Thursday, May 30, 2013

Top 10 Seasons by Players Not in the Hall of Fame

Sorry for the lengthy title, but I couldn't find any other way to describe this list.  A few qualifiers:
  • Players still eligible for the Hall of Fame aren't eligible for this list.  So no Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.
  • Also, I won't count players who would get into the Hall but for their ethical indiscretions (sorry, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson).
  • One season per person.
  • This is a little similar to another list I did a while back, but I figured that they were different enough that this one warrants its own article.  To remedy any potential issues I've also exempted everybody on that list from this one.

1. Dwight Gooden, SP, 1985 (NYM): 12.1 bWAR/229 ERA+/268 K
The complicated story of Dr. K is well-known among baseball (especially Mets) fans, something I already partially covered here.  Today, though, we'll just reflect on one of the greatest pitching seasons of all-time: Gooden's 1985.  Only twenty years old, Gooden mowed through the National League in a way basically unseen since (some seasons by Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens notwithstanding).  His 1.53 ERA is larger than only Bob Gibson's 1968 in the seasons since the "Year of the Pitcher."  His 16 complete games were amazing for a pitcher in the 1980s.  His 268 strikeouts, while not great compared to, say, what Nolan Ryan was doing, is still an incredible figure.  Really, Gooden was crazily dominant in a way that made everybody think that he would be the best pitcher on earth for many years to come.  That didn't happen, but that doesn't detract at all from what he did in 1985.

2. Norm Cash, 1B, 1961 (DET): 9.2 bWAR/201 OPS+/178 RC
Perhaps most impressive about Cash's season isn't the 41 home runs (6th in the league), his .662 slugging percentage (2nd, to Mickey Mantle), or his .361 batting average (1st), but rather his .487 OBP (1st).  For that, Cash combined the second-most walks in the league with the most hits, a surefire way to have a very productive season.  Cash may have somewhat of an unfair reputation as a hacker, a power hitter who could rack up the strikeouts, and while Cash consistently struck out around 70 times person season in his career he always had pretty good plate discipline.  It all came together for Cash in 1961 and, but for Mantle and Maris, we might remember 1961 as the Year of Cash.  Perhaps we should do so anyway.

3. Al Rosen, 3B, 1953 (CLE): 10.1 bWAR/180 OPS+/151 RC
Unlike some of the other names on this list, Rosen was properly rewarded for his great season with the appropriate hardware; however, his name lives on perhaps worse than any non-dead ball era player on this list.  After winning the 1953 MVP with some truly gaudy offensive numbers--he was .001 in batting average away from winning the triple crown--Rosen quickly faded from baseball, though his 1954 was still pretty good.  No matter his historical record, Rosen's 1953 was one of the most dominant seasons by any player.  His WAR was 4.2 points higher than the next-best position player and he was in the top-two of seemingly every hitting category.  Too bad he didn't stick around for the longhaul; his bad back and legs denied us a perhaps future Hall of Famer.

4. Luis Tiant, SP, 1968 (CLE): 8.4 bWAR/186 ERA+/0.871 WHIP
Tiant is beloved in Boston for his antics during his playing and, more recently, announcing time for the Red Sox, but he really shined during his late-1960s time in Cleveland.  Though he had many good seasons from which to choose, Tiant's 1968 was probably his best.  He led the league in shutouts (9) and ERA+.  Very impressively, his WHIP was miniscule, tied for the 16th lowest per-season number for any starting pitcher since 1901.  Tiant gave the Indians great control and many innings, and was almost certainly the best pitcher in the league in 1968, Denny McLain's 30 wins be damned.

5. Ron Guidry, SP, 1978 (NYY): 9.6 bWAR/208 ERA+/.946 WHIP
Louisiana Lightning lit up the league in 1978, leading the league in many important categories, earning a well-deserved Cy Young Award in the process.  He struck out a ton of batters (248, with a 8.17 K/9) and kept basically everybody off base.  9 shutouts was a big deal even in 1978, as was his 1.74 ERA.  He probably would have accrued a higher WAR with more innings, but that's of little concern.  In almost every metric of importance Guidry was the best pitcher in 1978, one of the great modern pitching seasons.

