With Statcast, the Baseball-Reference Play Index, and an unprecedented density of media outlets covering everything from prospects to fantasy, we know more about baseball now than we’ve ever known at any point in history. But we still don’t know everything.
Nowhere is that more evident than on the MLB home run leaderboard. At this moment, there are 20 players with at least 17 home runs in 2017, some foreseeable, others surprising. So in order to see just how surprising, let’s rank them in order of how shocked you’d have been to see these names before the season.
20. The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins (17)
19. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals (17)
The one thing everyone knows about TMGS is he hits dingers. Big dingers, line drive dingers, dingers that result in property damage, even the odd patriotic dinger.
Less surprising than Stanton’s place on this list is that thanks to nagging injuries, his career high in home runs is only 37. He’ll pass that with room to spare if he finishes out 2017 at this pace.
Harper’s working on his second career .600 SLG season — the other was 2015, when he hit 42 home runs and won the MVP award — and his power’s been a given since he was a teenager. It’d be more surprising if Harper weren’t in the top 20 in home runs.
18. Khris Davis, Oakland A’s (18)
17. Jay Bruce, New York Mets (18)
Sure, he’s the second-most-famous power-hitting Khris/Chris Davis in baseball, and he plays in a pitcher’s park, but Oakland’s Khris Davis hit 42 homers last year. That matches Harper’s career high and beats the career highs for TMGS, Manny Machado, Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, and Kris Bryant.
For as much mileage as I’ve gotten out of mocking the Mets for trading for Bruce, power has never been an issue for the 30-year-old Texan. Bruce hasn’t posted league-average defensive numbers in left field since 2015 and hasn’t posted a league-average OBP since 2013, but he hit 33 home runs last year, and has hit 30 or more home runs in four of the past six seasons. If he was in the lineup six days a week, there was always a decent shot he’d end up on this list.
16. George Springer, Houston Astros (19)
15. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds (19)
Springer and Votto are both established power hitters, though not on the scale of TMGS and Harper. Between the two of them, Springer and Votto have one 30-homer season (Votto’s MVP campaign in 2010), but both play in hitters’ parks and wouldn’t surprise anyone if a hot streak got them on the home run leaderboard.
14. Justin Bour, Miami Marlins (17)
Bour has never hit more than 23 home runs in his career, but he’s also never qualified for a batting title. He’s 6-foot-3, 265 pounds, posted an average ISO of .215 in 2015 and 2016, and has more home runs per plate appearance over his career than Bryant, Trout, Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera, and Edwin Encarnación. But nobody knows who he is because he’s the seventh-most-famous position player on a team that’s going to lose 90 games this year.
13. Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers (18)
We’ve known Gallo had this kind of potential ever since the Truck Incident of 2014.
That photo is from batting practice at the Futures Game, where Gallo hit a ball over the right-field seats at Target Field and onto the concourse. The question always was whether he’d make enough contact to get regular at-bats in the major leagues. Considering that he’s hitting .194, there are still questions about his ability to make contact, if not what happens once he does make contact. But in the past year, the Rangers have lost Mitch Moreland to free agency, Prince Fielder to retirement, and — for the first two months of the season — Adrián Beltré to injury, so as long as Gallo’s slugging .500, he can flirt with hitting .200 and still find time at an infield corner.
12. Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins (18)
Three of the top 20 home run hitters in baseball this year are Marlins, which is wild. Ozuna has never hit more than 23 in a season, but at 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds with three 20-plus-double seasons under his belt, he’s always had the potential to hit for more power.
11. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers (19)
10. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees (23)
Bellinger’s power is so immense, it doesn’t matter what else he does. With 19 home runs in 188 at-bats, Bellinger is hitting more home runs per at-bat than Ryan Howard did when he hit 58 homers in 2006. Like Gallo, Bellinger needed an injury to open up playing time for him, but unlike Gallo, we’d never seen the power play in the majors before.
As for Judge, it’s not surprising how he’s hitting so many home runs. Just looking at him, you can tell that he can hit the ball harder and farther than anyone else in baseball; 41.1 percent of Judge’s fly balls have turned into home runs this year, which beats no. 2 Bour by 7 percentage points. What’s surprising is that a player who hit .179/.263/.345 last year is getting enough playing time this season to put up this kind of home run total.
9. Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals (18)
For most of his career, Moustakas has not been a good hitter, although his best two offensive seasons heading into this year came in 2015 and during an injury-shortened 2016 campaign, when he posted a 110 wRC+ in 113 PA. Moustakas’s reputation as a defense-first player probably doesn’t do him justice from a power perspective — he has two 20-homer seasons, after all — but he burst on the scene in 2014 as the little guy hitting seventh and eighth for a Royals team that finished dead last in the majors in home runs. And here he is, a hot week and a half from setting a new career high in home runs by the end of June.
Moustakas had a leg up on Bellinger, Gallo, and most of the players ahead of him on this list in that he was almost guaranteed to get at least 500 plate appearances this year, but “Mike Moustakas is in the top 10 in home runs” is nevertheless a tough sentence to get your face around this late in the season.
8. Ryon Healy, Oakland A’s (17)
7. Scott Schebler, Cincinnati Reds (18)
Healy’s even less of a known quantity than Bour, but he offers a similar profile: He’s a big dude (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) who hit 13 home runs and posted a .219 ISO in 283 PA as a rookie last year. Even so, Healy never hit more than 16 home runs in any of his four minor league seasons.
