Wednesday, March 15, 2023


Life has been momentously wet over the past week, which has prevented us from putting the voluble Teddy Ballgame in your face until now. Now that things are (at least temporarily...) dried off, it's time to see his 22 half-seasons that made the Top 300 (in either the first half or second half). You'll note that he occupies the #1 slot on one of these lists, and the #300 slot on the other:

Thirteen of these 22 half-seasons occurred by the end of the 1940s, with the bulk of his Top 100 entries coming in that time frame (ten out of fourteen). Note also that Williams was not really a sluggy slugger for most of his career: of these twenty-two top half-seasons, only seven featured 20+ HRs. He was over 15 HRs in a half-season thirteen more times, of course, but 30-35 HRs per season is not really a dominant total for most of the years in his career. This was still a hitter driven by getting as many different kind of hits as possible throughout most of his career.

And there are the three Top 10 half-seasons: no one managed to have them over such a protracted period in a career. As amazing as his second half in 1941 is, it's actually eclipsed by what "old man" Williams (age 38) did sixteen years later. More mind-blowing is how he did it: still suffering from the effects of pneumonia as the season wound down, Williams revved up in the second half of September to hit .632 (12-for-19), including five HRs (two as a pinch-hitter). In the midst of this, he actually drew more walks than hits...and considering how he hot he was (fueled by the remnants of a fever?), opposing pitchers probably should've done to him what they did fifty-odd years later to Barry Bonds--take one look at him and walk him intentionally.

That sizzling but surreal September surge pushed Williams' second-half BA up to a remarkable .454, the second highest half-season batting average in baseball history. (Do you remember who #1 is?)

Time may eventually chip away at a couple of these entries (the #300 in the first half of 1940, and the #293 in the second half of 1960, Williams' final year) but nothing will erode the memory of the game's most cantankerous--and preternaturally gifted--hitters.

Now let's look at Williams' "wraparound seasons" (second half of Year A/first half of immediately adjacent Year B):

Unlike Ty Cobb, whose wraparound seasons produced some prodigiously high batting average, Williams had a more marked tendency to follow a big BA second half with a significantly lower BA in the adjacent first half. But we do see a peak HR total emerge from the 1949-50 wraparound season, where he slugged 48 HRs in 146 games. 

Note also that there are two half seasons where Williams has more walks than hits. It's extremely rare for players to do this over the course of a full season: only 93 players with at least 300 PAs in a standard season have managed to do so (Barry Bonds, of course, did that six times). Williams only did it once in an orthodox season, in 1954 (136 walks, 133 hits). In the first half of 1947, pitchers clearly didn't want to give him anything to hit, walking him 92 times in 317 PAs: he had only 69 hits.

What's notable about the "walks > hits" scenario is how rarely player with high BAs are found on the list. Williams hit .345 in the season where he had more walks than hits: the average player who registers such a phenomenon has hit only .241 when doing so. (Sixty-three of the ninety-three "walk > hit" seasons occurred when the hitter in question hit .250 or less...)

We'll now move on to the man with the most Top 300 half-seasons ever, which is another, admittedly more arcane baseball record that he owns. We will bring him to you just as soon as we possibly can...stay tuned.