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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

June 22, 2009 at 11:43 AM

Russell Branyan on pace to shatter a major-league record held by…Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds

I can’t help but notice that Russell Branyan is hitting a lot of home runs this year — 16 of them through the Mariners’ first 69 games.

I also can’t help but notice that he’s driving in shockingly few runs for a guy with so many home runs — 31 so far.

That puts Russell the Muscle on pace for 41 home runs — and 79 RBIs. And that would shatter — absolutely destroy — the major-league record for fewest RBI by a 40-homer man.

The record was set in 1994 by none other than Branyan’s current teammate, Ken Griffey Jr., who at the age of 24 hit 40 homers while driving in 90 runs. But that comes with a gigantic asterisk, because Griffey played in just 111 games that year, and not because of injury. Rather, it was because of the player’s strike that halted play on Aug. 12 and wiped out the remainder of the season. Griffey hit .323 that year and was on pace for 58 homers (one of many players who likely would have challenged what was then Roger Maris’s single-season home run record) and 131 RBI.

But the fact remains, Griffey hit 40 and drove in 90. That feat was matched — indeed, surpassed in a way — in 2003 by Barry Bonds. In a year in which he was walked intentionally 61 times, Bonds hit 45 homers — and also drove in 90 runs. Bonds played just 130 games that year, and with 148 total walks (nothing like the absurd 232 bases on balls the following year, but still a lot), the lack of RBIs is explainable.

As it is with Branyan: 11 of his 16 homers have been with the bases empty; four with one runner on base; and one with two on-base. If Branyan is going to keep up his homer pace and reach 100 RBI, he’s going to have to do some more damage with men on base. And for that he’ll need a little help from his friends — like more of them getting on base in front of him. He’ll also have to step up his clutch numbers, however. Branyan is hitting .297 with runners on base, .244 with runners in scoring position,and .095 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

Here is an article from the Society of American Baseball Research that goes into the history of the 40-homer, few-RBI club, as wells as the few-homer-lots of RBI club. It seems to have been written before Griffey’s 1994 season, but it’s still interesting. Griffey’s old Reds’ teammate, Adam Dunn, hit 40 homers in 2006 with just 92 RBI. And that same year, Alfonso Soriano hit 46 homers and drove in just 95 runs for the Nationals.

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