For the vast majority of its history, the story of baseball has been told through its numbers. That’s how we settle the standings. That’s how we connect and compare eras. That’s how we contextualize player performance. These stories are often potent, powerful, suspenseful, even inspirational.
But sometimes … they are completely absurd. Like, the kind of stuff that, were you to submit it to your creative writing teacher in high school, would come back with red edits all over the place and a note to “see me after class.”
These are the stories we aim to tell here in our annual look at the most bonkers stats this 2021 baseball season has produced. (All stats are through Thursday’s play.)
Well, of course we had to start with the most bonkers baseballer of this, or any, season. We could fill up this entire piece with awesome Shohei Ohtani statistics. The Angels’ ace and DH has had an unfathomable year -- arguably the most impressive individual season in the history of the sport (yes, we said it).
But enough hyperventilating. Let’s let these two numbers do the talking. The first number is Ohtani’s slugging percentage as a hitter. The second is his opponents’ slugging percentage when he’s a pitcher.
What this means is that Ohtani could give up a home run to the next 32 batters he faces, and his opponents’ SLG would still be two points lower than his own.
This is White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal's on-base percentage. OK, that’s good. But what makes it so special?
Well, Grandal’s batting average is just .230. Per Baseball-Reference, there have only been three players in history to log at least 200 plate appearances with an OBP of at least .410 and a batting average of .240 or below: Wally Schang (1929 St. Louis Browns), Eddie Yost (1956 Washington Senators) and Gene Tenace (1977 Padres).
With 69 walks and 49 hits, Grandal is on pace to become just the 10th player in history with more than 60 walks and fewer than 60 hits. The most recent was Jay Buhner (69 walks, 59 hits) with the 1999 Mariners.
... is the number of hit batsmen for Padres pitcher Austin Adams. Yes, the hit-by-pitch rate across MLB has been climbing consistently over the past decade. But Adams leads the Majors in this category by five HBPs.
In the modern era, dating back to 1901, there have been 34 times in which a pitcher plunked at least 20 batters in a season, most recently when the Cubs’ Kerry Wood hit 21 batters in 2003. So while Adams’ total is unusual, it’s not exactly unprecedented … except that … wait a minute … Adams is a reliever! He’s done this in only 46 2/3 innings of work!
None of the other pitchers who hit 20 batters had fewer than 178 2/3 innings pitched. We regret to inform you Adams won’t be breaking Chick Fraser’s record of 32 hit batsmen with the 1901 Philadelphia Athletics. But he still has a shot at the post-Deadball era of 23 hit batsmen, set by Howard Ehmke of the 1922 Tigers.
But fear not. Scherzer will not have enough plate appearances to touch right-hander Bob Buhl’s all-time record for most at-bats without a hit -- set when Buhl went 0-for-70 for the Cubs and Milwaukee Braves in 1962 (Buhl reached base seven times via walk and hit-by-pitch, hence the distinction from Chen).
That said, given the strong possibility that the NL adopts the designated hitter next season, the mark Scherzer has set might instantly become unbreakable. (He’s still a pretty good pitcher, though.)
Remember that “Slam Diego” storyline built off the Padres’ unprecedented success with the bases loaded last season? Well, this is the opposite of that.
This is the Twins’ opponent OPS with the bases loaded. Yes, this would be a new record, surpassing the mark set by the 2015 Tigers (1.215). But what makes this even more incredible is that the 2020 Twins pitching staff had a .404 opponent OPS with the bases loaded -- the fifth-best mark all-time (albeit in a shortened season).
At least the Twins have company, because the Nationals’ pitching staff (1.099 through Wednesday) is on pace to set the all-time NL mark.
The no-hitter count. You already know this one, but that doesn’t make it any less bonkers.
