Players chasing some cool history

Clayton Kershaw

I don't know about you, but what I need right now is a Biogenesis-free zone, a trade-rumor-free zone, a few minutes where I can remind myself that an amazing baseball season is still taking place amid all that other noise.

So voila. I have taken it upon myself to create that zone. We have actual real-life players chasing actual major league history. No kidding. Feel free to briefly tear yourself away from Rumor Central and join us for our annual August History Watch.

Clayton Kershaw

Is this man a baseball player or a walking history book? We'd vote "history book" at this point. If Kershaw just keeps on doing that thing he does for another two months, he's heading for all these historic destinations:

Paging Walter Johnson: If you consult your handy league-leaders listings, you'll notice that Kershaw has the best strikeout ratio (11.01 per nine innings) in the National League. He also has the best walk ratio (just 1.19 per 9) in the NL. How special is that? Glad you asked.

On one hand, it's not as if nobody has ever led his league in both categories in the same year. On the other hand, the only other pitcher to do it since 1900 pulled off that feat as recently as, oh, 101 years ago. That would be Walter Johnson. In 1913. So that's the club -- Kershaw and the Big Train. Pretty cool.

Paging Unit, Mad Dog and Pedro: It's a pretty safe bet that, barring something wacky happening, Kershaw is going to win another Cy Young award this year. That would make four seasons in a row in which he finished either first (2011, '13 and this year) or second (2012).

So who else can say that in the history of this award? Only three modern legends named Greg Maddux (who won four in a row, 1992-95), Randy Johnson (also won four in a row, 1999-2002) and Pedro Martinez (first in the NL in 1997, second in the AL in '98, then first in '99 and 2000). If that's the group you're hanging around with, this just in: You're pretty good.

Paging Hal, Sandy and Mad Dog: For two straight years, you haven't needed a stat sheet to track Kershaw's ERA. You've needed an electron microscope. It was 1.83 last year. It's 1.82 this year. Friends, that's just insane.

Only three other pitchers in the live-ball era have ever spun back-to-back seasons in which they qualified for the ERA title and finished the year with an ERA under 2.00. You're probably familiar with their work: Maddux (1994-95), Sandy Koufax (1963-64) and Hal Newhouser (1945-46).

But how many pitchers in the live-ball era have had an ERA of 1.83 or lower in back-to-back years? Just Maddux (1.56 in '94, 1.63 in '95). And who's the last pitcher to spin off an ERA of 1.83 or better one year then have a lower ERA the next? That would be Eddie Cicotte -- in 1916-17. And that's just crazy.

Never mind, just page Mad Dog: Finally, there's this: If Kershaw goes six innings and gives up no more than four earned runs in his next trip to the mound, it means his ERA will be under 2.00 over his last 100 starts (dating all the way back to July 7, 2011). Yes, I said 100 starts. (He's at 1.96 over his last 99 at the moment.)

So who's the last pitcher to have a 100-start stretch (or longer) with an ERA tinier than 2.00? Who else? Maddux, of course. He had a 1.99 ERA over an incredible 132 starts, spanning the final month of 1991 and all of the next four seasons. All Kershaw has to do to beat that is keep this up for another year. That's all. But would anyone bet against him? Not me!

The Abreu Watch

Do we talk enough about Jose Abreu? I don't think we do. Here we have a guy heading for one of the greatest rookie seasons in history. And it's about time someone filled you in on just how great it is.

The 40-40 Rookie Club: There has been a rookie who hit 40 home runs ( Mark McGwire, who bopped 49). There have been a bunch of rookies who hit 40 doubles (most recently Ryan Zimmerman and Hanley Ramirez in 2006). Ah, but our man Abreu is on pace for 44 home runs and 40 doubles. You know how many rookies have ever done that? Not a one. Albert Pujols (47 doubles, 37 homers) came closest. And he didn't spend two weeks on the disabled list like this guy.

Extra, extra: Thanks to all those homers and doubles, Abreu would finish his rookie season with 85 extra-base hits if he keeps mashing at this rate for the rest of the year. While that's not unprecedented, it's still a feat that comes along only once every couple of decades. Want to hear the only five rookies in history who have ever thumped 85 or more? Here goes: Hal Trosky (89), Joe DiMaggio (88), Pujols (88), Ted Williams (86) and Nomar Garciaparra (85). Cool group.

Slugfest: In a related development, Abreu's slugging percentage is up to an outrageous .624. Our first attempt to put that in perspective: Among the hitters who have never slugged .624 in any season, we'd toss out the names of Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Braun. Even Miguel Cabrera has slugged .624 or better just once. But here's the best perspective: How many rookies have ever had a slugging percentage that high over a full season? None. The current record: .618, by McGwire.

So let me ask one more time: Do we talk enough about Jose Abreu? Nooooooo.

