The Greatest Single-Season Performance in Every MLB Team's History
The ability to hit a round ball with a round bat is scientifically considered to be one of the hardest things to do in sports. The ability to do it with regularity and consistency is even harder.
If one were to actually read about the physics of hitting a baseball, you'd be likely to walk away with a headache.
This year, fans watched as two players not only pulled off the above feat with regularity, but they did so in historic fashion.
Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera has been practicing the art of hitting a baseball consistently ever since he debuted with the Florida Marlins in 2003. Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout has only been doing it at the major league level for just over a year, but he's already shown the ability to defy science.
With these examples in mind, we will take a look at the greatest single-season performance by a player in each MLB team's history.
For the purposes of this presentation, we will only discuss position players. We'll handle pitchers with another presentation somewhere down the line.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Luis Gonzalez, 2001
Our very first selection could be categorized as a no-brainer.
Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder Luis Gonzalez was already a quality hitter before the 2001 season. To say he took his game to another level that year, though, would be a vast understatement.
Gonzalez hit .325 with 57 HR, 142 RBI, a .688 slugging percentage and a 1.117 OPS.
He would clearly have been the MVP if not for the seasons turned in by Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa.
Gonzalez one-upped them both, however. His bloop single in Game 7 of the World Series to bring a championship back to the desert for the first time put a cap on a spectacular season.
Atlanta Braves: Hank Aaron, 1959
In 1957, Milwaukee Braves right fielder Hank Aaron won the National League MVP Award by hitting .322 with 44 HR and 132 RBI, helping lead his Braves to the World Series.
Two years later, Aaron outdid himself with an even better year.
In 1959, he captured his second NL batting title with a .355 average. He led the majors in slugging (636), OPS (1.037), total bases (400) and hits (223), and he collected 92 extra-base hits (46 doubles, seven triples, 39 HR).
Aaron also collected his second straight Gold Glove Award as well. Just 25 years of age at the time, Aaron showed the baseball world the five tools that exemplified his game.
Baltimore Orioles: Frank Robinson, 1966
When Frank Robinson joined the Baltimore Orioles in December 1965, he was already washed up.
At least, that's what his former general manager thought.
Cincinnati Reds GM Bill DeWitt Sr. traded Robinson to the Orioles for P Milt Pappas, P Jack Baldschun and OF Dick Simpson.
DeWitt defended the trade to outraged Reds fans by saying that Robinson was "an old 30."
Hmmm...Maybe in 1966, 30 was the new 20.
That's how Robinson played that year, winning the Triple Crown with a .316 average, 49 HR and 122 RBI. Robinson also became the first player in MLB history to win a Most Valuable Player Award in both leagues.
With Robinson, the Orioles went to four World Series in six seasons.
Yeah, he was washed up.
Boston Red Sox: Carl Yastrzemski, 1967
In 1967, the Boston Red Sox were given 100:1 odds of winning the American League pennant. Considering they'd lost 190 games over the previous two seasons, that seemed about right.
Apparently, the oddsmakers didn't account for No. 8.
Carl Yastrzemski literally carried his Red Sox to their first AL pennant in 21 years, including a 7-for-8 performance in the final two games of the regular season against the Minnesota Twins to clinch the title.
For the season, Yastrzemski hit .326 with 44 HR and 121 RBI, winning the Triple Crown one year after Frank Robinson achieved the feat.
In addition, Yastrzemski led the majors in on-base percentage (.418), slugging percentage (.622), OPS 1.040, OPS+ (193) and total bases (360). His 112 runs scored and 189 hits led the American League as well.
Yastrzemski also posted a 12.0 WAR that season—one of the highest ever recorded by a non-pitcher in MLB history.
Chicago Cubs: Sammy Sosa, 2001
Just about every baseball fan—hardcore or casual—remembers the 1998 season and the chase for the single-season home run record by St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa.
McGwire may have won that battle, but the season that Sosa followed up with three years later was indeed special.
In 2001, Sosa hit .328 with 64 HR and 160 RBI. It was third time in four seasons Sosa had hit at least 60 home runs—the first in MLB history to achieve the feat.
In addition, Sosa posted a .737 slugging percentage and a 1.174 OPS. He led the majors with 146 runs scored and 425 total bases.
