There was nothing quite like the thin air at Coors Field in the late 1990s and early 2000s, right? The Rockies home run leaders for a single season is proof of that, as Nolan Arenado‘s 2015 performance of 42 home runs has been the only occurrence that’s come close to cracking the very top of this list.
Although, as we write this, news is breaking about Kris Bryant taking his talents to Denver for the next seven years and to the tune of $182 million. So maybe he’ll find his way on this list at some point in the near future.
But for now, let’s take a look at the most powerful seasons in Rockies history, with the top five all happening between 1996 and 2001.
Rockies Home Run Leaders: Top 5
Larry Walker: 49 Home Runs in 1997
Larry Walker put together nine different seasons with at least 4.0 fWAR during his Hall of Fame career, but none were better than his 1997 campaign. He posted 9.1 fWAR with a 177 wRC+, both of which were career-high marks for a single season. He did a little bit of everything while winning NL MVP honors, as he went to the All-Star Game, won a Gold Glove, and brought home a Silver Slugger award. The outfielder slashed a ridiculous .366/.425/.720 line with 49 home runs, 42 doubles, 130 RBI, 143 runs scored…and 33 stolen bases.
Nobody can say he had this crazy season specifically because of Coors, though. Walker hit 29 of his 49 home runs on the road and had a slightly better OPS on the road (1.176) than at home (1.169) in 26 fewer plate appearances. And while his performance was better when Colorado won ballgames, it wasn’t bad when they lost, either. He still slashed .323/.396/.589 with 17 homers and 49 RBI when the Rockies came up short. But when they won? Those numbers jumped to .403/.497/.833 with 32 homers and 88 RBI.
He made an impact in more ways than just being on the field. If you’re wondering what I mean, just give this excellent piece on Walker’s number retirement from SB Nation’s Purple Row a read.
Todd Helton: 49 Home Runs in 2001
Todd Helton is a special case here because he not only owns a share of the franchise’s single-season home run record, but he also used a powerful first half of his career to become the Rockies’ all-time home run king, too. As we’ll see below, this was the end of the most powerful two-year stretch of Helton’s career.
He slashed a healthy .336/.432/.685 while posting 40-plus homers and 140-plus RBI for the second straight year. In addition to winning his second straight Silver Slugger award, he also added a Gold Glove to his mantle. And how’s this for some consistency — when looking at his monthly splits throughout the season, Helton never finished with an OPS below 1.000. That’s cool, but it gets better.
There was just one month when he finished with fewer than 20 RBI (it was 17 in July). He also slugged exactly eight homers in every month of the year, except for May…when he just missed that number and hit nine.
Andrés Galarraga: 47 Home Runs in 1996
(I couldn’t find any Galarraga homers on YouTube from 1996, so we’ll just have to settle for this moonshot instead.)
Andrés Galarraga was a solid player — and a powerful hitter — throughout his MLB career, but his peak power production came as a member of the Rockies. He hit 399 home runs over 19 big-league seasons, and 172 of them — about 43% — came in just five years with Colorado. The Big Cat enjoyed four straight seasons of 30-plus homers, with the last two being at least 40.
The 1996 season was the apex of his power, which was his age-35 campaign. Those 47 homers were a single-season career-high mark and they also led the league. He was at the top of the RBI leaderboard with 150, as well. If we add in his first year with the Atlanta Braves in 1998, Galarraga enjoyed three straight seasons with 40-plus homers and 120-plus RBI.
Galarraga’s home/road splits are more of what the masses would expect from a Rockies hitter, though. He slashed an incredible .359/.419/.738 with 32 home runs and 103 RBI at Coors. On the road, those numbers dropped down to .245/.290/.458, 15, and 47, respectively.
Vinny Castilla: 46 Home Runs in 1998
Vinny Castilla had a pretty long power prime while with the Rockies. It lasted from his age-27 to his age-31 campaigns, which spanned between 1995 and 1999. He enjoyed five straight seasons of 30-plus homers (with three being 40-plus) and four straight seasons of 100-plus RBI during this time. Castilla’s 1998 performance was the best of the bunch, as his 46 dingers and 144 RBI were easily career-best marks.
What’s interesting here is that the third baseman had plenty of success going up to the plate and immediately being aggressive. He made contact with the first pitch of an at-bat 157 times, and Castilla posted a 1.138 OPS with 12 homers and 42 RBI in that specific situation.
Todd Helton: 42 Home Runs in 2000
Technically, we have a tie here between Helton’s 2000 season and Arenado’s 2015 season. So to break the tie, I compared each player’s fWAR and wRC+ in said seasons. In both instances, Helton (7.1 and 160) easily beat out Arenado (4.5 and 121).
While Helton wasn’t a finalist for the MVP award and finished fifth in the voting, he nearly won a triple crown by leading the league in batting average (.372), on-base percentage (463), slugging percentage (.698), RBI (127), doubles (59), and hits (216). The first baseman did enjoy hitting in the thin air at Coors when it came to his home run splits (27 at home, 15 on the road), but his OPS split was ridiculous in both situations (1.242 at home, 1.074 on the road).
What also jumped out when looking at Helton’s campaign was the 59 (!) doubles he hit. There were three straight months when he collected at least 10: June (11), July (10), and August (18).
Rockies Home Run Leaders: The Rest
Arenado (42 in 2015, 41 in 2016 and 2019), and Galarraga (41 in 1997) make up a good portion of the rest of this top-10. However, the Rockies have had five different instances of a player hitting exactly 40 homers in a year: Ellis Burks (1996), Castilla (1996 and 1997), Carlos Gonzalez (2015), and Dante Bichette (1995) have all hit that number.
You can find the full leaderboard on FanGraphs here.