Last Wednesday evening, a new record was set. You probably saw it.
BREAKING: Alex Gordon has homered in Toronto and we have fresh history.
5,694 homers hit this season, a new MLB record.
— Today in the MLB (@TodayintheMLB) September 20, 2017
It’s true! There have been more home runs hit this year than in any previous season. Here’s proof:
Wait, that’s misleading (because of league expansion). How’s this:
Hang on, that 1981 dip reminds me: 154- and 162-game season, strikes, etc. Here, this is right, isn’t it?
OK, that’s it. No matter how you slice it, 2017 is a record-breaking year. (The chart above represents the actual home run total for 2017 through Saturday night, not adjusted for the rest of the schedule, so there’s a good chance that last red bar will wind up extending above the 200 line.) And it’s not even done yet! More records to come.
If we’re seeing an overall MLB record for home runs, we should be seeing other homer records too, right? It logically follows that if we’ve had more home runs than ever before, we should be looking at some teams setting new records as well. Maybe some individual records, too.
I went through all 30 clubs, and have listed their team and individual home run records below. Note that for teams that have moved, I’m going to consider the entire team’s history: New York and San Francisco Giants, Expos and Nationals, etc. But before listing them all, let me get to the conclusions here, so you don’t have to scroll through a bunch of numbers and words.
First, the rising tide of home runs has indeed lifted a lot of team home run record boats. (Give the metaphor a few minutes; it’ll recover.) Five teams have already set new records for home runs in a season. Three more will likely set them. But every one of those eight teams entered the season with a club home run record that was at least 15 below the median of 233. In other words, we’re getting new team records, but the records being broken are uniformly among the softest in baseball.
Second, by contrast, only two teams appear likely to set new records for individual home runs. One team, the Marlins, is led by one of the game’s greatest sluggers who is finally enjoying an injury-free season (Giancarlo Stanton has already played the most games of his career). The other, the Royals, had the lowest individual record in baseball. While this contrast—record number of home runs overall, hardly any new individual records—may seem inconsistent, it meshes with my finding earlier this year that the distribution of home runs among players has become more equal even as the total number of dingers has climbed.
Third, the latter point refutes the evergreen “Steroids II” narrative. This tired trope, given a new airing last week, ignores award-worthy research showing that the ball is livelier (by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman here, and Rob Arthur here) and even-a-dummy-like-me-can-do-it research showing that batters are hitting more balls in the air. Beyond that, it glosses over the fact that we’re simply not seeing the gaudy home run figures that were commonplace 15 years ago:
Here are the records, by team, alphabetically, with records set this year in bold.
Athletics: Team record 243 in 1996, individual record 58 by Jimmie Foxx in 1932. To date: 224, 40 by Khris Davis. (Foxx’s is the oldest individual home run team record in baseball. It was set two franchise moves ago for the A’s.)
Brewers: Team record 231 in 2007, individual record 50 by Prince Fielder in 2007. To date: 219, 31 by Travis Shaw and Eric Thames. (With seven games to go, they have an outside shot at a team record.)
Cardinals: Team record 235 in 2000, individual record 70 by Mark McGwire in 1998. To date: 186, 24 by Paul DeJong. (When your leading home run hitter is Paul DeJong, you figure McGwire’s record is pretty secure.)
Diamondbacks: Team record 216 in 1999, individual record 57 by Luis Gonzalez in 2001. To date: 211, 36 by Paul Goldschmidt. (Decent chance that they’ll set a new club record, with a big assist from midseason pickup J.D. Martinez, who has 27 in just 56 games since coming over from the Tigers.)
Dodgers: Team record 211 in 2000 and 2017, individual record 49 by Shawn Green in 2001. To date: 39 by Cody Bellinger. (And no. 2 for the Dodgers is Adrian Beltre with 48 in 2004. Bet you didn’t get either.)
Giants: Team record 235 in 2001, individual record 73 by Barry Bonds in 2001. To date: 123, 18 by Brandon Belt. (If Belt hits eight homers per day for the rest of the season, he’ll catch Bonds. But he’s on the disabled list, so he probably won’t.)
Mariners: Team record 264 in 1997, individual record 56 by Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997 and 1998. To date: 184, 37 by Nelson Cruz.
Marlins: Team record 208 in 2008, individual record 57 by Giancarlo Stanton in 2017. To date: 189. (The 2008 team played in the more homer-friendly Dolphin Stadium, but even with Stanton’s heroics, the club isn’t going to come close to the franchise record.)
Mets: Team record 218 in 2016, individual record 41 by Todd Hundley in 1996 and Carlos Beltran in 2006. To date: 217, 29 by Jay Bruce. (A team that’s one of the biggest disappointments in baseball, with five of its top six home run hitters either traded or disabled, will set a new club record for home runs. Before you jump to any PED-related conclusions, though, the active team leader is Wilmer Flores with 18.)
Pirates: Team record 171 in 1999, individual record 54 by Ralph Kiner in 1949. To date: 144, 26 by Andrew McCutchen. (Despite having had a team in the National League since 1882, Pittsburgh has the lowest team record for home runs in the majors.)
Red Sox: Team record 238 in 2003, individual record 54 by David Ortiz in 2006. To date: 160, 23 by Mookie Betts. (Ortiz’s 2006 season prevents, by a margin of four, Jimmie Foxx from being the only player to hold single-season home records for two teams.)
Reds: Team record 222 in 2005 (231 per 162 games in 1956), individual record 52 by George Foster in 1977. To date: 213, 35 by Joey Votto. (With seven more games to play, the Reds have a reasonable shot at setting a new team record, though not at the 1956 team’s pace.)
Rockies: Team record 239 in 1997, individual record 49 by Larry Walker in 1997 and Todd Helton in 2001. To date: 181, 35 by Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon. (Those two 49-homer seasons were pre-humidor.)
Royals: Team record 185 in 2017, individual record 37 by Mike Moustakas in 2017. (New records all around! Moustakas topped the 36 that Steve Balboni hit in 1985, and the team total topped the 168 hit by the 1987 team.)
Tigers: Team record 225 in 1987 (227 per 162 games in 1994), individual record 58 by Hank Greenberg in 1938. To date: 184, 28 by Justin Upton. (Upton would have to hit … wait, he’s not even on the Tigers anymore.)
Twins: Team record 225 in 1963, individual record 49 by Harmon Killebrew in 1964 and 1969. To date: 197, 32 by Brian Dozier. (Killebrew accounts for nine of the 12 highest seasonal home run totals in Twins history.)
Yankees: Team record 245 in 2012, individual record 61 by Roger Maris in 1961. To date: 225, 46 by Aaron Judge. (Here’s the thing, though: Maris hit his home runs in a 162-game season. But in 1927, when the American League played 154 games … what, you already knew this?)
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