN reported in early August:

A total of 4,478 home runs were hit in 1,621 games through Wednesday, an average of 2.76 per game. Batters are on pace to hit 6,712 home runs, well above the record 6,105 set in 2017 and up 20% from 5,585 last year.

What about those individual team records, though? The Twins surpassed their single season HR record on August 9, how many other teams were on pace to do the same?

You know where this is going. It was an off day and I had some time, so here is a team by team look at their single season HR record, their current HR total, their HR pace and a projection to 162 games:

Home run projections 2019

Team HR Record Year Current HR GP HR/Game HR/162
Team HR Record Year Current HR GP HR/Game HR/162
Twins 225 1963 241 125 1.93 312
Yankees 267 2018 227 126 1.80 292
Dodgers 235 2018 218 126 1.73 280
Astros 249 2000 212 126 1.68 273
Brewers 231 2007 202 125 1.62 262
Mariners 264 1997 201 126 1.60 258
Braves 235 2003 200 126 1.59 257
Red Sox 238 2003 198 127 1.56 253
Athletics 243 1996 196 125 1.57 254
Blue Jays 257 2010 195 127 1.54 249
Cubs 235 2004 194 124 1.56 253
Padres 189 2017 186 124 1.50 243
Diamondbacks 220 2017 185 126 1.47 238
Angels 236 2000 182 127 1.43 232
Nationals 215 2017 181 124 1.46 236
Mets 224 2017 180 124 1.45 235
Rangers 260 2005 177 125 1.42 229
Indians 221 2000 174 125 1.39 226
Reds 222 2005 175 124 1.41 229
Rockies 239 1997 168 125 1.34 218
Rays 228 2017 167 126 1.33 215
Phillies 224 2009 158 124 1.27 206
Orioles 257 1996 157 125 1.26 203
Cardinals 235 2000 154 123 1.25 203
Giants 235 2001 135 125 1.08 175
White Sox 242 2004 135 124 1.09 176
Pirates 171 1999 133 124 1.07 174
Royals 193 2017 127 126 1.01 163
Tigers 225 1987 114 123 0.93 150
Marlins 208 2008 102 123 0.83 134
Home run totals, records and projections by team Records and Current HR from Baseball Reference, projections and compilation Sara Sanchez

Some quick facts since the cool color coding I did in Google Sheets didn’t translate here:

  • 16 teams are on pace to surpass their current single season HR record
  • 8 teams are on pace to surpass their current single season HR record by more than 20 HR
  • 3 teams are on pace to be within 10 of their current single season HR record
  • 4 teams are on pace to surpass the all-time single season HR mark of 267 that the Yankees put up in 2018
  • 3 teams are on pace to be within 10 of that single season HR mark

These numbers are absurd. If home runs continue at the current pace the Minnesota Twins will set a new single season record with 312 homers, 45 more than the Yankees mark in 2018. As for the Cubs? They are currently on pace for 253 home runs, 18 more than their team record of 235 set in 2004.

Quite a few of these team records were already suspect. As you can see above the vast majority of the single season records fall in what’s commonly known as the Steroid Era (1993-2002, give or take a year). A handful of others coincide with the juiced ball. Still others look like clear park effects. The bottom line is while it’s enough to frustrate any fan looking for some continuity in the numbers, it’s not the first or last time an era will lead to some quirks in the record books.

I suppose we’ll look back at a chart like this a few years from now and just chalk it up to the ball. For now, I’m going to be keeping an eye on these numbers as teams shatter their single season home run marks in 2019.