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How a 60 game season will impact pitching leaderboards

A shortened season means any pitcher can top the league in nearly any category.

San Diego Padres v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

With a 60-game season imminently approaching, I thought it would be a fun exercise to see last year’s league leaders at the ~60-game mark to see how things changed from that point to the end of the year.

A bit on the methodology: because teams don’t play an even 60 games on a specific date due to off days, we’re going to use June 4, 2019 as the 60-game mark. On this day, nine teams had played exactly 60 games, and only the Mariners were not within two games of 60 games played.

Regardless of what date we choose in early June 2019, most starting pitchers (not openers) have 12 or 13 starts. We used an innings minimum of 30 innings pitched for the first 60 games, and looked at qualified starters for full season results.

At the 60-game mark, nine pitchers had thrown 80 innings or more, with Justin Verlander leading the league having thrown 87 ⅓ magnificent innings over 13 games. JV was solid the entire year. His 2.16 ERA was fifth in the league, and he finished fourth in ERA with 2.58 earned run average. His early season numbers were the result of a .161 batting average on balls in play against, which ended up over 50 points higher to end the season (still a low .218).

Through the fist 60 games, only four pitchers struck out 100 batters or more: Max Scherzer (117), Gerrit Cole (116), Stephen Strasburg (104), and Verlander (103). Over the course of the season, Cole went on to lead all MLB by the end of the season with 326 strikeouts, 26 more than JV’s 300. They were the only two pitchers to fan more than 300 batters.

From a control standpoint, Brad Keller of the Royals and Yu Darvish take the cake for the most walks in the first 60 games. Keller walked 42 batters in 78 innings, and Darvish walked 41 in just 61 innings. Things didn’t really improve for Keller, who finished with the fourth-worst walk rate in baseball by the end of the season.

Darvish improved significantly, dropping a whopping 15 percent walk rate through 60 games to a reasonable 7.7 percent by the end of the year. In his last 117 ⅔ innings pitched, he walked a total of only 15 batters.

When it came to giving up homers last season, the Orioles David Hess led the league through the first 60 games, coughing up 19 gopher-balls across 53 innings. The Mariners’ (and then Diamondbacks’) Mike Leake was not far behind, giving up 18, though he did pitch nearly 73 innings.

By the end of 2019, Leake was the only pitcher to give up more than 40 home runs (he gave up 41). It’s quite a feat, but still nine shy of Bert Blyleven’s 50 home runs against in 1986.

Looking at the fWAR leaders through 60 games, we’ll see familiar names including Max Scherzer (first, 3.5 wins) and Stephen Strasburg (tied-for-second, 2.7 wins). The most surprising thing is the other names at that of the fWAR leaderboard. Detroit’s Matthew Boyd was tied with Strasburg at 2.7 wins, having started 13 games, and allowing only 27 total runs. Also in the top-ten are Lucas Giolito and Hyun-Jin Ryu (both at 2.6 wins), with German Marquez and Lance Lynn right behind them (with 2.3 wins).

Boyd and Marquez were the pitchers who most regressed last season. Boyd managed just 0.6 wins the rest of the season, Marquez just 1.1 wins for the remaining 100+games.

It appears that 60 games is a decent enough sample to give us a sense of the best hitters in baseball, as the leaderboards were mostly names and faces we would expect to see, and did see, at the end of the 2019 season. While MVP candidates such as Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander appear on the leaderboards for pitchers through 60 games, there’s a higher likelihood a lesser-known starter can make his mark.

Bottom line is, a hot month or two from any pitcher is not out of the realm of possibility, especially when you consider that most pitchers will only start 12 or 13 games.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano