MLB in 2024: 25 numbers that define baseball and set the stage for this season

I love numbers. You’ve probably noticed that. But have I ever explained why?

In baseball, every number tells a story. That’s why.

So this is the column where I let the numbers tell the story of the baseball season that’s about to unfold. You can thank me later — right after you finish this 2024 edition of The Numbers That Define Baseball.

The Magic Number: 64

WHAT IT MEANS: Would you believe there were 64 pitchers who threw a pitch at least 100 mph last season? I’m no math major, but that means that if your team doesn’t have multiple dudes who can light up triple digits, you’re not even trying — because the average team now has two of them. That. Is. Wild.

Fun fact: Two teams had five pitchers who hit 100 mph last year. Bet you can’t name them. They were (of course) the A’s (Mason Miller, Joe Boyle, Luis Medina, Lucas Erceg, Shintaro Fujinami) and the Angels (Carlos Estevez, Ben Joyce, Reynaldo Lopez, Jose Soriano and some guy named Ohtani).

Fun fact No. 2: Only three teams employed no pitchers who threw 100: the Mets, Red Sox and Rockies.

Fun fact No. 3: As recently as 2018, only 37 pitchers were clocked throwing 100-plus. I’m assuming that back in, say, 1958, there were none. But Statcast was on the fritz that season. So we’re just sticking to documentable facts around here.

The Magic Number: 19

WHAT IT MEANS: Once there was a time when only relief pitchers — plus Nolan Ryan, if he was in the neighborhood — threw 100. So much for those days. Last year, 19 starting pitchers were recorded by Statcast launching fastballs at 100 mph or swifter. More proof that it’s really enjoyable to try to hit nowadays.

Fun fact: OK, so I fudged this number slightly. Four of those “starters” were actually “openers.” So make it 15. Feel better?

Fun fact No. 2: The Braves, shockingly, had no relief pitchers who threw 100. But luckily, Spencer Strider was around to make sure somebody did.

The Magic Number: $973 million

WHAT IT MEANS: Remember that old Dire Straits song, “Money for Nothing”? It was pretty awesome in its day.

Well, it has a baseball connection — but that one is not so awesome. According to Spotrac, which has created the all-important Injured List Tracker, $973.4 million is how much money teams paid players not to play baseball last season, because they were on the injured list. Money for Nothing. Get it?

Fun fact: The surprising news is, unbelievably, that $973.4 million is not the record. The injured list jackpot did cross the $1 billion threshold once, in 2019 ($1.07 billion).

Fun fact No. 2: The least surprising news is, $973.4 million is still close to half a billion dollars more than teams were using up on IL occupants as recently as 2016 ($557.6 million). All these numbers make my head hurt. I may have to go on the injured list!

The Magic Number: $594 million

WHAT IT MEANS: If you had a feeling pitchers were eating up way too large a hunk of that big number above, you have an excellent feel for modern baseball. According to Spotrac, $594.4 million of that $973 million went just to pitchers on the injured list. Not included: All the additional zillions teams had to deposit in the accounts of their friendly neighborhood Tommy John surgeons.

Fun fact: Again, amazingly, that $594 million was not a record. In 2019, injured pitchers collected $604.8 million for not pitching. Great work if you can find it, even though you should know that physical therapy isn’t that enjoyable.

Fun fact No. 2: This seems like something that should be hard to do, but here goes. Guess which team spent the most on pitchers on the injured list last season? Somehow or other, it was the team that won the World Series. That was the Rangers, at $48.2 million. Thank you, Jacob deGrom.

The Magic Number: 12

WHAT IT MEANS: It’s not as if Mr. Mookie Betts, the starting shortstop for the ever-popular World Series favorites, the Dodgers, has never played shortstop in his career. But it’s still incredible that he’d started only 12 games there before Opening Day — even if he does get extra points just for being Mookie Betts.

Fun fact: All 12 of those starts came last year, incidentally. His only previous starts at short in pro ball (all 13 of them) were back in 2012, in the Gulf Coast League and New York Penn League, which are often noted for their similarity to life at Chavez Ravine. So this is quite a leap. But they’re the Dodgers. And he’s Mookie. So he’ll probably win the MVP Award and a Gold Glove while the Dodgers go 127-35.

Fun fact No. 2: I got to thinking that Mookie seems like he’s had an innovative little career path. So I asked my friends at STATS Perform to look into that. True!