Schebler also got a half season’s worth of big league playing time last year and hit nine home runs. But he was a 26th-round pick without much fanfare; if you hadn’t been big on the Reds last year, it would’ve been very easy to enter this season with no idea who Schebler was. The 2017 Baseball Prospectus annual says he is “stretched in center field but fine in either corner” and “might have occasional contact issues.” I’m a sucker for this kind of profile — an athletic corner outfielder with power — and it fits about 80 percent of the position player prospects I’ve looked stupid for falling irrationally in love with. [Looks longingly down to A-ball at Brandon Downes of the Royals and David Martinelli of the Phillies.] It would also, if not for team necessity pushing them to center full-time, describe Springer and Ozuna to a certain extent.
6. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals (19)
5. Eric Thames, Milwaukee Brewers (20)
4. Mark Reynolds, Colorado Rockies (17)
The unknown can be only so surprising. Healy and Schebler — and Bour too, to a certain extent — didn’t have much of a track record, but what the hell: they’re young guys with some pop, so maybe they’d run into a few meatballs and put together a good first half. In March, we didn’t know what to expect from Schebler, but we had years of data on Zimmerman that specifically told us not to expect this.
There was a time when Zimmerman was a star, a player worth 13.5 wins in 2009 and 2010 combined. Then he missed two months with a torn abdominal muscle in 2011, and in 2012 his shoulder started to give out. He altered his throwing motion to compensate, missed more than 200 games from 2014 to 2016, and moved off third base — where he was once one of the league’s premier defenders — for good. Last year, Zimmerman hit just .218/.272/.370 in 467 plate appearances. We have a term for first basemen who post a 68 OPS+ at age 31 after five years of battling a degenerative injury: washed up.
And here Zimmerman is, slugging .672, despite coming out of a textbook six-year decline, and despite never being a huge power hitter to begin with: His career high in home runs is 33, and that’s the only time he’s ever broken 30.
Thames never did that well in his first stint in the big leagues: He hit .250/.296/.431 in 181 games over 2011 and 2012. But there are two things keeping Thames from the no. 1 spot on this list: First, on Saturday, he lost his jersey after a walk-off home run, exposing some serious home run–producing muscles:
Second, Thames is only back in the majors because he went to Korea for three years and hit like Barry Bonds, including a .381/.497/.790 campaign in 2015. The Brewers bet $16 million on the possibility that he’d have some non-Bonds-like-but-still-productive years after returning to the United States, and they appear to be winning that bet.
Reynolds, however, doesn’t make any sense. Yeah, he hit 44 home runs in 2009, the highest single-season mark of any player on this list. (Nobody in the top 20 in home runs this year has led the major leagues in home runs before.) But that was eight years ago, an eternity in baseball terms: Andy Pettitte started a game against Pedro Martínez in the World Series that year. And sure, Reynolds still has power, and sure, he’s playing in Coors, and sure, he was a league-average hitter last year, but he had 441 plate appearances with the Rockies in 2016 and hit only 14 home runs. Reynolds has 17 now in less than two-thirds as many plate appearances. And that’s leaving aside that with an infield of Ian Desmond, DJ LeMahieu, Trevor Story, and Nolan Arenado all but locked in, the Rockies weren’t supposed to have this many at-bats to give Reynolds anyway.
3. Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays (21)
2. Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays (19)
1. Yonder Alonso, Oakland A’s (17)
Back in 2010 and 2011, LoMo was the Marlins’ left fielder of the future, the bookend to TMGS. He posted a .390 OBP as a rookie, then hit 23 home runs as a sophomore. It looked like he had a little bit of Melvin Upton’s Disease: He could get on base or hit for power, but not both at the same time. Since then, he’s been below replacement level three times, bouncing around the league as such a prototypical quad-A DH the biggest shock is that he’s never played for the Orioles. And here he is, two homers from tying his career high on June 19. The difference between someone like Healy and someone like Morrison — both big, strong guys who’d shown some power but never this much — is that LoMo had more than 10 times as many big league plate appearances as Healy coming into this season. We knew he didn’t have this in him. Or so we thought.
The same goes for Smoak and Alonso, who both went in the first half of the first round in 2008 as college first basemen and wound up constituting a pretty good object lesson in why it’s a bad idea to draft college first basemen in the first round. Smoak slugged .757 as a college junior in 2008 and was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Cliff Lee from Seattle to Texas in 2010, and then his development stalled thanks to wrist injuries, personal tragedy, and being in Seattle at a time when the Mariners were like one of those railway-laying machines, but for turning elite college hitters into replacement-level players. On the eve of this season, 38.5 percent of respondents to the Ringer MLB Show prop bet game said Smoak would have fewer RBI this year than Josh Donaldson would have home runs. (Smoak currently leads 45 to eight.) This is only the third time in eight seasons Smoak has slugged even .400. His next home run will tie his career high.
But that’s nothing compared to Alonso, who’s been a top-10 pick, a top-50 prospect, and a component in trades for Mat Latos and Drew Pomeranz. He’s played 724 career games, almost all of them at first base, and for a player with that positional profile and that much experience, his lack of power until now is staggering. Heading into this season, Alonso’s career high in home runs was nine. Smoak and others are making us pull our hair out for almost matching their career highs in home runs by mid-June; Alonso’s almost doubled his.
Headed into this year, Alonso had 39 home runs in 2,343 plate appearances. Since 1947, only one other player, Daric Barton, had taken at least 2,000 PA and played 85 percent of his games at first base in his first seven seasons while hitting fewer home runs. And now Alonso, an acolyte of the Church of the Fly Ball, has as many home runs as TMGS.
We definitely don’t know everything about baseball yet.