MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Long ball shortens path to playoffs but not title

Long ball shortens path to playoffs but not title

The home run is one of baseball's three true outcomes, the most obvious victory of the hitter over the pitcher, independent of the rest of those people on the field with gloves.

The homer can inspire awe or dismay, depending on the way you look at it. Ever since Babe Ruth, baseball fans have worshipped at the altar of the long ball, all the way from breaking out of the dead ball era to comparing exit velocities.

But in the aggregate, what does the long ball get you? What does it mean to be the most powerful team in the league?

Checking the totals from the past 15 seasons, not counting this year, being the biggest bashers can get you quite a bit, in the regular season. After that, not so much.

Of the past 31 teams to lead a league in home runs (there was a tie in the American League in 2004), 14 of them were division winners.

Cut that timeline roughly in half, and in the past eight years, 12 of the 16 teams that have led the league in homers have won divisions. Even in the era of the strikeout, the long ball retains some correlation to team success.

However, in the past 15 years, only two of the teams that led a league in homers have won the World Series. Those were the 2008 Phillies and the team that dethroned them, the '09 Yankees.

In the postseason, even the best hitting can be neutralized by the best pitching. But the long ball can at least get you to the postseason.

There are some oddities. All but one of the clubs that led a league in home runs played in parks that are hitter-friendly. The one exception was the 2015 Dodgers. Thus, over the past 15 years, the Dodgers have led the National League in homers as often as the Colorado Rockies, which is also surprising in its own way. Perhaps the humidor at Coors Field really has worked.

There have been situations in which a major increase in power has not meant an increase in success. The 2015 Cardinals, for instance, were merely 11th in the NL in homers, with 137, but they had baseball's best record with 100 victories.

This year the Cardinals lead the NL in homers with 204 through 142 games and have set a franchise record for consecutive games hitting home runs. But they are a distant second in the NL Central at 75-67. Last year, the Cards led the Majors in team ERA with a splendid 2.94. This year, they are a much more pedestrian 4.04. Even the four-baggers haven't been able to compensate for that sort of slippage.

That kind of difference aside, being the biggest home run hitters on the block still has been a pathway to regular-season success in recent seasons, as the figures below indicate:

2001
AL: Rangers, 246 HRs. 4th place West (73-89)
NL: Giants, 235 HRs. 2nd place West (90-72)

2002
AL: Rangers, 230 HRs. 4th place West (72-90)
NL: Cubs, 200 HRs. 5th place Central (67-95)

2003
AL: Rangers, 239 HRs. 4th place West (71-91)
NL: Braves, 235 HRs. 1st place East (101-61)

2004
AL: White Sox and Yankees, 242 HRs. CWS: 2nd place Central (83-79); NYY: 1st place East (101-61)
NL: Cubs, 235 HRs. 3rd place Central (89-73)

2005
AL: Rangers, 260 HRs. 3rd place West (79-83)
NL: Reds, 222 HRs. 5th place Central (73-89)

2006
AL: White Sox, 236 HRs. 3rd place Central (90-72)
NL: Braves, 222 HRs. 3rd place East (79-83)

2007
AL: Yankees, 201 HRs. 2nd place East (94-68) - Wild Card
NL: Brewers, 231 HRs. 2nd place Central (83-79)

2008
AL: White Sox, 235 HRs. 1st place Central (89-74)
NL: Phillies, 214 HRs. 1st place East (92-70)

2009
AL: Yankees, 244 HRs. 1st place East (103-59)
NL: Phillies, 224 HRs. 1st place East (93-69)

2010
AL: Blue Jays, 256 HRs. 4th place East (85-77)
NL: Reds, 188 HRs. 1st place Central (91-71)

2011
AL: Yankees, 222 HRs. 1st place East (97-65)
NL: Brewers, 185 HRs. 1st place Central (96-66)

2012
AL: Yankees, 245 HRs. 1st place East (95-67)
NL: Brewers, 202 HRs. 3rd place Central (83-79)

2013
AL: Orioles, 212 HRs. 3rd place East (85-77)
NL: Braves, 181 HRs. 1st place East (96-66)

2014
AL: Orioles, 211 HRs. 1st place East (96-66)
NL: Rockies, 186 HRs. 4th place West (66-96)

2015
AL: Blue Jays, 232 HRs. 1st place East (93-69)
NL: Dodgers, 187 HRs. 1st place West.(92-70)

2016
AL: Orioles, 226 HRs. 2nd place East (78-64)
NL: Cardinals, 204 HRs. 2nd place Central (75-67)

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.