Numbers speak to me.
All my life, I've been fascinated by numbers, especially baseball statistics. Just like the written word, stats spin their own baseball tales, and as I grew up increasingly mesmerized by our great game, it was the numbers that had me most captivated.
Even as I began my career an art student, baseball always lurked beneath. For more than 10 years, I told myself that "when I grew up," I'd be a cartoonist, but I think I always knew deep down I was meant to write about baseball.
During the 1996 season, at a time when I was working lengthy hours to complete my senior-year portfolio, I always had a separate computer screen open to an early version of ESPN's game tracker, to keep up with the games.
When Jim Leyritz hit that game-tying home run in Game 4 of the World Series, at what had to be approaching midnight on the East Coast, I was in disbelief. I had to refresh my computer page perhaps a dozen times in order to confirm the report wasn't in error; needless to say, I hope there weren't any members of the cleaning staff around at the time a friend of mine and I were screaming in joy at the top of our lungs up and down the corridors of the building that housed the computer lab. I packed up my things, risking not finishing my work the following morning, to race home and catch the end of the game.
After college, my first job in the graphic design field was with a series of sports preview magazines; even then it was clear that baseball had me hooked. In fact, it was a baseball layout that I created in college -- a championship poster for the 1996 New York Yankees, including all sorts of statistics from that World Series -- that was one of the attention-grabbing pieces that helped land me the job.
A year later, when those same magazines sought a fantasy baseball columnist with a limited budget with which to do so, I volunteered.
Eighteen years later, I'm still spinning tales with statistics, and loving every minute.
You'll read many statistical facts from me on these pages, and hear many more on our Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast. These numbers come from a winter's worth of extensive player research, contained in a notebook I keep for hundreds -- nearly thousands -- of players annually. They help me drive my opinions on players, and today, it's time to share some of the best with you.
Some of these might sway your opinion, too, while others might not. After all, we can spin whatever tale we want with numbers, good or bad, and sometimes, the numbers themselves serve nothing more than to greater inform you about a particular player. Most of these drove my opinions in a certain direction, but I'm sharing them today to afford you the chance to make your own decisions.
But this season, I'm taking a different approach with my "Facts to Know" column. As numbers tell tales, so do the facts below. You'll find that, just as with any story, each fact has a natural bridge to the next, be it teammates, common statistics, trade partners or any of several other common bonds. All 30 teams are represented.
I'll begin with the player who drew the most feedback of any of my buys from this past weekend's League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) American League auction, Miguel Sano, who cost me $21. At the time, I firmly believed it was an outstanding buy, but maybe the facts say otherwise ...
Miguel Sano's 35.5 percent strikeout rate last season was 13th-highest in history among players who came to the plate at least 300 times in a season. (By the way, that's not exclusive to rookies or 22-year-olds -- that's everybody.) His .269 batting average was also the highest of any player with at least 300 plate appearances and a 33.3 percent K rate (that means a minimum of one whiff every three PAs), and it was driven by a .396 batting average on balls in play.
After striking out in 33.9 percent of his trips to the plate between the majors and minors in 2014, seventh-highest of any pro, Javier Baez cut his whiff rate to 24.5 percent between the majors and minors in 2015. That 9.4 percent improvement was the second-best among any professional baseball player who had at least 400 plate appearances in both seasons, behind only Nick Williams (28.6 percent to 18.8, 9.8 percent improvement).
Kyle Schwarber is only the 10th player in the past 100 years to manage at least 16 home runs and 36 walks through his first 69 career games. He is the only one of the 10 to have caught a single one of those 69 games; he caught 21 games and totaled five home runs and eight walks while playing that position.
In 2015, Kris Bryant became only the 17th player in history to manage at least 25 home runs, .200 isolated power and a 10 percent walk rate during their rookie seasons. Among some of the other names on the list: Joe Gordon, Albert Pujols, Al Rosen, Mike Trout, Ted Williams.
Only two players last season hit at least 30 home runs while striking out in fewer than 15 percent of their trips to the plate: Anthony Rizzo and Pujols.
