Here are two things we know. The first thing is hitting home runs is very hard to do. Hitting a home run requires the perfect combination of strength and hand-eye coordination, and achieving both against major league pitching has famously been described as the hardest thing to do in sports. The second thing is everyone hits them anyway.
It's true that the best players tend to hit home runs more frequently, but even the worst players, the ones on the periphery, the ones that spend most of their time in the minor leagues only occasionally surfacing in the majors, hit home runs occasionally. Even defense first guys, like Rey Ordonez, who famously couldn't hit, hit the occasional home run. So home runs are very hard to hit, but even so, everyone hits home runs.
Those two things apply to everyone, and by "everyone" I mean "everyone except Ben Revere." That's because Ben Revere does not hit home runs. Through July 4, Ben Revere has come to the plate exactly 300 times this season and hit exactly zero home runs. That's a long time to go without a homer, but it doesn't make him unique. Denard Span and Elvis Andrus have both had over 300 plate appearances this season (348 and 372, respectively) and failed to hit a home run. What makes them different is that they've hit home runs before. Andrus isn't a home run hitter by any means, but he hit three last season and five the season before. The same can be said for Span, who hit four last season, two the season prior, and has the Ruthian total of 23 in his career.
Andrus and Span are typical of non-home run hitters. They don't hit home runs, but every so often, when the winds are blowing out, the weather is hot, or the porch is close, they hit home runs. And that's where Revere parts ways. He doesn't hit home runs. The weather can be scorching hot, the wind can be gusting out, and the outfield fence can be in his grill but, at least through Thursday, it doesn't matter. Ben Revere doesn't hit home runs.
I could speculate why, stylistic objections, huge fan of the dead-ball era, enjoyer of incremental improvement, but the truth is probably simpler: he can't. I say he can't because hitting home runs is a lot like making money is to most of us. Generally speaking, if the opportunity to make more money presents itself, we take it. If a player can hit a home run, he will, or at least will try, which, if attempted often enough, will eventually result in a home run. No player, regardless of what small-ball pabulum they may cite in a post-game scrum, actively avoids home runs.
Ben Revere does not avoid home runs, but he does not hit them, which I guess is only different semantically but there you are anyway. To bring it back to on-field performance, this is a bit of a problem for a non-pitching baseball player. There are many different ways to create value on a baseball field other than hitting homers and Revere has the tools, primarily speed and defensive prowess, to be a valuable player even without popping a few each season, but his complete lack of power makes it more difficult for him to succeed, at least at the plate. This has an effect on the way fielders position themselves for Revere and the way pitchers throw to him.
Revere's lack of power isn't confined to the home run column. Over his 1,364 plate appearances he has 42 extra base hits. For some context, Revere's teammate on the Phillies, Domonic Brown, has 38 extra base hits in 341 plate appearances this season. Part of the problem is that Revere doesn't hit the ball very far, but another part comes when fielders know that Revere doesn't hit the ball very far. That knowledge lets fielders, especially outfielders, play in. That effectively makes the playing field smaller and makes hitting singles more difficult.
Then we get to pitchers. Pitchers are much like the middle-school bully at lunch. They'll take advantage of you if you let them. (Isn't that right, Christian Preston?) But show them some strength in the form of hitting for power, and you'll get some respect coming your way. No pitcher wants to be taken over the wall, so show him you can do that and he'll pitch you more carefully. More carefully means more pitches outside the strike zone and that means more walks, which means more value (assuming the batter is smart enough to take advantage). But, if the pitcher knows you can't hurt him deep there's no reason not to pump it down the middle. More strikes means more strikeouts and fewer walks and that depresses a player's value.
That's Ben Revere's problem and it's provable. According to FanGraphs, Revere sees the tenth most pitches in the strike zone in baseball among the 158 qualifying batters. Pitchers aren't afraid of him, and with good reason. The downside of throwing a strike to Ben Revere is he hits a single. That's more or less comparable to throwing him four wide ones. Ben Revere is as capable of hitting a home run off of this hypothetical pitcher as you or I am. Well, you anyway.
That is the core of Revere's problem, but it's not a fatal one. The players on the list above him include a few very productive hitters in Marco Scutaro, Nate McLouth, and Brett Gardner. You wouldn't call any of those guys home run hitters, but unlike Revere, they can and do hit the occasional home run. Gotta keep the pitchers honest or you'll end up on the cafeteria floor and without any means to buy lunch.
Revere's lack of power has to be compensated for in other ways and to this point this season he's failed to do that. Fine defense or not, you have to be able to hit a little bit to justify a team writing your name in the lineup every afternoon and Revere is on the road to becoming a fourth or fifth outfielder.
All of that is fine and good, or if you're Ben Revere, bad, but it's not what made me want to write this column. What made me want to write this column is that Revere, whether he wants to be or not, is on a historic path. Including this season, Revere has gone 1,364 plate appearances in the majors without hitting a home run. That puts him within distance of a record: the most plate appearances to start a career without hitting a home run.* Just this season Revere passed Jason Tyner, who went 1,318 plate appearances before homering. Next up are Alex Cole (1,508 homerless plate appearances) and Duane Kuiper (1,532). If things hold, and there's really no reason to think they won't, both will be passed by Revere later this summer.
*This, incidentally, is one of the very few records in major league baseball that, given the opportunity, I feel like I could break.
That will put Revere somewhere in the vicinity of 1,800 plate appearances without a home run. At that point he'll still be roughly 600 plate appearances behind the leader in that ignominious race, a dead ball-era catcher and outfielder named Bill Holbert. Holbert played major league baseball for Louisville, Syracuse, and Troy, New York, among other cities. It would take Revere roughly another season plus a few plate appearances to 'catch' the ancient catcher. However, Holbert happened a while ago and the game was much different then. Home runs were much more difficult to hit than they are now. So it makes sense to focus on the modern record held by Red Sox outfielder Tom Oliver. Oliver put together 2,073 plate appearances in his homerless career from 1930 to 1933. If he works hard enough, but not too hard, Revere could pass Oliver next season.
But that's the conundrum, isn't it? If Revere keeps not homering his chances of continuing to play every day atop the Phillies lineup diminish. But, if he homers, he homered and thus becomes utterly uninteresting to me. On one hand he doesn't want to lose his job, but on the other some guy on the internet likes silly things. Ah, the dilemma he must face before each at-bat! The only thing left to do is watch. Watch and wait. Watch Revere and wait for him to homer. But, if his history holds, it'll mostly be watching.