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Brooklyn to LA: 20 Best Individual Seasons in Dodger History

Justin Gordon-CooperContributor IIJuly 14, 2016

Brooklyn to LA: 20 Best Individual Seasons in Dodger History

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    In spite of everything that Frank and Jamie McCourt have conspired to do in Los Angeles, the Dodgers are a proud and storied franchise.

    The 2011 seasons turned in by Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are the latest on a long list of single-season accomplishments.

    Today, we'll be taking a look at where they fall in the realm of Dodger history. Only two ground rules:

    1. This will be like the best actor category at the Oscars—only one film (season) per actor (player). I did this so we could include the achievements of more players.

    What can I say? I was spawned into a generation that cherishes sportsmanship awards and the Grammys.

    2. It's almost impossible to compare eras. If you think that someone is ranked erroneously, you're probably right.

    Now that we've established the rules, let's get to it. And we'd better hurry because Adam Kennedy, Mark Ellis, Chris Capuano, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Matt Treanor are poised to burn the house down in 2012.

     

    *Note

    I accidentally left Tommy Davis' 1962 season off these rankings. I have nothing against Mr. Davis, and have included his statistics below to ogle at your convenience. And if he had a nickname as cool as The Toy Cannon, I probably wouldn't have forgotten about him.

    By the numbers:

     

    AVG OBP SLG H HR RBI RUN SB
    .346 .374 .535 230 27 153 230 18


20. Manny Ramirez in 2008

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    WAR3.1 (in 53 games)

    Let's get this one out of the way. Say what you will about Manny, but the man knew how to inject adrenaline...into the crowd at Chavez Ravine.

    There are only two players in my lifetime who brought more excitement into the batter's box with them time in and time out: Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds.

    Manny's 2008 two-month Los Angeles vacay was more than anyone could have asked.

    A few columns ago, I wrote that McCourt had sucked all the life out of Dodger Stadium. The Manny era was the antithesis of that. His on-field virtuosity mixed with his loveable, borderline sociopathic antics brought the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles together.

    Even though the unity lasted just 53 games, I'll never forget what it was like to watch Manny Ramirez play on a nightly basis.

    By the numbers:

    AVG OPS  SLG HR RBI RUN SB
    0.396 0.489 0.743 17 53 36 2

    Other:

    The net sales off of souvenir dreadlock wigs alone paid for the McCourts' third and fourth houses.

19. Jimmy Wynn in 1974

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    WAR8.1

    If we were ranking the best nicknames in the history of sports, The Toy Cannon would be a hell of a lot closer to No. 1. As it stands, Jimmy Wynn's 1974 season earned him a spot in my rankings.

    Traded to the Dodgers in the offseason, Wynn was thought to be on his last legs after hitting just .220 for the Houston Astros. Instead, he jacked 32 home runs and was able to break the century mark in RBI, runs scored and walks, all while playing above-average defense.

    Wynn won The Sporting News' Comeback Player of the Year Award that season, but his career would end with a whimper just three years later.

    By the numbers:

    AVG OBP SLG HR RBI RUN SB
    .271 .387 .497 32 108 104 18

    Accolades:

    The Sporting News' Comeback Play of the Year

    All-Star

18. Gary Sheffield in 2000

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    WAR6.8

    At his best, Gary Sheffield struck as much fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers as any hitter on the planet. Third basemen weren't exactly having a picnic during his at-bats either.

    Rumor has it, when doctors needed a stool sample from a patient, they'd send him to play the hot corner while Sheffield was up and align him on the infield grass.

    Gross.

    After winning the World Series with the Florida Marlins in '97, Sheffield was sent packing in the 1998 Mike Piazza-anchored blockbuster trade.

    Gary's waggling bat produced well in his first season and a half in LA, but he broke out in 2000, blasting 43 home runs to go along with a 1.081 OPS.

    By the numbers:

    AVG OBP SLG HR RBI RUN SB
    .325 .438 .643 43 109 105

    Accolades:

    All-Star

17. Mike Marshall in 1974

5 of 21

    WAR3.9

    If you think I put Mike Marshall on this list based solely on his face crop, you'd be right. But after that, I did some research, and it turns out he's deserving!

    In 1974, Marshall threw 208.1 innings for the Dodgers. And didn't start a single game. Every one of his 106 appearances came in relief.

    Hold on, I just received a text from Jesse Orosco. He says:

    "That sh*t cray!"

    It's preposterous to believe that a season like Marshall's will ever happen again. The world stands a better chance of seeing his facial hair come back in style.

