Four Trivial Things to Watch This Weekend

Baseball matters this weekend, in as much as it ever truly matters. The division races are decided, but the Wild Card races in both leagues provide plenty of reasons to tune in and root for whatever outcome pleases your baseball-loving sensibilities. As things stand right now there are 13 teams with hopes of postseason play, but a week from now only eight teams will remain. Stakes don’t get much higher than that.

But the postseason pool is not the only thing that will be finalized this weekend (or, if #TeamEntropy gets its way, early next week). In a few days, the regular season will come to a halt and 2016 stat lines will be frozen forever. Is a batter a 30-home-run guy or did he stop at 29? A .300 hitter or a .299? A sub-3.00-ERA pitcher or one with a 3.03 ERA? These trivial distinctions will be determined over the next few days.

What should you watch this weekend? The playoff races. Obviously. It’s exciting and it’s thrilling. But if you’re a weirdo with an affinity for the trivial side of this sport like me, there are a few other things to keep your eye on this weekend. Here are the four I’ll be watching most closely:

The Dodgers’ Strikeout Rate

Two pitchers in major-league history have finished a career (min. 3000 IP) with a strikeout rate above 25%: Randy Johnson (28.6%) and Nolan Ryan (25.3%). The 2016 Dodgers currently have a 25.2% strikeout rate as a team. That’s right, the revolving door of healthy and injured pitchers has resulted in a Dodgers pitching staff that has struck out batters at a rate roughly equivalent to Nolan Ryan’s career rate.

The rising strikeout rates across the league have been well documented, so it’s no surprise that a team is in position to set the record for the highest collective K%. The current record was a 23.9% rate set by the Cubs just a year ago and that mark will be surpassed by three teams this year: the Dodgers (25.2%), the Nationals (24.6%), and the Cubs themselves (24.3%). The Dodgers, though, are the ones preparing to cross that round-number 25% threshold.

Through 159 games, the Dodgers have faced 5,894 batters and struck out 1,487 of them. Maintaining that current rate of 37 batters faced per game over their final three games of the season will give the team a final total of 6,005 batters faced. To reach a true 25.0% strikeout rate then, the team will need to finish with approximately 1,502 strikeouts — just 15 more than their current total.

30/30 Club

In order to be described as “well rounded,” a player must possess the ever tantalizing combination of power and speed. From 1987 to 2012, we watched at least one player demonstrate that killer combo with a 30 HR, 30 SB campaign every year — save 2010 and the strike-shortened 1994 season. But over the past few years, 30-30 seasons have suddenly disappeared. No one has put up a 30-30 season since Ryan Braun and Mike Trout went 30-30 in 2012.

Chances are that streak will extend through the 2016 season, but there are three players still able to dream on a run at 30-30.

30-30 Candidates Still Standing
Player Home Runs Stolen Bases Remaining Games
Mookie Betts 31 26 3
Wil Myers 28 28 3
Mike Trout 29 27 3

All three players need four distinct positive outcomes to make the 30-30 club. It’s unlikely and arbitrary, but don’t let that stop you from rooting for a fun achievement.

National League Batting-Title Race

Okay, look, I know batting average isn’t cool anymore, but the quantity of not-cool and ultimately meaningless baseball things to which we pay attention on the regular boggles the mind. We’ve moved away from batting average because it tells an incomplete story — and poorly, at that — but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a source of trivial entertainment. I mean, if we (read: I) can obsess over a 43-year-old pitcher drawing a walk, I think there’s still space for batting average in our collective consciousness.

On the one hand, this is absolutely the year to pay attention to the batting race. Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu currently sits at .349 with a final series to play in Coors Field and Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy nipping at his heels with a .347 average of his own. On the other hand, this could be a dud of a final push: Murphy may not play until the postseason due to an injured butt. Consequently, this may come down entirely to what Lemahieu does.

Regardless, a batting race coming down to the final game of the season can be fun. Lemahieu’s final at-bat in an otherwise meaningless Rockies/Brewers game may contain genuine drama! All you have to do to enjoy it is be willing to embrace the fact that even though batting average isn’t a meaningful stat, it can’t hurt you.

Zach Britton’s Chase for Run-Prevention History

A month and a half ago, I wrote about the potential for Zach Britton to put up the greatest season of run-prevention we’ve ever seen. It was early August and Britton hadn’t allowed an earned run since April 30th. It was a mind-blowing streak and I didn’t think he would be able to extend it through the end of the season. Well, he didn’t. He had one hiccup on August 24th and has now allowed one earned run since April 30th.

All total, Britton has allowed four earned runs and seven total runs through 64.1 innings pitched this season. The result is a 0.55 ERA and 0.98 RA9, both of which would be the lowest full season marks in major league history (min. 60 IP) — surpassing current record holders Fernando Rodney (2012, 0.60 ERA) and Wade Davis (2014, 1.00 RA9).

While the Orioles play for their spot in the postseason this weekend, Britton will be able to secure the greatest season of run-prevention we’ve ever seen if he can make it through these final games without allowing another run. If he allows even one, however, he’s guaranteed to fall behind Rodney and Davis.

Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.

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6 years ago

Nice article – glad that someone else besides me still looks at the batting title race!

6 years ago
Reply to  KCDaveInLA

Murphy isn’t going to play this weekend, so….

6 years ago

D.J. can go hitless in his last three games and Murphy would win the NL batting title, so….