Trout fishing

Are we even allowed to do one of these History Watch columns without mentioning Mike Trout? Or course not. Here's just a sampling of what he's up to:

Run, run, run: In his rookie season, Trout led the AL in runs scored. In his second season, he also led the league in runs scored. And this season? Yep. He just caught Brian Dozier of the Twins to tie for the league lead again. Here's the first reason that's so cool: In the past 50 years, the only men ever to lead their league in runs three straight seasons were Pete Rose (1974-76) and Pujols (2003-05). I've heard of them. How 'bout you?

But here's the second reason it's so cool: In the past 100 years, these are the only men ever to lead the AL in runs scored three years in a row: Babe Ruth (twice), Ted Williams (1940-42) and Mickey Mantle (1956-58). Wait. Who?

.900 miles: Trout is also well on his way to his third consecutive season with an OPS over .900. (He's at .979 at the moment). In case no one had mentioned this in the last 30 seconds, he's only 22 years old (for another day, at least). Want to know the only players in history who ever ripped off at least three straight qualifying seasons with a .900-plus OPS by their age-22 season? The complete list consists of Mel Ott (four in a row, 1928-31), Williams (1939-41) and Jimmie Foxx (1928-30). More information about their exploits can be found hanging in a gallery in Cooperstown, New York.

Extra credit: All right, here's one more. Trout needs just another 12 extra-base hits to reach at least 75 for the second straight season. Once again, the list of players as young as Trout who have 75 or more extra-base hits in back-to-back seasons does not include a whole lot of Jose Vizcainos and Nick Puntos. In fact, it includes just these three names: DiMaggio, Williams and Pujols. Any minute now, Trout will pull right in alongside them.

So think of the names that have shown up next to Trout just in the last few paragraphs: Ruth, Williams, Mantle, DiMaggio, Ott, Foxx, Pujols and Rose. Should we just start carving Mike Trout's Hall of Fame plaque now -- or wait a couple of weeks?

More historians on parade

And don't forget these guys:

Jose Altuve: How can you not love Altuve? He leads the American League in batting average (.337). He also leads the league in steals (44). And at 5-foot-6, he practically makes Dustin Pedroia look like Shaq. So how many men in the past 90 years have won a batting title and a stolen-base title in the same year? Exactly three: Ichiro Suzuki (2001), Jackie Robinson (1949) and Snuffy Stirnweiss (1945). So let's all pull for Altuve, if only because he'll give us another chance to say the name Snuffy Stirnweiss.

Aroldis Chapman: Here's something I've astutely noticed this year: Chapman strikes out everybody. All right, technically he doesn't strike out every hitter he faces. But he's come closer than any reliever who ever lived. He has whiffed 53.1 percent of the hitters he has pitched to. And he is averaging 17.6 punchouts per nine innings. If you're thinking both of those numbers are unheard of, you're definitely paying attention. In 2012, Craig Kimbrel whiffed 50.2 percent of the hitters he faced and K'd 16.7 hitters per nine innings. For now, he's the only pitcher in history to work 30 innings or more and strike out at least half the hitters who showed up in the batter's box against him. No one else has fanned even 45 percent. But Chapman is over 53 percent. That just isn't fair. His numbers for the season: 69 strikeouts, 16 hits. Seriously?

Charlie Morton: Of all the history we usually chronicle in this space, hit by pitch history isn't normally one of those we-interrupt-this-program categories guaranteed to give you chills. But we're making an exception for Pirates pitcher Morton. He is up to 18 HBPs already this year, with somewhere in the vicinity of 10 starts remaining. Here's why you should care: No pitcher has drilled more than 21 hitters in any season since 1922 -- when Howard Ehmke hit 23. And nobody has plunked more than 23 since 1909, when Jack (Is Your Health Insurance Paid Up?) Warhop nailed 26. Are either of those numbers within Morton's, um, aim? Why not? He's hit at least one hitter in 14 of his 22 starts this year, so nothing's out of the question.

Troy Tulowitzki: Finally, we should make clear this isn't just a Tulo Watch. It's a Rockies Tag Team Watch. If Tulowitzki gets back on the field and finishes off his pursuit of the NL batting title, he will be the fourth Rockies hitter to win the batting title in the last eight seasons. (The others: Michael Cuddyer in 2013, Carlos Gonzalez in 2010 and Matt Holliday in 2007.) We know what you're thinking: Has any team ever had four different batting champs in an eight-year span? Correct answer: Of course not. In fact, the only teams in the last 50 years that even had three different batting champs that close together were the 2000-03 Red Sox ( Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez and Bill Mueller), the 1979-83 Red Sox (Fred Lynn, Carney Lansford and Wade Boggs) and 1960-66 Pirates (Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente and Matty Alou). Of course, none of those other teams got to play 81 games a year at Coors Field. But the August History Watch isn't responsible for that. We just chronicle history. It's up to you to add your own asterisks at home.

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