Betts, Ramírez, Trout, and the Blistering Pace

Roughly a month ago, Mike Trout appeared headed towards history. On June 20, I took time out from gorging myself on lobster rolls and clam strips during my Cape Cod family vacation to put together a table showing the short list of players who reached 6.0 WAR before the All-Star break. After 74 games, Trout was on pace to finish at 13.8 WAR, the third-highest total for a position player in history, behind only the 1923 and 1921 seasons of Babe Ruth (15.0 and 13.9 WAR, respectively).

A funny thing happened on the way to the break, however: Trout fell into his first true slump of the year, and both Mookie Betts and José Ramírez have closed the gap such that the trio is in a virtual tie atop the leaderboard at 6.5 WAR. This is the first time since 1975 — as far back as our splits in this area go, alas — that three players have reached even 6.0 WAR by the All-Star break, though even that relatively recent history shows such a pace is nearly impossible to maintain.

Before I dig in, it’s worth noting that, while we generally refer to what transpires before and after the All-Star break as the season’s first and second halves, those are generally misnomers, since the pause in the schedule usually happens well after the 81st game of the season and at a slightly different point from year to year. So far in 2018, the average team has played 96 games, similar to the averages in 2013 (94) and 2014 (95) but well ahead of those in 2015 and 2016 (89 games) or 2017 (88 games). Thankfully, so long as we’re taking the trouble to prorate to 162 games, we can cope with this.

Since 1975, 16 players have reached at least 6.0 WAR by the All-Star break, though six of them — including this year’s trio, who are tied for third in first “half” WAR — had the benefit of their team playing at least 90 games by that point:

Position Players, 6.0+ WAR Before All-Star Break, 1975-2018
Rk Player Team Year Team G G WAR Pre Pace
1 Joe Morgan Reds 1975 90 83 7.0 13.1
2 Barry Bonds Giants 2002 87 82 6.7 12.8
3 Rickey Henderson Athletics 1990 82 77 6.1 12.4
4 Barry Bonds Giants 2004 89 77 6.3 12.3
5 Cal Ripken Orioles 1991 80 80 6.0 12.2
6 Frank Thomas White Sox 1994 86 86 6.4 12.1
7 Mookie Betts Red Sox 2018 98 78 6.5 11.8
8 Barry Bonds Giants 2001 88 81 6.0 11.5
9 Alex Rodriguez Mariners 2000 86 84 6.0 11.4
10 Darin Erstad Angels 2000 88 87 6.1 11.3
11 José Ramírez Indians 2018 95 94 6.5 11.1
12 Miguel Cabrera Tigers 2013 94 93 6.4 11.1
13 Barry Bonds Giants 1993 89 87 6.0 11.0
14 Jose Bautista Blue Jays 2012 92 86 6.0 10.9
15 Mike Trout Angels 2018 97 97 6.5 10.9
16 Lance Berkman Astros 2008 95 93 6.0 10.3

Before we go further, I should caution that, throughout this table and those in the rest of this exercise, there are several instances of rounding that may cause differences of 0.1 WAR in displaying some of the sums, such as that of the pre- and post-break splits for Morgan. If your oxygen mask has not deployed to compensate for such anomalies, please press the orange call button above you and a flight attendant will assist you.

Morgan is the only player to reach 7.0 WAR by our cutoff, and somewhat remarkably, he did so while missing seven games, including three in a row at one point in early June after being struck on the shoulder (AP reports did not specify which one) by an errant pickoff attempt. In fact, only three of the above players played every pre-break game, including Trout, Thomas, and of course the consecutive games record-holder, Ripken. Bonds missed eight games in May 2004 alone, including two due to a sinus infection and five due to back spams. (The other appears to have been a routine off-day.)

As best I can tell, Betts is the only player here to serve a DL stint while still reaching the 6.0 level; he missed 14 games in late May and early June due to an abdominal strain. Because he’s produced his 6.5 WAR in just 78 games, he projects to finish ahead of both Ramírez (95 team games) and Trout (97). Note that, in calculating each player’s 162-game pace through the first “half,” I’ve prorated their WAR per individual game played across their team’s remaining number of games. For Betts, that’s 6.5 + 6.5/78 * (162-98).