Jon Lester made nine starts of seven or more innings and two or fewer runs allowed in which he failed to notch a win -- an individual win -- tying him with Shelby Miller for the most in the majors in 2015. Lester's Chicago Cubs averaged better than the league average in runs per game (4.253, compared to 4.250), while Miller's Atlanta Braves averaged a major league-worst 3.54.
During one stretch of 2015, Miller went 24 consecutive starts without notching a win. Only Jack Nabors (27 straight in 1916) had a lengthier such streak within a single year. During the first 19 starts of Miller's stretch of futility, he had 12 quality starts and a 3.13 ERA, which ranked 21st and 28th in baseball (the latter out of 86 qualifiers). Miller also finished the year with a major league-leading 16 quality starts that failed to result in a win for him.
But we all already knew about Miller's futility streak, right? What we might not have known: Jose Quintana matched Miller's 16 winless quality starts, which put him and Miller only one shy of the eight individuals who are tied with the most in the past 100 seasons. Quintana also had an American League-leading seven quality-start losses.
Three times last season, Chris Sale tossed a game of at least eight innings pitched and allowed one earned run or fewer -- and failed to earn a win (individually), most in the majors. One of these games was an eight-inning, two-hit, 14-strikeout, zero-run performance against the Texas Rangers on June 19.
In that game, Joey Gallo struck out four times in four trips to the plate, one of three occasions on which he whiffed at least that many times in a single game last season. He totaled 123 PAs in the majors, which was 303 fewer than any of the seven other players to have at least as many "Golden Sombrero" (four strikeout) games had (Steven Souza, four games, 426 PAs). Gallo was demoted to Triple-A Round Rock 11 days later, and from that point forward, including his September recall by the Texas Rangers, he batted .190 with a 41.1 percent strikeout rate, significantly beneath his .265 and 34.5 career numbers as a professional before that point (which includes his June big league stint).
From June 30 forward, Adrian Beltre batted .310/.367/.497 with 12 home runs and 63 RBIs in 85 games, ranking first/fourth/sixth (triple-slash ranks), 10th (tied, in home runs) and second (in RBI) among third basemen. In his final 50 games, Beltre batted .344/.394/.564 with 53 RBIs, ranking fifth in batting average and first in RBIs among all players during that time span. Beltre also has the second-most seasons with at least 25 home runs and 90 RBIs among active third basemen (6), behind only Alex Rodriguez (7).
A-Rod's 33 home runs last season were the sixth-most by any player aged 39 or older in a single season in history, and they were also the third-most by any player aged 35 or older who missed at least half of his team's scheduled games the previous year. Jim Thome (42 as a 35-year-old in 2006) and Frank Thomas (39 as a 38-year-old in 2006) hit 35 and 26 home runs in their follow-up seasons.
David Ortiz is the only player in history to manage at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in each of his age 37, 38 and 39 seasons. Nobody in baseball history has ever managed to reach those thresholds at the age of 40 or older; Ortiz will begin the 2016 campaign aged 40 years, four months and 17 days.
Only 11 players during the expansion era (1961 forward) managed at least .175 isolated power and a 12.5 percent strikeout rate or better in a season at the age of 22 or younger. In 2015, Mookie Betts (.188 ISO, 12.5 K percentage) became the first such player to do so since Pujols in 2002.
Xander Bogaerts boosted his batting average by 80 points last season, hitting .320 after a .240 performance in 2014, with both of those being batting title-eligible campaigns. He was only the 13th hitter to improve his batting average by that many points in the past 50 years (both years qualified), and only the 24th to do so in the past century. Justin Morneau (82-point increase from 2005-06) was the last player to do it. Bogaerts did it by boosting his batting average on pitches in the bottom third and within the strike zone to .321; he had a second-worst-in-the-majors .186 batting average on those pitches in 2014.
Yangervis Solarte, the only player with a worse such mark than Bogaerts in 2014, managed a .292 batting average, nine home runs and 31 RBIs after the All-Star break last season. He was one of only three third baseman to manage at least those numbers in all three categories during that time span.
