Research Inbox: Which birthday has the most HRs?

February 2nd, 2020

The Hall of Fame Class of 2020 was announced last week, we’ve seen a large majority of free agents sign and Spring Training is just around the corner. There’s no better time to answer a few overarching questions and set everybody up for the season ahead.

Here’s this week’s Research Inbox.

@BaseballBritish: Which birthday has the most home runs?

This was a fun one to look into, especially because I’m a self-professed birthday fan. First off, keep in mind that birthdays aren’t tracked all-time -- there are some players from the 1800s and early 1900s whose birthdays aren’t on record. Working with the recorded info, the birthday that has produced the most home runs is March 12.

Major League players born on March 12 have combined to hit 2,115 career homers, led by Dale Murphy’s 398. The birthday boasts two other 300-homer hitters as well: Darryl Strawberry (335) and Steve Finley (304). However, only one player who appeared in a game in 2019 was born on that date: Cole Sulser, a pitcher who played one game for the Rays, so don’t look for the day to gain many homers in 2020.

Jan. 7 is in second place, led by Edwin Encarnación and his 414 career homers. Given that he is active, it’s likely that Jan. 7 could overtake March 12 this season. Other active players with that birthday include Ozzie Albies and Tucker Barnhart, not to mention Jon Lester and his three career homers.

@AllenLinton2: Are pitcher pickoff attempts going up or down over time?

There were 0.07 pickoffs per team game in 2019, which is where we’ve seen them plateau in recent years. Overall, they’ve gone down -- there were 0.08 per team game in 2015 and 0.09 per team game in 2012. The last time there were 0.1 per team game or more was in 1997.

That’s pickoffs -- not the attempts. Pickoff throw tracking goes back to 1995. The 14,971 pickoff throws by pitchers in 2019 were the fewest in any season in that span. The highest total in that span was in 1998, when there were 23,781 pickoff throws by pitchers.

The biggest thing to highlight here is how stolen bases have gone down, too. There were 0.47 stolen bases per team game in 2019, the lowest such rate since 1971, when there were 0.46. As recently as 2009, there were 0.61 stolen bases per team game. There’s less of a running game to control, therefore, there are fewer pickoffs and attempts.

@BowTieRosenthal: Can you adjust Derek Jeter’s career WAR if he possessed Andrelton Simmons' defense (at least through Simmons' current age)? Thanks Sarah!

One part of Baseball-Reference’s WAR is runs from fielding, which can then be translated to wins. Since Simmons just completed his age-29 season, we can take his career fielding runs (198) and substitute them for Jeter’s fielding runs through the same age (-100). The result is an additional 26.3 WAR for Jeter -- in just his first nine seasons.

As it stands, Jeter’s 40.5 WAR through his age-29 season is 84th all time among position players. The leader is Ty Cobb, at 86.4. If we add the 26.3 additional WAR, Jeter would’ve had 66.8 WAR through his age-29 season. That would’ve made him 16th among position players on that list, just ahead of Barry Bonds’ 66.4 and behind Willie Mays and Eddie Mathews’ 68.3.

Of course, substituting in Simmons’ runs from fielding is pretty much just adding in greatness: Simmons' number ranks second all time through age 29, behind only Andruw Jones -- and therefore first among infielders.

Even without projecting Simmons’ future defense and swapping that for Jeter’s additional -143 fielding runs after age 29, Jeter’s career WAR would jump to 98.7, putting him just behind Albert Pujols for 21st all time among position players. As it stands now with his actual numbers, Jeter's 72.4 career WAR has him 58th all time on that list, just behind Mike Trout at 72.5.

A hat tip to Tom Tango here for his help with the calculations and mathematical logic.

@christantonacci: The World Series has been clinched by a road team in each of the last six seasons. Is that the longest streak in World Series history?

The last time a home team clinched the World Series was in 2013, when the Red Sox did at Fenway Park. This current stretch is tied for the longest such streak in World Series history: the 1954-59 World Series were also clinched on the road.

Road wins were a theme throughout the 2019 World Series. Including the series-clinching Game 7 road win for the Nats, road teams have won nine straight World Series games, which is the longest streak in postseason history. The last time a home team won a World Series game? Game 3 in 2018, when the Dodgers walked off against the Red Sox on Max Muncy’s home run. That game, as you’ll recall, took a mere 18 innings.

@ruddofficial: How many times has a postseason team won a game with three hits or fewer (ex. 2012 NLDS Game 3, Giants)?

The Giants headed into Game 3 in the 2012 NLDS down 2-0, needing a win to avoid being eliminated from postseason play. San Francisco prevailed in the game despite just three hits, winning in the 10th inning in Cincinnati after a run scored on a Scott Rolen error.

That game was the 17th time in postseason history that a team had won a game with three or fewer hits. It’s happened five times since, putting the overall total at 22. It’s only happened seven times in the World Series, though, with the most recent being the Braves’ win over the Indians in Game 1 of the 1995 World Series.

There have been just two games in postseason history where a team won with just one hit: Game 4 of the 1974 ALCS, when the A’s beat the Orioles thanks in part to a Reggie Jackson double, and Game 4 of the 1947 World Series, when the Dodgers beat the Yankees on Cookie Lavagetto’s walk-off double.