Slanted Sabr : The Best Offensive Seasons in Baseball History

By
Updated: February 14, 2014
Babe Ruth

It seems like every year baseball fans get to witness another record breaking, history making season from a major league player. Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera have each put up back to back seasons for the record books these last two years. But looking back to the beginning of baseball, just what are the top five offensive seasons of all time? And how do they compare to Trout’s 2012 and Cabrera’s 2013 ?

Ranking some of baseballs best statistical seasons would be a chore for anybody. Deciding if you should include ‘steroid era’ players is literally a whole other ballgame and completely up to the discretion of the fan. The fact of the matter is that until they are removed from the history books, we have to recognize the seasons that those players had. Nobody will deny that 2001 featured some of the best must-see TV we have ever had in baseball. I am a numbers guy, and those numbers are still in the books. Therefore for the purposes of this article I will continue to acknowledge the amazing seasons that known steroid users Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa had. So lets jump right into what, in my opinion, are the top 5 offensive seasons in baseball history.

 

5. Sammy Sosa, 2001 Chicago Cubs
Statistics: .328 Batting Average, 146 Runs, 64 Home Runs, 160 RBI, 425 Total Bases. 16.6 BB%.
Advanced metrics: .437 OBP, .737 SLG, 1.174 OPS. 186 wRC+, .336 BABIP, contributing to a 9.9 WAR.

Sammy Sosa and his 2001 season probably won’t make many ‘greatest season ever’ lists; many will put the season that Ted Williams had in 1941 over Sosa’s 2001 campaign. I give Sosa the nod on a couple of factors though: his 64 home runs were nearly double what Williams had in 1941, and also the fact that Williams had a gaudy BABIP of nearly .400 in 1941 while Sosa was a little more down to earth with a .336. Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds pretty much defined the term must-watch TV in 2001. Their play was so remarkable that ESPN regularly cut into their scheduled programming whenever Sosa or Bonds stepped up to the plate. It was fantastic TV, and a season of such quality that may never be matched.

 

4. Hack Wilson, 1930 Chicago Cubs Statistics: .356 Batting Average, 56 Home Runs, 191 RBI, 146 Runs, 423 Total Bases. Advanced metrics: .454 OBP, .723 SLG, 1.177 OPS, 171 wRC+, .342 BABIP, contributing to a 8.0 WAR.

I’ll be honest, until I started doing some research on some of the greatest seasons ever, I didn’t really have a good understanding of Hack Wilson and the year he had in 1930. If you ask anybody about the best individual seasons in baseball history, I doubt that the name Hack Wilson would be listed by most people. But it should be. In 1930, Wilson drove in 191 runs while hitting 56 jacks for the Cubs. He scored 146 runs and had 423 total bases. His advanced metrics are amazing as well as he posted a 1.177 OPS and contributed a wRC+ of 171. One common theme I have seen researching some of the older players is that all of them seem to have huge BABIP. Though this suggests that defense back in the 1920’s and 1930’s was brutal, one can’t take away from the fact that Wilson had a monster season in 1930.

 

3. Lou Gehrig, 1927 New York Yankees Statistics: .373 Batting Average, 52 Doubles, 18 Triples, 47 Home Runs, 175 RBI, 149 Runs, 447 Total Bases. Advanced metrics: .474 OBP, .765 SLG, 1.239 OPS, 209 wRC+, .377 BABIP, contributing to a 12.5 WAR.

Lou Gehrig excelled in every aspect of the game for the 1927 Yankees. His 447 total bases that year rank 3rd all-time in baseball history for a single year (2nd place- Rogers Hornsby 450, 1922, 1st place- Babe Ruth, see below). Gehrig posted one of the top 10 seasons ever in both OPS and slugging percentage, however he had a very high .377 BABIP. Lou didn’t have a hand in creating as many runs as Bonds and Ruth did in their banner years, yet still had an impressive 209 wRC+. Another amazing year that will never be overlooked.

 

2. Barry Bonds, 2001 San Francisco Giants Statistics: .328 Batting Average, 73 HR, 137 RBI, 122 Runs, , 411 Total Bases, 177 Walks, 35 IBB. Advanced metrics: .515 OBP, .863 SLG, 1.378 OPS, 235 wRC+, contributing to a 12.5 WAR.

