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The Road to 252

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It's a little strange for a Brewers fan like myself to be religiously checking Detroit Tigers boxscores. But here I am, checking nightly to see if Chris Shelton went deep again. As most of you know, the Tigers and the Brewers--twin trendy sleeper picks for the '06 playoffs--have been neck and neck for the Major League home run lead for a couple of weeks now.

After Saturday, Milwaukee and Detroit were knotted with 56 dingers apiece. But Sunday's thriller at Miller sent the Brewers into sole possession of the lead: , , and Bill Hill hit #57, 58, and 59, respectively. Which got me thinking--didn't some wannabe pundit predict the Crew's home run totals a while back?

Indeed I did. Check out this discussion from Spring Training when Jacob floated the idea that the Crew could mash 230 dingers. I tried a more realistic approach, but still came up with 212, while ZiPS, friend of regression in all its forms, figured a still more conservative 193.

As of yesterday's game, with 59 clouts in 38 games, Milwaukee's on a pace for 252. That's a few short of the Major League record of 264, set by the 1997 Mariners, but just above the National League record of 249, established by the 2000 Astros.

That's the all-time record, folks. Let's take a look at the projections from our thread in March, with each player's 2006 pace tacked on to show where we came up short:

Name 2005 Jacob Jeff ZiPS PECOTA '06 pace
Cirillo.Jeff 4 3 3 2 4
Clark.Brady 13 15 12 11 9 4
Fielder.Prince 30 30 30 25 26 34
Gross.Gabe 7 5 10 10 17
Hall.Bill 17 20 20 15 15 34
Hardy.J.J. 9 25 18 10 13 21
Hart.Corey 19 10 8 17 19 0
Jenkins.Geoff 25 40 28 25 24 21
Koskie.Corey 11 20 16 14 13 17
Lee.Carlos 32 40 30 29 29 64
Miller.Damian 9 10 9 7 17
Moeller.Chad 7 7 6 5 4
Weeks.Rickie 25 30 25 19 18 13
TOTAL 208 230 212 193 190 252

As always, it's foolish to take projections like these (basically just multiplying each player's current totals by 4 and change) too seriously. I don't believe is going to hit 64 HRs any more than I think Damian Miller will finish the year hitting .335. But aside from El Caballo projecting to have the fifth-best single-season home run total ever, are any of those other number all that far-fetched? Jacob made the same point about his 220 figures--now, you can claim that 250 is plausible.

After Lee, the biggest "overachiever" is . Could he really hit 34? I wouldn't put money on it, but if he keeps playing every day, I'd have to get pretty good odds to bet against it, too. Hardy and Miller are the other Brewers on conspicuous '06 paces. I'm not sure the Brewers are best off by Hardy swinging the bat like someone hitting 20-25 homers, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did it. And Damian? Until somebody shows me a birth certificate for that guy, I'm just going to assume he's 27 years old and hitting his prime.

Amazingly, this set of numbers has some notable underperformers. is going to break out of this slump, at least a little. He'll get to 10 homers. I was the most conservative on , but obviously he's not going to hit 8, 10, 17, or 19 homers for the Brewers when he's on the Nashville roster.

Back in March, this discussion started when Jacob wanted to make that point that, with a team like the 2006 Brewers, having speed at the top of the order doesn't matter much. One could extend the argument to all sorts of small-ball tactics: why sac bunt with anybody other than the pitcher when he's almost as likely to hit for extra bases as he is to successfully advance the runner?

Similarly, these numbers are a nice reminder to keep our wits about us when Jenkins, Hall, or Weeks (or, frankly, just about anybody on this team) goes into a 3- or 4-day funk, seemingly striking out every time up. Both the '97 Mariners and '00 Astros were big-time strikeout teams too. The Mariners rode their 264-dinger offense to a division title, while the '00 Astros were hamstrung by the worst pitching staff in the league, ending at 72-90.

The real pressing issue, though, is what to call this second incarnation of Harvey's Wallbangers. The San Diego announcers were speculating last week on some possibilities, bringing up (and tossing out, thank heavens) "Ned's Knockers" and "Yost's Yakkers." If the Crew continues to set the Major League pace in home runs, we'll need something a whole lot catchier than that.

Update [2006-5-15 12:55:39 by battlekow]: I put in Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections as well. At 190, they're on the low side.

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