Can any Red Sox hitter set a record for RBI in a 60-game span?
The century mark is the standard benchmark for a run-producing bat to aim for. Drive in 100+ RBI and you’ve had a solid season. That’s been the case over the typical 162-game season but nobody is approaching that total in the shortened 2020 season. That leaves us to wonder how many RBI the top run producer in the Boston Red Sox lineup could deliver in only 60 games.
That whopping RBI total remains the franchise record and no hitter in the majors has topped it since. Manny Ramirez came the closest with 165 RBI in 1999 with the Cleveland Indians. The closest a Red Sox hitter has come was in 1949 when Ted Williams and Vern Stephens both drove in 159.
Foxx’s single-season record may never be broken and it’s hard to imagine anyone matching his uncanny pace during that torrid 60-game stretch. The Beast averaged 1.4 RBI per game during that span, which would put him on pace for nearly 227 RBI over a full 162-game season.
No hitter is capable of maintaining that pace for a full season. The grind of a grueling schedule and the mounting wear and tear will inevitably result in a slump somewhere along the line that puts the hitter off course. That’s less of a concern when there are only 60 games.
The last time that MLB failed to complete a full season was the strike-shortened 1994-95 campaigns. They managed a reasonable 144 games in ’95 but no team played more than 113 games in ’94.
Jeff Bagwell led the majors with 116 RBI in 110 games during the ’94 season. That’s a 171 RBI pace which would have shattered his career-high. Kirby Puckett led the American League with 112 RBI in 108 games that year. Puckett only topped that total in one other full season of his career (121 RBI in 1988).
We’re dealing with an even smaller sample size this year but the evidence is clear that it’s easier to produce a more productive pace in fewer games. While a cold streak could tank a player’s season in a short schedule, a bat that catches fire could do some damage on this 60-game slate.
If any Red Sox hitter is capable of making a run at 84 RBI this season, it’s J.D. Martinez. The veteran designated hitter will anchor the middle of the lineup where RBI opportunities should be plentiful.
Martinez led the majors with 130 RBI in 2018, tying him for 16th on the single-season franchise list. His best months that season were in May and August when he drove in 25 runs in each. That’s 50 total in 54 games, which amounts to 0.93 per game and on pace for 55 in 60 games. Martinez was remarkably consistent at driving in runs that year but he didn’t have one massive stretch that could carry a 60-game span.
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The best month that we’ve seen from Martinez in a Red Sox uniform in terms of RBI was last August when he tallied 29 in 26 games. That’s 1.11 per game and on pace for 67 RBI in 60 games. That inches him closer to Foxx’s territory but only if he managed to maintain that pace in over double the sample size.
The greatest evidence of what Martinez is capable of in this short season can be found in his stint with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Martinez carried Arizona to the postseason in 2017 with a scorching stretch following a mid-season trade, collecting 74 RBI in 62 games.
Even if he stays completely healthy, Martinez will play in at least two fewer regular season games this year and could possibly sit out a few more for rest purposes. That will make it difficult for him to match the greatest stretch of his career.
However, that hot streak with the Diamondbacks came after Martinez had played 57 games that year with Detroit. The trade to a contender clearly rejuvenated him but his workload for the year didn’t suddenly reset with the move out west. If Martinez only needs to play in a total of 60 games this year, perhaps a fresher version of the slugger is capable of reaching those heights again.
We should consider it a long shot for any player to approach 84 RBI this season but Martinez could make the chase interesting. We’ve seen him put together several consecutive months with 20+ RBI so 60 is a reasonable target in a short season. If his bat heats up the way it did in the second half of 2017, 70+ is certainly within the realm of possibility.
Topping 80 could be a stretch but Martinez should be well-rested following baseball’s hiatus and chomping at the bit to get back in that batter’s box. We’ve established that elite hitters can produce at an astonishing pace in a shortened season. It might not seem realistic but we’re in uncharted territory with this 60-game season where anything could happen.