10 historic performances from 2019

December 31st, 2019

It’s the point in the offseason when we have plenty of time to reflect on the past year.

In the cold of winter -- depending on where your baseball fandom takes place -- it’s time to warm up by recounting some of the history that happened on the field last season. There were plenty of noteworthy performances, far more than could make this list, but here are 10 that we still may be looking back on as the next decade comes into focus.

represented the over-35 crowd well
Verlander, at 36 years young, had one of those epic "age is just a number" seasons. On Sept. 1, he threw his third career no-hitter (and his second in Toronto), making him the first pitcher to no-hit the same team on the road twice, and the third to no-hit the same team twice in any venue, along with Tim Lincecum (vs. the Padres) and Addie Joss (vs. the White Sox).

Verlander was great all season, though. His 0.80 WHIP was the third lowest by a pitcher in a qualified season in the Modern Era (since 1900), behind only Pedro Martínez in 2000 (0.74) and Walter Johnson in 1913 (0.78). Verlander's efforts led to an American League Cy Young Award, the second of his career; he also won it in 2011. His seven-year gap between Cy Young Awards is the longest in history.

Cole, Verlander made a high-powered pair
Verlander wasn’t alone atop the Astros’ rotation, of course. He and became just the fifth pair of teammates to take first and second in a Cy Young Award race since it was first given out in 1956. And while Verlander had 300 strikeouts, Cole led the Majors with 326. That made them just the second set of teammates to reach the 300-strikeout plateau in the same season, along with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, who did so for the D-backs in 2002.

And let’s give Cole his due, too. Cole's 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings and 39.9 percent K-rate set single-season records. He finished the regular season on a 13-start streak, during which the Astros won every time he took the mound. He also finished the year with nine straight 10-strikeout starts, setting a single-season record. Over a span that began on Aug. 1, Cole had at least one strikeout in 73 straight innings, extending into the postseason, the longest such streak in the Expansion Era (since 1961) by 33 innings, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

did it, again
While Verlander edged Cole in the AL, deGrom easily won the National League Cy Young Award and became the 11th pitcher to capture it in consecutive seasons. In 2018, deGrom had just 10 wins, and the Mets went 14-18 in his starts -- the fewest wins by any starting pitcher to win the Cy Young Award, and the lowest team winning percentage in a Cy Young Award winner’s starts. His '19 numbers? An identical 14-18 Mets record when he started, and 11 individual wins.

In other words, deGrom now owns the top two spots on the list for fewest wins by a starter in a Cy Young Award-winning season and lowest team winning percentage in a Cy Young Award winner’s starts. So how has he done it? By being nearly unhittable. deGrom didn’t match his 1.70 ERA from 2018, but he had a 2.07 ERA over his final 27 starts of '19, allowing just a .199 opponents' average in that span. He finished the season on a 23-inning scoreless streak. Since the start of '18, he’s made 47 starts in which he allowed two or fewer runs, most among traditional starters in that span.

The Polar Bear introduced himself to the Majors, and then some
When we learned shortly before the season that had made the Mets’ Opening Day roster, it was clear that Major League Baseball was in for a treat. The slugger tore it up in the Minors in 2018, and the hype surrounding him was palpable throughout '19 Spring Training. Hype can be fickle, but Alonso lived up to it, and more.

Alonso hit his first homer on April 1, in his fourth career game, and he never looked back. He totaled 53 home runs on the year, setting a rookie record. He also became the first rookie to lead the Majors outright in homers, and he set a franchise record, too, when he launched his 42nd.

Another place we saw that homer-happy prowess? On the field in Cleveland, where Alonso, who was also an All-Star, won the Home Run Derby. He was the second rookie to win the Derby, along with Aaron Judge in 2017.

got better again
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Trout posted career highs in slugging percentage and home runs, and he led the Majors in OPS+ for the fourth straight year. He entered the season tied for 100th all-time in WAR among position players, according to BaseballReference.com, and he’ll enter 2020 at 57th on that list. With another nine-win season, his average since '12, he'd be 36th. And remember, he’s just 28 years old.

Trout won his third AL Most Valuable Player Award for his efforts. He’s finished in the top two in voting seven times -- in just eight full Major League seasons. Those seven top-two finishes are already tied with Albert Pujols and Stan Musial for second most since the Baseball Writers' Association of America began voting in 1931. The only player with more top-two finishes is Barry Bonds (nine).

Trout has also finished in the top five in each of the past eight seasons, the longest streak of top-five MVP voting finishes since 1931.

with the power, speed combo
Acuña ended up three stolen bases shy of a 40-40 season, but there’s plenty notable in his combination of 41 homers and 37 steals. At age 21, he became the youngest player to record a 40-30 season. In fact, he was just the third player with 40 or more homers in a season at age 21 or younger, along with Eddie Mathews and Mel Ott.

Acuña will enter the 2020 season -- just the third of his Major League career -- with 15 career leadoff homers, just two shy of tying Felipe Alou for the Braves’ franchise record.

Did you know is young?
Torres’ age -- 22 throughout the season, though he turned 23 on Dec. 13 -- became a sort of joke on the internet during the season, but for good reason: It was mentioned so much. Since he was called up in 2018, we’ve heard Torres be the youngest Yankees player to do this, the youngest since Mickey Mantle to do that, and so on. In '19, he continued to make his mark. He had eight multihomer games, tying the Yanks' single-season record -- regardless of age.

Five of those came against the Orioles, the most multihomer games by a player against a single opponent in a season in Major League history. Torres against the O's was worth watching all season, as he totaled 13 home runs in those matchups. That was tied for the second-most homers by a player against an opponent in a season, just one shy of Lou Gehrig’s record of 14 against the Indians in 1936. Keep this in mind: Torres played 18 games against the Orioles in 2019, while Gehrig played 23 against the Indians in ‘36.

loved the road
Soroka had an impressive rookie year, though he finished second behind Alonso for the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Bouncing back from a right shoulder injury that ended his 2018 season, Soroka anchored the Braves’ rotation all year. He was particularly great on the road, where he was one of 45 pitchers to throw at least 85 innings, but the only one of those to allow just five homers.

Soroka had a 1.55 road ERA, which was fourth lowest among qualified starters since the mound was lowered in 1969. The only pitchers ahead of him on that list? Greg Maddux, twice, and Roger Clemens. That’s good company.

In his postseason debut (Game 3 of the NL Division Series), Soroka went seven innings and did not walk a batter, allowing just one run. He became the youngest pitcher in postseason history to go at least seven innings without issuing a free pass in his postseason debut. And of course, he did it on the road in St. Louis.

punished baseballs
Called up by the Reds on Aug. 1, after playing one game in 2018, Aquino took the baseball world by storm, hitting plenty of big flies. He hit his 10th home run in his 16th career game, making him the fastest to reach that mark in Major League history. He has other records that don't involve round numbers, too, like fewest games to 14 home runs (27).

That all happened in August, when Aquino hit 14 homers to put his name on the map. Only three rookies have hit more homers in a calendar month: Rudy York, Aaron Judge and Mark McGwire.

The Nationals completed the definitive clutch comeback
Already, the Nationals entered October having engineered a comeback: They had started 19-31, but they managed to make the postseason. But as the month wore on, we’d see that was just the beginning of the team’s clutch nature. The Nats became the first team in Major League history to win the World Series without winning a Fall Classic game at home, taking all four contests in Houston while dropping the middle three in D.C. That 19-31 record became the worst 50-game start for any eventual World Series winner.

It wasn’t just season and series-long comebacks for the Nationals, though. They also won five postseason elimination games in which they trailed, setting a Major League record for a single postseason. Comeback kids, indeed.