6. Wilbur Wood, SP, 1971 (CHW): 11.7 bWAR/189 ERA+/22-13
Speaking of expansion era workhorses who gave it all to their teams, we have Wilbur Wood in Chicago!  In 1971, Wood pitched an ungodly 334 innings (which was actually his third highest total for the string of three seasons starting with 1971), though unlike in his other high-inning years Wood was able to dominate the rest of the league.  He struck out 210 batters and led the league in ERA+, while his 1.000 WHIP was and still is perfectly acceptable by ace standards.  Wood was one of the last throwback starters who could comfortable start over 40 games in a season; he just happened to be better at it than almost anybody else.

7. Russ Ford, SP, 1910 (NYY): 11.0 bWAR/160 ERA+/0.881 WHIP
It's tough to measure players from the Dead Ball era, but that's why we have modern rate stats, right?  Ford's 1910 was actually his rookie season.  (Why wasn't he in my article about rookie seasons?  I dunno, probably because he did pitch in 1909, though only once.)  Anyway, in 1910 Ford predictably doesn't stack up great on raw stats (the 10th place ERA was 1.91, for god's sake!) but some of his statistics are still pretty impressive: the ERA+ (4th place); WHIP (2nd); strikeouts (209, 4th); and shutouts (8, 2nd).  His numbers don't jump out as awesome, considering many other pitchers were doing some variation of what he was doing, but almost nobody else was doing it so well spread out.

8. Fred Lynn, CF, 1979 (BOS): 8.9 bWAR/176 OPS+/147 RC
Lynn earns plaudits for his unreal rookie season (1975), but it was his 1979 that was really his best year.  He led the league in AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS (duh), and OPS+, while he put up great numbers in many counting stats (including WAR, in which he led the American League).  I'm not really sure how he didn't win MVP that year, especially since the player who did win was the thoroughly undeserving Don Baylor (hmm, that's an idea for an article...), but Lynn's career is still remembered fondly, especially by Red Sox fans.

9. Jim Gentile, 1B, 1961 (BAL): 6.9 bWAR/187 OPS+/138 RC
Jim Gentile was a victim of Norm Cash's success.  How?  In 1961, when Gentile tore up the league with his gaudy stats, his WAR was doomed to be low because Cash was doing basically everything Gentile was doing, just a little better.  (Oddly enough, the MVP voters gave more votes to Gentile than to Cash, proving that they were just as fickle in 1961 as they sometimes are today.  Okay, fine, this is almost certainly due to Gentile hitting five more home runs than Cash.)  Anyway, Gentile was a great Three True Outcomes player in 1961, something that led him to be one of the most productive hitters in the 1961 that we all know was already stacked with Mantle, Maris, and Cash.  Fun fact: he led the American League with 141 runs batted in, tied with Maris.

10. Rico Petrocelli, SS, 1969 (BOS): 10.0 bWAR/168 OPS+/129 RC
Honestly, at this point it's kind of hard to distinguish among the many seasons had by non-Hall of Famers.  Some are probably more deserving than Petrocelli, but I'm tickled by his high WAR and the fact that I've never heard of him.  Even still, Petrocelli quietly had a great season in 1969, hanging with Reggie Jackson and Harmon Killebrew in many top stats.  I'm not sure he led the league in anything, but his impressive hitting performance, combined with a very strong fielding year (2.7 defensive WAR, 5th in the league) made him one of the better players in 1969.  He managed to get 7th place in the MVP voting that year, impressive considering many of the metrics used to declare him a good player weren't really yet invented or publicized that much.

Runners-up: Dick Allen, 1B, 1972 (CHW); Babe Herman, RF, 1930 (BRO); Bret Saberhagen, SP, 1989 (KC); Mike Scott, SP, 1986 (HOU).

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