The 2016 baseball season played host to its share of interesting statistical tidbits. Some of these statistics were accomplishments, while others were dubious, and even others were of the odd variety.
Carlos Beltrán Greatly Strengthens his Hall of Fame Case by Reaching a Quartet of Milestones
|Beltran reached four separate milestones in 2016|
These accomplishments put Beltrán in select company as one of only twenty-three players to reach 400 home runs, 2,500 hits, 1,500 RBI, and 1,500 runs. While this quartet of milestones greatly strengthens Beltrán's Hall of Fame case, none of these totals are viewed as an automatic ticket to Cooperstown the way 500 home runs or 3,000 hits is. Moreover, Beltrán will turn 40 next April, so it is doubtful he will play long enough to reach either the 500 home run or 3,000-hit milestones. However, throughout his career, Beltrán has been one of the game's finest players, making nine All-Star teams while winning the 1999 AL Rookie of the Year along with two Silver Sluggers and three Gold Gloves. In addition, Beltrán was a five-tool player during the first half of his career, using his speed to steal more than 300 bases at an over 85% success rate while also showcasing defensive skills that earned him the Gold Gloves at center field. On top of that, Beltrán has been one of the most dominant postseason hitters of his generation. Yet, some of the Hall of Fame electorate may withhold their vote because Beltrán has only one top-five MVP Award finish or discount his strong postseason stats since he has never won a World Series.
Nevertheless, Beltrán's strong hitting in 2016 was key for the veteran as achieving 400 home runs, 2,500 hits, 1,500 RBI, and 1,500 runs will help him garner votes with the more traditional/old school Hall of Fame electorate who favor round milestones over analytical value. Moreover, at season's end, Beltrán sat at an impressive 70.4 Wins Above Replacement and 36.4 Wins Above Average for his career, so he will undoubtedly draw strong support from younger, more sabermetrically-inclined voters as well. While Beltrán lacks the 500 home run or 3,000 hit milestone that would quickly gain him Hall of Fame election, the veteran's attaining of a quartet of secondary milestones underscore his excellent career and make the switch-hitter a strong candidate for election by the BBWAA or at the very least an eventual selection by the Era Committee.
Hurlers Chris Archer and James Shields Come One Defeat Away from Joining the Dubious 20-Loss Club
There's an old baseball saying that you have to be a pretty good pitcher to lead the league in losses because your team must have enough faith in your abilities if they allow you to continue towing the rubber for every start despite the defeats piling up. Going into the 2016 season, hurlers Chris Archer and James Shields seemed a stronger bet to lead their pitching peers in wins or strikeouts rather than losses. However, by season's end, Archer and Shields led baseball with 19 defeats a piece--becoming the first hurlers since Darrell May in 2004 to lose that many games.
|Archer was snakebit by poor run support in 2016|
Following the loss to Boston, Archer had one more scheduled start on September 29. In previous seasons, teams have held 19 game losers out of their last start or moved them to the bullpen to spare them the embarrassment of losing 20 games. Faced with the possibility of joining the dubious 20-loss club, Archer showed courage and guile by taking the ball for his final start. Archer pitched decently, limiting the Chicago White Sox to three runs over six and two-thirds innings as Tampa Bay held on for the 5-3 win--in the process giving their young hurler his 9th victory of the season. Archer finished the season with a poor for him but slightly above league average 4.02 ERA. In addition, Archer struck out 233, a total once again good enough for second in the league--this time tied with Chris Sale while trailing only Justin Verlander.
The 2016 season marked the second year of a four-year free agent contract that 34-year old right-hander James Shields signed with the San Diego Padres. Although Shields had struggled a bit in the first year of the deal--leading the NL in home runs allowed and seeing his ERA+ drop to 95--the signing appeared to be a solid one for San Diego as the veteran led his respective league in games started, pitched over 200 innings for the ninth consecutive season, and finished fifth in the NL with 216 strikeouts. Prior to signing with San Diego, Shields pitched for the Kansas City Royals and the Tampa Bay Rays, where he had briefly been teammates with Chris Archer during the youngster's rookie year. Like his former rotation-mate Archer, Shields started 2016 off with a 0-4 record, though with a respectable 3.55 ERA. On May 7, Shields lost to the New York Mets and suffered the humiliation of serving up fellow pitcher Bartolo Colon's first career home run. Colon, who was just shy of 43-years old at the time, had just two extra base hits in 246 plate appearances prior to the home run. Following a no-decision on May 25, Shields owned an impressive 3.06 ERA but with a 2-6 record due mostly in part to lack of run support as San Diego failed to score more than three runs in any of his starts. On May 31, Shields was rocked for 10 runs in two and two-thirds of an inning in a lopsided 16-4 loss which dropped his record to 2-7 and shot his ERA up to 4.28. On June 4, Shields was traded to the Chicago White Sox for two other players.
