Major League Baseball might have an endangered species on its hands.For a stretch of 26 seasons beginning in 1987, the league produced at least one 30-30 player -- someone with 30-plus homers and 30-plus stolen bases -- all but once in a non-strike year. But nobody has joined that club
Major League Baseball might have an endangered species on its hands.
For a stretch of 26 seasons beginning in 1987, the league produced at least one 30-30 player -- someone with 30-plus homers and 30-plus stolen bases -- all but once in a non-strike year. But nobody has joined that club since Ryan Braun and Mike Trout in 2012, making this the first multiseason drought since 1984-86, when MLB consisted of only 26 teams.
At a time when it seems as though the league is filled with more freakishly athletic and talented young players than ever, no one in the past two years has came particularly close to this esteemed (if somewhat arbitrary) marker of power-and-speed prowess. The question is if that represents a mere blip or is a sign of a changing game that has seen overall drops in both categories in recent seasons.
Before 1987, a 30-30 campaign was a rarity, with Bobby Bonds (Barry's dad) accounting for five out of the total of 11, and Willie Mays picking up another two. But then Joe Carter, Eric Davis, Howard Johnson and Darryl Strawberry all hit the mark in '87, setting a record for most 30-30 men in a season (since tied three times). From then through 2012, 32 players went 30-30 a total of 49 times, as Barry Bonds led the way with five such seasons.
It's not just the 30-30 seasons that have declined. MLB hasn't seen a 25-25 man since Trout in 2013, after having at least one every year since 1982, with a high of eight. Four players (Braun, Paul Goldschmidt, Manny Machado and A.J. Pollock) reached 20-20 last season, the fewest in a non-strike year since 1992. That number was nine or higher six times from 2007-13.
In 2015, Braun (25 homers, 24 steals) came closest. But of players with 30-plus homers, Goldschmidt led the way with 21 steals. Of those with 30-plus steals, Pollock led the way with 20 homers. In other words, there wasn't really a near-miss in the bunch.
In the context of league-wide trends, the lack of players with high homer and steal totals is not that surprising. It's well known that homers have fallen off considerably, likely due to a decline in performance-enhancing drug use, an increase in power arms, a changing strike zone and other factors. From 2000-14, big flies dropped by 26.4 percent before ticking back up considerably last year.
Stolen bases have fluctuated more during that period, but 2015 saw the fewest in a non-strike year since 1974, when there were only 24 teams. The chart below shows how both stats have changed since '98, when MLB expanded to 30 clubs.
Despite those trends, could the 30-30 drought end in 2016? It's difficult to count on any one player doing it, but here are seven candidates for the job:
Mookie Betts, Red Sox
He was extremely impressive as a 22-year-old last season, when he racked up 18 homers and 21 steals. That leaves a large power gap to close, but Betts did swipe more than 30 bags in the Minors in both 2013 and '14.
If the six-time All-Star goes 30-30 in 2016, he would tie the record for the oldest player to pull off the feat (32). That puts the odds strongly against Braun , but as mentioned, he got closer than anyone last year while playing 140 games.
Carlos Correa, Astros
Projection systems are, by nature, pretty conservative. So it's no surprise that Steamer does not project anyone to go 30-30 this year. But Correa, in his first full season and at age 21, is the only one pegged for a 20-20 campaign (22 homers, 20 steals). The reigning American League Rookie of the Year Award winner collected 22 and 14 last year in 99 games, which is a 36-23 pace over a full schedule.
Starling Marte, Pirates
The 27-year-old has stolen exactly 30 bases for two straight years, and his home run power has been trending up gradually over his three full seasons. In 2015, Marte set career bests in homers (19) and at-bats per homer (30.5).
He stayed healthy enough to play 157 games last year and stole 39 bases while ratcheting up the power. Pollock's 20 bombs were more than he had hit over his first 243 career games combined, but that trend line would have to keep climbing quickly.
George Springer, Astros
If he hadn't missed about two months when an errant pitch fractured his right wrist last July 1, Springer might have at least come close in 2015. In 75 games to that point, he had collected 13 homers and 14 steals, ultimately finishing with 16 of both. The 26-year-old has gone deep 36 times in 180 big league games, and he swiped 45 bags in the Minors as recently as 2013. Outfield mate Carlos Gomez also could contend for 30-30 status with a bounceback season.
As his amazing career has unfolded, Trout has added power but lost some speed. A 30-30 man as a rookie in 2012 (30 homers, 49 steals), he crushed a personal-best 41 big flies in '15 but stole only 11 bases in 18 tries. However, Trout recently made a point of saying he wants to get back to being more of a basestealing threat this season. It's probably a stretch to think he could rebound all the way to the 30 mark, but it's also hard to count out Trout completely.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.