Here’s an interesting fact: Since 1960, the Giants have only had two seasons in which a player collected 200 hits or more. Which Giant hitters accomplished that feat? If you guessed Bobby Bond’s 1970 season (200 hits) and Rich Aurilia’s 2001 season (206 hits) then you would be correct.
Since 1960, the Red Sox lead all teams with 18 individual 200-plus hit seasons; the Yankees, not far behind, rank second at 17 seasons. Here’s another interesting fact: Despite being one of the greatest hitters of all-time, I was a little surprised to learn that Ted Williams had zero 200-plus hit seasons during his career. But after looking at Williams’ gaudy walk totals, it’s not overly surprising; the man led the American League in walks eight times in his career and Williams surely could have reached the 200-plus hit level if he wanted to.
Also, it goes without saying, that offensive era and ballpark clearly have a huge affect on hit totals. The Rockies, a team established in 1991, already have eight 200-plus hit seasons in the franchise record books. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that Vinny Castilla and Dante Bichette were great hitters.
At 64 hits in 44 games played, Melky Cabrera currently leads the National League in the hits column. Melky’s approach to hitting has been discussed a little here on the blog, but he’s a contact-oriented hitter that’s experiencing some great fortunes. Melky’s ground ball rate is higher than ever (nearly 10 percent over his career average) and it’s leading to tons of hits.
According to Baseball-Reference, Cabrera is batting .352/.352/.385 on hits classified as “ground balls.” That’s a sOPS+ score of 212 — meaning that when hitting ground balls, Cabrera is hitting 112 percent better than the league average batter. That probably won’t continue, but it doesn’t make it any less impressive. Everything Melky hits, at the moment, seems to land in just the right spot.
Cabrera is currently on pace for something like 225 hits (assuming he plays 155 games); a 225-hit season would tie Cabrera for fifth with Bill Terry’s 1932 season on the franchise hit list.
Most will point at Cabrera’s current .397 BABIP — career BABIP of .303 — as a sign for significant regression to come; and, really, that’s not unrealistic. Consider this: Since 1960, only six batters in baseball have finished with a BABIP of .397 or better. (Rod Carew’s 1977 season, Jose Hernandez’s 2002 season, Manny Ramirez’s 2000 season, Roberto Clemente’s 1967 season, Ichiro’s 2004 season, and Andres Galarraga’s 1993 season all make the cut.) However, the 64 hits that Melky has collected are already in the bank. In other words: they count. They’re in the books.
Here’s a rough sketch of what we would expect Cabrera to do over the remainder of the season given various BABIPs. We should expect Cabrera to put about 425 more balls in play this year. The table shows BABIP, Balls in Play (BIP), Expected Hits (xH), and Total hits for the season (included in this column is the 64 hits that Cabrera has already collected).
If Cabrera’s BABIP over the remainder of the season is in the .300-.310 range, then he’s very close to the 200-hit mark; if he can post a BABIP higher than .320 over the remainder of the season, he’s almost certain to break the 200-hit mark; and, if he can post a BABIP of .350 or better, he could probably make a run at some modern franchise records. It’s not hard to see an avenue where Cabrera bests Aurilia’s 2001 season and the 206 hits that came with it.
No matter what happens, Cabrera has been a lot of fun to watch in 2012. Let’s hope for Cabrera, and the Giants, that the hits keep on falling.