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Alex Speier

Why are power hitters still available?

Mark Trumbo remains unsigned despite hitting 47 home runs last season.AP

By all accounts, it’s been a strange offseason for sluggers. A glut of power-hitting options hit the market in the same offseason, in a way that has 30- and 40-homer hitters twisting in a state of uncertainty about their next contracts.

The 2016 leaders in homers from both leagues are unsigned. Mark Trumbo, who launched 47 longballs for the Orioles, is still waiting for a deal, and Chris Carter likewise sits in limbo after having been *released* by the Brewers following a 41-homer campaign, with none of baseball’s 30 teams having been interested in paying him whatever salary he would have received in arbitration (projected by MLBTradeRumors.com at just over $8 million).


Shi Davidi and Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet offered a thoughtful examination of why the industry is valuing home runs differently now than in the past.

Nick Cafardo likewise examined why it’s taken so long for the market for power hitters to develop.

At its heart, the answer is simple: Power isn’t the most important factor in determining whether teams score runs. Players with poorly distributed skill sets such as Trumbo and Carter – both of whom feature immense power, but posted on-base percentages that were roughly league average and below-average defense – do not contribute to the most vital area that defines winning and losing.

Trumbo’s Orioles led the majors in homers last year by an enormous margin, mashing 253 longballs. Yet their offense was pedestrian for the season, ranking seventh in the 15-team American League in runs scored. As Baltimore’s on-base percentage plummeted in the second half, they had the second-worst offense in the AL following the All-Star break, even though they led the league in homers during that span.

The Rays likewise hit a ton of homers in 2016 but featured a terrible offense. The reason isn’t complicated. Tampa Bay did a terrible job of getting on base. Despite hitting the fourth most homers in the AL, they scored the second fewest runs in the AL in a year when they ranked second worst in the league in on-base percentage.


Building an offense
2016 American League team offensive ranks
Team Runs Rank HR Rank OBP Rank
Red Sox 1 7 1
Indians 2 10 4
Mariners 3 2 5
Rangers 4 5 6
Blue Jays 5 3 3
Tigers 6 6 2
Orioles 7 1 9
Astros 8 9 8
Twins 9 8 11
Angels 10 14 7
White Sox 11 13 10
Yankees 12 11 12
Royals 13 15 13
Rays 14 4 14
Athletics 15 12 15
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference.com

In an era where everyone is once again hitting homers – a record 111 players hit 20 or more homers in 2016 – home runs do not an offense define. A look at American League ranks in runs scored, homers, and on-base percentage in 2016 shows a moderate relationship between a team’s rank in runs scored and homers hit (a .50 correlation coefficient, for those keeping score at home) and a nearly perfect relationship between where a team’s on-base percentage ranked and its ranking in runs scored (a .91 correlation coefficient).

In each of the last four years, there’s been a sizable gap in on-base percentage over homers in their relationship to runs scored. Teams are aware of this, and so the presence of the major league leaders in homers on the open market is greeted with a collective ho-hum given their lack of skills around that one singular trait. The result has been a slow-developing market for sluggers, which promises to become increasingly uncomfortable for mashers as the days until spring training dwindle.

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on twitter at @alexspeier.