40 home runs. It’s an arbitrary qualification of an elite power hitter. It’s the number that puts a player at the top of the leaderboards of traditional statistics, lands All-Star and Home Run Derby appearances, and cements someone in the heart of the lineup.
Curtis Granderson has touched off on at least 40 homers in the last two seasons, and has in fact hit more out of the park than anyone else in that same timespan. The closest are Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera, both 10 behind. We know how spectacular the Grandy Man was in 2011: 41 dingers, 7 fWAR, and a 146 wRC+. Although his 43 long balls in 2012 were an improvement, his overall performance declined. In fact, it was historically bad for a guy surpassing the 40 home run plateau.
I’m not saying that Granderson was terrible, had negative value, or anything of that sort. I just find it interesting to see how he stacks up vs. the other 307 individual seasons a player has hit at least 40. Per wOBA, Grandy is tied for dead last with Adam Dunn. Here’s the bottom 5:
So, per wOBA, we saw history happen with two different players without even realizing it last season. Again, not saying Granderson or Dunn were terrible, as a .346 wOBA is pretty decent.
Let’s adjust for park and league factors, using wRC+. This will allow for better comparisons across different eras. This time, Grandy is out of the bottom 5:
Granderson just missed this list; he finished with a 116 wRC+ in 2012, good for 7th worst all-time among 40 home run hitters. The most alarming thing about this list is that Tony Batista was league average! This certainly seems outrageous, but he had some pretty putrid offensive numbers otherwise: .307 OBP, 18.2% K rate, and 5.3% BB percentage. Was he an above average power hitter in 2000? Of course. An above average batter all around? No way, especially considering the hitter inflated era he played in. Also of note on this list is Vinny Castilla, whose wRC+ is held down because of Coors Field the hitter friendly 90s.
Lastly, let’s take a look at WAR to gauge overall performance. While this isn’t focusing purely on offense, it’ll be interesting to see who was least valuable despite going yard 40 times.
Surprise, surprise: Dunn is on the list thrice. Yes, his .9 fWAR is fit for a scrub, but he’s not fully to blame. Defensively, Dunn posted a -31 UZR! That’s going to drastically reduce a player’s WAR. Simply stated, he had no business playing the outfield. He’s much better served as a DH with the White Sox these days. As for Granderson: he survives the list again, but wasn’t far off, placing 9th with 2.6 fWAR.
What does all this tell us? Not all 40 home run seasons are created equal, or even remotely similar. We knew that already, but in the case of Granderson, we’re left with the feeling that his 43 taters in 2012 were relatively empty in value. Sure, 2.6 fWAR is solid for a starter, and batting better than 16% of the league is commendable. But it’s fair to say that Grandy had a “disappointing” 43 home run year. Consider these numbers for the population 40 home run hitters: 92.5% posted a .380 wOBA or greater, 94.8% had at least a 125 wRC+, and 87.9% were worth at least 4 wins or more.
Would I be happy if Curtis hits 40 over the fence, all other things being equal, in 2013? Duh, no question. However, let this be a reminder that we can’t overvalue an arbitrary round number like 40 home runs. Anyone in their right mind should prefer a guy with a better wOBA, wRC+, and/or WAR despite having fewer homers. Whatever amount of home runs Granderson hits, let’s hope his all-around performance sees a boost closer to his 2011 level.
Photo by Keith Allison [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons