Monday April 7th, 2014

Mark Trumbo has already hit five homers to start the season and lead MLB. (David Zalubowski/AP) Mark Trumbo has already hit five homers to start the season and lead MLB. (David Zalubowski/AP)

The Diamondbacks are just 2-7, but don't blame Mark Trumbo. Arizona's biggest offseason acquisition has bashed a major league-high five homers so far, including one in each of the last four games, three of which admittedly came at high-altitude Coors Field. Sunday's two-run shot off the Rockies' Brett Anderson provided the margin of victory in Arizona's 5-3 win; his others have come in losses. That homer-happy start has put Trumbo on a career-high pace and placed him in a small group of hitters who've shown off serious power in the season's early going.

Light-tower power has been Trumbo's calling card since at least 2008, when he homered 26 times in 103 games at High-A Rancho Cucamonga. In his first three full major league seasons (2011-13), he hit 95 homers, including a high of 34 last year. That three-year total is tied with Edwin Encarnacion and Giancarlo Stanton for fifth in the majors, behind only Jay Bruce (96), Adrian Beltre and Jose Bautista (98 apiece) and Miguel Cabrera (118). The knock on Trumbo has been his low batting average and on-base percentage; he's hit a lopsided .251/.300/.477 in that span, but when he hits balls, they stay hit. In each of the last two years, he's ranked in the majors' top five in average true home run distance and "No Doubt" homers according to ESPN Home Run Tracker (formerly Hit Tracker), and he's poised to be there again.

While the trade to Arizona forced the 28-year-old Trumbo to full-time duty in leftfield (where things have already gotten adventurous), Trumbo's move to the majors' second-highest elevation already figured to send his home run total skyward. Via The Bill James Handbook 2014, Angel Stadium's three-year park home run factor for righties was 83; for Chase Field, it's 111, 28-percent better relative to the league. That meshes well enough with Trumbo's strengths that the ZiPS projection system forecast an MLB-high 40 homers this year.

At that, it's worth considering how other players who got off to similarly hot starts in the homer department fared. Via the Play Index, Trumbo is the 27th player since the start of the 1914 season to homer at least five times in his team's first nine games. The record is six homers, co-held by five players, including last year's sudden Sultan of Swat, Chris Davis, who finished the year with 53, a total that both led the league and set a new career high. As you might expect, a fair share of the other players to crack the leaderboard wound up achieving at least one of those two highs. Here are the 26, ranked by season-ending totals:

Rk Player  HR Year  Tm  Age  Led Lg Car High
1 Babe Ruth 59 1921 NYY 26 1 1
2 Luis Gonzalez 57 2001 ARI 33 1
3 Chris Davis 53* 2013 BAL 27 1 1
4 Sammy Sosa 49 2002 CHC 33 1
5 Willie Mays 47 1964 SFG 33 1
6T Hal Trosky 42 1936 CLE 23 1
Jim Thome 42* 2006 CHW 35
Jose Canseco 42 1988 OAK 23 1 1
9 Vinny Castilla 40 1997 COL 29 1
10 Darryl Strawberry 39 1987 NYM 25 1
11 Larry Walker 38 2001 COL 34
12 Dale Murphy 37* 1985 ATL 29 1 1
13 Tim Salmon 34 1995 CAL 26 1
14 Glenn Davis 30 1988 HOU 27
15T Brian Downing 29 1987 CAL 36 1
Nelson Cruz 29 2011 TEX 30
17T Jim Presley 28* 1985 SEA 23 1
Kirby Puckett 28 1987 MIN 27
19T Bobby Murcer 26 1969 NYY 23 1
Jose Canseco 26 1992 TOT 27
21 Kent Hrbek 23 1982 MIN 22 1
22 Nelson Cruz 22* 2010 TEX 29
23 Sandy Alomar 21 1997 CLE 31 1
24 Bobby Darwin 22 1972 MIN 29 1
25 Mark Quinn 17 2001 KCR 27
26 John Buck 15 2013 NYM/PIT 32

The players with asterisks knocked six in their first nine games before inevitably falling off the breakneck 108-homer pace; the rest merely hit five, a blistering 90-homer pace. As you can see, the spread is quite wide in terms of both chronology and remaining total, from Babe Ruth's stratospheric 1921 to John Buck's precipitous falloff last year. Six players wound up leading their respective leagues, while 15 set new personal bests, many of which would stand for the entirety of their careers. The average number of homers for these hot starters at the end of the season was 34.4, while the weighted average age of the group was 27, which shouldn't be too surprising given that players tend to peak in the 25-29 range.

Taking a stroll through the list, a handful of other things stand out:

• Eleven of the 26 seasons hail from the post-1992 expansion era, when home runs have been at an all-time high on a per-game basis. Even last year's 0.96 per team per game was higher than all but one season outside that window: the 1987 campaign, when homers spiked to 1.06 per team per game, the highest rate in baseball history to that point and a level that wouldn't be out of place in the next two decades. The Downing, Puckett and Strawberry outbursts are from that crazy year, when it's been surmised that MLB was experimenting with the composition of the baseball. The Gonzalez, Walker and Quinn seasons come from 2001, the only other year when it happened more than twice, and the season with the fourth-highest frequency (1.11 per team per game) in history.

• Ruth was the first player to reach five homers in nine games, that on the heels of a 54-homer season in which he outdid every other team in the AL, and all but one in the NL. Amid his 1921 outburst, two other players — Emil "Irish" Museul and George "High Pockets" Kelly (don't you love those old nicknames?) — homered four times in nine games, the first time that had ever happened. The previous record based on the oldest complete game logs (again, just back to 1914) was three by the Phillies' Gavvy Cravath, en route to his league-leading 12; it was the fourth of six times he would pace the Senior Circuit.

• The only other pre-World War II hitter to make the list was Trosky, who once ranked among the game's top home run prodigies. After reaching the majors at age 20 in September 1933, he reeled off seasons of 35, 26, 42 and 32 homers in his first four full seasons, hitting a combined .310/.365/.565 and leading the league in total bases (405) and RBI (162) in the 1936 season represented above. Through 1937, the end of that run, the only players who had totaled more homers through their age-24 seasons than his 136 were Mel Ott (176) and Jimmie Foxx (174); Joe DiMaggio would hit 137 from 1936-1939. Trosky was one of the game's top sluggers through 1940, totaling 205 homers through age 27, but recurrent migraines forced him to the sidelines with increasing frequency. Classified as 4-F by his condition and exempt from military duty during World War II, he nonetheless played in just parts of two more seasons (1944 and 1946) after 1941.

• The first two players to hit six homers in nine games both did so in 1985, Murphy and Presley. The former, who already had a pair of NL MVP awards under his belt, wound up leading the league for the second year in a row and, with that extra homer, breaking a string of three straight 36-homer seasons. He was nothing if not consistent.

• Presley, Murcer, Darwin and Hrbek all enjoyed their outbursts in their first full seasons of regular play.

• Cruz and Canseco are the only players to make the list twice. A slew of injuries held down the former's season-ending totals; he played just 232 games in 2010 and 2011, making five separate trips to the DL for hamstring and quadriceps strains. In all, Trumbo looks to be a fairly typical representative of the list. He's hitting under historically favorable conditions, and his age is right around the group average. Particularly given his start, a 40-homer season seems all the more likely.

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