On one hand, the 2020 MLB season will always be one with an asterisk, with just 60 games played in bizarre situations with some unusual rules which may or may not stick around. All of us watching and living through this understand that.
But on the other hand, in 10, 20 or 50 years, it will be just another season in the long scroll of Baseball Reference, which people of the future will access on their augmented-reality contact lenses or via neural implant. So how will those team and individual totals from 2020 stack up against other seasons in Cardinals history?
Among the counting stats, I thought it might be most interesting to look at Home Runs and Stolen bases. My assumption was that yes, of course 2020 would see new lows in team and individual totals. But that may not be the case...
Keeping my focus on the post-integration era, the lowest Team Total for HRs in Cardinals history was 50 in 1981. That’s not surprising because the strike-shortened 1981 season is the closest thing to a comp for 2020. But the Cardinals played 102 games in 1981, well ahead of what they will play this season.
This year’s Cardinals team sits at 31 HRs after 35 games. So with the team currently scheduled for 58 games and assuming they play all of those games, if they keep homering at their current pace... they would end with 52 HRs.
While 1981 produced the lowest team total, George Hendrick’s 18 HRs that season was not the lowest individual mark in club history. For that, we’ll have to venture into the Whiteyball era and the early 90’s Whiteyball aftermath.
In 1986, the bizarro bad season in between World Series years, the team was led by Andy Van Slyke with just 13 homers. But the absolute nadir came in 1991, when Todd Zeile led the team with 11 HRs.
It’s not impossible, but it’s looking like long odds for any player on this 2020 team to eclipse that record. Noted Slugger Brad Miller - who we all expected to be the Cardinals primary offensive weapon - currently leads the team with 5 HRs. Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill are close behind with 4.
ZiPS rest of season projections currently forecast that Miller and Goldy will end with exactly 8 HRs. So one of them will need to heat up if they’re going to eclipse the Todd Zeile mark.
Even in that strike-shortened 1981 season, the Cardinals stole 88 bases as a team, because 80’s Baseball. And while many of us who grew up in those years assumed that the game had just kind of always been that way, the prevalence of the stolen base has fluctuated quite a bit over the years.
The post-integration low for a Cardinals team was just 17 stolen bases in 1949. In more recent times, the 2016 Cardinals stole only 35 bags as a team.
To date, the 2020 squad has just 10 stolen bases. That puts them on-pace for 17 stolen bases this season, matching that 1949 mark.
The individual leader on that ‘49 team was Red Schoendienst with eight. But in an era of low stolen base totals, that was not the lowest. In 1953, Enos Slaughter led the team with just four steals. (Tom Herr led the 1981 club with 23.)
On an individual basis, Kolten Wong and Harrison Bader are currently tied for the team lead with 2 steals each. ZiPS projects each of them to swipe 2 more, so both project to end the year right around Slaughter’s previous low-water mark.
So, what can we take from all of this? Mostly, this is just one for the Fun Facts file, or for some gentle prop betting with your friends. But it’s also a reminder that, as much as we sometimes think about Baseball as monolithic, baseball is weird. Even over just a 60 game season, you might not eclipse certain records for low production set over a full season.
*The previously published version miscalculated the total games to be played this season. It has now been updated.