It’s tough to do serious analysis off of three weeks’ worth of data: There are heavy small-sample-size caveats, and frankenstats leaven real-world results with projections from a system like ZiPS or PECOTA. But that misses the point of early-season numbers: They’re fun because they’re so misleading and weird. At some point the only thing left to do is steer into the skid.
So let’s go into the future, take a time machine from the third week of the season and visit a world in which everyone ended with the stats they were on pace for.
Ryan Schimpf: .119/.339/.333, 30 home runs, 152 walks
San Diego newspaper story, Oct. 1
SAN FRANCISCO — Padres second baseman Ryan Schimpf knew this season was weird all along, but it didn’t hit home until September 15 in Coors Field, when he looked over the shoulder of Rockies pitcher Jon Gray and saw that second baseman D.J. LeMahieu was sitting down on the edge of the outfield dirt.
“Like, actually picking dandelions,” Schimpf said.
A little unsettled, Schrimpf took a five-pitch walk, and when he got to second base, asked LeMahieu about it.
“I knew you weren’t hitting it here,” LeMahieu said. And he was right. In truth, most of the fielders can pick dandelions most of the time when Schimpf picks up his bat. Now, Schimpf is closing the book on one of the strangest seasons in Major League history.
Schimpf came to the plate 597 times this year: 425 at-bats, 152 walks, and 20 sacrifice flies. Between those walks (every single one unintentional), 152 strikeouts, and 30 home runs, Schimpf only put the ball in play 46.1 percent of the time. Schimpf’s stayed in the Padres’ lineup thanks to his .339 OBP and 30 home runs, but he’s hitting only .119. He has had 51 hits all year, and apart from those 30 home runs, none of them went for extra bases.
“I’m trying not to get freaked out,” Schimpf said before the season finale against the Giants. “I mean, there’s got to be, like, something supernatural going on here, right? I get two hits a week and I’m still not seeing that many strikes. I’m walking like Barry Bonds.”
He’s not far off. Schimpf’s 152 walks is the seventh-highest total since the game integrated in 1947. Ahead of him are three seasons by Bonds, two by Ted Williams, and Mark McGwire’s 70-homer, 162-walk campaign in 1998. The only 150-walk season even remotely similar to Schimpf’s since integration came in 1956, when Senators third baseman Eddie Yost hit .231 with 11 home runs but walked 151 times.
“I can’t explain it, but I’ll take a .339 OBP with 30 home runs in my lineup any day,” said Padres manager Andy Green.
Freddie Freeman: .440/.533/.920, 69 home runs
Atlanta sports talk radio, Oct. 2
Radio Host: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Did I hear you right? Did you say Freddie Freeman isn’t the most valuable player in the National League?
Ex-Ballplayer: Of course not. You’re not one of those numbers guys, are you? Numbers don’t tell you everything!
Host: OK, well let’s go over those numbers, just so everyone’s on the same page. Freeman hit .440, so that’s the first .400 season since 1941, which we all know. You know how long it’s been since someone hit .440? It’s been since 1894. 1894! That’s incredible!
Ballplayer: It is. It really is. But he’s not the MVP.
Host: Well, it’s certainly not because he didn’t hit for enough power; he hit 69 home runs, the most since 2001. That’s a nice season! Nobody else even came close.
Ballplayer: Where are the Braves in the standings?
Host: You can’t be serious.
Ballplayer: I am serious. Where are the Braves in the standings?
Host: Fourth place.
Ballplayer: Fourth place! They lost 93 games! How valuable can Freeman be if his team lost 93 games?
Host: That’s not his fault, though. Atlanta had the third-worst pitching staff in the NL. One guy can’t overcome that.
Ballplayer: Fair enough. Let’s look at what he can control. You want numbers? How’s this for a number? Atlanta finished 11th in the NL in runs. Freeman’s job is to produce runs, right?
Host: And he did! He slugged .920!
Ballplayer: Sixty-nine home runs, .440 batting average, only 93 RBI. Apart from himself, Freeman drove in only 24 runs. That’s selfish. That’s padding your stats in garbage time. Freddie Freeman’s a fraud. FRAUDIE Freeman! Ha!
Host: I’m going to be sick.
The Four Greatest Pitching Performances Ever
Michael Baumann’s MLB Awards Column, The Ringer, Oct. 2
Andrew Triggs: 32–0, 0.00 ERA, 184.2, 97 K, 43 BB
James Paxton: 20–0, 0.00 ERA, 213 IP, 223 K, 41 BB
Jason Vargas: 35–0, 0.44 ERA, 231.2 IP, 266 K, 23 BB
Ervin Santana: 32–0, 0.64 ERA, 302 IP, 216 K, 86 BB
This is without question the weirdest AL Cy Young discussion, if only because these are probably the four best seasons ever by starting pitchers, so you could make an argument for any of them.
The best peripherals belong to Kansas City left-hander Jason Vargas, who somehow turned his innings-eater stuff into a K/BB ratio of 11.6 to 1, the second-best of all time. Vargas, who hasn’t hit 90 miles an hour even once since May 2015, somehow managed to strike out more than 10 batters per nine innings, win every single one of his 35 starts, and allow a run just once every three starts or so.
This isn’t the Best K/BB Ratio Award, though. Andrew Triggs, despite striking out fewer than half as many batters as Vargas and walking almost twice as many in fewer innings, went the whole season without allowing an earned run. Instead, Triggs will fall short because of his 32 unearned runs allowed, his subpar strikeout totals, and the fact that he threw only 184.2 innings. Nevertheless, for someone who was completely unknown coming into 2017, Triggs was amazing.
But not as amazing as Seattle’s James Paxton, who didn’t allow any runs in 213 innings, which more than tripled Orel Hershiser’s previous scoreless innings streak. After realizing he was a huge guy with really good stuff and started attacking hitters more, the 28-year-old left-hander had a breakout season. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. Still, he’s not my Cy Young pick.
I know it’s controversial to have a guy who threw 213 scoreless innings and not give him the Cy Young, but that’s how special Ervin Santana, who led the Twins back to the brink of the playoffs almost all by himself, was. Santana posted a 0.64 ERA, which doesn’t look good next a 0.00, but he destroyed Paxton when it came to quantity, which matters in an age of short starts and frequent injuries. Santana made 43 starts, 11 of them complete-game shutouts (the most since Bob Gibson’s 13 in 1968), and threw a staggering 302 innings, baseball’s first 300-inning season since Steve Carlton in 1980. If those were just average-ish filler innings, this award would be Paxton’s, but Santana allowed just 22 runs all year. I can understand being overawed with Paxton’s 0.00 ERA, but Santana threw 89 more innings, which is a staggering difference that I can’t ignore.
All stats current through Thursday afternoon.