Friday, May 15, 2009

And Now You Know!: Hit Streaks

Ryan Zimmerman's hit streak came to an end at 30 games, just the 53rd player in MLB history to have one go that long. But I was curious to know more about hit streaks. Who had the longest hit streak before Joe DiMaggio? Was there anything interesting about DiMaggio's streak? Heck, DiMaggio doesn't hold the baseball record for longest streak. DiMaggio's 56-game streak wasn't even his longest. Read on.

For starters, here is a breakdown of Zimmerman's 30 game hit streak.
-The first glaring stat is that the Nationals went 10-19 during his streak. You might ask yourself how is that possible? Back on May 5th the Nationals game ended or was suspended in a 10-10 tie with Houston. The game has yet to end.
- Zimmerman had 50 hits (11 2B, 8 HR) in 136 at bats (.382). He walked just 11 times while striking out 23. When the streak started he was batting .111.

Now who was Zimmerman chasing in this hit streak? The answer to that is DiMaggio, but one step further, who got before I get to him? That would be Denny Lyons. Lyons, a third-baseman, played 15 years before retiring. Lyons played in a year when the rules were different in baseball. All the way back in 1887, the rules helped him establish a 52-game 'hit streak'. The rule stated that games in which a player reached base via a walk would count in the stat book as a hit. It just so happened that of the 52 games in which Lyons got a hit, two of those games Lyons simply drew a walk.

Regardless that was the record that stood, although not recognized by many in the baseball world. (It wasn't until 1968 when MLB ruled that walks in 1887 would not count as hits). In fact it was "Wee" Willie Keeler that many people recognized as the current streak holder with 45 consecutive games with a hit. Keeler played from 1892-1910 and his hit streak began on the last day of the 1896 season and continued over to the first 44 games of the 97 season. Keeler, a small guy, was a mix of Dustin Pedroia and Ichiro Suzuki. He had the ability to find the holes or get the bunt singles. In 1898 Keeler had 206 singles! It was Keeler's hit streak that everyone was out to break.

So in 1941 Joe DiMaggio began his own streak 68 years to the day on May 15th. DiMaggio went about his business and eventually got the 56-game streak, all hits. The streak that started on May 15th, it surpassed Keeler on July 5th, and ended on July 17th by the Cleveland Indians. During the streak he batted 91-223 (.408), 15 HR, 55 RBI. The streak included several double-headers but didn't include the hit he got in the All-Star game that year.

Many consider this a baseball stat that will never be broken. Pete Rose came the closest with 44 in 1978 but no other player besides Rose has hit for 40+. Surprisingly though that is not the end of the story. In fact this wasn't DiMaggio's longest hit streak in his life. In 1933 DiMaggio was playing for the Pacific Coast League when he had a 61-game hit streak. More surprisingly is that he didn't get the record for the longest hit streak in any league. That record belongs to Joe Wilhoit. Wilhoit had just 782 at bats in the major leagues but in 1919 he put together a 69-game hit streak in the Western League playing for the Wichita Jobbers. During that streak Wilhoit went 153-297 (.515) and 4 HR.

So the media world may get excited when any player comes close to 30-game hit streaks but I won't get excited until the player approaches 60 and challenges Wilhoit's record.

And Now You Know! (And Knowing is Half the Battle)

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