By Father Gabe Costa
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Mr. Michal Fiuk is By The Numbers’ guest blogger this week. As a student of sabermetrics, he takes a “modern look” at the relationship between teams’ home-run totals and how they fared on the diamond with respect to the more important statistic: games won.
Hitting a home run is one of, if not the, most exciting acts in baseball. It takes an unquestionable amount of power and skill, and can often turn the tide of games single-handedly. As the “Moneyball” analytical revolution showed us, however, the No. 1 concern for baseball teams offensively needs to be scoring runs in order to win games.
This seems like an obvious statement, but the on-base percentage vs. slugging percentage debate proved that even professional baseball teams can get caught up in the excitement and nostalgia surrounding certain parts of the game and forget their objectives. In light of this, we must ask ourselves if home-run hitting actually gives teams a better chance at victory. A home run obviously generates runs as quickly as possible from a given at-bat, but might it be the case that teams that strive for too many home runs actually hurt their overall run production? Could an unwarranted focus on hitting the long ball lead to too many strikeouts and stranded runners, so that it hurts — rather than helps — a team’s chances to win games?
We will look at 10 years of modern baseball era to answer this question. Hopefully by looking at the numbers during the 2000 to 2009 seasons, we will have some indication of whether or not home-run hitting teams are necessarily better off in terms of games won. The top five teams in both wins and home runs should have some overlap if home runs contribute to winning games, and there should be a strong correlation between the two. Correlation would not prove that focusing on home runs necessarily causes a team to win more, but it would certainly help the argument for the importance of hitting for power and the home run.
The modern era is also sometimes called the “long ball era” due to the prevalence of home-run hitting and overall power in the game. If we cannot make a compelling case for home-run hitting and its positive impact on a team’s ability to win games during this era, the argument is likely a moot point.
Below is a table of wins by year for every team in Major League Baseball. The five teams with the most wins have been highlighted. One special note is that the current Washington Nationals team includes a few years when they still played as the Montreal Expos, and has been annotated as such.
Below is the accompanying table that will help us answer our question. It shows the home run totals of every team for the same seasons as depicted above. The Washington Nationals are given the same treatment as above. (Their totals from the Montreal Expos years are included.)
With this conclusion, we broaden our analysis to see if it holds for the rest of the teams as well. To accomplish this we will attempt to find a simple correlation between home-run hitting and winning. Our “r-squared” statistic, an indication of correlation, is extremely high in this case: .99656. It is over 99 percent for all teams between 2000 and 2009 and points to the fact that hitting morehome runs is in fact correlated to winning. As the old adage goes, “correlation does not prove causation,” so we have only answered our question in part: home run hitting seems correlated to winning games, but does not necessarily cause it. It might be the case that teams that are talented overall offensively win many games and hit many home runs based on that fact. Their wins may not be due to a special focus on home-run hitting, as some may suggest.The fact that the New York Yankees are the only team common to both top fives immediately jumps out at the reader. Among the five teams with the most wins, only the Yankees were also in the top five of home-run hitting teams from 2000 to 2009. Now this does not prove anything in and of itself, but it does point to the fact that the most successful teams during the 2000s (the modern era) did not seem to rely heavily on home runs.
To some, the conclusion that home-run hitting is correlated with winning may seem obvious. But again, it is important to actually check the data. We have not proven that focusing on hitting more home runs will cause a team to win more — something that would require careful regression analysis — but we have shown that in general, teams that hit more home runs seem to win more. Rather than relying on traditional wisdom or “common sense,” a practice that often leads sports fans and analysts alike astray, we now have some numbers to back up the conclusion.
So what’s your take — Do more home runs directly correlate with more wins, or is that a fallacy? Sound off in the comments section below…