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8 surprising league leaders in this wild year

@williamfleitch
September 14, 2019

Certain stats, like batting average, RBIs and wins, have grown a bit out of fashion, and it’s not difficult to understand why. But I'll confess: I'm a sucker for a baseball leaderboard. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is the most efficient, effective stat, and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) tells us more

Certain stats, like batting average, RBIs and wins, have grown a bit out of fashion, and it’s not difficult to understand why. But I'll confess: I'm a sucker for a baseball leaderboard. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is the most efficient, effective stat, and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) tells us more about what's going on than our eyes can see, but many of us have all collected enough baseball cards and read enough old Baseball Encyclopedias to appreciate guys who lead the league in triples, batting average or walks.

You might have missed some of the unusual statistical leaders in some major and semi-major categories this year. It might seem like Mike Trout is leading in everything. But you'll never believe some of the following leaders.

AL batting average: Tim Anderson, SS, CSW

Anderson may not have been thought of as a key cog in the White Sox youth movement, but at 26, perhaps he should be. He’s having the best season of his career by far, and his batting average (.334) is a stunning 94 points higher than it was last season. He would become the first White Sox hitter to lead the AL in batting average since Frank Thomas in 1997; before the Big Hurt, the most recent had been Luke Appling in 1943.

NL innings: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, WSH

Stras also leads in wins – just passing Max Fried, of all people – but that’s not so surprising. What is surprising is that he’s leading the National League in innings pitched. This is, after all, the pitcher who once was sat down for an entire postseason because of concerns about his durability. (Though that next season, 2014, was when he set a career high for innings with 215.) It’s a different game now than in '14, though, and his 191 innings have him just ahead of Madison Bumgarner and teammate Patrick Corbin.

MLB triples: Eduardo Escobar, 3B, ARI

We are not talking enough about Eduardo Escobar. He has been integral to the still-hanging-in-there D-backs’ success, both offensively and in the field. But his biggest leap forward has been with three-baggers, having recorded 10. He’d never had more than five in a season before this year. The jump in triples corresponds with his jump in homers, from 23 to 34.

MLB saves: Kirby Yates, RHP, SD

Yates was actually first drafted by the Red Sox in the 26th round in 2005, which was essentially 4,000 years ago. Before the Padres picked him up in 2017, Yates' career was a bust – he had an ERA over 5.00 for the Rays, Angels and Yankees – but in the last two years he has become the most dominant closer in the game. He has a 15.2 K/9 rate, which is five strikeouts more than, say, Nolan Ryan ever had, which is insane even when you consider how unfair it is to compare reliever strikeout rates to starter strikeout rates. He currently has 40 saves, three more than Aroldis Chapman, and seems like a safe bet to maintain his lead.

AL RBIs: José Abreu, DH, CWS

Remember when Abreu was supposedly on the trade block, a relic of a previous age out of step with the current youth movement in Chicago? Well, Abreu has just kept on smashing baseballs, putting up yet another 100-plus RBI season; in every season but last year's injury-hampered campaign, he’s reached that plateau. His 116 is already his career high, and he is well ahead of the field.

MLB games pitched: Alex Claudio, LHP, MIL

The strangest thing about Claudio’s ironman performance is that while his appearances have gone up from last year, his innings have gone down. He pitched 66 games and 68 1/3 innings last year; he has pitched 77 games this year, but only 58 1/3 innings.

Both MLB shutouts and complete games: Lucas Giolito, RHP, CWS (tied)

Considering he had a 6.13 ERA last year and led the AL in earned runs and walks, suffice it to say Giolito is not exactly a guy anyone thought would have three complete games and two shutouts this year. However, Giolito is tied with Shane Bieber for the most complete games in the Majors, and the righty is also tied with Bieber and Sandy Alcantara for the most shutouts in the bigs. Fun stat: Giolito has three fewer starts than he did last year so far, but has thrown 3 1/3 more innings.

MLB runs allowed: Trevor Bauer, RHP, CIN

This is a quirky one because Bauer leads the Majors in runs allowed (112), but doesn’t lead either league because he switched from the AL to NL. But jeez, wasn’t Bauer amazing last year? And wasn’t he supposed to be amazing this year? It’s not like he’s been that terrible – if he were that terrible, they’d stop letting him pitch enough to give up so many runs in the first place – but this is still a substantial step back. A reason perhaps why? He leads MLB in walks allowed, too.