March 30, 2017

Fun With Retrosheet: League Leaders With the Fewest Games Played

October 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Cliff Blau recently mentioned to me that Vince Barton led the NL in getting hit by pitches in 1931 despite playing only 66 games and wondered what were the fewest games for players leading their respective leagues in a hitting category.

So since major league baseball returned to a 150+ game schedule in 1904 (and ignoring the shortened seasons of 1918-19, 1981 and 1994-1995), here are the leaders in the various categories with the fewest games played:

CAT   G   # Year Player 
AB  143 622 1941 Johnny Rucker
R   118 114 1987 Paul Molitor
H   139 198 1959 Harvey Kuenn
2B  118  41 1987 Paul Molitor
3B   97  14 1992 Deion Sanders
HR  102  10 1904 Harry Davis
RBI 133 107 1914 Frank LaPorte
BB  115 104 1990 Jack Clark
IBB  98  17 1955 Ted Williams
SO  101  99 1944 Pat Seerey
HBP  66   9 1931 Vince Barton
SH   29  15 2003 Jason Schmidt
SF  116  12 1961 Leo Posada
GDP 107  26 1933 Ernie Lombardi
SB   85  18 1941 Danny Murtaugh
CS  101  18 2003 Alex Sanchez

RBI wasn’t an official stat in 1914 in Frank LaPorte’s day and he led the Federal League, a borderline major league. If you don’t count him, the leader with the fewest games played was Ray Boone who collected 116 RBIs in 135 games to tie Jackie Jensen for the most in the AL in 1955.

Pat Seerey also topped the AL in strikeouts while playing only 105 games in 1948 and led the league four times in all without ever having more than 414 at-bats in a season.

And Cliff was right to point out Barton. With the exception of sacrifice hits, where pitchers now and then lead the league, no player has ever led a league in one of these categories while appearing in as few games as Barton did in 1931. He was a rookie that year and didn’t join the Cubs until July 17th and didn’t start a game until July 20th, when the Cubs reshuffled their outfield, replacing disappointing Hack Wilson with the rookie. He quickly became one of the NL’s pitcher’s favorite targets. The Philly hurlers hit him four times in two games before the end of the month, and in less than two weeks he had already taken over the leadership in getting plunked. He ended up hitting 13 HRs and driving in 50 runs in less than half a season, but a low batting average and a poor start the next season soon spelled the end of his career.

Rookie Danny Murtaugh didn’t play his first game until July in 1941 and had only one stolen base after swiping three in a September 3rd doubleheader, but teams didn’t run much in 1941 and he narrowly took the crown from teammate Stan Benjamin. Despite having the circuit’s top two base stealers, the Phillies had a dreadful offense in 1941, scoring nearly 100 runs less than the second worst offense in the majors that year, on their way to 111 losses.

Other league leaders in 1961 got more publicity than Leo Posada, but I suppose he can take some solace in having made this list.

While we were on the subject, I thought it might be interesting to see the earliest date that a player had clinched at least a tie for the league leadership. Perhaps an example might make it clear what I’m getting at. Frank Robinson led the NL in doubles in 1962 with 51. Willie Mays was second with 36. On July 28th, Robinson hit his 36th double so, theoretically at least, Robinson could have taken the rest of the year off and still tied for the lead.

Now I realize that we shouldn’t take this too seriously, and that Robinson’s absence over the last two months of the season could very well have changed how many doubles the rest of the players hit, but I decided to go ahead with this anyway. I looked at the games from 1920 to 2010 (again ignoring shortened seasons) and here’s what I found.

CAT   G  TOT  2ND     Date     Player
AB  143  679  624  1953- 9-11  Harvey Kuenn
R   112  152  124  1932- 8- 9  Chuck Klein
H   123  228  184  1946- 8-28  Stan Musial
2B  101   51   36  1962- 7-28  Frank Robinson
3B   57   23   10  2007- 6- 6  Curtis Granderson
HR   47   47   19  1926- 6- 5  Babe Ruth
RBI  92  170  119  1935- 7-27  Hank Greenberg
BB   76  232  127  2004- 7- 9  Barry Bonds
IBB  29  120   26  2004- 5- 9  Barry Bonds
SO   93  119   81  1936- 7-24  Jimmie Foxx
HBP  27   24   10  1973- 5-15  Ron Hunt
SH   41   39   14  1990- 5-26  Jay Bell
SF   71   13   11  2007- 6-19  Carlos Lee
GDP  69   36   23  1984- 6-26  Jim Rice
SB   36   57   22  1964- 5-25  Luis Aparicio
CS   50   23   16  1967- 6-12  Don Buford

I had a good idea who would have clinched at least a tie for a league leadership the earliest and, sure enough, it was Barry Bonds, who had 26 intentional walks in his first 29 games of 2004, on his way to a ridiculous 120.

