Here's why Giants' HR pace is unprecedented

August 20th, 2021

The Giants have arguably been the biggest surprise in baseball this season. San Francisco entered play Friday with MLB's best record to go along with a 2 1/2-game division lead over the defending World Series champion Dodgers, who have won the National League West in each of the last eight years.

Though they've been a surprise in nearly every facet of the game, perhaps the most surprising area in which the Giants have excelled in 2021 is the power department -- they're leading the National League and second in the Majors with 181 home runs this season (the Blue Jays have hit 183 with five different players at 20 or more homers, led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s 35).

While you'd normally expect a team leading the league in homers to have at least one player with 30 or more by this point in the season or on pace for 30 or more, San Francisco isn't even close -- the club's home run leader is Brandon Crawford, who has 19 (the recently acquired Kris Bryant has 21 for the season, but three with the Giants so far).

Yet it's mid-August and these 2021 Giants have already hit more homers than they hit during all of the 2019 season (167). They're on pace to set a franchise record for homers in a season -- and remember, they had this guy named Barry Bonds, who hit 73 by himself in 2001, when the club hit 235 overall to set the franchise mark.

That the Giants don't have anyone with even 20 homers to this point in the season isn't exactly shocking, though. San Francisco hasn't had a player with 30 or more home runs in a season since all the way back in 2004, when Bonds hit 45. To put things into perspective, every team in the Majors except for the Giants, Marlins and Tigers had a 30-plus-home run hitter in 2019. Detroit last had one as recently as '16, while the Marlins had Giancarlo Stanton hit 59 in '17.

But with San Francisco near the very top of baseball in home runs so far in '21, it could very well end up with the team home run crown despite having no players hit 30 or more during the season.

Not counting seasons shortened due to a pandemic or strike, that hasn't happened in 35 years -- the last team to do it was the 1986 Tigers, for whom Darrell Evans led the lineup with 29 homers. How did that year's Detroit club do it? Well, it had six different players hit at least 20 homers. In addition to Evans, there was Kirk Gibson (28), Lance Parrish (22), Alan Trammell (21), Darnell Coles (20) and Lou Whitaker (20).

As for the Giants, their home run output up and down the lineup could look very similar when this season is over. Entering Friday, here is the breakdown of Giants hitters with at least 10 homers on the season:

Brandon Crawford: 19
Mike Yastrzemski: 18
Brandon Belt: 16
Buster Posey: 15
Wilmer Flores: 15
LaMonte Wade Jr.: 15
Alex Dickerson: 13
Darin Ruf: 13
Evan Longoria: 10

There's a big name missing from that list because he's only hit three homers for the Giants this season. But that isn't his fault since he was busy launching 18 for the Cubs before being traded to San Francisco last month. Bryant only enhances the Giants' chances at leading the Majors in homers this season as he tries to help the club in the pennant chase down the stretch.

One big reason the Giants are leading the NL West and have a chance to lead baseball in homers is the rejuvenation of Buster Posey. The veteran catcher's power has returned after he sat out the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Posey has returned to something close to his 2012 NL MVP form -- his 15 homers this season are more than he hit in 2018 and '19 combined (12). That goes along with a .322/.416/.536 slash line (155 OPS+).

Then there's Brandon Crawford, who is putting together the best offensive season of his career with a .902 OPS and 19 homers to go along with his customary stellar defense at shortstop. Brandon Belt is hitting home runs at a more frequent rate than ever, averaging one every 13 at-bats this season (16 homers in 208 at-bats in an injury-shortened campaign thus far).

The Giants have also seen strong returns from some under-the-radar moves they made the past two offseasons, such as acquiring Wade from the Twins and signing Ruf prior to last season after he spent three seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization.

Wade, who hadn't played in more than 26 games in a season prior to this year, has been a significant power threat, with 15 homers in 214 at-bats (averaging a homer every 14.3 at-bats). And Ruf, who was known to be a power threat but struggled at the plate with the Phillies from 2014-16, has resurrected his career with a .919 OPS and 18 homers in 129 games since joining San Francisco.

When you add all of that together, it all starts to make sense. What's interesting, though, is that Oracle Park has been one of the toughest places to hit home runs over the years. According to Statcast park factors, Oracle Park and Kauffman Stadium have been the two most difficult venues in which to put a ball over the fence over the past three seasons.

While it may be a head-scratcher in that sense, the homer-happy lineup helps when we ask ourselves a question that has certainly crossed many minds these past few months: How are the Giants doing this?

They aren't exactly strangers to bucking the trend -- San Francisco's World Series titles in 2010, '12 and '14 were all eyebrow-raising for the baseball world given their respective rosters on paper. The question in 2021 is: Will the Giants begin a new odd-year run?

Their odd penchant for homers throughout the lineup certainly doesn't hurt their chances.