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Records Are Meant to be Broken: 2023 MLB Record Watch


Braves' SP Spencer Strider; Photo via Febrezey2011

Chasing records is the pastime of America’s pastime. Unlike other major pro sports, accurate numbers and statistics can be found for baseball dating back over 100 years. The rich history of the game is undisputed, and one connection today’s MLB has to that legacy is the records that remain. Record-chasing allows us to visit a time capsule in baseball’s past while being witnesses to the new history unfolding in front of our eyes. Fans got to be a part of this experience last season, as Aaron Judge surpassed Roger Maris’ single-season American League home run record from 1961. Flash forward to June 8th of the 2023 season, and some more players are accomplishing incredible feats and threatening to break long-standing records. In this article, I look to examine two players having historic starts to their seasons that could be etched into baseball’s history.



Spencer Strider (Braves)


K/9

Strider's Current K/9 - 14.6 | Single-Season Record (min. 100 innings) - 13.82 K/9 (Gerrit Cole, 2019)


The Braves are currently sitting atop the NL East with a 37-24 record, and they could not have gotten there without the help of an incredible start to the season from starting pitcher Spencer Strider. After proving himself in a top-notch rotation last season, Strider has taken the reins in his second year. He is currently 6-2, posting a 3.79 ERA in 73.2 innings while also allowing a league-best 5.7 H/9. His tremendous success this season also appears sustainable. His FIP of 2.85 is sizably lower than his ERA, and his 90th percentile chase rate and 97th percentile whiff percentage suggest he will keep racking up strikeouts.


Strider has a legitimate chance to win the NL Cy Young Award, and some might wonder why until they take a look at his strikeouts. Ridiculously, Spencer already has 113 strikeouts in just 12 starts. His strikeout ability has been no secret to anyone. Strider broke the Braves franchise record at the end of April for the most consecutive regular season starts with at least 9 strikeouts, a streak that dated back to last season. His mark of 9 consecutive broke John Smoltz’s previous record of 8 and fell just short of Nolan Ryan’s MLB record of 11. Strider has already put himself in elite company, and the numbers he’s putting up right now are nothing short of spectacular.

Whether he is aware of it or not, Strider is chasing two all-time records as of this writing. The first is strikeouts per 9 innings, or K/9. Strider’s current K/9 is sitting at a whopping 14.6. Strider has more than separated himself from the pack, as the next closest K/9 sits at just 12.77. To truly put it in perspective, only 3 pitchers since the beginning of the live ball era (1921) have put up a K/9 higher than 13 with at least 25 starts in a single season. That short list consists of 2 Hall of Famers (Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson) and the guy who received the largest pitching contract in MLB history (Gerrit Cole). Strider is on pace to blow past that 13 mark and put himself into a category of his own. Technically, the record of the highest K/9 recorded in a single season currently belongs to Shane Bieber, who posted a 14.2 K/9 in the 2020 shortened season. That mark should have an asterisk, however, as Bieber pitched just 77.1 innings. The true mark was set by Gerrit Cole’s 13.82 K/9 in 212.1 innings in 2019. However, at Strider’s current pace, he will blow Cole out of the water and even surpass Bieber. This is all very impressive stuff from, but Spencer Strider might be chasing something even bigger as the season rolls on…


Fastest to 300 Ks (single season)

Strider’s Current Pace - 301 Ks, 2nd season | Record - 301 Ks, 3rd season (Vida Blue, 1971)


Putting together 300 strikeouts in a single season is truly a remarkable feat for any pitcher at any point in his career. Since the end of the steroid era (2005), there have only been 5 pitchers who amassed 300 Ks in a season:



The list above is elite company to be in, with all 5 having cases to enter the Hall of Fame when their careers conclude. The youngest to collect 300 Ks was Clayton Kershaw in his age-27 season back in 2015. As it stands as of this writing, Spencer Strider has 113 strikeouts in 61 games. With roughly 9.42 Ks per start and about 20 starts ahead of him, Strider is projected to fan 301 batters when it is all said and done. At 24 years old, this would make him the youngest pitcher to do it since the conclusion of the steroid era. Even all-time greats Nolan Ryan and Pedro Martinez did not reach the 300 K mark until they were 25.