    Put it this way: In 2011, Johnny Venters led the major leagues in appearances with 85. In those 85 outings, he managed to tally just 88 total innings.

    Did I mention that Marshall won the NL Cy Young and finished third in the MVP voting? When you see Drake sporting a tear-soaked sideburn-mustache doohickey, don't say I didn't warn you.

    By the numbers (call me when somebody does this again):

    W L SV ERA WHIP IP
    15 12 21 2.42 1.19 208.1

    Awards:

    All-Star

    NL Cy Young

16. Pedro Guerrero in 1985

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    WAR7.9

    This spot nearly went to Wilton Guerrero, but it turns out he never had a good season. Also, I just shattered the world record for consecutive columns in which Wilton Guerrero's name gets mentioned with two.

    Unofficially, the previous record was zero.

    Pedro Guerrero had some marvelous seasons for the Dodgers, but his 1985 campaign gets the nod. Not only did he put up a league leading .999 OPS, he also played a Ben Zobrist-y five positions, filling in at each spot with startling competence.

    The Dominican earned every penny of the whopping five-year $7-million-dollar contract he signed in February of 1984. It is alleged that writer/stat guru Bill James once referred to Pedro Guerrero as "the best hitter God has made in a long time."

    By the numbers:

    AVG OBP SLG HR RBI RUN SB
    .320 .422 .577 33 87 99 12

    Accolades:

    That Bill James quote

    All-Star

15. Gil Hodges in 1954

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    WAR7.2

    Always known as a stellar glove man, Hodges drove in over 100 runs every season from 1949 until 1955, earning an All-Star selection in each of those seven years.

    But in 1954, he went into crusade mode, mashing 42 home runs and driving in 130. 1954 was also his finest defensive season, according to Fangraphs.

    By definition, players are supposed to decline after hitting their pinnacle. This is exactly what happened to Hodges' career. His numbers faded in the late '50s and jumped off a cliff in 1960.

    Eventually, Gilbert found himself in a combination of Dodger blue and Giant orange, playing in a dumpy stadium in Queens, where he would finish his career.

    By the numbers:

    AVG OBP SLG HR RBI RUN SB
    .304 .373 .579 42 130 106 3

    Accolades:

    All-Star 

14. Fernando Valenzuela in 1981

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    WAR5.1 (in 25 starts)

    I've gotta admit, I'm still a little caught up in the mania. Sometimes I go to games with a walkman and listen to the Spanish radio broadcast with Jaime Jarrin, Pepe Yniguez and Fernando just to bask in nostalgia.

    'Nando's rookie campaign swept the city out of its chancletas in much the same way Manny Ramirez would do some 27 years later.

    Fernando managed to accrue a WAR of 5.1 in only 25 starts. This means he was worth one extra win for every five times he'd start a game. Pretty impressive.

    Even more impressive is that Valenzuela threw 11 complete games, surrendering a run in just three of those affairs. In his rookie season, Fernando Valenzuela was tossing a shutout approximately once every three times he stepped on the rubber.

    By the numbers:

    W L ERA WHIP IP K
    13 7 2.48 1.05 192.1 180

    Accolades:

    NL Rookie of the Year

    NL Cy Young

    NL Silver Slugger (P)

13. Maury Wills in 1962

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    WAR6.0

    The man who I'll always know as my father's favorite player changed the sport in 1962.

    He broke Ty Cobb's stolen-base record that had stood for 47 seasons, and in turn became the first player ever to swipe more than 100 bags.

    Wills managed to steal more bases than any team in the '62 season. And with that astounding stat in his back pocket, Wills earned the NL MVP award, despite hitting only six home runs (which was actually a career high).

    By the numbers:

    AVG OBP SLG H 2B 3B HR RBI RUN SB
    .299 .347 .373 208 13 10 6 48 130 104

    Accolades:

    All-Star

    NL MVP

    Gold Glove (SS)

    Set new stolen base record (104)


12. Kirk Gibson in 1988

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    WAR6.3

    Obviously, Gibson gave them quite an emotional uplifting in Game 1 of the '88 series.

    However, we tend to forget that he was also the MVP of that season, his first with the Dodgers. You wouldn't have minded having him on your fantasy team, either. In the mid-to-late '80s, Gibson put up numbers like a circa-2000 Bobby Abreu.

    The truth is, if all Gibson had to show for his 1988 season was his pinch-hit home run off Eck, he still would've made this list.

    By the numbers:

    AVG OBP SLG HR RBI RUN SB
    .290 .377 .483 25 76 106 31

    Accolades:

    NL MVP

    Silver Slugger (OF)

11. Orel Hershiser in 1988

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    WAR4.0

    [Foreshadowing] It's interesting to see how many of these individual performances had a seasonal sidekick.

