Thursday March 30, 2023
Opening Day 2023: Your Active Leaders
SLIDESHOW: Last time I did one of these, the Seattle Mariners had the longest playoff drought in baseball and Albert Pujols led half of all active batting categories. Now the longest drought is a tie between the Tigers and the Angels (neither's been since 2014), while the batting categories are led by a Tiger and an Angel—Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. On the pitching side, the usual suspects keep turning up: Verlander, Kershaw, Scherzer, Greinke. So who's retired now? A tough call. Most guys don't get the victory laps Albert did. I assume we've seen the last of Robinson Cano, Justin Upton, Alcides Escobar, Dee Strange-Gordon and Cole Hamels, but, as of now, they assume otherwise. And their assumption trumps mine.
BATTING AVERAGE: This has been Miggy's since 2015 when he was sporting a .320 career mark. He's inevitably fallen off—a cumulative .262 during the last six years—yet no one's taken the mantle. For a time, it looked like Jose Altuve might but he stumbled, too, at a much earlier age. That said, they're still #s 1 and 2 on this hit parade (.308 and .307), while the only other actives above .300 are Mike Trout and Trea Turner (.303, .302). Reminder: In 2021 Miggy's .313 mark was the lowest active batting mark ever, and obviously we keep breaking that record. Feels like banning the shift will get those numbers up again. Hell, someone might actually hit .350.
ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: If this is Trout's last year as the active OBP leader, I'm assuming his usurper won't be approaching from behind. After a lax (for him) .369 in 2022, Trout currently has a .414 career mark, followed by Joey Votto (.412) and Aaron Judge (.394). But the usurper is already ahead of him: Juan Soto at .424. But it takes 3,000 career plate appearances to qualify and Soto has a magical 333 to go. One assumes he'll get there by mid-summer.
SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Could Trout get usurped here, too? He's long been the leader, with no one close, but last season Aaron Judge got his qualifying 3,000 PAs. And then his universe-leading .686 mark upped his career mark from .554 to .583—spitting distance to Trout's .587. So Judge could take over. There's also another Juan Soto situation but not with Juan Soto. The up-and-comer is Yordan Alvarez, whose career mark is .590, but he's only halfway to qualifying. That'll be a few years yet. BTW, Trout's SLG is 11th all-time, Judge's 13th, and that includes recently added Negro League stars Mule Suttles, Turkey Stearnes and Oscar Charleston.
OPS: Four of the top 5 are red caps: Trout, Angels (1.001), Votto, Reds (.925), Goldschmidt, Cards (.917) and Bryce Harper, Phillies (.913). The only non-red cap is Aaron Judge, Yankees (.976), at No. 2. Juan Soto, a current brown cap, and with a .950 mark, will come in third when he qualifies. And yes, Trout is way up there, alone. It's the old Prince/Sinead song. Nothing compares to him.
GAMES: Amid the fun of Albert's final season, including becoming just the fourth man in baseball history to hit 700 homers, Albert's games-played milestone went virtually unmentioned. On June 4, he joined Rose, Yaz, Henry, Rickey, Ty, Eddie, Stan, Willie and Cal as the only players in MLB history to play in 3,000 games. He wound up fifth all-time at 3,080. The active torch has now been passed to Miggy at 2,699 games, and if you can name the next four in order, kudos. They are: Nellie Cruz, Joey Votto, Elvis Andrus and Evan Longoria. It's Elvis in the building that's surprising to me. I still think of him as a kid.
HITS: Last April 23, Miguel Cabrera became the 33rd player to reach 3,000 hits, and it looks like we won't get another for a while. Assuming Cano is done, the next active leaders are Joey Votto (2093, 38 years old), Nellie Cruz (2018, 41), Elvis Andrus (1997, 33), and Andrew McCutchen (1948, 35). Then it gets a little interesting, two 32 year-olds still at the top of their game: Jose Altuve (1935) and Freddie Freeman (1903). For a time, Altuve seemed particularly likely, but the shift and maybe the trash-can scandal haven't been kind. He bounced back last year, hitting .300, but still managed only 158 hits. Freddie's just gotten better and led the Majors last year with 199 hits. Would be an interesting bet between the two. I might still go Altuve, to be honest.
