McGwire's Wallbangers?

If the St. Louis Cardinals keep hitting home runs at their current rate, they will approach a record-breaking level in 2010, not just for the franchise, but for MLB.

Are the 2010 St. Louis Cardinals batters, under the direction of new hitting coach and former home run hero Mark McGwire, becoming a latter-day version of Harvey's Wallbangers?

Felipe Lopez' dramatic grand slam home run Friday night represented the Cardinals' 14th home run in ten games, a total that is fourth-most in the National League coming into Saturday's action. In 2009, the Cardinals were sixth in the NL in home runs. Not surprisingly, the club's current rate of home runs per 100 at-bats of 4.22 is also ranked fourth in the 16-team circuit.

Most interesting is the fact that 59 percent of the Cardinals runs scored to date this season have come via those 14 long balls (29 runs of 49). Overall, the team's run total of 49 puts them ninth in the league, down from seventh last year.

Two areas of potential concern are walks and strikeouts. In 2009, the Cardinals drew the third-most free passes in the NL, while this season to-date, they have the fourth-fewest, a major shift. In 2009, St. Louis hitters had the fourth-fewest whiffs, while this year, they are tied for the ninth-most.

Cardinals National League team ranking, 2009 vs. 2010 through April 16

NL rank (of 16)
Cardinals Runs Walks Strikeouts Home runs
2010 10 games 9th 13th T-9th 4th
2009 7th 3rd 13th 6th

"Harvey's Wallbangers" is a tag most familiar to long-time Cardinals fans. Manager Harvey Kuenn's hard-hitting Milwaukee Brewers, then in the American League, stretched Whitey Herzog's Cardinals to a full seven games before falling in the 1982 World Series.

That club, led by future Hall of Famers Paul Molitor (19 home runs) and Robin Yount (29), also featured sluggers Gorman Thomas (39), Ben Ogilvie (34), Cecil Cooper (32) and former Cardinal Ted Simmons (23). Their team total of 216 home runs in 1982 was 30 more than the next closest MLB club and dwarfed the Whiteyball Cardinals' meager tally of 67 long balls.

Yet in terms of home runs per at-bat, the 1982 Brewers' rate of 3.77 percent long balls is nowhere near the highest-rate home run seasons in MLB history. That honor belongs to the 1997 Seattle Mariners, a club that hit one home run approaching every 20 at-bats.

Highest home run rate per at-bat, season, MLB history

Rank Team Year HR% Playoffs
1 Mariners 1997 4.70 yes
2 Rangers 2005 4.55 no
3 Orioles 1996 4.52 yes
4 Astros 2000 4.47 no
5 Mariners 1999 4.38 no
6 Yankees 2004 4.38 yes
7 White Sox 2004 4.37 no
8 Rangers 2001 4.33 no
9 Mariners 1996 4.32 no
10 Yankees 1961 4.32 yes
11 A's 1996 4.32 no
12 Yankees 2009 4.31 yes
13 A's 2000 4.30 yes
14 Blue Jays 2000 4.30 no
15 Cardinals 2000 4.29 yes
16 Rockies 1997 4.27 no
17 A's 1999 4.26 no
18 White Sox 2008 4.23 yes
19 Rangers 2003 4.22 no
20 Angels 2000 4.19 no

The playoff status of the various clubs is added for reference. Clearly having a high rate of home runs during the regular season does not assure a team of October play.

The Cardinals' top 20 seasons in terms of home run rate follow. Perhaps not surprisingly, McGwire was an active player in four of the top five years in team history with the "MV3" 2004 season the other. Again, there is nothing particularly telling regarding the post-season.

Highest home run rate per at-bat, season, Cardinals history

Rank Team Year HR% Playoffs
1 Cardinals 2000 4.29 yes
2 Cardinals 1998 3.99 no
3 Cardinals 2004 3.85 yes
4 Cardinals 2001 3.65 yes
5 Cardinals 1999 3.48 no
6 Cardinals 2003 3.46 no
7 Cardinals 2006 3.33 yes
8 Cardinals 2002 3.18 yes
9 Cardinals 2008 3.09 no
10 Cardinals 2005 3.07 yes
11 Cardinals 2009 2.93 yes
12 Cardinals 1994 2.77 no
13 Cardinals 1955 2.72 no
14 Cardinals 1960 2.66 no
15 Cardinals 1997 2.61 no
16 Cardinals 1953 2.59 no
17 Cardinals 1996 2.58 yes
18 Cardinals 2007 2.55 no
19 Cardinals 1962 2.43 no
20 Cardinals 1957 2.41 no

To bring this all together, note that if the 4.22 percent home run rate in 2010's first ten games is sustained, it would place the current club second in the history of the Cardinals franchise. It would also just squeak into MLB's top 20 of all-time.

Of course, there are 152 games to go with the ten games on the books a very small sample. Yet one cannot ignore the fact that in early action, these 2010 Cardinals seem to be relying on the home run in a way that only a few of their predecessors have – the ones when Big Mac was active.

Perhaps it is coincidence and perhaps not. Time will tell.



Note: Historical data was sourced from the Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, an excellent research tool, available for purchase via the preceding link.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Brian pens a column each Wednesday at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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