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Surprising but true baseball facts and stats

Sunday 11/19/23

I'll often think about how former baseball players might look back on their careers. Consider, for instance, Reggie Jefferson. Not a lot of baseball fans know the name Reggie Jefferson. It's one of those names that you hear and you have a recollection of it, but you're not quite sure who Reggie Jefferson was.


Reggie Jefferson played parts of nine big league seasons. I emphasize the "parts" part, because he only played one full campaign. He appeared in 680 games and had 2123 at-bats. But you know what Jefferson did? He retired with a .300 average. Right on the nose. It's not like he had ten at-bats and punched through three singles. Over 2000 at-bats is a legit sample.


Jefferson's lone full season was 1997, when he hit .319 for the Boston Red Sox and finished eighth in the American League batting race. His career wrapped up in his age-thirty season.


Eddie Murray, Carl Yastrezemski, Robin Yount, Rickey Henderson, and Cal Ripken all failed to hit .300 for their careers. Each had 3000 hits and of course the longer you play the more those percentage-based career stats tend to go down, and I'm not suggesting that Reggie Jefferson is anywhere close to those hitters, but Reggie Jefferson can still say, until the end of his life, that he was a .300 career hitter in the big leagues, and I think that's pretty cool.


The 1956 version of Mickey Mantle might have been the ultimate baseball player. People tend to say that's some iteration of Willie Mays, but Mays never did in any season what Mantle did in 1956. Not only did Mantle win the AL Triple Crown, but he would have won the Triple Crown for the whole of baseball. He led both leagues in average, homers, RBI. He could fly, he could field. He could hit it 470 feet or he could beat out a drag bunt. He was the perfect five-tool player for a time.


But you know what? Mantle's WAR in 1957 was higher than his WAR in 1956. He won the MVP both years, but if you look at the 1956 numbers, you look at that dominance, you wouldn't think this WAR fact could be true, but there it is.


Cy Young won 511 games against 315 losses, with an ERA of 2.63 and 749 complete games. I feel like that's pretty good. (Perhaps surprisingly, he "only" had 76 shutouts.)


The Hall of Fame comes into being, and in 1936 it's time to elect the inaugural class, and Young gets...49.1% of the vote. Less than half! The next year, he squeaked in at 76.1%.


During those 1936 elections, Babe Ruth received 95.1% of the vote, which meant that there were nearly 5% of the electorate who thought, "Sorry, Babe, I don't think your baseball career is worthy of this honor this right now."


Incidentally, Ty Cobb had the highest percentage for that initial Hall of Fame class, at 98.2%.


There are certain statistics that I look at that tell me a lot about a baseball team, which perhaps others don't look at very much or at all. For instance, run differential says a lot. Another one I like is shortest longest losing streak in a season. I care about this far more than I care about a team's longest winning streak.


The shortest longest losing streak in a season is three games. That is, there is no team that went an entire season and never lost more than two in a row. The two best baseball teams ever are the 1927 Yankees and the 1939 Yankees. Put them in the order you wish. I have the former first.


Those 1927 Yankees had a losing streak of four games. Somehow, the 1939 team lost six in a row at one point. That was the squad that started the year with Lou Gehrig, who had to retire, and there was Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium. You lose Gehrig and you go on to be that great? A very interesting team, and a very interesting season--one for the baseball ages.


You know who is tied for that shortest longest losing streak record? The 2013 Boston Red Sox, and the 2018 Boston Red Sox. I watch each year for that first four-game losing streak form a Red Sox team. Usually, it does not take very long. It's remarkable to not lose more than three games in a row over the course of a baseball season.


The 2013 team didn't have a win streak longer than seven games. They were just so consistent. Not streaky. If there was a tournament between the 2004, 2007, 2013, and 2018 Red Sox, I would not bet against that 2013 team taking it all. To me, they had something extra.



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