Tyson Ross' worst Bill James Game Score in a single one of his 33 starts last season was 38 -- be aware that 50 typically represents a "quality start" measure on that scale -- and it was his only game beneath 45 all year. For a comparison, Clayton Kershaw had two starts of worse than a 38 Game Score, and three beneath 45.
We could publish an entirely separate version of "Tristan's Facts to Know" centering upon only Kershaw. He's that good ... not that you didn't know that, but for those feeling hesitant to spend a top-five overall draft pick or around $40 in an NL-only auction bid to secure his services, here's a "Cliffs Notes" edition:
Kershaw's 33.8 percent strikeout rate in 2015 was the seventh-best by an ERA-qualified pitcher in a single year in history, and he's only the third individual to whiff at least one-third of the batters he has faced in an ERA-qualified season, joining Randy Johnson (37.4 percent in 2001; 34.7, 2000; 34.2, 1997; 34.0, 1995) and Pedro Martinez (37.5 percent in 1999; 34.8, 2000).
Kershaw also posted a 1.99 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching score) in 2015, to follow up on his 1.81 in 2014. He was the first pitcher to manage a sub-two, ERA-qualified FIP in consecutive years since Walter Johnson did it in three straight from 1915-17.
Kershaw has also finished in our Player Rater top 10 in each of the past five seasons; he is the only player who can claim that. He has also finished third (2013), second (2014) and third (2015) in the past three years. The only other players who can claim even two top-10 Player Rater finishes in the past three seasons are Trout, Max Scherzer, Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt and Carlos Gomez.
Following his trade to the Houston Astros, Carlos Gomez attempted a steal on 26 percent of his total opportunities, as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com. To put that number into perspective, Gomez's career rate before the time of his trade was 24 percent, and the top 10 in the category in 2015 combined managed 22 percent.
Let's play the comparison game, shall we?
First up are two players' stats through their first 99 career big league games:
Player A: .279/.345/.512, 9.3 BB%, 18.1 K%, 22 HR, 68 RBI, 14 SB
Player B: .299/.357/.497, 7.7 BB%, 20.8 K%, 15 HR, 52 RBI, 26 SB
Player A is Carlos Correa. Player B is Trout.
More on Carlos Correa: He had .233 isolated power as a 20-year-old rookie in 2015. In the history of baseball, only six players had better in a qualified season played at 20 years old or younger. Three of them are Hall of Famers: Mel Ott (.306, 1929, age 20), Ted Williams (.281, 1939, age 20) and Frank Robinson (.267, 1956, age 20). One is an active player with Hall of Fame credentials but performance-enhancing drug-related questions: Alex Rodriguez (.273, 1996, age 20). One is arguably the best active player in the game, Trout (.238, 2012, age 20). And one is a player whose career path was altered due to catastrophic injury: Tony Conigliaro (.244, 1965, age 20, and .240, 1964, age 19).
Nobody in baseball in 2015 took more called third strikes on pitches that were actually outside the strike zone than Colby Rasmus (25), and his league-leading total was seven greater than the next-most in the category.
Yovani Gallardo enjoyed the second-most "lucky strike" calls -- the kind that, for example, went against Rasmus -- in 2015, getting 152 called strikes on pitches thrown outside the strike zone. By the way, the only pitcher to have more was Dallas Keuchel (167).
Speaking of Keuchel's "lucky strike" success, conversely, he threw 61 "unlucky calls" -- pitches thrown within the strike zone that were called balls -- in 2015, resulting in a 2.74:1 "favorable call" ratio that also ranked highest in baseball. This is one thing to keep in mind if you're looking too closely at Keuchel's 23.7 percent strikeout rate, which was more than four percent higher than he had in any previous professional year.
Flipping this around, no pitcher had a greater number of calls go against him than Garrett Richards, who threw 116 pitches within the strike zone that were called balls. Of those, 30 were sliders. The significance of the sliders stat is that Richards is one of the pitchers most reliant upon breaking balls against left-handed batters. He had 107 strikeouts of left-handed batters, fifth-most among right-handed pitchers, and 79 came on breaking balls.
No hitter benefited from more generous calls last season than Carlos Santana, who had a major league-leading 130 pitches within the strike zone against him called balls.
