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MLB Notebook: 2012 a statistical year for history

In a season that included perfect games from Philip Humber, Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez, a four-homer virtuoso performance from Josh Hamilton, the incredible ascension of R.A. Dickey, the comeback seasons from the Nationals, Athletics and Orioles, the late storybook chapters from Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones or any of the other particular narratives that made the summer of 2012 so remarkable, odds are that the stories and numbers of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera will remain as vivid and resonant as anything. And in the true essence of why this game is so compelling, each of these three individual campaigns has a connection to the man who -- in the first Hall of Fame election -- received a greater percentage of votes than Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson or Walter Johnson: Ty Cobb.

In Cobb's age-19 season in 1906, he stole 23 bases and posted a 132 OPS+ -- not too far above the 18 steals and 119 OPS+ authored by Harper in 2012. A year later, Cobb -- with an OPS+ of 167 -- led the American League in hits, steals, RBIs, total bases, batting, slugging and OPS. It's the kind of season that looks quite comfortable resting next to Trout's 2012 performance.

Two years after that incredible age-20 season, Cobb, like Cabrera more than a century later, won the Triple Crown. No matter what the achievement, no matter who achieves it, there is always a connection in the game's past -- sometimes hiding shyly in a corner, sometimes forgotten under layers of dust, sometimes roaming around bullishly looking for a companion. But it's always there, and it's what helps make what we experience each day in the present so alive and meaningful.

Craig Kimbrel
The Braves used eight pitchers to combine on a four-hitter, blanking the Pirates, 4-0. The final pitcher used in the contest was Kimbrel, who allowed one hit and struck out three in his scoreless effort.

Kimbrel finished the season with a 1.01 ERA in 62 2/3 innings, allowing 27 hits and 14 walks while striking out 116 batters. His rate of 16.66 K's per nine innings is the highest in history for any pitcher with at least 50 innings.

Kimbrel's rate of 3.88 hits per nine innings is the lowest in history for any pitcher with at least 50 innings, and he finished with the third-lowest ERA for a pitcher who collected at least 40 saves (Kimbrel had 42). Fernando Rodney (48 saves this season) owns the lowest ERA (0.60), while Dennis Eckersley had 48 saves and a 0.61 ERA in 1990.

End of an era
Chipper went 1-for-1 with a single to finish his career with a slash line of .303/.401/.529. He is the 19th player to finish his career with at least 5,000 plate appearances and a .300 batting average, a .400 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage.

The others are Ed Delahanty, Dan Brouthers, Joe Jackson, Tris Speaker, Cobb, Harry Heilmann, Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Frank Thomas and Manny Ramirez. Chipper is the only one with more than 1,000 games at third base, and he is the only switch-hitter.

Washington Nationals
The Nats defeated the Phillies, 5-1, to finish the season with a franchise-record 98 wins, good enough for the best record in the Majors. The previous high for wins was the 95 victories produced by the 1979 Expos. The only other time the franchise finished with the best record in the league was in the strike-shortened 1994 season.

Cliff Lee
Lee allowed three runs in six innings in the loss to the Nationals, struck out seven and walked none, but took the loss to fall to 6-9 for the season.

In the live-ball era, Lee is one of 13 pitchers to have at least 30 starts, a winning percentage no better than .400, and an ERA at or below 3.16.

Lee finished the season with 207 strikeouts and 28 walks for a K/BB ratio of 7.39, the sixth best since 1893 for a pitcher with at least 200 K's. With this league-leading mark, Lee also became the fourth pitcher since that year to have multiple seasons with a ratio of at least seven to one while qualifying for the ERA title. The other three are Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, and Curt Schilling.

Oakland Athletics
The A's defeated the Rangers, 12-5, to clinch the AL West. The win gave the A's sole possession of first place for the first time all season.

According to Oakland's press notes, via the Elias Sports Bureau, the 2012 A's are the third team to finish the year with a league title or division title after not spending a single day during the regular season alone in first. The other two clubs are the 1951 Giants and 2006 Twins.

Also, according to the Athletics press notes (via Elias), the Athletics became the fifth team to win a pennant or division title after being down by at least 13 games. From July 1 through the final game of the season, Oakland owned a 57-26 record and the best winning percentage in the Majors.

This is the 14th division title for the A's and the first since 2006.

