Maybe I Should Major Stats and Journalism?

I was looking at the very trusty MLB.com when I saw that The Cardinals had a 16-4 rout of the Pirates. Impressive, but not the most notable part of it.

Flashback: in 2000, Rick Ankiel was a young pitcher, very promising. Everyone had big expectations after a great regular season. Suddenly, one day, he loses it. Couldn’t hit a side of a barn with a pitch. One of those things psychological things. From time to time, you’ll hear about players that just lose it. A 2nd baseman, with his eyes open, can’t hit the 1st baseman maybe 60 feet from him. With his eyes closed, right into the glove. Anyways, he tries to tough it till the next season, but no good. Rick is out of the news, probably doomed to a minor league career, if even that good.

August 9th, 2007. Rick Ankiel is back, now playing outfield. It happens. Fun fact: Babe Ruth was actually a devastating pitcher before deciding he liked swinging the bat more, becoming perhaps the greatest slugger of all time. Anyways, first game back, Rick swings for the fences to please the crowd. Impressive.

Today, Rick goes 3 for 4, with a double, two home runs, and 7 runs batted in. Wow. I look at his season numbers. I knew I had to blog. Let’s take a look at how he’s done over 23 games, 81 at bats:

Batting average: .358. You’re a good contact hitter if you’re over .300. You’re setting history if you’re over .400, last done by Ted Williams in 1941. The MLB leaders (Rick doesn’t have enough at bats to count) , Magglio Ordonez and Ichiro Suzuki, have averages of .352 today.

Runs: 22. Well, in a full season, there are 162 games, and a regular hitter will get just about 600 at bats. In those, getting over 100 is a notable season. Let’s do some math on Rick’s numbers to project if he kept this up all season:
22 runs * 162 games / 23 games = 155 runs
OR
22 runs * 600 at bats / 81 at bats = 163 runs

That’s pretty good. How does that stack up against the best?
Alex Rodriguez, MLB leader: 127 runs, 138 games, 507 at bats
127 runs * 162 games / 138 games = 149 runs
OR
127 runs * 600 at bats / 507 at bats = 150 runs

Ouch. The record for modern day baseball was set by the Great Bambino at 177 runs in 1921. Rick’s doing okay in runs, which is helped by having Albert Pujols, batting behind him. But let’s keep going.

RBIs: This is the most common measure of a slugger. Just like runs, having over 100 is notable. Rick has 29. Thank goodness I have my calculator, right?
29 RBIs * 162 games / 23 games = 204 RBIs
OR
29 RBIs * 600 at bats / 81 at bats = 215 RBIs

Holy crap. That’s freaking amazing. I had to double-check on that one. Let’s compare, again, to the very impressive MLB leading A-Rod, who himself is almost an assured Hall of Famer and probably on track to beat Barry Bond’s all-time home run record.
A-Rod, MLB leader: 134 RBIs, 138 games, 507 at bats
134 RBIs * 162 games / 138 games = 157 RBIs
OR
134 RBIs * 600 at bats / 507 at bats = 158 RBIs

Not even close. I mean, 157.5 (uh, he only swung half the bat, and only got half the credit?) RBIs is very admirable in itself, and isn’t reached every season.
The record is from Hack Wilson, 1930, 191 RBIs. Yup. No one has even gotten over 200. Let’s keep the ball rolling.

Home runs: the most glamorous of stats. It’s hard to get the same joy when you see a ball dribble into the outfield as a guy runs back to the pentagon as when a ball makes a beautiful arc, over the fences, and (hopefully) into a fan’s hands. Over 30 home runs is good news. Rick has 9. Once more…
9 HR * 162 games / 23 games = 63 HR
OR
9 HR * 600 at bats / 81 at bats = 67 HR

He doubles a very admirable number again. Very nice. And who else than A-Rod to represent the rest of baseball, today?
A-Rod, MLB leader: 48 HR, 138 games, 507 at bats
48 HR * 162 games / 138 games = 56 HR
OR
48 HR * 600 at bats / 507 at bats = 57 HR

That’s the closest of all of them, but yet, Rick is still ahead. Let’s look at the progression of history, though. Babe Ruth, in 1927, hit 60 home runs. That’s amazing. It stood for 34 years until Roger Maris hit 61 (Rick’s still ahead). That stood for another 37 years when in 1998, Mark McGwire (okay, maybe it was his ‘roids, not the man himself) hit 70, and I think we all remember what a hectic, crazy race that was. Then, in 2001, Barry Bonds hits 73. In history, only 5 players have ever hit over 60 home runs in a season (Ruth once, Maris once, McGwire twice, Bonds twice, and Sammy Sosa thrice).

Yes, this is probably unrealistic. Baseball players are notorious for hot and cold streaks, and it’s unlikely that Rick could keep up his performance for a full season. He came up hot, he’s backed by one of the best hitters today (Pujols), the fans love him, and his team is in the playoff chase. Injuries happen, slumps are hard to get out of, and players get tired. And some of them develop psychological problems.
But wow. I thought the extrapolation would turn out pretty for Rick, but I’m still blown away, especially by the RBIs. He hasn’t proven himself to be a reliable hitter, and who knows if he’ll have a similar problem as before. Regardless, I’m keeping my eye on him.

(All extrapolated stats were rounded to the nearest whole number. All stats for Rick and A-Rod are from www.mlb.com today, and almost all of the historical facts are from my head. Double-checked on wikipedia.)

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