Few baseball achievements are cooler to me than a 30-30 season. Perhaps it's my age: If you fell in love with baseball in the late 1980s, when being a Five Tool Player was the platonic ideal, the guy whose rookie Donruss card you most desperately wanted, to put together a
Few baseball achievements are cooler to me than a 30-30 season. Perhaps it's my age: If you fell in love with baseball in the late 1980s, when being a Five Tool Player was the platonic ideal, the guy whose rookie Donruss card you most desperately wanted, to put together a 30-30 season meant you were at the absolute pinnacle of your sport. Perhaps the two most exciting plays in baseball are a home run and a stolen base. To be able to do them both! That's a superstar right there. That's what baseball is supposed to be. That's a player who can do everything.
In 1983, Dale Murphy had 36 homers and 30 steals, and there wasn't another 30-30 season for four years. And then ... an explosion. There were four in '87 -- Darryl Strawberry, Howard Johnson, Eric Davis and Joe Carter -- and then a steady stream of them afterward. There would be 20 in the next decade, including four in both '96 and '97. Every season from 1995-2009 had at least one (Barry Bonds had 37 homers and 29 steals in 1994, and obviously would have made it if it hadn't have been for the strike), and there were four in 2011 -- Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Kemp and Ian Kinsler. There were two more in 2012, Braun and a precocious 20-year-old rookie named Michael Trout, who became the youngest player in MLB history to do it.
But then something strange happened: They stopped. During an age when more home runs have been hit than at any other time in the game's history, the stolen base nearly evaporated from the game, and, thus, the 30-30 well went dry. It has been difficult enough to find anyone who steals 30 or more bases, let alone someone who can add 30 homers to it.
Here are the year-by-year totals of 30-base stealers, since 2013
2013: 16 (most homers: Trout, 27)
2014: 15 (most homers: Carlos Gomez, 23)
2015: 7 (most homers: A.J. Pollock, 20)
2016: 14 (most homers: Trout, 29)
2017: 6 (most homers: Jose Altuve, 24)
So Trout, of course, has come close a couple of times, but not quite made it. Once central to the lore of the game, a 30-30 season seems to have lost it's luster. In its absence over the last five seasons, I've noticed its disappearance from the public discourse. Nobody even talks about 30-30 seasons anymore. In January, the Cardinals' Tommy Pham said he wanted one in 2018, and it was the first time I could remember a player even bringing it up in ages.
Well, good news: The 30-30 season is about to return with a vengeance. And it is our stars who will lead us.
The best two players in baseball this season, by almost any appreciable measure, have been Trout and Mookie Betts. Each of them has already put up a four fWAR season -- there were only 38 players in all of baseball who put up four fWAR seasons in the entire 2017 season, and Trout and Betts are already there in May. They are the sort of players who do everything right -- hit, run, field, throw.
And guess what? They are both well on their way to 30-30 seasons.
Trout already has 18 homers and 12 stolen bases, with the season only a third of the way completed. Much has been made of him running more this season, and he has four stolen bases in the past 10 days. Of course, he still hasn't been caught, because he's Trout.
Betts, Red Sox
Betts is one behind Trout in homers but one ahead in steals, which probably puts him slightly ahead in the 30-30 race; it's a lot easier to hit a homer these days than it is to steal a base.
It is extremely likely that one, and probably both, of these guys are going to end the drought of 30-30 seasons, and it's fitting: They are, after all, the best two players in baseball. That they have revived this dying art is indicative of the game as a whole; stolen bases attempts are slightly up this year, just like they were last year. Maybe there's hope for the 30-30 season yet.
After all, Trout and Betts aren't the only players who have a shot at 30-30 this year. A few other candidates:
Tim Anderson, White Sox
Here's a name you weren't expecting. Anderson is only hitting .242 and is only barely an above average offensive player -- he has an OPS-plus of 109 -- but hey, this is the glory of rate stats. He has 11 homers and 11 steals, which is ahead of a 30-30 pace. Anderson has improved his walk rate from last year, but the biggest difference is that he has the green light to run this year. He attempted 16 steals in 2017, but already 12 this season. Still: If Anderson goes 30-30, that would be, well, a surprise.
Pollock was well on his way to his second 30-30 season until he fractured his thumb two weeks ago. He still has 11 homers and nine steals, so if he can make it back in the next fortnight, he'll have an outside chance.
Starling Marte, Pirates
Marte has put his nightmare 2017 in the rearview mirror, with seven homers, 10 steals and the best slugging percentage (.500) of his career. He'll need a power upswing to catch up, but that can happen when the weather warms up.
Pham is in the midst of a hideous slump -- he's 2-for-his-last-29 -- but even with that, he's a top-25 player in fWAR and has nine homers and eight steals. He has been moved to the third spot in the lineup, which could reduce his opportunities to run, but he's clearly motivated to hit both numbers.
Trea Turner (six homers, 14 steals), Lorenzo Cain (six homers, 11 steals), Cesar Hernandez (seven homers, 10 steals), Andrew Benintendi (seven homers, eight steals), Trevor Story (11 homers, eight steals), Javier Baez (13 homers, seven steals), Jose Ramirez (16 homers, seven steals), Ozzie Albies (14 homers, six steals) and Francisco Lindor (12 homers, six steals).
In fact, all this 30-30 talk is getting me excited: Is there any chance at a 40-40 guy? There hasn't been one of those since Alfonso Soriano in 2006. There have been only four in history: Soriano, Alex Rodriguez in 1998, Barry Bonds in '96 and Jose Canseco in '88. Trout is on pace for a 53-35 season; Betts, a 50-38 pace. Those are numbers you can dream on. Those are numbers for players who can do everything.
Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.