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May 16, 2006
If it seems to you that the Twins have been allowing a lot of hits, well, they have. Four White Sox players had three each against Minnesota yesterday as Chicago totaled 13 in their 7-3 victory. Surrendering 13 hits isn't an act of outrageous largesse but when it becomes a fairly typical act--as it has for the 2006 Twins--then they've got a problem. Based on what they've given up so far, they could find themselves at the top of this list if things keep going apace:
Most hits allowed since 1962
1,794: 2006 Minnesota Twins (projected)
Rockies? '96 Tigers? Last year's Reds and Royals ranking eighth and ninth? Topping that crowd is rough stuff. (The first team on the list outside of the '90s/'00s hitting renaissance are the 1983 California Angels who rank 11th with 1,636.) Of course, barring some incredible shift even further into the offensive realm than we already are, nobody will ever top the 1930 Phillies, a team that allowed over 13 hits per nine innings and totaled 1,993.
Minnesota is allowing a hit more per nine innings than any other team. The only Twins who have allowed fewer than a hit per nine are Joe Nathan and Dennis Reyes and they've totaled just 20 innings between them. Juan Rincon is close, too. Considering that Minnesota has also surrendered the third-most home runs in baseball (53, behind Cincinnati and Toronto), it is only their famous control that is keeping them from being sucked completely into oblivion. They're actually walking fewer batters per game than they did last season when they had the lowest figure in baseball with 348.
The living embodiment of this extreme is Carlos Silva who walks a batter every other start but gives up hits like he was the Midwest promotions man for the Louisville Slugger Company. The Twins were faced with two choices: make a run for the top rung on the list above or make changes to ensure they do not. Yesterday they announced that Francisco Liriano would make the great leap from bullpen to rotation with Silva going back to the bullpen salt mines. Will this one act be enough to get the Twins out of the top spot? Probably not. Figure that had Silva completed his full slate of starts while coughing up his usual 14 or 15 hits per nine, he would have added another 228 hits to the kitty. (His starts are deservedly very short.) He's going to allow hits in the bullpen. Even throwing him a bit of a reliever's discount, he'll give up about 60 in 40 innings of work. That takes the figure down to 168 hits before figuring in his replacement.
Meanwhile, if we assume one hit per nine for Liriano (what he's done in the majors so far) we're looking at about 150 or 160 hits over the course of 24 average-length starts. In other words, putting Silva in the bullpen with even a modest workload won't help the Twins hit total that much--which is beside the point, really. Liriano is an upgrade that had to be made. Now, if they could clone him and get Kyle Lohse out of the rotation too, there might be hope yet. Ultimately, everybody will settle down and the Twins hits/9 will regress toward the mean and they won't meet that lofty projection. If they knock a half-hit/9 off their rate over the last 124 games of the season, they'll finish with 1,723, still good for second-most. If they can pare a full hit per game, they'll be down to 1,671. That's still top 10 action.
Of course, it's all moot if they don't start scoring some runs.
Last month, we looked at the most frequent box score batting lines. One that we certainly didn't cover occurred in Sunday's Cubs-Padres game. Chicago pitchers walked Brian Giles five times, resulting in a line of 0 2 0 0. It should have been 0 3 0 0, but the umpires called Giles out for leaving too early on a sacrifice fly when replays showed he did not. An 0 2 0 0 line is pretty rare--not as rare as 0 3 0 0, though.
I've always considered Joe Morgan to be the king of the weird line--although it would be fun to see evidence to the contrary. He walked a lot and, being fast and followed by guys who could hit very, very well, he was a better bet to score than most when he got on base. Here are three fun lines he put up while with the Reds. On July 27, 1973, Morgan walked four times and scored on each occasion for a line of 0 4 0 0. (He was taken out and his replacement, Larry Stahl, hit a sac fly, giving the two-hole in the 12-2 victory over the Braves a total line of 0 4 0 1.) On May 7, 1975, Morgan walked four times against the Padres and posted a line of 0 3 0 0. On June 30, 1977, Morgan trotted out one of the weirdest lines ever. The Giants walked him three times and he also reached on a force play and a Giants error. He scored all five times for a line of 2 5 0 0.