With the trade to Chicago, Shields joined a White Sox team that had unexpectedly led the AL Central for most the season before a seven-game losing streak at the end of May knocked them out of first place. By acquiring Shields, Chicago hoped the veteran right-hander would boost the White Sox pitching staff and reverse the team's losing trend. Unfortunately for Chicago, Shields looked a lot more like the pitcher who gave up 10 runs in his last start with San Diego than the dependable veteran they traded for as the righty gave up 7 or more runs in his first three starts for the White Sox--bringing his overall record to 2-9 and ERA up to an ugly 6.28. Meanwhile, Chicago struggled stay in the AL Central and Wildcard races.
|Shields struggled mightily in 2016|
Some of Archer's difficulties can be tied back to his 30 home runs allowed--eleven more than his previous career high. Yet, most of Archer's poor win-loss record can be attributed to his team's feeble offense as the last place Rays provided their young hurler with a paltry run support of just a 3.48 per game, fifth lowest among 74 qualified starters. In fact, aside from the spike in longballs given up, most of Archer's other peripherals were in-line with previous seasons. While Archer appears primed for a rebound following his difficult year, Shields' defeat-filled 2016 is much more concerning. Barely a year removed from starting Game 1 of the 2014 World Series, Shields was arguably the game's worst starting pitcher in 2016. Among qualified hurlers the righty allowed the most earned runs and home runs, had the highest ERA, FIP, and WHIP, as well as the worst win/loss percentage and ERA+. Moreover, for the second year in a row, Shields saw a rise in walks and home runs allowed. Although Shields struggled on the mound much more than his young 19-loss peer Archer, the veteran was also felled by the 3.33 runs per game provided by his team's offense--the lowest run support among all qualified starters.
After coming just one defeat away from joining the dubious 20-loss club, Archer and Shields will be looking to reverse their fortunes in 2017. A strong rebound season would put Archer back among the top young hurlers in the game while Shields will hope to revive his career and live up to the "Big Game James" nickname he earned as staff ace in Tampa Bay and Kansas City.
Three Sluggers Reach the 40-Home Run Plateau While Driving in Less Than 100 Runs and a Pair of Batters Become the First to Hit 30 Longballs Without Cracking 60 RBI
|Three sluggers finished 2016 with 40 HRs but less than 100 RBI|
Following an unexpected second place finish in the AL Central and run at the AL Wildcard in 2015, the Minnesota Twins took a massive step backwards this season to plummet to 59-103--the worst record in baseball. Starring for the lowly Twins was their power-hitting second baseman Brian Dozier who finished 2016 with 42 home runs and 99 RBI. Dozier started the year rotated between first and second in the batting order in April and May, Minnesota then moved the slugger to the heart of the order in June and July, before shifting him back to leadoff for the season's final two months. Overall, Minnesota started Dozier 73 games at leadoff, 24 games in the number two hole, and 51 times in the third, fourth, or fifth spot in the order. Dozier blew up after the All-Star break, hitting 28 home runs but he spent almost all of this time at leadoff which significantly reduced his RBI opportunities. In fact, 27 of Dozier's 42 round-trippers came from the leadoff spot. Being batted at the top of the order along with Dozier's 138 strikeouts played large roles in the power-hitting keystoner falling shy of 100 RBI. Going into the final day of the regular season, Dozier looked as though he might reach the century mark in RBI but left oblique soreness kept him out of the lineup and doomed him to finish at 99 RBI.
