AffeldtUSA TODAY SportsWild cards and using Jeremy Affeldt at some point may be all the Royals and Giants have in common.


They both lived to survive the wild-card games. They both think they’re America’s underdogs. And they’ve both employed Jeremy Affeldt at one time or another.


But outside of that, is there anything the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals have in common?


They’re about to meet in the 110th World Series. But boy, have these two teams taken dissimilar routes to get to the same place. So here are five big differences between the two World Series juggernauts:

1. What an experience


This is the Giants’ third World Series since 2010. It’s the Royals’ third World Series since, well, the invention of the Royals -- and, as you might have read somewhere, their first since the Reagan administration.


The Giants will bring 16 players to this extravaganza who have already played in a World Series. In fact, eight of those 16 have been a part of all three of the World Series runs just by this core group. And Buster Posey has won more World Series games than the Royals’ entire franchise has won it its history (eight games to six). Just sayin’.


The Royals, on the other hand, are likely to have only two players on their roster who have played in a World Series -- neither of them on the winning side. One is Omar Infante, whose World Series experience as an everyday player consists of getting swept in the World Series by the Giants, in 2012. The other is James Shields, who was the winning pitcher in the only game the Rays won in the 2008 World Series against the Phillies.


And if Raul Ibanez ends up on the K.C. roster, you can make that three. He had a big World Series (.304/.333/.609) for the 2009 Phillies, but he didn’t play on the winning side, either.


Not that any of that necessarily means anything, since these Royals are currently on such a ridiculous roll, most of them have never played on a team that has lost a single postseason game. But they definitely lose the experience war.

2. Seasons in the mirror


Considering they’re both wild-card teams, could these two teams’ seasons possibly have had less in common?


The Giants went 43-21 in their first 64 games. That was the second-best record in baseball. After that, they were eight games under .500 over their last 98 games, which ought to take care of all those myths about how hot you have to be in September to reach a World Series in October.


The Royals had a losing record (49-50) as late as July 22. Then they flip-flopped, too: They went 40-23 over their last 63 games (the third-best record in baseball). So maybe it helps to start cooking down the stretch after all.


Over in the standings, the Giants blew a 10-game lead in their division to the Los Angeles Dodgers. But that didn’t stop them from playing deeper into October than the Dodgers did.


The Royals, meanwhile, became the first team in history to trail by seven games or more twice in the same season and then chew up both of those deficits to take over first place. That didn’t stop them from still finding a way to finish behind the Tigers in their division. But as you may have noticed, the Tigers then won no games in October, and the Royals have lost no games in October. So there’s that.

3. Manage this


Ned Yost and Bruce Bochy. Not even sure we need to go on. But what the heck. Yost might be the most second-guessed manager in the history of World Series managers. Bochy might be the least second-guessed manager in the history of World Series managers.

[+] EnlargeNed Yost
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsAlmost everything Ned Yost does gets second-guessed, but he's in the World Series.


Best we can tell, every living American with a Twitter account thinks every move Yost makes is wrong, even when it turns out right. Bochy, on the other hand, has developed a reputation as some sort of all-knowing, all-seeing Jedi tactician with a crystal ball that enables him to see how everything he does will turn out before he does it.


Bochy feels bound by no traditional tenets on bullpen usage, bunts or lineup makeup. Yost sometimes seems to feel tethered to all of them.


Bochy’s team laid down the fewest sacrifice bunts in the National League this year (45). But it’s not true that the Royals attempted that many just in the wild-card game. In fact, the two teams are tied in successful postseason sac bunts, with seven each. So regard this as proof that perception isn’t always reality -- especially in the case of Ned Yost.

4. Regime change


Royals GM Dayton Moore has spent eight years building his team in a steady, methodical crescendo -- and gotten pretty much no credit for it (unless you count a bunch of top prospects lists) until about two weeks ago.


But Giants GM Brian Sabean has been in his job longer than any general manager in baseball. This would be season No. 18 -- and counting. And this makes four World Series appearances, seven trips to the postseason and 13 winning seasons for Sabean, whose .533 lifetime winning percentage ranks 10th all-time among all GMs since 1950 who spent at least 10 years in the job.


So naturally, Sabean’s regime has been arguably the most stable in the whole sport. Meanwhile, it feels as if Moore has been swirling inside a should-Dayton-Moore-keep-his-job debate for years now.


Even their coaching staffs have epitomized the dramatic distinctions between these two regimes. The Royals have run through six hitting coaches just in the last 24 months, five in the last 17 months and two this year. The Giants, on the other hand, have had a pitching coach (Dave Righetti) and bench coach (Ron Wotus) who have been around so long (15 and 17 years respectively), they’ve held their jobs under three different managers.


So stability is vital, unless it isn’t. Remember that, kids.

5. Youth movements


The Royals and Giants do have one thing in common: They’ll each start at least five position players in this World Series who came up through their organizations. But that’ll do it for those similarities.


Those home-grown Royals -- Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler -- were among the most ballyhooed prospects in baseball, practically from the moment they signed. Four of them (all but Perez) were first-round picks. And three (Hosmer, Moustakas and Gordon) were top-three picks in the country.


But of the seven home-grown Giants in the October lineup, only Buster Posey and Joe Panik were first-rounders. Brandon Crawford went in the fourth round, Brandon Belt in the eighth, Travis Ishikawa in the 21st. Pablo Sandoval and Gregor Blanco (like Perez) were international free-agent signings.


So given their draft positions, those Royals players spent year after year trying to play baseball under the weight of expectations which the outside world kept concluding they hadn’t lived up to, while many of those Giants arrived in the big leagues with little or no sense of expectation and never had to deal with any of that.


In the end, though, they find themselves playing each other in the same World Series -- a place, thankfully, where none of that matters. For the next seven games, the history of these teams couldn’t be more ancient or irrelevant. And the divergent roads they traveled somehow led them to the same destination on the baseball map.


Funny how life -- and baseball -- so often work that way, isn’t it?

SAN FRANCISCO -- You didn’t need a medical degree from Harvard to suspect the Cardinals’ lineup card Tuesday wasn’t going to include the name “Molina.”

It’s never a good idea to take any quotes at face value this time of year. No matter how optimistic Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was 24 hours earlier about the rapid improvement of Yadier Molina’s strained left oblique, history and reality told us this:

Nobody is physically capable of recovering from a strained oblique and starting any baseball game two days later, let alone a pivotal October baseball game. The Incredible Hulk might. Iron Man might. Human beings don’t. Won’t. Can’t.

So the Cardinals went into Game 3 of the National League Championship Series with A.J. Pierzynski hitting seventh and catching John Lackey. That’s a move Matheny essentially had to make. Now here’s what it means:

The Lackey-Pierzynski connection: Matheny said one reason he chose Pierzynski over Tony Cruz to catch this game was that “A.J. and John Lackey obviously have had a lot of work together.” And that’s correct. Pierzynski caught Lackey both in Boston and St. Louis this season -- in 20 of his 31 starts, in fact. That’s the good news. The bad news is Lackey had a 4.24 ERA in games Pierzynski caught and a 3.01 ERA in games caught by anyone else.

Lackey’s strikeout-to-walk ratio was better (4.52 to 1) when Pierzynski caught him than when Cruz (3.00 to 1) or Molina (3.25 to 1) did, but the opponent OPS against Lackey in Pierzynski’s starts was .752, versus .639 in three starts with Cruz. It was even higher (.778) in five regular-season starts with Molina catching. But obviously, the Cruz and Molina sample sizes are significantly smaller.

The Hudson connection: Another reason Matheny said he went with Pierzynski was that he “has some history with Tim Hudson.” That would also be correct. Counting the postseason, Pierzynski has had 23 career plate appearances against Hudson, more than anyone on the Cardinals roster except Matt Holliday. And Pierzynski has hit .381/.409/.429 against Hudson, with zero homers and just two strikeouts. Cruz, on the other hand, is 0-for-3 lifetime against Hudson, with two strikeouts.

But hold on. All but three of those plate appearances by Pierzynski came over a decade ago, from 2001 to 2003. And the last time they faced each other was on June 23, 2010. So is “history” overrated? It might be in this case.

The rust factor: It’s been a long time since Pierzynski caught Lackey or anyone else on this staff. He last started a game behind the plate on Sept. 11 -- almost five weeks ago. And that’s the only game he has caught since Aug. 30 -- a span of six and a half weeks.

But Matheny pointed Tuesday to the fact that when the Cardinals signed Pierzynski, he was in quasi-retirement mode, walked in the door in July from attending Frank Thomas’ Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown and “was swinging the bat well, probably as good as we saw him, and also looked good behind the plate.”

Matheny also said Pierzynski’s “16 years' experience has some carry-over effect,” mentioned that Pierzynski caught a bullpen session Monday and emphasized that the Cardinals had him on the roster “in playing mode and not just pulling him off the bench as an extra player.” Nevertheless, one game behind the plate in 45 days is going to take a lot of Rust-Oleum to overcome.

The Molina effect on the running game: As Buster Olney wrote in his column Tuesday , the drop-off from Molina to Pierzynski, in its impact on stopping the running game, is as dramatic as it gets. Then again, the drop-off from Molina to anyone is huge. Molina threw out 48 percent of opposing base stealers this year. Pierzynski threw out 18 percent (14 percent as a Cardinal).

The opposition also attempted 71 percent more steals per game against Pierzynski (0.70 attempts per game) than against Molina (0.41) in their time as Cardinals this year. But how relevant is that going to be in this series? Certainly not as much as if the Cardinals advance and have to match up without Molina against Kansas City in the World Series.

The Giants stole the second-fewest bases in the big leagues this year, have swiped just two (in five attempts) in this postseason and are playing without Angel Pagan, one of only three players on their roster who stole more than five bases this year.

So with or without Molina, this series won’t be turning into a track meet. But it did just get a lot more challenging for the Cardinals.

In other news …

Late-inning magic: The Cardinals have scored 23 runs in this postseason. They have scored 18 of them from the seventh inning on. If they can somehow keep up that 78 percent rate, it would be the highest percentage of runs scored this late in games in postseason history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the highest percentage of runs scored in the seventh inning or later by any team that played six games or more in any postseason is 70 percent, by the 1998 Braves.

Ninth-inning magic: But the Cardinals haven’t exactly cornered the market on scoring late. The Giants have tied two games in this postseason by scoring runs with two outs in the ninth inning -- Game 2 of the NLDS (aka “The Jordan Zimmermann Game”) and Game 2 of the NLCS on Sunday.

Elias reports that the Giants are the sixth team in history to do that twice in a single postseason. The others were the 2009 Phillies, 2005 Astros, 2001 Yankees, 1992 Braves and 1985 Cardinals.

Welcome to the LCS: Hudson was making his 11th postseason start Tuesday. The difference between this one and all the others: It was his first ever that didn’t come in a division series -- because Hudson had appeared in the postseason in six seasons but none of his teams before this one had ever advanced to an LCS. By appearing in this game, he actually unbroke a record for most division series by a player whose teams had never made an LCS. According to Elias, he had shared that one with Joe Nathan, Ellis Burks and Ramon Hernandez. But not anymore!
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As Paul Konerko’s career wound down this month, in the shadows of all those trumpets blaring about Derek Jeter, I found myself wondering something: Has any player ever had a career quite like Paul Konerko’s?

