The 2020 Major League Baseball season will always be remembered for its unique circumstances.
It will also be remembered for the accompanying statistical oddities.
With nearly two-thirds of the 60-game season complete, we’ve been provided with a smorgasbord of tidbits and potential chases that would not be possible in a normal season. No, we won’t have a hitter chasing the elusive .400 battle average. But we do have a pitcher chasing MLB’s lowest ERA in 52 years.
Throughout the month of September, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the 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 three-plus weeks.
Will a player hit his age in home runs?
The home run column is the first baseball stat most people look at. Fans and casual viewers alike are always curious to see who’s leading the league, who’s nearing a milestone and who’s on pace to make history.
That’s true again this season. Though with a 60-game season, how we measure expectations, success and history is obviously much different.
Rather than checking to see who’s on pace to chase 50, 60 or even 70 home runs, we’re checking daily to see who might hit 20 or 25. It’s a noted difference, but within that difference we’ve noticed there are other fun and unique possibilities.
Most notably, there are several sluggers between the ages of 21 and 23 who could conceivably lead the league in home runs this season by hitting a total equal to their age. Obviously, that’s not going to happen in a 162-game season. But we’re on track for a handful of guys to hit their age.
Here are the contenders:
Fernando Tatis Jr. — San Diego Padres
Home runs: 15
Games remaining: 17
Home runs: 11
Games remaining: 20
Eloy Jimenez — Chicago White Sox
Home runs: 11
Games remaining: 19
Luis Robert — Chicago White Sox
Home runs: 11
Games remaining: 19
Fans should already be well aware of Tatis and Soto. Both had already established their excellence at the big-league level before turning 21. On the other hand, you might not be as familiar with the White Sox duo. That will certainly change in time. In fact, this unusual chase should provide extra incentive to pay attention.
Mookie Betts vs. Red Sox
It might feel like seven years ago, but it was only seven months ago that the Boston Red Sox essentially punted on the 2020 season by trading superstar Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now the Red Sox are in a race with Betts. Not a division race or wild-card race. But a race that clearly shows how much this trade will haunt them in the short-term for sure, and perhaps in the long-term as well.
Entering play on Tuesday, the Red Sox have a record of 14-28 , which is good for dead last in the AL East. Those 14 wins are just barely more than Mookie Betts’ home run total this season (13).
That’s right ... it’s a legitimate race to see if Mookie Betts can possibly hit more home runs in this 60-game season than the Red Sox win actual games.
Wild, isn’t it?
Granted, the Red Sox aren’t really struggling to hit home runs. Their team OPS through Monday ranks 10th in MLB. But this is about far more than home runs. This is about Mookie Betts’ overall game and everything he does, from situational hitting to playing superb defense, that helps his team win games. The Red Sox are missing the player that holds everything together, and that’s not someone that’s easily replaced.
Shane Bieber chases Bob Gibson
Five decades later, Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA during the 1968 season remains the modern era standard that all starting pitchers hopelessly chase.
The Hall of Fame right-hander logged 304 2/3 innings and pitched 13 shutouts that season — admittedly known as the Year of the Pitcher for the generally depressed offensive environment. Overall, he allowed a total of just 38 earned runs.
Here’s a little more perspective: Since 1968, no qualified starting pitcher has finished with an ERA below even 1.50. That could change this season though. Through nine starts, Cleveland Indians right-hander Shane Bieber is sporting a sparkling 1.25 ERA. With three or possibly four starts remaining, Bieber might be a candidate to best Gibson’s mark.
We can’t forget Yu Darvish, either. Through eight starts, the Chicago Cubs right-hander has a 1.44 ERA. He could easily make it two starters who finish the truncated season with a sub-1.50 ERA.
Bieber, though, is the headliner because he’s also striking out batters at an absurd pace. In Sunday’s outing against the Milwaukee Brewers, he struck out 10 in five innings. For the season, he has 94 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings.
Shane Bieber’s 94 strikeouts so far this season are 9th-most by a pitcher in his 1st 9 starts of a season since the mound was moved to its current distance in 1893 (h/t @EliasSports)— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) September 6, 2020
Here are the pitchers ahead of him on the list.
Pretty good company: pic.twitter.com/AzvKPVyi99
Pitchers with at least NINE STRAIGHT games of 8+ Ks to open a season— Jason Catania (@JayCat11) September 6, 2020
Randy Johnson: 15 in a row (2000)
Shane Bieber: 9 in a row (2020)*
Pedro Martinez: 9 in a row (1999)
Bob Feller: 9 in a row (1946)
*Achieved today, tying Feller for the franchise record.
Right now, it’s Shane Bieber’s world. Batters are just whiffing in it.
More from Yahoo Sports: