There’s a fair case to be made that the most interesting thing that could happen to this baseball season is that it runs to its scheduled end. (If MLB’s continued existence from week to week is ordinarily a reliable constant, it now feels like a daily wildcard.) But if we limit the parameters for “interesting thing” to just that which can happen on the field, from the players, there’s still plenty to choose from.
A 60-game season is an invitation for weirdness; it takes all of baseball’s serious-minded ideas about proper sample sizes and laughs in their faces. We can see that already: MLB’s WAR leader is not Mike Trout but Mike Yastrzemski, which sounds fine when you think of this point in time as after “a week and a half of play,” and far less so when you think of it as after “15% of the season.” The numbers will be weird. They’ll be messy. They’ll offer us baseball that we’ve never seen before (statistically speaking, that is, not playing-in-a-global-pandemic speaking). Which leads us here: Amid all this potential interestingness, what’s the single most interesting feat we could see?
(Many thanks to FanGraphs’ wonderful 60-game span leaderboard tool in assembling this.)
35+ Home Runs
Here’s a fun Barry Bonds fact to add to the phenomenally deep stable of fun Barry Bonds facts: There have been nine 60-game stretches in MLB history in which a player hit 35 or more home runs. All nine of them are various stretches of Bonds’ 2001. (The record is 37, which he did from mid-April to mid-June.) It might be a stretch for someone to touch his record. But 35 or above? That’s on the table. It’s been flirted with in recent history, when Giancarlo Stanton hit 33 in a 60-game span in 2017, and given the current home-run environment and that pitching this season is diminished by injury (and therefore full of pitchers who would not otherwise be on a major-league mound right now), it seems likely that we see someone approach it again.
Verdict: Fun! But not quite so interesting, given that we’re all a little less sensitive to home-run records after the last few years, and there’s good reason to believe that this is liable to happen, anyway.
Most Likely to Do It as of Right Now: Aaron Judge (6 HR), Nick Castellanos (6 HR).
This one is more feasible than you may think: 60-game .400 is not just the stuff of peak George Brett and Ichiro. It’s also 2007 Magglio Ordóñez, or 2016 Joey Votto, or, yes, 2019 Cody Bellinger. That doesn’t make it likely. Just... conceivable. Maybe.
Verdict: Absolutely interesting, if partly for the arguments this will fuel for decades over whether the player behind it could be considered a legitimate “.400 hitter.”
Most Likely to Do It as of Right Now: DJ LeMahieu (.412), Michael Brantley (.438)
45+ Stolen Bases
It will not shock you to learn that the 60-game stolen base record, just like almost every other stolen base record, belongs to Rickey Henderson. (He’s the only player ever to steal more than 57 bases in 60 games—he topped out at 66.) No one is going to do that in 2020. No one is going to get close to that. But if we set the bar lower... The closest that baseball has had in recent years is Billy Hamilton in 2016, with 43. Since he has yet to appear this season and was just picked up over the weekend by the Mets, he’s out of contention.
Verdict: Wildly interesting, tied to the fact that it’s very unlikely.
Most Likely to Do It as of Right Now: Tommy Pham (5 SB), Luis Robert (4 SB), Fernando Tatis, Jr. (3 SB).
A Pitcher Wins All 12 of His Starts
Yes, pitcher wins are rather passé, but here’s the rare modern case in which they can be considered genuinely cool. 12-0! Who doesn’t want that? And there’s an extra wrinkle in that it requires staying healthy for the entire season (and, ah, not missing a start because your team has been temporarily taken out by an outbreak).
Verdict: Interesting, if more on the side of “fun fact” than “deeply riveting.”
Most Likely to Do It as of Right Now: Gerrit Cole (3-0), Shane Bieber (3-0).
A Sub-1.00 ERA
This one might sound historic. But we saw two players do this just last year! (Jack Flaherty’s second half, 0.77 ERA in 82 innings pitched, and Hyun Jin Ryu’s first half, 0.96 ERA in 84 innings pitched.) We saw Chris Sale do it in 2018, Jake Arrieta and Clayton Kershaw do it in 2015, and Kris Medlen do it in 2012. It’s a delight to watch. Given the circumstances, it should be much more so if we see it this season. But as a statistical threshold to hit... it’s actually more common than it might sound.
Verdict: Still pretty interesting—in that any great pitching performance should feel even greater this year, given the difficulties of staying healthy and consistent, and that it’s always fun to watch someone shove.
Most Likely to Do It as of Right Now: Shane Bieber (0.83), Lance Lynn (0.49)
Accumulating 5.0 WAR
There are 23 players who have done this in a 60-game stretch. George Brett is the leader, with 6.5 WAR from 1980; the list also includes 2001 Barry Bonds, 1994 Jeff Bagwell, and, of course, 2012 Mike Trout. This is god-tier territory. (Apologies to 2015 Bryce Harper, who juuuuuust missed the cut at 4.9)
Verdict: Incredibly interesting, if slightly complicated by the fact that 2020’s WAR measurements are, well... complicated.
Most Likely to Do It as of Right Now: Mike Trout (0.4), Mookie Betts (0.7), and, for the sake of fun, we’ll include current leader Mike Yazstremski (1.1).
A Great Team is *Really Great*
Given... everything, 2020’s projections were rather modest: Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA did not have a team with more than 38 wins, and FanGraphs’ system did not have one with more than 37. There’s just too high a cost for any one injury or slump to reasonably predict a team win more than that. But if one did—40 games, say, or even more? It would be incredible... or maybe just a testament to how lopsided the schedule becomes when a handful of teams are decimated with health concerns.
Verdict: Interesting, if hard to say in exactly which way.
Most Likely to Do It as of Right Now: Yankees (8-1), Twins (9-2)
A Bad Team Is *Really Bad*
This may not be your idea of “interesting.” But it’s an idea of interesting, if a bit of a perverse one. Was there not a sort of twisted appeal to watching the 2003 Tigers? The 2019 Tigers? Yet a bad team takes on a sourer taste when the reasons behind it are less likely “routine misery” and more “pandemic-ravaged.” This suggests a different type of bad, with a different cost, in a different context. A team with fewer than 20 wins doesn’t feel darkly interesting as much as it just feels... dark.
Verdict: Interesting in a bleak, existential sense, maybe.
Most Likely to Do It as of Right Now: Let’s not!