As we look ahead to what is likely to be the strangest season in memory—if not ever—we can anticipate many reasons to remember 2020 baseball. Chief among them may be the chance for some heavily-asterisked bits of history.
In 1994, when the Major League Baseball season was cut short by a strike (which managed to do something all previous world wars were unable to do: cancel the World Series), Tony Gwynn very nearly made things quite awkward. When the season came to a close on September 14, Tony Gwynn and the Padres had played 117 of their potential 162 games, with the legendary stick man hitting .394. Had Gwynn gotten one more game to play, and gone a cool 4-for-4, suddenly MLB would have had to have reckoned with their first .400 hitter since Ted Williams; but of course, with a potential asterisk and all the chatter that would’ve come with it.
(There would’ve been even more banter considering a 4-for-4 day would have given him, techincally, a .3995 batting average, meaning he’d need to be rounded up to .400. The penultimate day of the 1941 season, Williams was sitting in the same spot, technically on .400 but only thanks to rounding up. The rest of the story you know, however, how he decided to play that final day—a double-header—and went 6-for-8 to put any potential .400 questions to bed.)
The potential for statistical asterisks is even greater now in 2020, with a season just barely over half the length of that 1994 season, and barely over a third the length of a regular season. It’s almost guaranteed that the season ends with some funky numbers, given the sample size, so let’s take a look at some potential funky 2020 stats through our Rays lens.
Slash Line Fun
This is the spot where there is the highest chance of “history.” It’s where Gwynn almost made us debate what entails a season, and it’s where we could see some of the craziest numbers in 2020. Since integration, the highest qualified batting average has been the aforementioned Gwynn, while there are six different iterations (Bonds four times, Teddy Ballgame, and Mickey Mantle) of players posting an OBP over .500. Bonds’ .863 slugging percentage in 2001 is the record for all of baseball history—post-1947 or otherwise.
It’s hard to imagine anyone topping Bonds’ slugging percentage, even in a short season, which speaks to its absurdity. Even dropping the historical search down to 182 plate appearances, the best single-season slugging percentage remains Bonds’ .863—which makes sense. If you’re slugging like that, it’s not as if you’re going to lose your spot in the lineup.
The .400 mark is far more possible. We’ve seen batters hitting .400 as late as June 18 (Chipper Jones, through 73 team games) and even as late as September 19 (George Brett, through 104 individual games). So who is the most likely Ray to join those ranks?
1) Austin Meadows — FanGraph’s Depth Charts has Meadows projected for the highest batting average on the Rays in 2020, and you won’t get much disagreement from Rays fans on that one.
2) Yandy Diaz — Yandy would be my sleeper pick, as a guy who is contact friendly as hell, and can run scorching hot at times.
3) Mike Zunino — Just kidding... or am I? 2020 is gonna be soooo weird, y’all.
As for a chase for .500 OBP or .863 SLG, I like Brandon Lowe taking advantage of rusty pitchers for the SLG run, with Yandy as the repeat favorite for a crazy 50 games in which he somehow reaches base every other time he gets up.
On the pitching side of things, the two big numbers to watch would be ERA and WHIP. The ERA record is a strange one, with Baseball-Reference listing Tim Keefe’s 0.86 ERA over 105.0 innings in 1880 as the record, while most people would cite Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA in 1968 as the record in their minds. For WHIP, it’s for more manageable, when Pedro Martinez went buckwild in 2000, posting a WHIP of 0.737.
And in all honesty, over a 60-game (maybe 75 inning or so) stretch for Rays starters, couldn’t you easily see Tyler Glasnow matching one of those marks? In 60.2 innings last season, his first “full” season under Rays tutelage, he posted a 1.78 ERA (2.26 FIP) and 0.890 WHIP.... while quite possibly tipping his pitches. The man is 6-8, with a 97 mph fastball and is just reaching his prime. The possibilities over a 60-game sample are honestly incredible. Of all the names and stats mentioned in this article, Glasnow has to be the clubhouse leader in terms of actually getting it done, right?!
This one is going to get wild. Over a 60-game season, here are some adjusted pace numbers to watch:
- Home runs
23 = 61; 27 = 73
56 = 150; 61 = 165 (post-integration record) 71 = 191 (MLB record)
37 = 100; 56 = 152 (post-integration record); 73 = 198 (MLB record)
74 = 200; 97 = 262 (MLB record)
121 = 326 (Gerrit Cole in 2019); 142 = 383 (post-integration record); 190 = 513 (MLB record)
7 = 20; 9 = 25; 11 = 30
1.85 = 5.0; 2.96 = 8.0; 4.63 = 12.5 (post-integration position player record); 7.59 = 20.5 (absolutely absurd bananas all-time rWAR single-season record: Pud Galvin in 1884)
So, which Rays could challenge some of these?
For homers, again, a scorching hot (although I could also see a frigid cold) 60-game sample from Brandon Lowe could definitely result in 20 or so homers. If he gets a little lucky, 25 isn’t unthinkable. (The adjusted batter strikeout record of 83 is also totally imaginable.)
Hunter Renfroe is another guy who could do a lot of damage in the HR and RBI categories, as his 31 homers in 385 PA best stretch of 2019 shows.
As for RBI and runs, the Rays are likely not going to be shattering records like the `27 Yankees at the plate, but if Yandy Diaz is in there every day in the leadoff spot and getting on base every other time he gets up to bat (yes, we’re locking in a .500 OBP season from Diaz right now, you heard it here first), it’s not hard to imagine nearly a run a game for the beefy corner infielder, right?
On the pitching side of things, who knows how the Rays will actually approach this season, but a healthy Blake Snell could easily top 100 strikeouts in a third of a season, while Charlie Morton getting 13 starts and winning 11 of those is a definite possibility.
Everything is up in the air these days, but it’s time to just lean in to that and have some fun with it. Use this guide as a handy tracker throughout the season to see if we’ll get a little baseball history made to go along with real-world history unfolding right before our eyes.