If you have been following the Washington Nationals lately you have almost certainly heard mention of Jayson Werth's growing on-base streak. Werth's streak currently stands at 40 games which is only three games shy of the team record set by Ryan Zimmerman in 2009.
An on-base streak of 40 games is quite rare and special and deserves to be celebrated. That said, this streak pales in comparison to the longest on-base streaks in history and I'm not sure Werth really deserves much credit for his accomplishment.
Allow me to explain.
Getting on base in baseball is not easy at the best of times. Getting a hit and drawing a walk both take a lot of skill and even the greatest baseball players in the history of the sport were not able to guarantee consistency on a day to day basis. Some days the ball drops in for a hit. Some days it finds a glove.
Take a look at the Nationals' own Daniel Murphy, one of the hottest players in the majors this year. He has a .385 OBP, the best of any regular on the Nationals.
He may be very good at getting on base this year, yet Murphy's longest on-base streak this year is only 15 games long.
I am sure our readers are ready to point out that Murphy is very much a contact hitter.
He does not draw nearly the number of walks that Jayson Werth does. That is a fair point. Let's look at someone who draws a lot of walks.
Take a look at Bryce Harper's 2015 season. He finished that year with a .460 OBP thanks in large part to a 19% walk rate.
He played in 153 games and only failed to get on base in ten percent of those games. Despite all that, Harper's longest on-base streak lasted all of 20 games.
How unfair is that? Bryce Harper reached base 301 times in 153 games last year (that's about two per game) and only managed to string together a 20 game streak.
Werth owns a .341 OBP and has reached base only 147 times in 102 games (less than 1.5 times per game).
Why is Werth the one with the long streak. How does something like this happen?
The secret recipe for a long on-base streak is simple: Start with some amount of skill and add a great big tall heaping serving of luck on top.
Sometimes a great hitter just hits well. There is a lot of luck involved in that.
Ryan Zimmerman's 43-game streak was built around a 30-game hitting streak.
Back in 1941, Joe DiMaggio made his famous 56-game hitting streak the foundation for a 74-game on-base streak.
Other times consistent hitting is not a big factor at all. The longest hitting streak in Werth's past 40 games is just six games long and there are 12 games in the streak where he only got on base thanks to a walk.
When the great Ted Williams set the all-time record in this category by reaching base in 86 consecutive games he did not rely on an exciting hitting streak like DiMaggio.
He did hit the ball well but he also walked nearly a quarter of the time he came to the plate.
It makes sense that Ted Williams with his .553 OBP in 1941 would be the one to own the all-time record, but while his crazy on base percentage was certainly a factor for him, history simply does not bear out the idea that a high on-base percentage is a critical ingredient in putting together a streak of games on base.
Not only can I point to great players like Bryce Harper who don't have long streaks to their names but history provides a very interesting counter-example to Ted Williams in the form of Orlando Cabrera.
Cabrera put together his on-base streak in 2006 and it is one of the longest in history.
He never drew a lot of walks and his career OBP was only .317. The 2006 season was a good one for him with a solid .334 OBP, but even with that, he was below league average offensively.
None of that mediocrity stopped him from stringing together an amazing on-base streak of 63 consecutive games.
Cabrera's streak included ten games where he only got on via the walk and one game where his streak survived thanks to getting hit by a pitch.
His longest hitting streak in the 63 games was 12 games long. Cabrera did more with luck than 99.9% of baseball players have been able to achieve with skill.
If Orlando Cabera was able to reach base in 63 straight games then anything is possible for Jayson Werth.
An aging Werth is a better baseball player than Cabrera ever was so maybe it will take a little less dumb luck for him to keep getting on base as it took for Cabrera ten years ago.
Ted Williams was special and he lived in a different era of baseball. In this day and age skill only gets one so far. Bryce Harper had a season for the ages last year and only managed a 20-game streak.
Joey Votto nearly matched Harper and it did get him a 48 game on-base streak. That's still a far, far cry from getting on base in 86 consecutive games or even 63 games.
Replicating Ted Williams' fabled 86-game streak in this day and age is the equivalent of a novel getting written by monkeys randomly hitting keys on a keyboard.
Jayson Werth is in as good a position to make history as anyone. He just needs everything to come up aces every day without fail for a week ... or eight.
Yes, the chances of Werth finishing with a on-base streak for the ages are pretty much zero.
He would need his streak to reach at least 50 to really be remembered and it obviously doesn’t get easier after that point.
Luckily for him baseball is a fickle game. Extending an on-base streak is very unlikely to happen, but it can happen. All you need is some good luck.
Long live Jayson Werth's on-base streak!