Monday, July 16, 2007

Truly Unbreakable MLB Records

As Roger Clemens staggers around 350 wins, and Tom Glavine continues his death march to 300 (298 was Saturday), there's been a fair amount of talk about the Death of the 300 Game Winner... as if something that's only been done by 22 pitchers in 120+ years of MLB records is something that ever was in full flower. FTT, in an admittedly unexpected lapse into real analysis, has five much more unbreakable marks.

> 300 Triples

Wahoo Sam Crawford's 309 leads this category, followed by his running mate Ty Cobb at 297. This might be the safest hitting record in baseball.

The top 50 in this category are all from the distant past. Your active leader in this category is the barely active Steve Finley, with 129, followed by the spry but ancient Kenny Lofton at 112. Among players who could still be considered on the front side of their career, Carl Crawford has 73.

Blame better outfield arms, saner outfield configurations, and the general fact that fast players now seem much more likely to encounter hamstring problems than back in Ye Olde Days.

> 1000 Steals, or 300 Caught Stealings

Rickey Henderson's 1406 steals and 335 caught stealings makes him The Greatest Of All Time (just ask him).

Another byproduct of the old days, with the top active players (Eric Young and Lofton again) barely even halfway to either mark, let alone Rickey. Even if we do have a resurgence of interest in the speed game, it's unlikely that anyone is going to be healthy long enough to get the bags, or keep the confidence in a post-sabermetric era to get thrown out that often.

> The .450 OBA

Ted Williams .482 OBA leads. Even Bonds, the modern OBA freak that stops all others, is padding along at a simple .442 pace. Todd Helton's Colorado-aided exploits are stuck at .431, followed by Big Hurt Thomas at .422.

OBA is valued now more than it's ever been, but the idea of getting on base 48% of the time for your whole damned career... and having many of the best years of that career eaten by military service... well, you can see why some people hold to the idea that Williams is the best player in MLB history with the bat in his hands.

> The .650 SLG

Babe Ruth's .690 SLG leads all. Bonds is best among actives at .607, followed by ManRam at .594.

The trouble with chasing a percentage mark is that you've got to be ahead of it before the decline years start; if you don't have some cushion or an artificial end to things, you'll never keep the record. Ruth's last four years in the Show prove this out: .661, .582., .537 and .431.

By the way, this is also a case where modern money don't help the record chasers. Ruth in 1935, even hitting .181 with the Boston Braves, was still a .790 OPS; far from the worst hitter in the league, and for all we know, he could have still had something in the tank, especially if he had cleaned up his act. If Ruth was around today, he'd have gotten plenty of more chances, and dollars, to keep chasing it.

> The .350 BA.

Ty Cobb's .367 leads. The only modern player in the top 15 is Tony Gwynn at .338, followed by Todd Helton at .332. Once again, the percentages are more than safe, but they just don't have the same oomph as the grand total categories.

The pitching categories, of course, are rife with hard records: from Cy Young having 161 more wins than Clemens to the growing fossilization of the complete game, the game is just different than what it used to be. A little known chase -- Nolan Ryan is the third-losingest pitcher in MLB history, with 292 losses to go with his 324 wins; he's only 24 behind Cy Young, in case he's feeling like an Anthony Young-ish comeback. But here's the one we're pretty sure is safe, even more than Cy Young's wins (after all, Cyber Clemens could definitely get there, especially after the robot limbs are put in for 2015 season).

> The Sub 2 ERA.

Ed Walsh leads all at 1.82 ERA, and I'm thinking that's going to be true until we're all long gone, unless someone from the Far East has a much nastier gyroball than Dice-K has shown so far.

Your active leader is Pedro at 2.81, and then Mad Dog Maddux at 3.10, fighting it out in a little-followed battle with Clemens at 3.11. Your top 57 guys in this category are all long gone, along with any vision of baseball were sub-2 ERAs for a career in pitching are possible.

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