And you know what? Thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau, we now know the answer: No. Nobody.

Here’s what I mean by that: Pretty much no one -- and by that, of course, I’m talking about Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic on Trivia Day -- remembers anymore that the White Sox were actually Konerko’s THIRD team.

Take a look at his career. He spent 55 games with the Dodgers. He got traded to the Reds and hung around Cincinnati for like 15 minutes (OK, actually 26 games). And then he wound up in Chicago … for 16 fabulous years.

Who does that? How does that happen?

Seriously. How is it possible that any player could spend less than half a season with two teams, for which he was really just passing through, and then end his career by turning into a 16-year, iconic, face-of-the-franchise figure for a THIRD team? Never heard of that.

So I ran this by my friends from Elias the other day. And here’s what they told me:

There have been three players in history who spent 16 seasons or more with one team (not necessarily even consecutively) -- and also spent fewer than 100 games with at least two other teams.

One was Phil Niekro (Braves for 21 years, plus Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays).

The second was Don Sutton (Dodgers for 16 seasons, plus Astros, Brewers, A’s and Angels.)

And the third was Konerko.

Except there was one humongous difference between Konerko and those other two guys: Both Sutton and Niekro STARTED their careers by playing 16-plus seasons for their first team, then bounced around at the end of their careers. That’s the normal path. At least that’s a plot line you might expect.

But Paul Konerko did it in reverse, zipping through cameo appearances for his first two clubs and only then settling in for a lonnnggg run with team No. 3.

In other words, he’s had himself a unique, historically distinct career path, shared by no one else who ever played in the major leagues. And because he has, he got to do something this weekend that very few players ever get to do: go out as a beloved figure on the team he came to be most identified with -- but not the club he started with -- after an incredible 16-year run.

How cool is that?

Other than in Chicago, Paul Konerko hasn’t gotten the kind of send-off he deserves -- not this season and certainly not this month. Too bad. He’s been the kind of player, and human being, that any franchise would be happy to have on the payroll for a decade and a half.

He won a World Series in Chicago, hit a grand slam in a World Series, won an ALCS MVP Award. He isn’t a guy you’d elevate into the pantheon of all-time greats. But he did have one more excellent claim to fame that I haven’t seen enough hoopla about:

He’s one of just 10 players in history, whose primary position was first base, to make it into the 400-homer, 400-double club. Courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, here are the others: Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, Eddie Murray, Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi and Rafael Palmeiro.

Perhaps you’re familiar with their work.

For some reason, though, I feel as though not enough baseball fans are as familiar as they ought to be with Konerko’s work. I hate when that happens. But now you can ask your buddies down at the old tavern tonight if they can think of anyone in history who ever had a career quite like No. 14 had.

And when they scratch their heads, you can tell them the correct answer: Nope. Nobody.

History Watch: Catchers' 'Extra Effort'

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
12:19
PM ET
Jonathan LucroyAP Photo/Morry GashMilwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy could make history with a few more slugging feats this weekend.

Welcome to the episode of our September History Watch in which we turn our attention to the guys who make knee surgeons everywhere drool by coiling into a catcher’s squat about 100,000 times a year.

But in between squatting, putting those fingers down, blocking sliders in the dirt, and learning to talk while covering their mouth with a mask and a mitt, catchers also have to hit for a living. And that’s where the History Watch fun begins, in the cases of two of our favorites -- the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy and the Rays’ Jose Molina.

We’ll be turning our attention to the same column on their stat sheets -- the old extra-base-hit column. But not only do the numbers in those columns look shockingly different, they look historically different. Here’s how:

The Doubles Machine That Made Milwaukee Famous

Unfortunately, Lucroy won’t be heading for the postseason next week. But fortunately, he still has an excellent chance to find himself heading for a place very few of his peers have ever landed: the extra-base-hit history books.

With two games left in the season, Lucroy has these two statistical pearls to call his own -- an incredible 52 doubles and a nearly as remarkable 67 extra-base hits. Now let’s put that in the sort of historical perspective we’re noted for.
  • He is going to lead the league in doubles, seeing as how nobody else in the NL is within nine of him. And you know how many catchers have ever led their league in doubles? That would be none. So, how cool is that?
  • But since “only” 45 of those doubles came in games when he was catching, Lucroy needs one more this weekend to break the record for most doubles as a catcher in one season. He and Pudge Rodriguez are tied for that one.
  • But hold on, This gets even more illustrious. Lucroy is only two back of the league leaders in extra-base hits, Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton. As you know, Stanton’s total (69) is frozen because he won’t be playing any more baseball this season. So, if Lucroy can catch or pass those two, that would make him just the second catcher in history to lead his league in extra-base hits. The other? Oh, only Johnny Bench (who did it twice, in 1970 and ’74).
  • Finally, if Lucroy can somehow thump three more extra-base hits, that would put him in another fabulous group, of catchers who got 70 or more in a season (not necessarily all while catching). He’d be only the ninth catcher in that club. The others: Bench, Mike Piazza, Roy Campanella, Gabby Hartnett, Todd Hundley, Javier Lopez, Lance Parrish and, of course, Stan Lopata.

It feels as if we’ve almost taken Lucroy’s sensational season for granted. So, here at History Watch Central, we’re here to rectify that. And if you still don’t think all those doubles and all those extra-base hits are special, perhaps you just need to regain perspective, by comparing them to what’s happening on …

The Molina Watch

It wouldn’t be an official season if we didn’t have some spectacular feat to monitor from the Flying Molina Brothers. Well, this year’s history-maker is Jose, down in Tampa Bay. But we’re afraid we can’t give him any “extra” credit for this quest.

That’s because our man Jose Molina has amassed precisely two extra-base hits all season. Yes, two. In 244 trips to the plate. And that’s going to tie the modern record for fewest extra-base hits in a season with this many plate appearances. Take a look:


At one point, we thought Molina might make it all the way to the All-Star break without an extra-base hit, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by a player with at least 150 plate appearances since Larry Lintz did it in 1975. Alas, Molina sneaked in a double, off the Pirates’ Jeff Locke, on June 24, in his 43rd game of the year.

Molina then doubled again, on July 23, off Lance Lynn, of his brother’s ever-cooperative Cardinals team. And that’s been it. All season.

But here comes the part of this where everything gets wacky: Molina somehow has more stolen bases (three) this year than extra-base hits (two). And you’d think that would never happen, right? Especially when it’s a catcher doing the Rickey Henderson imitation?

Nope. Wrong. Amazingly, there have been four other catchers since 1900 who got at least 240 plate appearances in a season and pulled that off, according to Lee Sinins’ Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, including one of them twice.


Ah, but those guys weren’t 39 years old, either, as Jose Molina is. So anybody want to guess the only other player this old, at any position, who has had more stolen bases than extra-base hits in a season in the 2000s?

Ha. It’s Rickey Henderson his very own self, in 2000, when he had 36 steals and 20 extra-base hits for the Mariners and Mets -- at age 41.

So we bet you never thought you’d ever live to see the day when Rickey Henderson and any Molina brother would have their base-stealing talents compared in an actual truthful, historical note.

Well, now you have -- thanks to the September History Watch.

Ten astounding Derek Jeter numbers

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
11:05
AM ET

In just a few days, his wheel will stop spinning. His No. 2 will vanish into Monument Park. And the incredible numbers on Derek Jeter's stat sheet will freeze in time. Forever.

So what are the entries on his encyclopedia page that ought to pole-vault off the page at you? Here are 10 Jeter numbers I particularly love:

2,743 What’s that number? It’s the number of regular-season games Jeter has played in his career, every one of them for the New York Yankees. And how cool is that? The next-most games, by a man who played only for the Yankees, is 2,401, by Mickey Mantle. But even more cool is this: Jeter is one of just eight players in history who played that many games, all for one team. The others: Carl Yastrzemski (3,308 for the Red Sox), Stan Musial (3,026 for the Cardinals), Cal Ripken Jr. (3,001 for the Orioles), Brooks Robinson (2,896 for the Orioles), Robin Yount (2,856 for the Brewers), Craig Biggio (2,850 for the Astros) and Al Kaline (2,834 for the Tigers). Awesome group.

3,461 This, of course, is Derek Jeter’s hit total. And holy, schmoly, that’s a lot of hits. Heck, it’s more than Hank Greenberg and Shoeless Joe Jackson combined (3,400). And only five men in the history of baseball had more hits than Derek Jeter. See if they sound familiar: Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Tris Speaker. Wow.

2,673 Here’s another super-cool number. It’s the number of games Jeter has played at shortstop. And it's not only more games than Ernie Banks and Robin Yount played at short put together, but also the most games by any man in history who played one defensive position and never played anywhere else -- not even in the 19th inning, for one batter. Pete Rose played six positions. Ty Cobb played seven. Stan Musial played five (including pitcher). And Derek Jeter played one position. And only one. Now that’s how it ought to be done.

1,013 Can’t figure out why I love this so much, but whatever. Derek Jeter will finish his career with more than 1,000 multihit games. More than Tony Gwynn or Wade Boggs. More than Willie Mays or Rogers Hornsby. In fact, just three other hitters in the entire live ball era finished their careers in the 1,000 Multihit Game Club: Pete Rose (1,225), Stan Musial (1,059) and Hank Aaron (1,046). Pretty fair top of the order.

200 One of the most special Jeter numbers of them all. Why? Because he’s the only man in history who ever got 200 hits in the postseason alone. Now obviously, he got several more opportunities to get those hits than, say, Ernie Banks. But let’s put this in better perspective. In 158 postseason games, roughly the equivalent of a full season, Jeter wound up with 200 hits, 20 homers, 18 steals, a .308 batting average, a .374 on-base percentage and an .838 OPS. So how many active players have ever had a regular season like that? Exactly five. And one of them is (guess who?) Derek Jeter. Who of course also had a "season" like that in October. Against the best teams and the best pitchers, in the most pressurized games of his life. Don't tell me that's overrated.

11 Perhaps you think it’s no big deal that Derek Jeter had 11 seasons in his career in which he batted over .300 and finished with both double-digit homers and steals. But you want to guess how many other players in history have had 11 seasons like that? The correct answer, according to Lee Sinins' Complete Baseball Encyclopedia: zero. Willie Mays had seven. Hank Aaron had six. Barry Bonds had eight. Name whatever high-average, power-speed guy you’d like. Ken Griffey Jr.? Seven. Alex Rodriguez? Eight. Frank Robinson? Five. It’s a reminder that Jeter could beat you in multiple ways. And did.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images5 -- Number of World Series titles for No. 2, Derek Jeter.
.377 Oh, all right, all right, I know that batting average isn't one of those stats that impresses the cool kids anymore. So how about this one? It’s Derek Jeter's career on-base percentage. And if you're not sure what to make of it, I can help. Since World War II, three dozen men have played at least 1,500 games at shortstop. You know how many of them had a higher career OBP than Jeter? Not one. Cal Ripken Jr. finished with a .340 OBP. Ozzie Smith wound up at .337. Alan Trammell had a .352 OBP. Among the shortstops of Jeter's lifetime, only Barry Larkin was even close, at .371.