Jim Rice’s 36 grounded into double-plays in 1984 is the major league record, but he was an even more amazing GDP machine in the early going that year, hitting into an average of one every three games, a pace that would have given him 53 for the season. The next year, he once again had a ton of these in the first three months of the season, hitting into his 26th on June 25th, a day earlier than in 1984. Despite that, he doesn’t make the list for his 1985 performance because Cal Ripken grounded into 32 DPs that season, tying tied him for the most in major league history for a player not named Rice.

When Aparicio stole his 22nd base on May 25, 1964, the next highest total in the league was only five.

The previous chart looked at the earliest date in a season where a player had tied the league’s runner-up. Here’s a similar chart of the players that did this in the fewest games.

CAT   G  TOT  2ND     Date     Player
AB  139  622  603  1941- 9-23  Johnny Rucker
    139  639  610  1951- 9-21  Dom DiMaggio
R   112  152  124  1932- 8- 9  Chuck Klein
    112  119   98  1960- 8-20  Mickey Mantle
H   123  244  211  1922- 9- 1  George Sisler
    123  228  184  1946- 8-28  Stan Musial
2B   94   56   40  1937- 8- 5  Joe Medwick
3B   57   23   10  2007- 6- 6  Curtis Granderson
HR   47   47   19  1926- 6- 5  Babe Ruth
RBI  92  170  119  1935- 7-27  Hank Greenberg
BB   76  232  127  2004- 7- 9  Barry Bonds
IBB  29  120   26  2004- 5- 9  Barry Bonds
SO   83  102   87  1948- 8-15  Pat Seerey
HBP  20    9    7  1931- 8- 5  Vince Barton
SH   24   17   13  1999- 8- 5  Shane Reynolds
SF   62   18   11  1983- 6-21  Andre Dawson
GDP  69   36   23  1984- 6-26  Jim Rice
SB   36   57   22  1964- 5-25  Luis Aparicio
CS   50   23   16  1967- 6-12  Don Buford

In addition to all those strikeouts, Pat Seerey’s year also included a June trade and a four home run game.

Here is a list of the pitchers who locked up at least a tie for the leadership of a category the earliest in a season:

CAT   G   TOT   2ND       Date     Player
G    47    64    47    1926- 8- 8  Firpo Marberry
CG    6     9     4    2008- 4-29  Roy Halladay
SHO   5     3     2    2005- 5- 1  Jon Garland
      6     4     2    2010- 5- 1  Roy Halladay
GF   30    62    23    1950- 7- 1  Jim Konstanty
SV   49    62    42    2008- 7-23  F. Rodriguez
IP   33   346.2 265.2  1953- 8-18  Robin Roberts
H    32   324   243    1953- 8-16  Robin Roberts
HR   25    40    29    1957- 7-25  Robin Roberts
R    32   151   119    1951- 8- 8  Murry Dickson
ER   28   127    94    1942- 8-11  Jim Tobin
BB   16   204    99    1977- 6-16  Nolan Ryan
IBB  31    11     9    2007- 6-16  Luis Vizcaino
SO   22   364   221    1999- 7-20  Randy Johnson
     21   347   217    2000- 7-20  Randy Johnson
WP   11     9     6    1925- 5-20  Lefty Grove
HBP   8     7     5    1946- 5-18  Bobo Newsom
W    29    31    22    1931- 8- 3  Lefty Grove
L    28    22    18    1963- 7-27  Roger Craig

Roy Halladay also clinched at least a tie for his league’s lead in complete games before the end of May in 2005 and 2010. The only other pitcher to do this before the end of June was Curt Schilling in 2001. Halladay pitched four straight complete games in April of 2008, losing three of them.

I did not include any saves leaders prior to 1969. If I had, the earliest pitcher to clinch a tie for the lead would have been Firpo Marberry when he picked up his ninth save on June 10, 1926 and Jim Turner who got his fifth save exactly nineteen years later.

Randy Johnson actually had more strikeouts in 2001 than either 1999 or 2000, including 220 by July 20th, but Curt Schilling’s 293 strikeouts that year kept Johnson off the list.

Rookie Lefty Grove threw eight wild pitches in his first 54.2 major league innings (up through the games of May 26th), but then threw only one more the rest of the season.

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