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Checking in on the quest for a 20-homer season

Are any Giants on pace to hit 20 finally? Surprisingly, yes!

San Francisco Giants v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

By now you’re all too familiar with the relationship between the San Francisco Giants and 20-home run hitters.

For years, the two dance partners have circled each other, making constant eye contact, seeing who will flinch first, like one of those humorously-narrated National Geographic videos with a snake and a mongoose.

“He’s got to move carefully,” the narrator remarks, as the 20-home run hitter takes a cautious step to the left.

“One wrong step could be fatal,” he warns, as the Giants begin to retreat.

And on and on it goes. The last Giants hitter to put a baseball over the fence 20 times in a single year was Brandon Crawford, who did so 21 times in 2015. Since then, they haven’t even been that close. Brandon Belt had 17 the next year, and then 18 in 2017. Evan Longoria lead the charge last year with 16.

It’s become a common talking point around these parts: Will the Giants have a 20-home run hitter? Finally? Last year, Kenny even explored the opportunity of 30!

Today is a good day to revisit the odds of a Giants hitter eclipsing the 20-dinger mark, for one decidedly depressing reason: Last night, Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger hit his 20th home run of the year. It’s May, and Bellinger has already accomplished something that no Giant has done in four years.

If you need a much less depressing stat, Hunter Pence as already well on his way to the land of 20 homers. He has 11 on the year, which is only one digit higher than the amount of left fielders the Giants have used this season.

So, let’s check in on all the Giants who have gone yard multiple times this year, see how they’re doing on their quest, and rank the odds of them making it to 20, on a scale of “lol no” to “lol probably not.”

Buster Posey

Home run count: 2
On pace for: 6.1 (yes, I’m using decimals, because the Giants totals are way too small for rounding)
Career high: 24

Odds of 20: There is nothing that Buster Posey cannot do. That said, there are definitely things that he almost surely will not do, and this is one of those things.

Steven Duggar

Home run count: 3
On pace for: 9.2
Career high: 3

Odds of 20: Duggar has shown some pop. When he hits it out of the park he does so quite emphatically. But those times are few and far between.

Joe Panik

Home run count: 3
On pace for: 9.2
Career high: 10

Odds of 20: Panik is suddenly the hottest hitter on the team. Over the last 13 games, he’s slashing .296/.377/.444. But he’s still not a power hitter, and he plays in a park that punishes lefties. Not gonna happen, though it would be hilarious.

Brandon Crawford

Home run count: 3
On pace for: 9.2
Career high: 21

Odds of 20: Not great, but not impossible, either. Crawford is the streakiest hitter on the Giants, and unfortunately they’ve been subject to bad end of the streaky stick as of late. Or, more realistically, the streaky stick has likely been replaced by the decline stick. Still, would anyone be that surprised if Crawford knocked out eight dingers in June? Okay, yeah, you’re right, I would be.

Tyler Austin

Home run count: 5
On pace for: 15.3
Career high: 17

Odds of 20: If MLB instituted a strict “left-handed pitchers only” rule, then Austin would be an absolute lock for 20. He mashes lefties. His 17 home runs in 2016 came on just 268 plate appearances. For his career, he hits a home run in every 10 at bats against southpaws. The Giants probably won’t play enough left-handers for Austin to hit the mark, but he has a strong chance.

Kevin Pillar

Home run count: 6
On pace for: 18.4
Career high: 16

Odds of 20: Not good, but partially just because I say so. Pillar breaking the streak would be . . . I dunno, ugly? Despite being tied for third on the team in home runs, his wRC+ is just 55, meaning he’s hitting 55% as well as the average hitter. He’s been notably below replacement level. I’d rather the futile streak live until 2021, when Heliot Ramos and Joey Bart both fly by 20 homers in early June, than have it bested by a decidedly below-average hitter who ran into a few.

Evan Longoria

Home run count: 6
On pace for: 18.4
Career high: 36

Odds of 20: Pretty decent. Longoria is my pick here. Despite being on the decline, he’s still a strong hitter capable of many home runs. His 36-dinger season was just three years ago, in 2016. He’s only two years removed from a 20-homer season. He’s pretty durable, so, unless the team starts prioritizing Pablo Sandoval over him, he’ll see the plate appearances necessary. I think it happens. Just barely.

Pablo Sandoval

Home run count: 7
On pace for: 21.4
Career high: 25

Odds of 20: I’m a fan of poetry, so I’m going to say very high. Because this would just be hilarious. Sandoval, who struggled so mightily in Boston, who returned to struggle so mightily in his home of San Francisco, figuring things out one last time would be poetic. It’s a small sample size, but he’s having his best season since 2009. It’s easy to look at his current year as “the old Sandoval,” but in reality, he’s been much better than the old Sandoval!

He’s also on pace for 20, despite only having 102 plate appearances, which is eighth on the team, more than 50 behind any of the seven above him. If he keeps hitting well, he’ll keep getting at bats, and this could actually happen.

Brandon Belt

Home run count: 7
On pace for: 21.4
Career high: 18

Odds of 20: Pretty decent. I’ve been banging the 20-homer drum for Belt for years, but he always comes up just short. Usually because of injuries, which are starting to become a little predictive for him. If he stays healthy, it happens - he’s the Giants best hitter by a comfortable margin. But staying healthy - especially when the Giants likely won’t have any incentive to play him past July - is a question mark. He’s already dinged up.

Let’s end this with one more depressing note to put the Giants futility into a little perspective. The Giants haven’t had a 20-homer hitter since 2015, yet they have two players on pace for that mark this year. And those two players are tied for 108th in MLB in home runs.

Oh my.