This is the Year of Pujols

Originally Published: May 25, 2006
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

We aren't even two months into the season yet. But it's already clear this is turning into The Year of Albert Pujols.

So if you haven't caught on yet to what this man is doing, the Useless Information Department intends to do its darndest to rectify that, starting right now.

Useless Albert Pujols Info

Pujols has struck out just 12 times this season. Preston Wilson had a stretch this year when he struck out 12 times in 15 at-bats.

So if Pujols keeps whiffing (or not whiffing) at that rate, he is going to strike out just 43 times this season. Needless to say, no one has ever hit 80 homers and struck out that few times. And we've seen only eight seasons in history when a player hit 45 homers while fanning fewer than 50 times:

45 HR/under 50 whiffs
  Year HR SO
Johnny Mize 1947 51 42
Lou Gehrig 1934 49 31
Ted Kluszewski 1954 49 35
Lou Gehrig 1936 49 46
Ted Kluszewski 1955 47 40
Barry Bonds 2002 46 47
Joe DiMaggio 1937 46 37
Barry Bonds 2004 45 41

Source: Lee Sinins' Complete Baseball Encyclopedia

Until Monday, Pujols actually had twice as many homers (22) as strikeouts (11). And you sure don't see that every day. Here are the only five players in modern history who hit more than 10 home runs in a season in which they had half as many whiffs as home runs:

10+ HR, half as many whiffs
  Year HR SO
Joe DiMaggio 1941 30 13
Tommy Holmes 1945 28 9
Yogi Berra 1950 28 12
Lou Boudreau 1948 18 9
Ernie Lombardi 1935 12 6

How amazing is it to hit 23 home runs by May 23? Well, just remember that in 1927, when Babe Ruth hit 60 homers, he didn't hit No. 23 until June 22. Meanwhile, peruse this list of Cardinals who never hit 23 homers in a whole season:

Lou Brock (21)
Todd Zeile (19)
Enos Slaughter (18)
Bernard Gilkey (17)
Pedro Guerrero (17)
Ken Reitz (17)
Tino Martinez (21)
Tim McCarver (14)

TRIVIALITY
Albert Pujols has knocked off five straight seasons with a .300 batting average and at least 30 homers and 115 RBI. Can you name the only other two active players who have even had three seasons in a row like that (at any point)?
(Answer at bottom.)
With 23 home runs and only seven doubles, Pujols is on pace to have one of the strangest homer-to-double ratios ever (84-25). Bet you aren't shocked to learn that would be the biggest homer-double differential of all time. The current leaderboard:

49 Mark McGwire, 1998: 70 HR, 21 2B
46 Sammy Sosa, 1998: 66 HR 20 2B
45 Roger Maris, 1961: 61 HR, 16 2B
44 Mark McGwire, 1999: 65 HR, 21 2B
39 Sammy Sosa, 1999: 63 HR, 24 2B
38 Mickey Mantle, 1961: 54 HR, 16 2B

Unless he gets intentionally walked in his next 25 at-bats, Pujols is also about to zoom by 60 RBI before he even flips his calendar to June. And in the last 30 years, only four players have done that:

Manny Ramirez, 1999: 63 (49 games)
Juan Gonzalez, 1998: 71 (54 games)
Mark McGwire, 1998: 68 (51 games)
Ken Griffey Jr., 1997: 62 (53 games)

Finally, let's look at how Pujols' historic home run pace is related to the number of fly balls he's hitting. The fascinating Hardball Times Web site features an intriguing stat known as home run-per-fly-ball ratio. Check out how Pujols' ratio has evolved over the years:

2006: 31.1 pct.* (through Tuesday)
2005: 21.6
2004: 21.3
2003: 22.3
2002: 18.6
2001: 19.4

Useless Barry Bonds Info

In case you were wondering, Barry Bonds' 29 straight at-bats without a homer was not the longest ever by a 700-homer man on his way to 714. The Baseball Hall of Fame's Bill Francis reports that Babe Ruth went a full month (April 21-May 21, 1935) between Nos. 710 and 711. Play-by-play details aren't readily available, but Ruth is believed to have gone 35 at-bats in a row without making a home run trot. (Hank Aaron's longest was a 23-AB drought between Nos. 701 and 702.)

Did anyone else think there was something weird about Barry thumping No. 714 in Oakland? Well, nobody put it better than loyal reader Doug Greenwald. How about this tremendous coincidence:

Bonds, who has played his entire career in the National League, hit his 714th home run in an American League park.

Babe Ruth, who played 99.9 percent of his career in the American League, hit his 714th home run in a National League park.

But hold on. Doug Greenwald wasn't through. The pitcher who gave up Bonds' 714th, Brad Halsey, once served up his first career gopher ball to none other than Hideo Nomo. Which means, Greenwald reports, Halsey becomes the third pitcher who can say he allowed home runs to both Bonds and Nomo. The others: Jake Peavy and Garrett Stephenson.

So who's the only pitcher who gave up a homer to Nomo but never gave one up to Bonds? The inimitable Jose Mercedes.

Finally, has there been any more astounding Giants development recently than the sight of their scoring 34 runs in a three-game series in Houston last week -- without their man Barry hitting a home run?

