7 remarkable 'on-pace' stats to follow

May 26th, 2024

“On pace” is not the same as “will get there.”

What goes up early in a long MLB season usually must come down later. That’s the nature of a sport in which failure is unavoidable. So at this early stage, when we say something like, “Player X is on pace for Stat Y,” we do so with the knowledge that there are no guarantees. Often, almost always, outliers come back to the pack.

Unless they don’t.

One year ago today, through 50 Braves games, was on pace for 35 home runs and 71 stolen bases. Not only did he go on to become the first member of the 30-60 Club, but he also did so for 40-60 and 40-70. Acuña didn’t slow down, and “on pace” became “made history.”

So let that give you hope as you read this list, courtesy of seven MLB.com writers and researchers, who each picked out one remarkable on-pace stat to watch over the rest of this season. Since we already put the spotlight on Reds phenom Elly De La Cruz and his chase for 100 stolen bases earlier this week, we’ll set him aside here and focus on some other worthy candidates.

, SS, Orioles
On pace for: 56 HR, 122 RBIs

Henderson is following up his 2023 AL Rookie of the Year-winning season with a campaign that has been MVP-worthy so far. He’s on pace for 56 homers and 122 RBIs — as a leadoff hitter. Before Acuña's 41 HR last season, we’d never even seen a player hit 40 out of the leadoff spot in a season, and Henderson is on pace to break that record by 15. Before Mookie Betts’ 107 RBIs out of the leadoff spot last season and Acuña’s 106, no player had recorded more than 103 RBIs in a season while batting first (RBIs official since 1920). With 122 RBIs, Henderson is on pace to smash that record as well. And he’s doing this as a shortstop. Alex Rodriguez is the only player in MLB history to hit 50+ HR in a season as a shortstop, with 52 HR in 2001 and 57 HR in 2002.

-- Sarah Langs

, SP, Cubs
On pace for: 0.84 ERA

Imanaga has enjoyed a dominant start to his MLB career, allowing just five earned runs in 53 innings and owning a 5-0 record for the Cubs. His 0.84 ERA is the lowest mark in AL/NL history through a pitcher’s first nine career starts since ERA became an official statistic in 1913. After eight years with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in Nippon Professional Baseball, Imanaga is on pace to do something historic in his first MLB season. The major key to Imanaga’s success is his fastball, which has been the most valuable pitch in the Majors even though its average velocity is just 92 mph.

Sustaining an ERA as low as Imanaga’s won’t be easy, but the rookie has a chance to keep making history in 2024 even if his ERA climbs a bit. The last starter to post an ERA under 1.50 in a qualified season was Bob Gibson (1.12) back in 1968; Jacob deGrom and Blake Snell were the most recent starters to put up an ERA under 2 while making 30 or more starts. At his current clip, Imanaga is on pace for one of the great seasons by ANY starter in recent memory -- let alone for a pitcher beginning his MLB career.

-- Theo DeRosa

, OF, Red Sox
On pace for: 25 triples

Seeing another 100-SB season would be amazing, but there’s a decent chance that you, a baseball fan reading this story in 2024, were also watching baseball in 1987, and therefore remember the last time someone stole 100 bases in the regular season. The odds of you remembering the last 25-triple season are significantly lower, because it’s been nearly a century since Kiki Cuyler hit 26 triples all the way back in 1925. The triple isn’t exactly a lost art, but from 1926 through 2023, no one’s managed to get past 23 -- Curtis Granderson being the most recent, in 2007.

Then there’s Duran, who has eight triples through the Red Sox’s first 52 games (of which he’s played in all 52). It’s not like he’d really have to go out of his way to keep up this pace, either -- he’s got the speed (he’s maintaining a 29.1 ft/sec average sprint speed to this point), and he’s having a pretty strong year at the plate, hitting .272 with a .460 SLG to this point in the season.