It's all about the follow-up
The White Sox are off to a roaring start compared to anybody, let alone a defending World Champion, but they're holding their own there, too. Here are the records of the past decade's champs 37 games into the following season:
2005 White Sox: 25-12
No defending champion of the past 50 years has had a better record than the '06 Sox. One team managed to match them: the 1989 A's were also 25-12 after 37 games the following year and went on to win 103. The way the Tigers are playing, the Sox might have to win that many to stay ahead of them. Over the past five decades, the average defending World Champion has gone 20-17 the following year. So far in '06, the White Sox are not playing way above their adjusted record as they did last year, either. They are looking more and more like a 100-win team.
Uneasy lies the crown of Earl Webb yet again
While many eyes are focused on Barry Bonds' pursuit of Babe Ruth's second-best career home run mark, another drama is unfolding that may impact a long-held top spot. Someday, Earl Webb is going to cough up his single-season doubles record. Over the last decade, nine players have come within 80 percent of his record 67, set while with the Red Sox in 1931. It seems that every other year or so, a player gets the doubles bit in his mouth and makes a charge at Webb, only to tail off in the end. Say what you will about the ridiculously-named "Steroid Era," but its denizens have yet to unseat Webb, the King of the Two-Bagger.
This year's main challenger is the resurgent Mike Lowell with 19 doubles through play on Monday. I question how badly Lowell wants the record, though. Last night he split the right and centerfielders with a drive that most players would have used as an excuse to walk into second base. Not Lowell: he hustled to third for a stand-up triple.
It might also be difficult to maintain the pace being so reliant on his home park for support. So far, he's had 13 doubles at home in 57 at bats while just six on the road in 73. (The doubles are his only XBH at home. His four homers and last night's triple have come on the road.)
Some recent challenges to Webb that have fallen short:
Edgar Martinez, 1996: By the end of June, Martinez had 39 doubles in the 78 games in which he had appeared. At that pace, he would have coasted to the record. He was on the Disabled List for three weeks, though and only hit 13 more in the remaining 61 games he played.
Todd Helton, 2000: Helton entered play on September 1 with 53 doubles, a pace of 65 for an entire season. He then proceeded to hit one over the next 14 games and finished with 59. It was still the highest total since 1936. Helton actually hit more doubles on the road (31) than he did at Coors.
Craig Biggio, 1999: At 40, Biggio is himself on pace to pop about 60 doubles in 2006. Seven years ago, he had a pretty good shot at the record heading into play in July. By that point, he had 45 two-baggers with 58 games to go, a pace that would have put him right around Webb's mark. Instead, he hit just 11 more and finished with 56. Meanwhile, he continues to climb the career doubles chart. He began the year in 12th place with 604 and has already passed Paul Molitor and Paul Waner. Next in his way is Hank Aaron at 624. Barring injury, Biggio looks like a good bet to finish the season with the seventh-highest doubles total, ahead of Honus Wagner and behind Carl Yastrzemski. One more season after this will land him in the top five, ahead of George Brett's 665. Number four is Ty Cobb at 724. As resilient as he is, that's a bit of a stretch.
Mike Sweeney, 2001: By the end of May, Sweeney had amassed 27 doubles--one for every two games in which he appeared. He reverted to normal after that, hitting just 19 more on the season. Don't be surprised if Lowell follows this track.
Carlos Delgado, 2000: Delgado hit a ton of doubles in July (19) and ended the month with 40, a pace that would have landed him in the 60 range. Ultimately, that's about where he ended up, finishing with 57.
John Olerud, 1993: At the end of play on July 24, the Helmeted One had 41 doubles with 61 games to go--about enough to get him right to Webb's number. He hit just 12 more the rest of the way.