The Mets hit three home runs Wednesday night, bringing their season total to 79 HR with four games still on the docket. Because there have been only 56 games played, you might think this is the team’s worst home run performance by a large margin. Boy, you’d be wrong. In the strike-shortened 1981 season, the Mets hit 57 HR in 103 games. But the 2020 team has surpassed two other teams in HR output. In 1980, it was touch-and-go if the Mets were going to surpass Roger Maris. They tied him, as they finished the year with 61 homers. The previous year’s team hit just 74.
Here are the team’s HR leaders through games of 9/23:
Nine other players for the Mets have hit home runs this season. Luke Voit leads the majors with 20 HR so it’s not like any individual is having a year like Alonso’s 2019. Alonso’s current pace would result in 38 HR over a 162-game season. At their current rate, the 2020 Mets would finish a normal-length season with 229 HR, which would have been the second-best mark in team history, 13 homers behind the 2019 squad.
The Mets have been known more for pitching than hitting throughout franchise history, so it’s no surprise that 10 of the 12 years with the most HR in franchise history have happened here in the 21st Century and another happened in 1999. There were the expansion blues, the deadball 60s, the apathetic late 70s-early 80s and the worst team money could buy of the early 90s.
If you turned on to baseball in any of these time periods and witnessed other teams clubbing home runs while the Mets had to struggle mightily to do the same, you might be enjoying the team’s current run of long ball prowess. And it’s not like the Mets are either a great home run hitting team or an all-or-nothing offense. They’re sixth in the National League in homers, an above-average mark but not a front runner. The Mets are also sixth in the league in runs, so it’s not like they fall apart if the ball doesn’t leave the yard. For a comparison, the Reds are fourth in the league with 87 HR yet 13th in runs with 228.
A reasonable question is how much of the 2020 power is real and how much of it is taking advantage of the uniqueness of this Covid campaign. Alonso has a 53-homer season under his belt so his 38-HR pace is nothing which should be a surprise. The same thing for Conforto, who has 61 HR the past two seasons. But do you feel like Cano and Smith are 30-homer guys moving forward and Nimmo is good for 23 or so?
It’s tough to forecast a guy of Cano’s age to be that productive, so it’s probably more directed at Smith and to a lesser extent Nimmo. Smith started off the year slow but has been producing at a tremendous clip since then. Starting with the game on August 12, Smith has hit 8 HR, thanks to a 25.8 HR/FB%. Much like the Mets’ home run totals overall – that’s a solid mark but not one that’s close to the leaders in the category. And Smith is hitting the ball hard, with an average Exit Velocity higher than Alonso’s. Plus, it’s not like Smith’s homers are wall scrapers. Rather, they’re upper deck blasts, like the one he hit Wednesday night. He has the power to be a consistent 30-homer guy.
Nimmo doesn’t have quite the Exit Velocity of Alonso and Smith but his ISO is nearly identical to what it was in his last healthy year of 2018. In that season, he put up a .219 ISO and this year he has a .218 mark in the category. In the former season, Nimmo’s power was more of the doubles variety. In that year, 53% of his XBH were doubles, compared to 32% homers. Here in 2020, 42% of his XBH have come via the home run, the same as via the double. It’s pretty normal for a player to become a better home run hitter as he ages.
Assuming they’re all on the team next year, it wouldn’t be an outrageous forecast for Alonso to hit 40 HR, Conforto 35, Smith 30 and Nimmo 25. You might go a couple of homers fewer for each of them but this seems like the ballpark of where they should be. If that quartet combined for 125 HR, that would be about right, not some giant fluke. That’s a pretty good core for a team to have. And it’s not impossible that Cano, Davis and Jeff McNeil would be in the same territory.
And it’s especially nice if you remember when John Milner and his 17 HR led the Mets in 1972.