Predicting MLB's Top 10 Home Run-Hitting Duos in 2017
Great home run duos come in many varieties.
They run the gamut, in fact, from unassailable legends (the New York Yankees' Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig) to flawed-yet-fascinating antiheroes ("bash brothers" Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire of the Oakland A's).
The modern game has its share of top-flight fence-clearing combos. Let's predict the best 10 for the coming season in ascending order, using past performance, Steamer's projected 2017 stats (via FanGraphs) and a dollop of gut feeling as our guide.
Before you dive in, here are some twosomes that missed the cut but deserve a shout-out: Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp (ATL); Ryan Braun and Eric Thames (MIL); Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph (PHI); Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier (MIN); Rougned Odor and Mike Napoli (TEX); Gary Sanchez and Chris Carter (NYY); Joey Votto and Adam Duvall (CIN).
No. 10: Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox
Combined 2016 Home Run Total: 65
Projected 2017 Home Run Total (via Steamer): 56
The only reason Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier rank this low is the high likelihood Frazier will be dealt by midseason.
The veteran third baseman popped all over the rumor radar this winter as the Chicago White Sox shed payroll and added young talent.
He's still on the South Side for now, though, and joins his cross-the-diamond Cuban counterpart to create a formidable home run tandem.
Yes, the 31-year-old Frazier hit a scant .225 last season with an equally anemic .302 OBP. He also cracked 40 homers. Abreu, meanwhile, hit 25 after launching 36 and 30 in his first two seasons with the White Sox.
For now, Frazier is saying the right things about Chicago's rebuild.
"We're going about our business the right way," he told Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune. "You can feel it in the locker room. Not necessarily, like, 'Oh, we're going to win every game.' But even the younger guys coming in here are doing what they're supposed to do and letting the veteran guys basically run ship, and that makes for a good team."
No. 9: Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins
Combined 2016 Home Run Total: 48
Projected 2017 Home Run Total (via Steamer): 50
Two things need to happen for Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich to make good on this prediction. First, Stanton needs to stay healthy. Second, Yelich needs to continue his power surge.
Stanton has played fewer than 200 games in the last two seasons combined while battling a litany of injuries. At the same time, he's a physical specimen who turned 27 in November, so it's reasonable to assume he can remain on the field.
If he does, he could blow past the 34 home runs Steamer projects. He's got the strength to smack 50-plus.
As for Yelich, he reached double-digit home runs for the first time last season with a career-best 21. He did it, as Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer noted, by hitting fewer balls on the ground and increasing his launch angle.
You could insert Marcell Ozuna (23 homers in 2016) or even Justin Bour (15 home runs in 2016) in the second spot. Stanton is capable of carrying the ticket.
That said, keep an eye on Yelich. He doesn't look like a power hitter, but he may be about to hit like one.
No. 8: Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
Combined 2016 Home Run Total: 76
Projected 2017 Home Run Total (via Steamer): 55
Last season, Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana sat in opposite dugouts as the Cleveland Indians battled, and defeated, the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series.
Flash forward a few months and they're teammates. To hear Santana tell it, they couldn't be more pumped.
"Me and Edwin, we have been very good friends for a long time—since before he came here," Santana said, per Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com. "Now, he's happy and I am, too."
Encarnacion matched a career-high with 42 home runs in 2016. Steamer sees the 34-year-old backsliding to 29 in his first go-round with the Tribe.
Either way, he'll add thump to the defending Junior Circuit champs—and get to hang out with his buddy for good measure.
No. 7: Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
Combined 2016 Home Run Total: 82
Projected 2017 Home Run Total (via Steamer): 57
Robinson Cano had a career power year in 2016, blasting 39 home runs for the Seattle Mariners. Nelson Cruz fell one shy of the career-best 44 he hit in 2015.
Put it together, and you've got a rain-making middle-of-the-order duo in the Pacific Northwest.
Cano is 34 and Cruz 36, so it's possible-to-likely their homer totals will trend downward. Don't forget about 29-year-old third baseman Kyle Seager, though, who hit 30 home runs in 2016.
Whatever the permutation, the M's are likely to boast a potent power pairing.*
No. 6: Miguel Cabrera and Justin Upton, Detroit Tigers
Combined 2016 Home Run Total: 69
Projected 2017 Home Run Total (via Steamer): 57
The Detroit Tigers eschewed a rebuild, opting to keep their veteran pieces and make one more run.
