Five-year wonders

These were the best players during the recent half-decade

Nobody noticed, but Nolan Arenado recently won two-thirds of the Triple Crown.

No, not this year for the St. Louis Cardinals. Or last year for the Colorado Rockies. I’m talking about a longer timeframe, the half-decade that led up to this season.

Arenado hit 165 home runs for the Rockies between 2016 and 2020, which was 20 more than anybody else in the National League. And he drove in 517 runs, topping his closest competitor by 80.

Arenado’s only shortcoming was his five-year batting average of .300 — a highly respectable number, to be sure, though only fifth-best in the NL behind Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu, Daniel Murphy, and Freddie Freeman.

The rarefied air of Coors Field definitely played a role in Arenado’s success. Consider his splits for 2016-2020: .331 BA, 95 HR, 308 RBI at home; .269, 70, 209 on the road. Blackmon and LeMahieu, for that matter, also benefited greatly from playing in Denver. These were their National League batting-average splits for the half-decade: Blackmon, .355 at home, .276 on the road; LeMahieu, .349 and .290.

Those are massive differences, of course, but they don’t matter in the final analysis. Baseball’s statistics are based solely on competitive results, no matter where the competition might take place. And that’s also the principle behind the five-year leaders for both leagues, as listed below.

A couple of points must be made:

  • Stats cover only a player’s tenure in a given league. LeMahieu’s National League numbers, for example, deal solely with his time with the Rockies. His subsequent stint with the Yankees obviously falls into the American League category.

  • Leaders in rates, such as batting or earned run averages, must exceed thresholds of two plate appearances or two-thirds of an inning pitched per team game. (Those averages translate to 1,416 PA or 472 IP for the full five years.)

These lists generally pinpoint the players who cruised into the current season with the greatest momentum. I say “generally” because I have also appended a couple of negative categories in keeping with the name of this blog, Baseball’s Best (and Worst).

Yes, it’s amazing to think that Mike Trout was able to maintain a .440 on-base percentage and a .609 slugging average for five full years. Or that Nelson Cruz blasted 176 home runs over the same span. Or that Max Scherzer piled up 1,187 strikeouts from 2016 to 2020.

But it’s also mindboggling that 762 at-bats for Chris Davis ended with third strikes or that Robbie Ray issued 327 walks over the same five-year period.

The top (or bottom) three players in each category are shown below.

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American League batting leaders (2016-2020)

National League batting leaders (2016-2020)

  • Games played: Paul Goldschmidt, 690; Nolan Arenado, 678; Eugenio Suarez, 674

  • Runs scored: Charlie Blackmon, 510; Paul Goldschmidt, 446; Nolan Arenado, 445

  • Hits: Charlie Blackmon, 831; Nolan Arenado, 775; Freddie Freeman, 753

  • Doubles: Freddie Freeman, 179; Anthony Rendon, 167; Nick Markakis, 160

  • Triples: Charlie Blackmon, 34; Trea Turner, 29; Ketel Marte, 24

  • Home runs: Nolan Arenado, 165; Eugenio Suarez, 145; Freddie Freeman, 136

  • Runs batted in: Nolan Arenado, 517; Anthony Rizzo, 437; Freddie Freeman, 434

  • Walks: Joey Votto, 463; Bryce Harper, 454; Paul Goldschmidt, 409

  • Strikeouts: Trevor Story, 726; Eugenio Suarez, 700; Paul Goldschmidt, 679

  • Stolen bases: Trea Turner, 169; Billy Hamilton, 161; Starling Marte, 136

  • Batting average: Charlie Blackmon, .314; DJ LeMahieu, .312; Daniel Murphy, .310

  • On-base percentage: Joey Votto, .413; Freddie Freeman, .400; Paul Goldschmidt and Christian Yelich, .390

  • Slugging average: Nolan Arenado, .565; Freddie Freeman, .557; Charlie Blackmon, .549

American League pitching leaders (2016-2020)

National League pitching leaders (2016-2020)