-- Shanthi Sepe-Chepuru

, DH, Dodgers
On pace for: .338 batting average and the MLB batting title

A .338 batting average -- which is where Ohtani's sitting right now -- is terrific, obviously. But it's not earth-shattering just by itself. What makes it cool for Ohtani in particular is that it's leading the Major League batting race. Ohtani has a home run crown. He has multiple MVP Awards. But he doesn't have a batting title. The biggest improvement by Ohtani over the last couple of seasons is his contact hitting. He was a .300 hitter for the first time in 2023; now, 2024 could be the year that he wins that batting crown for the first time. The fact that Ohtani is leading the Majors in hitting is a testament to the ways he somehow keeps improving, even though his baseline is "the best baseball player in the world."

But that's not even the coolest part. The coolest part is that Ohtani would be the first Japanese-born MLB batting champion since Ichiro … who won his last batting title exactly 20 years ago, when he set MLB's single-season hits record in 2004.

-- David Adler

Philadelphia Phillies
On pace for: 116 wins

In both 2022 and 2023, the Phillies waited until June to turn things on and surge into the playoff race. This year, that’s been anything but the case. Philadelphia has dominated from the get-go in 2024. The Phillies became the 27th team in the Modern Era (since 1900) and the first since the 2001 Mariners to win at least 36 of their first 50 games.

Those Mariners are particularly relevant because they are also one of two teams to currently hold MLB’s record for regular-season wins, at 116, along with the 1906 Cubs. The season is young, but this year’s Phillies -- at 38-15 after Saturday night's comeback win over the Rockies -- are on pace to match that pair. And while the record is still a long shot, the good news for the Phillies is that they’ve been successful in all facets of the game this season. They lead MLB with 5.42 runs per game while also ranking fourth with 3.60 runs allowed per game, and their starting pitchers collectively lead MLB with a 2.63 ERA.

-- Cole Jacobson

, RP, A’s
On pace for: 0.00 FIP

FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, a stat on the same scale as ERA that is focused on the things over which a pitcher has the most direct control: strikeouts, walks, hit batters and home runs allowed. Miller’s FIP was actually negative (yes, that really is possible) until Thursday, when his streak of 15 straight scoreless outings ended with a messy, extra-innings appearance against the Rockies (1 2/3 innings, five runs, three earned runs).

However, with no homers and only one walk (which was intentional), plus one strikeout, Miller’s MLB-leading FIP (minimum 15 innings) took much less of a hit than his ERA. It remains an outrageously dominant number early this season, reflecting how Miller is often making batters look helpless. In his 23 innings, the former Division III pitcher has 45 K’s against six walks and no hit batters, and he has yet to allow a roundtripper. Between his subpar season debut and Thursday’s hiccup, opponents batted a mere .065/.121/.097 against Miller across those 15 scoreless outings.

Only four AL/NL pitchers have thrown at least 50 innings in a season with a FIP under 1.00: 2012 (0.78), 2003 NL Cy Young Award winner (0.86), 2014 (0.89) and 2022 (0.90). While it will be extremely difficult for Miller to join that club, much less top Kimbrel’s record, he does possess the sort of unhittable stuff that puts a serious pursuit at least within the realm of possibility.

-- Andrew Simon

, DH, Braves
On pace for: 159 RBIs

There have been few players who have stayed as consistently hot as Marcell Ozuna over the past year. After going from the brink of release in April 2023 to a 40-homer, 100-RBI season by season’s end, the Braves' DH has kept the good times rolling in 2024 as one of MLB’s top run producers. But just how good has he been at driving in runs? He's on pace for 159 RBIs, which would be the most in a season since drove in 160 for the Cubs in 2001. But before Sosa, only one player had reached 159 or more RBIs in the previous 52 years ('s 165 in 1999).

Much of Ozuna's RBI production is thanks to his 15 homers, a total that leads the National League. Of those 15 long balls, 11 have been of the multi-run variety, which is a great way to swell an RBI total. He's on pace for 51 dingers this season, which would certainly help propel him toward RBI history. Ozuna has 12 multi-RBI games this season and seven games with at least three RBIs. And as his .317 average suggests, he's been a complete hitter who can best opponents with more than roundtrippers.

-- Jason Foster