92 From July 21, 2006 to May 16, 2007, Derek Jeter played in 100 games. He got a hit in 92 of them. Now once upon a time, in the 19th century, Wee Willie Keeler hit 'em where they weren’t in 93 out of 100 games. But since 1900, according to streak historian Trent McCotter, you’ll find only one other player who got a hit in 92 of 100. That was Ichiro Suzuki, in 2008 and '09. But it’s mind-warping to look at the list of guys who never did it. Ty Cobb. Rogers Hornsby. Honus Wagner. Tony Gwynn. Pete Rose. George Brett. But the shortstop for the New York Yankees, who never won a batting title or hit in more than 25 games in a row? He did. We mention it only because consistency was Jeter’s most important product.

6 Derek Jeter played for the Yankees when he was 20 years old. Derek Jeter also played for the Yankees when he was 40 years old. And he played for them at all the ages in between. Thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau, we know that doesn't happen much. He’s one of only six players who played for the same team at age 20 and after turning 40. The others: Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Brooks Robinson, George Brett, Cal Ripken Jr. There’s a word for that list: iconic.

1 Finally, there’s this astounding number. According to Elias, it’s the number of games Jeter has played, in his entire career, in which his team, the mighty Yankees, was mathematically eliminated from some sort of race for some sort of trip to the postseason. One meaningless game in 20 seasons? Whoa. On one hand, it would be nuts to argue that was all Derek Jeter’s doing. On the other hand, what defines his career better than that? A man who lived for the big game -- and played nothing but big games. For 20 years. What better way to put a frame around the career of one of the greatest shortstops who ever turned a 4-6-3?

Babe Ruth once won a batting title -- while hitting 46 home runs.

Matty Alou once won a batting title -- while hitting two home runs.

Just thought you’d want to remember that because it reminds us batting champs come in all shapes and sizes, and the record books don’t note any of that except batting average.

Ah, but we September history watchers note all of that. We can’t help ourselves. So let’s take a look at three potential 2014 batting champions -- and the potentially unique paths they’re traveling.

Six of one, half-dozen of the other

If the season ended today -- and luckily, that’s highly unlikely -- Josh Harrison of the Pirates would be your National League batting champ. What’s fascinating about that is he has basically been a guy who plays every day. You just never know where.

He’s started 46 games at third base, 44 games at all three outfield positions, 13 games at second base and four at short.

“Heck, he even pitched last year,” his teammate Andrew McCutchen said.

[+] EnlargeJosh Harrison
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarWhen Josh Harrison hits the ball, he hits it hard. He's slugging .506, with 56 extra-base hits.
The guy gets around the diamond, all right. So allow me to repeat another McCutchen quote on Harrison, which originally was part of an NL MVP column this week. It’s so good -- how can you ever get tired of it?

“He’s like the hyena of our team,” McCutchen said. “He eats up anything that needs to be eaten up. You need someone to cover third base, or shortstop, or the outfield? He steps in. If you need something, he’s there.”

To be honest, I’d always focused more on the laughing portion of the hyena’s skill set than the eating portion. But that’s why MVPs are different from the rest of us, I guess. And that also brings us to the historic part of Josh Harrison’s pursuit of a batting title.

So, you ask, has there ever been a batting champion who played six positions the year he won?

Thanks for asking. And the answer is …

Not since 1900. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, in the modern era, we’ve had two batting champs who played five positions. One was Billy Goodman in 1950. The other might shock you; it shocked me.

Rogers Hornsby?

Yep. In 1921, Hornsby played first, second, third, short and left field while hitting .397 in his spare time. You can look that up. Pretty good player!

But to find the most recent six-position batting champ, you have to travel back in time all the way to 1883, when Michael (King) Kelly moved his throne around to all four infield positions plus right field and also caught 56 games.

Pretty impressive. But I bet he was never compared to a hyena. So Josh Harrison, meet King Kelly. You two have a lot to talk about -- at the next sťance.

Short people can hit

If you’re not aware of the awesome Twitter account @HowManyAltuves, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Just the other day, in fact, you could have learned, by following it, that the great Jose Altuve’s hits this season have covered 4,668.4 Altuves (or close to 26,500 feet, if you haven’t mastered the Metric Altuve System yet).



But we focus on that sort of thing only because Jose Altuve is kinda, well, short. Or height-challenged. Or, at the very least, minimalistic.

Officially, he’s listed as 5-foot-7, which could lead him to all kinds of fun achievements, such as …

He’d be the shortest batting champ since 5-foot-4 Willie Keeler led the NL in 1898. (Hey, why do you think they called him “Wee Willie?”)

But that’s not all Jose Altuve has on the line. Here’s more:

• He’s on pace for 227 hits. The record for most hits by an AL second baseman in the live-ball era just happens to be 227, by Charlie Gehringer in 1936.

• Altuve is leading the league in both batting average and stolen bases. The only other players to win a batting title and stolen-base title in the same season in the past 90 years: Ichiro Suzuki in 2001, Jackie Robinson in 1949 and the legendary Snuffy Stirnweis in 1945. Yeah, Snuffy Stirnweis.

• If Altuve keeps up his current, furious pace, he’d finish with 227 hits, 57 steals and 46 doubles. Only one man who ever lived had a season in which he reached those three totals: Tyrus R. Cobb in 1911 (248/83/47). Whoa.

Ah, but there’s one more thing we probably ought to mention: Due to the fact that his team’s offensive talents don’t match its second baseman’s, Altuve has scored only 82 runs this year -- even with all those hits, all those steals and all those doubles. So …

• The record for fewest runs scored by a guy who had 220 or more hits is 88, by Ichiro in 2009. That one’s in big trouble.

• The AL record for fewest runs scored in the live-ball era by a guy who had 220 hits and stole 50 bases is (ready?) 127, by Ichiro in 2001. That one’s in bigger trouble.

• The only batting champs who ever had 215 or more hits and still scored fewer than 90 runs are Kirby Puckett (215 hits, 75 runs for the 1989 Twins) and Rod Carew (218 hits, 86 runs for the 1974 Twins). Puckett’s record, thankfully, is in no trouble.

So is it worth rooting for Jose Altuve to win a batting title just for all the fabulous statistical tidbits it would generate? Of course it is. All the @HowManyAltuves tidbits it would generate would be an added bonus.

The midnight ride of Ben Revere

Finally, there’s one more guy with a shot at a highly unusual sort of batting title -- Ben Revere of the Phillies. He has faded to .309, which is nine points back of Harrison, so he probably isn’t going to win this thing. But if he does, boy is he headed for some odd history:

• His on-base percentage is .326. That would be the lowest OBP by any batting champ since 1900. Current record: .353 by Bill Buckner.

• Revere’s OPS is .693. Not only would that be the lowest by any batting champ in modern history, it would also be the lowest by many Altuves. Current record: .749 by Rod Carew in 1972.

• In a related development, Revere has walked precisely 12 times this season, so he’s undoubtedly headed for the fewest by any batting champ over a full season since 1900. Zack Wheat (16 in 1918) holds that esteemed mark.

• Revere also has racked up exactly 22 extra-base hits. That would be the fewest in a full season by any batting champ in the live-ball era (Carew’s 27 being the current record) -- and the fewest by any batting champ since Wheat’s 18 in 1918. Had the “gapper” even been invented in 1918?

• Revere has driven in 26 runs. He needs to avoid driving in any more if he wants to break Matty Alou’s record for fewest in a full season by any batting champ since 1900. (Alou drove in 27 in 1966.)

• Finally, Revere has scored just 68 runs. That’s not going to break any records. But it’s still pretty incredible. Here’s the most incredible part of all: That’s the same number of runs scored by Jay Bruce, the man with the fewest hits this year of any qualifying NL player. Ben Revere has 175 hits. Jay Bruce has 100. Granted, this might say more about the lineups around these players than about them specifically. But it’s worthy of mention in our September History Watch. Don’t you think?


I can remember when it used to be a compliment to be called “the best team in baseball.” Ha. Not anymore.

Now, all of a sudden, it’s an indication you’re about to roar off a cliff -- in about the next 20 minutes.

Which brings us to the latest edition of our ever-popular September History Watch. Our subjects: The A’s and Red Sox -- two teams we were referring to, not so long ago, as “the best team in baseball,” but now cause us to ask:

What the heck happened?

Where do their unbelievable falls rank among the most historic in baseball? Take a look.

The collapse of the mighty A's

On Aug. 10, with just 45 games to play, the A’s still led the Angels by four games in the AL West. You can look it up. Boy, those were the days.

But we woke up Thursday morning to video montages of the Angels spraying champagne -- and the A’s trying to figure out how they managed to drop 15.5 games in the standings sooooo quickly.

[+] EnlargeOakland Athletics in the dugout
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaThe tumbling A's lost 17 of 29 games last month.

So how rare is it for a first-place team to plummet that far in the standings in the final weeks of the season? I ran that topic past the Elias Sports Bureau. Here’s what it reported:

• Just eight other first-place teams since 1900 have lost 15 games or more in the standings at any point in August. They include three of the most infamous collapsers in history: the 1969 and ’77 Cubs, and the 1914 New York Giants.

• Three of those teams actually dropped by at least 18 games in the standings once they began tumbling: the ’77 Cubs (22.5, in the final 58 games), the 1905 Cleveland Naps (19.5, in the final 65 games) and the 1977 Twins (18.0, in the final 42 games).

• But wait. Only three of those teams held an August lead, at any point, that was as large as Oakland’s, or larger -- the 1969 Cubs (9.0 ahead), the 1914 Giants (up 6.5) and a 1977 White Sox team (led by 4.5 on Aug. 1) that crumbled in sync with those ’77 Twins, in the most historic parallel swan dives in history. So we’ve just narrowed the field dramatically.

• And when we look at just those teams’ final 45 games, it turns out there’s really only one team that parallels the fall of these A’s. And anybody who was (A) alive in the '60s and (B) living in Chicago could tell you all about it. Only those ’69 Cubs went into the final 45 games with a hefty lead (plus-9.0) -- and then dropped 17 games in the standings, finished 8 behind the Mets and broke 4 million hearts.

None of the other teams on this list led by more than half a game with 45 games left in the season. So if the A’s lose a couple of more games in the standings in the next week and a half, uh-ohhhhh. That means they’d actually surpass the collapse of the ’69 Cubs, a team that scarred its fans for life. Hard to do.

But as my buddy Buster Olney has argued, if this Oakland team not only loses its division but misses out on both wild-card slots, that would be the worst collapse in history, by pretty much any standard.

We wouldn’t wish that on anybody. But it’s still scary. And now here’s something that’s just as scary:

The 111-loss team that zoomed by the World Series champs

A mere 11 months ago, the 2013 baseball season ended with the Boston Red Sox partying in Fenway Park -- and the Houston Astros gearing up to make the first pick in the draft.