As I said earlier, I’m not here to argue about how Barry Bonds produced these numbers, I’m simply writing about that year because it did happen, one way or another. Bonds smashed 73 home runs that year and had the fourth-highest OPS in baseball history at 1.378. His 235 wRC+ was one better than Ruth’s 1921 year, however his WAR was almost a full game below the Babe. The amount of walks Bonds drew in 2001 will never be touched again and that clearly reflected in his .515 OBP. Simply an amazing and very fun year to watch. PEDs or not, this year still happened and we should never forget it.

 

1. Babe Ruth, 1921 New York Yankees Statistics: .378 Batting Average, 59 Home Runs, 171 RBI, 177 Runs, 44 Doubles, 16 Triples, 17 Stolen Bases, 145 BB, 457 Total Bases. Advanced metrics: .846 SLG, .512 OBP, 1.359 OPS, 234 wRC+, contributing to a 13.7 WAR.

It is amazing that nearly 100 years later this season still ranks as the best ever, and not just in my opinion. Just look at some of the numbers that “The Babe” put up. 457 total bases is just mind numbing, but my favorite stat from this season has to be the wRC+ of 234. To me, it is just amazing to think Ruth had a part in 234 runs during that year. We also see that Ruth had a little fun on the base pads, compiling 17 steals. That may be the equivalent to Miguel Cabrera stealing 15 bags this year, numbers you just wont see anymore. As a fan of baseball and a fan of advanced metrics, I wish I could have witnessed this record breaking year.

 

In closing, many current day fans will argue that Mike Trout had one of the best years ever in 2012, and those on the other side of the sabrmetrics coin argue that Miguel Cabrera turned in one of the best in 2013. Lets take a look.

Mike Trout, 2012 LA Angels of Anaheim.
Statistics: .326 Average, 30 home runs, 129 runs , 83 RBI, 49 steals.
Advanced metrics: .399 OBP, .564 SLG, .963 OPS, 166 wRC+, .383 BABIP, 10.0 WAR.

Miguel Cabrera, 2013 Detroit Tigers.
Statistics: .346 Average, 44 home runs, 103 runs, 137 RBI.
Advanced metrics: .442 OPB, .636 SLG, 1.078 OPS, 192 wRC+, .356 BABIP, 7.6 WAR.

The seasons that Trout and Cabrera had in 2012, and 2013 are great, some of the best in recent memory. In reality they don’t even compare to the seasons from Bonds, Ruth, Wilson, Sosa and Gehrig had in their respective years.

 

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4 Comments

  1. RMR

    February 15, 2014 at 3:16 am

    I’m not sure how you arrived at your 4th and 5th seasons in particular, but if you simply use Fangraphs total offense figure (runs above average), the top 5 offensive seasons were:

    1. Ruth 1921 (119.2)
    2. Bonds 2001 (118.0)
    3. Ruth 1923 (117.3)
    4. Ruth 1920 (110.9)
    5. Bonds 2002 (106.0)

    Gehrig’s 1927 shows up 6th and then you have to go to Ted Williams’ 1941 at 12th to get another non-Ruth, non-Bonds season

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/introducing-fangraphs-stats-offense-and-defense/

    As for the other two on your list, Sosa’s 2001 was 39th (78.8) and Wilson’s 1930 was 35th (79.5). This metric has Giambi’s 2001 as better than Sosa’s.

    As for Mike Trout & Miguel Cabrera, their last 2 seasons rank thusly:

    Trout 2013, 71st (69.6)
    Cabrera 2013, 130th (63.5)
    Trout 2012, 149th (61.4)
    Cabrera 2012, 359th (50.7)

    I’m not suggesting necessarily that Fangraphs’ Off metric is the best one to use, but I can’t think of a compelling argument for something more arbitrary.

  2. Joshua Woody, Contributor

    February 15, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    That is why I wrote IN MY OPINION. All of us will have views on what means more from a stat perspective. I simply wanted to blend in some past seasons with some in recent memory and come up with my views on the 5 greatest seasons ever.

    Thank you for reading.

  3. Joshua Woody, Contributor

    February 15, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Also – I would never use one metric alone to judge a season, that is not my style. I love looking at a players total body of work.

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