Sure, Game 163 is looming, and it counts as part of the regular season, but aside from some tweaks, the numbers are pretty much in for the 2013 season. We are close enough for at least some simple retrospectives on certain numerical accomplishments from the almost finished season. Some of the metrics involved are more meaningful or useful than others, but this post will not focus on analysis. As long as one does not confuse the listing of some metric below with an endorsement — or a criticism, for that matter — of its value, it is fine to simply take pleasure these accomplishments..
Some of these achievements have more historical resonance than others (and to a certain extent that is in the eye of the beholder). This is not presented as an exhaustive list, either. To begin, though, we do have two all-time marks set by relief pitchers this season.
A number of relievers had monster 2013 seasons — Greg Holland, Craig Kimbrel, and Aroldis Chapman among them — but Koji Uehara, who had a similarly dominating year, is the one who set an all-time record. In 2013, Uehara had lowest WHIP for a qualified reliever ever. His 0.57 WHIP beats out Dennis Eckersley 0.61 WHIP in 1989. WHIP is not a metric we like to use much in the age of DIPS, but this is impressive nonetheless, and Uehara has been a low-BABIP pitcher for years, as this is his third season in a row with a BABIP of .200 or lower. He also prevents hits with tons of strikeouts, and almost never walks batters. WHIP is telling us something, at least with Uehara.
Uehara’s feat has been discussed a fair bit, but another reliever set an all-time mark this season to much less fanfare. Huston Street highest left on base percentage of 99.5% this year breaks the previous all-time mark (97.8%) set by Calvin Schiraldi in 1986. Not all of the historical records may be completely accurate, but that is true for most of these records, and that is a truly stunning performance from Street. Left on base percentage may not have much variance as a skill from pitcher to pitcher, and Street has never been close to this good at hit before, but a record is a record.
Mike Trout decided he was not going to regress to the the %$#@! mean this year, generally speaking. Much has been made (and rightly so) about Trout’s performance given his age, but even just considered straight up, they are amazing. After his 10.0 Wins Above Replacement in 2012, Trout went ahead this year and posted the highest single-season WAR (10.4) by a center fielder since Willie Mays (10.5) in 1964, and just coming out ahead of Mickey Mantle’s 10.3 in 1961. Were those other guys any good? Trout’s 176 wRC+ is also the best for a center fielder since another former Yankee, Bobby Murcer, put up the same figure 42 years ago in 1971.
Cabrera was not big on regression this year, either, and his 192 wRC+ this season was the highest by a qualified third baseman since Mike Schmidt‘s 198 in 1981. Cabrera’s home runs were not that historic, though, as his 44 home runs was no better than the 44 home runs hit by some third baseman last season.
Not all accomplishments were necessarily good. Adeiny Hechavarria -1.9 WAR this season was the worst for any qualified player since fellow shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt‘s -2.4 WAR in 2009. Yet another shortstop, Alcides Escobar, put up the worst wRC+ (49) for a qualified hitter since Cesar Izturis‘ 46 wRC+ for the Dodgers in 2010.
Escobar’s bat was truly brutal this season, but along with the the other Kansas City fielders, he helped the Royals be one of the best run-prevention teams in baseball. For what it is worth, the Royals’ team UZR this season was 79.9 runs above average, the second-best team total for the years in which the source data from UZR was available (2002). On the opposite end of things, the 2013 Mariners had the worst collective UZR at 73 runs below average since the 2005 Royals.
Joey Votto’s relatively low number of RBI and home runs may keep him from serious MVP consideration this season, but he had an excellent year. His 135 walks this year is the highest since Barry Bonds had 232 in 2004. Once intentional walks are removed (and noting that “intentional unintentional walks” complicate matters, especially in Bonds’ case), Votto also has the most (116) Bobby Abreu had the same number in 2004. (Bonds had just 112 officially unintentional walks).
Votto’s teammate Shin-Soo Choo also excelled at getting on base without a hit, and Choo’s 26 hit-by-pitches is the highest single-season number since Chase Utley‘s 27 in 2008. Votto and Choo had 139 and 138 “Freeps” (Free passes, or walks plus hit-by-pitches) respectively, with Votto’s being the most since Bonds’s 241 in in 2004.
Zack Greinke’s 132 wRC+ (.328/.409/.379) this year the best for a pitcher with at least 70 plate appearances since 2003, when Brooks Kieschnick had a 148 wRC+ (.300/.355/.614) for the Brewers. But Kieschnick was not even a really pitcher, he was sort of a part-time relief pitcher, part-time outfielder/pinch-hitter. Before Kieschnick, we have to go all the way back to Don Drysdale‘s 144 wRC+ in 1965 to find a pitcher with a better offensive season than Greinke. Impressive year for Greinke, although it’s propped up by an unsustainable BABIP, am I right?
Whoever is to blame for the Rangers’ second-half slide this year, one player probably should be (but probably won’t be) exempt: Yu Darvish. His year was excellent overall, but one thing particular stands out. Darvish had the highest strikeout percentage (32.9 percent) for a qualified starter since Randy Johnson‘s 36.7 percent in 2001.
While we are on the topic of pitching and Texas, although the Astros’ 121 ERA- has been worsted in recent years, their 119 FIP- is worst since 2003 Padres had the same mark.
It was a rough season in general for the 2013 Astros. As is well-known, their hitters set the all-time record for single-season strikeouts with 1535, and had the highest rate in history as well at 25.5 percent. The Astros’ were the object of much ridicule and criticism for both their team and spending this year, and the strikeouts seemed to be a lightning rod in that respect. Despite the strikeouts, however, Houston was not close to having the worst offense in history according to wRC+. The 2013 Astros were not even among the 30 worst American League offenses of the DH era. They were not even the worst in baseball this year. In fact, the Astros did not even have the worst wRC+ in the American League this year, as both the Yankees (85 wRC+) and White Sox (83 wRC+) were worse.
One team did have something of a historically awful season at the plate this year, however, despite being responsible and generous with money. It has been a model organization all around. It always strives to be the best team it can on the field, rather than game the system (unlike those scoundrels in Houston). The noble Marlins’ 72 wRC+ in 2013 was the worst since the 1981 Blue Jays’ 72 wRC+, the worst before that was the 1965 Mets’ 71 wRC+. Some times even the good guys lose.
[As noted above, tonight’s numbers count as part of the official regular season, so the books are not really closed on 2013’s numbers. Even without a Game 163, some metrics still take a bit of time to update, e.g., park factors need to incorporate data from the last season. In any case, nothing below should be too heavily altered by what happens tonight.]
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