The Best Individual 60-Game Performances in Recent MLB History

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 6, 2020

The Best Individual 60-Game Performances in Recent MLB History

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    To hit Jake Arrieta in the second half of 2015 was to do the impossible.
    To hit Jake Arrieta in the second half of 2015 was to do the impossible.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Because it will be only 60 games long, the 2020 Major League Baseball season doesn't figure to be an especially memorable one for counting statistics.

    But if just the last decade is any indication, it could be a different story for rate stats.

    To get a sense of what kind of extraordinary hitting and pitching performances might materialize in 2020, we sought out the best 60-game stretches by individual players between 2010 and 2019.

    This involved looking for extremely high or low numbers in various categories that might be replicated this season. For hitters, we searched for 60-game samples that weren't interrupted by anything other than the All-Star break. For pitchers, we drew the line at what they did within 60 team games.

    Let's begin with the standout offensive performers.

Best OPS: Bryce Harper in 2015

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Dates: May 6-July 23

    Key Stats: 251 PA, 22 HR, .373 AVG, .490 OBP, .784 SLG, 1.274 OPS

    Though there are nits to pick with his other seven major league seasons, it can't be overstated just how dominant Bryce Harper was for the Washington Nationals in 2015.

    He was never not hot that year, as he didn't have a single month in which his OPS dipped below .900. But starting with a three-homer outburst opposite the Miami Marlins, he was never hotter than he was between May 6 and July 23.

    Harper, who was only 22 years old at the time, was about as locked in as a hitter can possibly be. He had more walks (44) than strikeouts (42) in that stretch, and 51 percent of his hits went for extra bases.

    Whether Harper or anyone else could be so brilliant in 60 games this year is the definition of a "big if." But if it does happen, it would mark only the ninth OPS of at least 1.270 in MLB history. As it is, the eight in existence now belong to arguably the three best hitters of all time: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds.

Best Batting Average: Josh Hamilton in 2010

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Dates: June 4-August 14

    Key Stats: 256 PA, 17 HR, .427 AVG, .473 OBP, .761 SLG, 1.233 OPS

    Nobody has hit .400 in a season since Ted Williams achieved a .406 average in 1941. In the event that somebody does it this season, their work will inevitably be subject to an asterisk.

    Even still, it's cool that a .400 average is even a realistic possibility for 2020. And if somebody gets as hot as Josh Hamilton was between June 4 and August 14 of 2010, we could get an average well north of the .400 plateau.

    By way of a .291/.341/.500 batting line, he was already having a good season for the Texas Rangers when he began that stretch. But it was more or less in those 60 games that he clinched the American League MVP award. He had at least two hits in 27 of those games, and there were only seven in which he went hitless.

    If somebody were to tap into Hamilton's 2010 magic and hit at least .427 this season, it would mark the highest single-season average since Nap Lajoie hit exactly .4265 in 1901.

Best On-Base Percentage: Joey Votto in 2015

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Dates: July 18-September 21

    Key Stats: 268 PA, 12 HR, .374 AVG, .560 OBP, .663 SLG, 1.223 OPS

    What Jimi Hendrix was to playing guitar, Joey Votto is to getting on base.

    Since 2009, the Cincinnati Reds star has had only two seasons in which his on-base percentage wasn't over .400. He's also led at least the National League in OBP in seven of the last 10 years.

    As such, it might have been inevitable that Votto would go off like he did between July 18 and September 21 of 2015. He struck out more often (46 times, to be exact) during that stretch than you might think, yet he still inflated his OBP with help from a .446 average on balls in play and a 29.1 walk percentage.

    Because Votto, 36, finally began showing his age last season, it's highly unlikely he or anyone else will do as well as a .560 OBP over 60 games this season. But if it happens, Barry Bonds will no longer be the only hitter to have ever gotten on base at such a high rate in a full season.

Best Slugging Percentage: Giancarlo Stanton in 2017

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    Dates: June 23-August 30

    Key Stats: 263 PA, 33 HR, .317 AVG, .422 OBP, .824 SLG, 1.246 OPS

    The first two-and-a-half months of Giancarlo Stanton's 2017 campaign were pretty good but not spectacular. Through June 22, he was sitting on an .883 OPS and 18 home runs.

    But it was around then that Stanton adjusted his batting stance from open to closed, which he said put him in his "best striking position." His numbers between June 23 and August 30 would back that up, as he hit 15 more home runs than anyone else during that span.

    Granted, it didn't hurt the then-Miami Marlins star's cause that the ball was juiced in 2017. But he really didn't need any help, as he was averaging 101 mph on his fly balls and line drives during his power binge.

