Gunnar on path toward history in more ways than one

June 24th, 2024

In 1982, a young shortstop by the name of burst onto the scene for the Orioles, winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Ripken leveled up the following season, becoming one of the best players in the sport en route to the AL MVP Award.

If that sounds familiar, it's because we're seeing a similar story unfold in Baltimore in the present day, this one authored by .

After winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award unanimously in 2023, Henderson has taken his game to another stratosphere for the O's in 2024, helping the club post one of MLB's best records (49-28).

Entering a three-game series against the AL Central-leading Guardians (49-26), which starts Monday at Camden Yards, the shortstop ranks second in the Majors with 24 homers and sixth with a .975 OPS. He also leads all players with 5.6 WAR (per Baseball-Reference).

The 22-year-old is not only an AL MVP candidate this year, he's on a path toward history in more ways than one. Here's how.

He’s powering up like few shortstops before

Throughout baseball history, the shortstop position hasn’t exactly been replete with top-tier power-hitting threats. In fact, only four primary shortstops (players who played at least 50% of their games at short in that season) have reached the 40-homer plateau in a season, combining for 13 total occurrences.

MLB shortstops with a 40-homer season

It didn’t happen for the first time until 1955, when Banks went deep 44 times for the Cubs. Before that, only one shortstop (Vern Stephens) had even had a 30-homer campaign.

Banks hit 40-plus homers four more times in his legendary career, topping out at 47 in 1958, which stood as the shortstop record for 43 years.

Another shortstop joined the club in 1969, when Petrocelli slugged 40 for the Red Sox. It proved to be a one-off, however, as Petrocelli never had more than 29 homers in any other season.

MLB went nearly 30 years after that without a 40-homer shortstop, until A-Rod put up 42 homers during his 40-40 campaign with the Mariners in 1998. That began a streak of six consecutive 40-homer seasons for Rodriguez, who broke Banks’ shortstop record with 52 homers as a member of the Rangers in 2001 and topped himself with 57 dingers the following season.

After Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees and moved to third base in 2004, there wasn’t another 40-homer shortstop until 2021, when Tatis blasted 42 dingers for the Padres.

Henderson is well on his way toward becoming the fifth primary shortstop to hit 40-plus homers in a season, and he could join A-Rod as the second shortstop with a 50-homer season if he keeps up his current pace.

He's crushing it from the top of the order

Henderson bounced around the Orioles’ lineup as a rookie, starting at least one game in every lineup spot, including 39 in the leadoff spot, 25 in the two-hole and 27 in the five-hole. The youngster has found a consistent home atop the order this year, however, logging 70 of his 76 starts in the leadoff spot.

All 24 of Henderson’s home runs have come as the No. 1 hitter in Baltimore’s lineup this season, which puts him on pace to shatter MLB’s record for home runs by a leadoff hitter. The record was set by just last season when the Braves superstar crushed 41 homers as the leadoff hitter.

Most home runs by a leadoff hitter in a single season

Included therein are eight leadoff home runs -- counting those hit by the first batter in either the top or bottom of the opening inning -- putting Henderson within striking distance of breaking Soriano’s single-season record (13).

Additionally, Henderson is on pace for 112 RBIs out of the leadoff spot, which would be another record as far as leadoff hitters are concerned. Only five players in MLB history have reached the century mark in RBIs while hitting leadoff, with three of them doing so in 2023.

Leadoff hitters with 100-plus RBIs in a single season

He's so good at a young age

As impressive as Henderson’s power has been this season, he’s hardly a one-trick pony.

Although this is his first season as a full-time shortstop in his professional career, he’s establishing himself as a top-notch defender at the position. Henderson has also stepped up his base-stealing game this year, going 13-for-14 in steal chances after swiping just 10 bags as a rookie.

Henderson's well-rounded skill set has him on pace for 11.8 bWAR, which would be the most by a position player in his age-23 season or younger in MLB history.

Only six position players (seven occurrences) have even had a 10 bWAR season at that age or younger, with none reaching 11 bWAR.

Players with 10-plus bWAR in age-23 season or younger:

  • : 10.5 in 2012 (age 20)
  • Ripken: 10.0 in 1984 (age 23)
  • : 10.5 in 1954 (age 23)
  • : 10.5 in 1942 (age 23)
  • Williams: 10.4 in 1941 (age 22)
  • : 10.5 in 1910 (age 23)
  • : 10.5 in 1910 (age 23)
    Henderson: on pace for 11.8 bWAR (age 23)

At any age, an 11 bWAR season is a special figure. Just 12 position players (20 occurrences) have done it, and 11 of them are in the Hall of Fame. The only one who isn’t is , whose Cooperstown case is clouded by controversy due to his ties to performance-enhancing drugs.

Position players with an 11+ bWAR season in MLB history

No one has produced an 11 bWAR season since Bonds went back-to-back in 2001-02. The last position player to do it before Bonds? Ripken in 1991, leading to his second AL MVP Award.

No Orioles player has won an MVP since then, but if Henderson keeps this up, he might just put an end to that drought.