From the date of Francisco Lindor's major league debut on June 14 forward, Carlos Carrasco had an ERA a run and a quarter lower (3.12) than before that date (4.38). Carrasco, incidentally, had the Cleveland Indians' highest qualified ground-ball rate (51.9 percent of all balls in play).
Only two pitchers have managed at least a 50 percent ground-ball rate in six different ERA-qualifying seasons out of the past seven: Rick Porcello (2009-14) and Felix Hernandez (2009-11, 2013-15). Only seven pitchers in the past half-century, meanwhile, totaled more career innings pitched before their 30th birthdays than Hernandez (2,261 2/3). These seven pitchers -- Bert Blyleven (2,840 2/3), Catfish Hunter (2,651 1/3), Ken Holtzman (2,355), Vida Blue (2,352 1/3), Fernando Valenzuela (2,347 1/3), Joe Coleman (2,312 2/3) and Don Sutton (2,288) -- averaged only 169 career starts from their 30th birthdays forward, though three of them -- Blyleven, Blue and Sutton -- had sub-three, title-qualifying ERAs during their age-30 seasons (Hernandez's age in 2016).
From July 5 forward, Robinson Cano batted .326/.379/.529, with 16 home runs, 52 RBIs and 49 runs scored in 78 games. The significance of that date is that it was the day a USA Today report was released in which Cano admitted that for nearly 11 months, he had been battling a stomach ailment that had sapped his energy.
During the full year, Cano also hit the most line drives that were judged off the bat by our pitch-tracking service as "hard contact" last season with 69. Gregory Polanco had the second-most, with 66.
Mark Melancon managed a major league-leading 32 "easy" saves, per the Bill James Handbook. Still, from the 2014 All-Star break through the end of last season, he had a major league-leading 68 saves and a 1.95 ERA that ranked 10th-best among relievers with at least 75 innings pitched.
Wade Davis' major league-leading ERA during that same time span was 0.90. He also had a 1.00 ERA in 2014 and 0.94 ERA in 2015, giving him two of the 15 seasons of a 1.00 ERA or better in baseball history, among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched. He is the only pitcher with multiple such years.
Jake Odorizzi enjoyed the fourth-largest overall velocity increase in 2015 (all pitches included) among ERA qualifiers in each of the past two seasons, with 1.1 mph gained; he averaged 86.7 mph in 2014 and 87.8 mph in 2015. The only pitchers with greater increases were Max Scherzer (+2.0 mph), Shelby Miller (+1.2) and Sonny Gray (+1.2).
On Aug. 13 last season, Sonny Gray boasted a 2.06 ERA, the best among qualifiers in the American League and third in the majors overall. The significance of that date was that he was scratched from a start due to back spasms, and his ERA ballooned to 5.05 in his eight starts afterward.
From last Aug. 1 forward, Khris Davis hit 20 home runs, tied for second-most in the majors behind only (and coincidentally) Chris Davis (22), and his .323 isolated power was fifth-best among qualifiers.
Captain Consistency: Edwin Encarnacion, who tied Davis' Aug. 1-forward mark with 20 home runs, was also the only player in baseball to manage at least 30 home runs, 90 RBIs and a 10 percent walk rate in each of the past four seasons. He also had seven individual months of at least eight home runs during that four-year span, tied for the second-most by any player behind only Miguel Cabrera (eight different months). Encarnacion was also the only player in baseball to amass at least 150 home runs and 300 walks in the past four seasons combined.
Jose Bautista was one of only 12 players in baseball history to manage at least 150 home runs, .250 isolated power and a 15 percent walk rate during his age 30-34 seasons combined. Bautista tied Pujols and Nolan Arenado (35) for the most pulled home runs in baseball last season.
Nobody in baseball had a greater rate of baserunners driven home last season than Arenado. He plated 91 of the 412 baserunners on board for his plate appearances, for a rate of 22.1 percent.
Kendrys Morales came to the plate with an average of 0.687 baserunners on board for him in 2015, the eighth-highest rate in the majors. He drove home 20 percent of them -- 88 of 439 -- which was the fourth-highest rate. He was the only player in baseball to rank among the top 10 in both of these categories.
