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The Streaking Diamondbacks - both good and bad

Two impressive streaks were kept alive this afternoon. One positive, in the shape of Justin Upton's ongoing 17-game hitting streak; the other, not so appreciated, as Max Scherzer extended his streak of career-opening starts without a win to thirteen. Let's take a look at both of those, and see how they stack up. [Note: it may be hard to believe now, but play-by-play data for games was not always kept for games, with consistent records dating back only to 1954. Before that, the records are spotty, and so we can't say anything conclusively with regard to streaks. Unless stated otherwise, all numbers in the rest of the piece refer to the time since the start of 1954.]

Upton's hitting

Justin Upton's 17-game hitting streak is particularly impressive, given he is only aged 21. Here are the players that age or younger, who have had streaks of seventeen games or more:

Player name Games Dates
Kent Hrbek 23 April 17-May 13, 1982
Willie McCovey 22 August 17- September 10, 1959
Edgar Renteria July 25-August 16, 1996
Tommy Davis 20 July 30-August 20, 1960
Alex Rodriguez August 16-September 4, 1996
Tony Kubek 18 June 30-July 21, 1957
Rennie Stennett August 22-September 10, 1971
Terry Puhl August 11-September 2, 1978
Bob Horner July 22-August 5, 1979
Orlando Cepeda 17 July 15-August 1, 1958
Terry Puhl August 11-September 2, 1977
Roberto Alomar August 23-September 12, 1989
Albert Pujols July 31-August 16, 2001
Jose Reyes July 30-August 18, 2003
Ryan Zimmerman June 28-July 18, 2006
Justin Upton April 24-May 10, 2009


A couple of things to note - the last player to put together such a streak was Ryan Zimmerman, who we faced this weekend, and is putting together another very nice run at the time of writing [28 games at the time of writing, the best by a third-baseman since Wade Boggs had the same in 1985]. I also note how most of these runs happen later in the season - Hrbek's the only other one of the sixteen to be entirely before the All-Star break. Part of me wonders, if this is what Upton's like in the early season, what can we look forward to when he 'warms up'? But wait a moment: where does his streak sit on the all-time list of hitting streaks by Diamondbacks' players? Here is the top ten for Arizona:

Player name Games Dates
Luis Gonzalez 30 April 11-May 18, 1999
Tony Womack 22 May 2-May 29, 2000
Danny Bautista 21 April 7-April 30, 2004
Matt Williams 19 May 26-June 18, 1999
Junior Spivey 18 May 31-July 4, 2002
Mark Grace May 18-June 10, 2001
Luis Gonzalez 17 Sept 18, 1999-April 8, 2000
Stephen Drew July 29-August 15, 2008
Justin Upton April 24-May 10, 2009
Two tied 16

Seems like the opposite pattern there to the first list above, with only Drew's run from last year entirely after the All-Star break. Maybe it's the desert warmth, but Arizona hitters seem to peak earlier in the season than the league in general. In terms of offensive production, the best OPS was - perhaps surprisingly - Grace's streak, as he posted a line of .422/.519/.719, for an OPS of 1.238. However, Upton is very, very close: after today's performance, three hits including a double, plus a walk, his line over the past seventeen games is .393/.479/.754, giving him an almost-identical OPS of 1.233. That said, Gonzo's line of .400/.466/.696 (1.162 OPS), over a period of more than five weeks, is equally impressive.

Scherzer's unwinning-ness

As Snakecharmer already documented in tonight's recap, Max Scherzer has gone thirteen starts without tasting victory to open his career, something only a dozen or so pitchers have done since 1961. However, perhaps the most startling thing about it has been the quality of the outings. Today was not one of Max's best appearances, but he still allowed only four runs. After giving up five runs in his first ever start, that's something Max has done consistently. This afternoon was his 12th straight start with four runs or less, and his ERA over that time of just 3.20.

To do so without tasting victory for so long is equally remarkable, among pitchers at any stage of their career. Today's game ties Max Scherzer for tenth on the list - and only two men have endured without a W longer, since Max was born in July 1984. Craig McMurtry started a run of fifteen starts for Atlanta later that season, which ran all the way until July 2006, posting an ERA of 3.99. And Darrell May of the Royals, had a 16-game span, running from September 2002 through late June 2003, where he allowed four or less runs every game, and never tasted victory.

May suffered about as much bad luck as Scherzer during the streak, given that in six of the games he left with the score tied, and on three occasions, he had the lead. However, the offense couldn't push another run across for him and/or the bullpen coughed things up. He must surely have thought the streak had stopped on June 16, 2003, when he pitched six shutout innings and entered the seventh with an 8-0 lead. Even though the shutout ended, and he was subsequently lifted, the seventh finished with the score still 8-2 in his favor and a 99% Win Probability - only for the bullpen to allow three in the eighth and three more in the ninth, blowing the lead. While nothing so disastrous has happened to Scherzer (yet!), today was the fourth time he has had a lead on departure, which was subsequently not held.

This is probably partly because of the shortness of his starts - he has yet to throw more than six innings, in 13 attempts,  interestingly, matching the streak at the start of Johan Santana's career. Scherzer has a long way to go to match the current record of Jason Hammel, who took 25 attempts to go past six, while Dustin Moseley of the Angels is sitting on the DL, but has an active run of 23 to open his career. The contest for all-time 'bullpen enemy' isn't even close: Wilfredo Ledezma - designated for assignment by the Nationals on April 21 - has retired a batter in the seventh inning just once during his career, in his second-ever start, on July 13, 2003. Since then, he has made 38 starts in almost six years and never gone past six. Let's hope Max never comes anywhere close to that!