Los Angeles Dodgers: 10 Best Individual Offensive Seasons in L.A. History
All eyes were on Kemp to emerge as the National League’s best player entering 2012, following a career year in 2011 (more on that later), the fallout from Ryan Braun’s performance enhancing drug fiasco and the defections of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to the American League.
He certainly didn’t shy away from the pressure, proclaiming that a 50/50 season was in his sights. While that goal seems to be all but impossible after stealing only two bases through the Dodgers’ first 25 games, Kemp has delivered arguably the best April of any player in baseball history, complete with a franchise-record 12 home runs.
Building off of last season’s success, Kemp, once again, has baseball fans and experts thinking Triple Crown. While the odds of that happening are slim, it’s not too early to start thinking about Kemp having the best season in the franchise's 54 years since moving to Los Angeles following the 1957 season.
Let’s take a look at the 10 best individual offensive seasons in L.A. Dodgers history, seasons that Kemp’s 2012 will eventually be measured up against.
Tommy Davis, 1962
It’s fitting that the Brooklyn-born Herman Thomas Davis, originally drafted by the Dodgers in 1956 when the team still called the New York City borough home, would be responsible for the first great offensive season during the team’s stint in Los Angeles.
In 1962, Davis led the league in hits (230), batting average (.346) and runs batted in (153, still a franchise record). He added 27 home runs, 120 runs scored and 18 stolen bases to accompany his other league-leading stats, but it wasn’t even the most notable season for a Dodger that year.
Davis somehow finished third in the National League MVP voting behind teammate and winner Maury Wills and San Francisco Giants legend Willie Mays.
Steve Garvey, 1978
Although Steve Garvey won the National League MVP in 1974, his 1978 season—during which he finished second to Pittsburgh’s Dave Parker—was better statistically in almost every category.
He had more hits (202), doubles (36), triples (nine), runs batted in (113), stolen bases (10) and walks (40) than he did in ’74. He also had a higher batting average (.316) and OPS (.852). Garvey’s failure to win the MVP in ’78 had much more to do with Parker’s stellar campaign than any drop off from Garvey.
He may have taken home the hardware in ’74, but 1978 was arguably Steve Garvey at his absolute best.
Pedro Guerrero, 1985
Pedro Guerrero didn’t play a full season with the Dodgers until his fifth season with the team. But once he did, the results were spectacular. Guerrero took full advantage of his first opportunity to play full time, finishing third in the NL MVP voting in 1982, but he put up even better numbers in 1985.
That season, and in only 137 games played, Guerrero hit .320, while driving in 87 runs, scoring 99 more runs and belting 33 home runs. He also led the league in OBP (.422) and OPS (.999).
Kirk Gibson, 1988
No list of greatest seasons in Dodgers history, even if we go back to the Brooklyn days, can be complete without mentioning 1988. Not only is that the last time that the Dodgers won, or even appeared in, the World Series, but it was also the Year of Gibby aka Kirk Gibson.
Most baseball fans remember Gibson’s walk-off home run in Game 1 of the Fall Classic, which has a lot to do with the fact that it was Gibson’s only appearance of the series. But most people tend to overlook the MVP regular season that he put together to help Los Angeles reach the postseason.
Gibson edged out New York Mets outfielder Darryl Strawberry for the award by batting .290, driving in 76 runs and scoring 106, while bopping 25 home runs and stealing 31 bases.
This may not stack up with other seasons during the Los Angeles years based on statistical impact, but it is surpassed by few others for pure nostalgia.
Raul Mondesi, 1997
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Raul Mondesi’s 1997 campaign is often overshadowed because of the monster season put up by Mike Piazza (more on that later). That’s a shame because Mondesi had a historic campaign of his own.
That year, Mondesi became the first player in Dodgers history to reach the 30 home run/30 stolen base plateau, the first of two such seasons for him during his career (he repeated the feat in 1999). In addition to his 30 home runs and 32 stolen bases, Mondesi also drove in 87 runs, scored 95, hit .310 and added an impressive .910 OPS.
He also won a Gold Glove for good measure.
Mike Piazza, 1997
When you first glance at Mike Piazza’s numbers from the 1997 season, and then consider that he played the physically demanding position of catcher for a National League team, it’s hard not to wonder how he managed to finish second in that year’s MVP balloting.
Take a look at Larry Walker’s numbers, and it immediately becomes clear that, even with the benefit of playing half his games in Coor’s Field, Walker had one of the greatest seasons in MLB history.