Mookie started more than 1,100 big-league games in the outfield before he ever started any at short. According to STATS, he’s only the second player ever to start at least 1,000 games in the outfield before starting one at shortstop. The other: Sherry Magee … over a century ago! Sherry started 1,359 in the outfield before his first start at short, on May 14, 1914. Hey, hey, hey. What you say!

Fun fact No. 3: Nope, we’re not done. Let’s assume Mookie really does play shortstop all year. Did you know that only one other player has ever played 1,000 games in the outfield and started at least half his team’s games (81 or more) at short in any season? At least that guy is in the Hall of Fame: Robin Yount! (Hat tip: STATS)

Fun fact No. 4: Nope, still not done. Mookie has now played his 1,000 big-league games in the outfield and another 100 at second base. If he stays at short most of the year, he’ll officially be one of a kind. According to STATS, he would be the first player in history to play 1,000 games in the outfield, 100 at second and 100 at short. So if nothing else, he’s a lock, as always, for the Mookie of the Year award.

Fun but not a fact: I asked the most versatile baseball player I know, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, if he had one piece of advice for Mookie about how to be a multi-position success in life. IKF laughed and said: “I should be asking him for advice.”

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Mookie Betts is not like other shortstops. (Masterpress / Getty Images)

The Magic Number: 84

WHAT IT MEANS: We don’t mean to disparage anyone. But have you noticed that the American League Central might not qualify as baseball’s ultimate collection of heavyweights? So that number, 84, is the number of wins that FanGraphs projects will be the total for the 2024 AL Central champs, the Twins. It would be the fifth-most wins in the AL East. But since the Twins don’t play in the AL East, don’t let that distract you.

Fun fact: So how rare is an 84-win division champion? About as rare as you’d suspect. There have been only six teams that have won their division over a full season with 84 wins or fewer – Ryan Klesko’s 2005 Padres (82), Rusty Staub’s 1973 Mets (82), So Taguchi’s 2006 Cardinals (83), Manny Ramirez’s 2008 Dodgers (84), Derek Bell’s 1997 Astros (84) and Steve Balboni’s 1984 Royals (84). So only one AL team (those ’84 Royals) is on that list.

What division did that team win? The AL Central is not correct. It hadn’t been invented yet. So the answer is the AL West. But in a related development …

The Magic Number: 1

WHAT IT MEANS: Turns out FanGraphs wasn’t finished suggesting the AL Central might be slightly less fearsome than the SEC. How many teams in the division does it project to have a winning record? Right you are. Just one. Those Twins. So if FanGraphs has this projection stuff pegged, this might not be the most memorable season in the life and lore of the AL Central. But somebody has to win it. So there’s that.

Fun fact: Only two divisions in history have had a season like the one the FanGraphs projections crew seems to think is coming in the AL Central — a division champ with 84 wins or fewer … but nobody else with a winning record. Those two would be the 1997 NL Central and 2005 NL West. Huh. Is it me, or is FanGraphs not that high on the Central?

The Magic Number: 7

WHAT IT MEANS: You can love the Astros or hate the Astros. (Why do I know which of those you’re likely to pick?) But you can’t rewrite the story of the Astros. So here’s a refresher course on that story: The Astros have now made it to the League Championship Series seven years in a row. And is it OK if I point out that there were no trash-can lids mixed up in the past six? So that makes three things you can count on: The Bachelor hands out the wrong rose, Bart Simpson outmaneuvers Principal Skinner, and Jose Altuve in the ALCS.

Fun fact: So can the Astros make it eight trips to the LCS in a row? If they can, they’ll join a really cool club — of teams (in any sport) that played in their league or conference finals eight seasons in a row. The only three teams that have done that: Tom Brady’s 2011-18 Patriots, Chipper Jones’ 1991-99 Braves and the Magic/Kareem Lakers of 1981-82 through 1988-89. What a group!

The Magic Number: 23

WHAT IT MEANS: Historians tell us that the last out of the 2000 World Series was a Mike Piazza fly ball to Bernie Williams, in a ballpark (Shea Stadium) that no longer exists. But why would I bring that up now? Because that was how the 1998-2000 Yankees completed their three-peat … also because holy crap, that seems like a long time ago … and (mostly) because no champ has repeated since.

So I’d invite the Texas Rangers to do the math. That’s 23 straight years in which the team that won the World Series didn’t win the next World Series. It’s the longest streak without a repeat in the history of any of the four major professional North American sports. So Bruce Bochy and Adolis García, you’re on the clock!

Fun fact: Wouldn’t you love to know the longest repeat-free streaks in the other three sports? I think you would. I can help.

