Thursday, June 16, 2011

The following announcement of a major home-run streak appeared at the beginning of June, as part of's collaboration with the Elias Sports Bureau:

Jose Bautista finished the month of May with 11 home runs, the most in the American League. It was the fifth straight month in which Bautista led the A.L. in homers (excluding March and October). Bautista led the American League in homers in July, August and September of 2010 and in April and May of 2011. The last player to lead a league in home runs (outright or tied) for five consecutive months was Jimmie Foxx. Foxx led the A.L. in homers in June, July, August and September in 1933 and in April in 1934.

Naturally, an accomplishment for which one must go back 77 years to find an equal is quite noteworthy -- especially when that equal is the caliber of Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx. Still, the above report of the record by Toronto right-fielder Bautista raised some questions in my mind.
  • Was Bautista merely squeaking by with his monthly home-run leads or was he blowing away the competition?
  • As I eventually came to realize, the report carefully qualifies the record in terms of Bautista's leading only the American League or leading "a league" in home runs during particular months. So, during how many of these months did he lead Major League Baseball overall in home-run output?
  • The report also notes that March and October were excluded. If one were to add March totals to April's and October totals to September's, would that change the conclusions? 
Using the superb Home Run Tracker website from ESPN's Stats & Information Group, I reviewed all MLB hitters' home-run output during 2011 and all American League hitters' homers for July onward in 2010. Each home run is documented on its own line of data and the lines can be sorted by hitters' names. I simply perused down the screen, counting a given hitter's homers by month only when it looked like he had a sizable number of blasts (I overlooked 2010 NL data in the interest of time). The following chart presents the fruit of my labor (you may click on the chart to enlarge it, realizing that the top and bottom parts are separate, due to size limitations).

The first finding to notice is that Bautista's margins in leading the AL during July, August, and September of 2010 were pretty comfortable. No other AL players (barring anyone I missed in my "retinal inspection" of the Tracker data) hit double-digit homers in a month. Bautista's smallest margin was 2, as Yankees Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez each clouted 9 homers in September, compared to Bautista's 11. (I have highlighted cells of particular interest in light green.)

It is during 2011 that things are more interesting, in my view. In April, Bautista's 9 dingers were surpassed by National Leaguer (Cub) Alfonso Soriano's 10. If we add National Leaguer (Brewer) Ryan Braun's 1 March homer to his 9 from April, he would also exceed Bautista. Yet another NL player, Cincinnati's Jay Bruce, exceeded Bautista in May, 12 to 11.

As the chart shows, if Bautista is to lead the AL again in June, he really needs to get going, as he's been in a slump lately. Fortunately for the Toronto slugger, no one else in the league has pulled away in June homers, with Texas's Nelson Cruz and Boston's David (Big Papi) Ortiz leading with 5 each. (Note that some of the June 2011 homer totals may be slightly outdated at the time of this posting Thursday afternoon, as I did the bulk of my tabulating Wednesday morning.)

For what it's worth, Bautista's home field, the Rogers Centre, currently ranks as one of the more hitter-friendly venues in MLB, according to "Park Factor" statistics.

In conclusion, although there are some reasons to chip away a little bit at the magnitude of Bautista's accomplishment, a first-in-77-years record speaks for itself.

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