The 2022 MLB regular season is three months old and the All-Star break is right around the corner. Before you know it, the trade deadline will be here. There’s still half a season to play, but several important dates are coming up, then it’ll be time to get into the dog days of summer and the postseason races.
With that in mind, our weekly series breaking down various trends across the league continues Wednesday with a look one player chasing a rare milestone, one team’s struggles in the field, and one GM finding success with his former players. Last week we looked at Andrew Vaughn’s breakout, Eli Morgan’s unique changeup, and the rise in catcher interference calls.
Olson chasing 60 doubles
Sixty home runs is a hallowed number in baseball. Only five players have ever hit 60 homers in a season (Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Mark McGwire twice, Sammy Sosa thrice) and they’ve done it a combined eight times. Giancarlo Stanton made a run at 60 homers during his 2017 NL MVP season. Alas, he fell one short and finished with 59 dingers, the ninth-highest total in history.
Sixty homers is a historic total, but did you know 60-double seasons are more rare than 60-homer seasons? Only six players in history have recorded 60 doubles in a season and none of them did it more than once. Here are the six 60-double seasons in MLB history:
- Earl Webb, 1931 Red Sox: 67
- George Burns, 1926 Cleveland: 64
- Joe Medwick, 1936 Cardinals: 64
- Hank Greenberg, 1934 Tigers: 63
- Paul Waner, 1932 Pirates: 62
- Charlie Gehringer, 1936 Tigers: 60
Only six 60-double seasons in history and none since 1936. The most recent run at 60 doubles was Nick Castellanos in 2019. He had 58 doubles split between Tigers (37 doubles) and Cubs (21 doubles). Castellanos led MLB in doubles that season but did not lead either league because of the midseason trade. Todd Helton had a 59-double season with the Rockies in 2000.
This season Braves first baseman Matt Olson is in position to make a run at baseball’s first 60-double season in nearly a century. He leads baseball with 32 doubles through 82 team games, putting him on pace for 63. No other player has more than 27 doubles (Rafael Devers and José Ramírez are tied for second). Olson’s 32 doubles are already the most in a first half in franchise history.
Olson has a good shot to go into the All-Star break with 35 doubles. Only one player has done that since 2014 (Eduardo Escobar had 35 doubles at the 2019 All-Star break), and only 15 have done it period. Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez holds the record with 42 first-half doubles in 1996. Manny Machado had 39 doubles in the first half with the 2013 Orioles.
It’s worth noting Truist Park is not a great doubles park in general, especially for lefty hitters. The stadium’s three-year park factor for lefty doubles is 99, so almost exactly league average (100). It neither inflates doubles (like Fenway Park) nor suppresses doubles (like Yankee Stadium). Olson won’t get a doubles boost from his home ballpark, upping the difficulty as he pursues 60 doubles.
Of course, Olson is known more for home runs than doubles. His 12 homers put him on pace for 24, well south of last year’s 39 dingers with the Athletics. Olson is likely to fall short of 60 doubles because hitting 60 doubles in a season is extremely hard, and also because he’s probably going to start turning some would-be doubles into homers in the second half.
“I know that doubles have been happening at a little higher pace than they have in the past, and home runs are probably a little lower, but as long as I’m driving the ball in the gap and getting a few out, that’s where I want to stay,” Olson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution over the weekend. “… Listen, extra-base hits is what you want to go out and do. Especially me being a middle-of-the-lineup first baseman, that’s kind of my job, to drive in runs.”
The Braves franchise has been around in some form since 1876 and the team record is 51 doubles by Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy in 1894. The Atlanta era record (since 1966) is Marcus Giles with 49 in 2003. Olson has a chance to not only beat that record, but shatter it. Replacing Freddie Freeman wasn’t going to be easy, but Olson and his doubles are doing it rather well.
Giants lacking in the field
A year ago the Giants had a charmed season in which seemingly everything that could go right, did go right. Players up and down the roster had career years, including several veterans in their mid-30s, and the result was a franchise record 107 wins. That includes the New York years. The previous San Francisco era (since 1958) record was 103 wins in 1963 and 1993.
