Three is a magic number.
Welcome to the third annual edition of my "Facts to Know" column, which, considering my proclivity for singing on our Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast, seemed fitting to kick off with a musical reference.
Since I tend to open this column with a personal fact, before we get to all the nitty-gritty, geeky-stat baseball nuggets below, a musical theme first popped to mind. It wasn't baseball, but rather a music chart, a mere listing of my favorite, current-at-the-time songs, which was the subject of the first regular "column" I published on the internet in 1995. And I'll admit it: It was an Alanis Morissette song that grabbed that top spot. (Hey, we were still a good six weeks or so away from the release of Smashing Pumpkins' "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness." And you know you liked that Alanis song, too.)
By the way: Blind Melon's version of that "Schoolhouse Rock" song? Solid. And this comes from a guy who's rarely a fan of covers.
Yes, even then, I was compiling lists, dabbling in numbers, ranking things. They've always been favorite pastimes of mine. It's the numbers that drew me deeply into baseball, and rankings into fantasy baseball.
Each offseason, I dig deep into the statistics to unearth hidden tales and trends about players. I keep these in a notebook for hundreds -- nearly thousands -- of players, helping drive my decisions. Today, I'll share some of the best with you.
As an added bonus, I've solicited the help of the ESPN Fantasy department's master researcher, Kyle Soppe, who chipped in a good number of his favorite player facts for 2017. Kyle's got a personal fact of his own to share: He once bowled a 257 ... at 3 a.m. (Hmmm, I hear that time's also a song title.)
Some of these might provide the answer you were seeking to justify a strong opinion on the player in question. Some might not. After all, we can spin these statistics any way we wish to tell any tale we wish. Some might merely give you some good trivia to share with your buddies; who doesn't love trivia?
Speaking of which, sticking with the music-meets-numbers theme, here's some trivia before we get to the baseball: Can you name the three numerically titled songs off the aforementioned "Mellon Collie" album that cracked the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart? The answer is at the bottom.
This year's Facts to Know total 101, and they're listed in alphabetical order of the players referenced by each.
Here we go!
Only four pitchers managed at least 60 innings pitched and a 30 percent strikeout rate (that being a percentage of total batters faced) in each of the past three seasons: Dellin Betances, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Miller ... and Cody Allen.
In 2015, Chris Archer managed a 3.23 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and struck out 29 percent of the batters he faced. After struggling during the first half of 2016, he then posted these numbers after the All-Star break: 3.25 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and a 28 percent strikeout rate.
Javier Baez's 24 percent strikeout rate in 2016 was his best at any professional stop in any season in which he appeared in at least 20 games since he had a 23.1 percent mark for Single-A Daytona in 2013, and his 74.3 percent contact rate was his best at any pro stop since he had a 77.5 percent mark for Single-A Peoria in 2012.
In his 43 healthy appearances between his April 29 recall and Aug. 4 disabled-list placement last season, Cam Bedrosian had a 0.94 ERA, second-best among relievers with at least 30 innings pitched, as well as a 1.04 WHIP and 32.2 percent strikeout rate.
In 2016, Brandon Belt became the first player to manage at least 40 doubles and 100 walks in five years. It's much of the reason why he was able to score the 61st-most fantasy points using ESPN standard scoring.
Among relief pitchers in the past three seasons combined, Dellin Betances had the most innings pitched (247), total batters faced (972) and strikeouts (392). His 78 holds ranked second.
The only player to manage at least 65 home runs and 65 stolen bases combined during the past three seasons was Charlie Blackmon. By the way, Blackmon batted .313/.363/.563 and hit 17 home runs in his 75 road games away from Coors Field in 2016.
In 2016, Adrian Beltre became only the ninth player in history to manage at least a .300 batting average and 30 home runs in a season at the age of 37 or older.
Since August 2015, Jackie Bradley Jr.'s monthly weighted on-base averages (wOBA) have gone .480, .321, .340, .485, .346, .358, .284 and .311.
If you think that's streaky, consider the case of Jay Bruce: In his 30 months played in the past five seasons combined (2012-16), he has managed a monthly wOBA of .375 or greater eight times, and a wOBA beneath .300 seven times; that accounts for half of his total months played during that time span.