DOUBLES: Albert retired fifth all-time (686), Miggy stands at 14th all-time (607), and then the active gap again: Joey (453), Evan (422), and Freddie (414). Last season, Freeman led the Majors with 47, as he'd done in 2020 (23, Covid) and 2018 (44). He's one of the few guys that thrived in the shift era. Will be interesting to see how he does post-shift. One assumes better.
TRIPLES: The lowest active leader in triples during the 20th century was a tie between George Brett at the start of the '87 season (when he took the mantle from a retiring Pete Rose) and Paul Molitor in '98 (when Brett Butler retired). Both men had 114 triples. That was the lowest. Those were the days. In recent years, the active triples leader has been Ichiro (96), then Dexter Fowler (82), and now ... Charlie Blackmon with 58. Yeah, Blackmon. I wouldn't have gotten him, either.
HOMERUNS: Who's the next to 500? Miggy did it last (08/21), Ortiz before him (09/15) and Pujols before that (04/14). I'm rooting for Nellie Cruz (459) but does he have 41 more in him? He only hit 10 last year. There's Giancarlo, 32 years old, and at 378, but one wonders how much he'll play if he keeps hitting near .200. Trout, 32 and 350, will do it barring career-ending injuries. Nah to Votto (342), Longoria (331), and Goldschmidt (315). BTW, if you're wondering where Aaron Judge's name is, he's still a ways down. Despite his monster seasons, he only has 220 career. George Springer and Eugenio Suarez actually have more HRs than him.
RBIs: Albert retired No. 2 on the all-time list (2218), active leader Miggy is currently 14th (1847), and then there's a bit of a gap. Next is Nellie Cruz, tied for 115th, with 1302. Then it's Longoria (198th, 1131), Votto (212th, 1106), Goldschmidt and Freeman (261st/262nd, 1042/41). Where have all the RBI men gone? Most are below 1,000.
RUNS: Same deal, with less of a gap. Miggy at 1530, then Votto (1145), McCutchen (1118), Freeman (1086). Freddie keeps showing up, doesn't he? I never thought of him as a Hall of Famer but I'm beginning to think of him as a Hall of Famer. Same trajectory I had with Adrian Beltre.
BASES ON BALLS: Can anyone name the top 5 actives? It goes Votto (1338), Miggy (1227), Carlos Santana (1148), Andrew McCutchen (983), Mike Trout (919). OK, I guess it's mostly Santana that's the surprise. Santana has almost as many BBs as Miggy, with about 4,000 fewer plate appearances. Career, he has almost as many BBs as Ks—1148 vs. 1246—a rarity these days. Votto, meanwhile, is tied for 36th all-time with A-Rod.
STRIKEOUTS: Last season, Miggy became just the seventh player in MLB history to reach 2,000 Ks. Who will be eighth? If Justin Upton catches on with anyone, he's not a bad guess—he's 29 shy, and last season he struck out 23 times in just 17 games with Seattle. But will a team take a chance on a .100/.200/.200 guy? Then there's Nellie Cruz. He's at 1870. Giancarlo Stanton seems as good a bet as any. He's 33 and has 1696 career Ks. Basically he strikes out every three at-bats. Oddly, he's never led the league in the category. Or maybe not oddly: Two other 2,000-ers, Miggy and A-Rod, never led the league in the category, either.
STOLEN BASES: I'm assuming Dee Strange-Gordon (336 career SBs) is done, which means the active leader is Elvis Andrus (335). Then it goes Billy Hamilton (324), Starling Marte (314), and Jose Altuve (279). The most SBs among 20somethings? Trea Turner, 29, with 230. Turner is also near the top in SB% with 84.5%, but the active leader in that category is the oft-injured Byron Buxton with a stellar 88.5%. May the bigger bases and throw-over limits restart our Brockian engines.
