Ever since I was a kid, there has been something magical about the 81st game of the baseball season. You know why: Because 81 games marks the halfway point of the season, which means for just a short while you can double everybody's stats and (sort of) predict what amazing
Ever since I was a kid, there has been something magical about the 81st game of the baseball season. You know why: Because 81 games marks the halfway point of the season, which means for just a short while you can double everybody's stats and (sort of) predict what amazing seasons might happen.
I put "sort of" in parentheses there for my friend, statistical guru and glorious party pooper Tom Tango. Tom gets on me every time I talk about anyone being "on pace" to do something, because, well, yeah, because it's quite stupid to do that. You can't take arbitrary points in a timeline and use those to say someone is "on pace" to do something. If you bowl a strike in your first frame, you are not "on pace" to bowl a 300. Or as he says, when Usain Bolt covers the first 40 meters of a 100-meter dash in 4.64 seconds, that doesn't mean he's on pace to run a 3:07 mile or an 82-minute marathon.
But just because Tom is right doesn't mean I'm going to stop doubling 81-game stats. I've been doing it since July 19, 1979, when Dave Kingman played in the Cubs' 81st game of the season and hit his 29th home run. He was the first player in my lifetime who seemed to be threatening -- really threatening -- Roger Maris' home run record of 61. Why all you had to do was double 29 -- that gets you all the way to 58. And he just had to find four more measly homers; certainly he could do that.
He did not do that (Kingman hit 48) but I never stopped watching. In 1998, Juan Gonzalez had 96 RBIs after 81 games -- was a 200-RBI season possible? (No.) In '96, Edgar Martinez had 41 doubles halfway through the season -- would someone finally break Earl Webb's seemingly unbreakable 67 doubles record? (No.) Gaylord Perry in '74, Randy Jones in '76, Joaquin Andujar in '85, they all had 15 wins after 81 games. Thirty-game winners? Was it possible? (No.)
So many disappointments, but I'm obviously not going to stop now. Here are five 81-game stats that I'm watching closely.
1. Yankees with 137 homers through 81 games (full-season record is 264 held by 1997 Mariners)
The thing that's crazy about this is that the Yankees' biggest stars are having slightly-to-moderately below expectation seasons. Now this is because the expectations for this season were insane, but no matter. Gary Sanchez has struggled with the bat all year and has 14 homers. Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 59 homers last year and left everyone shuddering at what he might do at Yankee Stadium, has just 19 so far. Aaron Judge is having a terrific season, but even he is behind -- last year he had 27 homers after 81 games, this year 22.
And even with that, the Yankees are in position to crush the Mariners' record because the kids Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar decided to beat the Christmas rush and just became crazy stars right away.
Will they break the record? I think they will and don't think it will be particularly close, though that mathematical conscience of mine Tom Tango points out that the Steamer Projections give them a 50-50 shot of tying it.
2. Eduardo Escobar with 34 doubles (Earl Webb's record is 67)
I've been watching the doubles record for a long time. It has to go down. Earl Webb was a fascinating guy; he was a coal miner who in his younger days was such a bad outfielder that even his astonishing hitting ability couldn't get him a big league job. His problem as an outfielder was that he fell down all the time going after the ball, a flaw that can affect outfield defense. He was 32 when he finally conquered his balance deficiency and got to play every day for Boston -- and promptly hit .323 with power.
The next year, 1931, with the Green Monster calling to him, Webb mashed 33 doubles in 63 games at Fenway (now that's a nice pace) and finished with those 67. That has been a record ever since. It has been a record for much too long.
There have been those recently who seemed ready to challenge the doubles record -- I mentioned Martinez in 1996. Mike Sweeney in 2001 had 35 doubles at the halfway point; Lyle Overbay also did in '04. Five years ago, Manny Machado had 37 doubles through 81 games. None of them did it. None of them came close. Nobody has hit even 60 doubles in a season since 1936.
So Eduardo Escobar, you are our latest hope. Escobar might get traded by the Deadline -- he's one of the hot names out there. Maybe he gets traded to a doubles park like Colorado.
3. Michael Trout has a 6.6 Baseball-Reference WAR (record: Babe Ruth's 14.1, 1923)
This is a bit of a quirky one because different places figure WAR differently. That said, by Baseball-Reference WAR, only one position player has ever had 13 Wins Above Replacement in one season. That one person was Babe Ruth in 1923, when he hit .393, had an on-base percentage of .545, and led the league in basically everything that mattered.
Willie Mays never had 13 WAR in a season. Rogers Hornsby never did, Henry Aaron never did, Ted Williams never did, Honus Wagner never did, Joe Morgan never did. Carl Yastrzemski in his extraordinary 1967 triple crown season did not have 13 WAR. Barry Bonds, when he was intentionally walked 120 times did not have 13 WAR. If Trout repeats his first half, he will do it.
Now, you can say this is a quirk of WAR, as Trout's numbers are not as impressive as the numbers of some of those other legends. But the thing with Trout is that he does so many things so well that when you add it all up, you get something extraordinary.
4. Joey Gallo with 113 strikeouts through 81 games (Mark Reynolds holds the MLB record of 223 in a season)
Gallo has struck out five more times since Game 81 if you are counting at home.
The thing I love about Gallo is that he is who he is. He is a young, huge guy from Las Vegas who, when he hits the ball, can hit it about as hard as anyone who walks the earth. Last year, he hit the ball 253 times. One out of every six times he hit it, the ball went over the fence. This is just what he does. This is just who he is. Teams will play five guys, six guys, seven guys, the entire roster on the right side of the field, and he might try to adjust but in the end he knows that what he does is swing hard and hope for the best.
The strikeout record will be broken some point soon, maybe this year, maybe next. Yoan Moncada might break it. Maybe Judge. But Gallo is your best bet.
5. Gerrit Cole with 5.4 hits per nine innings (record, Nolan Ryan at 5.26)
This is not quite like the other statistics because it's a rate stat, not a compiling one. Still: 5.4 hits per nine innings is insanity. The league hits .173 against Cole and he has not allowed more than six hits in a game all year. He already owns an unusual but interesting record -- at least since people started keeping track, he has the record for most consecutive games to start a season where the pitcher goes at least five innings and allows six or fewer hits. Cole has done that all 17 times this year.
The odd thing is that Justin Verlander did it in his first 16 starts this season. There must be something in that Houston water.
In any case, it will be tough for Cole to match Ryan's mark from 1972, but the great thing about being on pace to do something means that it's possible.
Joe Posnanski is a national columnist for MLB.com.