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No Homer Brewers

Imagine a world where home runs don’t exist. Well, they exist, but to hit them, hitters have to get it over an infinitely high and far away fence. It would certainly change things for the Milwaukee Brewers, a team that’s relied on home runs for offense. Currently, they’re tied for fourth in the MLB and second in the National League with 159 homers, only trailing the Nationals by one, measly Eric Thames big fly. If the Brewers could not hit home runs, how much would it impact their overall record, and what would the central division look like?

Here are the basic details of this following experiment: I combed through every box score of every game for every NL Central team and switched all home runs to fly ball outs.

This is how the experiment affected certain scenarios:

If the bases were loaded with two outs and the batter hit a grand slam, none of those runs scored and the inning would not continue on afterwards.

If the bases were loaded with one out and the batter hit a grand slam, the runner on third base would tag up and score, and depending on the direction of the fly ball, the runner at second would tag up and head to third.

Let’s say an inning starts like this: Three batters step up and hit three solo homers in a row; then, in the same inning, three doubles in a row score two runs. Under my judgement, unless it was the bottom of the ninth, those runs would score. I treated the doubles as a clean slate and the start of a new inning.

All rallies were treated like this. If a homer made it three outs, but a hypothetical two-out rally commenced afterwards, that rally was allowed to continue in a “new inning” until three more outs were recorded or the current inning ended.

For example, say runners were on first and second with one out then a batter hit a home run. Under this scenario, there would be two outs and runners would still be on first and second. Then, the next batter hits a single. Hypothetically, that single would score the runner on second base. Even though it was originally a single with the bases empty, it turns into an RBI single. All similar scenarios were treated this way.

Inside-the-park home runs were allowed, though I only ran into one of them, which was hit by Orlando Arica.

As a final reminder, this isn’t an exact science. Instead, it’s meant to give an idea of how home runs effect the wins and losses of each team.

With all that out of the way, here’s the new, no-homer NL Central Standings. Statistics are through play on Friday:

Current Standings Current Records New Standings New Records
Cubs 57-50 Pirates 51-43-14
Brewers 57-53 Cardinals 47-44-17
Cardinals 53-55 Reds 46-49-13
Pirates 52-56 Cubs 45-47-14
Reds 44-64 Brewers 38-52-21

First impression: There’s no ties in baseball! The most important rule outside of “no crying in baseball” has been broken, so how do we take care of the ties?

In the top of the tenth inning, each team has an equal 50 percent chance of winning the game. So, I took each game, went to random.org, and flipped X amount of coins. However, I flipped the coin group three times and averaged out the amounts to diminish the probability of random error.

Here’s the new standings without ties.

Current Standings Current Records New Standings New Records
Cubs 57-50 Pirates 57-51
Brewers 57-53 Cardinals 56-52
Cardinals 53-55 Cubs 54-53
Pirates 52-56 Reds 51-57
Reds 44-64 Brewers 45-65

Everyone’s record looks quite a bit different, however nobody changed as dramatically as the Reds and Brewers.

Overall, 22 of the Brewers wins shifted. Twelve became straight up losses, while ten became ties. On the other hand, thirteen losses shifted. Two became wins, eleven became ties.

The Brewers’ +/- on home run reliant wins is a negative eight.

On the surface, this seems like a bad thing, but in reality, it might be the other way around. What I found, switching home runs to fly balls helps bad pitching more than it hurts home run reliant offense.

The Reds pitching staff has surrendered 170 home runs this year, 12 more than the second place Mariners and about 45 worse than average.

29 of the Reds losses were shifted: 12 became wins, while 7 became ties. They turned 10 more losses into wins that the Brewers. On the other side, only 8 of the Reds wins were shifted. 2 became outright losses, while 6 turned into ties.

Let’s further this example by using a really good team, the Dodgers.

Through play on Friday, the Dodgers allowed a league low 106 home runs, and their offense slugged 153 home runs, 8th highest in the MLB.

It stands to reason that in this hypothetical homer-less world, the Dodgers would suffer many more losses. If teams manage to score on them, it’s not likely to be a home run, but if the Dodgers score, it is much more likely to occur on a home run. Simple as that.

However, a team like the Giants might see their record rise. They have hit 87 homers, lowest in the league by 15, and given up 121. Granted, their ballpark is a haunted house for sluggers, but even so, their ability to generate offense without homers would appear a lot more valuable.

There is one problem with this scenario: The Chicago Cubs.

It makes sense why the Pirates improved. Pittsburgh has hit the second lowest amount of homers this year, 102, while giving up 118. It also makes sense why the Cardinals didn’t see much change. They don’t hit or give up home runs at a large pace, so the experiment didn’t have much of a result on their games.

But, the Cubs are a different animal. Through Friday, they 152 homers this year, 9th in the MLB and only 7  total behind the Brewers. Alternately, they only allowed 129, 21st in the MLB and 6 less than the total amount the Brewers have allowed.

How is it possible that the Brewers tanked, but the Cubs only dropped four games?

Overall, 17 of the Cubs wins shifted. 10 went to the loss column, and seven were ties.

However, 13 of their losses shifted. 6 turned into wins, while 7 were ties.

Their +/- on home run reliant wins is only -4. Granted, they did get luckier with the random.org quarter flips, but even if the Brewers went 12-7 instead of 7-12, they’d be an equally abysmal 49-59. There’s no escaping the bad.

Here’s why I think this happened: Walks and strikeouts provided the impact.

The Brewers struck out a league-leading 1075 times through Friday, almost 170 more times than the Cubs. The Cubs walked 405 times this season, 50 more times than the Brewers. Simply put, the Cubs are making more contact and getting more people on base. In fact, their .329 on-base percentage is notably higher than the Brewers .323.

In no home run baseball, the ability to get on base weighs so much more heavily. Since home runs can no longer clear the bases, teams need singles and walks to keep rallies going. Plus, strikeouts are far worse because they’re the only result that doesn’t put the ball in play.

So, what did this experiment prove?

It proves that the Brewers are a bit of a one-dimensional offense, which is one possible reason why they’ve undergone such massive second half struggles. Their method of producing runs by counting on homers to do their dirty work might not be a long-term, sustainable path to success.

In an era where homers are lauded and strikeouts are considered a normal out, the two stats can prop up an offense that isn’t as good as some originally though. Luckily for the Brewers, they’ll never have to live in an MLB without homers. Instead they’ll have to hope their 2017 power surge can lead them to a playoff berth.

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