The 2020 season seems to be careening toward a shortened schedule — anywhere in the neighborhood of 48 to 76 games — that will somehow leave all parties involved, especially fans, dissatisfied.
And with the bitter taste of negotiations between owners and players still fresh, the best we can do is try to find a bright side in the wake of this dark spring of discontent.
One such bright side? Fewer games mean smaller statistical sample sizes, which mean a greater likelihood of some crazy fun stat lines. There won’t be any home run chases in an abbreviated season, or many chases for cumulative stats at all, but we could see players flirt with some different and seemingly unattainable benchmarks.
Sure, whatever statistical achievements are reached this year won’t be considered equivalent to their full-season peers, but that won’t make the sheer novelty of seeing eye-popping numbers any less enjoyable.
So without further ado, here are a few statistical milestones we might see reached in a shortened 2020 season — and some Yankees we might see do it.
The milestone: A .400 batting average
The Yankee in contention: DJ LeMahieu
Almost everyone in the Yankees lineup is capable of sustaining a scorching-hot stretch for weeks on end. But LeMahieu has an approach and a track record that suggest he’s the man to make a run at .400.
Last season he nearly snagged an American League batting title, driven by an early-summer surge. He hit .395 in 25 games in June of 2019, pushing his average to .345 at the end of the month. He was still at a blistering .339 in mid-August before finally settling in at .327 by season’s end.
And back in 2016, when he won the NL batting title, he hit .402 over 49 games from August through September. If the number of games settles somewhere around the half-century mark in 2020, it’s possible the Yankees’ leadoff man could enjoy another torrid summer above .400.
The milestone: An ERA under 1.00
The Yankee in contention: Gerrit Cole
The answer to a ton of starter-related questions this season was always going to be Gerrit Cole, especially after Luis Severino went down. And he’s the obvious candidate for an otherworldly ERA this year.
But it’s still a long-shot. The only starters to crack the 1.00 ERA barrier over a season are Tim Keefe at 0.86 in 1880, and Dutch Leonard at 0.96 in 1914. The only post-World War II player to even sniff that rarified air is Bob Gibson with a 1.12 ERA in his fabled 1968 campaign.
And yet… in six starts last September, Cole churned out a 1.07 ERA, striking out a monster 74 batters over 42 innings.
Could he sustain that pace over two or three times as many starts? It’s a tall task. If the baseballs in 2020 have been drained of some of their juice, it will help. Cole conceded just six runs (five earned) last September; he gave up four home runs in the same stretch.
Plus, if the schedule is condensed, teams might rely on depth more than usual. It’s easy to imagine Cole feasting on overmatched bench players.
Still, a lot of factors would have to break right to keep him close to the sub-1.00 mark over an entire season, no matter how short. But if he found himself on the verge of that barrier come September, his competitive nature could push Cole over the finish line.
The milestone: An .863 slugging percentage
The Yankee in contention: Giancarlo Stanton
In 2001, Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs — a feat that definitely won’t be replicated this year. Those homers contributed to a record .863 slugging percentage. Aside from Bonds, only Babe Ruth has ever broken .800.
In a short season, a locked-in masher could theoretically approach such a staggering height. Giancarlo Stanton might just be that masher.
In August of his 2017 NL MVP season, Stanton slugged .899 over 29 games. In the preceding 24 games in July, his slugging percentage stood at a not-immortal-but-still-spectacular .731. Combined, the two months yielded an .822 SLG, within shouting distance of some hallowed territory.
Stanton has yet to rediscover his form from the summer of 2017, but he has performed well as a designated hitter in pinstripes, and he appears to be fully healthy at last. Perhaps a mix of regular time at DH and a brief, injury-free schedule could produce the kind of alchemy that gets Stanton swinging at a Bondsian level for the summer.
The milestone: Five home runs in a doubleheader
The Yankee in contention: Gleyber Torres
This feat — accomplished by Stan Musial and former Padre Nate Colbert — isn’t a season-long pursuit, though it does tie into a shortened schedule. The calendar could be clogged with twin-bills in 2020, and there’s a big reason why Torres is primed to take advantage of this aberration: one of those doubleheaders might come against the Orioles.
After Torres clobbered 13 long balls against the Birds in just 75 plate appearances last season, who’s to say he couldn’t post a half-dozen homers in a pair of high-scoring affairs this year? Is a six-pack of round-trippers in 10 or so jaunts to the plate versus Baltimore pitching really that hard to imagine?
If we’re lucky, 2020 will give us a chance to find out.