In a recent Viva El Birdos comments section, talk turned briefly away from sandwiches and tiering things, and to everyone's surprise, a baseball discussion began to percolate. In that discussion, long-time commenter and
Denver hockey Andy Van Slyke fan avs18fan pondered:
Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if Holliday, Peralta, Heyward, and Adams all hit 20+ dingers each?
The Cardinals hit just 105 homeruns in 2014, fewest in the NL. Given last year's meager Cardinal tater totals, a quartet of birds breaking the 20 homer barrier seems like some sort of dream, so I thought I'd take a look to see if it might be an attainable feat. Now, this is really just interesting from a back of the baseball card perspective. 20 is an arbitrary cutoff without much significance in itself, and home runs aren't a great measure of offense in isolation, but I like the backs of baseball cards, so here we are.
Speaking of the backs of baseball cards, it used to be 20 dingers meant something! I remember poring over the Topps (oh that sweet, sweet '87 wood-grain) and Donruss and occasional Fleer cards of my childhood, and if a player hit 20 homeruns, he was a real power threat, a bat to be feared. He was probably a first baseman or outfielder and hit .230 and might even have been Rob Deer, but damn it, 20 homeruns was a sign of a good hitter. Not just any shmo hit 20 homeruns.
Things changed, and 20 homer hitters started getting more common sometime around when I got my driver's license, and by the time I was in college, over half the qualified hitters in the league managed at least 20 home runs. Guys with names like Sprague and Brogna and Nilsson. You know, schmos. Russ Davis popped 20 and 21 homers in 1998 and 1999, hit around .250, and had a wRC+ of 88 and 89. No longer did 20 homers mean anything. The mark had lost its luster.
But things have changed again. Last year, a guy with forearms the size of rhinoceroses hit exactly 20 dingers, and nobody was particularly disappointed by it. This reflects a league-wide trend which has seen 20 homer hitter frequency fall back to its lowest point since 1992.
(note: Per my memory, nearly all of those exorbitantly numerous outlier dinger hitters in 1987 were on the Minnesota Twins. Not real ball. Real ball involved stirrups and running.)
20 homeruns is once again a good total (rumor has it that Rob Manfred blames the shift), and that's a good thing for the Cardinals. Despite a rather punchless team in 2014, and despite no real threat to reach the dizzying heights of 30 grandongs, the Cardinals will send a balanced lineup to the plate in 2015, and 20 homers seems like a reachable if optimistic goal for at least four Birdos. If you squint hard enough, you could even include one or two more.
The Defending Dingerers
Peralta led the Cardinals in homeruns in 2014 with 21. He's reached 20 taters five times in his career, most recently in 2011 prior to last season. He's never cleared 24, and has fallen shy of 20 as often as he's passed it. He's turning 33, but looked strong last season. Reaching 20 homeruns in 2015 is easily attainable, but he could fall short of that mark without it being a disappointment. Under 20 is probably the smart money, but I wouldn't bet a lot of it.
As he has done every year since 2006, Matt Holliday reached 20 homers in 2014. He managed 20 on the nose, his lowest total of that run, but he also won Hit Tracker Online's Golden Sledgehammer by recording the longest average homeruns of any player in the league with at least 18 round trippers. His homers had a true distance average of over 418 feet. There will be a year when Matt Holliday doesn't hit 20 homeruns, but when it comes, I will not have predicted it the previous spring. I say he gets there again.
The Strong Contenders
Much has been made of Jason Heyward's power drop in 2014. He hit 18 knocks in 142 games in 2010 as a 20 year-old and 27 homeruns in 2012. He managed just a mildly disappointing 14 homeruns in an injury and appendix shortened 2013, but then homered just 11 times in a full season last year, which also saw his average flyball distance drop to an unsettling 267 feet. However, Heyward is still just 25 and has shown immense talent at a young age. He's fit and healthy heading into 2015, and despite legitimate concerns from last season, clearing 20 homeruns would surprise nobody, particularly as he moves from lead-off to a position in the order that could justify a more aggressive approach (Craig Edwards looked at this in December).
The Cardinals' first-baseman hasn't yet banged 20 bombs in a year, but over the two seasons that have made up his career, he's averaged one homerun per 28.6 PA. If he continues that over 575 PA in 2015, he'll reach the mark. It's also worth remembering that he's had a number of nagging injuries and just finished his first season as a full-time starter. As with Heyward, I think it's fair to say that under 20 homeruns in 2015 would be at least mildly disappointing.
Though Heyward and Adams could potentially surprise and far out-perform reasonable projections, none of the quartet above are likely to have much room to spare, so it would take a fair amount of optimism to predict they'll all reach the plateau in question. On the other hand, it doesn't require much optimism to foresee any of them in particular getting there.
There are yet more players on the roster who could possibly join the fray, but predicting them to do so requires significantly more positive thinking.
The "if you squint enough and look at them from this one angle over here" trio
The argument here is pretty simple. Including the playoffs, he hit 15 homers in 463 PA in 2014, and he did this as a rookie despite uneven playing time and a shoulder injury that required a DL stint. 20 homers in a full season would be right in line with what he did. However, this amount of power was a bit surprising in itself. Reaching double-digit dingers again in 2015 while getting on base more would be a great outcome. We shouldn't ask for too much, but, well, it's possible. That bat speed makes it look possible, too.
He did it once in 2012 (22)! That's all I've got.
He's likely to clear 700 PA again and occasionally looks like a guy who might turn 700 PA into 20 homeruns with some good luck. More often he doesn't look like that guy.
Jon Jay will not get there. If Randal Grichuk got a full season's worth of PA, he could threaten it, but that would mean something went terribly wrong. Same for Mark Reynolds, who hit 22 in 433 PA last season with the Brewers.
I'm not going to spoil the fun of our 2015 projections by asking you to put numbers on names, but let's see where the hivemind is on some general issues. I'll publish the results sometime next week.