Last week, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs wrote an article: This Is the Postseason of the Home Run. In the 2017 MLB playoffs, homers have accounted for almost half of all runs scored. He points out that 2017 was already the year of the home run. And we are already in the midst of a home run spike. Still, the dependence on the home run in this year’s playoffs has been greater than in any other year during the Wild-Card era.
The concept of measuring dependence on the home run is not new. The statistic used is called the Guillen Number—named after the White Sox manager whose teams were more reliant on home runs than the skipper’s small ball tendencies would suggest.
Essentially, the higher the number of runs scored via the long ball, the more home run dependent. The actual statistic is a percentage of runs scored via the home run divided by total runs scored. Recently, the highest Guillen Number for a regular season team has hovered around 50%—a significant difference from the 42.79% number the 2011 Yankees posted.
To that end, having a high Guillen Number does not correlate to team success. In fact, over the last three years, the number of teams in the top 10 of Guillen Numbers who also made the playoffs has decreased. It is unquestionably a small sample size, but might show us something interesting if we dive in a bit deeper. In 2015, 6 of the top 10 teams in the Guillen Number rankings made the playoffs. In 2016, the number fell to 4. And this year, the number decreased again, this time to just 2 teams.
Jeff Sullivan’s piece was about teams in the 2017 playoffs being more home run reliant than ever before. Is this a trend we see in the regular season, too? From the above data, it is clear the regular season and the postseason are two completely different beasts. One swing in a postseason game can change the outcome of an entire series. Whereas in the regular season, a home run does not have nearly the magnitude.
I don’t mean to suggest that home runs are not important in the regular season, but the six month marathon is just too long to be as dramatically affected by one swing as the same event occurring in a best of 5 or 7 series. This is intuitive, obviously—it is a matter of length.
What I find more fascinating is that the Cardinals’s success is in no way correlated to their Guillen Number ranking. In 2015, when the Cardinals won 100 games, they ranked 22nd in Guillen Number. In 2016, when they missed the playoffs by a game, they were 7th. This year, they fell back to 25th.
It is clear, the Cardinals should not look to be more home run reliant. The trend Sullivan noted is not one that reveals a secret approach to building a dynasty. It is merely a fascinating data set. There is a clear distinction the Cardinals ought to make, however, in their search for a big bat. Instead of calling the missing piece a “big bat,” perhaps the front office should look for a “consistent slugger.”
The player they find for this need, does not have to be a 40 HR a year guy. A high powered offense, in no way, shape, or form, has to rely on the Home Run. The Cardinals are in desperate need of power. I only hope to suggest that the search should not start and end with players who leave the yard 35+ times a year. Corey Seager, for instance, slugged almost .500 and did not even reach 25 long balls.
This team does not need a home run hitter, it needs a consistent bat in the middle of the lineup that can drive the ball. While we know that there is no substitute for power, the Guillen Number’s correlation to success, or lack thereof, illustrates that there is more to a high powered offense than the long ball. This is something the Cardinals would do well to keep in mind this offseason.