Kershaw, Trumbo, Ortiz among MLB stars on pace for rare feats
When the Orioles added Mark Trumbo in a trade with the Mariners last December, it wasn't too hard to imagine that the righthanded slugger's power would play well in Camden Yards and the AL East. Few could have expected it to play this well, however. With four homers in his last five games, including one in Monday night's win over the Royals, the 30-year-old rightfielder/DH leads the AL with 19 dingers—a 55-homer pace if carried through the full season.
With a Statcast-projected distance of 396 feet, Trumbo's homer off of Kansas City lefty Danny Duffy wasn't his longest of the year, but with a launch angle of 33.9 degrees, it made for an impressively towering shot:
Overall, Trumbo his hitting .295/.349/.605, running second in the AL in slugging percentage, fourth in total bases (133) and eighth in OPS+ (149); he’s also fifth in average homer distance according to Statcast (418.0 feet). If he were to remain on his breakneck home run pace pace—admittedly, a tall order, particularly given that he has yet to miss a game—his total would be the highest in the majors since Ryan Howard bashed 58 in 2006.
Just past the one-third mark of the season, Trumbo isn't the only player on pace to reach a level unseen in several years. What follows here is a handful of notable statistical accomplishments to date, ranked by how long it's been since that level was last reached. The likelihood of any of these panning out is fairly slim; there's a reason such levels—including at least a couple of all-time records—haven't been reached in so long. Still, this should help build appreciation for some of the individual performances we've seen so far.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
On pace for: 1.46 ERA (best since 1968)
On pace for: 1.59 FIP (best since 1999)
On pace for: 265 ERA+ (best since 2000)
Remarkably, the 28-year-old southpaw is putting together the best season of his career, which is saying something for a three-time NL Cy Young winner and four-time MLB ERA champion. Kershaw has allowed more than two earned runs in a start just once, when he yielded five runs in seven innings against the Marlins on April 26; that sent his ERA to a season-high 2.43. Since then, he's tossed three complete-game shutouts and posted a 0.81 ERA over 55 2/3 innings.
If he can stay on track, Kershaw's ERA would be the lowest by a qualified pitcher (one inning per team game scheduled) since Bob Gibson's 1.12 mark in the so-called “Year of the Pitcher.” His Fielding Independent Pitching—a number based on his strikeout, walk and homer rates (10.6, 0.6 and 0.4 per nine, respectively)—of 1.59 FIP would be the lowest since Pedro Martinez's brilliant 1999 season (1.39). In terms of ERA+, which takes into account park and league scoring environments, Kershaw's 265 would be the best since Martinez's record-setting 291 in 2000, when the Hall of Fame righty yielded a 1.74 ERA in a league where the average mark was 4.91. Oh, and as for Kershaw's insane 18.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio (109 strikeouts, six walks): That would be a record by a country mile, beating Phil Hughes's 11.63 ratio from 2014.
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Jose Fernandez, Marlins
Johnny Cueto, Giants
Jake Arrieta, Cubs
Chris Sale, White Sox
On pace for: 25 wins (best since 1990)
In an age of lighter starter workloads and increased bullpen specialization, pitcher wins are admittedly an outmoded stat, one that has everything to do with the support a starter receives from his offense and defense as well as his relievers. Still, it rates as at least mildly interesting that five hurlers thus far have reached nine wins, putting them on pace for 24 or 25, depending upon how the schedule falls; a single extra turn around the All-Star break or at season's end could be the difference between the two. Twenty-four isn't so special in this context, as Justin Verlander reached that mark in 2011, but no pitcher has won more than that since Bob Welch netted 27 wins in 1990 en route to the AL Cy Young award—one that wasn't really merited given the Oakland righty's modest ERA (2.95) and strikeout rate (4.8 per nine) relative to runner-up Roger Clemens (21–6, 1.93 ERA, 8.2 strikeouts per nine) of the Red Sox.