If Walker’s season was one of the best in MLB history, then Piazza’s may have been the best season ever for a catcher. He managed to hit .362 (second to Walker’s .366) with 40 home runs, 124 runs batted in, and 104 runs scored, all while catching 152 games. He capped all of that with a ridiculous 1.070 OPS.
Many consider Piazza to be the greatest hitting catcher to ever play the game. If you ever find yourself having to defend this claim, look no further than his 1997 season stats as exhibit A.
Gary Sheffield, 2000
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You can call Gary Sheffield a lot of things, many of them not good. Just be sure to include the words “professional hitter” to the conversation.
Sheffield had one of the best seasons of his 22-year, eight-team career in 2000 when he launched a career-best 43 home runs while calling the not-so-hitter-friendly park at Chavez Ravine home.
Playing in only 141 games, he also managed to put up 109 runs batted in and score another 105, while batting .325 and delivering a 1.081 OPS, better than Piazza’s 1997 season.
Like many of the stops along his major league career, Sheffield’s 3.5 years as a Dodger were not without turmoil, but the on-field results were never in question.
Shawn Green, 2001
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If Gary Sheffield was the star that everybody loved to hate, Shawn Green was the antithesis of that. After joining the Dodgers via an offseason trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles fans were hoping that Green would be the next great star in the franchise's long and storied history.
Green didn’t immediately respond well to his return home (he was raised in Tustin, CA), the pressure of living up to a six-year, $84 million contract extension and being the most prominent Jewish baseball player since Dodger legend Sand Koufax.
After struggling to adjust to his new surroundings in 2000, Green settled into the Dodgers lineup quite nicely in 2001 and, as the saying goes, the numbers don’t lie.
Green blasted a Dodgers-record 49 home runs in 2001, while batting .297 with 125 runs batted in, 121 runs scored, 20 stolen bases and an impressive .970 OPS. That was only the second most impressive thing that Green did in 2001, behind the $75,000 donation he made to a charity benefiting victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City.
Adrian Beltre, 2004
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If there is an unofficial list of the greatest contract-year performances in MLB history, then Adrian Beltre’s 2004 season has to be ranked No. 1.
Beltre was signed by the Dodgers as a 15-year-old out of the Dominican Republic and was a regular starter with the major league club before his 20th birthday. After years of teasing fans with his potential, Beltre entered the 2004 season as a soon-to-be free agent, and at the time, we couldn't wait to wish him good riddance.
So what did Beltre do? He only went Kaiser Soze on the National League, busting out with career highs in almost every major category including batting average (.334), home runs (48), RBIs (121), runs scored (104), OBP (.388), slugging percentage (.629) and OPS (1.017).
Despite the heroics, Beltre was only able to manage a runner-up finish to Barry Bonds in that year’s MVP voting.
After the Seattle Mariners bought the fool’s gold, inking Beltre to a four-year, $64 million free agent contract, he reverted back to his normal ways with four lackluster seasons there.
Since landing with the Red Sox prior to the start of the 2010 season, Beltre has finally managed to establish his himself as one of baseball’s premier third baseman, both offensively and defensively. But he’s yet to come close to that incredible outlier that was the 2004 season.
Matt Kemp, 2011
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Matt Kemp’s breakout 2011 performance has been well documented by now, especially in light of his incredible start to 2012. Most people expected him to build off of his 2011 campaign and have a strong 2012, but expectations were very different for Kemp a little more than a year ago.
Kemp’s first five seasons with the Dodgers were uneven to say the least, but 2010 represented the worst-case scenario for the budding star.
After a stellar 2009 campaign during which the then-24-year old Kemp won his first Gold Glove and finished in the top ten in the NL MVP voting, Kemp had a horrendous 2010 which was remembered mainly for two things: consistently staying in manager Joe Torre’s dog house and dating pop star Rihanna.
The relationship with Rihanna was short-lived, and Torre retired from managing following the 2010 season. Many hoped that Kemp would rededicate himself to the game of baseball and embrace the fresh start under new manager Don Mattingly, and boy did he ever.
Kemp put up a season for the ages, finishing second to Ryan Braun in the NL MVP race (a race many believe he should have won even before Braun’s positive test for performance enhancing drugs) by hitting .324 while leading the NL in runs (115), RBIs (126) and home runs (39).
He finished one home run shy of becoming just the fifth player ever, and first Dodger, to join the 40 home run/40 stolen base club, adding 42 stolen bases to his other gaudy totals. He still managed to become just the second Dodger (joining Raul Mondesi) to reach the 30/30 mark.
Aside from the across-the-board statistical dominance, 2011 was a great sign of things to come for Matt Kemp, and 2012 has proved that his renewed sense of baseball purpose is a long-term commitment.