Anyway, you can see that Trout’s pace has cooled off by 2.9 WAR relative to where he was projected four weeks ago. As Rian Watt noted on July 9, Trout sprained his right index finger sometime during the week of June 18 and was in enough discomfort that he spent eight straight games as the Angels’ designated hitter instead of playing the field, starting on June 19:

“In the 16 games after the injury moved him to DH, leading up to [July] 7th, Trout hit .176/.391/.275 with one home run in 70 plate appearances, after hitting .439/.535/.772 in the 16 games before that, with five home runs.

“His slump, in other words, was entirely consistent with a player who still possessed an elite approach at the plate but lacked the physical capacity to do his customary level of damage on contact.”

After finishing June with 6.2 WAR — he lost a click from the point where I checked in — Trout went 10-for-28 with a homer and six walks from July 7 to 15 to climb back to 6.5. Via our Last 30 Days split, which combines his ups and downs dating back to June 16, he has hit a very un-Trout-like but not-unproductive .276/.466/.368 with two homers, a 22.7% walk rate, a 134 wRC+, and 1.0 WAR — in a virtual tie for the 34th-best hitter during that span with a streaking J.D. Martinez (.347/.396/.634, 175 wRC+) and four other players. That’s a very respectable 6.0-WAR pace over a full season.

While Trout was slumping, both Betts (.380/.488/.630, 200 wRC+, 2.2 WAR) and Ramírez (.327/.441/.684, 194 wRC+, 2.3 WAR) were surging — and still are, as both have a higher wRC+ over the past 14 days (210 and 248, respectively) than over the last 30. Ramírez is virtually tied with Alex Bregman (.351/.430/.748, 220 wRC+) for the highest WAR in that 30-day span, and he’s still got a very good chance to post the highest seasonal WAR for a third baseman — if the Indians don’t trade for one and shift him to second base to replace Jason Kipnis, who has an 84 wRC+ this year but is at a more robust 126 since June 1. Betts is making up for lost time; his 1.5 WAR over the past 14 days is his own claim to splitsville fame.

The future for this year’s trio is unwritten, but of the 13 players from 1975 to 2017 who reached the 6.0 WAR threshold by the break, how many of them do you think were actually able to maintain (or improve) their first-“half” pace? Exactly one, and well, let’s go to the big board:

Falling Off the Pace, 1975-2018
Rk Player Year Team G G WAR Pre Pace WAR Post Final Dif
1 Barry Bonds 2001 88 81 6.0 11.5 6.5 12.5 1.0
2 Barry Bonds 2002 87 82 6.7 12.8 5.9 12.7 -0.1
3 Barry Bonds 2004 89 77 6.3 12.3 5.6 11.9 -0.4
4 Barry Bonds 1993 89 87 6.0 11.0 4.4 10.5 -0.5
5 Cal Ripken 1991 80 80 6.0 12.2 4.6 10.6 -1.6
6 Alex Rodriguez 2000 86 84 6.0 11.4 3.5 9.5 -1.9
7 Joe Morgan 1975 90 83 7.0 13.1 3.9 11.0 -2.1
8 Rickey Henderson 1990 82 77 6.1 12.4 4.1 10.2 -2.2
9 Miguel Cabrera 2013 94 93 6.4 11.1 2.2 8.6 -2.5
10 Darin Erstad 2000 88 87 6.1 11.3 2.6 8.7 -2.6
11 Lance Berkman 2008 95 93 6.0 10.3 1.7 7.7 -2.6
12 Jose Bautista 2011 92 86 6.0 10.9 2.1 8.1 -2.8
13 Frank Thomas 1994 86 86 6.4 12.1 0.6 7.0 -5.1
Average 88 84 6.2 11.7 3.9 10.2 -1.5
Position players with at least 6.0 WAR before All-Star break. Averages exclude Thomas (strike season).