Wins have been harder to come by for the Giants this season, especially lately. San Francisco has lost six straight games, the team’s longest losing streak since a seven-gamer in May 2019, and is 3-12 in its last 15 games. One year after winning a franchise record 107 games, the Giants are hovering around .500 as the All-Star break approaches (they’re 40-39).
One of the biggest difference between the 2021 Giants and the 2022 Giants is defense. San Francisco was an above-average defensive team last season. They weren’t a truly elite defensive team last year, but they were comfortably better than the league average. This year the Giants are one of the worst defensive clubs. Their MLB ranks:
.707 (6th in MLB)
.676 (29th in MLB)
Defensive runs saved
+32 (11th in MLB)
-21 (27th in MLB)
Outs above average
+27 (5th in MLB)
-33 (30th in MLB)
* Defensive efficiency is the percentage of batted balls turned into outs. The MLB average is .698.
The Giants just wrapped up an eight-game homestand in which they went 2-6 and committed 10 errors, plus had several other plays that should have been made but were not. Defenders can only make errors on balls they get to and the Giants, with MLB’s oldest collection of position players and a decided lack of athleticism, simply don’t get to as many balls as they should.
Bad defense hurts in so many ways. More hits fall in, more runners reach base, more runs cross the plate, more pitches have to be thrown, more relievers have to be used, so on and so forth. Bad defense alone usually isn’t enough to sink a season, but it can be very costly, and drag a team’s ceiling down. That is happening with the 2022 Giants. Seemingly every night they make a misplay (or just flat out don’t make a play they should have made) that costs them dearly.
“I think the steps we have in place right now are the correct ones,” manager Gabe Kapler told NBC Sports Bay Area about his team’s shoddy defense last month. “I think it’s just consistently tuning the mindset of our players, reminding them they need to be aggressive at all times and expect that they can make any play on the field.”
Ex-Rangers having success with Padres
At 47-36, the Padres have the fourth-best record in National League. How they got there is a bit unexpected. Franchise star Fernando Tatis Jr. has yet to play this season after suffering a broken wrist in the offseason. He is still weeks away from returning. The Padres have received below positional average offense from first base, shortstop, center field, right field, and DH. Yuck.
Manny Machado has been San Diego’s best player all season and that’s no surprise. The case can be made their next three best players are all former Rangers. GM AJ Preller spent 2004-14 in the Texas front office, including several years as their international scouting director. With the Padres, Preller has not been shy about bringing in his former Rangers signings.
Look at the ex-Rangers having strong seasons for the 2022 Padres:
Alfaro, Mazara, and Profar have combined for 4.3 WAR in 157 games with the Padres in 2022. They combined for 3.5 WAR in 889 games with Texas earlier in their careers (Alfaro never actually played for the Rangers, he was traded to the Phillies in the Cole Hamels deal as a prospect). What’s Rougned Odor up to these days? (Hitting .206/.262/.408 with the Orioles.) What about Ronald Guzmán? (Hitting .200/.315/.318 in Triple-A with the Yankees.). Leonys Martin? (Hitting .161/.292/.301 in Japan.) They can’t be far behind, can they?
Let’s not forget Yu Darvish. The Rangers signed the current Padres righty as an international free agent during the Preller era, though he was a high-profile Japanese professional. Alfaro, Mazara, and Profar were all signed as amateur prospects, which was Preller’s primary focus. He signed those guys as teenagers and watched them develop into big leaguers. It didn’t happen as quickly as they might have liked with Texas, but it’s happening now in San Diego, and that’s better than not happening at all.
History tells us Alfaro and particularly Mazara won’t perform at this level all season. It’s always possible things have clicked with the change of scenery, and they are 29 and 27 years old, respectively, the ages many players have a career year (Profar is 29 as well). Still, it’s not unreasonable to be skeptical about these ex-Rangers given the track records. They were available for a low cost for a reason.
As well as the Padres have played to date, they’re going to need Tatis to get healthy and guys like Austin Nola and Trent Grisham to do more than they’ve done. The ex-Rangers are only going to take San Diego so far. That said, they have not only kept the Padres afloat while Tatis has been sidelined, they’ve helped them thrive. Preller knows these players and has a long history with them, and his faith in them is be rewarded in 2022.