    Campanella and Snider in ‘53

    Kershaw and  Kemp in ‘11

    Gibson and Hershiser in ‘88

    Wynn and Marshall in ‘74

    Could it be that the fundamental concept that drives our country’s economy could also be present in Dodger clubhouses?

    Could the players be so competitive that they’re striving to outdo one another, thus producing stellar seasons in pairs? Ah, the wondrous peripherals of democracy! Chalk another one up for America, am I right?

    Back to Orel Leonard Hershiser, who chalked up some numbers of his own.

    The Bulldog's dominance of hitters in 1988 has been well documented.

    While he certainly had seasons that were better, at least by sabermetricians' standards, it was too much for me to leave a campaign in which he threw 42.2 homer-less playoff innings, including three complete games, two shutouts and one save, off the list.

    By the numbers:

    W L ERA WHIP IP K
    23 7 2.26 1.05 267.0 178

    Accolades:

    All-Star

    NL Cy Young

    NLCS MVP

    World Series MVP

    Gold Glove (P)

10. Eric Gagne in 2003

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    WAR4.5

    Have your say on Gagne's alleged steroid use. You know what I say in response?

    Do ya?

    Nothing! Because Jimmy Conway taught me that the two most important things in life are, "Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut."

    But seriously, regardless of whether or not he was juicing, the man produced.

    He produced unlike any closer in MLB history. The only comparable season from a reliever (in terms of WAR, at least) is Mariano Rivera's 1996 season, during which he was still setting up for John Wetteland.

    Gagne's season has no precedent.

    His 55 saves (none blown), 1.20 ERA and 14.98 K/BB ratio are so far beyond comprehension that even the most gifted scribbler of prose would struggle to attach superlatives.

    He is also another player who will always mean something to Dodger fans who saw him play. He had his own theme song.

    Any player who puts up those kind of statistics and only plays when a win hangs in the balance deserves some entrance music.

    By the numbers:

    W L SV ERA WHIP IP K
    2 3 55 1.20 0.69 82.1 137

    Accolades:

    All-Star

    NL Cy Young

9. Shawn Green in 2001

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    WAR7.6

    I’d be lying to you if I said I was a huge fan of Shawn during his tenure with the Dodgers. And I’d be lying to myself if didn't cite that this was partially because he replaced my all-time favorite Dodger, Raul Mondesi.

    But, facts are facts.

    Green’s 2001 season was one of the best statistical years a Dodger has ever had. He holds the Dodger record for most home runs hit in a single season, even if it did happen during an era in which hitting 49 home runs barely made headlines.

    By the numbers:

    AVG OBP SLG HR RBI RUN SB
    .297 .372 .598 49 125 121 20

    Other:

    Record for most total bases in a game (19)

    Tied for most home runs in a game (4)

    Chose not to play on Yom Kippur.

8. Clayton Kershaw in 2011

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    WAR6.8

    Much has already been said about Kershaw’s Cy Young-winning season. The numbers speak for themselves.

    He dominated hitters all season long and had any of the games actually mattered, his utter annihilation of the Giants and Tim Lincecum would have made him an instant legend.

    It would have been interesting to see how far he and Kemp could have carried the Dodgers through the postseason. Perhaps we'll get a chance to find out in the years upcoming.

    By the numbers:

    W L ERA WHIP IP K
    21 5 2.28 0.98 233.1 248

    Accolades:

    All-Star

    NL Cy Young

    Gold Glove (P)

7. Mike Piazza in 1997

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    WAR9.4

    Another Dodger who I respected, but never loved. Piazza’s renowned prowess in the batter’s box more than made up for his incompetence with the gear on.

    Mike made his last full season in Dodger blue count. 1997 marks the only season in which a catcher finished with over 200 hits. His WAR total also still stands as a catcher record. 

    By the numbers:

    AVG OBP SLG HR RBI RUN SB
    .362 .431 .638 40 124 104 5

    Accolades:

    All-Star

    Silver Slugger (C)


6. Matt Kemp in 2011

16 of 21

    WAR8.7

    Like Kershaw, Kemp's recent destruction of the National League has been much ballyhooed. He finished one home run shy of becoming just the fifth player ever to steal 40 bases and blast 40 home runs in the same season.

    The aspect that truly sets Matt's season apart is how heroically he performed in the midst of chaos.

    With the notable exception of Andre Ethier (who was playing injured for most of the season before shutting it down completely), the everyday lineup resembled a homeroom roster in MLB purgatory.

