Most Impressive Streaks and Stats from MLB's 1st Half

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystJuly 3, 2013

Most Impressive Streaks and Stats from MLB's 1st Half

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    Streaks and statistics are the lifeblood of Major League Baseball.

    As soon as a player or a team starts doing something good or bad for an extended period of time, it's time for a history lesson and a debate over whether the record in question can be broken. 

    Case in point, Adam Wainwright opened the season with 34.2 consecutive innings pitched without allowing a walk. This led us to not only question who held the all-time record and what it was, but to also question whether Wainwright could surpass the record of 84.1 innings set by Bill Fischer in 1962.

    He didn't break the record, and Fischer's name slips back into obscurity until the next time someone strings together a few dozen consecutive innings without allowing a base on balls.

    Let's take a look at a handful of other statistical streaks from the first half of the 2013 MLB season that could eventually send us digging through the history books.

     

    *All statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.com, ESPN.com and Baseball-Reference.com and are accurate through the start of play on Tuesday, July 2.

Michael Cuddyer: Almost Halfway to Joe DiMaggio

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    This was written on Tuesday afternoon—several hours before Michael Cuddyer's 27-game hitting streak came to a close at the hands of a Clayton Kershaw shutout. Still, it only makes sense to open this article by mentioning the most often discussed streak in the history of baseball.

    If he could have kept it going through Independence Day, Cuddyer would have had the 56th hitting streak of at least 30 games in baseball history—an iconic number, given Joe DiMaggio is the all-time record holder with a 56-game hitting streak.

    It's funny how completely unpredictable these hitting streaks can be. You would think the list would be overrun by players with high batting averages like Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn and more recently Ichiro Suzuki.

    Those names are nowhere to be found.

    Instead, Dan Uggla is one of the three people in the past decade with a hitting streak of at least 31 games. Uggla put together his 33-game hitting streak in 2011, which helped him finish the season with a batting average of .233.

    Assuming four at-bats per game with a .233 batting average, the odds of Uggla getting a hit in 33 consecutive games that season were one in 1.224 million.

    Even with a .344 batting average, Cuddyer's chances of putting together his 27-game hitting streak were just one in 252.

    Someone else will inevitably compile another 20-game hitting streak before the end of the season, and we'll once again get just as excited as we were getting about Cuddyer's month of domination.

Bartolo Colon: The Man of No Mistakes

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    Every once in a while, even the greatest pitchers let one slip.

    All the greatest pitchers except for Bartolo Colon.

    Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Hyun-Jin Ryu have yet to hit a batter, but they have combined to throw 14 wild pitches. Mike Leake and Justin Verlander haven't thrown any pitches to the backstop, but they have pegged a total of seven batters this season.

    Colon has hit zero batters. Colon has thrown zero wild pitches.

    Of the 52 pitchers who have hurled at least 100 innings—Colon has pitched 106.1 innings in 2013—he's the only person who can make both of those claims. In fact, Clay Buchholz (84.1 IP) is the only other pitcher that has logged at least 60 innings without pegging anyone or throwing one past his catcher.

    From the "also worth mentioning" department, Colon has the lowest walk rate of all qualified starters not named Adam Wainwright.

    Let's just say it's no coincidence that his name is almost a perfect anagram of "ball control."

Jay Bruce: Fundamental Fielding

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    Thanks to a clean bill of health and the 13 extra-inning games the Reds have played this season, Jay Bruce has played more innings in the field than any other player in baseball.

    Another contributing factor to his consistent deployment in right field is the fact that he hasn't committed a single error this season. That makes him one of just 11 players to have been in the field for at least 500 innings this season without committing an error.

    Only Denard Span, Darwin Barney and Russell Martin have remained perfect through more opportunities than Bruce. Those three guys are essentially defensive specialists, though. Span has the highest batting average of the bunch at .263. They have combined to hit 12 home runs on the season.

    Bruce, on the other hand, is an offensive juggernaut who happens to not also be a defensive liability. His 18 home runs put him just four behind Carlos Gonzalez for the lead in the National League.

    He's a severe dark horse for the NL MVP award, but there are few NL players who were more valuable than Bruce in the first half of the season.

Norichika Aoki: The Unwhiffable Force

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    Strikeouts are out of control.

    As I mentioned last week and Jason Catania much further dove into, we're likely headed toward new all-time records in strikeouts for a single season.