After Byron Buxton's recall last Sept. 1, here were his rankings among qualified major leaguers: Second in runs (24) and isolated power (.366), sixth in slugging percentage (.653), eighth in home runs (9) as well as home run rate (8.0 percent). Of course, Buxton also had the sixth-worst strikeout rate (33.6 percent of his PAs).
Carter Capps has a 30.4 percent strikeout rate through his age-24 season, the ninth-best rate among relief pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched through that year of their careers.
On Aug. 10, 2014, Carlos Carrasco joined the Cleveland Indians' rotation for good. Since that date, he's one of only four qualified pitchers with at least a 25 percent strikeout rate and 50 percent ground ball rate, and a walk rate beneath 7.5 percent, joining Jake Arrieta, Clayton Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard.
Tyler Chatwood had a 1.69 ERA in his 13 road starts in 2016. In the past 10 seasons, the only pitcher to have a lower road ERA while pitching at least 80 innings was Arrieta (1.60, in 2015).
Since the 2015 All-Star break, Alex Colome has a 2.01 ERA, which ranks eighth-best among relievers with at least 75 innings pitched during that time span. Colome also stranded 93 percent of his baserunners in 2016; only seven qualified relievers had a higher left-on-base percentage in the past 10 seasons.
Nelson Cruz is the only player to hit at least 40 home runs in each of the past three seasons, and he's one of only three batting title-eligible players who had at least .250 isolated power in each of those years, joining Edwin Encarnacion and David Ortiz.
Among players with at least 200 plate appearances in 2016, only Tyler Naquin (.411) had a higher batting average on balls in play than David Dahl (.404). During the modern era (1901 on), only 21 players -- Naquin included -- had a higher BABIP in at least that many PAs.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Yu Darvish's 812 strikeouts through his first 100 career starts set a major league record.
Wade Davis' 1.18 ERA in the past three seasons combined was best among relievers with at least 150 innings pitched during that span.
Though he was recently demoted to the minors, Jose De Leon is a name to keep tucked away, considering he had a 2.61 ERA in Triple-A last season, second best in the Pacific Coast League. That league is notoriously hitter-friendly, with a league ERA of 4.45.
Edwin Diaz's 40.6 percent strikeout rate was 19th best in history among pitchers who worked at least 50 innings.
Only two players have stolen at least 25 bases in each of the past five seasons: Jose Altuve ... and Jarrod Dyson. Dyson, who had the sixth-most total steals (156) during that time span, played in 266 fewer games and had 1,994 fewer plate appearances than Altuve.
After taking over as Texas Rangers closer following Shawn Tolleson's removal from the role last May 18, Sam Dyson saved 36 games, third most in the majors behind Jeurys Familia's 38 and Zach Britton's 37. Dyson's 66.2 percent ground ball rate (for the full season) was also the highest in the majors among pitchers with at least 70 innings pitched.
Of the 32 players to have made at least 150 appearances as a leadoff hitter in the past three seasons combined, Alcides Escobar's .293 on-base percentage batting in that spot is the lowest, by 11 points.
Among ERA-qualified pitchers in 2016, Brandon Finnegan's minus-1.21 differential between his ERA (3.98) and FIP (fielding-independent pitching score, 5.19) was the largest in that direction.
Dexter Fowler had the majors' lowest chase rate in 2016 (17.5 percent); this measures the frequency of a hitter's swings at non-strikes. He also had a 13.1 percent walk rate from 2014 to 2016, 12th best among 235 hitters who had at least 1,000 trips to the plate during that time span.
In his four-year big-league career, Evan Gattis has .234 isolated power and a 75.6 percent contact rate. Among players with at least 500 plate appearances during that time span, only Nolan Arenado, Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion and David Ortiz have had better numbers than Gattis in both categories.
Among all minor league pitchers with at least 100 innings in 2016, Tyler Glasnow had the highest strikeout rate (31.0 percent) and second-lowest batting average allowed (.174) behind only Chance Adams' .168.
