The Nationals Do Not Give Up Home Runs

Last night, the Tampa Bay Rays connected for four home runs against Ervin Santana. It was the fifth time this year that a pitcher has allowed 4+ home runs in a single outing – the other notable hurlers to get bombed are Clay Buchholz (5 vs NYY), Josh Beckett (5 vs DET), Tommy Hunter (4 vs TOR), and Yovanni Gallardo (4 vs STL). Even as we head towards the third straight Year of the Pitcher, there are still nights where quality pitchers just don’t locate very well and pay the price for it.

That’s what makes what the Washington Nationals are currently doing so amazing. You’ve probably noticed that their pitching has been very good and has propelled them to a 13-4 record, the best mark in the National League. What you may not have heard is that the Nationals have a chance of establishing a new standard for home run prevention in a given month.

The Nationals have faced 644 opposing batters this year, and exactly three of them have hit the ball over the fence. On April 9th, Kirk Nieuwenhuis took Edwin Jackson deep in the fourth inning. Then, on April 15th, Ross Detwiler gave up a first ining homer to Ryan Ludwick. They didn’t give up another long ball until Logan Morrison took Brad Lidge deep in the ninth inning on April 21st, and they haven’t given up one since.

How amazing is this early run of HR prevention? The Pirates have allowed the second fewest homers so far this year, and they’ve surrendered 10 home runs while facing 69 fewer batters. The next best home run rate in the game belongs to to the Texas Rangers, who are surrendering one home run for every 60 batters they face. The Nationals have allowed one home run for every 215 batters that have stepped in against them. The Nationals home run prevention rate is 3.6 times better than the next best rate this year.

I’m sure other teams in baseball history have had a month like this before – after all, the 1904 Pirates gave up four home runs for the entire season, so they obviously had a bunch of individual months where they allowed fewer than three home runs. The game was different then, however, and comparing what the Nationals are doing now to what the deadball era isn’t overly instructive.

So, I asked the Dark Overlord to query out the single best months in terms of home run prevention by a team since 1974. We’re throwing out strike/lockout shortened months, so the June of 1981, August of 1994, and April of 1995 are out. We’re also going tossing out the months where the season began in mid-April because of the low number of games played – for instance, the 1976 Tigers only allowed two home runs that month, but they only played 13 games and faced just 494 batters.

That leaves us with the current top three HR prevention months by a team since 1974, sorted by HR/9:

Houston Astros, May of 1981: 29 G, 1,161 TBF, 5 HR allowed, 0.16 HR/9

Houston Astros, August of 1980: 30 G, 1,205 TBF, 6 HR allowed, 0.19 HR/9

Los Angeles Dodgers, April of 1985: 21 G, 755 TBF, 4 HR allowed, 0.19 HR/9

The Nationals current run would rate right in between those two Astros seasons, as they currently stand at 0.17 HR/9. It probably shouldn’t be a big surprise that Houston comes out on top or is represented multiple times, as the Astrodome was a ridiculously pitcher friendly park during its heyday. And, of course, home runs weren’t as common back in the 1980s as they are now. In fact, for context, here are the league average HR/9 rates for the months listed above:

May, 1981: 0.63
August, 1980: 0.73
April, 1985: 0.75
April, 2012: 0.95

Adjusting for era, what the Nationals are doing in this day and age is perhaps even more impressive than what the Astros did back in 1981. I say perhaps because, while their HR rate adjusted for league average is more impressive, they’re also doing it in a significantly smaller sample size. If they can get through their final five games of April (the next two of which are in Petco, followed by three in Dodger Stadium) without giving up any home runs, they’d end the month with around 840 batters faced, and it’s obviously easier to sustain this kind of insane performance over a shorter period of time.

So, we can’t say that this definitively the best month of home run prevention that any team has had in the modern era, but it is at least in the discussion.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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pdowdy83
Member
pdowdy83
4 years 5 months ago

And hell, the Ludwick homerun only came after 3 horribly blown calls that gave the Reds 3 extra outs in the inning. He never should have even come to the plate that inning…

NatsFan73
Member
NatsFan73
4 years 5 months ago

So what you’re saying is that the Nats have 12-15 Matt Kemp at bats between them and history?

LOSH
Guest
LOSH
4 years 5 months ago

Not trying to diminish the feat, but the Nats have faced HOU, NYM, CIN, SD, MIA, and CHC so far. Take the Mets out of there and you’ve got 5 of the 7 worst HR hitting teams in the NL. (The Nationals are one of those seven)

fresheee
Guest
fresheee
4 years 5 months ago

Truth. This season the Nats have done what an above average team should do to average teams, maybe at a slightly higher clip than expected. The weekend matchup with the Dodgers should be a lot of fun to watch and enlightening with regard to what the Nats really are.