    Unfortunately, it doesn't appear as if reinforcements are on their way anytime soon. The Dodgers front office essentially told him, "Here's a bunch of money. Shut up and go do that again."

    By the numbers:

    AVG OBP SLG HR RBI RUN SB
    .324 .399 .586 39 126 115 40

    Accolades:

    All-Star

    Silver Slugger (OF)

    Gold Glove (OF)

5. Adrian Beltre in 2004

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    WAR9.9

    Arguably the best defensive third baseman the Dodgers have ever had.

    His range, especially to his left, was superb. And his uncanny ability to bare-hand slow rollers and throw off-balance 95-mph lasers accurately to first base was, and still is something to behold.

    Beltre was the starting third baseman for the Dodgers as a 19-year-old. His stardom had already been anointed and planetary classification was pending.

    After five seasons of underachieving, he finally put it together in 2004. He started driving the ball to all parts of the field, making him one of the toughest outs in the National League.

    He put up the statistics you see below while playing almost the entire season on a bum ankle. 

    By the numbers:

    AVG OBP SLG HR RBI RUN SB
    .334 .388 .629 48 121 104 7

    Accolades:

    Silver Slugger (3B)

    Note:

    The fact that Adrian Beltre did not win a gold glove until his 10th season in the league is a crime against humanity.

4. Roy Campanella in 1953

18 of 21

    WAR8.5

    In 1953, Campy won the second of his three MVP awards. He was the first catcher to hit 40 home runs in a single season and his 142 RBI stood as a Dodger record until 1962.

    As outstanding as he was with the bat in his hand, he was just as dangerous behind the dish, nabbing 53 percent of opposing base-stealers.

    By the numbers:

    AVG OBP SLG HR RBI RUN SB
    .312 .395 .611 41 142 103 4

    Accolades:

    All-Star

    NL MVP

3. Duke Snider in 1953

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    WAR9.7

    In complete contrast with today, the middle of the Dodgers lineup in the mid-'50s read like a treehouse gang of super heroes.

    No Uribes allowed!

    The Duke, or The Silver Fox as he was also called, was the leader. He produced numbers in several seasons that make you blink twice and purse your lips, but 1953 was his finest effort. His 84 extra-base hits and 1.046 OPS led the National League.

    Snider's name would be more prevalent in American households had he not had the misfortune of being the third-best New York outfielder of his era. Apparently, it's tough to distinguish yourself when sharing a megalopolis with Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.

    If only Twitter were around in those days.

    By the numbers:

    AVG OBP SLG HR RBI RUN SB
    .336 .419 .627 42 136 132 16

    Accolades: 

    All-Star

2. Jackie Robinson in 1949

20 of 21

    WAR10.0

    In actuality, Jackie's 1947 term is unequivocally the most impressive season in Dodger history. Remember that year? You know, the one when he changed the complexion of American sports? Forever?

    Yeah, that one.

    For the purposes of this piece, we'll default to Jackie's best statistical output—1949. He led the league in batting and steals, tallied over 200 hits and struck out just 27 times the entire season.

    Also, the WAR you see above represents the highest single-season number ever for a Dodger.

    By the numbers:

    AVG OBP SLG H 2B 3B HR RBI RUN SB
    .342 .432 .528 203 38 12 16 124 122 37

    Accolades:

    All-Star (The first time a black player had ever been one.)

    NL MVP

1. Sandy Koufax in 1965

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    WAR8.5 (according to baseball-reference.com)

    I'm quite sure that there will be some disagreement on this selection, and probably the other 19, as well. But to me, Sandy Koufax's 1965 season represents the single best individual performance in Dodger history.

    I'll try to add something to the awe-inspiring figures listed below, though I'm certain it isn't necessary. It's been said, and I would have to agree, that pitchers can only control three aspects of a baseball game: swings and misses, walks and home runs.

    With that said, striking out 382 batters in a season is nothing short of godliness in stirrups. In the 20th century, only Nolan Ryan struck out more (by one).

    The strikeouts and the wins and the WHIP and the ERA and the innings pitched. They're all nice. But here's the kicker. 

    On two days' rest, Sandy threw a three-hit shutout in Game 7 to clinch the World Series

    Sandy Koufax's final four seasons in the major leagues were the work of an artisan. And 1965 was his masterpiece.

    By the numbers:

    W L ERA WHIP IP K AVG
    26 8 2.04 0.86 335.2 382 .177

    Accolades:

    All-Star

    NL Cy Young

    World Series MVP

    4 No-hitters

    Threw a perfect game on September 9, 1965

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