The Red Sox were (ahem) “the best team in baseball.” The Astros had just lost 111 games -- a loss total matched or exceeded by only 12 other teams in the World Series era (1903-present).

But then “next year” arrived. By which we actually mean “this year.” And a funny thing happened. It was shrewdly detected by my friend Gar Ryness (aka The Batting Stance Guy) in a tweet a few days ago:


And that got me to thinking, which is always a dangerous development:

Has there ever been a team that lost 111 games or more one year and then won more games than the defending World Series champs the next?

Well, here’s your answer: No. Not even close.

If we exempt the 1904 Senators team that lost 113 in a season when there was no World Series, there have been 11 other teams that lost at least 111 times in a season when a World Series was played. Here’s how they fared the next year:

• Eight of them finished more than 20 games behind the defending champs.

• Four of them finished at least 35 games behind the defending champs.

• Two of them -- Pinky May’s 1942 Phillies (61 back of the Yankees) and Choo-Choo Coleman’s 1963 Mets (53 behind the Yankees) -- actually finished more than 50 games behind the defending champs.

• Their average finish was 31 games back of the champs.

• And the closest any of them came to catching, let alone outwinning, the reigning champs was 11 games, the margin that Dmitri Young’s 2004 Tigers finished behind the Marlins.

But now let’s check our handy-dandy ESPN standings page for this season. And what do we find? We find this amazing news:

The Red Sox have won 66 games.

The Astros have won 67 games.

And they each have 10 to play.

Wow.

I’ve chronicled many wild and crazy developments over the years in the September History Watch. But I’m pretty sure I’ve never been more riveted by any of them than I am by the thought of how this one will turn out.

A 111-loss team outwinning the team that just finished parading through the confetti? This might be the best race in baseball.
The calendar says it's September. And you know what that means …

Besides the fact that you officially hate every starter on your fantasy football team already, I mean.

It means history is in the making, of course. And if you've been reading this blog for more than the past 20 minutes, you know that's right up our alley here.

So between now and the time this season hits the finish line, I'll do my best to keep you alerted on all sorts of fun, historic pursuits you need to be following -- in between combing that fantasy-football waiver wire, that is.

Now let's get started, with a look at some home run feats that are going on right in front of your eyes, although there's an excellent chance you may not have noticed them:

The Fish Tank


We'll get started with an incredible Giancarlo Stanton accomplishment that is now, unfortunately, stuck in limbo while his fractures heal. But it's sensational all the same.

When Stanton hit his 154th home run last week, it tied him (with Dan Uggla) for first place on the Marlins' "all-time" career home run list. Now here's what's especially mind-boggling about that:

[+] EnlargeGiancarlo Stanton
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsGiancarlo Stanton leads the National League with 37 home runs.
He's 24 years old!

OK, obviously, the Marlins haven't been around as long as, say, the Cubs. But it's still unreal for a guy this young to be his franchise's all-time home run leader. And I can prove it.

According to the Sultan of Swat Stats, noted home run historian David Vincent, since 1900 just one other player under age 25 has held that No. 1 spot for any franchise, with more than 100 homers to his name.

That would be Mel Ott. Who took over the New York Giants' all-time lead at age 23 -- in 1932. If I'm calculating correctly, that's 82 years ago.

So eight decades have come and gone. And 14 new franchises have come into existence. And nobody on any of those teams pulled this off until Stanton came along. Wow.

If you want to quibble and say that, thanks to his injury, he won't take over the undisputed lead until next year, when he's 25, you'd be correct. But the only other man you could bring into this mix is Ken Griffey Jr., who grabbed the Mariners' lead in 1994, at age 25 (with 172 homers).

But either way, this is one cool list: Stanton and just Ott. Or Stanton, Ott and Griffey. Take your pick. No matter which you choose, Giancarlo Stanton is in tremendous company.

Paging Mr. Mendoza


On the other hand, there's another unprecedented home run feat in progress right now that is more a sign of the times than a sign of some sort of golden age.

It has to do with home runs and the Mendoza Line. And I'm pretty sure the man who inspired that Mendoza Line -- Mario Mendoza, proud owner of four career homers in 1,456 plate appearances -- would have a hard time comprehending this one.

Take a look at the home runs and batting averages of these three men:


What you have here are three different 20-homer men whose averages are on the south side of Mount Mendoza. And guess how many other seasons in history have featured three hitters, with 20 or more homers, who finished with batting averages below .200?

If you guessed zero, you're a winner, all right.

Now we have had two other recent seasons in which two men joined that 20-Homer, Sub-Mendoza Club in the same year -- last season (Dan Uggla, J.P. Arencibia) and 2010 (Carlos Pena, Mark Reynolds). But before that, there had been only two hitters who did that in any season, in the entire history of this sport:


So if you catch the way this is trending, it goes like this: We had two in a century, and then three in one year … and we got there in a mere decade and a half. So what does that tell you? Um, we'll leave it up to you to decide which of these two numbers is more overrated, the batting average or the homers.

Donnie, Barry, Gary … and Victor


And, finally, there's Victor Martinez, who's having the kind of year for the Tigers that stamps him as the anti-Rob Deer, or anti-Ruben Rivera, or anti-Mark Reynolds, or … well, you get the idea.

Check out these two columns on Martinez's stat sheet this season:

31 Home runs
40 Strikeouts

Now how 'bout that?

That's a line right out of the 1940s, not the 21st century. Right? And we can demonstrate the truth of that assessment for you if you'd like.

Know how many hitters have hit that many home runs, in the 162-game-schedule era (1961-present), in a season in which they struck out 45 times or fewer? Let's just say it won't take long for you to memorize this list -- because there are only three names on it:


And now Victor Martinez is fixing to join them. He's been whiffing, on the average, about 1.5 times a week this year. So if that keeps up, he's in.

To put this in better perspective, Joe DiMaggio once had a season (1941) in which he hit 30 homers and struck out exactly 13 times. So it's not as if Martinez is setting any sort of record.

But by the standard of modern times, when swinging and missing is getting more commonplace than the seventh-inning stretch? It's awesome. And worth of a mention in the first edition of the 2014 September History Watch. There's more to come. So stay tuned.

Adam Dunn's one-of-a-kind career

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
10:27
AM ET
This is an ode to the most unique baseball player who ever lived.

That would be the inimitable Adam T. Dunn. And for the past 14 seasons, it’s safe to say he has walked alone.

Then again, he has also whiffed alone. But it was that awesome proliferation of whiffs and walks, in multitudes never before witnessed, that has helped create Adam Dunn’s singular ambiance in the annals of his sport.

“Here’s the thing,” said Dunn's friend and former teammate Ryan Dempster. “It wasn’t just the walks, and it wasn’t just the strikeouts. It was also all those balls that ended up over the fence. So he might be 0-for-0, with four walks, and go up and hit a home run to win the game. Or he might be 0-for-4, with four 'punchies’ [i.e., strikeouts], and go up and hit a home run to win the game. You never knew with Adam, because he was always a threat.”

Yes, he was always a threat, all right. He was a threat to go through an entire game without ever putting a ball in play. He was a threat to go through an entire game without ever hitting a ball that landed on the field he was playing on. He was a threat to hit a baseball that entered Earth's orbit. And he was a threat to make history in ways no one else ever had before him.

Then, after doing all that, said another ex-teammate, Todd Jones, “he’d be back in the clubhouse, playing Xbox and talking Texas football. ... One of the most fun teammates I ever played with.”

[+] EnlargeAdam Dunn
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezAdam Dunn, traded to Oakland last month, has 10 strikeouts, two homers and two walks in nine games with the A's.

No doubt. And I think I speak for hundreds of us media types when I say Dunn was also one of the most fun players we ever covered. If you didn’t come away from a conversation with that man laughing, you were taking this sport -- and yourself -- way too seriously.

So if this is it for the Big Donkey, if he’s really about to retire once the Oakland A’s season is, um, done, somebody needs to take a big step back and put this guy’s one-of-a-kind career in its proper, historically warped perspective. And guess what? I volunteer. So get comfortable. Here we go:

Who needs leather?

Here’s our first astounding Adam Dunn tidbit:

More than half the times he came to the plate in a 14-year career, the other team could have sent its fielders out to get lunch -- because their services weren’t going to be required.

By that I mean that, in 51 percent of his 8,280 trips to the plate, the ball never landed on the field. No kidding. Do the math:
  • 2,362 strikeouts
  • 1,313 walks
  • 462 home runs
  • 84 hit by pitch
  • 4,221 journeys to home plate where no fielders were needed


Now we’ve had a few Russell Branyans and Jack Custs who pulled that off in thousands and thousands of fewer plate appearances. But to do it in more than 50 percent of 8,000 trips to the plate? That’s special. The next highest percentage in a career that long is just 46.4 percent, by Jim Thome (whose name you will hear again).

Awesome.

Last inaction hero

Then again, what made that last stellar feat possible is that, once you subtracted all those home runs, you wouldn’t exactly describe the rest of Adam Dunn’s at-bats as “action-packed.” Now would you?

Only four hitters in history managed to rack up more trips to the plate in which the ball never left the batter’s box than Dunn did. Here they come:
  • Jim Thome 4,364 plate appearances (2,548 SO, 1,747 BB, 69 HBP)
  • Barry Bonds 4,203 PA (1,539 SO, 2,558 BB, 106 HBP
  • Reggie Jackson 4,068 PA (2,597 SO, 1,375 BB, 96 HBP)
  • Rickey Henderson 3,986 PA (1,694 SO, 2,190 BB, 98 HBP)
  • Adam Dunn 3,759 PA (2,362 SO, 1,313 BB, 84 HBP)


Just remember that those other four men, all of whom you may have heard of, rolled up those totals in careers that went on for many more plate appearances, from 10,313 for Thome to 13,346 for Rickey. Dunn, on the other hand, achieved all that inaction in anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 fewer trips than they got.

The result: The ball never left the box in an incredible 45.4 percent of his visits to home plate. And yep, that would be a record, among men who came to bat as many times as he did anyhow. C’mon, of course it would.

A true story

But that record is a picturesque reflection of the fact that Dunn was the ultimate master of what we like to refer to as the Three True Outcomes (walk/strikeout/homer). He really should have patented that little expression. Or silk-screened his face onto about a billion Three True Outcomes T-shirts at least.

We actually regret to report that Dunn does not own the all-time record for the most games ever in which a hitter jammed a walk, a strikeout and a home run into the box score. Thome does (with 154 of them). But Adam Dunn has still done it 125 times. And what makes that such a cool number is that it ties him for third (behind Mark McGwire’s 133) with these two names: Barry Bonds ... and Babe Ruth.

So all it will take is one more of those fabled Three True Outcome games in the next three weeks -- and Dunn can honestly say he just passed Babe Ruth.

In something or other.

Lots of trots

We could go on about his walk/strikeout fun for two weeks. But let’s not minimize those 462 home run trots Adam Dunn has made, because all of those homers, added to all of those walks, resulted in way more production than he’s often given credit for. So let’s be sure to recognize that.