They might regret it, and could be sellers at the trade deadline if the wheels fall off.
For now, they employ veteran Miguel Cabrera, a two-time AL MVP and Triple Crown winner who's still got it at age 33.
Cabrera is joined by several proven hitters, including the Martinezes, Victor and J.D.
From a home run standpoint, Steamer is most optimistic about Justin Upton, foretelling 27 homers for the 29-year-old outfielder and three-time All-Star.
Maybe the Tigers will dismantle their roster in July. Maybe they'll mount a postseason charge. If it's the latter, anticipate dingers from Cabrera and company.
No. 5: Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
Combined 2016 Home Run Total: 60
Projected 2017 Home Run Total (via Steamer): 59
After setting a career-best with 41 home runs in 2015, Mike Trout's total dipped to 29 last season. The good news? He won AL MVP honors for the second time.
Albert Pujols, meanwhile, managed 31 homers. The creaky three-time MVP had foot surgery in December but has resumed running and will soon make his spring debut, per Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times.
Pujols is a shell of his former self as he enters the sixth year of his 10-year, $240 million albatross deal. The Angels are fringe contenders at best.
If Pujols can stay healthy in his age-37 season, though, he and Trout could again provide notable thump for the Halos.
No. 4: Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Combined 2016 Home Run Total: 68
Projected 2017 Home Run Total (via Steamer): 56
No list of home run hopefuls would be complete without the Colorado Rockies.
On top of their thin-air home-field advantage, the Rockies have a couple of legitimate bashers in Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story.
A defensive whiz at third base, Arenado tied for the NL lead with 41 home runs in 2016 and 42 in 2015. He'll turn 26 in April, meaning he's in the midst of his prime.
For his part, Story was on a historic power binge and in the thick of the NL Rookie of the Year race when a thumb injury shelved him in August.
The 24-year-old has batted aside talk of a fluke with three homers this spring.
There are other bashers in Colorado's lineup, including right fielder Carlos Gonzalez, but the Arenado/Story twosome looks most formidable.
No. 3: Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Combined 2016 Home Run Total: 59
Projected 2017 Home Run Total (via Steamer): 58
It was a humbling winter for Jose Bautista, who was hoping for a lucrative long-term deal and wound up signing a one-year, $18.5 million pact with the Toronto Blue Jays.
That's still a chunk of change. But it incentivizes the 36-year-old Bautista to produce if he wants a multi-year contract next offseason.
Joey Bats hit 22 home runs in 2016, his lowest total since 2009. Steamer projects 27 for 2017, though Jays fans are surely dreaming of the 50-plus home run pop he displayed in 2010.
With Encarnacion gone to Cleveland, Bautista will be backed by third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 37 home runs in 2016 and finished fourth in AL MVP voting after winning the prize in 2015.
Donaldson turned 31 in December and suffered a calf injury that put him on crutches in February.
Things could go wrong north of the border. Given their long track record and the fact they play the bulk of their games in the hitter-happy AL East, however, don't bet against Donaldson/Bautista.
No. 2: Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
Combined 2016 Home Run Total: 71
Projected 2017 Home Run Total (via Steamer): 62
By now, you're probably sick of the Bryzzo talk—unless you're a Chicago Cubs fan high on champagne and confetti, in which case you can't get enough of it.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the core of the Cubs' burgeoning offense, are buddies. Peas and carrots, Han and Chewie, rum and Coke—the whole bit.
They also combined for 71 homers last season as Chicago busted its 108-year championship drought.
Bryant is 25 years old and the NL MVP. Rizzo is 27 years old and has made three straight All-Star teams. The planets are aligned for another bash-tastic year on the North Side.
"They're the heart of this team," said veteran Ben Zobrist, per the Associated Press (via USA Today). "What they've done together in their time is pretty special."
No. 1: Manny Machado and Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
Combined 2016 Home Run Total: 75
Projected 2017 Home Run Total (via Steamer): 68
Mark Trumbo led all of baseball last year with 47 home runs. He re-upped with the Baltimore Orioles. Yet, he's not even included here.
After that, it's impossible to ignore first baseman Chris Davis, who hit 38 home runs in 2016 and 47 in 2015.
Toss in Trumbo if you want. The point is, the O's remain the gold standard for long balls after hitting an MLB-leading 253 last season.
As Fox Sports' Chris Bahr succinctly put it: "Baltimore's best option is still to swing for the fences."