In the season during which he hit a record 73 homers, Bonds actually improved upon his pre-All-Star pace, and not only did he nearly do so as well the following year, he owns the top four spots here. In order, his 2002, 2001, and 2004 full-season WARs are the top three since 1975, followed by the above ones of Morgan, Ripken, and then Bonds’ 1993 edition, from his first year as a Giant and as a home-run leader (46, to go with 29 steals), en route to his third NL MVP award.

Below Bonds, the drop-offs get significantly steeper, with eight of the 13 falling shy of their midsummer marks by 1.6 to 2.8 WAR. Henderson was the only player to slide by at least two wins and still finish with a double-digit WAR. Note that the most dramatic dip owes to circumstances beyond on-field performance: Thomas’s great 1994 season was of course curtailed by the players’ strike after just 27 post-break games. Given that, it seems perfectly reasonable to exclude him from the averages, which for the other 12 seasons show roughly a 1.5-win slowdown.

If we were to apply that average to our current trio, here’s where they would finish. I’ve also included our rest-of-season Depth Chart projections (an average of Steamer and ZiPS) for a second estimate (again a caution about rounding):

The 10.0-WAR Chase, 2018
Player Current Pace Adj Pace Proj
Mike Trout 6.5 10.9 9.4 10.1
Mookie Betts 6.5 11.8 10.3 9.4
Jose Ramírez 6.5 11.1 9.6 9.1

By either method, that’s quite not so historic, with just one player reaching the 10-win threshold. The last time there were two such players was in 2002, with Bonds (12.7) and A-Rod (10.0). The only other time it happened in the post-1960 expansion era, with its 162-game schedules, was in 1961, with Mickey Mantle (10.3) and Norm Cash (10.2), and it’s happened just one other time since World War II, with Stan Musial (11.1) and Lou Boudreau (10.9) in 1948.

As with so many other areas of baseball statistics, all of this should serve as a cautionary tale not to get too attached to such blistering paces as those of Betts, Ramírez, and Trout even while we acknoweldge their chase. Regression may not be as inevitable as death and taxes, but in a long season, players cool off, get banged up, and otherwise miss their marks. If they didn’t, we’d be rewriting the record books every year, but the suspense in following along, and in appreciating greatness, is well worth the effort.

We hoped you liked reading Betts, Ramírez, Trout, and the Blistering Pace by Jay Jaffe!

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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Mattabattacola
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Mattabattacola

Betts 6.5 in 78 games is insane

RWinUT
Member
RWinUT

And he and Ramirez are both only 5’9! Even more insane. Hmm. By comparison, Mike Trout is 6’3, 235 lbs. Betts is 180 lbs. Draw your own conclusions.

RWinUT
Member
RWinUT

I’d love to see Fangraphs do a piece on short sluggers. Not short guys with pop (Altuve) but sluggers who hit 38+ HRs, like Betts and Ramirez (and Albies) are on pace to do. The juiced ball is clearly a factor but still, I think we are seeing something very, shall we say, unusual.

Pepper Martin
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Pepper Martin

The man on the left is the all-time single season leader in RBI’s, and was the all-time leader in National League single-season Home Runs until McGwire and Sosa came along:
comment image?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale

RWinUT
Member
RWinUT

Hmm. Wasn’t it Hank Aaron before Bonds and Sosa? And Mays before him? And… You’re making it sound like the record stood for a century. So what you’re saying is that along time ago when there were only a handful of legitimate sluggers a short guy led one league in home runs and set a record that lasted awhile? Moreover, you found one case, which kinda proves my point. This is highly unusual. There’s that one time in ancient history and then the xplosion this year.

I think my point stands for now.

tramps like us
Member
tramps like us

Ruth..Gehrig…Foxx…Ott….Greenberg….Williams….Mize…..Wilson…..Kiner….Dimaggio….all between 1920 and 1950. Quite a bit more than a “handful” and Hack Wilson held his National League record longer than Ruth held the American League record. Aaron never hit 50. Mays played at 5’10” 170 lbs;,
Aaron ‘s playing size 6’ 180 lbs. Mel Ott 5’9″ 170. These are NOT behemoths. And they’re not aberrations, not the so-called “exception that proves the rule” as you would have us believe. In these cases, at least, size truly doesn’t matter. And don’t even get me started on how many more all-time single season or career HR leaders would be from that era if black players would’ve been allowed to play.

