Thursday, January 12, 2023


So...who am I, anyway--and
and why am I here? (see below...)

We continue to combine, consolidate and assemble the data from our forays into half-seasons, which previously appeared here under the titles SIZZLING UP THE SECOND HALF and CRANKING FROM THE START.  We're now ready to begin sharing the findings from having slammed all of the top six hundred half-seasons together...

...and, from our standpoint at least, what better way to dive in than with the hitters who managed to hit .400 or better over a half-season. The .400 hitter has been such a rara avis that it is mostly discounted as much of anything other than a curiosity, and in an age that has been relentlessly ruthless about denigrating the very idea of batting average, this list will produce a dismissive yawn from the UAC (that's "usual arrogant cadre"--or "contingent," if you prefer). 

Those of you who prefer at least a vestige of romance in the squidgy edges of life, however, may be intrigued to discover that at the half-season level there is still such a thing as a .400 hitter. The most recent instance occurred just six seasons ago (that's 2016, and you'll need to look below to find out who it was). As opposed to about a dozen full-season instances since 1901, there are forty-eight (48) .400+ half-seasons, mostly populated by the usual suspects...but with a few intriguing surprises. 

Now if you've been following along all the while, you've seen all of these "upper 48," but never altogether in one listing. And you won't see them in a single list here, either; rather, in three lists showing how the .400 half-season was first fairly common, had a bit of an explosion with the introduction of the live ball, and then faded away into its own form of rarity (but, as noted, still short of extinction).

The names of Hall of Famers are shown in bold type. (The only folk with a .400+ half-season who are not in the HOF are "miscreants" of some sort: the "cheaters"--Joe Jackson, Barry Bonds--and the terminally wayward--Mike Donlin, Heinie Zimmerman. And one other recent guy who hasn't retired yet--you'll have to wait for that...)

Note how this list is dominated by Ty Cobb (six entries out of fourteen). So we should revise our statement about .400+ half-seasons being fairly common and state that they were relatively rare except for Cobb. We're highlighting the slash-line stats in boxes for half-seasons with an OPS of 1.100 or higher, as well as boxing the top counting stat achievements. As many of you know 1911-12 was a notable "thaw point" in the Deadball Era, with offense jumping up sharply--and that's in evidence here, with six instances of .400+ half-seasons occurring in those years. 

But note that Nap Lajoie is the only hitter here to have two .400+ half-seasons in the same year.

Now it's time to explode!!

And it was the original offensive explosion, with batting average ultimately jumping nearly fifty points from where it had been just a decade earlier (eventually peaking in 1930, the year that culminated the cannon fodder of the 1920s). 

What you'll notice, though, is that the .400+ half-seasons don't really showcase homers--and that even goes for Babe Ruth's lone appearance on this portion of the list (fear not, he's highly represented in the Top 600 half-seasons: it's just that all but one of his entries have sub-.400 BAs). 

The man who dominates this list is Rogers Hornsby, with seven appearances during the 1920s. For all that, he still doesn't manage to match Lajoie by having .400+ BA half-seasons in the same year. It's hard not get a bit aflutter at that .451 BA in the second half of 1924, however.

But that is not the record for highest half-season batting average. That record is held by the "mystery man" from our photo above: it's Harry Heilmann, who hit .457 in the second half of 1927 to cinch his only full-season .400+ season (he hit .390+ three other times). A good modern-day comp for Heilmann is Edgar Martinez--both right-handed hitters, many more doubles than homers. (Edgar walked a lot more, however.) Heilmann and Tris Speaker appear on this 20s list three times, with George Sisler joining them twice. 

We forgot about Lefty O'Doul being the other non-Hall of Famer who snagged a .400+ half-season. He did have the Baker Bowl working for him in 1929, but we won't hold it against him...

And at the beginning of the decade, the star-crossed Ross Youngs showed why John McGraw kept his picture on his office wall long after the feisty Texan had passed away at only 30 years of age.

Now, the subsidence after the uplift...

We get five more .400+ half-seasons in the 1930s, and three in the '40s (with Ted Williams finally matching Lajoie by having both half-seasons in the same year). Since 1948, we've had only five more instances, though three of them did occur in consecutive decades recently, with the most recent being the still-active Joey Votto in 2016.

Again, no huge homer heroics are associated with this sub-species of high offensive achievement, though the #1, #3 and #4 half-seasons (as measured by OPS+) all occur here--two from Williams and the other from Barry Bonds (when folks suddenly realized it was a good thing to just walk him--even with the bases loaded). 

A quick nod backwards to 1936, when my 17-year-old father was likely enthralled by the exploits of his favorite player, Earl Averill, whose second half must have been awfully sweet to watch.

You may have noticed the "tOPS+" column at the far right. That's another nice feature from Forman et fils (aka Baseball-Reference) which compares the OPS+ for the half-season with the OPS+ of the player's full season for that year. The scale sets 100 to average, so if you look at Williams' two entries for 1941 you can see that his second half was a good bit better than his overall year (113), while his first half was just the opposite (87). If you go back over the lists, you'll see some high scores in the "tOPS+" column for hitters--which means that they got insanely hot relative to their standard level of play. One of the highest such "tOPS+" numbers belongs to Joey Votto, the most recent addition to the list. All of these half-seasons represent a pinnacle of performance, but "tOPS+" gives us a way to measure just how far "over their heads" the players with .400+ half-seasons really are playing. (Note: it also works for sub-.400 half-seasons...)

Will we see any more of these types of half-seasons? While they've become increasingly rare, there is at least some chance that the pendulum will swing back at some point to make high-BA/moderate power hitting a viable concept. But perhaps it's better if they remain rare, so that the romance of elusiveness might stay with us. The chances of seeing 21 of them in a decade again (as in the 1920s) is pinned right at zero, however...

We'll move on to OBP and SLG in the next installments. Stay tuned...