Last summer, one of the many running jokes we had during Phillies games in the NBC Sports Philadelphia newsroom was that Scott Kingery was going to hit .400. Kingery, you may recall, was hitting .406 at the end of April and .347 on June 1 (in only 80 plate appearances).
Every time Kingery got a knock, our producer would yell over, “Scotty’s assault on .400 continues!”
Fun can be had with small sample sizes. Of course, we all knew that Kingery wasn’t going to hit .400 over a full season.
But what about a half-season?
We could see some MLB records “fall” in 2020. They would likely be accompanied by an asterisk, but tell me you wouldn’t be interested in a player battling in the final weeks to hit .400, or a starting pitcher maintaining an ERA right around 1.00?
The single-season record in the live-ball era (post-1920) belongs to Rogers Hornsby, who hit .424 in 1924. The last time anyone hit .400 was when Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.
But did you know that in the final 81 games of the 2004 season, Ichiro hit .425? The 2020 season could end up being 82 games, and you don’t even have to go back two decades to find the last time a player could have “set the record” in that many games.
Of course, there is no Ichiro in today’s game. In fact, over the last five years, only 11 players have even hit .330 in a season, Bryce Harper being one of them in 2015. Jose Altuve is the only one to do it twice within the last five seasons. It’s such a different game than in 2004 when Ichiro did his thing, mostly because strikeouts have skyrocketed and balls in play have plummeted.
The likelihood of anyone hitting .400 this season (and perhaps ever again) is remote, even in 82 games or 400 plate appearances. Last season, the closest anyone was to .400 through 80 to 82 games was Cody Bellinger at .346.
The modern record belongs to Bob Gibson, who had a 1.12 ERA in 1968, a putrid offensive season leaguewide. A year later, the mound was lowered by five inches.
Could a starting pitcher post an ERA below 1.12 in a shortened season?
If the season is 82 games, a starting pitcher could make a maximum of 16 regular-season starts. Starting pitchers will not be going as deep into games because they will not be built up the way they usually are. You’d think six-inning starts would be rarities, especially in the early going.
So let’s safely assume that a starting pitcher will end up with around 90 innings. Posting an ERA below 1.12 would require allowing no more than 11 earned runs over those 90 innings.
Doable? Yeah. Almost every year we see a starting pitcher dominate for a half-season. In 2019, Hyun-Jin Ryu had a 1.26 ERA through his first 14 starts and 93 innings. Two fewer earned runs would have had him at 1.06.
The year before, Jacob deGrom had a 0.90 ERA over a 70-inning stretch and a 1.28 ERA over a 100-inning stretch.
It could happen, though Dan Haren’s got a good point.
82 game season where we want to provide the most entertaining product possible makes me think 1 thing. No chance they de-juice the ball. Good luck pitchers.
— dan haren (@ithrow88) May 18, 2020
You also have to consider the pressure of doing so. Pitching seven scoreless innings in July to lower your ERA to 1.06 in a normal year is not the same as needing to pitch seven scoreless at the end of an abbreviated season to have the lowest ERA in decades.
OBP and slugging percentage
Yeah … no. Nobody is outslugging Barry Bonds’ .863 from 2001. As amazing as Bellinger’s 2019 was, he was slugging 160 points lower halfway through the season.
And nobody is going to come within 100 points of Bonds’ record .609 OBP in 2004. My favorite part of that number is that Bonds’ NON-on-base-percentage that year was .391, which would lead the league in OBP in most years itself.
The modern record is 0.73 by Pedro Martinez in 2000 at the height of the steroid era. Totally absurd.
This is another record that could be bested in a shortened 2020 season. Justin Verlander had a 0.80 WHIP just last year, the second-lowest mark in the last 107 seasons.
Nobody really remembers who has the WHIP record, but it could fall this season based on how much less contact there is in the sport. The guys who miss bats and live in the strike zone like Verlander of Cliff Lee in his prime are the likeliest candidates.
Had Verlander’s 2019 season ended after 90 innings, he’d have been decimal points better in WHIP than Pedro in 2000.
The record belongs to Phil Hughes, who walked one batter for every 11.63 he struck out in 2014. He also posted this picture the other day.
— Phil Hughes (@PJHughes45) May 18, 2020
In 2010, Cliff Lee’s strikeout ratio was at 14.8 when he was traded from the Mariners to the Rangers. His season was 104 innings old.
This baby could fall, though even one start with two or three walks would likely close the door for a candidate.