Encarnacion, Home Runs, and May

We’ll take a slight siesta from examining every angle of no-hitters known to man (don’t worry, there’s more to come) to discuss the terror that Edwin Encarnacion has inflicted upon baseballs this May. Encarnacion finished the month hitting 16 home runs, which tied Mickey Mantle for the AL record for May. The NL and Major League records are held by Barry Bonds who hit 17 in 2001.

All told, in the AL Mantle and Encarnacion are tied at the top while in second is Ken Griffey Jr. who hit 15 home runs back in 1994. In the NL, Bonds of course is number one, but at number two sits Mark McGwire who crushed 16 homers in May of 1998. See a trend here? McGwire finished ’98 with 70 home runs, which was a record or something, and Bonds did him three better in ’01, clobbering 73. Whether you believe in asterisks, steroids, and/or juiced baseballs, those are some impressive numbers. And Griffey’s ’94? He finished that year with 40 in 111 games. If not for a players’ strike and the subsequent lock out by the owners, Griffey might have had a legitimate shot at Maris.

My point, however, is that those three years were periods of heightened power in the Majors, while 2014 most assuredly is not.

1956 4.45 0.93 .258 .397 .139 94
1994 4.92 1.03 .270 .424 .154 97
1998 4.79 1.04 .266 .420 .154 97
2001 4.78 1.12 .264 .427 .163 97
2014 4.16 0.91 .251 .392 .141 97

I like the use of OPS+ here since it does give us a means to compare offense across eras, but the key columns for the purposes of this argument are slugging, home runs, and runs per game. All three are key indicators that we’re playing in a much different era than those enjoyed in the 90s and the early aughts. In fact, based upon the columns above, I’d argue that Encarnacion’s power display has more in common with Mantle, the man with whom he’s currently tied atop the AL May leaderboard.

First, let’s look at just how impressive Encarnacion has been in May. Prior to this season, his top output for a month was nine, which he achieved twice: in May of 2012 and in April of 2013. He had nine by May 20th of 2014, and since then he’s hit seven in the span of ten games. His OPS in those ten games? How about a ridiculous 1.367, and he’s even been unlucky if you can believe it. His BABIP is .240, which is well below the league average of .297. For the month, his BABIP is .190.

In his career, Encarnacion had hit multiple home runs in the same game 11 times prior to ’14, and he’s turned that trick five times this May alone. In one month, he’s nearly doubled the most multi-homer games he’s had in a season (2013) and nearly tripled his best month (two times in April of ’13). If you take into consideration that home runs per game are at their lowest in the last twenty years (including ’14, four of the last five years have been sub 1), then Encarnacion’s feat has been spectacular indeed.

So, just for goofs, I thought it would be fun to compare Encarnacion’s homer tear compared to the league as a whole and to his team. To make this even more fun, I’m including the others mentioned here to see how Encarnacion’s run compares.

Player Total Team MLB NL AL
Bonds 17 37.78% 29.36 / 57.9% 32.8 / 51.8% 25.9 / 65.6%
Encarnacion 16 33.33% 26.1 / 61.2% 24.9 / 64.3% 27.3 / 58.7%
Mantle 16 35.56% 27.3 / 58.6% 29.5 / 54.2% 25.1 / 63.7%
McGwire 16 40% 29.2 / 54.9% 29.1 / 55% 29.3 / 54.7%
Griffey, Jr. 15 33.33% 26.4 / 56.8% 25.2 / 59.5% 27.6 / 54.2%

Due to the variations in the number of teams over the years (click here to see when teams were added ), I averaged out the home runs hit for each team and each respective league. Under MLB, NL, and AL, the first number is the average number of home runs per team and the second is the percentage the player’s home run total measured up against that total. Bonds’ 17 home runs are impressive in 2001, but Mantle’s 16 actually accounts for a larger percentage based on the average Major League team.

Encarnacion, however, has the most home runs relative to the Major League average than anyone on the list, and honestly, it’s not even close. He would account for 61% of the home runs that an average team would hit, and for the month of May, he’s out homered two entire teams, the Royals and the Cardinals, by himself.[i] Relative to his own league, Encarnacion only trails Mantle who in ’56 accounted for 63.7% of the AL average.

In an era where power has decreased, we should look at Encarnacion’s recent month of May in the correct historical context. Over recent years, his season seems all the more impressive compared to his contemporaries. However, his season should be seen as the near equal to the one with whom he shares the AL record for May.

One final aside before calling it quits: of the players listed above, only Bonds (11.9 bWAR) and Mantle (11.2) went on to win their respective league’s MVP award. McGwire (7.5) finished second to Sammy Sosa in 1998 (6.4) and Griffey (6.9) finished second to Frank Thomas (6.4). Not exceptionally relevant to this article, but I found it interesting in all cases each player finished with a higher bWAR than the eventual MVP winner. McGwire still finished third overall in the NL behind Bonds (8.1) and John Olerud (7.6) while in ’94 Griffey finished second overall behind Kenny Lofton (7.2).

The moral of this story is that you could make a case for Bonds winning every MVP award if so inclined and everyone forgets just how good Olerud and Lofton were. Just because he wore a helmet in the field doesn’t mean Olerud couldn’t kick some ass.

Below I’ve listed the average home runs per game from 2014 through 1994. This is more for information than anything, so I’ve just tacked it onto the end.

Year HR/G
2014 0.91
2013 0.96
2012 1.01
2011 0.94
2010 0.95
2009 1.04
2008 1.00
2007 1.02
2006 1.11
2005 1.03
2004 1.12
2003 1.07
2002 1.04
2001 1.12
2000 1.17
1999 1.13
1998 1.04
1997 1.02
1996 1.09
1995 1.01
1994 1.03
1956 0.93


[i]In 2001, Bonds out homered the Royals (16 in May), and in 1994 Griffey out homered the Expos (14) and tied the Marlins.

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