Balance of Power

When Eric Hosmer hit his ninth home run on Friday night, I thought he was catching up to the team leaders despite making his major league debut five weeks after the season had begun.  With Jeff Francoeur leading the way with 12 and Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera right behind him with 11, Hosmer is hot on their trail.

My hope is that Hosmer can reach 20 homers by year’s end.  For a 21-year-old, that’s not a bad way to announce your arrival in the big leagues.

At the same time, I wondered if it might be possible for all four to reach 20 homers.  And, if so, what’s that say in the context of Royals history?

The Royals have been a regularly power-starved franchise. Steve Balboni’s 36 homers in 1985 is the lowest franchise-record home run total in all of baseball – including expansion teams.  They’ve had ten 30-homer seasons in their history since 1969.  By comparison, the Yankees have had two players hit 30 homers in each of the past three seasons (and on their way to a fourth).

Kauffman Stadium has always been a big park, and playing half the season will depress anyone’s home run numbers.  In the days when the fences were farther back and higher, it was even tougher to get a ball out.

Thirty homers is a significant achievement for a Royal.  Danny Tartabull is the only player to do so twice, and 1985 was the only season when more than one Royal reached 30 (Balboni’s 36 and George Brett’s 30).  It’s a mark that hasn’t been reached since Jermaine Dye hit 33 in 2000.

For now, then, let’s aim low and shoot for 20 homers.

In Royals history, 20 home run seasons are less scarce (as you’d expect) but seasons where multiple players hit the mark are rare.  The Royals have had two players hit 20 homers in 17 seasons.  Three Royals have reached the mark in hthe same season just eight times (four times from 1999 to 2002).

Only twice have the Royals seen four players hit 20 homers: 1977 and 1987.  Those two seasons are also the two highest team home run totals in Royals history.

In 1977,  John Mayberry led the team with 23 (the fourth time in five years he led the Royals in homers).  Al Cowens also had 23 while George Brett had 22 an Hal McRae had 21.

In 1987, when Kansas City set a team record with 168 homers, they were led by Tartabull’s 34.  Balboni added 24 while Brett and Bo Jackson both hit 22.

The Royals have had some pitiful power numbers over the years.  Last year, Yuniesky Betancourt tied with Jose Guillen for the team lead with 16, despite Guillen being designated for assignment August 5.  He missed two months and his total was only tied – and by Yuni of all people.

In 2007, the Royals only had two players even reach double digits in homers.  John Buck led the way with 18 and Alex Gordon hit 15.  I think that’s marginally worse than the 1992 season when Mike MacFarlane hit 17 to lead the Royals.  Kevin McReynolds and Gregg Jefferies (gotta love that Saberhagen trade) hit 13 and 10 respectively.

Those aren’t quite dead ball era numbers but they’re still a little sad.

That brings us to this season and the possibility of four Royals reaching 20 homers.  Does it even matter that much?

For me, as a fan, and knowing the historical power-starved path of this franchise, it’d be more symbolic to see the Royals find four players with 20 homers.  With this being a transitional season (I won’t use the term “rebuilding”), what better way to move into Mission 2012 than to get four players into the 20 home run club?

I find it important for more practical reasons too.  The Yankees are a threat to score in any inning because they have a lineup of guys who can put up double digit homers nearly every year.  If the Royals have four of their nine lineup spots capable of 20 homers a year, that’s a solid balance throughout the year.  They aren’t relying on one player to do all the heavy lifting.  Going into next year, we’ll see that they’re capable of such production.  With Mike Moustakas and Billy Butler also capable of 20 homers (which Billy has done once already, I’ll remind you), that could be a potent lineup (assuming Francoeur and Cabrera aren’t traded in the coming weeks).

So what are the odds that the Royals see their third season with four 20-homer players?  It’s probably going to be tough, but it’s possible.

Considering that Cabrera’s career high is 13 homers and Gordon’s is 16, it’d take career years from both to reach 20.  Both are having breakout seasons, though, so there’s a reasonable chance they can do it.  Francoeur’s career high was 29 in 2006 so he’s done it before.  However that’s the one and only time he’s surpassed 20 homers.

Hosmer hit 20 homers in 2010 between Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas, but also hit one almost every day during the Texas League playoffs, and has the power to hit 20.  The issue is if he can do so with a big league season that didn’t start until May 6.

I figure the simplest way to decide is to project the rest of the season based on what each player has done so far.  If they continue on the same pace and everyone stays healthy (and on the Royals), can they reach 20 homers in the last 68 games of the year?

On this table, HR/Game is obvious, while Potential HR is their current HR/Game rate applied to the final 68 game of the year.  That’s added to their current homer total to get a projected final number:

HR/Game Current HR Potential HR Projected*
Francoeur 0.1319 12 8.70 20.70
Cabrera 0.1209 11 8.22 19.22
Gordon 0.1222 11 8.31 19.31
Hosmer 0.1475 9 10.03 19.03

It’s going to be close. A small improvement would help everyone get to that 20-homer mark, since Francoeur is the only one who projects to get there at this point.

Of course injuries and trades could destroy any chance at this happening, but assuming they stay at their current pace (or slightly better) it can happen.  It;s a strange group to be chasing the achievement, but I’ll take it.  Somebody in ten years might be looking at 2011 and saying “Really? Those four guys hit 20 homers that year?” (or at least saying that about Cabrera).

It may help that of the remaining 68 games, 38 are on the road and away from Kauffman.  Eight of Cabrera’s homers have come on the road.  Hosmer has a similar split, with seven of his nine coming away from Kauffman.  Gordon and Francoeur have had more homers at Kauffman this season, but if they can get it out of the K, they can get it out of any other ballpark.

Assuming they all play the rest of the year with the Royals, that embarrassing mark of 16 by Betancourt and Guillen should be eclipsed.  At least I hope so.

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Tags: AL Central Alex Gordon Baseball Eric Hosmer Jeff Francoeur Kansas City Royals KC Melky Cabrera

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