Which players had the most balanced offensive seasons in baseball?
Lets consider for a moment a not so arbitrary selection of statistics and some specific and exemplary thresholds for them. We can avoid a random “pick and choose” group by simply going with all of them — the seven major offensive categories: Home Runs, Runs Scored, RBI, SB, AVG, OBP and SLG.
Now lets set up our “Top 10 in the League” performance thresholds. By this I mean when you look at league leaders these numbers should place in the top 10 — with a batting title contender’s average thrown in for good measure.
Basically we’re looking for players who blanketed all the major offensive categories with a top 3% in league performance, while potentially competing for a batting title at .320 or better. Additionally, lets round slightly up (or down) to 100 Runs, 100 RBI, 30 HR and 30 SB, for the sake of simplicity. I was tempted to add 900+ OPS or 8+ WAR, but figured we’d just as well stick with the seven traditional categories. These would be MVP type numbers in any era.
30+ Home Runs
100+ Runs Scored
100+ Runs Batted In
30+ Stolen Bases
.320+ Batting Average
.400+ On-Base Percentage
.500+ Slugging Percentage
Pretty darned good season right?
Couple of observations before we look at the list, there is a preponderance of very big seasons concentrated in the steroid era, but, interestingly enough, the pattern seems to be an early peak in speed and then a significant drop off in steals with a huge upswing in power numbers.
You can almost pinpoint where Bonds, A-rod, Canseco, and others got too big to run, whereas in earlier eras the early “speed stage” (Willie Mays, Lou Brock, Joe Morgan, Roberto Clemente, Rod Carew) lasted a lot longer.
Personally, I wonder whether players like Bonds in particular would have actually been better overall if they hadn’t put on all that weight. Yes they would have hit fewer home runs, but Bonds had some amazing seasons before he got huge. Another observation was that in general, the speed/power combination was relatively rare in the early part of the century. It seemed like players were more specialized. You were either a table setter or a power hitter but almost never both. I’m not sure if bigger, faster and stronger athletes in modern times have necessarily given rise to players who can do both (there were a few notable exceptions – Lou Gehrig, Nap Lajoie, Rogers Hornsby), but it was really Willie Mays who introduced the offensive “do it all” player.
None of these individual category achievements are eye popping in and of themselves, but covering all of them in the same season is surprisingly rare.* Actually it’s more than surprising, it’s astonishing because as far as I can tell it’s only been done two (or was it three?) times.
*Note: it’s a tall order combing through every MVP caliber season over the past 120 years without the use of fancy software. I looked at a bunch of “greatest seasons” and “greatest player” lists and targeted power/speed combinations. I may have missed some — particularly in the early part of the century — but I welcome corrections and additions.
I give you two remarkable seasons…
2002 Vladimir Guerrero, Expos – 39 HR, 106 RS, 111 RBI, 40 SB, .336 AVG, .417 OBP, .593 SLG.
1997 Larry Walker, Rockies – 49 HR, 143 RS, 130 RBI, 33 SB, .366 AVG, .452 OBP, .720 SLG.
Now, a list of players in descending order of those who came close:
Willie Mays — Had an amazing run of 5 years where he was very close (1955 – 1960). He was 3 RBI short of doing it in 1957 (amazing year) … greatest all around ball player ever? There’s an argument here.
Matt Kemp — in 2011 he had 39 HR, 115 RS, 126 RBI, 40/51 SB, .324 AVG, .399 OBP, .586 SLG … missed it by 1 OBP point!
Rickey Henderson – Missed it by 2 home runs in 1990.
Joe Morgan — Just 3 home runs short in 1976.
Barry Bonds — Extremely close in 1990 and again in 1992, but did not have the AVG.
Ryan Braun — Very close in 2011 and 2012 but did not have the OBP.
Ken Caminiti – Not enough steals in 1996.
Jacoby Ellsbury — missed it by OBP in 2011, and not by much.
Jeff Bagwell — close in 1999, didn’t quite have the AVG.
Hanley Ramirez — in 2008 missed it by 33 RBI.
Nap Lajoie – real close in 1904, missed it by 6 RBI and 4 steals.
Alex Rodriguez – Just missed it with AVG and OBP in 1998.
Eric Davis — didn’t have the AVG or OBP in 1987.
Roberto Alomar – Was 6 home runs short in 1999.
Rogers Hornsby — Missed it by 13 steals in 1922.
Lou Gehrig – Also missed it by 13 steals in 1931.
Mike Trout — Missed it in 2012 by 17 RBI and 1 OBP point.
Jose Canseco – Did not have the AVG in 1988.
Ken Griffey, Jr – Close but missed it in SB, AVG, OBP in 1998.
Carlos Beltran — Closest year was 2004 but didn’t have the AVG or OBP.
Sammy Sosa — Close in 1995 but didn’t have the AVG or OBP — in 2001 he had both AVG and OBP but not the steals.
Mike Schmidt – Had 29 steals in 1975, did not have the AVG or OBP.
Ted Williams — Never had the stolen bases, but otherwise clearly the greatest pure hitter of all time.
Darryl Strawberry — Didn’t have the AVG (.284) or OBP (.398) in 1987.
Kirby Puckett — Didn’t have the steals (20) or OBP (.366) in 1986.
Tris Speaker — Would have had it in 1912 but only had 10 home runs.
Mel Ott — Would have had it in 1935 but had only 7 steals.
Hank Aaron — Had the steals in 1963 but didn’t have the AVG or OBP.
Barry Larkin — Didn’t have the AVG (.298) or the RBI (89) in 1996.
Rod Carew — Had a stretch of years from 1973 – 1980 where he was close but never hit more than 14 home runs.
Chipper Jones — Not enough steals and didn’t have the AVG in 1999.
Honus Wagner — Would have had it a whole bunch of years but never hit more than 10 home runs.
Joe DiMaggio — Would have had it on several occasions but never had more than 6 steals.
Jackie Robinson — Would have had it in 1949 but he had only 16 home runs.
Eddie Collins — Would have had it a whole bunch of years between 1909 and 1919 but never had more than 6 home runs.
And there you have it….
Oh wait …
Yep, there was one other guy who did it….
I think it was in 2007…
30 HR, 113 RS, 107 RBI, 34 SB, .325 AVG, .416 OBP, .546 SLG,