Numerology: Athletics' Olson, Montas Have Shown a 60-Game Schedule Can Be All About Surge

John Hickey

More than any other team sport, baseball is defined by its numbers.

A great starting pitcher might win 20 games. An All-Star closer might save 40 games. A power hitter might produce 40 homers. If you want to be in the batting race, the closer you get to 200 hits, the better.

For almost six decades, all of those numbers are predicated on a 162-game season. This time around, we’re looking at a 60-game season. The question of the moment is this – how do baseball numbers geeks adjust their thinking to get in line with the reality of a 60-game 2020 season?

With teams playing about 37 percent of a regular season, a 20-win season would be reduced to 8 wins. The equivalent of a 40-save or 40-homer season would be getting to 15. A 200-hit season would see a hitter get to 75.

However, it would be surprising if those numbers weren’t eclipsed, and by sizable margins, too. A 162-game season is subject to ebbs and flows. There have been times when 60-game stretches have been all ebb or all flow.

Pete Alonso of the Mets was the Major League home run champion last year with 53, in part because he hit 20 homers in his first 60 games and 20 more in his last 60 games.

The A’s Matt Olson was never in the home run competition after a hamate bone injury cost him a month and a half at the season’s start. But he, too, had an Alonso-type hot streak with 20 homers in 60 games from May 12-July 22.

And others have done better – much better – in the not too distant past. Giancarlo Stanton, in his final year with the Marlins, had a 60-game stretch from June 22-Aug. 29 in which he went deep 33 times. The all-time record is the Giants’ Barry Bonds, who hit 37 in 60 games from April 13-June 23, 2001.

The Astros’ Jose Altuve put together a 60-game stretch in 2017 that was simply otherworldly. From May 27-Aug. 8, he had 103 hits, good for an average of .485. He would finish with a .346 average and his third batting title in four years.

The ebbs and flows of the game were never in clearer view than when A’s third baseman Carney Lansford came out of the gate in 1988 as the best hitter in the game. In his first 60 games, Lansford had 96 hits, a .378 average and had people wondering if he could flirt with .400. He couldn’t. In his last 60 games, he had just 35 hits, and not only did he not flirt with .400, he finished the season at .279.

MLB’s only 21-game winner last year was the Astros’ Justin Verlander, and he pulled an Alonso, going 9-2 in the first 60 Houston games and 9-2 in the final 60, too.

Gerrit Cole, who teamed with Verlander on the Astros staff last year and who is with the Yankees this time around, had a hum-drum first 60 games last season, including starting 1-4, but in the final 60 Houston games he started 12 times, the Astros won them all and Cole, who would finish at 20-5, went 10-0.

We’ll stretch it by a game here with the A’s Frankie Montas, but from his first start on March 31 through his 13 on June 9, the A’s played 61 games and Montas was an All-Star worthy 8-2. He didn’t get there because of a half-season PED suspension, but the first-half numbers can’t be dismissed.

The point is that 60-game spikes, and 60-game slumps, are not uncommonin Major League Baseball. If somebody does make a run at .400 or homers every other game for 60 games or reaches double digits in wins, it shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s been done before, many times, and recently.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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