Wander Franco has been every bit the top prospect fans expected when the Rays promoted him.
The 20-year-old shortstop reached base in 39 straight games before a hamstring injury sidelined him for nearly two weeks in September. He picked right back up where he left off, doubling and taking a walk in his first game back on Sept. 24 before doubling and tripling on Sept. 26 to extend his on-base streak to 41 games. It’s the longest on-base streak by any player this season and the second-longest by a player younger than 21, behind only Frank Robinson’s streak of 46 games, according to Stathead.
In a 162-game season, that 41-game streak means reaching base in nearly a quarter of the games. Where does that put Franco among the all-time great streaks? Still a ways from the top.
Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak gains most of the notoriety among streaks, but Ted Williams’ on-base streak might be even more impressive. The Splendid Splinter reached base in 84 straight games from July 1 to Sept. 27, 1949. For reference, DiMaggio’s hitting streak coincided with a 74-game on-base streak, just one game longer than yet another single span by Williams of 73 games from 1941 through 1942.
It has been a long time since anyone has truly threatened Williams’ on-base streak. But Franco is considered a special talent. One of the best prospects evaluators have seen in a while. Could he threaten Teddy Ballgame’s record? We’re taking a look at what it would take in today’s game, as well as what made Williams capable of reaching base so frequently.
Williams’ on-base streak
The numbers within Williams’ streak are staggering.
During his 84-game stretch, Williams had 30 multi-hit games compared to just 18 games with a strikeout — only once striking out twice in a game. He recorded a slash line of .371/.518/.695 with 24 home runs, 112 hits and 92 walks. In half of those games, he recorded at least one extra-base hit.
And while his longest hitting streak during that period was just nine games, he also never went back-to-back games without a hit. All this while the Red Sox were in the midst of a pennant chase with the Yankees.
His streak came to an end on Sept. 28 as Senators pitcher Ray Scarborough hurled a four-hit, one-run complete game to give Washington the 2-1 win. Williams was in the on-deck circle when the final out was made.
The Red Sox lost the final two games of the season to the Yankees to fall a game behind New York in the standings, missing out on the World Series. The Yankees went on to win the World Series in five games over the Dodgers.
Williams was named AL MVP, finishing the year with a .343/.490/.650 slash line with 43 home runs, 159 RBIs, 150 runs scored and 162 walks.
Chasing Williams’ record
Since that streak came to an end, no one has come remotely close to Williams.
In 2006, Orlando Cabrera reached in 63 straight games. That is the longest streak for anyone reaching base — without an error — since Williams’ epic run.
There have been several impressive on-base streaks since the turn of the century, but none all that close to 84. Here are the eight longest since the start of the 2000 season, according to Stathead.
Since 2010, only Shin-Soo Choo at 52 (2018) has even reached 50 games.
Reaching base night after night is hard, especially as the depth of scouting reports improves. So what does Franco — or any player in the league — need to do to challenge Williams and his record?
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Can Franco break Williams’ record?
Can Franco do it? Can anyone do it?
It’s a tall task. It might be a more challenging streak than the hitting streak. Mike Trout has been the best player of the past 10 years. His longest on-base streak is 40 games. Joey Votto has been the on-base king. His longest streak is 48. Albert Pujols also reached 48. Juan Soto has been among the best in the game at reaching base since he debuted, and while he has three separate streaks of reaching base 21 times in a row, he has yet to get past that point.
Franco has been regarded as an elite talent. Evaluators almost unanimously graded him as having an 80-grade — highest possible — hit tool when he was a prospect, a feat which prior to Franco had almost never been heard of.
He hit over .300 at every level of the minors despite being one of the youngest players at each stop. He walked 97 times to only 75 strikeouts in his MiLB career and posted an on-base percentage of .399.
Franco has put together an on-base streak of 41 games that already is tied for the 42nd longest since 2000. He’s only 20, and will only get better in the big leagues as he gets older.
Still, it’s only going to get tougher to reach base in that many games. With the advancement of scouting reports and increased pitch velocity, it is harder than ever to reach base consistently at the big league level. There’s a reason why no one in nearly 70 years has even come within 20 games of tying Williams.
Franco doesn’t strike out. He takes walks. He makes a ton of contact. He hits the ball hard. He’s fast. He seems as good a bet as any to accomplish the feat from a pure profile standpoint.
Can Franco do it? It’s certainly possible. Will he, though? A lot will have to go right for Franco to reach that lofty record.
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