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Ryan Zimmerman on Pace for a Unique Season in Baseball History

Updated on May 13, 2017
Ryan Zimmerman
Ryan Zimmerman | Source

Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals is off to such a hot start that he may not only win Comeback Player of the Year but also the MVP award.

Through games of Friday, May 12, he is leading the Major Leagues in batting average at .393, hits with 48, slugging at .820 and runs batted in with 34, is tied for the lead in homers with 13, leads the National League in doubles with 13, is tied for fourth in the NL in runs with 28 and tied for sixth in on base percentage at .432.

Yes, it’s early and Zimmerman has shown a proclivity to injuries (he hasn’t played a full season since 2013). Last year he played in 115 games, 456 plate appearances, when he batted just .218 with 15 homers and 46 RBIs.

Double the Pleasure

Still, it’s a great start to a season that has him on pace to hit 63 homers with 162 RBIs if he plays in the rest of Washington’s games at his current pace. But what makes his season unique so far is not his homers or RBIs, but his doubles.

Since he has the same number of doubles as homers, it also puts him on a pace to bash 63 doubles. That alone would put him in rarified air. Only six players in baseball history have hit more than 60 doubles in a season, none since 1936 (Todd Helton came oh-so-close in 2000 when he hit 59).

But even if Zimmerman cools off a little, as he is sure to do, suppose he hits just 50 doubles and 50 homers. That in itself will be an amazing feat – it’s happened only once in baseball history. In 1995, Albert Belle of the Cleveland Indians, hit 50 homers with 52 doubles, making the first and only time that’s happened.

50+ Homers, 40+ Doubles

Albert Belle
Babe Ruth
Chris Davis

Zimmerman in Line for Rarity

If Zimmerman manages 50 homers and 40 doubles, he’ll be in almost as rare company. Besides Belle, that’s happened only two other times – in 1921 Babe Ruth hit 59 homers with 44 doubles, and in 2013 Chris Davis of Baltimore belted 53 homers with 42 doubles.

Hitting 50 doubles with 40 homers is only slightly less rare. That’s only happened 11 times in baseball history, eight of those between 1995 and 2005. It happened most recently in 2005 when Derek Lee, playing for the Cubs, hit 50 homers and 46 doubles. Albert Pujols accomplished it in consecutive season in 2003 and 2004. Todd Helton also performed the feat in consecutive seasons in 2000 and 2001. In fact, he just missed joining Belle in the 50-50 club in 2001, when he hit 54 doubles but fell one homer short at 49.

Todd Helton
Chuck Klein
Carlos Delgado
Todd Helton
Albert Belle
Lou Gehrig
Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols
Derrek Lee
Juan Gonzalez
Hank Greenberg

Even 40-40 is Rare

In fact, even 40 homers and 40 doubles in the same season has happened only 38 times, most recently in 2015 when Nolan Arenado had 43 doubles and 42 homers and Josh Donaldson had 41 and 41. Of those 38 times, 26 have happened since 1995. Between 1940 and 1995, the only player to top 40 in both categories was Willie Stargell in 1973, when he had 43 doubles and 44 homers.

Why is this such a rare feat? It seems like it shouldn’t be so unusual since both are power stats.

Reasons it's Such a Rare Feat

First of all, you’re talking about a lot extra base hits. 50 doubles or homers plus 40 doubles or homers, or even 45 of each, is 90 extra base hits. The 90-extra base hit marked has been reached only 66 times. For many power hitters, that’s close to half their season total of hits.

But it turns out that doubles leaders rarely hit a lot of homers and homer leaders often don’t hit many doubles. Last year David Ortiz led in doubles with 48 and hit 38 homers. Not bad. But next in line was Daniel Murphy with 47 doubles but only 25 homers, and Jose Ramirez of the Indians with 46 doubles and 11 homers.

Home run leaders were Mark Trumbo with 47 but 27 doubles and Nelson Cruz with 43 homers and 27 doubles.

I think there are two factors at work here. One is that doubles leaders are often guys with line-drive gap power and enough speed to leg an occasional single into a double like Murphy and Ramirez. Power hitters often hit booming homers but aren’t speed demons, like Trumbo and Cruz. (It would be an interesting study to see how many doubles Murphy and Ramirez had that would have held Trumbo or Cruz to a single. It would also be interesting to see how many of Murphy’s and Ramirez’s doubles bounced off the wall, that someone with a little more power would have pushed over the fence.)

Homers and Doubles Don't Mix

This year you can see this discrepancy in players like Aaron Judge, 13 homers and 4 doubles; Joey Gallo, 12 homers and 4 doubles; and Khris Davis, 10 homers and 3 doubles. On the other end, Mitch Moreland has 15 doubles and 2 homers; A.J. Pollack, 12 doubles and 2 homers; Zack Cozart, 11 and 2; and Gregory Polanco and Justin Turner, each 11 and 1.

There are still a few other players on pace for 40 homers and 40 doubles, including Bryce Harper, Eric Thames, Wil Myers, Mike Trout, Jay Bruce and Freddie Freeman. But only Zimmerman has set a pace that could create a truly unique season in baseball history.


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