For better or worse, statistics are the lingua franca of baseball, the language (and lifeblood) of the game.
We say “better or worse,” because as we all know, statistics can be misinterpreted or manipulated to support specious arguments (“Juan Gonzalez deserved the 1996 MVP because…RBI”), create divisions amongst fans (“old school” vs “sabermetrics”), confound or clarify (WAR and its components, particularly defensive metrics prior to the StatCast era).
But stats are also something else: A way to keep score, of course. A way to rate and rank our favorite players and teams. A favorite diversion (one that transcends mediums, from baseball cards to baseball-reference.com).
And, as Kevin Reavy and Ryan Spaeder, authors of “Incredible Baseball Stats: The Coolest, Strangest Stats and Facts in Baseball History” know, stats are just plain fun. So fun, in fact, that they can make the annual fool's errand known as predicting the division races for the coming year a worthwhile exercise.
Here then, a list of cool, strange, illuminating and just plain fun statistical nuggets discovered or uncovered by Reavy and Spaeder – one per team, in predicted order of 2017 finish. For much, much more you’ll want to check out their book (really, the best ones are still there to be discovered by the reader). As they write in their introduction, “there’s a monstrous pile of data and satiating sabermetric goodies in this book…. But also, there are some really incredible stories.”
And now, on to the picks...
- Boston Red Sox: All-time ace Pedro Martinez had a 228 ERA+ from 1999 to 2003. His ERA+ over that span tops the career bests of Roger Clemens (226+ in 2005), Cy Young (219, 1901), Randy Johnson (197, 1997) Clayton Kershaw (197, 2014), and Nolan Ryan (195, 1981).
- Toronto Blue Jays: Former 1B Carlos Delgado’s .470 OBP in 2000 is the highest-ever single season mark for a player who appeared in at least 162 games.
- Baltimore Orioles: In terms of WAR, one full season (162 Games) played by Cal Ripken is worth about 197 games played by Derek Jeter.
- New York Yankees: Babe Ruth had 10 career steals of home—more than Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock and Tim Raines combined.
- Tampa Bay Rays: Pitcher James Shields (now of the White Sox) is the only Ray to win a World Series game.
- Cleveland Indians: In 1948, Cleveland shortstop/manager Lou Boudreau had 10.4 WAR to just nine strikeouts.
- Detroit Tigers: Designated hitter Victor Martinez had 32 HR and 42 K in 2014. No other player in Tigers history had more home runs and fewer strikeouts in the same season.
- Kansas City Royals: Relief ace Wade Davis’ career World Series line: 9 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 18 K
- Minnesota Twins: First baseman Joe Mauer has ended three no-hit bids in the ninth inning.
- Chicago White Sox: In 2014, Chris Sale (now leading a formidable Boston rotation) became the first White Sox pitcher since Ed Walsh in 1910 with 200+ strikeouts and a sub-1.00 WHIP.
- Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez is the only pitcher in baseball history with 200+ strikeouts and 75 or fewer walks in six consecutive seasons (2009-2014).
- Houston Astros: 2017 Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Bagwell has two seasons (1997/1999) of 30+ 2B, 40+ HR, 30+ SB and 100+ BB. No other player in history has produced even one such season.
- Texas Rangers: Cliff Lee averaged 2.284 strikeouts per ball three in 2010. The ML average was 2.174 strikeouts-per-walk that season. Lee’s 10.28 K/BB was the best ratio by a pitcher with at least 200 IP since Candy Cummings in 1975, when nine balls were required for a walk.
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Mike Trout has averaged 9.69 WAR per 162 games played for his career. Only one player in history is better: Babe Ruth at 10.56 WAR/162.
- Oakland Athletics: 23.97. The amount of miles covered by Rickey Henderson while stealing his MLB record 1406 bases.
- Washington Nationals: Right-fielder Bryce Harper is one of only three players in league history to lead the NL in HR before turning 23 (Eddie Mathews, Johnny Bench).
- New York Mets: 411. Tom Seaver’s MLB record for consecutive starts with at least one strikeout.
- Miami Marlins: 5136. Days between Ichiro’s first home runs for the Mariners (2001) and the Marlins (2015). He’s the first Japanese-born player to homer for each franchise.
- Atlanta Braves: Greg Maddux had a MLB-record 244 career starts without surrendering a single walk. In short--he was in control.
- Philadelphia Phillies: Former outfielder Bobby Abreu is one of seven players in MLB history with 900+ extra-base hits and 400+ SB.
- Chicago Cubs: Since 2014, Jake Arrieta has hit for extra bases at a greater rate than he has allowed them to opponents.
- St. Louis Cardinals: Johnny Mize had 16 triples in 1938—the most in MLB history by a player with no stolen bases.
- Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen and Barry Bonds are the only players with at least 40 XBH, 50 walks, and 10 SB in each of their first seven seasons.
- Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun owns the all-time rookie mark for slugging percentage (.634 in 2007).
- Cincinnati Reds: 50/100. In 697 PA from May 27, 1986 to July 10, 1987, Eric Davis had 50 HR and 100 SB.
- San Francisco Giants: 162.4. Barry Bonds’ career WAR. Ken Griffey Jr. and Pete Rose combined for 162.7 WAR.
- Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw has two qualified seasons with at least 10 K/9 and a sub-0.900 WHIP. As many as every other pitcher in baseball combined.
- Arizona Diamondbacks: Randy Johnson (372K, 71BB) in 2001 joined Sandy Koufax (382K, 71BB) as the only pitchers to strike out 300 more batters than they walked.
- Colorado Rockies: In 2010, Ubaldo Jiminez became the only Rockies pitcher, ever, to register a sub-3.00 ERA (2.88) with at least 115 IP.
- San Diego Padres: Tony Gwynn batted .338 for his career. No other padre has hit .338 during any single season.
Eventual NL Champions: SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS (July 13, 2014: Ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner and all-star catcher Buster Posey each hit a grand slam in the same game).