These were Jeanmar Gomez's numbers in his final 19 appearances of 2016: seven saves in 10 opportunities, 13.20 ERA, 2.47 WHIP.
Gio Gonzalez recorded 57 of his 532 outs in 2016 against pitchers, which was the most in the majors. He also tallied 30 of his 171 strikeouts against pitchers, fourth most, and non-pitchers had a .344 wOBA against him.
Granderson, incidentally, batted .152/.277/.200 with runners in scoring position, all of those by far his worst rates in any of his 10 big league seasons in which he had at least 100 such plate appearances.
Gyorko had the majors' highest home run rate (8.5 percent of his trips to the plate resulted in a homer) and fewest at-bats per home run (10.74) after the All-Star break. Only Brian Dozier (28) hit more than Gyorko's 23 home runs in that span.
All of Zack Greinke's 10 best starts of 2016, going by game score, were either road starts or games with the roof closed at Chase Field. Meanwhile, three of his four worst Chase Field starts, again going by game score, were with the roof open.
No pitcher has a longer active streak of seasons with at least 200 innings pitched and a sub-3.75 ERA than Cole Hamels (7). But, Hamels' 9.1 percent walk rate in 2016 was a career worst.
From 2014 to '16, Jason Hammel had a 2.84 ERA and 1.02 WHIP before the All-Star break. After the All-Star break in those seasons combined, Hammel had a 4.74 ERA and 1.34 WHIP.
J.A. Happ has lowered his ERA in each of the past four seasons, culminating in 2016's 3.18, his lowest since he had a 2.93 in 2009. He also set a career-high with 73.5 percent fastball usage.
Only five players in history totaled at least 500 career games played, 100 home runs, 50 stolen bases and a .500 slugging percentage at the time they celebrated their 24th birthdays: Orlando Cepeda, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Harper has appeared in only 83 percent of the Washington Nationals' scheduled games since he made his big league debut on April 28, 2012.
When Matt Harvey has thrown his four-seam fastball at a velocity of 95 mph or greater during his career, opposing hitters have batted just .234 with .101 isolated power and a 11.5 percent swinging strike rate (this is the percentage of swings and misses at all pitches he threw). When Harvey has thrown his four-seam fastball slower than 95 mph, opponents have batted .281 with .147 isolated power and an 8.8 percent swinging strike rate against it.
No qualified pitcher held opposing hitters to a lower well-hit average -- this is the percentage of well-hit balls per at-bat per our pitch-tracking tool -- than Kyle Hendricks (.089) in 2016, and his .085 well-hit average allowed to left-handed hitters was 19 points better than any other right-hander's mark.
Following the All-Star break last season, and coinciding with his return from the disabled list because of a strained right calf, Felix Hernandez posted a 4.48 ERA and 1.77 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15 starts. The ERA was his worst in any half-season in his career since the first half of 2006 (4.95), and the K-to-walk ratio was his worst in any half-season in his career; keep in mind he has made at least 10 starts in every half-season since his Aug. 4, 2005, debut.
Since his return to a major league rotation on Sept. 13, 2015, and among pitchers with at least as many as his 24 starts during that time span, Rich Hill's 2.00 ERA and 0.93 WHIP have been bettered by only Clayton Kershaw's 1.74 and 0.74 marks, and only Jose Fernandez, Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer had better than Hill's 30.3 percent strikeout rate.
Jim Johnson took over as the Atlanta Braves' closer after Arodys Vizcaino landed on the disabled list on July 16. From that date forward, Johnson managed 18 saves, a 2.20 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 30.5 percent strikeout rate.
Only one player has hit at least 25 home runs and driven in at least 80 runs in each of the past six seasons: Adam Jones.
Of his 21 starts in 2016, Clayton Kershaw managed a quality start and at least 10 strikeouts in eight. Max Scherzer was the only pitcher who had more (12), and he made 13 more starts than Kershaw did.
In 2015, Dallas Keuchel got more called strikes on pitches thrown outside the strike zone (167) than any other pitcher. In 2016, Keuchel got only 92 strikes on those pitches. Aha, but Keuchel threw 822 fewer total pitches in 2016 than 2015. Let's go to the ratios for a better comparison: In 2015, Keuchel got called strikes on 12 percent of pitches thrown outside the zone. In 2016, he got called strikes on only 9 percent, and that 3-percent drop was the third-largest decline by any of the 40 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title in both years.
