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The Rise of the Solo HR, and other myths

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MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In yesterday’s, crazy, wild, entertaining, and ultimately frustrating and disappointing 13-12 loss, Bryce Harper hit his 10th home run of the season. It was also his 10th solo home run, making a bit of history:

It tied the Phillies franchise record, set by Fred Luderus in 1914, for most solo home runs to start the season. The major league record is 17, by Felipe Alou of the 1966 Braves.

Myth 1: Harper only hits solo HRs

This is a small sample fluke. Since signing here in 2019, even including his odd start to the season this year, he has still hit home runs more often with men on base, than with the bases empty:

Bases empty: 31 HR in 641 PAs, or 31.4 per 650
With men on: 27 HR in 506 PAs, or 34.7 per 650 (10% more)

A follow-up question might be whether MLB hitters typically hit more HRs with men on (because the pitcher is more likely to be running into trouble, for example). The answer is no, across MLB home runs are hit at a slightly higher rate with the bases empty: 20.8 per 650 with the bases empty, vs. 20.0 with men on base.

Related Myth 2: Harper is not clutch

Statistically “clutch” is how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than they do overall. But when fans typically talk about clutch, it’s not relative to a player’s average performance, but simply coming through and helping a team win. This is measured by Win Probability Added, and over Harper’s time in Philly since 2019, these are the MLB leaders:

In other words over these three seasons only three hitters across MLB have had a bigger impact on their teams’ chances of winning a game, than Harper has.

Myth 3: The Rise of the Solo HR

Circling back to solo home runs, there seems to be a perception that most homers nowadays are solo shots, or at least that the percentage that are solo is a lot higher than it used to be.

This sounds plausible — if you think there are fewer hits and therefore (since walks haven’t gone up) fewer baserunners, and we know there are more homers than there used to be. So it stands to reason that a higher proportion of homers today would be with the bases empty. But that’s not the case.

Below are HRs per 650 PA across MLB, in situations with the bases empty, compared to situations with men on base. There was some separation during the PED era, but otherwise they remain in lock step:

Here is the percentage of all homers that are solo shots, over time.

If we zoom way in, there’s evidence of some slight trending up over time, although it’s fallen back to the 50+ year average the last two years.

The average since 1969 has been 57.4%. In 2020 it was 57.5%. This year, 57.6%:

As for the Phillies, 44 of their 78 home runs so far have been solo shots, or 56.4%. That’s just below the MLB average, even with Harper’s record-tying 10.

Interestingly, the Phillies are also...

  • #30 in MLB in the percentage of their homers that are 2-run HRs
  • #1 in MLB in the percentage that are 3-run HRs
  • also #1 in the combined percentage that are 3-run HRs or grand slams

Til next time...

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source: baseball-reference.com and Stathead