Marcus Semien resided on the opposite end of that scale, plating only 32 of the 393 baserunners on board for him, or 8.1 percent.
Jeff Samardzija surrendered 125 fly balls and outfield line drives to right field combined, fourth-most in the majors, in 2015. AT&T Park, his new home, has been the worst ballpark for left-handed power the past five seasons combined.
Johnny Cueto was one of only six pitchers in baseball with at least 500 innings pitched of a sub-three ERA in the past five seasons combined, and he had the lowest strikeout rate of any of the six (20.7 percent of batters faced). The major league average strikeout rate from 2011-15, incidentally, was 19.8 percent. Cueto had more games of lower than a 25 Game Score (3) in his 17 starts following his trade to the Kansas City Royals than he had games of an 80 plus Game Score (2), though his final start for them was an 80 Game Score performance against the New York Mets in Game 2 of the World Series.
Cueto defeated Jacob deGrom in that game, with deGrom posting a 38 Game Score, his fifth-worst in any of his 56 career big league starts. Even if you include that game, though, deGrom has a 2.63 career ERA, which is the fifth-best by any pitcher since the date of his big league debut on May 15, 2014.
Matt Harvey's 216 combined innings pitched between the regular season and postseason in 2016 were the most by any pitcher in his first season immediately following Tommy John surgery (postseason included). Despite this, in Harvey's 16 starts after the All-Star break (postseason included), he had a 2.41 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 106 strikeouts, which ranked fourth, seventh and tied for 13th among qualifiers during that time span. For the season, Harvey also managed a 95.8 mph average fastball, second fastest among ERA-qualified pitchers behind only Yordano Ventura (96.3 mph). That 95.8 mph average was identical to Harvey's number in 2013 before his surgery.
Aroldis Chapman's 99.4 mph average fastball was highest among relief pitchers. Arodys Vizcaino, meanwhile, averaged 97.7 mph with his fastball from Aug. 1 forward, which ranked fifth behind Chapman among pitchers who threw at least 150 fastballs. That helped him to a 1.82 ERA, nine saves and a 28.2 percent strikeout rate. Only Chapman and Jeurys Familia had better statistics in all three categories during that same two-month time span.
On the morning of June 18, Freddie Freeman had .220 isolated power and a .231 well-hit average. The only two qualified hitters in baseball who had better in both categories at that point were Bryce Harper (.381 and .245) and Paul Goldschmidt (.316 and .256). After Freeman's return, he managed a .264 weighted on-base average against left-handed pitchers, which was 66 points worse than his career number in the category against lefties through last June 17.
Ryan Howard had a .189 wOBA against left-handed pitchers last season, worst among batting title-eligible first basemen and second-worst among players at any position. Howard also had the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio among batting title-eligible first basemen last season (5.11:1), and that number ranked fifth-worst among players at any position.
Joey Votto had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio among first basemen (0.94:1), and he ranked fourth in the category among players at any position. Votto has five different batting title-eligible seasons in his career during which his on-base percentage was at least .400. Only Pujols (9), Miguel Cabrera (6) and Joe Mauer (6) have more among active players.
Cabrera is the major league's leader in batting average (.334), slugging percentage (.579) and well-hit average (.274) in the past five seasons combined.
J.D. Martinez hit more opposite-field home runs the past two seasons combined than any other player (22). Martinez also was one of only eight players with at least 450 plate appearances in each of the past two seasons to both increase his fly ball rate by at least five percent while lowering his ground ball rate by at least five percent from 2014-15. The others were Elvis Andrus, Jay Bruce, Lorenzo Cain, Matt Carpenter, Adam Eaton, Todd Frazier and Gerardo Parra.
Andrus' 217 stolen bases during his seven-year major league career are fourth-most during that time span, but are 53 behind the leader during that time, Rajai Davis. Davis also had the most stolen bases of anyone in baseball during the past six seasons combined (229). He, however, trailed Dee Gordon by nine stolen bases for the lead (188-179) if we narrow the scope to only the past five seasons.
