Thursday April 01, 2021
Opening Day 2021: Your Active Leaders
SLIDESHOW: Didn't we just do this like six months ago? To be honest, I didn't think they'd be able to pull off the 2020 season, but nice work, everyone. Having October baseball gave some sense of normalcy, and was very, very appreciated. That said, as a result of the truncated season, I expect little movement on our Active Leaders chart. But let's take a spin anyway. Early warning: You're going to see a lot of Angels.
BATTING AVERAGE: A year ago, Miggy was ahead of Jose Altuve by the barest of margins, .3146 to .3145, then hit just .250. But he's still on top? Right. Because Altuve hit just .219. Currently, only nine active players have BAs over .300 and most of them, like Miggy and Jose, seem to be heading south. Three years ago, Joey Votto was hitting .313; now it's .304. Two years ago, Buster Posey was at .308; now .302. One of the guys on the rise is DJ LeMahieu, which is odd in itself. When he left the hitters' paradise of Coors, he was at .298; after two years in the Bronx, he's suddenly at .305. BTW: Miggy's .313 is the lowest by an active leader since ... ever.
ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Joey Votto's .419 is 18th all-time but he's been dropping fast the past few years, while No. 2 Mike Trout (.417) has been rising—though even he, last season, had an OBP below .400 for only the third time in his career. Expect these two to change positions soon. Third place isn't close: Paul Goldschmidt at .392. Active players with career OBPs above .360? Just 20. It's a small club.
SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Here's a smaller club: Only 16 active players have career slugging percentages above .500, but only one of those, Mike Trout, is above .550—and he's way up there at .582. He'll get some competition, one imagines, when players like Aaron Judge (.558) and Juan Soto (.557) get their qualifying 3,000 plate appearances. Until then, it's his and no one's close.
OPS: Same deal. Seven active players have an OPS above .900, and only Trout is above .940—and he's at .9996! That's eighth all-time, behind only the gods: Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Bonds, Foxx, Greenberg and Hornsby. (OK, the gods and a couple of assholes.) Among actives, the distant second-place finisher is Joey Votto at .936.
GAMES: Only eight players in baseball history have ever played 3,000 career games (Rose, Yaz, Hank, Rickey, Ty, Stan, Eddie M., Cal), but Uncle Albert needs just 138 to join them. Could he do it if this is his final year? Maybe. He played in 131 games in 2019, the last full MLB season. The active runner-up is Miggy at 2,457.
HITS: Four active players have more than 2,000: Albert (3,236), Miggy (2,866), Cano (2,624) and just barely making the cut, Yadier Molina, with the Stanley Kubrick-ready 2,001. (Apologies to Arthur C. Clarke.) Can't imagine Miggy won't make the magic 3k threshold but here's an indication of how hard it is to get there: Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball for 10 years ... and he's at 1,380.
DOUBLES: Last July I wrote: “Pujols is seventh all-time with 661, and just 8 more would put him past Brett and Biggio into fifth place.” So guess how many doubles he hit in 2020? Yep: 8. He's now fifth all-time, with no real chance at fourth (Ty Cobb: 724). But applause, please. How many players in baseball history are top 5 all-time in doubles and homeruns? Doublechecking ... doublechecking ... Yep, just Albert.
TRIPLES: The second-saddest thing about the active leaders in triples is that there's rarely any movement. By the time you become an active leader, you're old enough that you tend not to hit many more triples. Actives leader Dexter Fowler, with 82. hit zero last year, one in 2019, zero in 2018. No. 2 Brett Gardner (69) hit one last year, no. 3 Dee Gordon (54) hit zero. Among the four-car pileup at No. 4 (Andrus, Blackmon, McCutchen, Trout, all with 48), Trout had the most: 2. So what's the saddest thing about the active leaders in triples? Fowler's 82 is the lowest for an active leader since 1883, when a dude named Tom York had 80. The most exciting play in baseball is getting rarer all the time.
HOMERUNS: We should get the 28th member of the 500 HR Club this season. Miggy is sitting on 487 and hit 10 last year in a third of a season, so a full season, God willing, will put him over. He'll be the first since David Ortiz in 2015. After him, though, it's cloudy. Edwin Encarnacion has 424 but as of this writing no one's signed him. Nelson Cruz has 417, still hits a ton, but he's going to be 41 in July. Does he have 83 more in him? I could definitely see Giancarlo (312, age 30) and Trout (302, age 28) making a run later this decade. BTW: Albert passed Willie Mays last year. He's at 662.