RWinUT
Member
RWinUT

Other than Mel Ott, who was already mentioned above as the ONE example of 5’9 slugger, NONE of these people are 5’8 or 5’9, which is EXACTLY what I was questioning. Despite the downvotes, I am still right and you are wrong. 6’2, 205 is the average for the top 50 all-time HR hitters. Only ONE is 5’9. ONE is 5’10. A few are 5’11. Meanwhile, there are a DOZEN 6’4 or taller. No contest. What Betts, Ramirez and Albies are doing, barring new evidence not yet produced, is a one in a century occurrence. And we have THREE! That, to me, is unusual.

RWinUT
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RWinUT

Speaking of Mel Ott, so far as I know he is the only guy 5’9 or shorter to hit 42 HRs in a season. Mookie, Ramirez and Albies may beat that. That’s amazing.

RWinUT
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RWinUT

My point definitely stands, and the downvotes are being intellectually dishonest and/or biased, basing their views on something other than the facts.

HappyFunBall
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HappyFunBall

My conclusions are as follows:

Betts is on a 0.08 WAR/Gm pace, while that slacker Trout is loafing along at only 0.07.

But wait, it gets worse. If we assume that height is directly correlated to WAR, then we can easily adjust Betts 0.08 up by (75im/69in) = 1.1 to an adjusted 0.09 WAR/Gm

Or weight! Trout’s 235 lbs is 1.3 times that of Mighty Mite Betts. 1.3 * 0.08 = 0.11 WAR/Gm. If Betts were Trout’s size, and had played the sme 94 games at the point, he’d have a whopping 10.2 WAR already. Today. At the All Star Break.

Math is power.

** Jose Ramirez is listed only at 165 lbs. I dare not contemplate …

RWinUT
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RWinUT

I wasn’t suggesting height correlated to WAR. I was saying that my sense is that sluggers who bash HRs in huge numbers are generally 6’+ and 200+ lbs, so it seems odd to find Betts, Ramirez and Albies chasing 50 HRs. Very odd.

jhalpin23
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Member
jhalpin23

Willie Mays is listed at 5’10” 170lbs.

RWinUT
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RWinUT

I said 5’9″ or smaller, like Betts, Ramirez & Albies. Among the top 50 HR hitters all time, just one (Ott) was 5’9 or less. I’d say that’s friggin’ rare, which is my point. Meanwhile, the average is 6’2, 205.

Bud Smith
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Bud Smith

Do you think that implying PED use without outright saying it is somehow clever?

RWinUT
Member
RWinUT

Bud – I’m looking for some intellectual honesty. Betts, Ramirez, and Albies are all on a once in a century run. The last in their class was Mel Ott, who played under VASTLY different conditions. That is unusual.

RWinUT
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RWinUT

Radically unusual.

jhalpin23
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Member
jhalpin23

You literally never said 5’9″ or smaller, you said sluggers are generally 6’+ and 200+…but I love how now you are trying to make a big distinction between 5’9″ and 5’10”.

RWinUT
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RWinUT

jhalpin23: Betts, Ramirez, and Albies are 5’8, 5’9. THAT was my point of reference. Keep up.

jhalpin23
Member
Member
jhalpin23

Dude you have completely lost this weird, not at all subtle point you were trying to make about smaller players. Give Up.

RWinUT
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RWinUT

I said it was rare and I have proven it is rare. No one has proven otherwise, least of all you.

RWinUT
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RWinUT

The downvoters are people who hate inconvenient facts.

