On Saturday night, the Twins broke the single-season record for home runs hit by a team with the 268th of the season, breaking the previous mark set by… last year’s Yankees. It is impressive enough that they accomplished this at all, yet they did it before September and in a ballpark that is not nearly as hitter friendly as Yankees Stadium (though, granted, they did get to beat up on the Tigers a lot). They hit six home runs on their record-setting night. Ironically, they lost.
Of course, we are all aware of the huge caveat behind this record.
As BP’s Rob Arthur has demonstrated, the balls are juiced, and it is a major factor in this year’s home run surge. Now this does not mean that the record does not count, nor that it should come with an asterisk. Hitting that many home runs in a season is a tremendous accomplishment, and it is still very difficult to pull off even with everything working in a hitter’s favor.
Back to the Tigers for a moment, the lowly AL Central has also been a major contributor to the Twins’ new record. The White Sox, Royals, and Tigers combine for a record of 148-257. The Tigers and Royals rank in the bottom five in baseball by RA9, and the White Sox are not much better than that. Without Lucas Giolito, they would probably be right down there with them. They rank a little better going by home runs allowed, though.
Still, the Twins have gone off on these three teams. Of the teams that have given up the most home runs to the Twins, they are three out of the top four, with the Orioles being the fourth. It should not be surprising that the O’s are in the mix there, given the fact that they have broken the record for most home runs allowed in a season, but they have only played six games against the Twins!
While it is fair to say that the Twins’ record was in part, driven by their lousy division, obviously their high home run totals against those teams were boosted by getting to play them so much. Even the Indians rank fifth on that list, and they have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. Let’s take a look at how well the team did on a per plate appearance basis.
Twins’ Home Run Rate by Opponent
|Los Angeles Angels||240||16||6.7%|
|New York Yankees||240||16||6.7%|
|Chicago White Sox||622||37||5.9%|
|Toronto Blue Jays||271||14||5.2%|
|Kansas City Royals||471||19||4.0%|
|Tampa Bay Rays||296||5||1.7%|
Everyone except the Astros and Rays have given up home runs to the Twins at a higher than league rate of 3.4 HR%, but that is still leaving some things out. Let’s take a look at how the Twins did in the plate appearances when they made contact. Alas, that does not look too much different.
Twins’ Home Runs on Contact
|PA||BB||K||HBP||BIP||HR||HR% on contact|
|PA||BB||K||HBP||BIP||HR||HR% on contact|
|New York Yankees||240||26||48||4||162||16||9.9%|
|Los Angeles Angels||240||22||44||3||171||16||9.4%|
|Chicago White Sox||622||42||132||7||441||37||8.4%|
|Toronto Blue Jays||271||26||53||1||191||14||7.3%|
|Kansas City Royals||471||40||93||10||328||19||5.8%|
|Tampa Bay Rays||296||16||70||5||205||5||2.4%|
Moving on to the hitters themselves, a whopping eight of them have at least 20 home runs! Surprisingly, Nelson Cruz is not the one leading the team in dingers, as Max Kepler is having a breakout season with 36 HR. The once top prospect spent the previous three seasons failing to even be a league average hitter, but now he is hitting .258/.339/.542, good for a 125 wRC+. That combined with his plus outfield defense has made him worth 4.2 WAR on the season so far. He just needs to be more careful on the basepaths. He has been caught in five out of his six attempts!
Right behind Kepler is the aforementioned Cruz, who has 34 HR. However, he has been much better overall offensively than Kepler, hitting an outstanding .305/.388/.643. His 162 wRC+ ranks fourth in baseball among qualified batters. I described his signing as “low risk, high reward,” but I never imagined the reward could be this high!
I would be remiss if I did not mention my fellow boricua Eddie Rosario, whose 27 home runs rank third on the team. Unfortunately, home runs appear to be all he is good at as evidenced by his slash line of .283/.306/.505. That is barely better than league average offensively because he is making too many outs. Also, his 3.7 BB% is even lower than that of his fellow countryman Javier Báez.
So does this make the 2019 Minnesota Twins the best home run hitting team of all time? Eh, probably not. The juiced balls and bad division are contributing so much to it. ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle dove into this question and found something interesting, and I can’t say that I am the least bit surprised at the result.
“[The Twins] have hit home runs at a rate 40% better than this year’s bloated big league average, but that ranks only 83rd all time. The top of the chart is dominated by teams in low-homer environments. The all-time champ in that department is the 1927 Yankees at 135% above league average.”
Regardless of how you want to describe this team’s home run ability historically, it has inarguably been invaluable to the team’s success this season. They are currently five games up on the Indians and have a whopping 95 percent chance to win the division, per FanGraphs. They will have more trouble hitting home runs in cooler weather versus stronger competition in October, so hopefully they can keep this going.
. . .
Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.