Henry Aaron: A Spectacular Season

Henry Aaron
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Once more, we find Henry Aaron atop an Atlanta Braves list. Yes, it seems that there’s truly no limit to what the man could accomplish. Every night when fans saw the block number 44 step to the plate, they knew they were seeing something special. In our last installment, we examined his 1963 campaign. Terrific as that season was, there was one that was simply better. Ironically, it took place two years earlier. In 1961, Henry Aaron posted the best overall WAR for any position player in Braves history. It was an excellent season, marked by specific excellence in the fields of contact and power. Balance was the name of the game here, and Aaron did it better than anyone in the National League.

In terms of specifics, he slashed .327/.381/.594 with an OPS of .974 and an OPS+ of 163. For the third consecutive season, he led the league in total bases (358). His power had not abandoned him either, as he crushed 39 doubles and 34 homers. He scored 115 runs and drove in 120. It is somewhat puzzling as to how he did not wind up with the MVP Award. Frank Robinson won, despite Aaron outpacing him in virtually every category. In fact, Aaron finished with a WAR that was 1.7 points higher than Robinson’s. While the cases on both sides may be stable, there’s no doubt that Henry Aaron had yet another Hall of Fame caliber campaign.

April: Henry Aaron’s Scorching Start

The Hammer’s 1961 season began in a rather slow fashion. Indeed, he was a mere 3-for-16. However, a three-hit performance on April 20th against the Philadelphia Phillies lit the spark. He went on to post an overall slash line of .347/.365/.633 with an OPS of .998. His power hadn’t quite come into midseason form yet, as he mustered three doubles, and three homers. However, his 17 overall hits, a .350 BABIP, and only seven strikeouts all month make this an April to remember. The only blemish here was two walks in 52 plate appearances. That said, these are small crumbs when placed in the larger light of things.

May: More Heat

In May, Henry Aaron continued his scorching work. He slashed .350/.381/.641 with a staggering 1.021 OPS. His productivity at the plate soared as he smashed 36 hits and put up 24 RBI. He scored 21 runs, and added six doubles and three triples. His power came into focus yet again, pounding out six homers. To top it all off, he put up a WPA of 1.587, thus proving his value to a team that, truthfully, had probably already figured it out. Once again, the only negative on his entire monthly stat sheet were six walks in 113 plate appearances. Nonetheless, when one is batting .345 on every ball put in play, it pays dividends to make contact. Needless to say, Aaron was making plenty.

June: Henry Aaron Cools Down

Then came June. Yes, even Henry Aaron could be made to look human every so often. He didn’t have a terrible month, but it certainly wasn’t what everyone had come to expect. He slashed .274/.313/.453 with an OPS of .766. His five homers are reflective of the power that still resided within him, yet he also only had four doubles all month. In fact, he’d go from June 9th to June 30th without recording any. He slowed the most through the middle of the month, enduring an 0-for-12 stretch. His WPA fell into the negative, and his lack of walks became somewhat glaring (seven in 115 plate appearances). With a BABIP of .255, this proved to be a significant hole in his offensive game. Fortunately, though, Aaron wasn’t done.

July: A Thermonuclear Explosion of Offense

In July, the Hall of Famer absolutely exploded. He slashed .342/.426/.748 with a mind boggling 1.174 OPS and 42 hits. His power returned in full force, as he cracked a dozen in both homers and doubles. He put up 30 RBI, and scored 33 runs, making consistent contact once more. He only struck out nine times in 123 at-bats, good for a 0.7% strikeout percentage. Patience was the name of the game, as Aaron walked 17 times in 142 plate appearances. That’s a walk percentage of nearly 12%. His WPA skyrocketed back near two. Some may argue that luck played its hand. After all, his BABIP of .294 is much lower than his actual average. But one cannot deny the statistics, and these are absolutely baffling. The Hammer was back, and stronger than ever.

August: A Tiny Declination

During August, Henry Aaron slid back from superhuman status a small bit. That said, he still recorded very impressive numbers. A slash line of .313/.396/.574 with an OPS of .969 can attest to that. Though not as powerful as in July, he still managed to hit six homers and six doubles. His productivity never wavered, scoring 25 runs with 21 RBI. He walked 17 times in 134 plate appearances, good for a walk percentage of over 12. He posted 36 hits and three triples as well, with a WPA still hovering near two. To top it all off, the Braves went 20–9–1 in the 30 games that Aaron played in. The Braves legend was swinging a veritable boom stick, and he showed no signs of slowing down.

September: A Flaming End

In September, Aaron posted perhaps his best month of the whole season. He slashed .346/.383/.514 with an OPS of .897. He hit a walloping .376 on balls put in play, thus showing that almost everything he hit found green grass. Productivity wise, he did suffer somewhat, only putting up 14 runs and 18 RBI. That said, he pounded out 37 hits, eight more doubles, and added a couple of triples for good measure. Power wise, he dipped significantly, only hitting two over the wall all month. Nevertheless, Henry Aaron was as good in September as he’d been all year. Consistency was his approach, whether for contact or power. In this month, he chose the former, and his bat helped lead the team.

Summary

It’s true that having Henry Aaron at the top of this list is cliché. After all, there is perhaps no more widely known or respected Brave in history. That said, when one truly examines the month-by-month stats, Aaron’s contributions shine even brighter. We can almost see every single pitch Aaron saw, and analyze them as he did. In this way, Aaron’s legacy lives on. In no uncertain terms, Aaron’s 1961 season is the best single season by a position player in Braves history.

Main Photo:
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Players Mentioned:

Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson