With breaking news Friday morning that yet another Major League Baseball game was being postponed due to positive COVID tests, the question of whether baseball will make it through its pandemic-shortened 60-game slate remains very much up in the air.
So while it may be whistling past the graveyard to act like this season will run its abbreviated course, let’s lift some spirits momentarily by imaging that it will. We’re used to judging a player’s performance based off of 162 games, but how will we judge a 60-game sample?
Thanks to the fine folks at Fangraphs, who put together a useful tool that compiled data sets from every player in 60-game increments going back to 1974, we have a sense of what the best stretches over that time frame are. Knowing this can help us to contextualize performance in this most unusual of seasons.
By most measures, the best two-month stretch for a position player was George Brett in 1980. The Hall of Fame third baseman posted an eye-popping .469 batting average and 6.5 WAR in a stretch from late May to late August in the Royals’ pennant-winning season. Those numbers over a full season would produce a WAR of 17.5, almost five wins better than the best full-season WAR on record (Barry Bonds in 2002).
Looking at just Red Sox position players, let’s dive into the best 60-game stretches over the last 46 years. This is the top five based on Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement.
1. Mookie Betts, 5.1 WAR, April 25 – July 21, 2018
This is the highest WAR for any Red Sox position player over any 60-game stretch. This includes a 12-game stretch in July in which Betts hit .480 and slugged .820. WAR takes into account a player’s value as a base runner and fielder as well, which weighed heavily in Betts’s favor over this time span, since there are stretches in the season where he posted slightly higher slash lines than his .357/.444/.672 over this stretch. Betts hit 17 home runs from late April to late July, while also swiping 16 bases and playing sterling defense.
It was the best overall period of Mookie’s MVP campaign in which he led the league in runs, batting average and slugging percentage. According to Fangraphs metrics, he was also a Top 10 base runner and the best defensive rightfielder in the league. He won his third of four straight Gold Glove awards to cap off one of the most well-rounded seasons in team history.
2. Wade Boggs, 5.0 WAR, May 9 – July 16, 1987
Boggs would have other seasons in which he came closer to winning an MVP award, but ‘87 was arguably his best overall season and certainly his best when it came to power numbers. Boggs set career highs with 24 home runs, 89 RBI and a 1.049 OPS.
Boggs hit 13 of those long balls during this stretch from early May to mid July and racked up a .409 batting average to go with a .502 on base percentage during the span. The 13 homers over those 60 games would have been a career high over any other individual season of Boggs’ career. This is also one of just eight stretches in MLB since 1974 in which a player hit over .400 and reached base more than 50% of the time over a 60-game span.
3. Dustin Pedroia, 5.0 WAR, May 23 – August 2, 2011
It all came crashing down pretty quickly for the 2011 Red Sox but on August 2nd, a September collapse seemed inconceivable. Boston was 26 games above .500 with the best record in the American League. This was thanks in part to the torrid hitting of their diminutive second baseman.
This 60-game stretch encompassed Pedroia’s career-high 25 game hit streak and a July month in which he hit .411 with 18 extra base hits. For the year, Pedroia would post career highs in OPS+, home runs and RBIs. The September collapse is all most fans will remember of 2011, but Pedroia’s scorcher of a summer remains impressive.
4. Fred Lynn, 4.9 WAR, June 18 – August 24, 1979
Lynn famously won the 1975 Rookie of the Year and MVP award, but his 1979 campaign was even better.
From mid June to late August, Lynn hit .392/.482/.766 and posted the highest OPS ever for a Red Sox player over a 60-game span. His 20 homers is third-most for a Sox player in 60 games, behind only Mo Vaughn in 1996 and Manny Ramirez in 2001. The span also includes a 20-game hit streak in which Lynn hit .451 with 11 home runs and 23 RBI and reached base 53% of the time.
How good was Lynn’s entire year? He led the league in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS+ while winning his third of four Gold Glove awards in center field. Somehow this didn’t garner him a single first-place MVP vote, but you can make a compelling case he should have won his second in five years.
5. Nomar Garciaparra, 4.9 WAR, May 30 – August 8, 2000
Nomar’s .421 batting average from late May through early August of 2000 is the highest over a 60-game stretch for any Red Sox player going back as far as the early ’70’s. It’s also the eight-highest batting average over that time span in all of baseball.
This 60-game stretch encompasses Nomar’s insane June in which he hit .452 for the month and followed that off by cooling down to .388 in July. It was the hottest stretch of a season in which Nomar hit .372 overall. He won his second straight batting title, became the first Sox player to hit over .370 since Ted Williams and posted career highs in average, OBP and OPS.