HIT BY PITCH: Turns out the area where Anthony Rizzo excels is not in hitting but in getting hit. He's never led the league in any positive offensive category but he's led the Majors in HBPs three times. His 201 careers dings are ninth all-time, ahead of Frank Robinson (198), A-Rod (176) and Jeter (170)—not to mention Willie Mays (45), Babe Ruth (43) and Jackie Robinson (72). And teams were trying for Jackie. Second among actives is Starling Marte with 146. What's the all-time record? Hughie Jennings with 287. Rizzo's got a shot.
GROUNDED INTO DOUBLE PLAYS: We lost the all-time leader when Albert retired last season (w/426 two-fers) so I guess we'll have to settle for No. 2 all-time, Miggy, with 353. Tail-end of last season, he surpassed the previous champ, Cal Ripken Jr., who ended his career with 350. No. 2 on the active list? Evan Longoria, way down there, with 198. Piker.
DEFENSIVE WAR: Andrelton Simmons is still way out in front with 28.5, 12th all-time, followed by Nolan Arenado (18.8), Kevin Kiermaier (17.7), my man Lorenzo Cain (16.8) and Cain's former teammate Salvador Perez (15.3). Surprises, to me, among the top actives: Nick Ahmed (12.0), 11th; Trevor Story (11.6), 12th; and Martin Maldonado (10.3), 17th.
WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: Mike Trout, at 30, is already the 37th greatest player in MLB history by bWAR standards. He's at 82.4, ahead of Rod Carew, Pete Rose, Joe DiMaggio, Brooks Robinson and Johnny Bench. The most interesting guys on the active list, to me, are the ones in the 50s: Paul Goldschmidt, 58.5 (at age 34), Mookie Betts, 56.4 (age 29), Nolan Arenado, 52.2 (31) and Manny Machado, 52.0 (29). Who's a Hall of Famer among those guys? We'll see what the next seasons bring.
WINS: Last season, Justin Verlander, who had 226 career wins and had won exactly one game over the previous two seasons, and was 39 years old, loudly promised to become the 25th man in baseball history to win 300 games. I kind of shrugged but I guess never doubt the man who won the Kate Upton sweepstakes. He promptly went out and led the league with 18 wins. If 300 is still a ways away, he certainly looks positioned to become the first 250-game winner since C.C. Sabathia in 2019. The rest of the actives list goes: Zack Greinke (223), Max Scherzer (201), Clayton Kershaw (197). A lot of high-value Scrabble tiles in those names.
ERA: I like looking at the 24 photos at the top of the career Baseball Reference ERA page. It's just a lot of old-timey deadball-era white guys along with Mariano Rivera at No. 13. I think Clayton Kershaw made this wall of fame when he got his career mark down to 2.36 in 2017, good enough for No. 24 all-time, but now it's back up to 2.48—which is still about as rarefied as they come. No full-time starter has finished his career with a sub 2.50 ERA since maybe Walter Johnson. Right on Kershaw's tail is Jacob DeGrom at 2.52. Then it's Chris Sale at 3.03, Max Scherzer at 3.11, Gerrit Cole at 3.23.
STRIKEOUTS: For a long time, the 3,000-strikeout club consisted of one man: Walter Johnson. Then Bob Gibson joined in 1974. Then Gaylord Perry and we were off to the races. It's still a fairly exclusive club, just 19 members, with the newbies being Justin Verlander (joined Sept. 2019) and Max Scherzer (joined Sept. 2021). Verlander was our active leader in 2021, Scherzer last year, and now it's Verlander again. Will the exclusive club soon get company? Zack Greinke is 118 just away, Kershaw 193 away.
BASES ON BALLS: The list of pitchers with more than 3,000 career strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 careers walks used to be pretty short: just Ferguson Jenkins. This century, Greg Maddux joined him—barely (999 walks). Then Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez, comfortably (711, 760). A couple of active pitchers have a good shot, too. Both Verlander and Scherzer are north of 3k, and while Verlander is the active leader in walks, it's just 880, while Scherzer is way back there at 701. What to make of all this? Hitters strike out way more and walk way less. For the entire 20th century, the only seasons where the league leader in walks didn't have triple digits were work-stoppage years: 1981 and 1994. Now that doesn't happen. No one's thrown triple digits in BBs since 2012.
