Apparently this is going to be a depressing annual series.
Last season, I wrote a post with the same headline (OK, different year) in early July, noting that Adam LaRoche’s claim to that title was in jeopardy. His power numbers had slowed, but he was also the subject of low-boil trade rumors, so his production could have stalled for reasons beyond his control. Then I followed up in September because LaRoche was still around with a fork sticking out of his back and stuck in a three-way tie with 12.
Adam Eaton ended up walking off with it, outhomering Avisail Garcia 2-1 down the stretch. LaRoched stalled at 12 with Melky Cabrera climbing up to join him.
Anyway, the Todd Frazier acquisition was supposed to solve this problem, because even if it was open to debate, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Maybe Frazier only gets to 20-25 homers, but perhaps a surprising season by Garcia or Brett Lawrie threatens him. Imagine a pleasant surprise with no strings attached.
Alas, Frazier is fine, at least in this department. He’s already at 30 homers, putting him on pace for 45, even if he’s lacking in other forms of production (the .141 average with runners in scoring position is bizarre).
Instead, Jose Abreu is making us sad this time. He went homerless over the last month, allowing us to say "Anthony Ranaudo outhomered Jose Abreu in July." It’s been 136 plate appearances since his last dinger, over which he’s hitting. 274/.326/.339 with eight doubles. As Josh pointed out, there really isn’t a pitch he can hammer anymore. He only has one deep fly ball to left over this time; the fattest pitches now end up foul balls down the right field line.
Since Abreu homers now register as newsworthy events, and he’s not even second on the team anymore, it’s time to raise the question once again. It’s worth noting that that when we debated this topic last July, only 2 percent (six out of 325) of respondents thought Eaton would win it. Don’t be afraid to be bold. This team demands strange, troublesome expectations.
In order of home runs:
Brett Lawrie (12 homers)
Case for: He’s currently in second, and it’s not a fluke, as his percentages of pulling and flies are at full-season highs for his career, while his isolated power is within the boundaries of his previous two seasons. He’s never hit more than 16 homers in a season, but the ingredients are there for a new best this season. He’s the safest bet in terms of profile and approach.
Case against: He’s on the disabled list with a strained hamstring that isn’t recovering as quickly as those closest to the situation assumed. He’s been injury-prone over his career, so if that one doesn’t resurface, a different one could drag him down. He could also get more days off in September if the Sox want to figure out what Carlos Sanchez can do once and for all.
Jose Abreu (11 homers)
Case for: It’s pretty much entirely with his track record. He hit 66 homers over his first two years, and he's supposedly healthy, even if it looks like there’s something hampering him.
Case against: He was outhomered by Anthony Ranaudo in July.
Melky Cabrera (eight homers)
Case for: He’s second on the team in slugging, and by a comfortable margin (Abreu and Lawrie are tied at .413). He’s maintained his productivity throughout the season with no signs of slowing down, and his production is well within his career averages. He hit 12 homers during a down year last year, so it stands to reason that 15 is possible.
Case against: Unlike Lawrie, he doesn’t sell out for them. He’s content spraying line drives to the opposite gap, which is aesthetically pleasing and good for sustaining a .307 average, but disappointing for socking dingers.
Adam Eaton (eight homers)
Case for: He finished second in homers last season when
nobody six people saw that coming, and his 2015 power is still there, as evidenced by the longest homer of his career in Minnesota and an improvement on his homer/fly rate. He gets more plate appearances than the rest of the team, and if the team again limps into September, he might have more reason to air it out.
Case against: He negates some of the plate-appearance advantage with his bunt attempts, as he’s already tried more of them in 2016 (19) than he did last year (17). It’s possible that the surge was attributable to hitting behind Tim Anderson instead of ahead of him. Nevertheless, his groundball-to-flyball rate has returned closer to its 2014 level, when Eaton put just one out of the park.
Avisail Garcia (eight homers)
Case for: He hit 900 feet of homers in one game against Detroit, a jarring reminder of just how strong he is. He leads the full-season players in hard contact, and his overall plate discipline is improved, even if not nearly enough to give him a successful identity yet. Anybody who challenges his playing time mysteriously comes down with a case of murder.
Case against: Too much of that hard contact doesn’t get in the air. His ground-ball rate has risen to 53.5 percent, up from 48.8 percent last year, which neutralizes his improved homer/fly rate. He isn’t going to play as much as the other candidates, even if he still gets regular looks.
Tim Anderson (five homers)
Case for: He has home-run power, especially in U.S. Cellular Field. He gets the second-most plate appearances on the team, and he’ll probably get as many reps as possible over the last two months.
Case against: The league seems to be catching up to Anderson, who is hitting .230/.230/.246 with one double, zero walks and 15 strikeouts since his last homer. He also has a higher ground-ball rate than Garcia, so between his approach and the growing pains that make it tough to elevate the ball to the pull field against MLB pitching, it’s an uphill climb. I really only mentioned him to get to ...
Justin Morneau (three homers)
Case for: He’s hitting 260/.327/.480 over his first 15 games, and he’s somebody you want to see at the plate. He’s already matched last year’s home run total with the Rockies, and the swing is good for it when you look at his spray chart. Early success against lefties (and a lack of compelling options otherwise) will likely mean more at-bats than he was supposed to receive. Also, think about how perfect it would be if Morneau hit 15 homers. You know, that he would’ve been the perfect addition for the stretch drive and somehow it just didn’t matter.
Case against: He hasn’t reached 20 homers in a full season since his concussion problems, so asking for 13-15 homers over two months is quite a stretch. The late start likely dooms him, especially if Lawrie comes back sooner rather than later.