NBA: 18 years (between Bill Russell’s 1968-69 Celtics and Magic’s 1987-88 Lakers)

NFL: 18 years (between Tom Brady’s 2003-04 Patriots and Patrick Mahomes’ 2022-23 Chiefs)

NHL: 17 years (between Steve Yzerman’s 1997-98 Red Wings and Sidney Crosby’s 2016-17 Penguins)

The Magic Number: 157

WHAT IT MEANS: Let’s talk about Juan Soto, proud owner of a 157 career OPS+. He just got traded to the Yankees. And that’s the reason to talk about him — because here’s the deal: Soto is the Yankees’ biggest trade since Babe Ruth. You think I’m kidding? You think I’m exaggerating? You think I’m click-baiting you? I’m not any of those things. I promise. And I can prove it.

Fun fact: Only twice in their history have the Yankees traded for a hitter 25 or younger with an OPS+ of 157 or loftier and at least 1,000 career plate appearances. One was (obviously) Juan Soto, last December. The other was (obviously) the Bambino, in December 1919, thanks to Broadway ramifications you can research on your own. Ruth’s OPS+ at the time of the trade, back in his Ohtani-esque part-time hitter/pitcher phase, was a ridiculous 190. Facts are good. And you can’t dispute those facts!

Fun fact No. 2: And speaking of facts, here’s some valuable perspective on how incredible a 157 OPS+ really is. Only four Yankees in history have rolled up a 157 OPS+ in 3,000 plate appearances or more. You’ve heard of them: Ruth (209), Lou Gehrig (179), Mickey Mantle (172) and Aaron Judge (164). Joe DiMaggio (155) just missed. But the point is, only one of them got traded to the Yankees (yep, the Babe). So I rest my case — again!

The Magic Numbers: 164 and 157

WHAT THEY MEAN: If you paid any attention to that last item, you probably know where this one is going. Judge’s career OPS+ is 164. Soto’s is 157. You might have heard somewhere that they’re now teammates. Has anyone else wondered how many teams have ever assembled two teammates like this? If you have, get ready for this …

Fun fact: I asked that very question of my friends from STATS: How many teammates have entered a season in which both had a career OPS+ as great as these two guys (with at least 3,000 plate appearances). STATS set the cutoff at 155 or higher, to account for differing methods of calculation. They found only two other teams in the last 75 years that have ever had a duo quite like this:

1970-72 Giants: Willie Mays/Willie McCovey
2017 Angels: Mike Trout/Albert Pujols

And now Aaron Judge/Juan Soto. That’ll work!

Fun but not a fact: Imagine the other four teams in the AL East. Imagine how much they’re looking forward to dealing with those two monsters in the same lineup. I asked Rays manager Kevin Cash about that this spring. He replied immediately: “I’ve had nightmares about those two coming up back to back.” So I asked if it was a good guess that he’d know exactly when their spots in the lineup were approaching. “I already do,” Cash said, only about one-third joking. “On April 18, I know they’re approaching.”

The Magic Numbers: 129, 200 and 2,000

WHAT THEY MEAN: Are you familiar with Jose Altuve? Has it occurred to you yet that he’s headed for the Hall of Fame? Check out his attractive career stat line through age 33: He’s passed 2,000 hits (2,047). He’s passed 200 homers (209). He’s passed 200 steals (293). And he’s done it all with a 129 OPS+. Does that seem special? You have no idea how special.

Fun fact: Bet you didn’t know that only three players in history have rolled up 2,000 hits, 200 homers and 200 steals through age 33 — and done it with an adjusted OPS that much above league average (100). There’s Willie Mays. There’s Alex Rodriguez. And there’s a fellow named Jose Altuve. How ’bout that.

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Jose Altuve’s career stat line through age 33 puts him in special company. (Rhona Wise / USA Today)

The Magic Number: 5

WHAT IT MEANS: It was never what you’d call routine to throw 200 innings in a season. But at least it was common. I feel like it’s not that common anymore — considering that the number of starters who reached 200 innings last season was … would you believe five? Here they come: Gerrit Cole, Chris Bassitt, Zac Gallen, Logan Webb and Miles Mikolas. Would you like someone to put that in some sort of historical context for you? You’ve come to the right place.