    Given that 2019 was one of the best slugging seasons in MLB history, it's not out of the question that somebody will follow Stanton's fine example in 2020. If so, Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth will no longer be the only players to finish a season with a slugging percentage of at least .820.

Best ERA: Jake Arrieta in 2015

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Dates: July 30-October 2

    Key Stats: 13 GS, 94.1 IP, 95 K, 17 BB, 0.57 ERA, .142 AVG, 0.67 WHIP

    Through the first half of 2015, Jake Arrieta had already put up an ace-like 2.75 ERA in 52 starts since coming to the Chicago Cubs in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles in 2013.

    Even still, not even the Cubs' wildest dreams could have prepared them for what Arrieta would do in the second half of that season.

    He ultimately posted a 0.75 ERA over 15 total starts, yet it was in the last 13 of those that he shined brightest. He held the opposition scoreless in nine of them, the pinnacle of which was his 12-strikeout no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 30.

    Like with any batter who hits over .400, any pitcher who makes like Arrieta and posts a sub-1.00 ERA this year will invariably have an asterisk attached to his accomplishment. Nevertheless, it would still technically mark the first sub-1.00 ERA since Dutch Leonard finished the 1914 campaign with a 0.96 mark.

Best Strikeout Rate: Gerrit Cole in 2019

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Dates: July 22-September 29

    Key Stats: 12 GS, 82.2 IP, 132 K, 15 BB, 1.52 ERA, .146 AVG, 0.68 WHIP

    In 2019, Gerrit Cole became the first pitcher to strike out over 320 batters in a season since Randy Johnson in 2002. But because Cole pitched only 212.1 innings, joining that club required a record-setting 39.9 strikeout percentage.

    In terms of total strikeouts, Cole's best 60-game run for the Houston Astros came when he whiffed 133 of the 306 batters he faced between July 17 and September 24. However, he actually struck hitters out at a higher rate in racking up 132 punchouts out of 300 batters faced between July 22 and September 29.

    To be exact, Cole's strikeout rate in that span was 44 percent. Such a high rate isn't altogether unheard of, but it's typically the province of swing-and-miss relievers like Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel and Josh Hader.

    Because the league's strikeout rate is going up on an annual basis, it's surely possible that a starter will strike batters out at a 44 percent clip this season. Certainly, the top candidate to do so is Cole himself.

Best Batting Average Against: Jack Flaherty in 2019

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Dates: July 26-September 29

    Key Stats: 13 GS, 88.0 IP, 109 K, 18 BB, 0.92 ERA, .132 AVG, 0.65 WHIP

    Though he missed out on the All-Star Game, Jack Flaherty was so hot in the second half that he ended up getting votes for both the Cy Young Award and the MVP.

    The St. Louis Cardinals ace went on that run because he was about as unhittable as a pitcher can be. In all, he held opposing hitters to a .142 average after the break. The only pitcher to ever do better than that in a half was Nolan Ryan (.141) in the second half of 1986.

    Specifically, Flaherty was at his most unhittable between July 26 and September 29. He faced 319 batters and yielded only 39 hits. He helped himself with a 34.2 strikeout percentage, while St. Louis' exceptional defense had a hand in getting his BABIP down to .186.

    The league's batting average actually went up to .252 last year, so Flaherty's feat won't be an easy one to replicate. But if somebody does it, Pedro Martinez's .167 average from 2000 will technically fall as the single-season record.

Best WHIP: Justin Verlander in 2019

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Dates: April 13-June 18

    Key Stats: 13 GS, 90.2 IP, 114 K, 14 BB, 2.28 ERA, .139 AVG, 0.64 WHIP

    To his credit, New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom also posted a 0.64 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) in an 11-start run between May 21 and July 26 of 2015.

    More exactly, however, he had a .6439 WHIP in that span. In allowing 14 walks and 44 hits in 90.2 innings, Justin Verlander attained a slightly better WHIP of .6430 between April 13 and June 18 of 2019.

    Because his final WHIP of .803 was the third-lowest ever for a qualified pitcher, it should be no surprise that Verlander is under this particular spotlight. And he was certainly at his most untouchable during the aforementioned run. Beyond striking out 100 more batters than he walked, he and the Astros defense teamed up for a .144 BABIP.

    A .737 WHIP is yet another single-season record attached to Pedro Martinez's 2000 campaign. Asterisks aside, it's likewise another record that could fall if even one pitcher gets hot enough during this year's 60-game season.

              

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.