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Most surprising MLB team record holders

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The vast majority of franchise leaderboards — especially for the 16 original franchises — look how you’d expect them to look. Hank Aaron owns the Braves’ board. Many of the Mets’ pitching marks are Tom Seaver’s territory. Willie Mays is a giant among Giants. You’re not going to stump anybody by asking them to guess the Cardinals’ all-time wins leader (Bob Gibson, duh).

Be it uncharacteristically great seasons from forgotten forbearers, unheralded outputs from underrated sources or amusingly meager marks that have somehow held up, there are plenty of records worthy of the record-scratch sound effect.

Here’s one for every team that caught our eye, ranked in order of intrigue.

1) Nate Colbert is the Padres’ franchise home run leader (163)
It’s almost as if the Padres have tried to preserve this record. They traded Phil Nevin when he was just seven homers away from tying it and Adrián González when he was just two away. Dave Winfield left in free agency when he was nine away, and the great Tony Gwynn retired only 28 homers shy of the mark. Just for the sake of comparison, there were three other franchises that launched alongside the Padres in 1969. Put Colbert and his home run total on those other teams, and he would rank either seventh (Royals and Expos/Nationals) or 10th (Pilots/Brewers) on the home run leaderboard.

2) Jim Slaton is the Brewers’ franchise wins leader … with a losing record (117-121)
Slaton debuted with the Brewers in 1971, just their second season of existence in Milwaukee. No one has challenged him in terms of Brewers tenure (he’s first in innings pitched by more than 400 innings). So by that measure, it’s no surprise that he’s the franchise wins leader. What’s unique about Slaton, though, is that he’s the only one of the 30 franchise wins leaders to have a losing record with that club. His loss total is also a franchise record.

3) Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras share the White Sox single-season wild pitch record (20)
No surprise that these two hold the record, as they both had several seasons with double-digit wild pitch totals and they both walked around three batters per nine innings in their career. No, what’s hilarious about this is that Garcia and Contreras both set the mark in the same season — 2005. That made the 2005 White Sox the only team in the modern era with two pitchers throwing at least 20 wild pitches apiece. And of course, that’s the year the White Sox won the World Series! (Contreras threw two wild pitches in the playoffs that year, Garcia none.)

4) Lenny Dykstra holds the Phillies’ single-season walks record (129 in 1993)
Prior to 1993, Dykstra had never walked more than 89 times in a season. He averaged 48 walks per season up to that point. In fact, this walk total in just one of his eight seasons with the Phillies is the equivalent of 71.3 percent of his entire walk total in five seasons with the Mets. And Dykstra never again walked more than 68 times in a year. With this 1993 output, Dykstra walked right into the Phillies’ record books, one free pass ahead of Mike Schmidt’s career-high 128 walks in 1983.

5) Mark Grudzielanek holds the Nationals franchise’s single-season singles (157 in 1996) and doubles records (54 in 1997)
These records that are still standing from the Expos era came in back-to-back years from a guy whose career OPS+ was 90, or 10 percent worse than league average. Not only was the 1997 doubles output Grudzielanek’s highest by far (his next highest was 38 in 2003 with the Cubs), but it came in a year in which he had just a .384 slugging percentage and drove in only 51 runs. Grudzielanek is the only player in the modern era with at least 50 doubles in a season in which he had more doubles than RBIs.

6) Jason Jennings and Ubaldo Jiménez share the Rockies’ career shutouts record (3 apiece)
Between the Rockies’ relative youth as a franchise and the notorious offensive conditions at Coors Field, it should come as no surprise that their pitching leaderboard is a little unpredictable (Jorge De La Rosa is the franchise wins leader … with 86). But this shutout mark hammers the point home especially well. The Rockies debuted in 1993 and have only had 165 shutouts. The D-backs and Rays debuted in 1998 and have 216 and 232, respectively. Even at a time when complete games are increasingly rare, there were five non-Rockies pitchers who had two shutouts apiece in 2021 — totals that would have put them near the top of the Colorado career leaderboard.

