Sam Ross Jr.

Sam Ross Jr.

Early this week MLB Network ran a prediction show for this virus-impacted 60-game season, which would open play two nights later, a show that included speculation on what that abbreviated schedule might mean statistically.

It was suggested we very well could see the first Major League batter to hit .400 for a season since Ted Williams did it for the Boston Red Sox in 1941, finishing at .406.

The speculation was rooted in basic mathematics, the thinking being that the smaller the sample size, the easier it is to have out-performance. Things have a way of returning to the norm over larger sample sizes.

And 60 games per team, compared with the traditional 162, is about a 63% reduction from what is customary.

Some quick research by this writer revealed that if the MLB season had been a mere 60 games in 2008, Atlanta’s Chipper Jones would have finished with a .419 batting average.

On another tack, there was speculation on the MLB Network show that Bob Gibson’s mythical 1.12 season ERA for 1968, a mark so dominant it resulted in the pitcher’s mound being lowered to 10 inches from 15 for the 1969 season and the strike zone being shrunk a tad, too, could be in jeopardy this season.

Note, please, the potential for broken records involves only averages. Exceeding records for absolute season totals, such as a pitcher’s wins or saves, or offensive categories such as hits, home runs, RBI, etc., are out of the question due to the smaller number of games.

I’ll take the other side of this average speculation. Never mind the shrunken season, no one is going to eclipse .400 batting, or a 1.12 ERA.

An interesting sidelight of the preview show was an obvious concession to the reality that a shorter season lessens the chance for superior teams to demonstrate their clear advantage and increases possible statistical variance.

This was illustrated by references to season simulations, 10,000 instead of the more usual 1,000, run by Out of the Park Baseball 21.

Even with the increased simulations things looked to be pretty much as would have been anticipated by mere humans. 

Teams such as the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers should be dominant and the Pirates were nowhere to be seen when it came to predicting success stories.

Sticking with the Pirates, to show you the mirage that 60 games can produce, consider that the Pirates were a respectable 29-31, a mere four games out of the lead in their division, at that 60-game point last season.

The Pirates imploded to finish 69-93, 23 games out.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Washington Nationals were just 27-33 through 60 games in 2019 and 61/2 games out of their division lead.

The Nationals rallied to finish 93-69, made the postseason as a wild-card team and eventually won the World Series.

None of that could have happened in a 60-game season.

Some team eventually will win this year’s World Series, assuming the season is able to run to completion.

That assumption may prove to be overly optimistic. MLB could have been spitting in the face of the fates by having Dr. Anthony Fauci – facemask and all – throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Yankees-Nationals season opener Thursday night.

Regardless, anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with baseball understands that it is the sport above all others that values the marathon over the sprint. This shortened season alters that.

Sam Ross Jr. is a freelance journalist who writes a weekly column for The Tribune-Democrat.

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