Dodgers Offense: .264 AVG, .0238HR/PA
Nats Pitching: .197 AVG, .0047HR/BF

labe
Member
labe
4 years 5 months ago

That’s a good point, however, you have to factor in that they are among the worst HR teams in the NL BECAUSE 1/6 of their games have been against the Nationals. You also have to account for the small sample size, because, although they are currently among the worst HR teams in terms of results, that does not mean they are among the worst HR teams in terms of skill.

LOSH
Guest
LOSH
4 years 5 months ago

Yep, this definitely crossed my mind. Like others have said, some more games, esp. against good power teams like LAD, and we should know where the Nats really stand. The arms are looking darn good so far, and there’s no harm in analyzing the data. I just wanted to highlight the opponents.

Curtiss
Guest
Curtiss
4 years 5 months ago

While they are currently struggling, both the Marlins and the Reds are good homerun hitting teams. They are also good batting teams, but the Natinals still shut them down. So long story short the Nats have beaten some patsy’s, but they have also beaten some strong hitting teams. They will normalize somewhat when they have to play the AL East in June, but the string of starting appearances that they have put together are absolutely phenomenal.

fresheee
Guest
fresheee
4 years 5 months ago

Agreed we need to wait for a few months and see what “normalize” means for the Nats.

As for the Marlins and the Reds, the Nats got pretty lucky in both cases. Rolen has done nothing before, after or during the series with the Nats and that meant Votto was pitched around. Infante was out for the first two games of the Marlins series and the third was postponed. And the luck continues: the Nats had to deal with Wright during the Mets series only 1 of the 3 games.

Not taking away from the Nats’ rotation. It’s been so much fun to watch so far. Even more fun will be watching these 5 go against the Dodgers, Phils, Yankees, and Cardinals.

thegreatdive
Member
thegreatdive
4 years 5 months ago

How are the Marlins a “good homerun hitting team?” Stanton, LoMo, and Hanley are the only guys I would credit with above average power. . Infante? Please. Between Reyes and Bonafacio they’ll be lucky to get 10 from the top of their lineup. As a team they hit 149 last year while getting excellent production in that one area from a rookie, which still sandwiched them between the Phillies and Cubs. Did they sign Prince Fielder or is Gaby “I’ve never hit 20 HRs even though I play 1B” Sanchez still hitting in the middle of their order? This team essentially replaced a bunch of Greg Dobbs playing time with Jose Reyes. Good for them, but the one thing that won’t help them do is hit HRs. Good HR hitting team? I think not.

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
My echo and bunnymen
4 years 5 months ago

Long story short, I’m gonna create a longer story by saying that.

Cosmo
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Cosmo
4 years 5 months ago

I was really hoping that the article would discuss whether any of those historical HR preventing months were indicative of the skill of the pitching staff. I think the rest of the NL East is praying that this performance is unsustainable for the rest of the season.

Aaron (UK)
Member
Aaron (UK)
4 years 5 months ago

What’s the statistical relationship between velocity & HR rate? The Nationals have one of the fastest rotations ever (FBv as per Leaderboards) and a bullpen with some serious heat too (Clippard 92.9 and Rodriguez 98.1). This must have something to do with it too – as well as all the caveats above about small sample size and strength of schedule (plus Wrigley was blowing in hard when they played there).

Stephen Strasburg 95.4
Edwin Jackson 93.6
Jordan Zimmermann 93.4
Gio Gonzalez 93.1
Ross Detwiler 91.5

chuckb
Member
chuckb
4 years 5 months ago

Tom Niedenfuer must have been on the D.L. in April, 1985.

Aaron (UK)
Member
Aaron (UK)
4 years 5 months ago

Well this was kinda inevitable:

J Zimmermann O Hudson 2 ___ 1-2 Orlando Hudson homered (Fly).

Curtiss
Guest
Curtiss
4 years 5 months ago

Also the traditional Jordan Zimmermann start, 6-7 innings and a solo home run. The only difference was the offense actually scored some runs.

Shaun Catron
Guest
Shaun Catron
4 years 5 months ago

Step 1: Don’t pitch to Matt Kemp
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Profit

Why NL pitchers continue to pitch to Kemp is a mystery to me.

fresheee
Guest
fresheee
4 years 5 months ago

Andre Ethier. Second in the Majors in RBIs and T-10th in hits.

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