His total base tally is the seventh-highest in MLB history.
Even with all that, Sosa finished second in NL MVP Award balloting.
Chicago White Sox: Frank Thomas, 1994
While the 1994 MLB season may have been shortened by a strike, Chicago White Sox first baseman/designated hitter Frank Thomas had a season that was anything but short on anything.
It's really a shame the season was cut short—it would have been fun to watch Thomas over the final seven weeks.
In 113 games, Thomas hit .353 with 38 HR, 101 RBI, a .487 on-base percentage, .729 slugging percentage and 1.217 OPS. He scored 106 runs, matching his output of the previous year in 40 more games.
Thomas easily won his second straight AL MVP Award as a result.
Cincinnati Reds: Joe Morgan, 1976
Looking back on the 1975 regular season for Cincinnati Reds second bagger Joe Morgan, it's easy to see why he ran away with the NL Most Valuable Player Award that year.
Morgan had already established himself as a Gold Glove Award-winning All-Star in his first four seasons with the Reds. He captured an MVP Award in that fourth season as well.
However, in 1976, Morgan took his game to another level.
He led the majors with a .444 on-base percentage, a .576 slugging percentage and a 1.020 OPS. His 27 HR and 111 RBI were career-highs, and he stole 60 bases for the third time in his career.
Morgan loaded up his mantel that season with a second straight MVP Award and a fourth straight Gold Glove Award.
Cleveland Indians: Lou Boudreau, 1948
In 1942, Cleveland Indians shortstop Lou Boudreau was named as player/manager at the age of 24. Six years later, Boudreau put forth the season of his life in guiding his Indians to a World Series championship.
Despite the added burden of managing, Boudreau's level of play in 1948 was nothing less than astonishing. His slash line of .355/.453/.534/.987 represented career highs. and his 18 HR and 106 RBI were career bests as well.
While other players may have logged more productive seasons, no non-pitcher in Indians history can come close to matching Boudreau's 10.2 WAR that season.
Colorado Rockies: Larry Walker, 1997
The Colorado Rockies have certainly had their share of seasons that featured great offensive performances. A heightened altitude tends to help the flight of a baseball just a wee bit.
However, outfielder Larry Walker outshined everyone in 1997.
After two solid seasons with the Rockies after signing as a free agent, Walker exploded in 1997. He hit .366 with 49 HR and 130 RBI, leading the National League with a .452 on-base percentage, .720 slugging percentage, 1.172 OPS and 409 total bases. In addition, Walker won the Most Valuable Player and second Gold Glove Award of his career.
Detroit Tigers: Hank Greenberg, 1940
While Miguel Cabera's Triple Crown season was pretty amazing, it doesn't quite match the season that Detroit Tigers left fielder Hank Greenberg put together in 1940.
In leading his team to the American League pennant that year, Greenberg hit .340 with 41 HR and 150 RBI.
He also led the majors with 50 doubles, a .670 slugging percentage, a 1.103 OPS and 384 total bases. The standout season earned Greenberg his second American League MVP Award.
Houston Astros: Jeff Bagwell, 1994
Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell had already established himself as one of the elite right-handed hitters in the National League before the 1994 season arrived.
However, if anyone wasn't aware of how elite Bagwell was before that season began, they were convinced after it ended.
Much like Frank Thomas in the American League that same year, there's no telling what Bagwell could have achieved had the strike not shortened the season.
In 110 games, Bagwell hit .368 with 39 HR and 116 RBI. His .750 slugging percentage, 1.201 OPS, OPS+ of 213 and 300 total bases all led the National League.
Bagwell earned the Most Valuable Player Award and picked up his first Gold Glove Award as well.
Kansas City Royals: George Brett, 1980
For 39 years, no one was able to come close to hitting .400. In 1980, Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett gave it one heck of a shot.
Brett was hitting .400 as late as Sept. 19 that year, and fans across the country were glued to their television sets and poring over morning newspapers to check what Brett's line was the previous evening.
Brett faltered in the final days. Although, hitting .390 would hardly be considered faltering.
Brett also led the majors with a .454 on-base percentage, .664 slugging percentage, 1.118 OPS and 203 OPS+.
Only Tony Gwynn's .394 average in the strike-shortened season of 1994 has topped Brett since.
Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout, 2011
This is what I wrote about Mike Trout in an article published last week:
Twenty years from now, Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout will look back upon his rookie year and say to himself, "Wow! I did pretty good!"
Trout will no doubt be the unanimous winner of AL Rookie of the Year Award and will likely be in a fight with Miguel Cabrera for the MVP Award as well.
A .326 average, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 129 runs scored, 49 stolen bases, a .963 OPS and an OPS+ of 171. The numbers are stratospheric, and his WAR of 10.7 rivals that of some of the greatest single seasons in history.
Imagine what this young man could accomplish during the rest of his career.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Duke Snider, 1955
The Brooklyn Dodgers finally brought home a World Series championship in 1955, thanks in part to catcher Roy Campanella and center fielder Duke Snider.
Snider's season was special indeed—42 HR, 136 RBI, a .309 batting average, .418 OBP, .628 slugging percentage and 1.046 OPS.
He lost in balloting for the MVP Award to teammate Campanella in the closest vote in history.
In all honesty, any year from 1953-1956 for Snider could have been considered the greatest—all of them were equally outstanding.
Miami Marlins: Hanley Ramirez, 2009
In the 19-year history of the Florida/Miami Marlins franchise, several outstanding players have passed through the clubhouse doors. None of them had a season quite like Hanley Ramirez did in 2009, though.
Ramirez had already come into his own as a hitter in his first three seasons, winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2006.
In 2009, however, Ramirez became more than just a slugging shortstop. His .342 batting average led the National League, and he collected 42 doubles, 24 HR, a career-high 106 RBI and a .954 OPS. Nonetheless, he finished a distant second in MVP Award balloting to Albert Pujols.
Milwaukee Brewers: Prince Fielder, 2009
The season that Hall of Fame shortstop Robin Yount put together for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982 was special and indeed worth of an MVP Award.
However, Prince Fielder's 2009 season was off-the-charts good.
Fielder hit .299 with 46 HR, 141 RBI, a .412 OBP, .602 slugging percentage and 1.014 OPS. Unfortunately for Fielder, three other players had pretty terrific years at the same time, leaving him down in fourth place in the NL Most Valuable Player Award balloting.
In Brewers history, his 2009 season is clearly the new benchmark.
Minnesota Twins: Rod Carew, 1977
Hall of Fame second baseman/first baseman Rod Carew had an outstanding 19-year career with the Minnesota Twins and California Angels.
But none of the years were quite like the one Carew had in 1977.
Carew put it all together in 1977—a .388 batting average, .449 OBP, .570 slugging percentage and 1.019 OPS along with 128 runs scored, 239 hits and 16 triples. His 14 HR and 100 RBI represented career-highs, and he easily captured the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
New York Mets: Mike Piazza, 2000
In 2000, Mike Piazza was embarking on his third season with the New York Mets. He was also embarking on the finest year of his career.
Piazza hit .324 with 38 HR, 113 RBI, a .614 slugging percentage and 1.012 OPS. His offense helped carry the Mets to the National League pennant.
New York Yankees: Babe Ruth, 1923
In looking at Babe Ruth's career, you could pick out any number of single seasons that would be far better than 99 percent of other MLB players' best single seasons in history.
But in 1923, Ruth's accomplishments stood far above them all.
Ruth hit .393 that year—the highest batting average of his career. In addition, he collected 41 HR with 131 RBI, a .545 on-base percentage, .764 slugging percentage, 1.309 OPS, 399 total bases and an astounding 170 walks.
Ruth also posted a 13.7 WAR that year—the highest ever achieved by a non-pitcher in the modern era.
Oakland Athletics: Jimmie Foxx, 1932
Philadelphia Phillies: Mike Schmidt, 1980
Michael Jack Schmidt earned his place in the Hall of Fame with a fabulous 18-year career spent entirely with the Philadelphia Phillies.
In 1980, Schmidt's remarkable season helped lead his Phillies to their first championship in the 97-year history of the franchise.
Schmidt hit .286 with 48 HR and 121 RBI and led the National League with a .624 slugging percentage, a 1.004 OPS and 342 total bases. He captured the National League MVP Award in a unanimous vote and earned his fifth consecutive Gold Glove Award.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Barry Bonds, 1992
In the early 1990s, the Pittsburgh Pirates were the class of the NL East Division, led by a young left fielder who would go on to smash records and create controversy.
