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Under normal circumstances, 60 games of baseball would scream “small sample size.” When you play 162 times per season, two months simply aren’t enough to make reliable assessments about a player or team. There’s too much noise, and not enough signal.
Now, we’re about to find out what happens when two months represents the entire schedule. As the Blue Jays prepare for the shortest season in franchise history, we should probably brace ourselves for the unexpected.
A look through the history books offers us an idea of what some best-case scenarios might look like. Here, via Sportsnet Stats, are the best 60-game stretches in franchise history (those of us who watched the 2015 Blue Jays certainly won’t be surprised to see which team occupies top spot):
• July 29–Oct. 3, 2015: 43-17
• July 7–Sept. 10, 1989: 41-19
• July 24–Sept. 26, 1987: 41-19
• July 21–Sept. 25, 1985: 41-19
On an individual level, the Blue Jays have seen some incredible home run outbursts over 60-game periods:
• July 26–Sept. 30, 2010: Jose Bautista, 27
• April 24–July 1, 1987: George Bell, 26
• May 6–Aug. 19, 2014: Edwin Encarnacion, 25
• July 21–Sept. 30, 2017: Josh Donaldson, 24
• May 1–July 5, 2012: Jose Bautista, 24
• April 16–June 16, 2000: Carlos Delgado, 24
• July 10–Sept. 17, 1999: Carlos Delgado, 24
And if history’s any indication, it’s at least conceivable that we could see a .400 hitter for the first time since Ted Williams in 1941. Over the last four decades, three Blue Jays players have hit at least .400 over a 60-game period:
• April 12–June 21, 1999: Tony Fernandez, .432
• April 18–June 22, 1993: John Olerud, .417
• May 25–Aug. 1, 2000: Carlos Delgado, .409
Clearly, there’s a difference between hitting .400 for 60 games and maintaining that mark over the course of 162. A traditional season is nearly three times as long as the one we’re about to watch.
So how would history remember a .400 hitter in 2020? Should we use asterisks to note the shortened season? With those questions in mind I reached out to John Thorn, MLB’s official historian.
“Asterisks be damned. The season is what it is,” Thorn wrote me via email. “Baseball fans pride themselves on their knowledge of the game’s past as well as its present, and their curiosity in future decades might send them back to the history books… which to me would be a far, far better thing than contenting oneself with an asterisk.”
Well put. When you look at it that way, the 2020 season is sure to provide baseball fans of the future with plenty of topics to debate.