By Michael Clair
There are some records that baseball fans can recite by heart. Things like Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak, or Ted Williams' .406 average, or Jose Altuve's height. But then there are the other ones, the ones no one knows or, really, ever thinks about.
Like archaic scholars searching at the fringes of sanity, let us look at some of the stranger statistical happenings this year. After all, what's the point of meticulously keeping over 100 years of baseball records if we're not going to do anything with them?
The Impenetrable Wall That is Victor Martinez's Bat
As batters strike out at new and ever-higher rates (up to an average of 7.7 per nine innings), Victor Martinez is a throwback , like soda made with actual sugar or high-waisted jeans. Not only does he hit for power (21 home runs going into the break) but Martinez is somehow also leading the majors with a 6.8 percent strikeout rate. To put that in perspective, the combined home runs for the last four players to lead the majors in lowest strikeout rate (Nori Aoki, Marco Scutaro, Juan Pierre and Jeff Keppinger) also totals 21.
Not only is Martinez's contact ability fantastic, but his plate vision is otherworldly too, at one point going 641 plate appearances without taking a called strike three. On pace for 37 home runs and 41 strikeouts, Martinez has a chance at joining the rare 30 HR, 40 SO club (that means 30 or more home runs and 40 or fewer strikeouts). While it's been accomplished 42 times in Major League history, only two players have done so since 1956: Don Mattingly in both 1986 and '87 (31 HR, 35 SO / 30 HR, 38 SO) and Gary Sheffield in 1992 (33 HR, 40 SO). Despite the burst in power during the late 1990s, no player has achieved it since.
If Martinez can cut back on his strikeouts ever so slightly and boost his homer pace ever so gently, he could join an even rarer group of players to hit 40 HRs while striking out fewer than 40 times. You could call that a Ted Kluszewski special, since the Reds slugger pulled it off three times, while DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott and Johnny Mize each hit the milestone once.
Chris Young's Groundball-itis
After appearing in only eight major league games games in 2010 and 2011, then none at all in 2013, thanks to a run of injuries, it certainly wouldn't have been shocking to see the third-tallest player in baseball history retire.
Instead, Chris Young has come back to throw 111 innings for the Mariners, posting a 3.15 ERA that is 19 percent better than league average. He's done all this with a mid-80s fastball, a slider that he throws nearly a quarter of the time, and an apparent fear of gravity given how shockingly low his 23.2 percent ground ball rate is. Since FanGraphs started keeping the statistic in 2002, only two times has a qualifying pitcher come anywhere close to that number. Naturally, that was Young in 2006 (25.4 percent) and 2007 (29.1 percent).
But either because Young is actually a miniature black hole, drawing hard hit balls back to the field, or because his long frame helps deceives batters, he's somehow been successful -- even if he does owe a few words of thanks to Safeco Field, where his ERA is 2.45 compared to a road mark of 4.04.
Position Players Pitching Extravaganza
As bullpens have turned into seven- or even eight-man armies, you would think a manager would have plenty of fresh arms to turn to. But with pitcher injuries on the rise and managers increasingly wary of wasting those precious bullets, position players and their high school-tested knuckleballs have been called in to fill the gaps.
Position players have been pitched 14 times in the first half of the season, already tying the modern mark set just last season (the early-to-mid 20th century is harder to judge with the easy fungibility between position players and pitchers). And all of this without counting the two appearances made by former-outfielder-turned-pitcher Jason Lane when he was briefly called up by the Padres.
With a new record almost guaranteed to be set before this month is even out, the real question is how high will the number climb? Will we see a downturn as teams enter the pennant race, refusing to concede during six-run deficits? Will position players demand overtime pay for pulling double duty? Or will we see a spike in appearances as teams fall out of the playoff picture and managers want to save some arms?
But really, there's just one question worth asking: when will Bob Melvin put Yoenis Cespedes on the mound? After his insane throw from left field to nail Howie Kendrick at the plate on June 10th was estimated at 97 to 99 mph, it should be a crime not to let him pitch at some point this season.
The Padres And the Case of the Missing Runs
It wasn't supposed to turn out this way. In 2012, the Padres had the third-ranked farm system in the game, behind the talents of Anthony Rizzo (traded to the Cubs for Andrew Cashner), Rymer Liriano (currently in Double-A and no longer in Baseball America's top-100), and Casey Kelly (recovering from Tommy John surgery). Along the way, former GM Josh Byrnes signed a number of young players to what appeared to be smart contract extensions only to watch the players prove ineffective (Cameron Maybin, Jedd Gyorko) or succumb to injury (Cory Luebke). Now, the offense that hasn't scored 700 runs since 2007 has completely bottomed out.
Only one player, Seth Smith, has an OPS above .800, while backup catcher Rene Rivera is the only other player with a league-average OPS. Chase Headley, two years removed from a 31 HR, 115 RBI season is hitting .226/.296/.350. Signed through 2020, Gyorko is hitting .162/.213/.270 with 5 homers after his 23 homer rookie season. Another hitter coming off a 20 home run season, Will Venable, has seen his numbers crash to .201/.258/.277.
To put it another way, Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner has more home runs than Maybin and Chris Denorfia combined with an OPS higher than anyone other than Smith. Add that all together and it's not surprising to see the team score a woeful 279 runs through their first 95 games. On pace to score only 476 runs this season, the Padres are not only worse than the 2010 Seattle Mariners (510 runs), but they are within striking distance of the 1968 White Sox's record of 463, the lowest total for a 162 game season.
Even if the Padres manage to avoid breaking the White Sox's record, that doesn't necessarily mean they won't have the worst offense of all time. After all, in 1968, the average team scored 3.4 runs per game. In 2014, that number is 4.14.
While we are well aware that ERAs are dropping and strikeouts are spiking, you may not have realized that walks are on their way down, too. The numbers have steadily fallen since 2009 when pitchers averaged 3.46 walks per nine innings to this season's 2.98, the 22nd-lowest in major league history. Even with the increased emphasis on batters taking pitches and drawing walks, this year has more in common with the mid-1960s and late-1910s than the offensive eras of the 1990s.
Naturally, this has extended to individual pitchers. In 1908, five pitchers, including stars Addie Joss and Christy Mathewson, walked fewer than one batter per nine innings while pitching at least 40 innings. Turns out, there are five of them in 2014, too, shown in the table at right. No other seasons have more than three.
While Hishashi Iwakuma and Doug Fister have long been known for their command of the strike zone, and Phil Hughes' resurgence is due in large part to his refusal to give up free passes, no pitcher is a more surprising inclusion on this list than Jeff Locke. After all, the Ice Truck Killer-lookalike led the league in walks with 85 last season.
No matter how good those starters are, they simply can't compare to Sean Doolittle. Either because his command is so impeccable or because umpires are intimidated by his burly red beard, Doolittle has walked only two batters. To put it another way, Doolittle has walked fewer men this season than times I've spilt coffee on myself today.
Of course, what makes it so ridiculous is that Doolittle has also struck out 63 batters, so it's not like he's simply heaving up 80 mph fastballs over the heart of the plate. With his K/BB rate of 31.5, Doolittle would almost double Dennis Eckersley's record of 18.33 K/BB. Even if you were to remove all innings minimums, Doolittle would still smash Julio Navarro's 21 to 1 mark that he set through 26.1 innings in 1970.
While there sadly won't be any parades thrown for any of these players should they accomplish the feat, I'm sure your colleagues would greatly appreciate it you repeated these facts ad nauseam at your next after work cocktail party or dinner engagement.
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Michael Clair writes for MLB.com's Cut4. Follow him @clairbearattack.