Enjoy It While It Lasts

For the first month or two of the season, it doesn’t make much sense to pay attention to what kind of pace players are on, or where their various averages might rank if they can hold steady for the rest of the season. There’s just too much variation from day to day when the number of games, at-bats, innings, etc., are so small.

We’re now about halfway through June, though, and every team in baseball has played at least 61 games. So while most of the things I’m about to talk about probably won’t end up happening, they’re all cool enough that it’s now worth following them for however long they last.

Johan Santana and Brad Radke

Santana and Radke are currently doing something truly remarkable, and even the most die-hard Twins fan probably doesn’t realize just how remarkable. What I’m referring to is the fact that Santana has 114 strikeouts and 11 walks and Radke has 60 strikeouts and four walks.

For those of you who don’t feel like doing the math, that means Santana has a 10.36 K/BB ratio, and Radke has an even better 15.0 K/BB ratio.

The all-time record is 11.00, set by Bret Saberhagen with the Mets in 1994. Saberhagen finished with 143 strikeouts and just 13 walks (which means his 14 wins that year make him the only pitcher I know of to finish with more wins than walks in a season).

So, obviously, it’s impressive enough that Radke is not only on pace to break that record, but to shatter it. More impressive, however, is that Santana is on pace to place third all-time with his K/BB ratio.

At this point, no set of teammates has ever finished a season with at least eight strikeouts per walk each. In 1884, for the Boston Reds of the Union Association, James Burke had an 8.23 K/BB ratio, and teammate Tommy Bond was at 7.94, and that’s the best duo ever.

In modern baseball, no teammates have ever even both been above 5.25 strikeouts per walk. The best duo was Curt Schilling (7.51) and Randy Johnson (5.24) for the Diamondbacks in 2001.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s pretty cool that Santana and Radke have a chance to become the most prolific set of teammates of all time in a statistic. But if that doesn’t do it for you, I have more.

Radke may be on pace for the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball history, but that hasn’t helped him keep runs off the board as much as you’d think, because he’s 24th in the American League with a 4.13 ERA.

Of the top 10 K/BB marks in baseball history, the pitcher in question finished in the top three in his league in ERA eight times. The other two times the pitcher finished fifth and 10th. The worst ERA and ERA+ from a pitcher in the top 10 in K/BB was Schilling’s 3.23 ERA and 136 ERA+ with Arizona in 2002.

In fact, the best K/BB mark for any modern (post-1900) pitcher who did not finish in the top 10 in his league in ERA was 6.16, by Dennis Eckersley with the Cubs in 1985. Eckersley finished with a 3.99 ERA and a 130 ERA+ despite striking out 117 hitters and walking just 19.

So, Radke currently has a K/BB ratio that is 34 percent better than the previous best in baseball history, and 143.5 percent better than the previous best for a pitcher who didn’t finish in the top 10 in his league in ERA.

Of course, Santana’s part in all of this isn’t just to be the teammate who combines with Radke to be the best set of teammates ever at something. He has a chance to have a season that could be considered the best combination of power and control of all time.

As I mentioned before, he currently has 114 strikeouts, and those have come in 92.1 innings. That works out to an 11.11 K/9IP ratio. His 11 walks give him a 1.07 BB/9IP mark. No pitcher in baseball history who has struck out at least 10 batters every nine innings has ever walked so few.

The best so far is Schilling—he shows up a lot here, doesn’t he?—in 2002, when he had 10.97 K/9IP and 1.15 BB/9IP. Ben Sheets came close last year as he just cleared the strikeout mark at 10.03 K/9IP, but finished with 1.22 BB/9IP.

And in the AL, the best mark is from Pedro Martinez in 2000. He had 11.78 K/9IP and just 1.33 BB/9IP, a year after posting marks of 13.20 K/9IP and 1.56 BB/9IP.

So to help you keep track the rest of the season, here’s a recap. Radke: best K/BB ever (and by far the best K/BB by a pitcher without a top-10 ERA). Santana: best BB/9IP ever by a pitcher with at least 10 K/9IP. Radke and Santana: best K/BB marks ever for a set of teammates.

Derrek Lee

This isn’t quite as obscure as Santana and Radke, and it doesn’t require quite as much explanation, but it’s every bit as cool. As I’m sure most of you know by now, Lee appears poised to make a run at becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 (.326 average, 44 home runs, 121 RBI).

Now the Triple Crown is like a lot of things in baseball, in that it’s more cool than important. What do I mean? Well, Babe Ruth had several of the best offensive seasons in baseball history, but he never won the Triple Crown despite coming extremely close five times.

He led the AL in homers 12 times and RBI six times, but the only time he won a batting crown (.378 in 1924), his 121 RBI were second to Washington’s Goose Goslin (129). In 1921, 23 and 26, he led the AL in both homers and RBI but was only second or third in batting average. And in 1931, he hit the most home runs and was second in both batting average and RBI.