RBIs: Along with passing Willie Mays' 660 last season, Albert drove in another 25 to pass Cap Anson (2,075) and A-Rod (2,086) for the third-most RBIs in baseball history (2,100). He needs another 115 to pass Babe for second place and 83 beyond that to pass Hammerin' Hank (RIP) for No. 1. There are only three active players who have half the RBIs he has: Miggy (1729), Cano (1302) and Nellie Cruz (1152). What did MC Hammer sing? Can't touch this.
RUNS: Albert's less godlike on runs scored with 1,843 or 16th all-time. Two more and he passes Biggio; 15 beyond that, Mel Ott; 23 beyond that, Tris Speaker. Among actives, it's the usual suspects—Miggy (1,457), Cano (1,257) Votto (1,041)—and then we get an unusual one. Any guesses as to the active player with the fifth-most runs scored? Wouldja believe him?
BASES ON BALLS: Albert's way less godlike here. He's got six years on Joey Votto and only a 114 walk lead: 1331 to 1217. When Albert goes, it'll be Joey's. I used to think Albert had a greating batting eye, because his OBP was so high, but I think pitchers were just scared of him. Now they‘re not. In St. Louis he averaged 89 walks per season; with the Angels, 40. His IBBs in St. Louis: 23 per season. With the Angels: 7. That said, career, he's still walked more than he's struck out: 1331 to 1304. That's rare.
STRIKEOUTS: Chris Davis has 1,852 career Ks, 15th all-time, but Justin Upton is right on his tail (1,841) and he's getting more plate appearances: 200+ more over the last three seasons. There was a time when the active leader in K’s was a sure HOFer: Mantle, Killebrew, Stargell, Jackson, Schmidt. Now it's just as likely to be a Chris Davis or Justin Upton.
STOLEN BASES: I miss stolen bases. I also miss Dee Gordon. As I write this, he's not technically “active” since the Reds cut him the other day, but I assume he'll be picked up by someone. If it's not Dee and his 333 steals, then it's Billy Hamilton and Elvis Andrus with 305, followed by Brett Gardner with 270. Roman Quinn is supposedly the fastest man in baseball but he doesn't steal much—even though he hasn't been caught stealing since 2018. KC's Adalberto Mondesi led the Majors last year, and by a lot, with 24, which would be about 65 over a full season. Last player to steal 70 in a season? Jacoby Ellsbury, 2009.
GROUNDED INTO DOUBLE PLAYS: Albert's next GDP will be his 400th career, which is the all-time record by far. Cal Ripken is second with 350. Will Miggy pass Cal, too? He's currently sixth all-time with 321. Cano is currently 16th all-time with 284. It's one of the few stats where active players thrive.
DEFENSIVE WAR: Officially, Andrelton Simmons had a 0.0 dWAR last season but his career number still went down: from 26.7 to 26.6. His dWAR over the last three seasons (5.1), as he's struggled with ankle injuries, is basically what he did in 2017 (5.0), but for perspective Baseball Reference ranks his 2017 as the third-greatest defensive season in baseball history—after Terry Turner in 1906 and Art Fletcher in 1917. Second to Andrelton on the actives list is Yadier with 25.4. They‘re also the only actives > 20. Then it goes Kevin Kiermaier (16.0), Lorenzo Cain (15.5) and Brandon Crawford (14.9).
WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: Which of these guys is going into the Hall? No. 1 Albert (100.8) is a no-brainer, as is No. 2 Mike Trout (74.5). Yes to No. 3 Miggy (69.6), no to Robinson Cano, sadly (69.1) for his PED problems, and I assume yes to Joey Votto (62.0), but not on the first ballot. Evan Longoria (56.7) could get over 60.0 but way doubtful he'll get in the Hall: never top 5 in MVP voting, never led the league in any hitting category. I was surprised at the next one: After only seven seasons, Mookie Betts (45.4) has the seventh-most bWAR for an active position player. He's on his way. Also surprised at No. 10: Brett Gardner (43.0). What a grinder.