The last time any Giants team scored that many runs in a three-game series that didn't feature a Bonds homer, it wasn't quite that surprising, since Barry wasn't even on the active roster of the planet at the time. It happened May 31-June 2, 1923, when manager John McGraw's old New York Giants scored 35 in a three-gamer in Philadelphia. The center fielder on that team: Casey Stengel.

From the Elias vaults

Here at Useless Info Central, it's a unique treat to be able to fire questions at the magicians from the Elias Sports Bureau. So here they come, the top 10 Elias Useless Info nuggets of the month:

1. Giants bench trouper Jason Ellison is having one unique season. As loyal reader Parran Vanniasegaram points out, Ellison recently played in 18 straight Giants games -- without starting one of them. And that's something only two other players have done in the last 15 years, according to Elias: Quinton McCracken, 19 straight for Arizona last year, and the always-entertaining F.P. Santangelo, 18 straight for the 1996 Expos.

2. Speaking of odd seasons, Rondell White has gotten off to such a slow start in Minnesota that he just finished an 11-game hitting streak -- and, as loyal reader Karl Anderson reports, he still had only a .187 average when it was over. Well, clearly, that's almost impossible. In fact, Elias says, there hasn't been a single player in the last 40 years to have a double-digit hitting streak this late in the season and still be south of the Mendoza Line at the end of it.

3. The Padres and Diamondbacks played one of the craziest games of the year May 17. How crazy was it? Well, the Padres scored nine runs in one inning (the first) and also gave up eight in an inning (the sixth). So how rare is that? Elias reports there have been just two other games like that in the last 17 seasons.

On Aug. 21, 1990, the Phillies gave up eight in the fifth (to fall behind the Dodgers, 11-1) but later scored nine in the ninth (to somehow win, 12-11). And on May 8, 2004, the Rangers gave up eight to the Tigers in the top of the fifth, but then scored 10 in the bottom of the fifth -- in an inning that lasted longer than your average high school football game.

4. If you read the invaluable Elias Says column, you probably already saw The Greatest Elias Note of the Year: They dug that one up May 14, when Mark Buehrle became the first pitcher to give up seven runs in the first inning and still get a win since Jack Powell, of the 1900 St. Louis Cardinals did it in a win over the late, great Chicago Orphans.

But we were intrigued by something else that went on in that game. How often does a pitcher give up seven in the first inning and still get to march out to the mound to start the seventh? Well, that hasn't happened, Elias reports, since Mark Mulder allowed seven runs in the first on July 5, 2000, but still managed to last 6 2/3 innings. (Buehrle faced the leadoff hitter in the seventh in his start but didn't get another out.)

5. When Dodgers rookie Andre Ethier stepped in for his first at-bat of a May 19 Dodgers-Angels game, he owned eight hits in his entire career. He then went 5-for-5. Elias reports that no player with that few career hits had had a five-hit game since Junior Spivey (three career hits) did it on June 21, 2001. And Spivey was the first since Shane Spencer (also three career hits) did the same on Aug. 7, 1998.

6. The problem with most of the Marlins' games last week was that they just lasted too long. In one week, this team's bullpen managed to blow seven saves (one Monday, two Tuesday, two Wednesday, one Friday and one Saturday). That's more than 21 teams have blown all season. But obviously, all of those saves weren't blown in the ninth inning. So Elias reports the Fish were the third team since 2000 to lose four games they led in the seventh inning or later, in a mere five-game stretch. The others: the 2002 Tigers (in July) and 2003 Orioles (in August).

7. You don't see stories like Casey Blake's every year. Blake has hit ninth for the Indians most of the season. But he has spent much of the last two weeks leading the league in hitting, after batting only .241 last year. Elias reports that there have just been two batting champs in history who hit under .250 the year before they won (with over 400 AB): Carl Furillo (.247 in 1952, .344 in 1953) and Terry Pendleton (.230 in 1990, .319 in 1991).

TRIVIALITY ANSWER
Jason Giambi (four: 1999-2002) and Manny Ramirez (three: 1999-2001)
8. If the White Sox don't win the AL Central, they can blame the Santanas -- well, all of them except Julio and Carlos, anyway. They just lost to two of them in back-to-back games May 10 and 12 (first to Ervin, then to Johan). So how rare is it for a team to lose two straight games to pitchers with the same name? Well, unfortunately, not as rare as we'd figured, thanks to those pesky Rockies, who kept starting Byung-Hyun Kim and Sun-Woo Kim back-to-back last season. Last team to lose to the Kims in two straight games, according to Elias: the Dodgers, last Sept. 2 and 3.

9. On May 11-12-13, the Phillies spun off three straight games in which their starting pitchers (Gavin Floyd, Cole Hamels and Jon Lieber) gave up two hits apiece or fewer in back-to-back-to-back games. And you sure don't see that much. Elias reports it's the first time the Phillies had ever had three starters do that in the live-ball era (1920-2006). And the last time any team did it was Sept. 23-26, 2000, with the Dodgers' Kevin Brown, Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort doing the twirling.

10. And one more Phillies feat: In their 16-inning marathon Tuesday against the Mets, they had two different pitchers (starter Gavin Floyd and reliever Ryan Madson) throw more than 100 pitches IN THE SAME GAME. And if you're thinking you don't see that a whole lot, you've got that right. Elias says it's the first time any team has done that in a game of any length over the last eight seasons.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your Useless Information to uselessinfodept@yahoo.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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