RWinUT
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RWinUT

I said 5’8 and 5’9 but okay. I’ll humor you. So there have been TWO since 1900, one being 5’10. And it hasn’t happened since Mays. My point that it is exceedingly rare stands. Strong.

jhalpin23
Member
Member
jhalpin23

Your point about shorter players hitting for power is moderately interesting. You even mentioned the ball but failed to mention how more players attempting to his for power than ever before could also be a big part of it.
However, your “draw your own conclusions” and not so vague accusations crap is what I’m guessing most people have a problem with. Along with your attitude to everyone who came along and found exceptions to your rule. Basically if you act like a tool you’re going to get a bunch of downvotes.

RWinUT
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RWinUT

So people are responding to the PED implications and not the facts rather than examining the facts and coming to a conclusion. Good to know. We found two exceptions, and one was 5’10. Let’s be honest. TWO in 118 years, the most recent being Mays. Sorry but my point, in spite of the baseless downvotes, still emphatically stands. No one comes close to refuting it.

jhalpin23
Member
Member
jhalpin23

You sounds surprised people are responding to how information is presented. That matters.

The fact that the ball is juiced and players are trying to hit for more power than ever seems like some pretty good facts that refute it as well. Also players are in better shape and stronger than they ever have been and are encouraged to hit for power where in the past someone like Betts or Ramirez would probably be told to hit the ball on the ground and use their speed. I find all of these reasons much more likely and compelling than throwing out random PED accusations.

RWinUT
Member
RWinUT

Turns out I was half right. The average height is 6’2. There’s ONE 5’9, ONE 5’10, and FIVE 5’11’s. Conversely, there are a DOZEN 6’4 or taller. So 5’8 NEVER happened and 5’9 happened ONCE in a land far away and long ago, under very different conditions (e.g., no 100 mph fastballs).

On weight my hunch was wrong, apparently. There were a lot more below 200 than I thought there would be, even though the average was 205.

So it turns out that it’s not so unusual that Betts is 180 lbs and mashing. But it’s outrageous that he, Ramirez and Albies are 5’8 & 5’9 and headed for 40-50 HR’s. That’s NEVER happened.

RWinUT
Member
RWinUT

Downvoter doesn’t like the facts. Can’t refute them so all he can do is just downvote with nothing to say. Facts are facts and the facts are that it’s NEVER happened before. And that means its odd and rare.

ItsPoPtime
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ItsPoPtime

There is no way that Jose Ramirez is under a hundred and seventy pounds at the moment just by looking at him play he looks like a stout 185. Mookie, on the other hand when seeing him in the locker room basically looks like he has the figure of a 11th grade kid in high school

RWinUT
Member
RWinUT

Agreed. I find the weight data in particular to be low. Nevertheless, I’ve adjusted my view on the weight to recognize the data. The fact that Mookie is 180 is not so surprising. The fact that these guys are 5’8 & 5’9 and on pace to slug 40+ HRsd is outlandish. A little research and intellectual honesty will tell you that.

RWinUT
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RWinUT

I said a little research and honesty, downvoters…

jsc1973
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jsc1973

Hank Aaron was listed at the same 180 pounds throughout his career. Draw your own conclusions.

RWinUT
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RWinUT

Aaron was 6′. I’m guessing he was more than 180 for at least 1/2 his career. Either way, the point stands. He wasn’t 5’8 or 5’9. Also, I did analyze the top 50 HR hitters all-time and did determine that there were far more 175-200 lb sluggers than I thought. Even though the average was 205, I’ve changed my position on the weight. It’s a lot less odd that Betts is 180 and a slugger than that he is 5’9. THAT’S ODD and RARE.

RWinUT
Member
RWinUT

Downvoters can’t say WHY they think it is not odd or rare for 5’8 and 9ers to mash 40-50 HRs, because there’s no data to support them; they’re just childishly saying “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah, it’s not odd or rare.” Well the facts say otherwise. You can have your own opinion. You can’t have your facts.

Defenestrater
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Defenestrater

The downvoters are not saying that you are wrong. They are saying that you are acting like a d*ck.

WARrior
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Member
WARrior

Trout was on about the same pace at that point. He’s just really, really cooled since then.