Meanwhile, if multiple pitchers from this group (or outside it) were to reach even 24 wins, it would be a sight unseen in the majors in quite awhile. The last time two pitchers had that many in a season was 1980 (Steve Carlton and Steve Stone). The last time three reached that plateau was in 1972 (Carlton, Gaylord Perry and Wilbur Wood). Four? Try 1928 (Larry Benton, Burleigh Grimes, Lefty Grove and George Pipgras). Five? Go back to 1920 (Pete Alexander, Jim Bagby, Wilbur Cooper, Stan Coveleski, Carl Mays). Raise the bar to 25 wins, and its 1974 for two (Catfish Hunter and Fergie Jenkins), '66 for three (Jim Kaat, Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal) and '11 for four or five (Pete Alexander, Jack Coombs, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Ed Walsh). The chance to see something not done in the majors in over a century is almost enough to make one care about pitcher wins—almost.
Daniel Murphy, Nationals
On pace for: .384 AVG (best since 1994)
On pace for: 230 hits (most since 2007)
Though he powered the Mets to their first pennant in 15 years with seven postseason homers, it wasn't difficult for New York to rationalize letting Murphy depart as a free agent given his age (he turned 31 on April 1), modest offensive profile and well-known defensive liabilities. When he signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the Nationals, nobody thought that Washington had landed a potential batting champion. Yet just past the one-third mark of the season, Murphy leads the league in batting average, slugging percentage (.626) and hits (81). If he were to maintain this blistering pace—96 points of average above his career line entering this year and 64 points above his career high, set in '11—it would be the highest in the majors since Tony Gwynn chased .400 and finished at .394 in the strike-abbreviated 1994 season. Murphy's hit total, meanwhile, would be the majors' highest since Ichiro Suzuki collected 238 in 2007.
David Ortiz, Red Sox
On pace for: 404 TB (best since 2001)
On pace for: .732 SLG (best since 2004)
On pace for: 200 OPS+ (best since 2004)
Having announced that 2016 would be his final season, Boston's 40-year-old DH is putting together a campaign for the ages. Not only is Ortiz's 45-homer pace (16 through the Red Sox' first 57 games) a threat to demolish both the records for players at least 40 years old (Darrell Evans, 34 in 1987) or in their final season (Dave Kingman, 35 in '86), but he's also putting up video game-level numbers unseen since the heyday of Barry Bonds. Ortiz's 404 total bases would be the highest since Bonds's 411 in 2001, the season in which he bashed a record-setting 73 homers, and both his slugging percentage and OPS+ would both be the highest since Bonds's .832 and 263, respectively, in '04.
What’s more, Big Papi could claim a record of his own, too: He's on pace for 74 doubles, making him a threat to shatter Earl Webb's 1931 record of 67. The closest anyone has come to that in recent years is Todd Helton's 59 in 2000.
Mark Trumbo, Orioles
Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Todd Frazier, White Sox
On pace for: 55 HR (Trumbo), 51 HR (Arenado and Frazier); best since 2001 (combined)
Trumbo isn't the only player threatening to top 50 dingers this year. Both the Rockies' Arenado, who tied Bryce Harper for the Senior Circuit lead with 42 homers last year, and the White Sox's Frazier, who won the 2015 Home Run Derby and finished with a career-high 35 longballs, are on pace to reach the 50-homer plateau as well. Just three years ago, Baltimore's Chris Davis hit 53 homers, so that's not what's at stake here, but if all three on-pace players wind up with 50 or more, it would mark the first season since 2001 with more than two players doing so. In that year, Bonds set the record, with Sammy Sosa (64), Luis Gonzalez (57) and Alex Rodriguez (52) topping 50 as well, albeit in a much higher-offense—and, ahem, "loosey-goosey"—era than today.
Jeurys Familia, Mets
Jeanmar Gomez, Phillies
A.J. Ramos, Marlins
Zach Britton, Orioles
On pace for: 53 saves (Familia), 52 (Britton), 51 (Ramos), 50 (Gomez); best since 2008 (individual)
By itself, the 50-save level is unremarkable: Four pitchers racked up at least 50 in a season since 2012, including the Pirates' Mark Melancon last year. Nobody, however, has reached 53 since Francisco Rodriguez set the record with 62 in 2008. Perhaps more interestingly, only three times have two pitchers reached 50 in a season, most recently in 2013, when Jim Johnson and Craig Kimbrel did so for the Orioles and Braves, respectively. There's never been a season where three pitchers reached that mark, but in 1998, Rod Beck, Trevor Hoffman and Jeff Shaw all recorded at least 48 saves. The high for a quartet is 47, set in 2004, when Armando Benitez, Francisco Cordero, Jason Isringhausen and Mariano Rivera all did so.