Monday, January 7, 2008

Home Run Spikes?

It's always notable when a player jumps far above his career high for home runs. Unfortunately, steroids are often blamed when it happens today. Spikes in a player's seasonal home runs are not a new thing in baseball history. For example, in 1884, Ned Williamson hit 27 home runs after hitting a grand total of eight in six prior seasons. Of course, Williamson wasn't alone that year -- the 1884 Cubs hit 142 home runs a year after hitting thirteen. The reason for this oddity was a rule change making the left field fence only 180 feet away from home plate. Of course, unless players had Bill Veeck as an owner, this sort of thing didn't generally happen in the twentieth century. Regardless, home run spikes continued. Whether from a mundane one-year increase in playing time or from other sources, the following players had one season with a home run total way out of sync with the rest of their career.

First, I want to list the players who had at least twenty more home runs in their top HR season than in their second-highest HR season. Twenty is just an arbitrary number, but it's round and not too exclusionary.

20+ More Home Runs In Top HR Season Than In Any Other Season, 1901-2007
  1. Brady Anderson
    Top Season: 50, 1996
    Second Highest Season: 24, 1999
    Difference: 26

  2. Luis Gonzalez
    Top Season: 57, 2001
    Second Highest Season: 31, 2000
    Difference: 26

  3. Davey Johnson
    Top Season: 43, 1973
    Second Highest Season: 18, 1971
    Difference: 25

  4. Barry Bonds
    Top Season: 73, 2001
    Second Highest Season: 49, 2000
    Difference: 24

  5. Roger Maris
    Top Season: 61, 1961
    Second Highest Season: 39, 1960
    Difference: 22

  6. Adrian Beltre
    Top Season: 48, 2004
    Second Highest Season: 26, 2007
    Difference: 22

  7. Hit Career High in 2007
    Prince Fielder
    Chris Young
    Jack Cust
    Josh Fields
    Troy Tulowitzki
    B.J. Upton
    Ryan Garko
Presumably, all of the players who hit a career high in 2007 will get within twenty home runs of that number again (Cust is the least likely, I guess, but he only needs seven homers).

Here's a table of all players (with a career high of over 20 HR, there's that number again) who had a home run season at least twice that of each of the rest of their seasons. No player before 1930 managed to pull it off, but that's not really a surprise given the paucity of homers in the deadball era.

NameHighest HR Total
2nd Highest
Ed Morgan2611151930
Wally Moses259161937
Tommy Holmes2813151945
Chuck Workman2511141945
Willard Marshall3617191947
Roy Smalley218131950
Harry Simpson2110111956
George Crowe3115161957
Lee Walls2411131958
Ken Hunt256191961
Earl Averill2110111961
Chico Fernandez206141962
Roman Mejias2411131962
Sam Bowens227151964
Walt Bond207131964
Bert Campaneris228141970
Dave Roberts2110111973
Joe Charboneau234191980
Wade Boggs2411131987
Dale Sveum2512131987
Lonnie Smith219121989
Rick Wilkins3014161993
Orestes Destrade205151993
Terry Steinbach3516191996
Wes Helms2310132003
Bobby Crosby229132004
Felipe Lopez2311122005
Bill Hall3517182006

Some of the players on this list had a lack of playing time in many seasons contributing to their appearance here. For example, Orestes Destrade had 637 plate appearances in the season he hit 20 home runs but never had above 152 PA in any other season. Here are the players from the list who, in my mind, had playing time issues contributing to their season home run total spike (I linked to their page so you can judge for yourself):

Roy Smalley
Harry Simpson
George Crowe
Ken Hunt
Roman Mejias
Walt Bond
Sam Bowens
Dave Roberts (not the active player)
Joe Charboneau
Rick Wilkins
Orestes Destrade
Wes Helms

Obviously, some of the players towards the bottom can potentially be bumped off the list. Note: I tried to find all of the players who made themselves eligible for the big list in 2007 for the short list at the end, but it's entirely possible I missed someone.

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