    Lost among this sea of pathological whiffers is Norichika Aoki.

    While Chris Carter has yet to go more than 10 consecutive plate appearances without a strikeout—and incredibly struck out at least once in 27 of his first 28 games this season—Aoki has struck out in just 17 of his 345 plate appearances this season. (Carter picked up his 17th strikeout of the season on April 12.)

    Aoki has the best strikeout rate in the majors and the longest streak of consecutive plate appearances without a K. From May 25 through June 11, Aoki came to the plate 72 consecutive times without striking out.

    On average, batters in 2013 are striking out in 19.8 percent of their plate appearances. At that rate, the odds of an average person lasting 72 plate appearances without a whiff are one in 8,023,169.

    I'll occasionally just mash the number keys when trying to make a point about how frequently or infrequently something happens, but that is the actual mathematical probability. If you sent over eight million league-average hitters to the plate 72 times, only one of them should survive the experiment without a strikeout.

    Aoki is truly a needle in a haystack.

Tyler Chatwood: Rocky Mountain Low?

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    Once upon a time, Coors Field rightfully received a reputation as a haven for home run hitters to rediscover their swing.

    From 1995 through 2001, the Rockies' pitching staff allowed more home runs per inning pitched than any other team, while the Rockies' batters ranked third in the majors in home runs hit during the same time interval.

    Since they started storing the baseballs in humidors in 2002—a practice which some other minor league teams have adopted—those numbers have regressed closer to the norm.

    Over the past 11 seasons, the pitching staff still allowed the seventh-most home runs, but that had more to do with the continued use of guys like Josh Fogg, Denny Neagle and Shawn Chacon than it did the altitude. Rockies' batters were 13th in home runs hit over the same 11-year range.

    Despite that history lesson on the decrease of home runs in Colorado, it's still pretty amazing that they enter play on Tuesday tied for the second-lowest rate of home runs allowed in 2013.

    Even more amazing, Tyler Chatwood hasn't allowed a single home run in 50.2 innings of work. Thanks to the third-highest ground ball rate in the majors, a pitcher for the Colorado Rockies is the only person to have pitched more than 40 innings this season without allowing a home run.

    As soon as someone figures out how to build a time machine, I intend to travel back to 1998 and read that last paragraph in Denver to find out how many people faint from disbelief.

Hunter Pence: Professional Pilferer

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    Hunter Pence is hardly the fleetest of feet.

    Prior to this season, Pence was averaging about 11 stolen bases per season and was only successful in 63 percent of his attempts. Over the past two seasons, he stole a grand total of 13 bases in 314 games.

    He has already stolen 13 bases in 82 games this season and has yet to be caught once.

    That success rate puts him in elite company. Only 17 times since "caught stealing" started being tracked—which appears to reliably date back to about 1926—has a player finished a season with at least 13 stolen bases and a 100 percent success rate. (Research conducted independently offline. A link to this list does not exist.)

    If Pence can steal two more bags without being caught this season, he would become just the ninth person with at least 15 stolen bases and a perfect record on the basepaths.

    Three of the other eight on that list have done it in the past four years. Chase Utley set the all-time record in 2009 by going 23-for-23. (Utley was actually 61-for-64 from 2009 through 2012.) Craig Gentry went 18-for-18 in 2011, and Quintin Berry was 21-for-21 last year.

    Just 11 more stolen bases and Pence will bypass them all.

The Unbeatable Max Scherzer

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    If you want to read up on the start to the season that Max Scherzer has had and find out how it compares to other undefeated starts throughout the history of the game, you're going to love what Zachary Rymer wrote on Saturday.

    Rather than trying to replicate some of that awesome research, let's just marvel at what Scherzer has done thus far and ask whether he can become the second person to reach 25 wins in a single season in my lifetime.

    The crazy thing is that Scherzer should be doing better than he actually is. Both his FIP and xFIP indicate that his ERA should be lower than its current position at 3.10.

    Typically, pitchers with a lower than average BABIP have a FIP that is higher than their ERA—under the theory that ERA should increase as BABIP regresses to normal. However, Scherzer and Matt Cain are the only pitchers with a BABIP under .275 and a FIP that is at least 0.02 runs lower than their actual ERA.

    Scherzer has been lucky with his batting average on balls in play, but given his strikeout rate and career-low walk rate, he's actually been unlucky in regard to earned runs allowed.

