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Bill James Handbook Excerpt: The Favorite Toy

By SARAH THOMPSON

The following essay is an excerpt from The Bill James Handbook 2022, available now from ACTA Sports.

Bill James devised a system, dubbed “The Favorite Toy,” that determines the likelihood of a player achieving a certain milestone.

Since most of these milestones are counting stats, the shortened 2020 season did a number on most people’s chances of hitting milestones already difficult to reach. But not all.

Our most likely milestone to be achieved is 3,000 hits by Miguel Cabrera, clocking in at 98%. This number makes sense—he only needs 13. He began the 2021 season 134 hits short of the mark and did a good job to cover some ground. He has a non-trivial chance (28%) at reaching 2,000 RBI, though with 1,804 to the day, that’s much less guaranteed.

What’s interesting is that in 2021, he had his most RBI collected (75) since 2016 (108), a year in which he slashed .316/.393/.563.

Best chance of reaching 3,000 hits:
Miguel Cabrera (98%), Freddie Freeman (28%), Manny Machado (20%)

Best chance of reaching 2,000 RBI:
Miguel Cabrera (28%), Rafael Devers (10%), Manny Machado (10%)

The next-most-likely milestone is Nelson Cruz’s chance to hit 500 home runs. Having hit 32 homers in his age-40 season, it’s certainly not out of the question that he collects 51 more before he hangs up the cleats.

Best chance of hitting 500 HR:
Nelson Cruz (56%), Giancarlo Stanton (36%), Bryce Harper (34%)

A name you’ll see around a lot is Fernando Tatis Jr. The combination of his youth and demonstrated power gives him non-trivial odds to hit a lot of these milestones. They’re long shots—I don’t know if we’ll ever see 762 home runs surpassed—but it’s still exciting to have these possibilities in the back of your head every time you see Tatis hit one out of the park.

Fernando Tatis Jr. Potential Milestones

600 HR: 11%
700 HR: 8%
762 HR: 4%

We also calculate likelihoods of a pitcher throwing a no-hitter. It’s not a hard sell to present Jacob deGrom as the most likely guy to throw a no-no with a 44% chance.

You might be surprised to see Dylan Cease not too far behind him at 37%, though. He had two one-hitters this year, but both were through 6 innings and with pitch counts of 103 and 98. While he can keep the hits down, whether or not he can be efficient enough to finish a no-hitter remains to be seen.

Best chance of pitching a no-hitter:
Jacob deGrom (44%), Corbin Burnes (40%), Freddy Peralta (39%)