Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox hit his first home run of the season Monday night in his 143rd plate appearance of the year. To this point in the 2013 season, no hitter has had more plate appearances without a home run. That it was Pedroia who went that long without a long ball was odd. This is player who hit 21 home runs two years ago and had averaged 18 a year per 162 games in his first six full seasons. If he continues to homer once every 143 plate appearances, Pedroia will collect just five home runs on the year, a career-low for a full season.
Pedroia, though, is not the only player whose power has gone mysteriously missing this season. Here are 5 other hitters who have hit just one home run this season in 100 or more plate appearances, ranked by their career home runs per 162 games prior to this season.
1. Jay Bruce, RF, Reds
33 HR/162 games career
Bruce has hit 20 or more home runs in every professional season since his full-season debut in 2006 and has increased his home run total in each of his last four seasons in the majors, topping out at 34 last year. Thus far this season, however, he has gone deep just once despite not missing a game and leading the National League in at-bats. Bruce is also leading the NL in strikeouts with 48, which gives you an idea of what’s wrong. Bruce is lost at the plate thus far this season. His strikeouts are up and his walks are down, resulting in a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.8, almost twice his usual mark.
When he does connect, he does not seem to be hitting the ball hard. His line-drive rate is way up, as is his batting average on balls-in-play, and he’s on pace for 44 doubles, but even with that he’s still hitting just .246/.297/.348 on the season. In the 13 games since his lone home run back on April 22 against the Cubs' Travis Wood, he's hitting .189/.204/.264 with a more typical BABIP. The good news for Bruce is that he gets to face Wood, against whom he’s homered twice in five career at-bats, again Tuesday night.
28 HR/162 games career
One thing that will be consistent for all of these homer-hungry hitters is that their rate of home runs per fly ball, typically an indicator of luck, will be way below both their usual standard and the league average. For Bruce, there are other indicators to suggest that his approach at the plate is off. For Kemp, however, those don’t exist. Just about everything Kemp is doing at the plate in terms of walks, strikeouts, line drives, ground balls, fly balls and even BABIP (another indicator of luck) is right in line with his career rates, yet he’s hitting just .265/.321/.342 on the season with but one home run. This from a player who averaged 38 home runs per 162 games over the last two seasons and had visions of a 50/50 season after finishing second in the MVP voting in 2011. The good news is that Kemp’s batting average is trending upward, which is lifting his on-base percentage, in turn. Still, since homering off the Mets' Matt Harvey on April 24, an 11-game span over which he has hit .293, he has just one extra-base hit.
26 HR/162 games career
A late bloomer who has never played in more than 119 games in a major league season, Craig’s career high in home runs is the 22 he hit last year after returning from knee surgery. Still, his power was never in doubt. He averaged 24 home runs in his three full seasons in the minors and hit 14 in 83 games at Triple-A in 2010, which was also his rookie year in the majors. Indeed, Craig’s .307/.354/.522 line last year was instrumental in St. Louis' return to the playoffs after losing Albert Pujols to free agency and Lance Berkman to injury.
This year, however, Craig got off to a brutal start and looked to be on the verge of losing the first-base job to Matt Adams only to be saved by an injury to the rookie slugger. Adams was supposed to start at first base on April 22, marking his first back-to-back starts of the season, but was scratched due to the injury and went on the DL with an oblique problem. Dating back to that game, Craig has hit .358/.382/.547 and finally got off the home run schneid on Sunday with a shot off Yovani Gallardo in Milwaukee.
25 HR/162 games career
This list is borne out of the fact that these hitters’ lack of home runs is surprising, but Hunter’s presence is additionally surprising because he has hit so well for Detroit thus far this year. He’s hitting .361/.406/.479 on the season, his 137 OPS+ would be a career high and he hasn’t had a higher slugging percentage since 2009. Still, he’s doing it largely without the long ball. In a way, he did the same for the Angels last year, posting a career-high 132 OPS+ despite hitting fewer home runs (16) than he had in any year since 2005. Hunter’s 2012 performance looked like a BABIP-based fluke, as he hit .389 on balls in play, by far a career high and 88 points above his career average prior to that season.
This year, however, his approach at the plate seems to have changed in an effort to replicate that success. His strikeouts are way down, occurring less than two-thirds as often as they did last year and well below his career rate, and his groundball-to-fly ball ratio has tilted decidedly in favor of the former. Hunter won’t be able to maintain his current .420 BABIP, but given that he has hit .395 on balls in play over his last 712 at-bats, his regression may not be as extreme as we’d previously have expected, and he won’t need to hit 25 home runs to be valuable.
5. Josh Reddick, RF, A’s
23 HR/162 games career
The impact of playing through injury is an underappreciated aspect of the game. Just look at Justin Upton, who sprained his thumb early last year but never went to the disabled list and wasn’t able to fully heal until he had the winter to do so. Upton hit 17 home runs in 150 games for Arizona last year and has 12 through his first 31for Atlanta this year. We saw this with Reddick last year also. He was hitting .272/.349/.537 on July 27, but he crashed into the outfield wall in Baltimore that day, missed the next game due to back pain, then hit just .197/.236/.352 over the remainder of the season.
Still, that back injury didn’t sap Reddick’s power. He hit 10 home runs in those final 60 games (a 27 HR/162 pace) to finish with 32 on the season. This year, Reddick sprained his right wrist in the seventh game of the year, missed three days, and has hit just 162/.275/.235 without a home run since. Not that Reddick was hitting all that well in those first seven games, but he did go deep off Seattle rookie Brandon Maurer in game four.
Honorable Mention: The Royals Jeff Francoeur, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez all averaged 20 home runs per 162 games in the majors prior to this year, and Mike Moustakas averaged 18 HR/162. This far this season, none of them has hit his second home run, and Hosmer has yet to hit his first. In fact, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon are tied with Alcides Escobar for the team lead in home runs with three and the Royals are dead last in the majors with just 16 home runs as a team, three less than Marlins, a replacement-level lineup that has effectively been without Giancarlo Stanton’s bat all season. That just goes to show that home runs aren’t everything as Kansas City has the fourth-best record in the American League and is just a half-game behind the Tigers in the AL Central.