WHIP: The all-time list has an interesting mix of modern and dead-ball. It goes Addie Joss (.967), Jacob deGrom (.998), Big Ed Walsh (.999), Mariano Rivera (1.00), Clayton Kershaw (1.00), Chris Sale (1.04), John Ward (1.04), Pedro Martinez (1.05), Christy Mathewson (1.06) and Trevor Hoffman (1.06). What's missing? Anyone who pitched between 1918 (the year after Walsh retired) and 1991 (the year before Pedro's debut). A lot of great pitchers in that mix. None of them here. We don't get a midcentury guy until Juan Marichal with a 1.10 mark, good for 24th all-time.
COMPLETE GAMES: The last pitcher with 400+ career complete games was Grover Cleveland Alexander (retired: 1930), and the last with 300+ was Gaylord Perry (1983). No one's been above 200 since Nolan Ryan retired in 1993, nor above 150 since Jack Morris retired in 1994. The last 100+ guy was Randy Johnson (2009), and the last 50+ was Roy Halladay. We'll never see that like again. The current leader is Adam Wainwright (28), followed by Justin Verlander (26) and Clayton Kershaw (25). The good news for CG fans is we actually had a league leader with +5 for the first time since 2016: the Marlins' Sandy Alcantara completed twice as many games (6) as his nearest rival (Framber Valdez, 3).
INNINGS PITCHED: Two active pitchers have 3,000+ career—Greinke at 3247 and Verlander at 3163—which is good for 101st and 116th all-time. So it seems this category is similar to complete games, a long-gone relic, but it's not. As recently as Greg Maddux we had a pitcher with north of 5,000 IP, which is good for 13th all-time. That said, I doubt we'll ever see 4,000 IP again. Put it this way: Sandy Alcantara has led or been near the top in IP the last two seasons: an average of 217. If he does that for another 15 seasons, or until he's 42, he'll still be a handful short.
HIT BY PITCH: Which active pitcher is among the top 20 career leaders in HBP? How many would guess Charlie Morton, who's done it 156 times, good for 16th on the all-time list. Three more and he passes Nolan Ryan. Four more and he passes Roger Clemens. Six more and he leaves Cy Young in the dust. The all-time top 25 is again fascinating: It's full of 19th century guys, erratic knuckleballers like Tim Wakefield and Charlie Hough, soft tossers like Jamie Moyer who needed to own the inside of the plate, and hurlers with fuck-you attitudes like RJ, Nolan, Drysdale and Bunning. What's also fascinating is who isn't on the active list. Clayton Kershaw has the fourth-most IP among active pitchers but he's 58th in HBP. I guess that's not how he rolls.
SAVES: The top 3 switched caps this offseason. No. 1 Craig Kimbrel (394 saves), who made his mark with the Braves and then imploded with Boston, left the Dodgers for the Phillies, while one-time Dodger mainstay Kenley Jansen (391), who saved 41 games for the Braves last season, signed with Boston. Meanwhile, No. 3 Aroldis Chapman (315), after a bumpy seventh season with the Yankees, is letting his facial hair grow in Kansas City. Despite his youth, Edwin Diaz is sixth on this list with 205 career saves but looks to be out for the season after tearing his patellar tendon during a WBC victory celebration.
WAR FOR PITCHERS: Four active pitchers have a bWAR north of 70: Verlander (78.1), Kershaw (73.1), Greinke (71.4), Scherzer (70.7). I assume all are going to the Hall. Are there up-and-comers? Hard to see. Among the under 30s, Aaron Nola (30 in June) has the highest WAR at 29.9, and among the top 100 actives there's no one under age 25. Are we about to enter a hitter's era?
EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): We're getting a lot of changes this year: pitch timer (good), shift ban (hmm), throw-over limits (maybe), bigger bases (weird). Most are at least geared toward what's missing from the game: hits and steals. They're all designed to make the game go faster (in game time) and play zippier (in action), and I'm all for that. I still think ghost runners in extras is an abomination but I'm willing to see how the rest of it works. But if Trea Turner is hitting .450 in June with 100 steals we might have to recalibrate. See you at the park. I'll be the one wearing a Julio jersey. *FIN*