If we stretch out the sample over the entire modern era (since 1901), Strider is still en route to do something that has never been done. Former MVP and 3-time Cy Young winner Vida Blue currently holds the MLB record for the fewest seasons before reaching 300 Ks. Blue reached that mark in just his third major league season for the A’s back in 1971. Strider will claim Blue’s record for himself if he reaches 300 strikeouts this season. Although Spencer was technically called up and threw 1.1 innings at the end of 2020, his first real work came in 2021. So, in just his second full season, Strider could put up the historic 300 Ks to make him one of the most decorated 24-year-old pitchers of all time.



Luis Arraez (Marlins)


Batting Average

Arraez's 2023 Batting Average - .403 | Single-Season MLB Record (since 1941) - .401 (Ted Williams)


While Strider’s record-chasing has gone more under the radar this season, Luis Arraez has put the whole league on notice with the history he’s making. With 14 hits in his last 21 at-bats as of this writing, Arraez looks to take the batting title for a second consecutive year. He currently sits at a historic .403 batting average. For 82 years, many have been tried, but no one has succeeded in breaking past the .400 mark over a full season since the great Ted Williams did it for the Red Sox in 1941. There have only been two players who ever came close to the record over an entire season since the beginning of the expansion era (1961): George Brett in 1980 (.390) and Tony Gwynn in 1994 (.394). With the way the game has shifted, there was a time that many believed we’d never see a player come close again. The highest batting average over a whole season since the end of the steroid era was Joe Mauer’s .365 in 2009. That is not even relatively close to Teddy Ballgame’s .401.


Luis Arraez has changed the narrative, however, as he has turned into one of the best bat-to-ball contact hitters in recent memory. While not hitting the ball particularly hard, he makes contact better than anyone else in the league, sitting in the 100th percentile for both whiff and strikeout percentage. He has a real chance to join Ted Williams as one of only two players to surpass .400 since before the integration era.


BABIP

Arraez's Current BABIP - .417 | Single-Season Record- .423 BABIP (Babe Ruth, 1923)


Luis Arraez’s chase for .400 (technically .401) is by far the most notable record chase we have this season, but, while he’s at it, Arraez might break an even older record set by an even bigger baseball icon. While batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is not the sexiest stat, it is far more comprehensible than batting average, as it takes into account factors like the opposing defense, a player’s talent level, and general luck. According to FanGraphs’ Piper Slowinski, “Virtually no hitter is capable of producing a BABIP of .380 or higher on a regular basis.” Arraez is testing that theory so far. His BABIP has consistently been above .380 this season through 58 games. Another guy who tested that theory: The Bambino himself. Babe Ruth put up a .423 BABIP during his MVP season all the way back in 1923, a record that has withstood the test of time over the past 100 years. The two guys sitting behind Ruth on the all-time single-season BABIP list: fellow Hall of Famers George Sisler (.422 in 1922) and Rogers Hornsby (.422 in 1924). If the season ended today, Arraez would be 4th on that list with a .417 BABIP, sitting just above yet another Hall of Famer in Ty Cobb (.416 in 1922). 4 Hall of Famers… and Luis Arraez. Even if Luis can’t pass the great Babe Ruth for the single-season BABIP record, his .417 would still be the highest since the end of the live ball era (1941). Arraez has put himself into a stratosphere no hitter has ventured into in a very long time.


 

Records are meant to be broken. After we saw Judge beat out Maris last year for the home run record, baseball fans have been left to wonder when they will see something like that again. Spencer Strider and Luis Arraez have a chance to make history this year by breaking some significant records. The fact that there are even conversations surrounding these marks potentially being surpassed shows just how incredible Strider and Arraez are playing right now. Regardless of whether or not either player is successful in their attempt to etch their name into baseball’s legacy, be grateful to be along for the ride. These are historic performances, and fans of baseball should soak it in and enjoy the race for history.



Sources:


BatteryPower.com

Baseball-Reference.com

BaseballSavant.MLB.com

Fangraphs.com

MLB.com


"Spencer Strider in 2022" via Febrezey2011 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0




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