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Both 33 and 41<42

October 17, 2021

Hugh Atkins

According to many reporters, in 2021 two players set new records for the most home runs in a season at their respective positions. Catcher Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals hit 48 home runs, besting the 45 John Bench hit for the Cincinnati Reds in 1970, and second baseman Marcus Semien of the Toronto Blue Jays clubbed 45 homers, topping the 43 Dave Johnson hit for the Atlanta Braves in 1973. But did Perez and Semien really set new records?

Baseball Almanac maintains lists of various home run records. In the section dealing with most home runs in a season at each position, they explain that the totals on their list are based on the position the batter was playing immediately before he hit his home runs. Not only is this a logical approach, but it is also the only accurate method for arriving at these totals.

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Let’s look at the record for most home runs in a season by a catcher. Perez hit 33 homers in at-bats in which his last defensive position was catcher, while his other 15 home runs came as a designated hitter.

Now, let’s apply the same standard to Bench’s 45 home runs. Bench hit 38 homers as a catcher, five as a left fielder, one as a first baseman, and one as a right fielder. Since 33 is fewer than 38, Perez did not set a new record. But that’s not the end of the story.

Javy López of the Braves hit 43 home runs in 2003, 42 as a catcher and one as a pinch hitter; therefore he, not Perez or Bench, holds the record for most home runs is a season by a catcher.

Moving on to the record for most home runs in a season by a second baseman, Semien hit 41 homers in at-bats in which his last defensive position was second base, while his other four home runs came as a shortstop.

Johnson hit 42 homers as a second baseman in 1973 and one as a pinch hitter. Since 41 is fewer than 42, Semien did not set a new record. But once again, that’s not the end of this story.

Rogers Hornsby of the St. Louis Cardinals hit 42 homers in 1922, all as a second baseman; therefore, he held the record until Johnson tied his mark in 1973. Even though Semien had a remarkable year at the plate, Hornsby and Johnson still share the record for most home runs in a season by a second baseman.

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So why did so much of the media report that Perez and Semien set new single-season home run records for their positions? The explanation lies in a September 20 article on MLB.com by Anne Rogers in which she stated that Perez passed Bench “for the most home runs in a season by a primary catcher (at least 75% of games).” That standard is not only arbitrary, but it is also inaccurate. Worse, Rogers failed even to mention López in her article.

To further show how absurd it is to use any other standard than the actual quantifiable total, Perez did not even hit 75% of his home runs as a catcher (33/48=68.8); while irrelevant, Semien (91.1%) and Bench (84.4%) each were over 75%.

It is not my intention to diminish the accomplishments of Perez and Semien; they each hit a lot of home runs this season, no matter what position they were playing. But when reporters establish arbitrary standards to anoint new record holders, they diminish the accomplishments of the players who still hold those records. And that’s a shame.

(All statistics are from Retrosheet; seasonal leaders in home runs by position are from Baseball Almanac.)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2021 5:12 am

    Arbitrary standards used as talking points–sounds about right for 2021. In the end, we only care about totals anyway.

    Watched the Braves/Dodgers Game 2 last night and the Julio Urias 8th inning dynamite show must have been sweet. I’m an AL guy, but I’ll be damned if I’m rooting for either of those turds in the WS.

    Like

    • October 18, 2021 12:03 pm

      I don’t know what Roberts was thinking by brining in Urias and not relying on the pen that did their part in getting them this far. Yeah, my problem watching the Sox/Astros Series is that one of those teams is going to win. Thanks for checking out my post. Go Braves!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lamar Bradley permalink
    October 28, 2021 9:34 am

    Hugh makes a well reasoned, intelligent argument that the folks in the baseball media like Brian Kenny and Tom Verducci should be talking about. Hugh is 100% correct in his reasoning. Broadcasters could qualify their accolades by saying “(this player) holds the record for (position) because most of his HR were hit while he played catcher in the season he set the record.” While that would be technically accurate, it doesn’t flow, so sportscasters would never say something like that. Taking the reasoning a bit further, who holds the single season record for home runs by a pitcher? Would it be Shohei Ohtani? He appeared in 23 games as a pitcher, but in 132 games as a position player. Based on those numbers, most would say he is a position player who also pitches, and would agree that comparing his HR totals to that of pitchers who only pitched during their careers would not be fair. I dont know what the parameters should be, but Hugh has raised a most valid point in his article.

    Like

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