Since his return from Tommy John surgery in 2013, John Lackey has 48 wins, 87 quality starts, a 3.35 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. During that time span, the only other pitchers with numbers at least as good in all four categories are Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw, Jon Lester, David Price, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer.
Of the 117 players to meet the plate-appearance qualification minimums both before and after the All-Star break in 2016, Jake Lamb's 129-point wOBA differential was the largest by any player in either direction. Looking at the slash stats, he batted .291/.371/.612 before the break, and .197/.283/.380 after it.
Only Jose Altuve (.326) and Miguel Cabrera (.325) had a higher batting average the past two seasons combined than DJ LeMahieu (.324). LeMahieu also led the majors in 2016 with a .316 batting average in at-bats when he started the count 0-2.
From 2014 to '16, Jon Lester posted a 2.57 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 25.2 percent strikeout rate in 78 starts with David Ross as his catcher. Lester had a 3.49 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 23.4 percent strikeout rate in his 18 starts with anyone else behind the plate. Ross is dancing with the stars this spring, and analyzing games for ESPN afterward.
In the past three seasons combined, Evan Longoria has appeared in four more games than anyone (482), and his 3,991 innings played at third base are the ninth most by any individual player at any one position.
After the All-Star break last season, Sean Manaea had the majors' ninth-best ERA (2.67) and seventh-best WHIP (1.02).
Starling Marte finished 2016 ranked 25th on the Player Rater, but these players all scored more fantasy points than him using ESPN's standard scoring system: Brandon Crawford, Nick Markakis, Joe Panik, Denard Span and Jayson Werth. Not one of those five finished within even 150 spots of Marte on the Player Rater. Know your league format!
Russell Martin complained about neck stiffness early last season, making an adjustment to his stance sometime in mid-to-late May to compensate. From May 25 forward, he batted .252/.367/.477 in 98 games.
Carlos Martinez held the platoon advantage in just 46 percent of his total batters faced in 2016, second lowest among ERA-qualified right-handers behind only Kendall Graveman's 45.3 percent. Fortunately, for the first time in his big league career, Martinez held left-handers to a wOBA (.322) beneath the major league average (.327).
No player hit more opposite-field home runs in the past three seasons combined than J.D. Martinez (29).
Lance McCullers recorded 90 of his 106 strikeouts in 2016 with his curveball, fifth most in the majors with that specific pitch, and his curveball was worth 21.4 runs above average, per FanGraphs, which was tops in the game.
Andrew Miller never had a monthly ERA higher than 1.93 in 2016; that was his ERA in June. Besides Miller himself -- he had a 1.45 ERA for the season -- only eight other qualified relievers had lower than a 1.93 ERA for the season.
Combining contributions at all professional levels in 2016 and counting only those who made at least one big league appearance, only five players tallied at least 15 home runs and 40 stolen bases: Keon Broxton, Eduardo Nunez, Jonathan Villar, Trea Turner ... and Yoan Moncada. Moncada, only 21, is nearly two full calendar years younger than any of the other four.
Kendrys Morales hit 50 hard-contact fly balls in 2016, and they traveled an average of 401.9 feet. He also hit 141 total fly balls, and they traveled an average of 318.6 feet. Both of those distances ranked ninth-best among 146 hitters who qualified for the batting title.
Joe Musgrove's 8.70 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the minors in 2016 was fourth best among pitchers with at least 80 innings, and his 12.38 K-to-BB ratio in 2015 led all minor leaguers with at least 100 innings pitched.
In the past 10 seasons, only three players have managed at least .240 in isolated power with a strikeout rate less than 10 percent: Albert Pujols (on four occasions), Edwin Encarnacion ... and Daniel Murphy in 2016.
Hector Neris was one of only 15 pitchers to strike out at least 100 batters, with a greater than 30 percent strikeout rate in 2016.