7) Darin Erstad is the Angels’ single-season hits leader (240 in 2000)
Erstad’s hit total from 2000 is first by a longshot. Next is Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero’s 206 hits in 2004. Though Erstad had a strong career in Anaheim, this Major League-leading hits total was unusual production for him. He didn’t have more than 177 hits in any other year, and his overall offensive production in 11 years with the Angels was just below league average (96 OPS+). His .355 average in 2000 was 73 points higher than his career average.

8) Ricky Nolasco dominates the Marlins’ career pitching leaderboard
Nolasco is tops in Marlins history in wins (81), games started (197), innings (1,225 2/3), strikeouts (1,001) and K/BB ratio (3.512), among other categories. Obviously, the Marlins have not been around for long, but this is nevertheless amazing representation for a guy who pitched to a 4.44 ERA and a 94 ERA+ in eight seasons in Miami. Also, shout out to Luis Castillo for having more games played as a Marlin (1,128) than “Mr. Marlin” himself, Jeff Conine (1,014).

9) Rickey Henderson holds the A’s single-season caught stealing record (42 in 1982)
This record — an MLB record, not just an A’s record — might actually be as unbreakable as Henderson’s 1,406 career steals. Just to put this in perspective, the entire 2018 A’s team only made 56 stolen-base attempts. It is unfathomable in today’s game for one player to get the green light enough times to run into 42 outs. Henderson swiped a career-high 130 bags in that ’82 season, but his 75.6 percent success rate was among the worst of his career. The next-most times caught stealing belongs to Ty Cobb, who was caught 38 times in 1915.

10) Johnny Frederick is the Dodgers’ single-season doubles leader (52 in 1929)
Not exactly the first name you think of when it comes to great hitters in Dodgers lore. This was the first of Frederick’s six seasons in the Majors (all with the Dodgers), and he amassed 26 percent of his career doubles total just in that rookie year alone. Somehow, nearly a century later, it hasn’t been matched. Shawn Green came closest with 49 in 2003. (Green, by the way, is the Dodgers’ somewhat surprising holder of the single-season home run record, with 49 in 2001. The Dodgers are one of only three of the original MLB franchises — the White Sox and the Senators/Twins are the others — that have never had a 50-homer guy.)

11) Ellis Kinder has the highest pitching championship WPA (season and career) in Red Sox history
This is an obscure stat, but the fact that it is held by a lesser-known pitcher from Red Sox history — and not, say, Pedro Martinez or Roger Clemens — is surprising. Championship Win Probability Added is a measure of how much a single player contributed toward a team’s chances of winning the World Series. The Red Sox never won a pennant during Kinder’s career in Boston (1948-55), and he was never an All-Star. But he got down-ballot MVP support three times (1949, 1951 and 1953). Most of his 56.7 cWPA comes from a 36.6 mark in ’49, when he led the Majors with six shutouts — including two in September, when the Red Sox were battling the Yankees for the AL pennant.

12) Lance Johnson is the Mets’ single-season hits leader (227 in 1996)
The Mets signed the 32-year-old Johnson to a two-year deal as a free agent prior to the 1996 season. He was coming off a career-high hits total with the White Sox in 1995 (186), and he took his offensive performance to another level in his first season in Queens, posting career-bests in batting average (.333) and slugging percentage (.479). He had that one All-Star season, then was dumped to the last-place Cubs in a waiver trade midway through the 1997 season. But in Mets history, the only player other than Johnson to notch 200 hits in a season was Jose Reyes (204) in 2008.

13) Bert Campaneris holds the Rangers’ single-season sacrifice bunts record (40 in 1977)
It’s not just that Campaneris went above and beyond his career norm with this bunt bonanza (his next-highest total was 25 sac bunts the following year, a total that ranks second on the Rangers’ list). He went above everybody’s norm. You have to go all the way back to 1929 to find the previous player with 40 sac bunts in a season (the Philadelphia A’s Mule Haas), and nobody’s done it since Campy.

14) Duane Ward has the Blue Jays’ single-season saves record (45 in 1993)
Ward was a durable and dependable late-inning arm for the Blue Jays in the late 1980s and early 1990s. So the surprise is less that he had a 45-save season (leading the league in ’93) but rather that this is the only 40-save season in franchise history. The Blue Jays are the only team that has not had multiple 40-save seasons. Franchise saves leader Tom Henke (217) never had more than 34 saves in any one year with Toronto.