    Will he stay undefeated all season? I very much doubt it. But he could definitely get to 25 wins if he keeps getting the amount of run support that he's been getting to this point in the season.

Shin-Soo Choo: Hit Me, Baby, One More Time

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    On June 25, Jerry Blevins came out of the Oakland bullpen and drilled the first batter he faced.

    It was the third time Blevins had hit a batter in 33.1 innings of relief duty, but it was the 20th time that particular batter had acquired a bruise to get to first base.

    With the plunk, Shin-Soo Choo has officially been hit by more pitches this season than any player in either of the last two seasons, bypassing the 19 times that Justin Upton and Danny Espinosa were each pegged in 2011.

    At the end of that game—Cincinnati's 78th of the season—Choo was on pace to finish the season with approximately 42 beanballs. Aside from Ron Hunt finishing the 1971 season with 50 HBP, no one has been hit by more than 35 pitches in a season since before 1900.

    He hasn't been hit by a pitch in the five games since June 25, but he has only once made it more than nine games this season without a HBP. It's safe to assume he'll be wincing his way to first at least once or twice in the next few days.

Every Noteworthy Team Streak on One Slide

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    Rather than dedicating a bunch of individual slides to various prolonged team accomplishments, we'll just run rapid fire through some of the most impressive and/or surprising ones:

    1) Toronto had an 11-game winning streak from June 11 through June 23. In less than a fortnight, the Blue Jays went from nine games under .500 to forcing every baseball personality to dig up their preseason predictions and pretend they've believed in the Jays all along. They enter play on Tuesday just 5.5 games out of the playoff picture.

    2) Milwaukee had a nine-game winning streak from April 14 through April 23. The Brewers opened the season 2-8 before briefly restoring hope for the state of Wisconsin. They're 21-41 since the end of said winning streak.

    3) Boston is 9-3 against Tampa Bay this season, but that's not the weird part. Andrew Bailey's first three blown saves of the season all came against the Rays. The Red Sox would go on to win all three of those games and stopped giving the ball to Bailey in the ninth inning a few days later. Closers are overrated.

    4) The Atlanta Braves opened the season by winning 12 of their first 13 games. They are just three games over .500 since April 16, but they still have a six-game lead over the Washington Nationals in the NL East.

    5) The Miami Marlins are 8-3 against the New York Mets (.727 winning percentage) and 22-48 against everyone else (.314 winning percentage). The Marlins won just five of their 27 games between May 1 and May 30—a streak of futility that started after two straight wins over the Mets and ended just before three straight wins over the Mets.

    6) On May 16, Oakland was two games below .500 and 7.5 games behind Texas in the AL West. Within two-and-a-half weeks they were 11 games over .500 and nipping at the Rangers' heels.

Individual Stats That Go Without Mentioning

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    If you've paid any attention at all over the past three months, you've no doubt heard what most of these guys are up to. That doesn't make their success in the first half of the season  is any less impressive:

    1) Chris Davis leads the universe in home runs. He has 31 of them through July 1 and has led some to wonder whether he might hit 60 home runs this season—and whether it should be the official home run record if he gets to 62.

    2) Also potentially setting records in Baltimore, Manny Machado has 38 doubles and is on pace to smash the all-time record of 67 two-baggers. He also has the seventh-best WAR among hitters in baseball. 

    3) Jason Grilli came out of nowhere to become the most valuable relief pitcher in the National League. He has slowed down considerably over the past two weeks, but he raced out to 25 saves by mid-June with ERA and strikeout numbers that would have put him in the discussion for greatest single season of all time by a reliever.

    4) Miguel Cabrera is flirting with a second consecutive Triple Crown. He leads the AL in batting average by a considerable margin, and his only real competition in home runs or RBI is Chris Davis. If either Cabrera or Davis was to miss some time with an injury, it's almost a foregone conclusion that the other would win a Triple Crown.

    5) Matt Harvey vs. Adam Wainwright is going to be an incredible battle to watch for the NL Cy Young. As long as Cliff Lee remains in the National League after the trade deadline, don't rule him out of the race, either.

    6) Carlos Gonzalez and the Colorado Rockies might be the best-kept secret in all of baseball.

    CarGo is on pace for 43 home runs and 29 stolen bases for the team with the best run differential in a very winnable NL West. Yet, as far as public perception seems to be concerned, they're just battling the Padres for the honor of least talked about team in the National League West.