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MLB set an all-time home run record, and the Giants didn’t help one bit

Everyone is hitting more home runs around baseball. Except for the Giants.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at San Francisco Giants Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Apologies to your dumb team, but the Giants are history’s greatest franchise when it comes to home runs. They have all-time greats in the 700 club and the 600 club, and they have two more in the 500 club. If you want to look at the top 100 home run hitters in history, you can find Giants festooned all over the place, from Orlando Cepeda to Jack Clark to Matt Williams to Jeff Kent to Chili Davis to Darrell Evans to Dave Kingman. And, of course, it was a Giants hitter who holds both the single-season and career home run records. The Giants and home runs are like peanut butter and jelly, beef jerky and long car rides. They just go together.

I would like to show you a video of Bonds’ 762nd home run for two reasons:

  1. That was the last home run that Barry Bonds ever hit.
  2. That was the last home run that the Giants ever hit.

While that’s hyperbole, it certainly feels true. The home run gods have forsaken the Giants. They have spurned their offerings and left them to wither and die. The entire sport is in the middle of a home run glut, a record-setting mess of dingers piled upon dingers, and the Giants have been completely left out.

Last season, there were 111 players who hit 20 home runs or more. The Giants had exactly none of them.

This season, there are 108 players with 20 home runs or more and counting. The Giants have exactly none of them.

J.D. Martinez has hit 24 home runs since joining the Diamondbacks, which is twice as many as anyone on the Giants’ active roster has all season, save Brandon Crawford (13). Martinez joined the Diamondbacks 57 days ago.

The San Francisco Giants are extremely bad at hitting home runs.

The ballpark is, of course, a huge factor. AT&T Park is the most extreme pitcher’s park in baseball, and it’s especially cruel to left-handed hitters. The Giants have hit 43 home runs at AT&T Park this season; the Yankees have 38 home runs at Yankee Stadium this season from players named Aaron. But it’s not just the park, considering the Giants are 29th in the league in road home runs. It’s everything about the roster.

I mean, it doesn’t help that Giancarlo Stanton has as many home runs at AT&T Park this year (3) in 17 plate appearances as the Giants’ cleanup hitter has in 248, but the problems go far beyond that.

If you’re wondering if this has to do with entrenched coaches who are stuck in their ways, that’s not it. From the San Francisco Chronicle in August:

(Hitting coach Hensley) Meulens recently affixed two yellow ropes on either wall of the batting cage at AT&T. One rises at 5 percent from belt level, the other at 25 percent. The widening gap between them allows the hitter to visualize the launch angle hitters need to shoot for.

Somehow, this makes it even sadder. The Giants are aware that they’re living in 1968. They want to get better. They’re trying. And that might be the problem.

Consider what the Giants’ blueprint was when they were successful. In 2010, they were actually filled with home run hitters, from Juan Uribe to Aubrey Huff, and that was a substantial part of their balanced offensive attack. But just two years after that, they hit 103 home runs as a team ... and won their division by eight games. The plan went something like this:

Step 1 - Fill the lineup with line-drive hitters who go gap to gap, putting balls in play that would be a hit at any ballpark.

Step 2 - Invite the other teams in with their greedy, lumbering sluggers, and laugh at them when they hit into 419-foot outs.

Step 3 - Win baseball games because of this line-drive discrepancy.

It worked brilliantly. The Giants had a team that was built for their ballpark, but it wasn’t a strategy that could only work at AT&T Park. It was versatile. As long as the Giants could hit line drives into the gap at home, they would be fine.

Since then, though, things have changed. It’s probably a combination of several factors. The first is the increased attention to defensive value that’s turned players like Kevin Kiermaier and Kevin Pillar into near-stars. While those center fielders are in the American League, the Giants are still facing players like Charlie Blackmon, A.J. Pollock and Manuel Margot a majority of the time, and all of them have above-average defensive metrics this year.

The second factor is that the positioning is better, with every team having more and more detailed information about where their outfielders need to be for Joe Panik compared to where they need to be for Brandon Crawford. The balls into the gap are getting caught.

The third factor is that, well, the Giants are supremely bad at hitting line drives at all this year. While this data is from July, it still applies, and it’s presented in a way to prove that point:

There isn’t a Giants player on the list, and that has nothing to do with AT&T Park. If you prefer to look at raw exit velocity, note that only one Giants hitter shows up in the top 90 names. He’s ranked 63rd.

It’s Pablo Sandoval.

Pablo Sandoval has the highest exit velocity on the 2017 Giants.

While exit velocity isn’t everything (Mike Trout is 104th, for example), it’s not nothing. The Giants aren’t hitting the ball hard, which makes their inability to hit home runs stand out even more. And I keep going back to that blockquote up there about Hensley Meulens and the ropes in the batting cage. The Giants are trying to change, but the drop in line drives makes me think they’re just not any good at it. They have a bunch of hitters who’ve spent their entire lives succeeding at baseball because of hitting one way, and it’s possible that these specific players are spectacularly ill-suited to adjust.

It’s also possible that AT&T Park will never allow the home run revolution to pass over its moat. As of earlier this summer, the ballpark was the only one out of 30 to have a decrease in home runs per fly ball compared to 2014. The Giants are trying to hit more balls in the air; the Giants might be bad at hitting balls in the air; hitting balls in the air might be the worst possible strategy at AT&T Park.

There are plenty of other reasons why the Giants are threatening to have the worst record in baseball. They have the worst defensive outfield in the game. Their farm system was lackluster before the season, and they received almost zero good news this season. The pitching has been erratic, and they’ve gotten far less from Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto than they’ve been expecting. But they’re unable to take advantage of the rising home run rates, and they’ve stopped hitting baseballs hard at all.

If you’re looking for a team that will need to reinvent themselves next year, study the offseason of the Giants. If you’re looking for a team that probably won’t reinvent themselves next year, you can also check the Giants out, because they’re probably going to try again with this same lineup, give or take a couple players. It’s possible that this lineup, filled with former All-Stars who were all part of a punishing lineup as recently as 2015, can remember how to hit baseballs hard. It’s certainly a strategy that comes with obvious risks, though. Expecting a 100-loss team to shake it off isn’t a blueprint with a lot of historical support.

There have been more home runs hit in Major League Baseball this season than in any season in history. The Giants are not a part of that home run revolution. They’re not a part of the line-drive club. They’re an absolute mess, a puddle of yolk and shell at the bottom of the wall, and I’m fascinated to see what all the king’s sabermetricians and all the king’s coaches do next.