After three seasons with the Houston Astros, first baseman Chris Carter signed a free agent contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. Few players epitomize the "Three True Outcomes" nickname better than Carter as the slugger hit .222 while tying Nolan Arenado for the NL lead with 41 home runs, putting up the Senior Circuit's tenth-highest walk total at 76, and dubiously topping the NL in strikeouts with 206. Carter also tied Arenado for the NL lead with 160 games played. Carter started 94 games in the five hole in Milwaukee's batting order, along with 52 at clean up. Milwaukee struggled to a 73-89 with a well below league average 4.14 runs per game. Carter surged at the end of the season, hitting 11 longballs from September 3-on. However, Milwaukee's punchless offense, coupled with Carter's "Three True Outcomes" skill set limited the free-swinger to 94 RBI.
Prior to the 2016 season, the Chicago White Sox acquired third baseman Todd Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds in a three-team, seven-player trade. In four-plus seasons with Cincinnati, Frazier batted .257 while striking out around 125 to 135 times per year. Frazier hit a personal best 35 home runs in 2015, up from 19 and 29 in 2013 and 2014, respectively. While Chicago got off to a strong start, Frazier allowed his average to dip below .200 during parts of each of the first three months of the season. Frazier's power was on display in the season's first half, however, clubbing 25 longballs despite hitting .213. Frazier added 15 more home runs after the All-Star break while batting a more palatable .240. Frazier hit his 40th round-tripper and drove in his 98th run on September 28 but proceeded to go 2 for 16 with no RBI and 7 strikeouts in his last four games, leaving him two shy of 100 RBI. Chicago penciled Frazier's name in at clean up for 57 games, 49 in the five hole, 39 as number six, and 13 times at three. The White Sox finished the year with a 78-84 record with a below average 4.23 runs per game. After hovering around the Mendoza line during the first half of the season, Frazier settled for a career low .225 along with a career worst 163 strikeouts. However, Frazier's 40 home runs, 98 RBI, and 64 walks were career highs. Nevertheless, the dip in batting average and jump in strikeouts are cause for concern as Frazier is evolving more and more into a "Three True Outcomes" hitter who regularly puts up high home run marks tempered by low RBI totals.
The 2016 season marked the first time a hitter reached 30 home runs without driving in 60 runs. The simultaneous rise in home runs and strikeouts undoubtedly played a role in this odd combination finally being realized by not one but two hitters.
|Granderson had just 59 RBI despite 30 HR in 2016|
|Gyorko also had a 30 HR/sub-60 RBI campaign in 2016|
The simultaneous rise in home runs and strikeouts will likely play host to more 40 home run/less than 100 RBI seasons as well as never before seen combinations such as the 30 longball/sub-60 RBI campaigns turned in by Granderson and Gyorko.
Chase Utley Becomes the Ninth Hitter to Qualify for the Batting Title and Finish the Season Without Grounding into a Double Play
Chase Utley ended the 2015 season shrouded in controversy after a hard takeout slide by the Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman broke the leg of New York Mets shortstop Rubén Tejeda on a critical play during Game 2 of the NLCS. Utley's slide was undoubtedly late and resulted in a rule change by the MLB as well as a two-game suspension which he never served as it was successfully appealed by the MLBPA. However, the forceful slide should not have been a surprise to anyone who had watched Utley play--least of all Tejeda, who had been bowled over by the hard-nosed keystoner in a similar play during the shortstop's rookie year in 2010. Yet, the controversy followed Utley into 2016, so it was somewhat ironic that the veteran would become just the ninth hitter to go an entire season without grounding into a double play while garnering enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.
|Utley's 2016 was just the ninth zero GDP season in MLB history|
After acquiring Utley from the Philadelphia Phillies last August, the defending NL West champion Dodgers re-signed the 37-year old Pasadena native for 2016. Following a difficult 2015 in which Utley was plagued by an ankle injury and hit a career low .212, it appeared the veteran's future in the game may have been as a role player coming off the bench. However, Los Angeles not only installed Utley as the team's starting second baseman but also regularly batted the keystoner at leadoff. The 2016 season represented the first time Utley had spent the majority of a season hitting in the top spot of the order as the veteran had batted primarily out of the three-hole throughout his career.
