Tuesday, December 13, 2022


More controversy is in store as we push into the 21st century, which seems so much more fraught than what we experienced in the second half of the 20th (the atom bomb and the Cold War notwithstanding). In baseball, fans have embraced the sluggerly ways that have twisted the game into an ungainly shape even as they pillory certain of the original exemplars of the current trend, who set records that seem to attract the same type of repulsion that we see in "election deniers." 

In 2000-01, we had what would have been a decade's worth of Top 300 first half achievers in just two years--and the trend toward slugging is cemented here (all ten hitters have 20+ homers, eight of them with 25+; seven of the ten have SLGs in excess of .700).

Most won't recall that Barry Bonds had a bit of a "practice run" in 2000 before his adjustment to the higher strike zone sent him into the stratosphere (and his high-flying achievements over the next years quickly painted a target on his back--or was it his oversized head?). What we really see here, however, is a litany of great hitters bringing it all back home as baseball's turn-of-the-century offensive explosion reached its apogee.

Things calmed down quite a bit in 2002-03, but there was Bonds taking matters into his own hands and setting a new first-half record for OBP (probably a natural evolution from him having set a new first-half record for HRs in '01). His 2002 first half ranks #3 all-time, but he'll manage to top himself in 2004.

Folks probably don't remember what a fantastic first half Derrek Lee had in 2005. Many of them would prefer to forget Bonds' 2004, which included a record number of intentional walks and an OBP that still seems like a misprint. If you can't warm up to Bonds, give some love to Travis Hafner, who rose like a rocket and fell to earth as crashingly as a tree toppled by angry lumberjacks.

With that eyesore Bonds finally out of the way (no one would offer him a contract for 2008), the way was finally cleared for Albert Pujols to take over the top rung--and he delivered a very solid first half in 2009, becoming the fifth hitter to jack 30+ HRS in the first half during the 2000-09 timeframe. 

WHICH gets us back to counting...and let's start with HRs this time. 20 of 23 hitters with Top 300 first halves (as measured, remember,  by OPS+) had 20+ HRs; 14 had 25+ HRs. In terms of BA, there were no .400+ BAs in the group, but nine hitters managed .350+. In terms of OBP, that Bonds guy went over .500+ three times and over .600 once; no one else managed that (of course), but all 23 were over .400, and 14 were over .450. As regards SLG, thirteen cracked .700 (with that Bonds guy even getting over .800 once), with 20 of 23 exceeding .650. As offense finally started to ebb at the end of the decade, hitters like Pujols and Chipper Jones actually hit fewer than 20 HRs in their first halves, making the list despite SLGs closer to .600 due to high accompanying BA/OBP. 

And that would lead us into the most fraught, bifurcated decade yet...

[NOTE: Oh, and by the way--tomorrow's post will be #1000 for BBB. This has been accomplished primarily by staying out of open-air motorcades in Dallas, a practice we plan to continue at least for awhile longer...]