Back in 1994, the MLB season was cut short with a player strike. Most teams had played around 112-116 games when the season was called off on Aug. 11. The following season was also shortened due to the same labor fight, but they played 144 games, so it was pretty close to a real season. The 1994 season was the last time we saw the season significantly shortened, and it was nearly twice as long as the 2020 season is set to be.
Now, 2020 is gonna be a lot shorter than 1994 with just 60 games, but we're still going to take a look at how a smaller sample lends itself to more fluky outcomes. This will be for individual players, statistically. We'll look at 10 freakishly big numbers put up by a 1994 player and see what player in 2020 could similarly go nuts.
1994: Tony Gwynn hit .394
No player has hit .400 in a season since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. With the number of strikeouts these days in addition to the increased specialization of pitchers and defensive alignment being smarter than ever, it's probably not going to ever happen again in a full season. In only 60 games, though? It could absolutely happen. It nearly did last year. Cody Bellinger was hitting over .400 through 49 games.
Most likely in 2020 to approach .400?
I want a lefty who can run, because every little advantage helps and infield hits are absolutely an advantage. I'll go with Christian Yelich. The Brewers superstar has led the NL in hitting each of the last two seasons. He's toward the top of the leaderboards in hard hit percent and exit velocity while sitting at the 87th percentile in sprint speed.
1994: Frank Thomas had a .487 OBP
Aside from Barry Bonds, who did it four times (including 2004's obscene .609 OBP), there hasn't been a player with an on-base percentage of .500 or better since Williams did so in 1957 with a .526 mark. Thomas was close in 1994.
Most likely in 2020 to approach .500 OBP?
Will Mike Trout's walks suffer now that Anthony Rendon is hitting behind him? I'm inclined to believe so, which means I need to look elsewhere for a pick. Joey Votto doesn't hit for enough average anymore to be the pick. This is tough. I'll go with Juan Soto. With 108 walks last season at age 20, he's well beyond his years with plate discipline and he's going to be put on a lot more now without Rendon in front of him (to get on base and not leave a base available for the walk) and limited thump behind him.
1994: Jeff Bagwell slugged .750
Aside from Barry Bonds (three times), the only player to slug .750 or better in a season after 1927 was Mark McGwire (.752, 1998). NL MVP Bagwell in 1994 was sitting right at .750 when the season was canceled.
Most likely in 2020 to approach .750 SLG?
Not gonna stray this time. Trout is the pick.
1994: Knoblauch had 45 doubles; Biggio and Walker had 44
Three players were on pace to top 60 doubles in 1994, Chuck Knoblauch, Craig Biggio and Larry Walker. Only six times in baseball history has a player topped 60 doubles in a season and it hasn't happened since the 1930s.
Most likely to run a rate of 60 doubles per 162 games in 2020?
Nick Castellanos was hot on the trail last season and ended up with 58. He's as good a pick as any, but I'm gonna shift and take Rafael Devers. He had 54 last season and I love having the Green Monster there for him to go opposite field off the wall.
1994: Matt Williams had 43 home runs
The great home run chase of 1998 was still to come. At the time, the only 60-HR seasons in baseball history belonged to Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. Williams was on pace in 1994 to hit 62. Boy, what could have been. Nowadays, the only players to top 60 are Ruth, Maris, Mark McGwire (twice), Sammy Sosa (three times) and Barry Bonds. We haven't seen anyone top 60 since 2001, with the overwhelming majority of the 60-HR season crammed in the 1998-2001 zone.
Most likely to run a rate of 60-plus HR per 162 games in 2020?
Lots of names to ponder here with so much power in the game. Trout, Yelich, Bellinger are obvious. Nelson Cruz, Jorge Soler, Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton. Pete Alonso? There's really no wrong answer. I'll pick Gallo.
1994: Bagwell had more RBI than games played
Holy cow. Bagwell had 116 RBI and the Astros only had played 115 games. Just one time since 1938 has a player ever had at least 162 RBI in a season. Manny Ramirez had 165 in 1999.
Most likely to have more RBI than team games in 2020?
Many of the names mentioned above would be fine picks here. Rendon I especially pondered with Trout and a leadoff man likely hitting in front of him all year. I'm gonna go with Nolan Arenado, though. In his five full seasons, his lowest RBI total is 110 and he's topped 130 three times.
1994: Frank Thomas had a 212 OPS+
Adjusted for ballpark, Thomas' OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) was 112 percent better than the league average. That is outrageous. In fact, aside from Bonds (2001-04), the only player to post an OPS+ of 210 or better since 1957 (Williams) was McGwire in 1998 at 216.
Most likely to post a 210-plus OPS+ in 2020?
I wanted to avoid doubling up, but it's Trout. He's led all of baseball four straight years (172, 186, 198 and 185, respectively). He's led the AL six of his eight full seasons. When he didn't lead, he sat at 179 and 168. Yeah, he's good.
1994: Greg Maddux had a 1.56 ERA
Since the mound was lowered after 1968 (when Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA), there has only been one full season starting pitcher with an ERA under 1.60. Dwight Gooden was at 1.53 in 276 2/3 innings in 1985, which is just ridiculous. Maddux in 1994 was sitting at 1.56 in 202 innings.
Most likely to have a sub-1.60 ERA in 2020?
C'mon, this is easy. Jacob deGrom was at 1.70 with a full season in 2018. In his last 13 starts last year, his ERA was 1.42.
1994: Bret Saberhagen posts 11 K/BB
In 177 1/3 innings, Saberhagen struck out 143 against just 13 walks, good for exactly 11 strikeouts for every walk. Since 1900, there have only been two full seasons in which a starter posted at least 10 strikeouts per walk. Phil Hughes was at 11.63 K/BB in 2014 and Cliff Lee had a 10.28 in 2010.
Most likely to post 10-plus K/BB in 2020?
DeGrom would be a great pick, but I don't wanna double up like I had to with Trout. Max Scherzer led baseball last year at 7.36 with Justin Verlander right on his tail. Yu Darvish in the second half had 108 strikeouts against seven walks, which is over FIFTEEN! Can he carry that over?Not sure, but I'm taking him. Darvish it is!
1994: Greg Maddux had 10 complete games
In just 25 starts, Maddux completed his game 10 times. He finished 40 percent of his starts! Amazing.
Most likely to finish 40 percent of his starts in 2020?
Lol. Nope. No one will come even close. I just wanted to end on a good laugh.