Utley has always been difficult to double up and the move to the front of the line up set the stage for his double-play-free campaign as leadoff hitters are more likely to accomplish the feat than any other spot in the batting order because they are guaranteed at least one plate appearance with no runners on base. Moreover, following their initial plate appearance, leadoff hitters spend the rest of the game batting behind the weakest hitters in the line up who are often asked to sacrifice when there is a runner on first base. In fact, six of the nine hitters to join the no double plays club--McAuliffe, Henderson, Lankford, Nixon, Biggio, and Utley--were primarily batted leadoff in the season of their achievement. By the same token, hitters batted in the heart of the order--as Utley had been during most of his career--are much less likely to complete a season without grounding into a double play as a higher majority of their plate appearances come with runners on base. In fact, only Reiser was able to turn the trick while regularly batting in the heart of the order as he was hit out of the three hole. Interestingly, the no double plays club's other two hitters, Watkins and Deer, regularly batted sixth, though Deer also saw a fair share of his plate appearances come from the five and seven spots along with a few from the eight hole. Indeed, Reiser had, by far, the most plate appearances in which there was an opportunity to ground into a double play with 148, a far cry ahead of the next closest of Deer at 87, while Utley checked in with 61. In 2016, the average major league hitter grounded into a double play just under eleven percent of the time that they came up with the opportunity to do so, meaning a hitter with Utley's 61 double play opportunities on average would have grounded into a twin-kill six or seven times. At age 37, Utley became the oldest player to join the no double plays club.
Aside from going the whole season without being the victim of a twin-killing, Utley's season was also noteworthy for memorable trips to New York and Philadelphia. Utley was public enemy number one against the Mets on May 27 in his first game back at Citi Field since the controversial 2015 NLCS. Utley was unmercifully booed by the angry New York fans but quietly went about his business and put in a yeoman's work. Utley came up with two out and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth and rather than satisfy the Mets fanbase by being the final out, the pesky veteran cleared the bases with a double to right field off New York closer Jeurys Familia to tie the game. However, New York was able to strike last as Curtis Granderson ended the game with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the game. Tensions continued to run high the following night as Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard was ejected for throwing a fastball behind Utley in the top of the third. Once again Utley did not play into the emotions as the veteran broke a scoreless tie in the six with a solo home run. Utley then put an exclamation point on the game with a grand slam in his next at bat as Los Angeles beat New York 9-1 on the strength of the veteran's five RBI.
|Utley made a memorable return to Philadelphia in 2016|
Utley's unforgivingly hard style of play has won him the admiration of some, the disdain of others, resulted in a rule change, come at the expense of injuries--to himself and others, all while being the driving force behind one of the most underrated players of this generation. Utley's 2016 ledger of 14 home runs, 52 RBI, .252 batting average, and 2.0 WAR was far from a career year for the second baseman but it represented a critical rebound campaign, following a horrid, injury-plagued 2015. Moreover, Utley was able to establish himself as valuable veteran presence for the NL West champion Dodgers. Aside from going the whole season without being doubled up, Utley's 2016 was also memorable for the second baseman's rising to the occasion with grand slams when he was the center of attention in New York and Philadelphia. Despite his excellent career, Utley remains a longshot for the Hall of Fame, as he still lacks the counting stats that many voters place a premium on when filling out their ballots. However, Utley was able to reach the mini-milestones of 1000 runs scored and 250 home runs in 2016. In addition, Utley is poised to cross the 1000 RBI mark in 2017. Moreover, if Utley stays healthy and is able hold down a starting job for the next few seasons, 2,000 hits, 300 home runs, and 70 WAR are not out of the question for the hard-nosed keystoner. Achieving these milestones would greatly strengthen Utley's Hall of Fame case.
----by John Tuberty
Sources: Baseball Reference, Baseball Reference Play Index, MLB.com, ESPN, New York Post, USA Today, Retrosheet
Photo credit: 2016 Topps Update Carlos Beltrán, 2016 Topps Series 2 Chris Archer, 2016 Topps Stadium Club James Shields, 2016 Bowman Brian Dozier, 2016 Topps Heritage Chris Carter, 2016 Topps Archives Todd Frazier, 2016 Topps Heritage Curtis Granderson, 2016 Topps Heritage Jedd Gyorko, 2015 Topps Bunt Digital Chase Utley, 2016 Topps Now Chase Utley
Other articles by Tubbs Baseball Blog:
Carlos Beltrán, 400 Home Runs, 2,500 Hits, and The Hall of Fame
Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Gonzalez, and Albert Pujols Combine to Set the Major League Record For Most Players to Finish a Season With 40 or More Home Runs and Less Than 100 RBIs
Dwight Evans' Strong Sabermetric Statistics Underscore His Overlooked Hall of Fame Case