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Ask Alex: Could Rangers or Yanks set all-time homer record?

Alex Remington
Big League Stew

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We all have questions about the 2011 season and Alex Remington luckily has some answers. The Stew's resident stats guru will address some of the big ones as the year progresses.

The Situation: There are a few amazing things about the all-time record for team home runs in a single season. One, it has lasted for 14 years, making it older than nearly any other current record regarding homers. Two, it isn't held by the often powerful New York Yankees or Texas Rangers, but by the 1997 Seattle Mariners, who slammed 264 taters behind Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Paul Sorrento and others. (The '97 Mariners broke a record that lasted for exactly one year: 257 home runs, hit by the Brady Anderson-led Baltimore Orioles in 1996.)

But despite the fact that the peak of the steroid era seems to have passed, the record hardly seems unbreakable. Unlike Barry Bonds' 73 in 2001 — which no one has come within 14 homers of over the past decade — a couple of teams have approached the Mariners' 264. The 2005 Rangers hit 260 and the 2010 Blue Jays hit 257. The Jays traded Vernon Wells to the Angels this offseason, and their entire lineup was so charmed that it's hard to imagine them repeating.

But a couple of other teams look like they might have a shot. The 2011 Rangers and Yankees have both hit 13 homers through their first five games. Entering Wednesday's games, both teams were on pace to hit 421 taters!

Yes, I am legally obligated to point that out as it's the first week of April.

The Question: Is this the year that the Mariners' record finally falls? {YSP:MORE}

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The Analysis: It's not an outlandish thought, despite the fact that home runs are generally trending downward. In the American League, batters averaged 1.13 homers per game from 1996-1998, and just 1.03 homers per game from 2008-2010. But homers can spike. In 2009, across the league, batters averaged 1.13 homers per game, reminiscent of the heyday of the steroid era. Meanwhile, the 2010 Blue Jays clearly ate their Rold Gold: Their 257 homers in 162 games was an average of 1.59 per game, and they accounted for nearly 12 percent of all home runs hit in the American League, a higher proportion than the '97 Mariners, who only accounted for 11 percent of home runs hit in the AL in 1997.

The Rangers only hit 162 homers last year, though, and they lost Vladimir Guerrero (and his 29 jacks) in the offseason. They replaced Guerrero by bringing in the powerful bats of Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli, but those two won't be able to make up for the difference between 162 and 264 (102 homers) by themselves. In order for Nolan Ryan's Rangers to come within spitting distance of the record, they'll first need to stay healthy. Two of their most powerful hitters are also two of their most injury-prone. Over the past three seasons, Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton have averaged fewer than 125 games each. Neither Kinsler nor Hamilton has ever hit fewer than 30 homers in a season during which they played at least 133 games, but they've only had three such seasons between them.

But even if Kinsler and Hamilton combine for 70, Beltre and Napoli combine for 50, and Nelson Cruz adds 40 more, the team will just have 160 homers -- and they will be hard-pressed to get another 100 homers from the likes of Mitch Moreland, Elvis Andrus and Julio Borbon, notwithstanding Daniel David Murphy on the bench and Chris Davis in Triple-A. The Rangers have been hitting a ton of homers to start the season, but their lineup isn't loaded enough to reach the M's record.

So how about the Yankees? They hit 201 homers in 2010, but they hit 244 in 2009, the highest total between the 2005 Rangers and the 2010 Jays.

While the Bombers didn't have any major offensive acquisitions they also didn't suffer any major departures. Their main sources of power are Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, each of whom was projected for at least 24 home runs this year. The rest of the lineup is not only generally healthier but also deeper than in Texas, too, with double-digit home runs possible or likely from Posada, Jeter and Andruw Jones. And Rodriguez always has the potential for much more, as I discussed two weeks ago.

If Teixeira and Rodriguez combine for 75, Cano and Swisher combine for 60, and Granderson hits another 30, that's 165, and it's certainly conceivable that each man could exceed expectations by 5-10 home runs, which is what happened in Toronto last year. And after adding in the contributions of Jeter, Posada and Jones, it's not at all hard to see the Yankees getting to 200 again, and it wouldn't be difficult to conceive of them exceeding that by 20 or 30, even though 260 is probably out of reach.

The Forecast for 2011: I don't think either the Yankees or the Rangers — or any other team in the league — will be able to top the Mariners' record. But the Yankees have the best chance at making history.

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