Babe Ruth and Roger Maris Should Be Tied for the Single Season Home Run Mark

Harold FriendChief Writer ISeptember 22, 2011

NEW YORK - MAY 02:  The plaque of Babe Ruth is seen in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium prior to game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox on May 2, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the White Sox 12-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The 1927 New York Yankees were one of the greatest offensive teams of all time. Known as "Murderers' Row," they batted .307, hit 158 home runs and scored 976 runs or about 6.3 runs a game.

The 1961 Yankees of Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, Yogi Berra and Bill Skowron is considered one of the greatest Yankees teams. They set a new single season home run record when they hit 240 home runs. The above-mentioned five Yankees plus Johnny Blanchard each hit at least 21 home runs.

The 1961 Yankees batted .263, which was 44 points lower than the 1927 Yankees. The scored 827 runs, which is 149 less than the '27 team. Their on base average of .330 was 54 points less than the .384 of Ruth, Gehrig and company.

Still, unlike the '27 team, the 1961 World Champions made the most of their scoring chances.

Both Miller Huggins and Ralph Houk were outstanding managers, but if Huggins had managed the '61 team, they would have scored fewer runs. If Houk had managed the 1927 Yankees, they would have scored even more runs.

The reason now seems simple.

The 1927 Yankees sacrificed successfully 204 times. The 1961 Yankees sacrificed successfully 57 times.

Babe Ruth had 14 sacrifices and Lou Gehrig had 21. Mickey Mantle had one successful sacrifice while Roger Maris had none because Houk didn't ask them to bunt.

The run expectancy with a runner on first base and no outs is 0.972. The run expectancy with a runner on second and one out is 0.746.

If Ruth, Gehrig, Bob Meusel (.337/.393/.510 with 21 sacrifices), Tony Lazzeri (.309/.383/.482 with 21 sacrifices) and even leadoff batter Earl Combs (.356/.414/.511 with 12 sacrifices) had hit away, the percentages were in the Yankees favor to score more runs.

Another aspect is that Ruth would probably still hold his single-season home run record.

Ruth made 691 plate appearances in 1927, including his 14 sacrifices. He hit a home run 8.7 percent of the time, which means that if he had swung away 14 more times he might have hit one or two more home runs. At worst, he and Maris would share the record.

If the 1927 Yankees had sacrificed 57 times as did their 1961 counterparts, they would have had swung the bat an additional 147 times, but 54 of the '27 Yankees sacrifices were by pitchers.

Ruth and his teammates would have swung away an additional 93 times.

Since the chances of scoring with a runner on first (0.972) are 0.226 better than with a runner on second and one out (0.746), they would have scored approximately 21 additional runs (.226 x 93).

The sacrifice bunt is usually not a good play. Of course, in the National League, which still plays baseball according to the real rules, having the pitcher bunt is often better than having him swing, but the sacrifice has gone the way of the Quagga.

In 2011, the Kansas City Royals lead the American League with 54 sacrifices, four of them by pitchers. The Yankees have 35 sacrifices, seven by pitchers. The Florida Marlins lead the majors with 85 successful sacrifices.

Giving away an out helps the defense.

By the middle 1950s, managers, amazingly without the help of Bill James and his disciples, realized that fact. Since then, the sacrifice bunt has been used less and less.


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