erik lundegaard

Friday November 29, 2019

The Most Unbreakable Record in Baseball History

A few years back, one of the great baseball writer-thinkers (Bill James or Rob Neyer, I forget) posted on Twitter his thoughts on what he thought was the most unbreakable record in baseball history: Rickey Henderson's 1406 career stolen bases. Second place, after all, was Lou Brock with 938—essentially 2/3 of the way there. No baseball record holder, he suggested, was so far ahead of the second-place finisher.

True, but that's not the answer to me. Players are still stealing bases. Not at the rate they once did, but enough. If you take the top 5 active players in stolen bases, for example, their total (1689) surpasses Rickey by a good deal. Last season, there were 2,280 total stolen bases in the Majors. It's something that's still happening. It could catch fire again. 

Triples, I think, are a better answer for most unbreakable baseball record. The career leader is “Wahoo” Sam Crawford with 309. And whlie the second-place finisher is within 5% of him (Ty Cobb, 295), no post-WWII player is close. Stan Musial is closest at 177, then Robert Clemente at 166. They‘re even farther back than Lou Brock was to Rickey.

That said, if you take the top 5 active players in triples and total their numbers, you get 353—way past Wahoo. And last season there were 785 triples in the Majors. It’s something that's still happening.

I‘ll cut to the chase. The most unbreakable record in baseball history is Cy Young’s 749 complete games. It's not even close. 

Sure, someone (19th-century pitcher Pud Galvin) managed to get within 100 of him (646), while one post-WWII pitcher managed to get within half of him (Warren Spahn, 382), but it's all irrevelant. Complete games have all but dried up. If you take the top 5 active players in complete games and total their numbers you get ... 136. Not even close. And that's with C.C. Sabathia, who's pretty much retired, leading the way with 38. So how about the top 10 total? 208. Top 25? 402. I‘ll cut to the chase again. If you take every active pitcher with at least 2 complete games you wind up with 108 pitchers and 662 complete games—about 90 shy of Cy.

Let’s do the other one now. If you total every complete game in the Majors in 2019, you get ... 43. You‘re about 1/17 of the way to Cy. How about every complete game in the last five years? That nets you ... 331. Still not even halfway there yet. You have to go back more than eight years, into the 2011 season, and total every complete game thrown by every pitch in the Majors, to equal Cy Young’s career record 749. It's just something that isn't happening anymore. 

Anyway, that's my answer to the most unbreakable record in baseball. Willing to listen to other arguments.

Posted at 02:09 PM on Friday November 29, 2019 in category Baseball  
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