29 Games Later

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With an 0-for-4 last night, Denard Span’s 29-game hitting streak came to an end just shy of matching the Nationals franchise record set by Ryan Zimmerman four seasons ago. And while we here at Curly W Live observed the baseball tradition of not discussing such a streak while it is in progress, we would be remiss not to revisit it in depth, now that it is over.

Only 30 players have compiled streaks as long as Span's since 1941.

Only 30 players have compiled streaks as long as Span’s since 1941.

Span batted .371/.406/.492 and collected seven stolen bases over the 29 games, raising his season slash line to .282/.331/.383 at the end of play Wednesday. His averages are all now within points of his career norms, and he sits just two steals shy of reaching 20 for the third time in his six-year Major League career. With his solid defense in center field, he has contributed a 3.3 fWAR, fourth-highest on the club, between Bryce Harper (3.9) and Zimmerman (2.9).

Not surprisingly, as their streaking leadoff hitter’s fortunes improved, so did the Nationals record. But the fact that Washington went 22-7 in those 29 games (they lost a 3-2 decision in Philadelphia when he entered the game late, but did not bat on September 2) really shines a light on the difference a productive Span makes at the top of the lineup.

But let’s go back to the streak itself to appreciate where it rests in the history of baseball. When Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games in 1941, he set an immeasurably high bar, perhaps the most untouchable of all records in professional sports. In the 72 years since, the reverence attached to the feat has only grown. So impressive is DiMaggio’s mark that, by comparison, only one man has even surpassed the 40-game plateau in the intervening years. That would be Pete Rose, who strung together 44 games with at least one hit in 1978.

Span's streak has put his 2013 numbers in line with his career marks.

Span’s streak has put his 2013 numbers in line with his career marks.

In fact, hitting streaks of any considerable length are exceedingly rare. Most tend to fizzle out in the teens, while anything above 20 becomes noteworthy. Consider that, since 1941, only 30 players in the big leagues have recorded a streak as long as Span’s 29-gamer.

Span’s streak was the longest in the Major Leagues since both Dan Uggla (33) and Andre Ethier (30) both broke the 30-game barrier back in 2011. And, like most quirky baseball items, the streak was not without one notable anomaly: while Span had only a pair of two-hit performances over the streak, he collected three hits six different times and four hits once.

Aside from Rose, Paul Molitor came the closest to the 40-game marker, stretching his 1987 streak to 39 before his next hitless game. Between the 2005 and 2006 seasons, Jimmy Rollins recorded a hit in 38 consecutive contests and Tommy Holmes logged a 37-game hitting streak in 1945. In 1949, DiMaggio’s brother, Dom, put together a 34-game run.

Here’s a look at all hitting streaks of at least 29 games since 1941:

40+ games: Pete Rose (’78, CIN) 44.

35-39 games: Paul Molitor (’87, MIL) 39, Jimmy Rollins (’05-’06, PHI) 38, Tommy Holmes (’45, BOS-NL) 37, Luis Castillo (’02, FLA) 35, Chase Utley (’06, PHI) 35.

31-34 games: Dom DiMaggio (’49, BOS) 34, Benito Santiago (’87, SD) 34, Dan Uggla (’11, ATL) 33, Willie Davis (’69, LAD) 31, Rico Carty (’70, ATL) 31, Ken Landreaux (’80, MIN) 31, Vladimir Guerrero (’99, MON) 31.

29-30 games: Stan Musial (’50, STL) 30, Ron LeFlore (’76, DET) 30, Nomar Garciaparra (’97, BOS) 30, Sandy Alomar Jr. (’97, CLE) 30, Eric Davis (’98, BAL) 30, Luis Gonzalez (’99, ARI) 30, Albert Pujols (’03, STL) 30, Willy Tavares (’06, HOU) 20, Moises Alou (’07, NYM) 30, Ryan Zimmerman (’09, WAS) 30, Andre Ethier (’11, LAD) 30, Joe Gordon (’42, NYY) 29, Harry Walker (’43, STL) 29, Ken Boyer (’59, STL) 29, Rowland Office (’76, ATL) 29, Johnny Damon (’05, BOS) 29, Denard Span (’13, WAS) 29.

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