For the fans who enjoy seeing the longball, 2016 has been a banner year. Perhaps the best in baseball history, as it turns out, and that's thanks in no small part to a significant power surge by middle infielders.
First off, the home run rate on a per-game basis is the second best ever. The top five:
1. 2000, 1.171 HR per team, per game
2. 2016, 1.166
3. 1999, 1.14
4. 2004, 1.12
5. 2001, 1.12
The record for home runs in a season is obviously held by the 2000 season, with 5,693. As can be surmised with the above list, 2016 needs to pick up the pace ever so slightly to set a new record. Entering Friday, there have been 5,337 home runs this year.
Of note, the other top home run seasons came from the so-called "Steroid Era," as drug testing was implemented in 2004 and a few years after that we saw a big dip in offense. I'm sure that some will claim the game isn't clean now, but we continue to see players suspended and it's just as often a small non-power hitter as a big bopper. Instead, might I suggest that it's possible the baseball might be "juiced?" That's a different discussion for a different day, though.
One of the more remarkable aspects of this season's surge, to me, is the lack of at least one overly gaudy home run total. I guess 2000 had that aspect as well, with only Sammy Sosa hitting 50, but there were four players with at least 47. If you look to 1999, though, Sosa and Mark McGwire were both north of 60.
This season, our leader is Mark Trumbo at 43. Only four players have hit 40 so far, but there are 30 with at least 30 and -- you ready for this one? -- 100 have hit at least 20. We could soon see a record number on that front, too.
The top seasons ever in terms of the number of players with at least 20 home runs:
1. 1999, 103 players
2. 2000, 102
3. 2016, 100
4. 2004, 93
5. 2008, 92
So how close is 2016 to becoming the record holder? I'd say it'll happen any day now. The following players currently have 19 home runs: Gary Sanchez, Matt Carpenter, Logan Forsythe, Jung Ho Kang, Ryan Schimpf, Brian McCann, Jose Bautista and Matt Holliday.
So, yes, it's gonna happen. The number of 30+ homer guys isn't close to a record (it's ninth all-time, with the record being 47 players in 2000) and we've already covered the lack of 50+ guys, so the volume of home runs this season is mostly a testament to the depth of the home run hitters. It's not just a few prodigious power hitters carrying the gaudy stat line, instead it's a league-wide home run boom.
On that front, we have a primary culprit: Middle infielders.
Never before have we seen such muscle flexing from shortstops and second basemen.
Twins second sacker Brian Dozier has already set a record for home runs in a season by a second baseman. He's the leader of the pack here, but not alone in the middle-infield power surge. Among second basemen, Robinson Cano and Rougned Odor are north of 30 while Ian Kinsler, Daniel Murphy, Jose Altuve, Jonathan Schoop, Jason Kipnis and Starlin Castro have at least 20 home runs. Carpenter and Forsythe might soon join that group, as previously mentioned. Jean Segura has 17 and Ben Zobrist has 15.
At shortstop, Brad Miller has 30 while Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Troy Tulowitzki, Asdrubal Cabrera, Danny Espinosa, Addison Russell, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Freddy Galvis have at least 20. Gregorius could join the fray.
Some bulletpoints on the middle infielders and their big offensive boom:
- In 2016, nine middle infielders have hit at least 25 homers. The previous record was eight (2009).
- In 2016, 21 (!) middle infielders have hit at least 20 homers. The previous record was just 13 (1999, 2007).
- In 2016, 29 middle infielders have hit at least 15 homers. The previous record was 20 (2007).
- In 2016, 41 middle infielders have gotten to double digits in home runs. The previous high was 35 (2007).
- The following middle infielders have or might out-homer their age: Cano, Dozier, Miller, Semien, Schoop (needs one more), Trevor Story, Odor, Seager, Russell (needs two more) and Correa (needs two more).
- The league OPS for second basemen is .772, which is better than both corner outfield spots (LF is .738 and RF is .762). Obviously, long-time baseball fans know this seems drastically backward.
- In terms of weighted runs created plus (wRC+), second basemen are collectively having their best offensive season since 1924.
- The top five batting averages in baseball belong to LeMahieu, Murphy, Altuve, Charlie Blackmon and Dustin Pedroia. Yes, four of the five are second basemen. Middle infielders have six of the top 11.
We could go on, but there's no reason to delve into TL;DR territory here when the point has been made. It's been an offensive explosion by middle infielders and that has been the major contribution what could end up the most powerful season ever.
Beginning Friday, we still have 10 days of regular-season baseball to enjoy in 2016. Several races -- mostly of the wild-card ilk -- are yet to be determined. That is, of course, much more important than what we've discussed here. Still, watching the power -- notably the middle-infield power -- is a side storyline that will be fun to follow as this wild and powerful season concludes.
Special thanks to baseball-reference.com play index for the numbers