• Dunn once ripped off five seasons in a row of 40-plus homers. Only eight other men in history ever had a 40-bomb streak that long or longer. And just three have ever topped it: the Babe (7), Alex Rodriguez (6) and Sammy Sosa (6).

• But what makes Dunn’s streak especially memorable (not to mention amusing) is that he had four consecutive seasons with exactly 40 homers. And who else could possibly do that? Well, according to the Sultan of Swat Stats home run historian David Vincent, no one else in history has ever had four straight seasons with any home run total higher than four. And this guy had four in a row with 40. So this might be the most Adam Dunn stat ever.

• If you’re not into round numbers, you’ll be delighted to know that Dunn also once had a streak of seven straight seasons with 38 homers or more. You know who else had a seven-year streak of 38-plus? That Babe Ruth guy again (from 1926-32). The only longer streak -- ever -- is nine, by Rafael Palmeiro.

• In the first six of those seasons, Dunn also walked 100 times. Want to guess how many men in history have unfurled six seasons in a row of 38-plus home runs and 100-plus walks? Precisely one. Him. For what it’s worth, Barry Bonds’ longest streak was five. Ruth’s longest was three.

• Or let’s put this another way. The only hitters ever to have any six-year stretch that matched or beat the 244 homers and 673 walks Dunn amassed from 2004-09 are (ready?) Ruth, Bonds, McGwire, Thome, Mickey Mantle and Ralph Kiner. Wait. Who?

• We should also mention that several of those home runs are what you’d call memorable. Especially a 535-foot Venus probe in 2004 that, according to eyewitnesses, exited the stadium in Cincinnati, hopped into the Ohio River, nestled itself on a piece of driftwood and then floated to the other side of the river.

“He hit it in Ohio, and it ended up in Kentucky,” laughed Dempster, his Reds teammate at the time. “Just one more thing to add to the legend that is Adam Dunn.”

The CEO of Kmart

But there’s no getting around the fact that the one talent Dunn will forever be known for best -- not entirely fairly, we might add -- is his knack for doing some prodigious swinging and missing. You never needed an air conditioner when he was in town. He could air-condition the whole area code.

• He had more seasons of 140-plus strikeouts (12) than any hitter in history. (Thome is second, with 10.)

• He had almost twice as many seasons with 160-plus strikeouts (11) as anyone else in history. (Ryan Howard, with six, is the only other guy with more than four.)

• And Dunn’s four seasons with at least 190 whiffs would be unprecedented if Mark Reynolds hadn’t come along to match them. (All the other hitters in history have combined for five!)

• Meanwhile, who owns the exalted record for most multistrikeout games in history? Yessir. Adam Dunn, with 681.

• If we up that ante to three, you may not be shocked to learn that Dunn has accumulated more games with three punchouts or more (171) than anyone who ever lived, too.

• And who holds the record for highest strikeout rate by anyone in history who got at least 5,000 plate appearances? Yeah, Adam Dunn (with a whiff every 2.90 at-bats) would be an excellent guess.

So that’s a lot of K’s on the old score sheet. But the best part of all that hacking and missing was that this guy always owned up to every last K. He knew exactly what he was and who he was. He was never going to be Tony Gwynn. He never pretended to be or aspired to be. So he took responsibility for whatever he did, no matter how beautiful, no matter how ugly. And let’s just say his teammates noticed.

“He never took himself seriously, which kept him sane,” Jones said. “He knew he’d hit balls 600 feet. Then he knew he’d swing and miss for a while. Then he’d hit balls 600 feet for a while. So he never worried about either.”

But it says something special about him that Adam Dunn was also first in line to announce, “I stunk” -- as another of his ex-teammates, Aaron Boone, fondly recalled.

“Early in his career, before a day game, we were facing a certain pitcher who will remain nameless,” Boone said. “He says to me, 'If this guy gets me out today, I quit.
I told him not to say things like that, [to] 'be careful.' …

“He proceeded to go 0-for-3, with two strikeouts off this starter, to which, after the third at-bat, I just smiled and raised my eyebrows. He says to me, 'He's still terrible, I'm just WORSE!’”

The sac race

We’d be remiss, finally, not to recount Tim Kurkjian’s favorite Adam Dunn feat of all time -- his three-year pursuit of a mere sacrifice fly.

Yes, friends. Over the course of three seasons -- part of 2003, all of 2004 and the first half of 2005 -- this man went 1,085 plate appearances without hitting a single sacrifice fly. And he even had a 100-RBI season in the middle of it -- making him one of three players since the dawn of the modern sac-fly rule (in 1954) to have a 100-RBI season that didn’t include a single SF.

You’d think that would be impossible. But Dempster has a theory.

“I think his problem,” Dempster said, “is that a lot of Adam Dunn’s sacrifice flies were caught by fans. And they’re not allowed to throw them to the catcher.”

Good point, actually. But there is so much more, of course. There was the season in Washington when Dunn was threatening to hit more homers than his team had wins -- and said: “That’s OK with me, as long as I hit about 85 home runs.”

There was the time, in spring training a few years back, when Mike Schmidt said he couldn’t understand why Dunn strikes out so much. And Dunn’s totally sincere retort to that heinous affront was: “I can’t, either.”

And how can we overlook his mind-boggling 2011 season with the White Sox, the one in which he somehow hit .159, bopped just 11 homers, piled up 111 more strikeouts (177) than hits (66), and managed to accumulate 42 more multistrikeout games (52) than multihit games (12)? It might be The Worst Season of Modern Times.

So the next season, Dunn appeared on our fabulous seamhead edition of "Baseball Tonight" and reported that, at one point, his wife asked him the best question of the year: “Have you ever considered hitting RIGHT-handed?”

And he was pretty sure, by the way, that she was serious. But you know what else is serious? That more people in this sport are truly sorry to see him go than you could possibly comprehend, including just about everyone who ever played with him.

“Someone needs to know,” said Todd Jones, “this isn’t Dave Kingman reborn. ... He’s a middle-of-the-order, back-of-the-plane, buck-stops-here guy.”

“No matter where he played, he was a guy who was a clubhouse favorite,” Dempster said. “I loved playing with him. I loved hanging with him. He’s got a great sense of humor. And most of all, he cared.”

Yes, there has never been anyone quite like him, all right. And the great Adam T. Dunn has the numbers -- and the one-liners -- to prove it.
He’s like the best pitcher in Little League, blitzing fastballs past hitters who are pretty sure they never saw them.

Sprinkling in changeups that disappear in midair.

Spinning sliders that dodge every bat in their path, kinda like Professor Philip Brainard after he invented Flubber.

He’s Aroldis Chapman. And he’s having one of those seasons, a season that really should not be possible -- or even legal -- in a place we like to refer to as “the major leagues.” Basically, we could sum up that season this way:

He. Strikes. Out. Everybody.

[+] EnlargeAroldis Chapman
David Kohl/USA TODAY SportsAroldis Chapman has hit 101 mph or higher 253 times this season, according to TruMedia.

Yeah, well, in truth, if you want to get all technical on us, Chapman hasn’t exactly whiffed every hitter he’s run into this season. But our response to those of you who would make an issue of that sort of thing would be this: He’s sure come closer than any pitcher who has ever lived.

He’s averaging just a tick below two strikeouts an inning. At his current pace, he’ll wind up the season with 101 strikeouts -- and 23 hits allowed. And never at any point has he had a stretch this season where he’s gone more than seven hitters without a strikeout.

Holy punch-out.

“He’s on a different planet,” said his catcher, Devin Mesoraco.

“It’s not fair,” said the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen.

“Scary,” said the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter.

And one more thing: It’s getting downright historic. So let’s take a look at the insane season of the amazing Aroldis Chapman through the eyes of his teammates, the hitters and the hard-to-fathom numbers on his stat sheet.

Number-crunching

Where do we even begin? Well, let’s start by reminding you that, among all pitchers who have ever thrown more than six innings in a season, there has never been a smokeballer in history who averaged two strikeouts per inning.

But with 89 whiffs in 45 2/3 innings this season, Chapman is just about there. That comes to an unfathomable 17.54 strikeouts per nine innings, a ratio never before accomplished and barely even approached. The current record: 16.66, by Craig Kimbrel in 2012.


OK, how about some other crazy numbers:

" Chapman has faced 173 hitters this season, and struck out 89 of them. That comes to 51.4 percent. Of all the other pitchers who have ever reached a mound and worked at least 40 innings, only Kimbrel (50.2 percent two years ago) has ever had a season in which he whiffed half the hitters he pitched to.

" Then there’s Chapman’s ridiculous strikeouts-to-hits ratio. He’s currently at 89 K’s, 20 hits, which comes to 4.45 strikeouts for every hit. Seriously. Only two other pitchers in history have even topped 3.5: Kimbrel, of course, in 2012 (4.30) and Eric Gagne in 2003 (3.70).

" And this stuff goes on every game, you understand. Chapman just ended a streak of 49 consecutive appearances with a strikeout. He’s the only reliever in history ever to have a streak that long. And that was the second time in his career he’s ripped off a streak of 30-plus. No other reliever has ever had more than one streak of 30 or more. He’s also racked up at least two strikeouts in 32 of his 45 appearances, including six in a row, eight of his last 10 and 15 of his last 22. And he hasn’t gone whiff-less in more than two consecutive appearances at any point since (ready?) May 5-15, 2011. That was 222 outings ago.

" Oh, and one more thing: Remember three weeks ago, when Chapman faced four hitters in Colorado, walked them all and exited with shoulder soreness? That’s a sign of impending disaster for some people. It was just a blip on this guy’s radar. In the six outings since he came back, he has faced 27 hitters, striking out 15 of them.

In a season that hasn’t exactly been one long trip to the Comedy Works for the Reds, Chapman has been the No. 1 source of amusement for his teammates. All they have to do when they need a laugh is look into the opposing dugout when he stomps into the game.

“You can see it on guys’ faces,” said his third baseman, Todd Frazier. “They couldn’t get one run to tie it in the eighth. Now they’ve got to face him. It’s kind of demoralizing if you want to know the truth.”

The heat is on

If baseball had never discovered the invention of the radar gun, Chapman's legend might be very different. But whatever. We’ve never, ever seen a radar-gun phenomenon like this dude. And now we have the mind-blowing numbers to prove it.

" According to TruMedia, Chapman has launched 413 of his 809 pitches this season at 100 mph or faster. That’s 86 more triple-digit pitches than all of the other 679 men who have taken a big league mound this year have thrown combined. (In second place is Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera, who’s a mere 323 behind, with 90.)

" OK, let’s keep going. TruMedia tells us Chapman has hit 101 mph or higher 253 times this season. No one else has done it more than 15.

" Want to move the needle up to 102? Chapman has hit 102 or better 111 times. Totals for the rest of the sport: zero.

" He’s also reached 103 or higher 23 times and 104 once, according to TruMedia. And there hasn’t been a game all season where he hasn’t hit 100 at least once.