FUN FACT: Does 1974 seem that long ago? That probably depends on how old you are. But we bring up 1974 because 65 pitchers racked up at least 200 innings that year — the most in any season in history. That number has shrunk a little. As recently as 10 years ago, 34 pitchers did it. Twenty years ago, 42 pitchers did it. In Bruce Bochy’s first year in the big leagues (1978), 59 pitchers did it. So apparently, baseball has changed a little since then. Here’s how …

The Magic Number: 908,305

WHAT IT MEANS: Has it occurred to you that relief pitchers seem to pitch a lot? I bet it has. So I thought I’d paint that picture for you. Over the past three seasons, relief pitchers have thrown almost a million pitches — not just figuratively but literally. I added them up. Hey, somebody had to. It came to 908,305 pitches launched by relievers over those three seasons. Nearly 6,000 of them were thrown just by Tyler and Taylor Rogers! But I only know that because I went down a Baseball Savant rabbit hole. I’m sorry.

Fun fact: What I really meant to look up was the answer to this question: Is 908,000 actually a lot, or does it just seem like a lot? OK, it’s official. It’s a lot. It’s the most in any three-year period since anyone started keeping track of this stuff. And if you go back 10 years ago, to the three seasons from 2011-13, it’s a jump of more than 171,000 pitches! Relief pitchers. They’re overworked!

The Magic Number: $82 million

WHAT IT MEANS: Keep your eyes on Jackson Chourio this season. You might get the impression the Brewers think he’ll be pretty good. One tipoff is that they signed him for $82 million over the winter — before he’d ever played a game in the big leagues. It’s the largest contract ever signed by a player who had never appeared in a major-league box score. No matter how big a star he becomes, we’re hereby outlawing the use of the word, “bargain,” to describe this. We’re finicky like that.

Fun fact: Perhaps it’s occurred to you that $82 million is excellent money. Me, too. So I thought it would be fun to offer some names of players who still haven’t collected $82 million in their lives as big leaguers. (This list doesn’t take into account future earning power or future salary. It’s just for your entertainment, OK?) Here you go: Ronald Acuña Jr. …Bo Bichette … Julio Rodríguez … Juan Soto. I could keep going. No need!

The Magic Number: 0

WHAT IT MEANS: So just to refresh your memory, the pitch clock entered the lives of big leaguers everywhere last year — much to their delight. Many of them complained about it all season. They also asked us questions like this: What’s going to happen when a World Series game gets decided by a pitch-clock violation? Well, guess what? How many pitch-clock violations were there during the entire World Series? Right you are. That would be zero. Is that the most amazing magic number in this entire column? It might be!

Fun fact: There were nearly 1,500 pitches thrown in that World Series, too (1,490 to be precise) … and no violations on any of them. It’s a miracle.

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The pitch clock stayed in the background during the 2023 World Series. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

The Magic Number: 31.8 percent

WHAT IT MEANS: Want one more New Rules Baseball magic number? I’ve got one — and for no extra charge. Here’s my second-favorite new rules stat of 2023. Let’s talk about one of the most fun plays in baseball: Man on first. Single through the right side. That runner on first motors all the way to third base … as the right fielder, the dude with the best arm in the outfield, comes up firing. Well, here you go. Thanks to the ban of The Shift, that runner went first to third on 31.8 percent of those hits last year. It was baseball theater at its finest.

Fun fact: Now let’s tell you how awesome that actually was. According to Baseball Reference’s Katie Sharp, that’s the highest rate of first-to-thirds on singles in nearly 30 years, since a 31.9 percent rate in 1995. Is that more fun than watching that same hitter grounding out to the third baseman … standing in short right field? Discuss!



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The Magic Number: 7

WHAT IT MEANS: Blake Snell just did something you don’t see much. He won the Cy Young Award. Then he changed teams. (Yeah, it took a while. Yeah, because it took a while, you’ll notice I didn’t use the phrase: “He changed teams over the winter.” But that’s not relevant to this portion of this column, so no more focus on that.)

When Snell signed with the Giants, he became the seventh pitcher in history to change teams via free agency immediately after winning that Cy Young. The others: Justin Verlander, Robbie Ray, Trevor Bauer, Greg Maddux, Mark Davis and Catfish Hunter. Quite a list.

Fun fact: On second thought, this fact isn’t really that “fun.” But here you go. Blake Snell should know — and the Giants should know — that most of those previous signings didn’t go well.

The good: Catfish Hunter (8.1 WAR with the ’75 Yankees) and Greg Maddux (5.8 WAR with the ’93 Braves). The not so good: Mark Davis (minus-0.4 WAR for the ’90 Royals), Robbie Ray (2.1 WAR for the ’22 Mariners), Justin Verlander (2.2 for the ’23 Mets before they traded him) and Trevor Bauer (I’m not even getting into it).

