Saturday, January 26, 2013


As noted earlier (Stan Musial entry...), there are forty-eight player seasons in which the individual hitter managed an adjusted OPS+ of 200 or higher. Let's anatomize that "upper 48" here.

A total of eighteen hitters have accounted for these "mega-star" seasons. Three of these hitters (Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds) have accounted for just under half of these seasons: Ruth 11, Williams 6, Bonds 6--a total of 23 among them.

After the 1932 season, Ruth had accounted for exactly half of these. He managed this feat in three consecutive seasons on three separate occasions (1919-1921, 1926-1928, 1930-1932).

Only Bonds did it in four consecutive seasons (2001-2004).

Here's the full list: Ruth (11), Williams (6), Bonds (6), Rogers Hornsby (4), Ty Cobb (3), Lou Gehrig (3), Mickey Mantle (3), Jimmie Foxx (2), Jeff Bagwell, George Brett, Norm Cash, Nap Lajoie, Willie McCovey, Mark McGwire, Stan Musial, Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas, Honus Wagner.

The table that captures the full data for these 48 player-seasons can be found at the following link over at Forman et fil. [NOTE: subscription to Play Index is necessary.]

Of players not currently ensnarled in the steroids brouhaha, all but one of these folk are in the Hall of Fame. Who's the one on the outside looking in? Norm Cash.

We would be remiss if we did not mention the ten other player seasons where an OPS+ of 195-199 was  achieved:

199: Lajoie (1910), Dick Allen (1972), Jason Giambi (2001)
198: Lajoie (1901), Frank Robinson (1966), Mike Schmidt (1981)
197: Jim Thome (2002)
196: Cobb (1911), McGwire (1996)
195: Mantle (1961)

We gain twenty more player seasons when we move down to the 190-194 group, including four more seasons from Ty Cobb, three consecutive Joe Jackson seasons (1911-13), two more Ruth seasons, and two more Gehrig seasons. Also in that group: Hank Aaron. There are three borderline "mega" years from players who will never make it into the Hall of Fame: George Stone (1906, 193 OPS+), Albert Belle (1994, 194 OPS+), and Kevin Mitchell (1989, 192 OPS+).

There are two hitters who are often ranked in Top Ten lists who never cracked 190 OPS+ as a single-season peak: Willie Mays and Tris Speaker.

Getting back to our forty-eight: historically they are most plentiful in the 20s and 30s. Bonds led something of a comeback for these types of seasons in the 90s and 00s.

Ruth has the most in any one decade, of course (seven in the 20s).

It's also interesting to note in which offensive categories these "mega" player seasons were league leaders. As you'd expect, these guys dominated in OPS and SLG. They also lead in OBP and BB in more than half of their seasons. Runs, RBI, HR, and BA--the traditional counting stats--are in the next tier, between 40-50%. Hits and doubles are in the teens, and stats with speed associated with them (triples, stolen bases) are virtually non-existent as league-leading categories for these players.

Stan Musial was the last of these players to lead his league in triples in 1948.

Let's pretend that it's Bud that Barry is launching here...
Of course, when one looks at the list and sees where Bonds ranks, it becomes increasingly difficult to condone what the Hall of Fame voters are doing. They simply don't understand how well they've been played by BS and the ownership class over the past decade. We have no way of quantifying the benefit of performance-enhancing drugs, going all the way back to the beginning of baseball history--but the writers have been duped by the simplest possible variation of the "slam the barn door shut after the horses have escaped" ploy.

Scapegoating Bonds for having such superhuman seasons in a climate created by the owners and not regulated until after its effects had achieved the desired economic result is probably no more reprehensible than slavery or torture or the type of orchestrated economic panic that was engineered in 2008, but that's probably the neighborhood in which it resides. The Hall of Fame will have a smelly brown "mega-smudge" on itself until it finds a way to send a message to the BBWAA to stick its moralizing where the sun don't shine.

[EDIT: We promised to reveal some answers to questions asked in the earlier part of this survey of the best hitting seasons in baseball history (as measured by OPS+). It occurs to us that given the back-asswards nature of blogging, we will be giving answers to questions that some of you won't have read yet. So we will put those answers where they should have been in the first place, in the original essay. In the semi-permeable words of John Barth: "Life is a mobius strip."]