WINS: Last July I wondered if Justin Verlander, at 225 career wins, could make 250, writing: “He led the Majors last year with 21, and another year like that and he's a cinch. But he's 37 and the cliff can come fast.” Not sure if this is the cliff or a cliff, but he started one game, won it, then was gone. Elbow injury. Then Tommy John surgery. We won't see him again until 2022. Second among actives is Zack Greinke (208), then Jon Lester (193). This is how hard it is to win 250 nowadays: After 13 years of sustained excellence, both Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw are still 75 away (175). They'd need another six years at the same level to do it.
ERA: Clayton Kershaw's 2.43 is tied for 35th all-time, and the only post-WWII pitcher ahead of him is a non-starter: Mariano Rivera (2.21). Jacob deGrom's 2.61 is 57th all-time and the only post-WWII pitchers ahead of him are Mo, Kershaw and Hoyt Wilhelm. That's the rarefied air they're in. The rest of the top 5 actives are: Chris Sale (3.03), Kyle Hendricks (3.12) and Corey Kluber (3.16).
STRIKEOUTS: Verlander has 3,013 Ks against only 851 walks. Back in the day, the only pitcher with > 3,000 Ks and < 1,000 BBs was Fergie Jenkins. In the last two decades, he's been joined by Maddux, Shilling, and Pedro. Could JV make it an even five? Then it goes Scherzer (2,784), Greinke (2,689), and Kershaw (2,526). Their BBs for the interested: 641, 676 and 585, so they could all join, too. Then look at deGrom: 1,359 Ks/284 walks. That's not 3:1; that's nearly 5:1.
BASES ON BALLS: JV's 851, followed by Jon Lester's 837, followed by Francisco Liriano's 816. The last time the active leader had fewer than 851 BBs? When Walter Johnson had 845 in 1920.
INNINGS PITCHED: At the start of last season, Verlander needed just 18 IP to become the 137th pitcher to reach 3,000. He got six of them before the elbow. Zack Greinke is only 49 behind him at 2,939, which means Greinke seems likely to be the 137th. King Felix has 2,729 IPs but he just opted out of his O's contract and seems done.
COMPLETE GAMES: Every year of the 20th century some pitcher threw double-digit CGs. Every year. Then the calendar flipped and the CGs just disappeared. It's like in John Updike's “Rabbit Is Rich” when the ‘70s turn into the ’80s and disco just goes POOF. In the 21st century, only two pitchers have thrown double-digit CGs: C.C. in 2008 (10) and James Shields in 2011 (11). Now it's barely a stat. Verlander is the active leader with 26, then Kershaw at 25. If you counted the top 100 active leaders they would have 478 CGs total, which is 271 behind Cy Young.
SHUTOUTS: As recently as the ‘90s the active leader (Nolan Ryan) had 60+. As recently as the 2000s the active leader (Roger Clemens) had 40+. Now it’s Clayton Kershaw's 15, and he hasn't thrown one since 2016. Then it's Ervin Santana (11) and Adam Wainwright (10). Last season, 12 shutouts were thrown—two by Trevor Bauer. That's actually better than in 2018 when the league leader was a bunch of guys tied with one.
SAVES: Craig Kimbrel is on top here (348), but he's gone from lights out to out of the closer role. Last season he didn't give up a run in his final eight appearances and he still wound up with a 5.28 ERA, so you can imagine what he had to claw back from. Kenley Jansen is second (312), while No. 3 Aroldis Chapman (276) seems in a similar position to Kimbrel: He lost the closer spot, too. But who knows, right? The Mets' Edwin Diaz lost the closer role in 2019 but got it back again last year, saved 6 and posted a 1.75 ERA. His 141 saves are eighth-best among actives. He just turned 27.
WAR FOR PITCHERS: Which of these guys is going into the Hall? Yes to Verlander (72.3), maybe to Zack Greinke (67.1), hell yeah to Clayton Kershaw (67.0), while No. 4, Max Scherzer (60.4), is an interesting case. His bWAR says not yet but everything else is another hell yeah: black ink 51 (avg HOFer: 40), gray ink 181 (avg. HOFer 185), HOF Monitor of 154 against a likely HOFer of just 100. Dude started out slow and then BAM. No. 5, Felix Hernandez (50.4) will have to settle for the Mariners HOF. Long live the King.
EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): And exit music for Albert? If so, next year's list will be a whole helluva lot different. Be safe, everybody. *FIN*