In 2016, Rougned Odor became only the second player to hit at least 30 home runs while walking fewer than 20 times in a season, joining Andres Galarraga (1994). Odor's 3.0 percent walk rate was also the lowest by any player to hit 30 home runs in a season.
From 2015 to 2016, James Paxton saw his average fastball velocity increase by 2.7 mph, going from 94.1 to 96.8 mph. That was the second-largest increase among the 109 pitchers who threw at least 750 fastballs in each year, behind only David Phelps (3.3 mph increase).
Among batting title-eligible players, nobody swung at pitches thrown outside the strike zone at a greater rate than Salvador Perez in 2016. He chased a whopping 42 percent of non-strikes, which helps explain his career-worst 21.8 percent strikeout rate.
Only Jose Fernandez (2.56) and Noah Syndergaard (2.67) had a lower xFIP than Michael Pineda (2.67), among ERA qualifiers, in 2016. Pineda surrendered .348/.416/.621 slash rates, and 17 of his 27 total home runs allowed came off of fastballs.
Buster Posey has managed at least 80 RBIs and 70 runs scored in four of the past five seasons, accounting for four of the five such stat lines by a catcher-eligible player during that time span (Joe Mauer, in 2012, was the other). During that five-year span, Posey has driven in 88 more runs, scored 71 more runs and played 72 more games than any other catcher.
Things Yasiel Puig has never done in a big league season: hit 20 home runs, streal 12 bases, drive in 70 runs, play 150 games.
Jose Quintana is one of only five pitchers with at least 200 innings pitched and a sub-3.75 ERA in each of the past four seasons, joining Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer, and he's one of only eight pitchers with at least 20 quality starts in each of the past three seasons, joining those same four plus John Lackey, David Price and Chris Sale.
Hanley Ramirez's home run total increased in every month last season: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10.
Robbie Ray's 1.14 differential between his ERA (4.90) and FIP (3.76) last season was the widest among qualified pitchers. One explanation: He afforded a .355 BABIP, the highest number in the category among qualifiers since Kevin Millwood's .358 in 2008, and the fourth-highest number since 1930.
Among 73 ERA qualifers in 2016, only Max Scherzer (.712 OPS allowed) and Jon Lester (.712) faced "easier" schedules than Tanner Roark (.714), using Baseball Prospectus' pitcher's quality of opponents measure. Roark also faced a combined .699 OPS in 2015 and .666 in 2014, the latter the easiest schedule among 88 ERA qualifiers that season.
David Robertson's 31.8 percent career strikeout rate is second best in baseball history among pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched, trailing only Billy Wagner's 33.2 percent.
Of the 35 pitchers in history with at least 250 career saves, Fernando Rodney's 3.69 ERA is third highest.
Speaking of shaky-ratio closers, Francisco Rodriguez has a 3.79 FIP in the past three seasons combined, third highest among currently projected closers behind only Fernando Rodney's 3.83 and Jeanmar Gomez's 3.83. K-Rod's 22.1 percent strikeout rate last season set a career low.
In his two big league seasons concluding with his age-24 campaign in 2016, Eddie Rosario has a 0.13 walk-to-strikeout ratio. The only players in the modern era (since 1901) to have a worse such ratio through their age-24 seasons, with a minimum of 250 plate appearances, were Hernan Perez (0.11), Edgard Clemente (0.11) and Angel Salazar (0.13).
Among batting title-eligible hitters in 2016, Addison Russell saw an average of 0.771 baserunners on board when he stepped to the plate, second-most behind only Albert Pujols (0.808). Russell accrued 49 percent of his plate appearances hitting in the bottom third of the Chicago Cubs' order.
Gary Sanchez hit 20 home runs in his first 51 big league games spread across two seasons (two in 2015, 49 in 2016), matching Wally Berger's 86-year-old record for fewest games to reach that career threshold. Sanchez did it with a 20.2 percent home run/fly ball ratio, the second highest in baseball among players with at least 200 plate appearances since his Oct. 3, 2015 debut, and well above the majors' 10.3 percent average in the category.
Miguel Sano's 297 strikeouts are the most in history by any player in his first 196 career big-league games.