" Then there’s Pitch F/x, which computes Chapman’s average fastball velocity at 101.21 mph -- the highest by any pitcher in the eight seasons since Pitch F/x has been keeping track. And on Aug. 28, he topped out at 104.53 mph on a scorchball to Paul Goldschmidt, who, somehow or other, foul-tipped it (before, naturally, striking out three pitches later).

Now maybe we make too much of velocity in general. But, um, not in this guy’s case. Heck, even the hitters are up there checking the mph readings. Asked if he ever sneaks a look at the radar board when he’s facing Chapman, Matt Carpenter confessed: “Yeah. I look to see if it’s 104.”

When we laughed, Carpenter made it clear he was serious about that 104 stuff, because “I’ve seen it. I’ve watched him do it.”

“And the worst feeling,” Carpenter said, “is when he throws one and you foul it off, and you go, `Oh man, that was hard.’ And then you look up and you go, `Oh no, it’s 99.’ And you’re like, `Oh no. There’s more there.’”

But that’s the thing. There’s always more there, because it’s not merely how hard Chapman throws a baseball. It’s the way hitters react to it.

“We were talking about this the other day, me and a couple of other guys,” Carpenter said. “There are guys that throw 100. But then there are guys whose 100 miles an hour looks like 125. And that’s what his is like.”

Not that anyone is really sure what 125 truly looks like. But whatever it looks like, Chapman’s catcher concurs that even at these supersonic velocity levels, it feels faster than what the radar board is saying it is.

“You know, you see some guys throw it 98 or 99, and you say yeah, that’s good,” Mesoraco said. “But Chappy’s 98, 99, 103, whatever it is, it’s just different. It’s gets on you a little bit better. He’s got that big leg kick and motion, and a lot of action. So you don’t really see the ball all that well. So he’s just a different animal, that’s for sure.”

A change is coming

But now the truth can be told. It isn’t even the fastball that has caused Chapman’s strikeout numbers to explode this year. It’s his rapidly accelerating feel for his two “off-speed” pitches: the slider and changeup.

The hilarious part of using the word “off-speed” to describe those pitches is that they average 89 mph themselves. But the effect isn’t much different than if they averaged 59. Take a look:

" Here is how hitters have fared against his slider this season, according to Pitch F/x: 90 swings, 43 misses, three hits. So that’s gone well.

" And now here’s the havoc wreaked by his occasional changeups: 20 swings, 19 misses, zero hits. That’s a whiff rate of (cue the laugh track here) 95 percent!

Now these are major league hitters, remember. Not guys who got dragged in off the deck of one of those riverboats out beyond center field. And they don’t have a prayer against those two pitches, because they’re too busy gearing up for 104 mph.

“You know he can throw that fastball,” Frazier said. “But once he figured out that slider and changeup this year, it’s become a whole 'nother ballgame.”

The Aroldis 3-D experience

So now that we’ve broken down what’s made this man’s season the incomprehensibly dominating phenomenon it’s become, let’s get down to the real fun and put the entire experience of facing Aroldis Chapman in full perspective.

For the hitters, it’s about as fun as gall bladder surgery.

Asked to describe what it’s like to try to hit this guy, Andrew McCutchen replied: “I would say, I guess, it’s like trying to catch a fly. You see the fly coming. And you try to catch it. But somehow you don’t. That’s kind of the way I look at it.”

And by “a fly,” by the way, he wasn’t referring to a “fly ball,” obviously.

“No, I mean an actual fly,” McCutchen chuckled. “A bug. A really fast one that hasn’t eaten anything in a while. That’s all I can tell you. Just picture it coming dead at you. So you try to catch it. Next thing you know, you look at it, and it’s not there.

“But sometimes you might,” he went on. “I mean, you might catch it. So that’s kind of the way I look at it. You know the math and all that. When you’ve got a 90 mph fastball, you’ve got four-tenths of a second to be able to hit it. But he’s throwing 101. And he’s 6-6. So you might want to cut that in half. So it’s tough, man. He definitely throws hard. And now he’s throwing sliders and changeups. That should be illegal.”

And that’s coming from a man who has actually avoided the standard levels of embarrassment against Chapman by going 2-for-6, with three whiffs and a walk, against him.

Then again, McCutchen isn’t left-handed. Carpenter, on the other hand, keeps forgetting to learn to switch-hit before facing Chapman. And he isn’t happy about it. He’s 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against him, if you’re scoring at home.

Asked for his best description of what it feels like to dig in against Chapman from the left side, Carpenter came up with the perfect word: “Scary,” he said. “As a left-handed hitter, that’s the best way I can describe it, is just scary. He coils up like a snake, and he throws 100 miles an hour, and it just seems like it’s going to be right by your face. And it might be. He’s a very intimidating presence on the mound. It’s hard to hit, man. It really is.”

No wonder his teammates remain seriously grateful this is everyone else’s problem, not theirs.

“It’s just unbelievable, just to see how he owns that mound and how he understands, `Nobody is going to hit me,’” said Todd Frazier. “He’s determined. He’s not scared of nothing. He’ll come inside if he feels like you’re crowding the plate, back you off a little bit and then come back over, and guys are stepping in the bucket because they don’t want to get hit.”

He then paused for a moment, trying to find a way to sum up what those happy feet of left-handed hitters can look like after Chapman has just pushed them off the plate at like 102 mph.

“It’s like quicksand or something,” he said, finally.

Hey, of course it is, because when you’re facing the one and only Aroldis Chapman, even the ground beneath your quivering feet can’t help but feel a little quicker than normal.
Bet you didn’t know Joe West has a 4.45 ERA this season.

Seriously. That's the truth.

OK, it isn't quite the truth. The truth is that the pitchers who have shown up on the mound when West has umpired home plate this season have a 4.45 ERA.

But the fact that you can actually research this sort of thing, in this day and age, is proof that (A) we can, now, officially, look up everything and (B) stat-a-holics like us have never been happier to be alive.

Most people don't pay much attention to umpire stats. Not unless they pitch for a living. Or they're hopeless analytics analysts. Or they've been known to place a wager or two. But umpire stats have actually been around for almost a decade now. And this just in:

They're fun.

[+] EnlargeKerwin Danley
Brian Garfinkel/Getty ImagesPitchers love it when umpire Kerwin Danley is behind the plate calling balls and strikes.
And fascinating.

So after poring through a bunch of fun and fascinating umpire databases, here come 10 Astounding Umpire Facts you're guaranteed to be sharing with your closest friends on a bar stool near you:

1. There's no place like home for veteran umpire Gerry Davis. We know this because oddsshark.com's umpire page tells us that home teams have gone 20-3 this season when Davis has been behind the plate. Yep, 20-3. That's even a better winning percentage than Clayton Kershaw. Or Mike Krzyzewski.

2. And at the other end of that road, literally, there's Mike DiMuro. Road teams have gone 17-6 when he's worked the plate. Maybe he just has a sympathetic place in his heart for suitcases.

3. But suppose we look beyond only this season. We found more enjoyable home/road data, spanning the past eight seasons, at cleanuphitter.com. It told us that home teams have outscored road teams by an incredible 1.51 runs per game (5.36 to 3.85) during the 143 games in which Mike Muchlinski had the plate assignment over those eight seasons. That’s nearly a full run higher than the average gap of .53 runs per game (4.80 to 4.27). Among all other active umps who worked 200-plus games in that span, only Mike Everitt even had a home-team edge of more than one run per game (5.06-4.00).

4. And it was interesting to see that Mike DiMuro's home/road balance wasn't just a one-year phenomenon. Over the past eight seasons, there has been almost no difference between the road team's average score (4.56) and the home team's average score (4.54) when he had the plate. Only Hunter Wendelstedt worked at least 200 games over that span and wound up with more runs by the road team (4.51 per game) than the home team (4.44). So the roar of the crowd obviously didn't sway those two guys even a little.

5. If you're pitching and Kerwin Danley is behind the dish, there's a smile on your face as wide as, well, Danley's strike zone. Pitchers working during Danley’s plate assignments have a 2.80 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP this season, according to Baseball Prospectus' umpire page. Both those numbers rank No. 1 for pitcher-friendliness, among all regular umpires.

6. Your top three lowest ERAs among regular umpires: Danley 2.80, Ed Hickox 2.84, Bob Davidson 2.93. And the top three in best WHIP: Danley 1.10, Tony Randazzo 1.12, virtual tie between Hickox and Brian O'Nora 1.13. They figure to be on a lot of pitchers' Christmas card lists.

7. Meanwhile, the Coors Field of umpires -- aka, the plate ump who has inflated the most ERAs this year -- is Chris Conroy, proud owner of a Hector Noesi-esque 4.87 ERA. The top three ERAs on that leaderboard, among regular umpires, according to Baseball Prospectus: Conroy 4.87, Jerry Layne 4.79, Chris Segal 4.60.

8. Another fun number worth checking out is which umpires have the biggest gaps between strikeouts per game and walks per game. The top three pitchers' umps in 2014, by that standard, according to oddsshark.com, are Brian Gorman (12.57 more K's than BBs), Tim Welke (12.24) and Brian O'Nora (11.31). Gorman averages 17.9 strikeouts per game in back of the plate, the most of any umpire who has worked there at least 20 times this year.

9. And who has the smallest gaps between whiffs and walks? The top three hitters' umps this season, using the same standard, are Segal (only 7.27 more K's than BBs per game), Brian Knight (7.41) and Jeff Kellogg (7.52). Segal (13.0 per game) had the lowest strikeout rate of any ump with 20 or more plate assignments. Knight has the highest walk rate (7.17 per game).

10. And, finally, there's everybody’s favorite umpire stat -- ejections. Sadly, they aren't want they used to be, here in the post-replay era. But if you somehow get yourself mixed up in one of those umpire-ejection fantasy leagues -- and we don't recommend it -- you need to know which men in blue have the quickest thumbs. And that answer, according to the ejection-fantasy-league numbers at portal.closecallsports.com, is … Bill Miller with seven (including one in spring training), Dan Bellino six (all while working the plate) and Toby Basner with six (five as a plate ump, one from first base).

Now just for the record, Joe West has racked up only two ejections all season -- not one of them since his May 11 boot of his good friend, Ron Gardenhire. Which only serves as more spectacular evidence that perception and reality can often be two different things when it comes to your favorite members of the umpires' union.

And we now even have the numbers to prove it.
There are many paths a team can travel to October, but in case you hadn't noticed, there are a few juggernauts out there trying to sneak into this postseason in ways almost no one has before them.

So who would those juggernauts be? Thanks for asking. Here they come:

The Royal power outage

RoyalsThe good news is, we know now that the Royals are going to outhomer Nelson Cruz this season. There were times a couple of months ago we weren’t so sure.

But the bad news is, the Royals are still on pace to hit a mere 99.8 home runs this season. So maybe they finish with 100 homers. Maybe they don't. But if they don't, you should know that playoff teams that fail to hit 100 home runs are almost as rare as a day without a Kardashian headline.

Ready for the complete list of American League teams to reach the postseason without hitting 100 home runs in a 162-game season? Here goes:

• Amos Otis' 1978 Royals – 98
• Freddie Patek’s 1976 Royals – 65

That’s the entire list. And perhaps you’ll notice a common theme there -- by which we mean "Royalty."

