Are Home Runs Contagious?

As Oakland A's fans, we know certain things can rub off from player to player. Just ask anyone who has ever gotten too close to Bobby Crosby and spent subsequent time on the disabled list. Or ask Chris Carter, who caught a sneeze in the face from Jack Cust and got a bad case of the whiffs. Most of these baseball viruses are negative.

What if home run power was spread like mono, the kissing disease. I bet players would become a lot more amorous--homer-erotic, if you will. Butt-slaps and kisses all around.

Home runs do not work that way, however. They are created from a rare combination of hard-work, determination, and the intake of quasi-illegal substances. Just look at the recent shift in the home run atmosphere. For once there's something we can't blame on Global Warming.

Just a decade ago home runs were far more plentiful than they are today. Last season, teams averaged 154 home runs each. In 2001, teams averaged 182. While there is no point in arguing why such a shift has occurred, there may be an opportunity to take advantage of these changes.

Jump with me to join the revolution.

While all types of batters are hitting fewer home runs, the difference is most evident in the elite home-run-hitters. In 2001, eleven players hit at least 40 home runs. In 2010, only two players reached that mark. Fewer teams are capable of getting all their power needs from only one or two players. Thus many teams are now forced to get their home runs from several hitters with only moderate power.

This poses the question: With elite power-hitters becoming somewhat of an endangered species, have they become more likely to positively impact their teammates' power potential?

If this were to be true, the teams with an elite power-hitter would hit drastically more home runs than teams without such a hitter. Also, the elite power-hitters would have the ability to inspire their moderately-powered teammates to hit more home runs than the other moderately-powered hitters who don't have an elite power-hitter on their team.

For this case, we will say that elite power-hitters hit 32 or more home runs in a season. We will also say that moderately powered hitters will hit between 20 and 31 home runs.

Using these cutoffs, 2010 produced just thirteen teams with an elite power-hitter, and seventeen teams without. (No teams had more than one elite power-hitter.) Those elite teams averaged 180 home runs each, while the other teams averaged just 134 home runs each. Furthermore, those teams with an elite hitter had, on average, 3.6 batters with at least 20 home runs, while the other teams had, on average, only 1.6 batters with at least 20 home runs.

There was one very notable trend with those two groups. Seven of the thirteen teams with an elite hitter had at least four batters with 20 or more home runs. Yet just one of the seventeen teams without such a hitter had four batters with 20 or more home runs. Is it really possible that one elite hitter can have that kind of impact on their teammates? Or is it a fluke? Let's compare with the last five years to investigate the validity.









As you can see in the first chart, total team home runs have been relatively steady for teams with an elite hitter. However, there is a distinct drop-off in home runs for teams without an elite hitter. The gap between the two appears to be steadily increasing.

In the second chart, the trend is similar, but this time related to the number of players who hit 20 or more home runs on a team.

As home run totals have dropped over the last several years, so has the number of elite power-hitters. And while the teams without an elite hitter have seen their home run numbers drop dramatically, the teams that managed to hold on to one of the special hitters have surprisingly held strong.

It seems clear that with the recent power shortage, elite power-hitters have become even more valuable. Not only do they lead their team in home runs, but it appears that they have an impact on increasing their teammates' home run totals as well. They have become an undervalued commodity, and bring more to table than just their numbers would show. The A's would be well-suited to take notice and immediately pursue elite power. Imagine how much improvement we could conceivably see from Kouzmanoff, Matsui, Willingham, Suzuki, and the like. Until then, let's secretly hope Chris Carter will win a big, wet, home-run-infused kiss from Jose Bautista. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

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