Reifman: Studying the continuity of four-home run games

From SABR member Alan Reifman at The Hot Hand in Sports on May 10, 2012:

With Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night joining the club of sluggers who have belted four home runs in a single game, I decided to examine Hamilton’s and all previous four-homer games in detail to see what we might learn about the continuity and timing of such outbursts. For example, when a player has homered four times in a game, have the four blasts tended to come in four consecutive at-bats? Against the same pitcher each time? If not the same pitcher, has the throwing arm at least been consistent across pitchers faced? You get the idea.

Hamilton, of course, is best known for overcoming drug-abuse problems to bring his beautiful bat swing — reminiscent, in some observers’ eyes, of the main character in “The Natural”  — to the major leagues. In the 2008 Home Run Derby during the All-Star Break, Hamilton socked 28 homers in a single round. Thus, as rare a feat as hitting four home runs in a game is, one had the feeling that if anyone would do so in the near future, Hamilton could well be the person.

My starting point was this list, from Wikipedia, of the 16 major-league players to hit four homers in a game. For each instance, I then consulted Retrosheet, an online archive of MLB box scores and play-by-play sheets. Box scores routinely list all home runs hit in a game by hitter, pitcher, and inning. The accompanying play-by-play sheets supplement the box scores by listing in narrative fashion what happened on all at-bats in the game, thus documenting what the hitter with four home runs did in all his other at-bats (if any) during the game.

For the 11 batters who had four-homer games from 1950 to the present, the chart below thus documents what they did in each at-bat of their big game. For three batters whose four-homer game occurred in the 1930s or ’40s, Retrosheet had box scores only, so the non-homer at-bats could not be charted. Finally, for Bobby Lowe (1894) and Ed Delahunty (1896), neither box scores nor play-by-play sheets were available, so they do not appear in the following tables.

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Originally published: May 10, 2012. Last Updated: May 10, 2012.