Yankees rookie catcher Gary Sanchez just played in his 20th major league game, in which he failed to homer. Come on, Gary, get it together. Nonetheless, Sanchez homered in six of his first 20 career games, blasting eight in total, which seems decent; great, even.
If you’ve actually watched, listened to, or read about baseball at all this year, you might remember a shortstop called Trevor Story (please feel free to include your own terrible pun), and if so, you might also be pointing out that Story hit nine home runs in his first 20 games. The Rockies infielder even added a tenth in his 21st game, but Sanchez hasn’t got to play his 21st game yet, so we won’t hold that against him for now.
Both Sanchez and Story made fairly remarkable starts to their major league career, even historically so, depending on your parameters: Sanchez has the most homers through this many games in Yankees history, but that would also be true if he’d hit four, calling into question the fun level of this tweeted fact. Story set all kinds of marks, including becoming the first player to homer in his first four games, and in fact is tied atop the leaderboard for most homers in his first 20, joining Alvin Davis, who blasted his way to Rookie of the Year honours with Seattle in 1984 and George Scott, who made a splash in his debut season with the Red Sox in 1966. Scott’s start was particularly notable for the fact that he did not hit a home run until his sixth game, and had a disastrous five-strikeout outing in his third appearance. Oddly enough, both also hit 27 home runs in their debut seasons, the same total Story will finish with after being ruled out for the rest of the year with a torn thumb ligament.
Home runs are perhaps the loudest way to draw attention to exceptional starts, but there is another historically great debut in progress right now. That debut belongs to Rockies outfielder David Dahl, who recorded a hit in 19 of his first 20 games, joining five other players at the top of this leaderboard (no player has ever got a hit in all 20).
Dahl’s start is perhaps more remarkable than Story’s, in a way: his OPS is fractionally higher than his teammate’s was after 20 games, at .958 to .955, and 12 of those 20 games were away from the ultra-helpful Coors Field, as opposed to nine for Story. Dahl hasn’t slowed down either. He has notched a hit in 26 of his 28 career games thus far, an achievement matched by just two men: the newest member of the 3000-hit club, Ichiro Suzuki, and everyone’s favourite obscure Cleveland outfielder of the 30s and 40s, the outstandingly-nicknamed Roy “Stormy” Weatherly.
If we’re talking about OPS, however, Sanchez far outstrips both Dahl and Story, holding a 1.190 OPS after his 20th game. Does the 23-year-old have the record there? Sadly for Gary, he doesn’t even have the record this season. No, that goes to Cardinals rookie Aledmys Diaz, who started the year with an absurd stretch in which he struck out just three times in 20 games, while hitting eight doubles, a triple and four homers, good for an 1.263 OPS. Diaz narrowly beats out the aforementioned Alvin Davis, who managed a 1.260 OPS with those nine home runs in his first 20, but everyone pales in comparison to the Mets’ 1985 first-round pick, Gregg Jefferies. In September 1987, Jefferies came up and appeared exclusively as a bench bat, getting six pinch-hit at-bats in six games, with two singles and a double. He then had to wait almost a year to make his next appearance – and first start – as the Mets didn’t bring him back up until August 28th, 1988. Over his next 14 games, Jefferies hit .429/.467/.893, leaving him with a first-20 OPS of 1.341.
As remarkable as Sanchez has been, he isn’t quite at the top of any of these lists, although the fact that he’s doing it at as a catcher adds something, as an Effectively Wild Facebook group member noted, even if he has appeared as the designated hitter in 7 of those games, and even if – as another group member reminds us in the same post – Taylor Teagarden, owner of a career .637 OPS, had a very similar start to his career.
Despite numerous Hall of Famers and household names appearing on these lists of hot starts to a career – Pujols, McCovey and DiMaggio are also among them – the likes of Teagarden and Weatherly are a reminder that these are all statistical curiosities rather than guarantees of future greatness. Dahl and Sanchez are in the midst of tremendous runs, and they have the chance to tie or break more records before the season’s out. It starts to get more difficult from here: Sanchez needs five homers in his next ten games to pass Kevin Maas for most homers in the first 30 games of a career (12), for instance, while Ichiro’s third hitless game didn’t come until his 42nd appearance in the majors, meaning that Dahl needs to get a hit in his next sixteen games just to tie. For now, it’s probably best to just appreciate the fact that both players, like Diaz and Story, have managed the rather rare feat of making a very difficult task look simple.
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