Thank you to Joe Musgrove, Carlos Rodón, John Means, Wade Miley, Spencer Turnbull, Corey Kluber, Zach Davies/Ryan Tepera/Andrew Chafin/Craig Kimbrel and Tyler Gilbert for matching the single-season no-no record set in 1884. What’s more, we’ve had two no-hitters in a seven-inning game (Madison Bumgarner and a five-pitcher effort by the Rays) and two no-hitters broken up in the ninth inning (Germán Márquez and Patrick Sandoval).
The Mariners, Rangers and Indians were each no-hit twice (no team has ever been no-hit three times in a season).
Home runs for Salvador Perez. That makes him just the sixth catcher in history with a 40-homer season and the first since the Braves’ Javy Lopez hit 43 in 2003. Perez still has a real shot at Hall of Famer Johnny Bench’s single-season record for a catcher (45), set in 1970.
All of that is pretty amazing, but what makes it doubly so is that Perez, who is 31 years old and has caught more than 8,600 innings in the big leagues, had never hit more than 27 homers in a season. Lopez and Roy Campanella (1953) are the only other catchers with a 40-homer season at age 31 or older, and both of them had at least one other 30-homer season in their career.
We’ve long known the Rockies are a different ballclub at Coors Field. But this is ridiculous. This is the differential between Colorado’s 2021 home winning percentage (.625) and road winning percentage (.275). That’s an expanse as wide as the Rocky Mountains. And depending on how these last few weeks go, it could be historic.
Currently, the largest full-season differential between home and road winning percentages in the modern era is held by Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s in 1945, when they went 39-35 at Shibe Park (.527) and 13-63 elsewhere (.171) -- a differential of .356.
We’re trying to focus this piece on season-long trends, not snapshots from certain segments of the season. But this was so unusual, we just had to point it out. This was the number of teams that had a road losing streak of 20 games or more this season. The D-backs set an MLB record with 24 straight road losses -- a streak finally snapped on June 26. Perhaps they were inspired by the Orioles, who just one night earlier had snapped a 20-game road losing streak of their own (before eventually embarking on a streak in which they lost 19 straight overall).
According to Elias, this marked the first time since 1894 that two teams had road losing streaks of 20 games or more. That year, the Louisville Colonels lost 20 in a row and the Washington Senators lost 21 in a row.
But just to make this all even crazier, there’s still a chance that neither of these clubs winds up with the worst road record in baseball this season. Entering Thursday, the bottom five in road winning percentage were the D-backs (.246), the aforementioned Rox (.265), the Pirates (.282), the Rangers (.282) and the Marlins (.309). Yes, the Orioles lost 20 in a row on the road yet still have “only” the sixth-worst road winning percentage (.333).
Blown saves by the Phillies. While this number is large, it is not yet truly bonkers. It's the ninth-most all-time.
Remember, though: We’ve got some games left. Despite dramatically reshaping a bullpen that last year posted the highest ERA in 90 years, the Phillies stand a real chance of climbing into this top eight:
Most blown saves in a season
1. 2004 Rockies, 34
2. 2002 Rangers, 33
3. (tie) 1973 Braves, 32
1996 White Sox, 32
5. (tie) 2006 Royals, 31
2008 Mariners, 31
1998 Cardinals, 31
2008 Cardinals, 31
That the Phillies are still in postseason contention in spite of all the blown saves is oddly impressive. Then again, if they do wind up on the above list, chances are they won’t have any chances to convert or blow saves in October.
... is the number of steals for Starling Marte. A nice total, though not bonkers. What’s bonkers is how he’s divvied up the thefts evenly between the NL and AL.
Marte had 22 steals for the Marlins before he was dealt to the A’s in July. He’s swiped 22 bags since. That puts Marte in the top 10 in each league in stolen bases -- a feat no player has accomplished. Actually, Marte could wind up finishing in the top five in each league. He’s fifth in the AL in steals, and his NL total is still fourth … even though his last steal for Miami was more than six weeks ago!
Like we said: Bonkers.
MLB.com reporter and researcher Sarah Langs contributed to this story.