Willy Taveras playing CF in 2011 spring training with the Rockies.. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
As the Astros play their 30th game of the season, "30" also corresponds to the longest hitting streak in team history. Willy Taveras had a 30 game hit streak from July 27 - Aug. 27, 2006. The fleet footed CFer added excitement to the 2006 season as the tension grew with each game after he broke Jeff Kent's previous team record of 25 games. The Astros' team record 30 games is longer than the longest hitting streaks for the following current MLB teams: Pirates (27---and that was in 1899!); Rockies (23); Giants (26); Rays (19); Blue Jays (28); White Sox (28---and that's Carlos Lee!); Angels (28); A's (25); Mariners (27); and Rangers (28). Four current teams also have 30 as the team record for a hitting streak. Taveras' hitting streak is the 8th longest of the last 20 years.
Besides Willy T's record setting hit streak, I will also highlight the number 2 and 3 Astros hitting streak former record holders---Jeff Kent (2004) and Tony Eusebio (2000). These are three contrasting types of hitters, which makes their place on the Astros' record list even more notable. Generally, the "profile" of a hitter with the best chance of a very long hitting streak: (1) high batting average hitter; (2) contact hitter; (3) low BB hitter (walks reduce the number of at bats per game); and (3) good speed to beat out infield hits. None of these three hitters meets that criteria, though Taveras comes close.
Willy T's Hitting Streak
In 2006, Willy Taveras was coming off a runner-up vote as rookie of the year, largely on the basis of a .291 batting average---and it appeared that he was in a sophomore slump. On July 26, Willy T's batting average was .258, and he was attempting to salvage the season with a new batting coach, Sean Berry. Because Taveras is what some call an "empty batting average" player, a decline in batting average is fatal to his production. The next day, he hit a RBI single against the Reds, and this seeming routine game would begin his 30 game hit streak. A week later he had his best series of the streak against the D-Backs, going 8 for 14 in three games with a double and the rare HR. But the final series of the hit streak rivaled that one for intense hitting by Willy, which added to the excitement of the streak. In that final three game series of the streak against the Pirates, Taveras went 8 for 20 with three doubles. In the next series, against Milwaukee, Taveras lost his hitting streak with his first 0-for in a month. The Brewers' starter hit Taveras twice, and the 2 HBPs reduced his opportunities to only 3 at bats: Taveras later blamed the HBPs for hurting his chances of extending the streak, saying that he would have preferred a chance to swing the bat.
Until Dan Uggla's 33 game streak in 2011 (which raised his batting average to the .220's), Willy Taveras had the distinction of the lowest batting average at the end of a 30 or more game hitting streak-- .284. One reason for this is that Taveras had only 1 hit in 17 of the games during the streak. That added to the tension of the streak. It also highlights the fact that Taveras' speed and ability to beat out infield grounders was critical to the streak. Because Taveras only had singles in those 17 games and few extra base hits outside of the Pirates and D-Backs' series, Taveras' OPS only increased from .619 to .655 during the hitting streak.
During Taveras' hitting streak, he had a .349 batting average, a 441 OBP, and and a .867 OPS.
Jeff Kent's 25 Game Hit Streak in 2004
Jeff Kent set the previous Astros record only two year earlier. As I alluded earlier, Kent was a much different type of hitter than Taveras. Kent was a high average, slugging second baseman who didn't display much speed for a middle infielder. Kent's hit streak extended from May 14 to June 11 of 2004. The 2004 Astros' wild card team would mount a furious comeback season in late August and September, complete with a team record win streak. So, it's curious that Kent's hit streak didn't overlap the Astros' win streak.
Kent raises his batting average from .284 to .315 during the hit streak. In contrast to Taveras, Kent showed his slugging ability during the hit streak, collecting 17 extra base hits and increasing his slugging percent from .591 to .541 and his OPS from .837 to .902.
Tony Eusebio's 24 Game Hit Streak in 2000
Eusebio's hit streak was unique because he was a back up player and pinch hitter. His hit streak covered 54 days between July 9 and Aug. 28, due to the intermittent nature of his playing time. Eusebio batted .409 during the streak, and raised his OPS from .611 to .843 over that period. Eusebio was hitting .285 at the end of the streak. Eusebio's streak was the fifth longest by a ML catcher since 1900.
Eusebio perhaps was the most improbable player to be associated with a long hitting streak, and not just because of his role as a reserve player. Tony was slow, like many catchers. Eusebio's career batting average was .275. However, he had shown the ability to hit for high average early in his career (.296 and .299 in 1994 and 1995). Eusebio's hitting style was based on a opposite field swing.
The sponsor of Eusebio's Baseball Reference.com player page points out another hitting streak oddity:
Did you know Tony Eusebio had a 24 game hit streak for the AAA Tucson Toros in 1993? Better yet, he extended it to 30 games during a rehab stint in 1996. That's why we love tough Tony.
Art Howe, the former Astros' infielder, manager, and current post game broadcaster, had a 23 game hit streak in 1981. Howe was en fuego during that streak, batting .460.