clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Home Run Chase - Part Deux

19 years after the original home run chase, we may again become witnesses to it.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Miami Marlins
Mkie Trout hits a homer
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In 1998, the U.S. was still recovering from MLB’s work stoppage four years earlier. The sport, though still popular amongst loyal fans, was failing at drawing new crowds and piquing the interest of the masses. Then, something magical happened that summer.

Right in the middle of what was yet to be known as the infamous P.E.D. era, two monstrous sluggers aimed to surpass a record that had yet to be broken: Roger Maris’ season home run record. Thus, the home run chase was born.

From April to September, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battled each other. The first would homer on any given day, and the second would tie and pass him on the next. Back and forth they went without giving ground. In fact, this is what the race looked like:

McGwire vs Sosa HR Chase - 1998
Data from Retrosheet.org

Thus, the ‘98 season ended with McGwire anointing himself as the new HR season king, having mashed 70 dingers, while Sosa ended with 4 less. Their season lines ended:

McGwire and Sosa 1998 stats

Player PA HR SLG ISO wOBA PA/HR
Player PA HR SLG ISO wOBA PA/HR
Mark McGwire 681 70 .752 .454 .492 9.7
Sammy Sosa 722 66 .647 .339 .425 10.9
Total 1403 136 -- -- -- 10.3
McGwire - Sosa season stats Data from Fangraphs.com

19 years later, thanks to a rookie phenom and two of the best player of our generation, we may become spectators to the rebooted version of the iconic chase. As of this writing, we are past the quarter mark of the season and Mike Trout and Aaron Judge lead the league with 16 HRs, followed closely by Bryce Harper at 15. If we compare their bashing prowess to that of McGwire and Sosa, we get the following graph:

McGwire and Sosa vs Judge, Harper, and Trout HR race
Data from Retrosheet.org and MLB GameDay

At this point in the season, Judge and Trout are almost at the same point that McGwire was during the ‘98 season. Harper’s performance is a little behind Mac’s. Nevertheless, the three of them are outperforming Sosa’s numbers and could may as well compete for the title of Home Run King.

So far, these are the numbers they are putting up:

Judge, Harper, Trout 2017 stats (5/28)

Player PA HR SLG ISO wOBA PA/HR
Player PA HR SLG ISO wOBA PA/HR
Aaron Judge 183 16 .665 .348 .450 11.4
Bryce Harper 199 15 .675 .337 .457 13.3
Mike Trout 203 16 .752 .410 .483 12.7
Total 585 47 -- -- -- 12.4
Judge, Harper, and Trout 5/28/2017 Stats Data from Fangraphs.com

Despite being at a similar point as Mac was, neither of the three batters is up to par to Sosa or McGwire. Sure, Harper and Judge are superior sluggers to Sosa and Trout is slugging like McGwire - and almost like Barry Bonds - but on the PA/HR level, they’re lacking and in the end, that may be the stat that dooms their search for the crown.

Just in case, let’s take a look at ZiPs end of season projections for the three batters:

Judge, Harper, Trout 2017 projected stats

Player PA HR SLG ISO wOBA PA/HR
Player PA HR SLG ISO wOBA PA/HR
Aaron Judge 571 40 .510 .264 .353 14.3
Bryce Harper 629 38 .551 .260 .457 16.6
Mike Trout 657 42 .591 .290 .420 15.6
Total 1857 120 -- -- -- 15.5
Judge, Harper, and Trouts ZiPS projections. Trout’s projected rest of season stats have not been updated to consider his injury. Data from Fangraphs.com

Unfortunately, ZiPS is not big on either of the three sluggers surpassing McGwire or Sosa. Only Judge and Trout are projected to hit 40 - and even that is in jeopardy now that Trout will miss two months with an UCL tear in his thumb - or over while Harper would be two shy. Then again, projections are not a crystal ball into the future and the final outcome may be way off the intended mark - Hello 2015 Kansas City Royals.

With Trout effectively out of the race, this now becomes a competition between Judge and Harper. Should they challenge McGwire’s crown or not, a season home run race between these two batters would definitely be exciting and something to remember. Their ability to hit for power is awe-inspiring and, for this generation of fans at least, it will generate comparisons between 2017 and 1998. For those of us who happened to miss McGwire and Sosa’s battle, the competition between Judge and Harper will provide a pretty good proxy.

Martin Alonso writes for Beyond the Box Score and is contantly geeking out over Baseball and Star Wars. You can find him on Twitter at @martnar.