The 2020 Major League Baseball season will always be remembered for its unique circumstances.
It will also be remembered for its statistical oddities.
With 75 percent of the 60-game season complete, we’ve been provided with a smorgasbord of weird stats and stat chases that would not be possible in a normal season. No, there’s no hitter chasing .400. But we do have a team chasing the elusive .700 winning percentage and a quartet of MVPs struggling to provide production above replacement level.
Throughout the month of September, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of these more interesting, unexpected and unusual stats that are in the process of defining MLB’s 60-game season. Here are some stats that stick out this week, and others we will be closely monitoring over the final two weeks.
Dodgers chasing history
In a season that’s been nearly impossible to predict, one constant has remained: The Los Angeles Dodgers are racking up wins during the regular season.
Entering play on Tuesday, Los Angeles has a league-best 33-15 record this season with 12 games left to play. That’s good for a .688 winning percentage, which would be a franchise record if sustained. In 1954, the Brooklyn Dodgers finished with a .682 winning percentage during a 154-game season.
Perhaps more notably, it puts them in position to join the 1998 New York Yankees (114 wins, .704 winning percentage) and the 2001 Seattle Mariners (116, .716) as the only teams with a .700 or better winning percentage since 1961. The obvious caveat being those were 162-game seasons.
We might know by Wednesday if chasing a .700 winning percentage this season is a realistic goal for the Dodgers. They’ll have to solve the fast-charging San Diego Padres, who defeated them Monday night to move to within 1 1/2 games of the NL West lead. The Padres have won eight games in a row and are hoping to not only spoil the Dodgers’ run at history, but are also aiming to end their seven-year run as division champions.
If the Padres sweep the three-game series, maybe they will end up chasing .700. Wouldn’t that be wild?
Of course, the only results that truly matter will come in October. Given the Dodgers’ inability to turn regular season success into a championship parade, and considering San Diego has never won a World Series, anything less than achieving the ultimate goal will be considered a failure.
Entering play on Tuesday, only five National League teams have a win percentage above .500. In addition to the Dodgers and Padres, the Cubs (.583), Braves (.583) and Marlins (.533) are over .500. The Cardinals and Phillies are right at .500.
That’s especially notable this season, since eight teams in each league will make the postseason instead of five. The odds of at least one sub-.500 team making the playoffs are high, and it’s possible that number grows to three.
What’s wrong with these MVPs?
The MVP races in the American League and National League will be missing some perennial contenders this season.
Christian Yelich, José Altuve, Cody Bellinger and Kris Bryant, each of whom has won an MVP award since 2016, are collectively sporting a negative 0.4 WAR this season. That’s right, four of MLB’s best are in a race to produce replacement level value this season.
These truly are wild times. Here’s where they all stand.
Christian Yelich — Milwaukee Brewers
2020 Stats: .195/.323/.421, 9 HR, 19 RBIs
2020 WAR: 0.1
2018 WAR: 7.3 (MVP season)
Yelich’s season hit rock bottom Monday when he struck out six times during a doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s possible he’s still feeling some effects of the fractured kneecap that ended his 2019 season three weeks early. Or maybe a slump was inevitable following back-to-back elite seasons. Whatever the case, the Brewers need more from their best player to contend for a postseason berth.
Kris Bryant — Chicago Cubs
2020 Stats: .200/.270/.324, 2 HR, 4 RBIs
2020 WAR: -0.2
2016 WAR: 7.3 (MVP season)
Injuries have undoubtedly contributed to Bryant’s struggles. He’s been limited to 26 games this season with wrist, finger, elbow and back problems, in addition to a gastrointestinal problem. It’s the third straight season he’s been banged up, which might be a sign he needs to move away from third base and the outfield.
Cody Bellinger — Los Angeles Dodgers
Stats: .215/.294/.412, 10 HR, 22 RBIs
2020 WAR: 0.3
2019 WAR: 9.1 (MVP season)
Bellinger’s MLB career has been up and down. He won NL Rookie of the Year in 2017, but wasn’t quite as productive during his sophomore season. Last season, he rebounded with a retooled swing to win NL MVP. This season, he’s off to a sluggish start. He’s hitting home runs, but his overall play has been underwhelming.
José Altuve — Houston Astros
Batting line: .224/.284/.322, 3 HR, 12 RBIs
2020 WAR: -0.6
2017 WAR: 7.6 (MVP season)
It hasn’t been pretty for the three-time AL batting champion. Of course, everyone was already paying close attention in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal. Altuve’s performance has done nothing to silence the doubters. However, the leading cause for his struggles is a balky right knee that might require surgery. He’s currently on the injured list.
Other stats we’re tracking
Last week, we introduced three other stats that we felt were worth tracking down the stretch. Here’s an update on those items.
Shane Bieber’s bid to match Bob Gibson’s monumental 1968 season — and 1.12 ERA — took a slight hit over the weekend. Bieber allowed three earned runs over seven innings in a loss the Minnesota Twins. As a result, his season ERA jumped from 1.25 to 1.53.
On the bright side, Bieber did make some strikeout history.
Fewest IP to reach 100 Ks in a season by a starting pitcher— Jason Catania (@JayCat11) September 12, 2020
Shane Bieber: 62.1 IP in 2020
Max Scherzer: 63.0 IP in 2018
Gerrit Cole: 65.0 IP in 2019
Kerry Wood: 65.2 IP in 2001
Last week we wondered if one of MLB’s young slugger might hit his age in home runs during this truncated season. The best bet continues to be Fernando Tatis Jr. The San Diego Padres shortstop hit his 15th home run, meaning he’s six shy of reaching his age, 21.
Oddity of the Week
On Friday, the Tampa Bay Rays became the first team since 1900 to start nine pure left-handed hitters.
The Rays are starting nine left-handed batters today against the Red Sox.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 11, 2020
They are the first team in the Modern Era (since 1900) to start nine pure left-handed hitters in a game. pic.twitter.com/OIk2oPytWg
It paid off. Tampa Bay defeated the Boston Red Sox, 11-1.
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