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OC Register: Hoornstra: The numbers that tell the story of MLB’s 2021 season


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Some records have already been broken.

Others are teetering on the brink.

Still others are eliciting some strange rooting interests.

Playoff spots aren’t the only thing at stake as the Major League Baseball season enters its final week. This season has seen enough weirdness to tell a vivid story through numbers alone. Here are a few of the most extreme:


As of Tuesday, 253 players have made their major league debuts this year. That’s nearly enough to fill the rosters of 10 teams by themselves!

Thanks to the rash of rookies, the 2021 season has seen 1,339 players appear in a game through Tuesday, breaking a record (1,287) established in 2019.

COVID-19 has helped push the number higher. The abrupt shift from 60 games to 162 likely contributed to the need for more rest among more players, too. Relief pitchers, in particular, have been shuttled to and from the minors at a breakneck pace, contributing to the record 886 hurlers to appear in a game this year.

At least the rhythm of roster changes has slowed since 2020. As I wrote last summer, we can only change the definition of what it means to be a major league ballplayer so much before the game becomes substantively different.

Watering down the talent level of a pro sports league isn’t the worst symptom of a global pandemic, but it’ll be nice to see the number of players return to something resembling “normal” in 2022.


So you’ve reached the major leagues. Heads up!

With 1,977 batters hit through Tuesday, the all-time record (1,984 set in 2019) could fall any day now. Meanwhile, the rate of wild pitches thrown is higher this year than any in the modern era. They’ve featured in 1.03 percent of all plate appearances, the first time the rate has eclipsed 1 percent since the 19th century.

The single-season wild pitch record set in 2018 (1,847) is likely safe. Seven-inning doubleheaders, and the extra-inning runner on second base rule, have done their part to suppress the number of innings needed to complete an average game. That’s elicited fewer pitches overall, wild or otherwise.

Back in 2018, I asked a handful of players and coaches why wild pitches were on the rise. They pointed to some trends that have continued to the present day, like faster fastballs and more breaking pitches thrown below the strike zone. These trends help explain hit batters, too.

All told, it might motivate Major League Baseball to move the mound further back than the traditional 60 feet and 6 inches, potentially giving catchers and hitters more time to react to each pitch. MLB already began toying with the idea in the Atlantic League this year.


You might not hear Wei-Yin Chen brag about it, but his place in baseball’s record book seemed secure. In 2016, the former Marlins pitcher made 49 plate appearances and never reached base. Now, Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer is threatening to take down the all-time record for batting ineptitude.

Scherzer’s season-long 0-for reached 59 plate appearances Saturday. Assuming he makes two more starts of typical length, the Dodgers pitcher might get six chances to reach base for the first time since Sept. 8, 2019.

Don’t feel too bad about rooting for Scherzer to go 0 for 6. In lieu of a hit, he might have to settle for the National League Cy Young Award.


Shohei Ohtani’s American League MVP case is simple. The Angels’ star is the most valuable player in baseball in terms of Wins Above Replacement (any version) when his hitting and pitching stats are taken into consideration. It’s the most unique season by a baseball player in most of our lifetimes. If more players could simultaneously pitch and hit at Ohtani’s level, he wouldn’t be the best two-way player since Babe Ruth a century ago.

But wait, there’s more.

Ohtani is one of four players in American League history with 45 home runs and 23 stolen bases in a season, joining Jose Canseco (1998), Ken Griffey Jr. (1999) and Alex Rodriguez (2007).

He’s the first player to steal home and earn a pitching win in the same game since Darren Dreifort in 2001.

In the All-Star Game, Ohtani became the first player ever to start at pitcher, start in the leadoff spot and earn the win all in the same game (regular season, All-Star or postseason).

He joined Jim Rice (1978) and Mickey Mantle (1955) as the only players to lead the AL in homers and triples at the All-Star break.

He’s the first player to hit a leadoff home run and record a win as a pitcher in the same season since 1891.

Ohtani is also one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. I don’t believe WAR takes that into account.


Aug. 10 marked the first day in major league history that every MLB team played a game and no starter pitched more than six innings (Stats Perform). … A question I received via email this week: Are the Dodgers a dynasty? The answer is yes, and here’s why: The Dodgers have scored the most runs in the NL this year while allowing the fewest. They also did that in 2020, 2019 and 2018. The only team to score the most runs in their league while allowing the fewest in four consecutive seasons was the Yankees from 1936-39 (Stats Perform). … One game, in particular, helped when the Dodgers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 22-1, on July 10. That game marked the first time a team had eight home runs, two grand slams, and two separate sets of back-to-back home runs in a single season, let alone in one game (Stats Perform).

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