On pace for what?! How more milestones could be met in '23

May 16th, 2023

If, one year ago, you had cheerily noted that Aaron Judge was on a 60-homer pace 25% of the way through the season, someone would have probably tried to remind you that it’s a long, long way from 40 games to 162.

Well, that’s true. But lo and behold … Aaron Judge hit 62.

So while it’s difficult to know when we should take stats seriously in a given season, it can’t hurt to peek at some paces at the quarter mark, just in case they prove to have staying power.

Here are nine instances of players or teams on an amazing pace.

1. The Rays: Sultans of Swat

That Tampa Bay is on pace for 120 wins is impressive enough. The last team to win 120 games was … nobody. Nobody’s ever done that, don’t be silly (the 2001 Mariners and 1906 Cubs both won 116).

But how this particular team is generating the runs leading to all those wins is a complete shock to the system. The Rays are on pace for 312 home runs, which would break the single-season record of 307, set by the 2019 Twins.

What makes this shocking is that this is essentially the same Rays lineup that ranked 25th in MLB with 139 home runs last season. That means the Rays are on pace to surpass their 2022 home run total … by the middle of June!

2. Ronald Acuña Jr.: Homers and heists

This 2023 season has reminded us what Acuña plays like with two healthy and properly prepared legs.

With eight homers and 17 steals through 40 team games, Acuña is on pace to be the first player ever with 30 homers and 60 steals. The closest anybody has come to that was Eric Davis with 37 homers and 50 steals for the 1987 Reds and Barry Bonds with 33 homers and 52 steals for the 1990 Pirates.

Acuña is also on pace for 365 total bases. The only players in history with at least 350 total bases and 50 steals were Hall of Famer Ty Cobb with the 1911 Tigers and Hanley Ramirez with the 2007 Marlins.

3. Ozzie Albies: Little man, big power

Not to be outdone by his Braves teammate, Ozzie Albies is on pace for some history of his own – height-related history.

The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Albies has 10 homers already. That puts him on pace for 40 homers, which would be by far the most by a player no taller than 5-foot-8 and no heavier than 165 pounds. The previous record is 30 by … Ozzie Albies, in 2021. The previous high was Hall of Famer Joe Morgan’s 27 with the 1976 Big Red Machine.

4. Esteury Ruiz: The bruised base-stealer

The speedy Ruiz was an intriguing trade acquisition for the A’s over the winter, and he’s made the most of his wheels (and the new rules) with an MLB-leading 18 steals. That puts Ruiz on pace for 69 steals, which would be the most since Juan Pierre swiped 68 for the 2010 White Sox. A player has swiped 70 only six times in the Wild Card era (most recently Jacoby Ellsbury with the 2009 Red Sox), so it’s exciting to think about Ruiz potentially doing that.

But stolen bases are not what makes Ruiz’s season unique. It’s how he’s getting on base in the first place. He’s drawn just six walks, but he’s been hit by a pitch nine times. Ruiz could become the first player in the Live Ball Era to qualify for the batting title while getting hit by a pitch more times than he walks.

5. Luis Arraez: A human hit parade

Watching their former teammate on a clubhouse TV recently, some members of the Twins marveled at Arraez’s early accumulation of base hits for the Marlins.

“Nobody finds the holes like that!” one said.

“The holes find him!” another added.

Arraez’s .382 average would be the highest since Mariners legend Ichiro Suzuki’s .372 mark in 2004. The last player to hit .380 or better in a full season was Hall of Famer George Brett with the 1980 Royals (Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn hit .394 in the strike-shortened ’94 season with the Padres).

6. Shohei Ohtani and Tyler Wells: Raining on the hit parade

Thanks in part to the new rules, the MLB-wide batting average is up this season … but not against the Angels’ Ohtani and the Orioles’ Wells.

Ohtani went into Monday’s start against the Orioles with a .287 average as a hitter and only a .143 average against as a pitcher. His 4.3 hits allowed per nine innings would be the lowest of the Modern Era, bested only by two members of the 1884 Milwaukee Cream Citys – Ed Cushman (2.50) and Lady Baldwin (3.71).

Wells, who is scheduled to face Ohtani and the Angels on Thursday, will enter that start with a mark of 4.79 hits allowed per nine innings, which, if maintained for a full season, would also break the Modern Era full-season mark of 5.26 by Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan in 1972 with the Angels.

7. MLB: What a steal

The bigger bases and pickoff limits haven’t exactly returned us to the pilfer-packed 1980s. The rate of steals per game in 2023 (0.7) would fit right in with the rates we were accustomed to seeing in the late 1990s. So while that’s a nice bump from the more risk-averse recent standard (last season, there were only 0.51 steals per game), it’s not historically outlandish.

This season’s rate of successes, though, is higher than the game has ever seen. Base stealers have been successful 78.4% of the time. The previous high was 75.7% in 2021. That year, there were only 2,924 attempts. This year, there have already been 1,096.

8. The Mets: Flat first innings

Your 2023 New York Mets have hit exactly zero first-inning home runs this season, which puts them on pace for (checking notes … carrying the one … phoning a friend …) zero!

We don’t expect that pace to continue. One would think the Mets are bound to run into some first-inning fun eventually. But keep an eye on this trend, because, in the Expansion Era, going back to the early 1960s, the fewest first-inning home runs in a full season came from the 1988 Cardinals, with two. The last team with fewer than five was the 2010 Orioles, with three.

The Mets have only scored nine runs in the first inning this season, despite Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso (two players who regularly hit in the first inning) both ranking in the top three in the NL in RBIs.

9. The Guardians: Four balls without four-baggers

You know who won’t be challenging the single-season team home run record? The Guards. They’ve hit just 23 home runs, the fewest in MLB.

And yet Cleveland leads all of MLB in intentional walks, with 15. That’s almost twice as many as any other team. It’s because teams are pitching around José Ramírez, who has more intentional walks himself (nine) than any other team in MLB.

How unusual would it be for a team to lead the Majors in intentional walks while hitting the fewest homers? Since intentional walks were tracked in 1955, it’s only happened once -- with the 2016 Braves (60 intentional walks, 122 homers).