This is obviously either a Royals thing or a Royals/Kauffman Stadium thing, because the last American League team to appear in the postseason without A) playing in Kansas City or B) hitting 100 homers in a full season was Nellie Fox's 1959 Chicago White Sox, and that is the only AL team to fit those criteria since Roy Cullenbine’s 1945 Tigers.

Will these Royals join that club? Well, if it means anything, they've actually outhomered the Angels (22-18) since the All-Star break and outhomered all but three teams in the American League during their sizzling August. But is this what they really are? Amos Otis and Freddie Patek eagerly await the answer to that question!

And one more thing: One additional amazing Royals note, passed along by Grantland’s Rany Jazayerli: Twice this year, the Royals have fallen seven games behind in the AL Central and twice made up all seven games of that gap to take undisputed possession of first place. Only one other team in history has ever roared from at least seven games behind to occupy first place all by itself two different times in the same season: Dustan Mohr’s 2003 Twins (who caught -- who else? -- the Royals).

OBP-less in Seattle

MarinersThen there are the Mariners, one of the most offensively challenged contenders of modern times.

If the postseason had started Wednesday, they'd have been playing in it as the second wild-card team in the AL. But if you've watched them swing the bats this year, we're betting it definitely wouldn't come as a shock to hear that teams like this almost never show up on anybody's TV screen in October.

Here are just some of their offensive claims to "fame":

• Their .302 team on-base percentage entering Wednesday would be the third lowest by any team in postseason history. The only AL team with a lower OBP on that list -- Jiggs Donahue’s 1906 White Sox (.301) -- played in the dead ball era. And the only NL team in this exclusive club -- Julian Javier's 1968 Cardinals (.298) -- did it in a season in which the major league OBP was under .300 (.299). Amazing.

• The Mariners were also on pace to score just 643 runs this season. The last AL team to score that few runs, over a full season, and reach the postseason: Skeeter Webb’s 1945 Tigers (633, in a 154-game season).

• But let's get away from the raw numbers and consider where the Mariners rank in their league. They're dead last in OPS (.677), and how many teams in history have ever finished last in their league in OPS and made it to the postseason? Exactly one, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: Todd Hollandsworth's 1996 Dodgers (.701). Which means, obviously, that no AL team has ever done that.

• Finally, the Mariners also ranked last in the league in on-base percentage. Elias reports that just one AL team in history has ever done that and gotten to the postseason: Steve Balboni's 1985 Royals (.313).

Then again, that Royals team went on to win the World Series. So just because the Mariners might be trying to do this the hard way doesn't mean they're not allowed to dream. Right?

Viva la differential in the Bronx

YankeesBut we sure can’t overlook the Yankees. They're trying to take a route to the postseason that we're pretty sure Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey and even Scott Brosius would have probably had a hard time comprehending.

The 1927 Yankees once scored 376 more runs than they allowed. The 1936 Yankees scored 334 more runs than they allowed. The 1998 Yankees scored 309 runs more than they allowed.

The 2014 Yankees on the other hand? They've given up 40 more runs than they've scored. And if you're thinking you haven't seen a lot of teams with a minus-40 run differential playing October baseball, uh, good thinking.

According to Elias, exactly one team in history has ever had a run differential that out of whack and reached the postseason. That would be Ryan Klesko's 2005 Padres (minus-42). So no AL team has ever done this.

And, just for the record, the worst run differential by any Yankees team that played in the postseason was plus-57, by the 2000 team. Hmmm. Mr. Steinbrenner, Mr. Torre and Mr. Berra, your thoughts?

In other news …

• The Rangers may not be heading for October, but they're heading for one of the most incredible achievements in pitching history. They're last in the American League in ERA -- but they're first in the league in shutouts (or at least tied with the Rays for first, anyway). So how many teams have ever led their league in shutouts (or tied for the lead) in a season in which they also had the worst ERA in their league? None, of course, according to Elias.

• The Rockies stopped dreaming of contending many weeks ago, but they've never stopped finding new starting pitchers to send to the mound. They're already up to 15 different pitchers who have started a game this season, from Christian Friedrich to Jair Jurrjens to Yohan Flande. And if they can find three more, they can tie the record for most starters trotted out there by any team in the division play era. That prestigious mark of 18 is shared by Rich Loiselle’s 1996 Pirates and Jason Grimsley’s 1993 Indians.

• And one more classic feat by a last-place team: The Red Sox might be last in the AL in runs scored, but they still have the league leader in RBIs, David Ortiz, which understandably prompted loyal reader Rick Malwitz to ask: Is that unprecedented? And the answer, according to Elias, is: not quite -- but almost. The only other team ever to pull that off? Wally Berger’s 1935 Boston Braves. Big Papi had knocked in nearly 20 percent of the Red Sox’s runs this season (92 of 480), but what Berger did in 1935 was even more incredible. He drove in 22.6 percent of the runs scored (130 of 575) by a team that lost 103 games. And that, friends, is a lot of Bergers to go.
Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, 300-win teammates, will enter the Hall of Fame together Sunday. And as cool Cooperstown scenes go, you can’t beat that one. But it's also a scene that might cause you to ask:

Who are the next Maddux and Glavine?

Hmmm. Good question.

And it's one I've been thinking about for weeks, ever since a veteran player asked me earlier this season: "Are there any starting pitchers in the game right now who you think are already Hall of Famers?"

And the honest answer, shockingly, is no. Am I missing anyone or anything?

It may be the Age of the Pitcher. And the planet may be as populated as it's ever been by pitchers with spectacular stuff and picturesque ERAs. But are any of them Hall of Famers right now?

I don't see it. Do you?

If we'd asked this question a year ago, there would have been an easy answer: Roy Halladay. Ten consecutive years of domination. Two Cy Youngs. Two no-hitters. Case closed.

And Andy Pettitte was at least in the argument. Eighteen seasons. Not a single losing season. Those 256 wins. And all those Octobers. An excellent candidate, although one with a high ERA (3.85) and an HGH asterisk.

But without those two around to debate, is there a single active pitcher who has done enough, won enough, dominated enough to carve a plaque in Cooperstown?

Tim Hudson? Mark Buehrle? CC Sabathia? Johan Santana (if we can even define him as "active")?

I don't think so. No telling how that might change if CC bounces back or Hudson keeps on doing his thing deep into his 40s. But are they Hall of Famers right now? Sorry. Not for me.

And since the Hall opened its doors nearly 80 years ago, there can't have been more than a handful of times when we could ever have said that.

But that doesn't mean there aren't pitchers in our midst right now who are headed for Cooperstown. They're just not there yet. So here's how I'd rank the guys with the best shot:

[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsClayton Kershaw currently leads the majors with a 1.92 ERA.

1) Clayton Kershaw


It wasn't easy trying to figure out whether to place Kershaw or Felix Hernandez first on this list. But it's hard to go wrong ranking the Best Pitcher in Baseball at No. 1 on any list. So if you don't believe this guy is on a Hall of Fame track, um, you've been watching too many NFL training camp two-a-days.

Two Cy Youngs. Probably should have won a third. And very possibly headed for another one this year, which would give him four top-two finishes in a row. Kershaw also had ripped off six straight seasons with an Adjusted ERA over 130 before he'd even turned 26. Which made him just the third starter with that many seasons that dominating (30 percent better than league average), at that age, in modern history. You may have heard of the other two: Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.

Bill James' Hall of Fame tracker gives Kershaw 27 HOF points already, through age 25. That's more points than any active player that young (or younger) at any position -- and also as many as Felix, who is two years older. Sounds like a fine tie-breaker to me.

2) Felix Hernandez


Still only 28 years old, with one Cy Young trophy in his den, a second in his sights this year, two more top-four Cy Young finishes and 121 wins, while pitching every season of his career for non-playoff teams.

Felix obviously isn't there yet. And playing for one of the most offensively challenged teams in history over the last few years is going to hurt him with the win-centric crowd. But he ranks third among all active pitchers in ERA (3.11), third in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and fourth in Adjusted ERA (130).

You can also make an argument he's pitching better now than he's ever pitched. So his arrow keeps pointing upward, if he can just stay healthy. Did you know that going into this year, he'd already accumulated more of those Bill James HOF points (27) than Buehrle (25), a man with 196 wins?

[+] EnlargeJustin Verlander
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJustin Verlander has pitched 200 or more innings in each of the past seven seasons.

3) Justin Verlander


Guess who entered this season with more of those Bill James HOF points than any active starter? Verlander's the man, with 50. And James has written often that it takes 70 to get a guy into the Hall of Fame argument and 100 to make him a lock. So when any player reaches 50 points by age 30, as Verlander had, he's well on his way.

I think Verlander has all the hardware he needs already -- an MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year award to call his own, plus three other top-five Cy Young finishes and six All-Star appearances already. So he's put himself in perfect position -- as long as this season turns into just a blip on his radar screen.

If it turns out to be an indicator he's already in his decline phase, on the other hand, it's been a fun ride. Just not one that's leading him to upstate New York.

4) CC Sabathia


If CC's deteriorating knee cartilage is going to make it impossible for him to ever be the same again, it's hard to see how he makes it onto that Cooperstown stage -- even with 208 wins, a Cy Young, four more top-five Cy Young finishes and 13 straight seasons of incredible durability and dependability.

He came into the season with 43 HOF points. He's 34 years old. And he probably needed only two or three more good to excellent seasons to seal his case. But does he have any good seasons left? Only his orthopedist knows for sure.

5) Tim Hudson


I'm including Hudson on this list because I admire his body of work and the tenacious way he's gone about competing and reinventing himself through the years. He's also your official Active Wins Leader (213). And he's 95 games over .500 (213-118), which places him in the top 10 in winning percentage (.638) among all 100-game winners in the last half-century.

There are still voters who weigh stuff like that heavily. Unfortunately, if you look beyond that won-lost column, you have a guy who has never won a Cy Young (but did finish second once), has made just four All-Star teams in 16 seasons, and whose 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings don't allow him to fit the modern definition of "domination."

Bill James had awarded Hudson 33 HOF points coming into this season. And that ranked him fourth among active pitchers (behind Verlander's 50, CC's 43 and Cliff Lee's 36). At age 39, there's almost no shot he can climb high enough to reach the Cooperstown stars. But neither can Lee, who is a few weeks away from turning 36. And Hudson actually has a significantly higher Adjused ERA (124) than Lee does (118). So he at least ought to land in the top five.

My Next Five


6) Cliff Lee

7) Adam Wainwright
8) David Price
9) Tim Lincecum
10) Chris Sale

Want to make your case for Buehrle, Zack Greinke or even Jose Fernandez? Go ahead. Disagree with any of this? Tweet at me. Email me. Curse at me. That's the fun of debates like this. Especially on weekends like this one, when we get to type that magical dateline, COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.
Once again this season, it hasn’t been safe to make a sandwich. Or walk past a parked car. Or get caught outside in a hailstorm. And you know what that means ...