Robinson Cano
Cano went 4-for-4 with a pair of home runs against the Red Sox, and tied a career high with six RBIs. Cano finished the regular season with at least two hits in nine straight games, tying him with Tommy Henrich (1947) for the second-longest streak for a Yankees player since '18. Bernie Williams had two-plus hits in 10 straight games in 2002.

Cano also finished the season with 82 extra-base hits. He now owns the third highest total for an AL second baseman. Alfonso Soriano had 92 in 2002 and Charlie Gehringer had 87 in 1936.

Triple Crown
Cabrera went 0-for-2 at Kansas City to capture the 16th Triple Crown in baseball history, and the 14th in the modern era. The full list can be found here.

Cabrera is the 12th player to win a Triple Crown in the liveall era. Among those 12, his .330 batting average is ranked 10th, his 44 home runs are tied for fifth and his 139 RBIs are ranked sixth.

Cabrera finished fourth in the AL in on-base percentage (a category he'd led in 2010-11), keeping him from capturing a rate stat Triple Crown (leading in batting, on-base and slugging). Of the 14 players since 1901 to capture a traditional Triple Crown, Cabrera is one of four to miss out on the rate stat crown. Each of the previous three -- Foxx in '33, Joe Medwick in '37 and Mickey Mantle in '56 -- missed out in on-base percentage.

The Captain
Jeter went 1-for-4 against Boston with his league-leading 216th hit of the season. The hits are the second most for a player in his age-38 or older season, behind the 225 by Paul Molitor in his age-39 season in 1996. Jeter is the third player to lead the league in hits in his age-38 or older season, joining Molitor in '96 and Pete Rose in '81.

Fernando Rodney
The Rays' closer retired the only Orioles batter he faced to keep his season total at five earned runs in 74 2/3 innings, for an ERA of 0.60. The ERA is the lowest in history for a pitcher with at least 50 innings, just edging out Eckersley's 0.61 ERA in 73 1/3 innings in 1990. Rodney allowed a total of four extra-base hits (two homers and two doubles) this season.

Clayton Kershaw
Kershaw allowed one run in eight innings against the Giants to lower his ERA to 2.53, which gave him his second consecutive National League title in that category. Kershaw is the only pitcher since 1893 to win multiple ERA titles before his age-25 season. He fanned eight batters in this game, finishing with 229 strikeouts -- one behind R.A. Rickey for the top total in that category.

New York Yankees
The Yankees clinched the AL East and the league's best record, which marks the ninth time New York has owned the AL's best record in the past 18 years (1998, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2012).

Rookie sensation
Trout went 2-for-3 against Seattle and hit his 27th double of the season. The Angels outfielder finished with a .326/.399/.564 line, with 182 hits, 65 extra-base hits, and 315 total bases.

For all players who qualified for the batting title since 1893 in their age-20 or younger season: The .326 batting average and .399 on-base percentage are the seventh highest, the .564 slugging percentage is the fourth highest and the 171 OPS+ is the highest.

Three-homer games
The White Sox's Dan Johnson and the Rays' Evan Longoria both went yard three times on the regular season's final day. Oct. 3, 2012 is the first calendar day since Sept. 3, 2006 in which two players hit three dingers in a game. On that day, the Cardinals' Albert Pujols and the Phillies' Ryan Howard each hit three.

Max Scherzer
Scherzer struck out three in a four-inning stint vs. Kansas City, which brought his season total to 231 K's in 187 2/3 innings for a rate of 11.08 strikeouts per nine innings. Dating back to 1893, that strikeout rate is the 12th best for a right-hander and the best ever for a Tigers pitcher.

Chase Headley
Headley went 2-for-3 with a double, a triple, two walks and two RBIs against Milwaukee to bring his RBI total to 115.

With the two RBIs, Headley became the first Padres player since Dave Winfield in 1979 to finish the season as the NL leader in the category. Headley's 115 are the fewest for a NL leader since Darren Daulton paced the Senior Circuit with 109 in '92.

Headley also reached safely in 146 games this season, which tied for the sixth most for any NL player since 1962.

Miguel Cabrera, Matt Cain, Robinson Cano, R.A. Dickey, Josh Hamilton, Chase Headley, Felix Hernandez, Philip Humber, Derek Jeter, Dan Johnson, Chipper Jones, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel, Cliff Lee, Evan Longoria, Max Scherzer, Mike Trout