Are 20/20 Players a Thing of the Past?

The number of 20/20 players this season is projected to be a five-year low. Click to find out why.

There are currently just two players in all of baseball that have both 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. As of five days ago, there weren’t any. Carlos Gomez joined the club by hitting a home run on August 17th, while Brian Dozier reached the feat just yesterday, recording his 20th steal.

With only a handful of other players that could potentially join them, are 20/20 players a thing of the past?

I went back and looked at the last five years (2009-2013) to find how many 20/20 guys there were each season. In 2009, there were 14 such players, 7 in 2010, 12 in 2011, 10 in 2012, and 8 in 2013. (Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.) This comes out to an average of 10.2 players over that five-year span.

The total amount of stolen bases from 2009 to 2010 stayed basically the same, which can also be said for 2011 to 2012. The big difference between these years is that the amounts in 2009 and 2010 were roughly 300 fewer than the amounts in 2011 and 2012. However, the largest variance came from 2012 to last season. There were 536 fewer steals in 2013 than there were in 2012, which makes sense why last season we saw the second lowest 20/20 total in the past five years. How does this season stack up to the five before it?

The current amount of total stolen bases for 2014 is on pace to pass the total from last season, but will still be around 250 fewer than the average amount from 2009 to 2013, and the lowest of any year besides 2013 over the five-year period. Even taking out the two highest totals (2011 and 2012), the projected amount for stolen bases in 2014 will be less than the average of the other three years. Ok, so less stolen bases means less guys that could potentially make the 20/20 club, but is that the only reason?

Stolen bases are only half of the requirement to make the 20/20 club, with home runs being the other. After looking at the same five-year period (2009-2013), I found that 2009 was the only season with more than 5,000 home runs being hit. They decreased for the next two years, followed by an uptick in 2012, with last season falling back in line with 2011 and 2010 numbers. The average amount of home runs over this five-year span was just over 4,760. This season, home run totals are on pace for about 4,300, well below the five-year average before it. Between a drop-off in both home runs and stolen bases, it’s starting to make sense why there are projected to be fewer 20/20 players this season than in any of the five before it.

Potential 20/20 Players in 2014

In addition to Gomez and Dozier – who are already in the club – there are four other players that FanGraphs’ ZiPS Projections expect to join them at the end of the season: Mike Trout, Todd Frazier, Ian Desmond, and Andrew McCutchen.

They have Michael Brantley just missing the cut with 21 home runs and 19 stolen bases. There are three other players on the fringe of making it, according to ZiPS, in Brett Gardner, Jimmy Rollins, and Charlie Blackmon, all because of too few home runs. If all goes according to plan with Trout, Frazier, Desmond, and McCutchen being the only others to make the 20/20 club, this would be the lowest amount in any of the five previous years.

This post from Beyond the Box Score was written in 2011 and titled, “20/20 Players Are Alive And Well.” The author wrote that, “From 1901 through 1954, there were just seven total instances of a player stealing 20 bases and hitting 20 homers in a single season.” He continued to write that, “from 1985 through 2010, the average number of 20/20 players in any given season is an incredible 9.5.”

Basically, the total amount of 20/20 players from 1901-1954 was less than the average number of 20/20 players from 1985-2010. Quite a change in the game. I’m paraphrasing here, but the author goes on to make the argument that we are seeing an increase in the number of 20/20 players because baseball players are becoming better all-around athletes. He then mentions that guys that hit home runs are now also capable of stealing bases and thus changing their roles, whereas in the past, they may have been pegged into one role or the other (i.e. power hitter or base stealer). Considering there were 12 players to make the 20/20 club in 2011 and it looked like 15 potentially could at the time of the author’s writing, it’d be hard to argue with his stance. Let’s look more closely at the 2011 and 2009 seasons, which had the two most 20/20 players over the past five years.

Over the same five-year period we’ve been looking at, 2011 saw the most stolen bases recorded, but also the fewest home run total. However, there were 12 players to reach 20/20 in 2011, the second most during the last five years. In 2009, the third fewest stolen bases were recorded, but the most home runs were hit, and there were 14 20/20 players that year, the most in the last five years. An increase in just one of these categories is enough to make a significant difference in the amount of 20/20 players, regardless of the total of the other category.

Since 2011, the amount of 20/20 players has fallen every year, with this year expected to be no different. It makes sense that this is the case when both home runs and stolen bases are well below the averages of the five previous years and 2010 is a perfect example of this. In 2010, there were the second fewest home runs and stolen bases recorded in the past five years and because of this, there were the fewest amount of 20/20 players with just seven. However, as we’ve seen in 2009 and 2011 – years in which there were double-digit 20/20 guys – an increase in just one of these categories can help swing things. While I do agree that today’s average MLB player is more athletic than they have been in the past - and capable of hitting for power while also being a threat on the bases - I’m not ready to say that “20/20 Players Are Alive And Well.”