The Magic Number: $66.6 million

WHAT IT MEANS: Blake Snell might want a word on this, but good pitchers get paid. We would like to place into evidence the $66.6 million a year the Philllies will be paying Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola once Wheeler’s extension begins in 2025. Does that seem like a big number? Maybe because it’s going to wind up being about three times as much as the Orioles will pay their whole rotation this year, even with Corbin Burnes in it. But that’s not the …

Fun fact: So you might be asking yourself: Would $66.6 million be the most money ever paid to two pitching teammates? Ha. If you’re really asking that, you must not be a Mets fan. (Never forget the Max and Justin Show in Queens last summer, an $86.7 million production that didn’t go so hot.) So here’s the record Wheeler and Nola will set: That would be the most ever paid to two pitching teammates who have never won a Cy Young Award, unless … one of them wins it this year.



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The Magic Number: 20

WHAT IT MEANS: This just in. Craig Counsell manages the Cubs now. They made him the highest-paid manager in baseball (at $8 million a year for the next five years). The rest of this item would seem to have something to do with that. Since 2017, Counsell’s Brewers teams won 20 games in real life that they weren’t supposed to win! Or at least that’s what their Expected Won-Lost Record (aka Pythagorean W-L) tells us. Is that good? I set out to find that answer.

Fun fact: I thought those numbers would be interesting unto themselves, so here they are, courtesy of Baseball Reference:

Expected W-L: 73 games over .500
Actual W-L: 93 games over .500

Fun fact No. 2: Here’s how the Cubs made out in that same category in the same period: It adds up to eight games worse than their Expected W-L

Expected W-L: 49 games over .500
Actual W-L: 41 games over .500

Fun fact No. 3: Here is how all the other major-league managers fared in that category, in that period — at least the ones who managed the same team from 2018-23:

Scott Servais: +20
Bud Black: +10
Kevin Cash: +5
Brian Snitker: +1
Terry Francona: -10
Dave Roberts: -17
Torey Lovullo: -20

But since a couple of weird seasons can skew those numbers (obviously), let’s look at this another way. …

The Magic Number: 7

WHAT IT MEANS: It’s not just that Counsell’s Brewers teams won more games than they should have in that span. Here’s the most incredible part: They also won more than they should have in every season, from 2017-23. That’s seven seasons in a row. Does that seem like a lot? It did to me. I found that no other current manager did that. But I was still curious. So …

Fun fact: I asked STATS to see how many other managers in the expansion era have had a streak like that — seven straight seasons of outperforming their Expected W-L. Turns out Counsell isn’t alone, but he’s in excellent company. (One quick note: STATS and use a slightly different formula, but it’s otherwise the same feat.)

Three did it nine seasons in a row: Joe Torre (1998-2004 Yankees), Mike Scioscia (2004-12 Angels) and Clint Hurdle (2011-19 Pirates).

Two others did it seven seasons in a row with the same team: Earl Weaver (1976-82 Orioles) and Bruce Bochy (1996-2002 Padres).

And two more did it seven seasons in a row, but with multiple teams: Felipe Alou (1999-2006 Expos/Giants) and Bill Rigney (1964-70 Angels/Twins).

So is Craig Counsell good at managing? If you believe these magic numbers, let’s go with yes!

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Expectations are high for Craig Counsell in Chicago. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

The Magic Number: 100

WHAT IT MEANS: The Dodgers won the 2020 World Series. The Braves won the 2021 World Series. They’ve both won at least 100 games in every season since. That’s the good news. However, neither of them has made it to the World Series in any of those seasons. That seems like not that good news.

Fun fact (or not): Here’s your list of all teams in the division-play era (1969-present) that have won a World Series, then won 100 games or more in at least the next two seasons in a row but made it back to the Series in none of those 100-win seasons: The 2022-23 Braves and the 2021-22-23 Dodgers. End of list!

Fun fact (or not) No. 2: Could winning 100 games be overrated? I think Braves and Dodgers fans would vote for that. But in both cases, this didn’t just start in the 2020s. The Braves have won 100 games in eight seasons in the World Series era. The Dodgers have won 100 in 11 seasons in that time span. You know how many titles those teams have combined for in those 100-win seasons? Somehow or other, that answer is none! They’re 0-for-19. Really. What a strange sport this is.



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(Top photo of Juan Soto and Aaron Judge: New York Yankees / Getty Images)

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