Thursday, May 10, 2012

With Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night joining the club of sluggers who have belted four home runs in a single game, I decided to examine Hamilton's and all previous four-homer games in detail to see what we might learn about the continuity and timing of such outbursts. For example, when a player has homered four times in a game, have the four blasts tended to come in four consecutive at-bats? Against the same pitcher each time? If not the same pitcher, has the throwing arm at least been consistent across pitchers faced? You get the idea.

Hamilton, of course, is best known for overcoming drug-abuse problems to bring his beautiful bat swing -- reminiscent, in some observers' eyes, of the main character in "The Natural"  -- to the major leagues. In the 2008 Home Run Derby during the All-Star Break, Hamilton socked 28 homers in a single round. Thus, as rare a feat as hitting four home runs in a game is, one had the feeling that if anyone would do so in the near future, Hamilton could well be the person.

My starting point was this list, from Wikipedia, of the 16 major-league players to hit four homers in a game. For each instance, I then consulted Retrosheet, an online archive of MLB box scores and play-by-play sheets. Box scores routinely list all home runs hit in a game by hitter, pitcher, and inning. The accompanying play-by-play sheets supplement the box scores by listing in narrative fashion what happened on all at-bats in the game, thus documenting what the hitter with four home runs did in all his other at-bats (if any) during the game.

For the 11 batters who had four-homer games from 1950 to the present, the chart below thus documents what they did in each at-bat of their big game. For three batters whose four-homer game occurred in the 1930s or '40s, Retrosheet had box scores only, so the non-homer at-bats could not be charted. Finally, for Bobby Lowe (1894) and Ed Delahunty (1896), neither box scores nor play-by-play sheets were available, so they do not appear in the following tables.

Here are the charts. You may click on them to enlarge them.


Here are some findings from the charts:
  • Among the 11 players for whom the full scope of data was available, four (Carlos Delgado, Mike Cameron, Mike Schmidt, and Rocky Colavito) homered in four consecutive at-bats, with no other kind of outcome intervening.
  • Of the same 11 players (excluding Delgado, who had only four plate appearances), three (Hamilton, Shawn Green, and Joe Adcock) had additional hits (singles, doubles) beyond their home runs, without ever making an out.
  • Among the documented outs (pink squares), five were via fly balls or pop-ups, only one was a ground-out, and none were strike-outs. Thus, these hitters were getting the ball in the air with great regularity.
  • Hamilton (3 of 4), Delgado (3 of 4), Green (3 of 4), Cameron (3 of 4), Mark Whiten (all 4), Chuck Klein (all 4), and Lou Gehrig (all 4) hit their homers predominantly or exclusively against pitchers who threw with the opposite arm relative to the handedness of the batters' swings. To really know if there's any significance to this statistic, we would need to know the percentages of opposite-hand match-ups in all at-bats and all home-run at-bats in MLB generally.
  • Among the 14 players whose home-run innings can be documented, all except Schmidt, Colavito, and Pat Seerey got off to a quick start by homering in the first or second inning.

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