Using ESPN's standard scoring system, the following players scored fewer fantasy points than Carlos Santana (471) in 2016: Charlie Blackmon, Manny Machado, Jean Segura, Freddie Freeman, Xander Bogaerts, Wil Myers, Nelson Cruz, Francisco Lindor. Every one of these players finished at least 50 spots better than Santana (100th overall) on our traditional rotisserie Player Rater.
Only two players have managed at least 20 home runs and an 80 percent contact rate in each of the past five seasons: David Ortiz and Kyle Seager. Seager was also one of only eight players -- and one of only two third basemen -- with at least 25 doubles and 25 home runs in each of the past three seasons.
Jean Segura hit 10 of his career-high 20 home runs in his final 39 games last season. During that time he had a 15.6 percent home run/fly ball rate, well above the major league's 10.6 percent average.
For you Statcast junkies: Giancarlo Stanton scorched 24 batted balls that were clocked 115 mph or faster in 2016. That represented roughly one-third of all batted balls hit at that speed in the majors. Unfortunately, Stanton has missed a whopping 23 percent of the Miami Marlins' scheduled games since his June 8, 2010 big league debut.
Trevor Story's 27 home runs in 2016 set a new National League rookie record for a shortstop, and his 6.5 percent home run rate was sixth best all time (minimum 400 plate appearances) among rookies at any position.
Only two pitchers have made at least 20 starts with a sub-three FIP in each of the past three seasons: Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg.
Jameson Taillon walked only 4.1 percent of the batters he faced in 2016, which was the eighth-best walk rate by any rookie with at least 100 innings pitched during the divisional era (since 1969) and the 14th best during the modern era (since 1901). Though ground-ball data is sketchy at best before 2002, there's an outstanding chance that Taillon was the first rookie in history to have had a walk rate lower than five percent, strikeout rate higher than 20 percent and ground ball rate greater than 50 percent while pitching at least 100 innings.
Mark Trumbo hit 47 home runs in 2016, exactly the same amount that Chris Davis did the year before, but using our Player Rater categorical valuations, Trumbo's homers were worth 14.6 percent less than Davis' were in 2015. Davis finished 28th overall on the 2015 Player Rater, 32 spots higher than Trumbo did in 2016 (60th overall), though Davis did hit six points higher (.262-.256) with nine more RBIs and six more runs scored than Trumbo.
Trea Turner totaled 13 home runs and 33 stolen bases during his outstanding rookie year in 2016, with every one of them coming after the All-Star break, in the Washington Nationals' final 71 games of the season. He was only the 14th rookie in history to manage at least as many of each, and he did it in 160 fewer trips to the plate than any of the 13 previous (Barry Bonds, who did it in the next-fewest number of games, did it in 484 PAs in 1986).
Justin Verlander had a major-league-leading 10 starts in which he went at least seven innings giving up two or fewer runs yet failed to record a win; no other pitcher had more than six such games in 2016. In the past 100 seasons, only Roger Craig (1963), Claude Osteen (1965) and Jose Rijo (1993) had more such starts in a single year; each had 11.
Only Billy Hamilton and Jonathan Villar have stolen at least 40 bases at all professional levels combined in each of the past five seasons. That said, the recent history of players repeating 60-steal seasons isn't encouraging: Only three players have reached that threshold in consecutive years in the past quarter century: Marquis Grissom (1991-92), Kenny Lofton (1992-94) and Jose Reyes (2005-07).
Since the 2015 All-Star break, Christian Yelich, whose career isolated power is .137, has seen his number in the category by half-season go from .131 to .158 to .215.
Ben Zobrist had a career-best 15.2 percent walk rate in 2016, and he chased only 19 percent of pitches thrown outside the strike zone, which was his best rate in any year for which our pitch-tracking tool has data (since 2009).
Though it came in a 55-game big league sample, Mike Zunino's 10.9 percent walk rate in 2016 was his best in any single-year stop at any competitive level since his 13.5 percent for Single-A Everett in 2012, and his .262 isolated power was his third best at any stop, behind his .364 for that same Everett team and his .268 in a 10-game stint with Triple-A Tacoma in 2015.
Finally, your trivia answer: Zero, Thirty-Three and 1979.