Entering the playoffs last season it appeared the Giants would rest Pence, ending his tenure as the leading active iron man in the big leagues. San Francisco relented to what must have been a ground swell of public pressure and played Pence for the first 6 innings of their final game, extending his streak to 332 games. But, it was all for naught when Cubs pitching prospect Corey Black fractured Pence’s forearm early this spring.
While Pence the league in consecutive games played, 332 is a long way from Cal Ripken’s 2,632 game streak. So what other ongoing streaks could threaten the baseball record books? Starling Marte has a 13 game jump on Joe DiMaggio’s consecutive game hit streak, but due in part to his unsustainably high batting average on balls in play, he’s not the horse I’d bet on to take down Joltin’ Joe.
The reason I wouldn’t take that bet is that baseball is a game of failure for hitters. There have only been 14 seasons since 1901 where a hitter who qualified for the batting title reached base more than half the time. It seems like every season is labelled the new "Year of the Pitcher" with rising strikeout rates and runs scored on the decline.
Now, perhaps I don’t need to state the obvious but these streaks are narratives that I find interesting as we enter the new baseball season. Of course streaks do not always represent true talent and, yes, players will need fortunate sequencing, and in some cases teams (like the Giants) deviate from convention to afforded their player the opportunity to extend a streak. With that out of the way, on to the fun!
Consecutive seasons with 200 IP
While Pence may have been baseball’s iron man, perhaps no play embodies the spirit of the title more than Mark Buehrle. Last season, the veteran left-hander pitched his way into history tying Greg Maddux for the most consecutive 200 IP seasons since 1969. (Note: 1969 is my the cut-off for "modern" streaks and records throughout the rest of the article.)
While Buehrle’s streak is impressive, he’s benefited greatly from our affection for round numbers. Had we picked, say, 205.2 innings as our benchmark, he would have exceeded the mark only 8 times over those 14 seasons. Maddux, on the other hand, pitched under 210 innings only twice during his 14 straight 200 IP seasons, and one of those years was the strike shortened 1994, a season where he made only 16 starts, 10 of which he completed! Maddux would see his streak end in 2002 when he "only" pitched 199.1 innings. He would best 200 IP again for the next four years.
Consecutive scoreless (regular season) innings
Orel Hershiser ended the 1988 season with 59 consecutive scoreless innings, besting former Dodger great Don Drysdale’s mark of 58. Although the Dodgers won the World Series that season the weight of the scoreless inning streak must have hung heavy around the Bulldog’s neck as the streak died early in 1989 when he gave up a run in his first inning.
The pressure facing Steven Strasburg is different entering the 2015 season as the Washington Nationals remain a perennial, yet uncrowned, World Series favorite. Strasburg ended 2014 with a 20 scoreless innings, currently the longest in baseball. Stras averaged 6.1 innings per start last season. If that trend continues, he should eclipse Hershiser’s mark sometime in early May. Interestingly, teammate Drew Storen is tied with Strasburg for the longest streak without allowing an earned run, at 20 innings.
Consecutive outs without allowing a HR
So you thought you would get out of here without a streak being challenged by the Royals’ bullpen? Not so fast! Both Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis are staring down Greg Milton’s record of 808 consecutive outs without allowing a HR, though neither Herrera nor Davis are particularly close to catching Milton, sitting at 286 and 249 outs, respectively. We'll need to exercise a healthy dose of patience for this streak, as it is going to take until at least the end of 2016 before we see either reliever eclipse Milton.
The path Wade Davis took to dominance has been well chronicled thanks to the Royals Cinderella postseason run. Originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays as a SP, Davis was eventually moved to the pen – where he flourished – before being traded him as part of the package that sent James Shields to Kansas City. The Royals began the 2013 season with Davis in the rotation but after a season of disappointment, Yost moved Davis back to the pen in late-August after Davis lost to the Nationals, giving up a HR to Ian Desmond. That HR would come in his last inning as a starter. In the 82 that followed, Davis has appeared exclusively as a reliever, and hasn’t allowed a HR.
Davis has become the archetype Jekyll and Hyde pitcher; below league-average as a starter but absolutely lights out from the bullpen, where his career ERA is nearly 3 earned runs lower than his appearance as a starter. Moving him to a relief role turned him from what appeared to be a throw-in for Wil Myers to a 3.7 rWAR player, besting Shields (3.3 rWAR) in 2014.
For Kelvin Hererra, who formed the third head of the Royals' legendary 2014 bullpen, there was no doubt that the bullpen would be his home upon arriving in the major leagues. Like Davis, Herrera didn’t allow a HR the entire 2013 regular season. However, his homerless streak is slightly longer, at 286 outs. What may be even more impressive is that this is his second such extended streak. Between April 20, 2012 and April 16, 2013 Herrera recorded 246 outs without allowing a HR, a streak that ended in spectacular fashion when he surrendered HRs to Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Dan Uggla in a tie game he entered in the eighth. That game was the start of an implosion that saw him give up 8 of his 14 career HRs in 14 innings that spanned just over a month.
So there you have it! Three impressive streaks for you to monitor when the season kicks of this spring. Fortunately, unlike the iron man streak, these will be here waiting for you should any of Buerhle, Strasburg, Herrera or Davis succumb the war of attrition that is spring training.
You think KFC's still open?
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All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Matt Jackson is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacksontaigu.