The MLB announced a 60-game 2020 season and baseball purists are petrified. A friend of mine put his foot down and insisted, “if anyone breaks Lajoie’s record it doesn’t count”. He was referring, of course, to Nap Lajoie’s all-time-high single season batting average of .426 back in 1901.
Here’s my hot take – a 60-game season won’t produce the crazy, ridiculous stats records some are fearing.
I wrote a piece during the summer of 2019 in which I explored stats leaders on June 1 and their likelihood of holding onto the crown come season’s end.
I recently ran into this piece by C Jackson Cowart in which he discussed the possibility of a hitter finishing the 60-game sprint with a batting average above .400.
Using both articles as inspiration, I decided to expand upon Cowart’s work by exploring batting average leaders, home run leaders, RBI leaders, ERA leaders, and win leaders through 60 games. My goal is to create realistic ranges that we can expect the MLB stats leaders to fall into after a 60-game season.
My Process for Digging Up 60-Game MLB Stats Leaders
Googling “mlb stats leaders after 60 games” didn’t get me very far. I had to use 2 of my favorite online baseball stats resources for this research. First, I used the “standings by date” tool on Baseball Reference to find the 60-game mark for each season over the past 20 years.
Each team reaches the 60-game mark on different dates, so like Cowart, I decided to use the date when the first team in the MLB reaches 60 games. This date was somewhere between June 2 and June 10 every year.
Once I found the 60-game marks, I went over to Fangraphs and used their “custom date range” feature to bring up the stats leaders through 60 games for each season. Unfortunately, this tool can only be used back to 2002, so my research had to end there. Still, 18 seasons worth of data is a good sample size.
In order to qualify for the batting average lead or the ERA lead, players must fit the qualifiying criteria set by the MLB. For the batting title, this is 3.1 plate appearances per team game played – which comes out to 186 plate appearances through 60 games. For the ERA title, this is 1 inning pitched per team game played – or 60 innings through 60 games.
Can Anyone Hit .400? MLB Batting Average Leaders Through 60 Games
Forget .426. Is it likely for anyone in baseball to eclipse a .400 batting average in the shortened 2020 season? Take a look.
The following table shows the qualifying MLB leader in batting average after 60 games for each season dating back to 2002. Only once in the past 18 seasons – Chipper Jones in 2008 – has the batting average leader after 60 games been over .400.
Most seasons, no one is even close to .400 at the 60-game mark. Check the table closely. After Chipper’s .407 start, the next highest average on the list is Daniel Murphy hitting .379 in 2016.
Do MLB Hitters Have the Advantage in 2020?
Many claim that the long coronavirus layoff gives hitters an advantage this season. As a former player and long-time follower of baseball, I think the opposite is true – pitchers will have the upper hand in 2020.
You see, pitchers have been able to practice their craft this entire layoff. Hitters have not. Hitting is all about timing. Pitching is repetition.
All a pitcher needs is a mound and he can simulate game-situations. This could be in a batting cage, a high school field, or even a basement. There doesn’t need to be a catcher present.
I had a teammate in college who built himself a wooden mound. He kept it in his basement. He threw off of it into a heavy-duty vinyl backdrop that he hung from the ceiling 60 feet, 6 inches away.
He also owned a set of weighted baseballs for arm strengthening. On his own time, from the comfort of his own basement, my friend could do arm workouts and simulate live pitching.
Hitters have no such method of replicating live reps. Soft toss is decent. Hitting off a machine is alright. Tee work helps. Apart from getting together with teammates and facing live MLB pitchers – which the players weren’t supposed to do – hitters cannot simulate in-game at-bats.
It will take all of Spring Training 2.0 for hitters to regain their timing. I have to believe that the driven, hard-working pitchers will enter July already in great form.
Hitting .400 through 60 games is improbable in a normal year. It will prove even more difficult in the shortened 2020 season.
MLB Home Run Leaders Through 60 Games
It would sure look clunky in the record books for the home run king to hit less than 20 dingers this season. While 21 or 22 are obviously low marks as well – there is something about seeing 19 next to the home run leader that makes me cringe. I would feel like I was in the dead-ball era.
Fortunately, the numbers indicate that a player reaching 20 home runs through 60 games is very likely. I also need to mention that MLB home runs have been trending upward for years now.
|2018||Mike Trout / JD Martinez||19|
|2003||Mike Lowell / Adam Dunn||18|
* Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa
Albert Pujols hit 25 homers through 60 games in 2006. This makes him an outlier. The other 17 60-game leaders have all hit between 18 and 22 home runs – a very narrow range.
MLB RBI Leaders Through 60 Games
Of the cumulative offensive stats, RBIs are the most volatile. We’ve had 60-game leaders fail to make 50 while 60-game leaders in other seasons have reached 65.
|2009||Evan Longoria / Jason Bay||55|
There is no way of telling which type of RBI season is in store for 2020. Based on my assertion above that pitchers will have the upper hand, I think 2020 may yield a 60-game RBI leader on the lower side of the range – closer to 50.
MLB ERA Leaders Through 60 Games
ERA – like batting average – is an average. Unlike the cumulative stats which are in danger of setting record worsts (HR, RBI, R, SB, W, S etc.), ERA is in prime position to set a new record best.
Excluding records set in the 1880s-1910s, the modern single-season ERA records for both the American and National leagues were set in 1968. Bob Gibson set the MLB record of 1.12 in the National League while Luis Tiant set the American League record at 1.60.
The 1968 season was labeled The Year of the Pitcher due to the outrageous pitching stats and minuscule hitting stats posted around the league. Carl Yastrzemski led baseball with a .301 batting average – to give an idea of the prosperity occurring that year.
The MLB decided to lower the mound beginning in the 1969 season in an effort to reintroduce offense into the game. Since the lowering of the mound, Greg Maddux holds the single-season ERA record with 1.56 in 1994.
Unlike Lajoie’s record, Maddux’s is in jeopardy. 3 of the past 4 60-game ERA leaders have been below 1.56.
Bob Gibson’s modern-era ERA record is very safe, however, as only Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010 would have bested him.
MLB Win Leaders Through 60 Games
If you see a prop bet for the amount of wins the leader will have at the end of the 2020 season, it is worth making. In each of the past 18 seasons, the 60-game wins leader has had either 8, 9, 10, or 11 wins. 9 is the most common number.
|2015||Gerrit Cole / Jose Fernandez||9|
|2012||RA Dickey / Lance Lynn||9|
|2007||CC Sabathia / John Lackey||9|
* Justin Verlander and Domingo German
# Jose Fernandez, Chris Sale, Jake Arrieta, Johnny Cueto, and Stephen Strasburg
% Yovani Gollardo and Kevin Correia
^ Brandon Webb, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Tom Glavine, and Jason Marquis
** Roger Clemens and Kenny Rogers
Spring Training 2.0 is in session. Opening Day is within sight! Hang in there!