How Important Are Home Runs?


For the most part, home runs are considered an integral part of any offense.  They are fan favorites, they are exciting, and they instantly spark a team.  But overall, how important are they to a team’s success?  This, of course, is an important question for the San Diego Padres.  They don’t hit many home runs and must rely on other methods for scoring runs.

To determine the importance of home runs in regards to wins, we must understand the number of possibilities for scoring runs.  I’m not going to run through them all because the number of ways to score is staggering.  Take for example the number of ways to score just from third base.  There are 25.  Home runs are just one way to score.  Let’s take a look at the home run figures for teams from last season as opposed to wins.

Wins – Green    HR – Blue

While it’s clear there is some correlation between home runs and wins, the line chart shows the negative correlation isn’t that great until you get down to 100 or less home runs.  Even as the home run totals are dipping, there is a spike in wins at the middle of the chart.  Teams can win games without relying on home runs.

Here are the 2011 HR and Wins totals for each team:

While teams like the Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Brewers had a clear relationship between home runs and wins, teams like Baltimore, Cincinnati, Colorado, Florida, and Chicago (NL) did not see their home runs equate to wins.  However, as teams dip below 150 home runs, the number of wins start dropping drastically.  In fact, only two out of twelve teams with home runs totals under 150 had winning records.

If we figure 150 as the magic number, home runs start to lose meaning.  What I mean is, after a team reaches 150 home runs in the season, the correlation between home runs and wins is far less.  Of the 18 teams with 150 or more homes, 11 had winning records, but only the Yankees saw the number of home runs they hit truly impact how many games above .500 they were.  Below is the comparison of teams who hit over 150 home runs and how many games over .500 they were.

Only three teams hit over 200 home runs.  Each of them were over .500, but to varying degrees.  The Yankees were 16 games over, the Rangers 15, but the Red Sox only 9 over.  Then, as you move down the list, you have up and down figures for number of games above or below .500.

Based on these results, while using only one year’s data may be limiting, it seems teams need not focus on hitting as many home runs as the Yankees or Red Sox.  They simply need to focus on reaching the magical 150 home run mark.  Once they make it there, they have a much better shot at being over .500.

Unfortunately for the Padres, that may be an improbable task.  They have hit 150 or more home runs just three times since moving to Petco Park.  Two out of three of those times have corresponded with winning seasons though.  The Padres will either have to replicate the teams that could rack up those home run totals, or they need to be the anomaly of the league in this category.  They need to score runs without the long ball.

It can be done, but it’s difficult.