Gordon is the only player in baseball to leg out a hit on at least 20 percent of his soft-hit infield ground balls in each of the past three seasons.
After Marcell Ozuna's Aug. 15 call-up from Triple-A New Orleans by the Miami Marlins, the outfielder managed a 38.9 percent ground ball rate, 14.9 percent lower than his big league rate from the beginning of 2015 until that date (53.8 percent). That 14.9 percent decline was the most in the majors. Ozuna's teammate, Christian Yelich, managed a 54.1 percent ground ball rate after that date, and 66.5 percent before it, his 12.4 percent drop third-most in the majors. Yelich returned from a DL stint for a bruised right knee on Aug. 25. The Marlins moved in and lowered their outfield fences this winter, moving them in by as many as 11 feet in some places, and lowering them by six feet in some spots.
On the morning of June 27, 2015, Giancarlo Stanton boasted .341 isolated power and a .248 well-hit average (that's the rate of hard contact per at-bat), trailing only Harper among qualified hitters. The significance of that date is that it was a day after Stanton's final game of the season, as he elected to have season-ending surgery on the hamate bone in his left hand.
Harper in 2015 became only the 27th player in history to manage a season with at least 40 home runs, 80 extra-base hits, 100 walks and .300 isolated power. He did it at age 22; Mel Ott (1929, age 20) was the only player to do it at a younger age. Of the other 26 players to accomplish the feat, Harper had the fewest RBIs (99) in the season in question.
In 10 starts from Aug. 8 forward, Stephen Strasburg managed a 1.90 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 37.4 percent strikeout and 3.3 percent walk rate. Those ranked fourth, second, first and second in the majors among qualifiers. The significance of that date? It was Strasburg's first day back from a DL stint for a left oblique strain.
Gio Gonzalez's .343 batting average allowed on balls in play last season was the highest by any ERA-qualified pitcher -- it takes at least 162 innings to qualify -- since Porcello afforded .345 in 2012.
Marco Estrada had the lowest batting average allowed on balls in play last season (.216), which was the lowest such number by an ERA qualifier since Jeff Robinson afforded .208 for the 1988 Detroit Tigers. Zack Greinke's .229 BABIP was second-lowest, and it was the fifth-lowest number in the past quarter-century, behind Estrada, Jeremy Hellickson (.223, 2011), Chris Young (.226, 2006) and Curt Schilling (.227, 1992).
Greinke's 86.5 percent left on base percentage -- that's the percentage of runners he allowed on base that he subsequently stranded there -- was also the highest in the majors last season by nearly four full percentage points, and it was the fifth-highest in more than a century.
Jeremy Jeffress' 95.3 mph average fastball velocity was the highest of any Milwaukee Brewers pitcher who threw at least 100 fastballs in 2015. In addition, from Aug. 1 forward, he had a 1.40 ERA and 12 holds, which ranked 10th and fifth (tied) among relievers with at least 20 innings during that time span.
Despite missing 59 games last season, Jonathan Lucroy is one of three catchers with at least a .280 batting average, 200 extra-base hits and 50 home runs in the past five years combined. Buster Posey and Yadier Molina are the others. Only 12 catchers in history had a greater contact rate while hitting more home runs in their careers than Molina (89.7 percent contact rate, 100 homers).
Randal Grichuk's average exit velocity -- this is his average launch speed off the bat -- was 94.5 mph in 2015, the fifth-highest in baseball. He also ranked seventh in the majors in well-hit average -- this is the percentage of his balls in play that resulted in hard contact -- among players with at least 300 plate appearances with a .204 mark. Among the four players who had a greater average exit velocity than Grichuk were Stanton (99.1 mph, first), Miguel Cabrera (95.1 mph, second), Greg Bird (94.5 mph, fourth) and ... Sano (94.9 mph, third). See, I knew there was some reason to be optimistic about Sano! Oh, wait! There's also this supporting fact, which takes us full circle:
Sano is one of only three players in the past 100 seasons to register at least 18 home runs and 50 walks in his first 80 big league games (Don Hurst, 19 and 60; and Alvin Davis, 18 and 53). Sano had 18 homers and 53 walks.