Warning: the landscape of first half statistics is about to take seismic shift as we move into the 1920s. (Of course, the same thing happened when we looked at second-half stats, but that data is buried back in the recesses of blog posts and you may not remember it.) No gasping, please...
Monday, December 5, 2022
CRANKING FROM THE START/3--1920-29
You're probably not going to be surprised to discover that the top first-half performance (as measured by OPS+) belongs to Babe Ruth, as he created the seismic shift in baseball when he moved to the Yankees in 1920. The first-half HR record goes from 11 to 28 to 32 in short order, and Ruth sets new records for first-half SLG and OPS in both '20 and '21. Underneath him are some remarkable .400+ first halves from Hall of Famers such as Tris Speaker (the only other player on the 1920-21 list twice), Rogers Hornsby, and Harry Heilmann. You also get the first swatch of Joe Jackson's swan song season, before the hammer came down on him for all eternity.
Ruth didn't burn things up from the get-go in 1922, but he was back at it in '23, the year that the Yanks won their first World Series. This is the year when Ruth set what looked like an unbreakable record--170 walks--which would later be demolished by Barry Bonds. Shadowing the Babe on this list are Rogers Hornsby (showing some HR pop in '22), Harry Heilmann (hitting "only" .392), and George Sisler, in his sterling all-around peak--note the stolen base numbers--before his sinus malady turned his career upside down.
Hornsby's second half in 1924 (.451 BA, just for starters) ranked #13 on that list, so if you it together with his first half in 1925, you might have the greatest "July-to-June season" in baseball history. (We'll look at that a bit later). And here's Ty Cobb, age 37, hitting .410 for the first half in '25.
Our first sighting of Lou Gehrig, and the numbers for his first half in 1927 are simply staggering (note that RBI total). Ruth rebounds from the "tummy ache" season of '25 with his usual lusty slugging, adding two more "top 25" first-half performances to his already-bulging list. And say hello to Al Simmons, who rather quietly drives in 91 runs in the first half of 1927, as the Philadelphia A's built toward their end-of-decade dominance.
Hornsby has a magnificent first half for the Boston Braves (where he's been banished after an acrimonious season with the Giants in 1927) but note how low his runs/RBI totals are compared to everyone else: that's because the Braves were a weak-hitting team (at least in the context of the 1928 NL). New names from the NL surface as the league's offense warms up toward its historical high in 1930, including Jim Bottomley, Hack Wilson, and a 20-year-old Mel Ott. Over in the AL, 22-year-old Jimmie Foxx is the key addition that turns the As' into a three-peat pennant winner beginning in 1929. It's truly a great time to be young...
Counting things up, we have: 10 .400+ BAs in for first halves in the 1920s; eight .500+ OBPs; and twelve instances of .700+ SLGs (including three that topped .800: two from Ruth, one from Gehrig). Looking at these numbers provides us with a strong corollary for the argument that the 1920s represent baseball's golden age, with its feast of highly varied offensive excellence.