MLB 2017 Regular Season Review
With the Major League Baseball playoffs now well underway, Sports Gazette took a look back on what was a memorable regular season in the MLB.
Undoubtedly the story of the season - and one that the playoffs will struggle to surpass - was the Cleveland Indians’ 22-game win streak that stretched from August 24th to September 14th.
Breaking the all-time record for consecutive victories in American Baseball (both the 1916 New York Giants and the 1875 Boston Red Stockings had streaks of 26-games, but each featured a tie), the Indians had a combined score of 140-36 during the streak. Furthermore, the Tribe trailed in just seven of the 181 total innings over the 22-games.
Terry Francona’s side came so close to winning it all in last year’s World Series, but were finally beaten by the Chicago Cubs in Game Seven. Can the Indians go one further this year and win their first title since 1948?
That the regular season total strikeout record was broken came as no surprise - this is the 10th straight season that the number has been surpassed. The 40,105 figure consigns last year’s total of 38,982 to irrelevance.
Top of the pile in terms of individual contribution was Boston Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale, who became the first American League pitcher in 18-years to notch over 300 strikeouts (he had 308 in total - just 5 away from Boston’s all-time franchise record). Yet, despite Sale’s best efforts, he remained 205 short of the all-time record (set by Matt Kilroy in 1886) and 75 short of Nolan Ryan’s 383 (set in 1973 - the modern-era record).
Whilst the previous Strikeout record lasted for just a year - and will likely be broken again next season - the home run mark had stood since the turn of the millennium.
There were 6,105 homers hit this season, 412 more than the previous high of 5,693 in 2000, averaging out at 1.26 per game (another record). For just the 19th time in MLB history, you were more likely than not to see a home run hit at any given game.
Naturally, these two total figures contained within them a number of smaller records. For example, the 2017 regular season saw the Chicago Cubs and the New York Yankees break the 46-year landmark for the most strikeouts in a single game, with 48, and the Minnesota Twins became the first ever MLB team to hit a home run in each of the first seven innings of a game.
STANTON & JUDGE
Giancarlo Stanton, the Miami Marlins’ right fielder, came within a couple of swings of re-opening Baseball’s age-old debate over the regular season individual home run record.
A controversial issue due to the doping scandals that plagued the power hitting heyday of the late 1990s and early 2000s, there will never be unanimous agreement over whether it is Barry Bonds (who hit 73 home runs in 2001) or Roger Maris (who hit 61 home runs in 1961) that holds the record.
Stanton this season hit 59 - the joint-ninth highest total of all-time (or joint-third, depending on your view). Stanton himself stated, before the season’s end, that he believed the record to be Maris's.
Now that the season is over, however, a line can be drawn under Stanton’s 59 homers and his performance can be appreciated in isolation. This was the 27-year-old’s first injury-free season in six years. If he can stay fit and continue hitting next year, we may have to start the debate all over again.
It wasn’t just Stanton, however, to make headlines with superhuman home run hitting this year. Aaron Judge, the New York Yankees’ big right fielder broke the record for home runs hit in a rookie season, crushing 52 - second in the Majors behind Stanton and the most in the American League.
Judge is a power hitter of rare ability, hitting the ball out of the park at an alarming rate and distance. On top of his rookie home run record he had the longest blast of the season, at 495 feet, as well as the four hardest-hit long balls.
The 25-year-old looks to be the next in a long line of Yankee superstars and could, like Stanton, pose a serious threat to that home run record in seasons to come.
MORE PITCHING CHANGES
Despite the strikeout record, things weren’t all rosy on the pitching front this year. We saw the most pitching changes in a season and, consequently, the fewest complete games thrown by pitchers - just 59 (in over 2,400 games).
This is best illustrated by comparing the number of innings pitched by Kilroy, Ryan and Sale in their top-strikeout seasons. Kilroy threw 513 strikeouts in 583 innings in 1886, Ryan had 383 strikeouts in 326 innings in 1973, whilst Sale got his 308 strikeouts in 214.1 innings this year.
Whilst pitchers are becoming more affective at throwing Ks, they are pitching fewer and fewer innings. Although this should give pitchers more protection and career longevity, it provides Baseball with a different problem altogether...
GAMES ARE GETTING LONGER
Yet another record was broken during the regular season this year: the average length of a nine-inning game. At just over three hours, the growth is the result of the continuing increase in pitching changes and the time taken to complete at-bats. Yet another record that was broken: the average gap between balls being hit into play this year clocked in at nearly four minutes.
These statistics, worryingly, have coincided with another drop in attendance figures, the third in as many seasons. Whilst this year represented the 15th-highest attendance in MLB history, the cumulative figure dropped below 73 million for the first time since 2002.
Most of the records outlined in this article are huge positives for Major League Baseball, and therefore it is important - now more than ever - to harness the great pitching and hitting that the game currently enjoys, and use them to turn this trend around. Baseball is, granted, a game steeped in tradition, but perhaps requires some subtle tweaking in order to appeal to next generation and preserve its status as America’s Game.