15) Jose Offerman has the Royals’ highest career batting average (.306)
OK, so this is skewed by Offerman only having played three seasons in Kansas City. Still, it’s quite a sight to see him sitting atop the legendary George Brett in this category — and by a single point (Brett’s career average was .305). Offerman hit .303, .297 and .315 in his three seasons with the Royals (1996-98). In his 15-year career, he had no other seasons in which he hit .300 and only two others in which he hit higher than .269 (1995 with the Dodgers, 1999 with Boston). All told, he was a career .273 hitter.

16) Jason Bartlett has the Rays’ highest single-season batting average (.320 in 2009)
Carl Crawford had five seasons with the Rays in which he hit at least .300. Bartlett had just one, and it happened to be a year in which his average finished five points higher than Crawford’s then-record .315 mark from 2007. It was an uncharacteristic display from Bartlett, who never hit .300 in any other season in which he played 100 games. He was a career .270 hitter over 3,141 at-bats.

17) Marv Grissom is the Giants’ career ERA+ leader (139)
The shock here is seeing someone other than Christy Mathewson, whose 2.13 ERA ranks fifth among all pitchers since 1900. Grissom spent seven seasons with the Giants (1946,1953-58), had a strong 2.88 ERA in his tenure and was an All-Star in 1954. But it takes a league- and ballpark-adjusted stat like this to give you a greater appreciation for how well he pitched for the club. His ERA+ with the Giants is two points better than Mathewson’s 137 mark.

18) Brian Giles is the Pirates’ career OPS+ leader (158)
You probably remember Giles had a very productive tenure in Pittsburgh from 1999-03, but it’s still a little jarring to see how productive it was relative to the franchise greats. Giles is also the franchise leader in regular OPS (1.018). Even when you adjust for the offensive conditions in the league and put things on a more level playing field, as OPS+ does, Giles still comes out ahead of Hall of Famers Ralph Kiner (157), Honus Wagner (154), Willie Stargell (147) and Arky Vaughan (141), as well as Barry Bonds (147).

19) Paul Abbott has the Mariners’ highest career winning percentage (.679)
The Big Unit? Nah. The Big Abbott! His winning percentage in five seasons with Seattle bests Randy Johnson’s .637 mark over 10 seasons. Abbott managed to go 36-17 from 1998-2002 despite a middling 4.48 ERA. It helped that he received an average of 6.42 runs of support per start, ranking fifth in MLB among those with at least 400 innings in that span.

20) Ken Williams has the Orioles franchise’s highest career OPS (.961)
No, not the Ken Williams who went on to become an executive for the White Sox. This Ken Williams played for the St. Louis Browns from 1918-27 and is not in Cooperstown, so he’s not exactly a household name among Baltimore fans. But his OPS (which includes a franchise-record .558 slugging percentage) ranks higher than those of the Hall of Famers to have played for the Browns and O’s, including Goose Goslin (.951), Frank Robinson (.944), Heinie Manush (.930), Eddie Murray (.868) and others. With 1,109 games played for the Browns, Williams didn’t have the longevity of a Cal Ripken Jr. (.788 OPS, in case you were wondering), but his career is underrated.

21) Wally Pipp has the Yankees’ most career sacrifice bunts (226)
The Yankees’ career offensive leaderboard is, as you’d expect, dominated by Babe Ruth, Derek Jeter and, of course, Lou Gehrig, who famously filled in for Pipp at first base one day when Pipp wasn’t feeling well and never relinquished the job. To be replaced at your job after calling in sick or getting hurt is to be “Wally Pipped.” But let the record — this record — show that Pipp had a strong career going before he was unceremoniously replaced by Gehrig. It’s not the sexiest record, of course, but it’s fun to see Pipp at the top of a depth chart for once.

22) Matthew Boyd holds the Tigers’ highest single-season K/BB ratio (4.76 in 2019)
The Tigers’ top 10 here are mostly the names you’d expect. Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer occupy seven of the 10 spots, with Denny McLain’s 4.44 mark from his Cy Young/MVP season in 1968 ranking third and Anibal Sanchez’s 3.74 mark from 2013 10th. To see Boyd’s name up top is a staggering reminder of a K/BB ratio that year that was more than two points higher than his career norm to that point (2.58). Boyd had a strong first half in that ’19 season, only to struggle in the second and finish with a 4.56 ERA. Yet his K/BB ranks ahead of some of the great pitching seasons in franchise history.