Still, since it hasn’t happened in nearly 40 years, a potential Triple Crown is definitely something to get excited about. As for Lee, he’s currently hitting .377 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI. He leads the NL in average and homers and is third in RBI.

Lee’s average is currently 30 points clear of the field, with his closest competition as unlikely a batting champion as Lee is himself. Lee entered the season as a career .266 hitter, with a career high of .282 in 2001. His average has been between .270 and .282 each of the last five years.

But while Lee’s current average is 111 points higher than his career average entering the season, it’s still not as surprising as the fact that Rob Mackowiak is second in the NL with a .347 average. Mackowiak entered the season with a career .252 average, and a career high of .270.

So while Lee’s average might be expected to drop, Mackowiak’s probably is as well. Third place in the NL is currently occupied by Miguel Cabrera at .339.

Things are a little bit closer in home runs, where Lee is one homer clear of Andruw Jones, Carlos Lee, Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu, with Troy Glaus, Morgan Ensberg, Albert Pujols and Cliff Floyd all another homer back at 15.

This is another area where Lee is seriously outperforming his previous best, as he’s on pace to hit 44 home runs. His career high is 32 last year, and that was only the second time he’d hit more than 28.

Then, of course, we come to RBI, where Lee has some work to do. With 53 runs driven in, he’s three behind NL leader Carlos Lee and two behind Pat Burrell. It’s impressive that he’s even doing that well, however, since his pace of 138 RBI would not only be a career high, it would be his first 100-plus RBI season.

When you look at all the categories, it seems unlikely that Lee will end up winning the Triple Crown (he may not even finish in the top 10 in all three categories). The fact that he still has a shot with about 100 games remaining, however, means that it’s worth keeping an eye on his ranks as long as he has a chance.

Bobby Abreu

Recently, it seems like somebody threatens to become the fourth member of the 40/40 club every year. Last season, Carlos Beltran hit 38 homers and stole 42 bases. In 2002, Alfonso Soriano had 39 homers and 41 steals, while Vladimir Guerrero had 39 homers and 40 steals. Guerrero was just coming off a 34/37 season, and Soriano followed up his near-miss by going 38/35 in 2003.

However, since Alex Rodriguez hit 42 homers and stole 46 bases in 1998, nobody’s been able to actually join the club. This year’s candidate appears to be Abreu, who currently has 16 homers and 15 steals.

With 64 games in the books for Philadelphia, that puts him on pace for 41 home runs and 38 steals. Like Lee, Abreu has some work to do if he wants to accomplish this feat, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worth watching.

Abreu is an especially interesting candidate because he’s shown off his combination of power and speed for some time, although never quite to this extent. With four more home runs and five more steals, Abreu will have his seventh consecutive 20/20 season. (The only time he missed as a regular, he went 17/19.)

Only two of those, however, have been 30/30 seasons. Last year, he hit 30 homers and stole a career-high 40 bases, and in 2001 he hit a career-high 31 homers and stole 36 bases. Now he’s 31 years old, and he’s having the best season of his career in most offensive categories.

And unlike Lee, he’s competing against numbers rather than other players. He doesn’t need to worry about where he ranks in any category or how far he is behind the leaders or ahead of second place.

All he has to do is hit 24 home runs and steal 25 bases in the next 98 games. I’m excited to see if he can do it.

Scott Podsednik

A couple of quick ones now…

Podsednik didn’t play in Monday’s game for the White Sox, but he does have 31 steals already this season. That puts him on pace for 80 steals on the season.

Rickey Henderson played 25 seasons in the Major Leagues. In 19 of those seasons, he only saw action in the AL. Six times in those 19 years, he stole at least 80 bases. Other than him, the AL player to reach 80 steals since Ty Cobb stole 96 bases in 1915 was Willie Wilson with 83 in 1979.

So if Podsednik can nab 54 bags in Chicago’s next 99 games, he’ll have the most steals by an AL player who doesn’t refer to himself in the third person since Cobb.

Eric Milton

Milton did not pitch well Monday against the Red Sox, allowing nine earned runs to move his ERA up to 7.97. He did, however, make it through 5.2 innings without allowing a home run.

Amazingly, he’s still given up 22 longballs this year. Milton has started 14 games this season and the Reds have 99 left, which means he should make another 20 or 21 starts if he stays healthy and doesn’t lose his spot in the rotation.

If he continues to give up home runs at his current pace (1.57 homers per start), he’ll yield 53 home runs if he makes 34 starts or 55 if he makes 35 starts. Either way, he would set a new record, eclipsing the mark of 50 homers allowed by Bert Blyleven in 1986.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Milton is threatening the record this year, as he allowed 43 homers (sixth all-time) last year. It’ll be fun to see if he can get over the hump this year.

Well, it’ll be fun as long as you’re not a Reds fan.

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