Barry Bonds captured his first NL MVP Award in 1990, helping to lead the Pirates to their first NL East Division title in 11 seasons.
In 1992, the Pirates were looking for their third straight title. Bonds again helped them get there.
That year, he hit .311 with 34 HR and 103 RBI. He led the majors with a .456 on-base percentage, .624 slugging percentage, 1.080 OPS and 127 walks. In addition, he stole 39 bases and scored an NL-leading 109 runs.
Bonds won his second of seven MVP awards that year and his third consecutive Gold Glove Award.
San Diego Padres: Tony Gwynn, 1997
Tony Gwynn's 20-year career with the San Diego Padres was spent on honing and perfecting the art of hitting, right through to the very end.
In 1997, at the tender age of 37, Gwynn showed all the youngsters that he was still the king. He hit .372 that year, capturing his eighth and final National League batting title. His 17 homers and 119 RBI represented career highs, and he led the majors with 220 hits—also a career-high.
San Francisco Giants: Barry Bonds, 2001
Three years after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa famously chased Roger Maris' single-season home run record, San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds eclipsed it and more.
In 2001, Bonds hit .328 with 73 HR and 137 RBI. He led the majors with a .515 on-base percentage, .863 slugging percentage, 1.378 OPS and 177 walks.
Bonds won his fourth overall MVP Award, his second with the Giants, for his efforts.
Seattle Mariners: Ken Griffey Jr., 1997
Ken Griffey Jr. was already a star when the 1997 season began. At the end of that year, he was an MVP as well.
Griffey hit .304 with 56 HR, 147 RBI, a .646 slugging percentage, 1.028 OPS, 393 total bases and 125 runs scored.
He won the AL MVP Award in a unanimous vote and earned his eighth consecutive Gold Glove Award.
St. Louis Cardinals: Rogers Hornsby, 1924
Over a span of six seasons from 1920-1925, St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Rogers Hornsby owned the leaderboard in just about every major offensive category.
His 1924 season is just one example.
Hornsby hit an astounding .424 that season, along with a .507 on-base percentage, .696 slugging percentage, 1.203 OPS, 121 runs scored, 227 hits and 43 doubles. He also chipped in with 25 HR and 94 RBI.
Hornsby lost the NL MVP Award, though, in a close vote to Brooklyn Robins pitcher Dazzy Vance in a controversial decision.
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria, 2009
A year after winning the Rookie of the Year Award in the American League, third baseman Evan Longoria asserted his dominance in the lineup for the Tampa Bay Rays.
In 2009, Longoria hit .281 with 33 HR, 113 RBI, a .526 slugging percentage and .889 OPS.
He won the Silver Slugger Award along with his first Gold Glove Award.
Texas Rangers: Alex Rodriguez, 2002
Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks paid a hefty price to woo shortstop Alex Rodriguez to the Lone Star state, signing him to a record 10-year, $252 million contract.
In 2002, Rodriguez showed why Hicks was willing to pay so much. He hit .300 and led the majors with 57 HR, 142 RBI and 389 total bases. A-Rod also posted a .623 slugging percentage and 1.015 OPS and won his first-ever Gold Glove Award.
Toronto Blue Jays: Carlos Delgado, 2000
In 2000, Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado built upon a hitting resume that was already pretty impressive.
Delgado hit .344 with 41 HR, 137 RBI, a .470 on-base percentage, .664 slugging percentage and 1.134 OPS. His 378 total bases led the American League, and his 57 doubles tied for the 10th most in Major League Baseball history for a single season.
Washington Nationals: Vladimir Guerrero, 2002
Montreal Expos right fielder Vladimir Guerrero never met a baseball he didn't like. He swung at pitches most players would never even deign to consider.
In 2002, Geurrero's free-swinging style was put on display. He hit .336 that season with 39 HR, 111 RBI, a .593 slugging percentage and 1.010 OPS. His 364 total bases led the National League, and his 206 hits led the league as well.
Guerrero also stole 40 bases for the first and only time in his career and added 14 outfield assists with one of the strongest arms in all of baseball.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
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