23) Kevin Mitchell holds the Reds’ single-season OPS record (1.110 in 1994)
While the numbers here are skewed by the nature of the strike-shortened season, it’s too easy to forget just how absurd Mitchell’s offensive performance was in his short time with the Reds. From 1994 through July 1996 (when he was traded to the Red Sox), Mitchell slashed .332/.414/.631. And in this 1994 season, his rate stats surpassed even his MVP year with the Giants in 1989. The Reds have had 12 MVP winners and five home run champs in the live ball era, but it’s Mitchell on top here.

24) Woody English holds the Cubs’ single-season record for times on base (320 in 1930)
When you think of great offensive seasons in Cubs history, the names Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg and Sammy Sosa come to mind. English is not as well known, but it was his 214 hits and 100 walks in 1930 that helped Wilson set the MLB single-season record with 191 RBIs. That was one of only two seasons (1931 being the other) in which English hit .300.

25) Les Fleming holds Cleveland’s single-season intentional walks record (23 in 1942)
Not one of Cleveland’s many sensational sluggers from the 1990s, like Albert Belle or Jim Thome or Manny Ramirez. Not Travis Hafner during his mid-2000s peak or Andre Thornton during his thunderous early 1980s output. Nope, if this record is any indication, the most feared Cleveland hitter in any single season was Fleming, whose .292/.412/.432 slash in 1942 has largely been lost to history. Fleming had three very good years sandwiched around the two seasons lost due to military service, but the 23 intentional walks represent an absurd 71.9 percent of his career total (32). And he set this mark despite spending much of that ’42 season batting in front of Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau.

26) Bob Lillis has the best career strikeout rate of any Astros hitter (21.2 at-bats per K)
Taken by the Colt .45s in the 1962 Expansion Draft, Lillis was primarily a utility player in six seasons in Houston. In 2,044 plate appearances, he hit just .232 with a .267 on-base percentage and a .272 slugging percentage. You could get him out … but you couldn’t strike him out! Lillis K’d just 90 times total in those six years.

27) Kevin Slowey has the Twins’ highest career strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.70)
Slowey was a serviceable mid-rotation guy for the Twins from 2007-11, but he only had one season (2008) in which his adjusted ERA+ was better than league average. He was a control pitcher, so perhaps it’s not totally shocking that he’d rate well on this particular list. Still, to see him so far out in front of the likes of Johan Santana (3.79) and Brad Radke (3.3) is notable.

28) Kyle Lohse has the Cardinals’ highest single-season win percentage (.842 in 2012)
Not Bob Gibson or Dizzy Dean or Chris Carpenter, but Lohse, who, if you were to remove his 16-3 record during the 2012 season from his ledger, went 131-140 over the rest of his career. With a 2.86 ERA and a 133 ERA+, this was by far the best season of Lohse’s life.

29) Tom Hughes is the Braves’ career WHIP (1.02) and FIP (2.29) leader
This franchise has had some legendary pitchers in its history, including Warren Spahn, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and, if you take it all the way back to the 1800s, Kid Nichols, among others. Hughes, who pitched for the Boston Braves way back from 1914-18, is not as commonly known as those Hall of Famers. Yet here he is, well-represented in two important pitching categories — WHIP being a measure of walks and hits allowed per inning pitched and FIP being a measure of outcomes a pitcher can control (strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit by pitches and home runs). Sadly, arm troubles limited Hughes to just nine seasons in the big leagues, and he wound up selling cars.

30) Ian Kennedy has the D-backs’ best single-season win percentage (.840 in 2011)
Kennedy, who converted to relief work in 2019, went 94-101 in his career as a starter. But for one magical season in 2011, he could not be beaten. He went 21-4 to finish ahead of Randy Johnson (.828 mark in 2002) in this particular category. Kennedy had a 2.88 ERA and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting that year. He never again had more than 15 wins in a season.

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