The (potential) 2020 Major League Baseball season offers plenty of uncertainties. The league and its players still haven’t agreed to a restart plan. We don’t know when they’ll play, where they’ll play or how games will look in 2020.
But we do know the year will be much shorter than usual. If the MLB regular season actually happens, rumors suggest it will last about 82 games.
That could present some unusual statistical oddities during the 2020 season. While counting stat records — like Barry Bonds’ 73 home runs — wouldn’t be threatened, rate stats — like batting average — could be in trouble. It’s incredibly hard to sustain a .400 batting average over a full season. Holding a hot streak over 82 games is ... well, it’s not easy, but it’s easier than doing it over 162 games.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the MLB records that could fall during a shortened season. How likely are they to be broken? And will it be legitimate if they are surpassed?
The record: Hugh Duffy hit .440 in 1894.
What’s noteworthy today: Any batting average over .400. Ted Williams, the last to do it, batted .406 in 1941 and even then there had been an 11-year drought since someone eclipsed the mark.
Likelihood it happens in 2020: Breaking any of these records is going to be difficult, but we’ve actually seen a few players flirt with .400 over a half season in recent years. Seattle Mariners great Ichiro Suzuki hit .429 in 76 games after the All-Star break in 2004. Joey Votto hit .408 in 72 games in the second half in 2016. If you pretended Suzuki and Votto’s final 82 games those years were “full seasons” then both players would have posted batting averages over .400. Votto would have barely made it at .401. Suzuki hit .423 in the back half of 2004.
Those are the only two players to hit over .400 in a half season since 2000. Many others have come close, though. Chris Coghlan, Chipper Jones, Derrek Lee and Joe Mauer have all hit .370 or higher during a half season, and Victor Martinez and Buster Posey have exceeded .380 in a half season.
A .400 average could, at the very least, be threatened during an 82-game season.
On-base percentage (and slugging and OPS)
The record: Barry Bonds posted a .609 on-base percentage in 2004.
What’s noteworthy today: An on-base percentage over .500
Likelihood it happens in 2020: Bonds exceeded a .500 on-base percentage multiple times over a half season (and full seasons). Only two other players have managed the feat over half seasons since 2000: Votto in the second half of 2015 and Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, who posted a .509 on-base percentage in the second half of 2006.
Bonds also holds the record for slugging percentage, with an .863 mark in 2001. Bonds is the only player to exceed an .800 slugging percentage in a half season since 2000. He did it three times. Bonds also holds the record for best OPS, with a 1.422 mark in 2004. No other player has exceeded a 1.400 OPS since 2000, even in a half season. Bonds, of course, did that three times as well.
A .500 on-base percentage could happen — Bryce Harper’s dominant 2015 involved a .460 OBP and Mike Trout has had three half seasons over the .450 mark — but no one is going to threaten Bonds’ single-season record in any of the other categories.
Earned Run Average (ERA)
The record: Tim Keefe posted a 0.86 ERA over 105 innings in 1880.
What’s noteworthy today: Any sub-1.00 ERA
Likelihood it happens in 2020: Of all the stats listed here, the ERA record may have the best chance of falling. In fact, former Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta actually posted a 0.75 ERA over 107 1/3 innings during the second half of 2015.
Arrieta did that in 15 starts, which is roughly the workload a starter would expect in an 82-game season. Even if Keefe’s record isn’t threatened, a sub-1.00 ERA is definitely possible. St. Louis Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty posted a 0.91 ERA in 99 1/3 innings in the second half just last season. Stephen Strasburg would have tied the record during the second half in 2017, posting a 0.86 ERA over 62 2/3 innings. Strasburg, however, only started 10 games over that period.
The record: Pedro Martinez posted a 0.73 WHIP in 2000.
What’s noteworthy today: Any sub-0.80 WHIP
Likelihood it happens in 2020: Fantasy owners are well aware of WHIP, but it’s not exactly a celebrated stat. If a pitcher breaks the WHIP record in 2020, the focus will probably be more on a sterling ERA or exceptional strikeout and walk rates.
With that said, it’s possible Martinez’s 0.73 mark gets broken. Arrieta managed a 0.73 WHIP in the second half in 2015. Kershaw also did it that year, and in 2016 undercut Martinez’s record over the full season — alas, an injury held him to 149 innings and prevented his 0.725 WHIP from qualifying as the record.
Johan Santana, Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer (twice) have all posted half-season WHIPs under 0.80 since 2000.
The record: Joe DiMaggio had a 56-game hitting streak in 1941
What’s noteworthy today: Anything near 30
Likelihood it happens in 2020: As long as the 2020 MLB season is 56 games, DiMaggio’s record has a shot to be broken. Technically, the season can be even shorter. Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner will enter 2020 on a 12-game hit streak, and would only need 44 games to tie DiMaggio.
The odds a player breaks DiMaggio’s record won’t change in a shortened season. It’s still going to be just as hard for a player to pick up a hit in 56 consecutive games. If anything, DiMaggio’s feat is even more impressive today. In today’s game, power is stressed over contact, and the strikeout isn’t considered the worst thing in the world for a hitter. A few players have flirted with hitting streaks in the 30s since 2000, but the last player to break 40 was Pete Rose in 1978, whose streak was snapped at 44.
Home runs, runs scored, RBIs, hits, saves, etc.
The records: Too long to list, but easy to research.
What’s noteworthy today: Any time a player is on pace to break one of these records late in the season
Likelihood it happens in 2020: These are the records that are not going to be broken in a shortened season. If anyone hits 74 home runs in 82 games, they are going to be put in a lab and tested for every performance-enhancing drug known to man.
What we’re looking at here is whether any player will finish the shortened 2020 season on pace for a single-season record. Will that count? No. But it will present some interesting what if scenarios that baseball scholars can ponder for years to come.
In order to be on pace to break the home run record, a player would need to hit 36.5 home runs over 82 games. That figure has been threatened twice since 2000. Chris Davis hit 37 home runs in 95 games in 2013, and Giancarlo Stanton hit 33 home runs in 73 games in 2017.
For the RBI record, a player would need to have 95.5 to be on pace for the record. Carlos Delgado had 97 RBIs through 94 games in 2003. Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton have each posted 95 RBIs in a half season, but they also needed 90+ games to reach that number.
For the single-season hit record, a player would need 131 hits to be on pace for the record. Ichiro Suzuki, Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera have all exceeded that figure in 90+ games, but not 82.
For saves, anyone who puts up 31 or more saves in an 82-game season would be on pace to tie or break the record.
Ultimately, there’s no such thing as an on-pace record. While some players might put up historic paces during a shortened season, a large part of the challenge and the esteem stems from the fact that it’s tough to maintain such greatness over a full season. It would be a fun debate if a player is on pace to break a single-season record in 2020, but nothing more.
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