2020 numbers make history

Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series
Written by: Bill Francis

The 2020 Major League Baseball season will always be remembered for its coronavirus pandemic-induced 60-game regular season schedule, the outcome a result of concerns for the health and safety of players and employees.

“Major League Baseball is thrilled to announce that the 2020 season is on the horizon,” MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. said in a press release dated June 23, 2020. “We have provided the Players Association with a schedule to play 60 games and are excited to provide our great fans with Baseball again soon.”

With an unprecedented delay of Opening Day by four months, the historic campaign – which finished Sept. 27 – came to a conclusion with a number of unique individual league leaders from its truncated season. Although not the typical six-month marathon baseball fans are accustomed to, the numbers put up by the players will stand alongside other year’s marks.

And some will stand alongside a Hall of Famer.

Cleveland Indians right-hander Shane Bieber, 25, emerged as arguably the top pitcher in the game as he captured the rare “Pitching Triple Crown” – the 39th hurler to achieve the feat – topping the American League in wins (8), strikeouts (122) and earned run average (1.63). Bieber’s incredible season didn’t end there, as he also led the Junior Circuit in winning percentage (.889), hits per nine innings (5.353) and strikeouts per nine innings (14.198).

The list of past “Pitching Triple Crown” winners from the last 100 years includes such illustrious Hall of Fame names as Randy Johnson (2002), Pedro Martínez (1999), Steve Carlton (1972), Sandy Koufax (1963, 1965-66), Hal Newhouser (1945), Lefty Gomez (1934, 1937), Lefty Grove (1930-31), Walter Johnson (1913, 1918, 1924) and Dazzy Vance (1924). Bieber is just the second Indians pitcher after Hall of Famer Bob Feller to do so.

In 1940, Rapid Robert led the AL with 27 wins, a 2.61 ERA and 261 strikeouts. And Feller – who also tossed a no-hitter that season – was only 21 years old.

“Bobby Feller is the best pitcher in the game today,” said Cleveland manager Ossie Vitt in 1940. “The kid lost four or five games last season that were so heartbreaking they would bring tears to a rocking horse.”

When New York Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu won the 2020 AL batting title with a .364 average, he became the first player to capture a batting crown in each league since Hall of Fame outfielder Ed Delahanty more than a century ago. LeMahieu previously won a batting title with the Colorado Rockies in 2016, batting .348, while Delahanty won the 1899 NL batting title with the Philadelphia Phillies (.410) and 1902 AL batting title with the Washington Senators (.376).

The Sporting News once wrote of Delahanty: “He was among the greatest batters the game ever produced. Great batters, like poets, are born, not made.” Fellow Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy said, “(Delahanty) was a terrific slugger and one of the greatest hitters who ever lived.”

Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story is an acclaimed slugger who averaged 31 home runs and 87 RBI through his first four big league seasons (2016-19) and also averaged 16 stolen bases during the same timeframe. This year his 15 thefts led the NL, becoming the fourth player in franchise history to lead the league in stolen bases, joining Willy Taveras (68, 2008), Juan Pierre (46, 2001, tied with Jimmy Rollins) and Eric Young Sr. (53, 1996).

Story, who also homered 11 times in 2020, joined a select group of shortstops who have led their league in stolen bases while hitting at least 10 homers. Included on this list are Hall of Famers Honus Wagner (1908) and Luis Aparicio (1964), as well as José Reyes (2006-07), Jonathan Villar (2016), Jimmy Rollins (2001), Trea Turner (2018) and Bert Campaneris (1970).

"Almost every right-handed pitcher," Aparicio, who homered 10 times and stole 57 bases in 1964, told Sports Illustrated in 1960, "I watch the left shoulder, 95 percent. I've got the best jump. I got a real good start. I'm not very fast. But when I decide to go, I just go.

"But you can't steal every time. And when you're four or five runs behind or ahead, you don't have to steal,” added Aparicio, who led the AL in stolen bases nine consecutive years, from 1956 to 1964.

Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, at the age of 21, has proven to be one of the most productive and formidable hitters in the game. In already his third big league season, Soto led the way in the NL in batting average (.351), slugging percentage (.695) and on-base percentage (.490).

The Hall of Famer who most recently posted an OBP of at least .475 was longtime Seattle Mariners DH Edgar Martinez with a .479 mark in 1995, his first of three OBP crowns.

“When I hit well, I hit patient. I take a lot of pitches and look for a good one,” Martinez once said. "I think my biggest attribute is patience.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series