It’s time to “honor” the most creative baseball injuries of the half-year that was. So keep your health insurance cards handy. Here we go:

Fifth prize: Pablo Sandoval, Giants

This was a Pablo Sandoval mishap that’s been waiting to happen. He just missed two games (July 6 and 7) because of a swollen left elbow. OK, that could happen to anybody. Ah, but how did his elbow get so swollen? He got hit in the elbow by a pitch. And obviously, that could happen to anybody. But here’s where this starts getting more Panda-esque: He got hit in the elbow by a pitch that he swung at. And that’s the creative, hack-a-matic Sandovalian flair that earned him a place on this distinguished list.

But wait. There’s one final twist to this saga. As loyal reader Raven Deerwater made sure to pass along, Sandoval wasn’t even awarded first base for getting hit by this pitch. His prize was -- what else? -- a strike. Because he swung. Then, even more spectacularly, Brandon Belt got thrown out trying to steal second on the next pitch to end the top of the first inning, whereupon Sandoval left the game. So here’s how we’d sum up this little calamity: he managed to get hit by a pitch, but not record a plate appearance, meaning he got hurt appearing in a game he technically never appeared in. Or something like that. Now that’s what you call a creative injury.

Fourth prize: Drew Pomeranz, Athletics

Man meets chair. Man punches chair. Chair wins by unanimous decision. We’ve heard that one before, right? Well, the latest guy to get sucked into the old man-punches-chair scam is A’s pitcher Drew Pomeranz. He wasn’t feeling really upbeat -- for good reason -- after the Rangers bombarded him with eight runs in 3 2/3 innings June 16. So on his way back to the clubhouse, he came upon a seemingly innocent wooden chair, just sitting there, inviting him to release his frustrations. His brain (or whatever emotions were overriding his brain at the time) said: “Show that chair what you’re made of.” Then his right hand, which was assigned to inflict that damage, said: “Ouuuucccchhhh,” possibly because he’d just fractured it. Next thing Pomeranz knew ... (A) he was on the disabled list, (B) the A’s were going out and acquiring his temporary replacement (Brad Mills) for a buck, (C) the A’s were going out and acquiring his more permanent replacement (Jeff Samardzija) in the official "trade of the year" and (D) he had a distinct feeling they weren’t leaving a light on for him when he got healthy. So Chair 1, Human 0. Lifetime record of all chairs punched in stadium runways: Undefeated. Still.

Third prize: A.J. Ellis, Dodgers

[+] EnlargeJosh Beckett
Hunter Martin/Getty ImagesIf we could only turn back the hands of time: A.J., watch out for that catcher's mask on the ground!
No-hitters are always a cause for celebration. Getting hurt while expressing that jubilation? Never a cause for celebration. And the most recent player who could tell you all about it is Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis. He was a darned happy guy, for a few moments there, after Josh Beckett’s no-hitter May 25, even though he didn’t happen to catch that gem (since it fell on his day off). But that happiness turned out to be fleeting, we regret to report. After the final out, he was just following the standard post-no-hitter playbook by sprinting toward the infield with his teammates and leaping into the air (which was the only thing available to leap into). But then he made a big mistake -- by coming back to earth. Where he landed on a catcher’s mask. And not even his own. It was the mask of Drew Butera, who caught Beckett that day and fired his mask into -- you guessed it -- the air after the final out. But the mask also returned to earth, where it waited for Ellis to land on it. And one sprained ankle later, Ellis was heading for a big ice pack ..'. and then the disabled list ... and then this exalted injuries of the half-year list. Oops.

Second prize: Felix Doubront, Red Sox

Last year it was Clay Buchholz, forcing his way onto this list by cradling his 2-year-old daughter in his arms, then falling asleep and irritating the AC joint near his collarbone. This year’s mandatory Bizarre Red Sox Pitcher Mishap might or might not top it, depending on whether you’re a joy-of-parenthood person or a car person. But you decide. In May, Felix Doubront headed for the disabled list with a strained left shoulder. And how’d that happen? No, not from throwing those 965 pitches he’s launched this season. That would never earn a guy a spot in a column like this. The culprit, according to manager John Farrell, was a car door, no doubt planted in Doubront’s path by a bunch of Yankees fans, which he then bumped into and bruised his pitching shoulder. Later that day, Doubront tried pitching against the Blue Jays, didn’t have his usual stuff and then fessed up about his earlier little automotive malfunction. He spent the next month on the disabled list. No word on what charges were filed against the car.

First prize: Matt Cain, Giants

Would it even be possible to write these rollicking injury of the year (or half-year) columns, season after season, without the Giants? They’ve turned inventive injuries into a true art form -- led by two-time "Injury of the Year" champ Jeremy Affeldt, whose misadventures while barbecuing and hugging his son have been well documented in this space. But luckily, Affeldt inspires his teammates, even in seasons when he doesn’t make this list himself. So it’s time to salute this year’s most innovative injury (so far) -- the ham and cheese sandwich that attacked Matt Cain. All right, to be technical, it wasn’t the ham, the cheese or the sandwich itself that assaulted Cain. It was the knife he was using to finish off that sandwich. Cain told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Henry Schulman that he’s managed to successfully make sandwiches, and cut them with a knife, many times. But with this one, he “went to cut it, to make it fancy in triangles.” And, alas, the knife cut more than his fancy this time. He was slicing away when he dropped the knife, tried to catch it and learned an important lesson: Knives are sharp. That’s why they’re used to cut fancy triangles in sandwiches instead of, say, fingers. Or sledgehammers. The bad news is: Cain wound up on the disabled list. The good news is: Hey, he won first prize!

Special minor league citation: Jesse Biddle, Reading Phillies

The 22-year-old left-hander had to miss a start in May because of headaches. From getting hit in the head by an ice pellet. During a hailstorm. We are not making this up. And we can prove it -- without even calling Jim Cantore to the stand to testify. Luckily, Jesse Biddle tweeted about it!



Now really, wouldn’t this injury be more believable if it happened to, ohhhhhh, David Freese?
So what do you think: Is a player with this set of credentials a Hall of Famer?

We're talking about an active player who is (or will be):

• His franchise's career hits leader.
• The owner of the second-most Gold Gloves of any active player at his position.
• The only active player at his position who has won an MVP award.
• About to crack the top five for most extra-base hits in history by someone who plays his position.
• A man with a unique set of offensive and defensive credentials that is unprecedented in the history of his position.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Rollins
AP Photo/Kim Johnson FlodinJimmy Rollins, 35, is playing in his 15th season with the Phillies.
So, let's ask again. Is a player like that a Hall of Famer?

Well, that player is Jimmy Rollins, and the answer is no. Or at least not yet.

But the point is, this is a guy we're going to have to give some thought to -- any day now, in fact, when he passes Mike Schmidt and becomes the career hits leader in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies. (He's now just four away.)

And that'll be a fun discussion, too, because Jimmy Rollins has had a fascinating career. Fascinating.

For a decade and a half now, the town he plays in has spent almost as much time focusing on all the stuff he hasn't done -- doesn't walk enough, doesn't keep the ball on the ground, doesn't always run as hard as Chase Utley, yada-yada-yada -- as all the incredible stuff he has done. But this just in:

I've looked at the careers of everyone who has ever played shortstop in the major leagues -- and we've never seen a player quite like this man. Ever.

So what exactly has made Rollins so different? Let's take a look:

The 400 SB/200 HR Club


Rollins' totals: 433 stolen bases (and an 83 percent success rate), 207 homers.

So what other shortstops will you find in that 400/200 club? Um, you won't find any. Not unless Derek Jeter (349 SB, 257 HR) has 51 stolen bases in him over the next four months, anyway.

And I find that kind of amazing. Not that there's anything defining about the 400/200 club. But it does show us that Rollins has brought a power/speed package to his position you very rarely see. Right?

The 200 HR/2,000 Hits Club


Rollins' totals: 207 homers, 2,231 hits.

Only 36 men in history whose primary position was shortstop hung around long enough to get 2,000 hits, according to Baseball-reference.com. But when you add in the power to make 200 home run trots, you get a much more exclusive group:



Cal Ripken Jr. is a Hall of Famer, Jeter can start writing his 2019 speech and not only is Rollins going to blow past Miguel Tejada's numbers, he has brought speed and leatherwork to the table at a level Tejada never did -- and without any performance-enhancing drug stains.

So, while I don't believe in any magic Hall of Fame numbers, if Rollins is in a group with only Jeter and Ripken, he's in tremendous company.

The 2,000 Hit/4 Gold Glove Club


Rollins' totals: 2,231 hits, four Gold Gloves.

Ready for the shortstops who are on this list? There are only six:



Two players in that group -- Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio -- are already in the Hall of Fame, with Jeter right over the horizon. Many, many people think Alan Trammell ought to join them, and Omar Vizquel may not get there, but he has a heck of a case.

And then, there's Rollins.

The offensive quality he has in common with Smith, Vizquel and Aparicio is that they could all flat out steal a base. But here's what they don't share: Those three hit fewer home runs combined (191) than Rollins has hit by himself.

So the only two really similar players to Rollins on this list are Jeter and Trammell. I don't think anyone would argue Rollins has had a better career than either of them. But here we go again: He's hanging with special players, no matter what combination of stats you want to use to measure him.

The Whole Package


OK, now let's add this all up. You can find shortstops who have more hits than Rollins and shortstops who have piled up more homers and extra-base hits.

You can find shortstops who have swiped more bases and shortstops who have won more Gold Gloves. But …

You won't find a single shortstop in the history of this sport who has done all the stuff he's done:

An MVP trophy … and four Gold Gloves … and more than 2,200 hits … and more than 200 homers … and nearly 800 extra-base hits … and closing in on the most hits in the history of his franchise. (The only other active players who can say they hold that last distinction, on their current clubs, by the way, are Jeter and David Wright.)

And we haven't even mentioned that this is a man who has also strung together the longest hitting streak (38 games) of the last quarter-century … is one of four players who ever lived with a 20-homer, 20-steal, 20-double, 20-triple season … has stayed healthy enough to play at least 140 games at short in 11 different seasons, a total reached in the last 30 years by only Derek Jeter, Omar Vizquel and Cal Ripken … has started an All Star Game … and has led his league in runs, steals and triples.

Not a single other shortstop who ever played baseball has done all of that. Not one. So what are we supposed to make of that?

Now, being a unique player doesn't make you a Hall of Famer. That's for sure. And Rollins' wins above replacement (WAR) totals (43.2) certainly don't scream "Hall of Famer" at you, even though four HOF shortstops (hey there, Phil Rizzuto) had fewer.

And, as I've already made clear, I no longer believe there is any set of magic numbers that makes any player an automatic Hall of Famer. Him included.

But the most fun part about all monumental baseball milestones is they give us a reason to stop and reflect, to think and argue, to assess what we think matters and what we think doesn't.

So when you look up and find a player like this ascending to the top of the hit list of a franchise that has been around for 132 seasons, it's an excellent reason to launch the conversation.

Well, I don't think Rollins would be a Hall of Famer if he retires tomorrow, but if you want to talk about it, aw, what the heck. Bring it on. And bring all these amazing numbers along with you.

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