Home runs are being hit out of major league ballparks at a historic rate. Players hit 6,105 home runs last season, an all-time high and more than 400 more than the previous record set in 2000. Many factors contribute to the surge — warmer weather, smaller ballparks, emphasis on launch angles and perhaps a change in the baseball itself — yet there are no signs of it slowing down anytime soon.
In fact, we may see the team home run record, established by the Seattle Mariners in 1997 with 264 home runs that season, fall not once but twice in 2018.
The most likely candidate to establish a new home run mark is the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers acquired Giancarlo Stanton, the reigning National League MVP and one of the best right-handed power hitters in the game, from the Miami Marlins this winter, giving them both of the league’s leading home run hitters from 2017: Stanton, who hit 59 home runs last season — the most in MLB since 2001, when Sammy Sosa hit 64 and Barry Bonds set the single-season record with 73 — and AL rookie of the year Aaron Judge, who hit 52. They will join Gary Sanchez (33 home runs in 122 games in 2017), Didi Gregorius (25 home runs in 136 games) and Brett Gardner (21 home runs in 151 games), giving the Yankees one of the more potent run-producing lineups in the majors this summer.
According to 2018 projections, the Yankees are estimated to hit 279 home runs, 15 more than the Mariners in their record-setting season. Stanton’s forecast calls for 58 home runs, the most in the majors, with Judge contributing 42, tied for second most with Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers. Sanchez and Greg Bird are expected to hit 31 home runs each, Gregorius is penciled in for 21, and four other players in pinstripes — Gardner, Neil Walker, Aaron Hicks and Brandon Drury — are projected to hit 12 or more in 2018.
If healthy, Stanton should not only lead the league but could make a play at 62 home runs or more. According to Baseball Prospectus’s park factors, Marlins Park was the seventh-most-difficult home run-hitting park for right-handed batters in 2017. Yankee Stadium, meanwhile, was tied as the second-most favorable park in baseball for right-handed home run hitters. Based on his 2018 projections, Stanton has an 11 percent chance to hit 62 or more home runs next season based on 600 plate appearances and a slight chance (1 percent) to hit 70 or more. Judge’s outlook is less optimistic but still robust: He has almost a 50/50 chance to hit 40 or more home runs over 600 plate appearances and a 5 percent chance at 50 or more.
The Baltimore Orioles also have a chance to become the all-time home run kings. Manny Machado and Chris Davis are each expected to hit 34 home runs in 2018, with Jonathan Schoop expected to add 31 of his own. Five other players — Mark Trumbo (29), Adam Jones (28), Trey Mancini (25), Colby Rasmus (22) and Tim Beckham (22) — have forecasts calling for more than 20. As a result, Baltimore is estimated to finish the season with 269 home runs overall, five more than Seattle hit in 1997.
So how likely are we to witness history in 2018? Using the projections from FanGraphs, the Yankees have a 75 percent chance at breaking the record while the Orioles have a 52 percent chance. Skeptical? Even if you cut those chances in half, they are still high enough to potentially make the 2018 season one for the ages.