Diamond vs. Cash

March 13, 2018
"Diamond vs. Cash" has nothing to with comparing things of value. Well, I guess it kind of does….but not of the monetary kind. It’s a reference to "Diamond Jim" Gentile and Norm Cash…..possessors of 2 of the more notable "anomaly" seasons that we’ve seen, seasons that deviated from the statistical norms that both players had posted throughout the rest of their careers.  
 
Gentile and Cash had a lot in common….they both were first basemen, they both hit and threw left-handed, were both born in 1934, both debuted and got in a couple of brief seasons with one franchise and were then traded after the 1959 season to another franchise, both got a chance at regular playing time in 1960.
 
And….they both had their standout seasons in the same year, 1961. You can call them flukes, or outliers, or aberrations, but the thought is essentially the same. They are seasons that defied the "norms" (no pun intended towards Mr. Cash) from what the player accomplished in his other seasons.
 
1961 was a significant year on many fronts. Major League Baseball had its first expansion since the 2 leagues had stabilized at 16 franchises in 1901. The American League picked up 2 new franchises with the Los Angeles Angels and the new Washington Senators (the old Senators having relocated to Minnesota to become the Twins).   The American League expanded from 154 to 162 games that season (the NL followed suit the next year after their own expansion, adding the Mets and the Colt .45s (the early version of the Astros).
 
And, of course, it was the year of the asterisk. Roger Maris hit 61 home runs, and Mickey Mantle was right there with him until Maris pulled away in September.
 
Maris and Mantle finished first and second in the AL MVP balloting, but had Gentile and Cash not too far behind them. Here are the top 10 MVP finishers, with the Yankees (109 wins) and Tigers (101) occupying 9 of the top 10 slots:
 
Player
Team
Points
Points Share
First Place
Roger Maris
New York
202
72%
7
Mickey Mantle
New York
198
71%
6
Jim Gentile
Baltimore
157
56%
5
Norm Cash
Detroit
151
54%
1
Whitey Ford
New York
102
36%
0
Luis Arroyo
New York
95
34%
1
Frank Lary
Detroit
53
19%
0
Rocky Colavito
Detroit
51
18%
0
Al Kaline
Detroit
35
13%
0
Elston Howard
New York
30
11%
0
 
A closer look at the impressive offensive performances of the top 4:
Player
AB
R
H
HR
RBI
SB
BB
AVG
OBP
SLG
Roger Maris
590
132
159
61
142
0
94
.269
.372
.620
Mickey Mantle
514
132
163
54
128
12
126
.317
.448
.687
Jim Gentile
486
96
147
46
141
1
96
.302
.423
.646
Norm Cash
535
119
193
41
132
11
124
.361
.487
.662
 
So, while it was clearly the year of the M&M boys, the #3 and #4 players are ones that are in the spotlight today. It’s Diamond vs. Cash, highlighting a review of some of the great anomalies of the past.
 
Approach
 
I’m certainly not the first one to look at this topic. You can find many other articles online that examine the concept. Hopefully, I’m looking at it a little differently than you may have seen before, and maybe we’ll see some new players & seasons under consideration.
 
Bill sort of wrote about this in The New Bill James Historical Abstract under the Ken Caminiti entry, when he identified what he termed as the greatest "fluke" seasons. His approach was to take the Win Shares in the player’s best season multiplied by the margin between his best season and the next best season. It didn’t sound like he went strictly by the calculated results, but it helped identify several contenders, and he came up with the following list for his top 10:
 
  1. Kevin Mitchell 1989
  2. Cy Seymour 1905
  3. Norm Cash 1961
  4. Bobby Shantz 1952
  5. Willie McGee 1985
  6. Joe Torre 1971
  7. Dwight Gooden 1985
  8. Dolph Luque 1923
  9. Ken Caminiti 1996
  10. Steve Carlton 1972
 
A fine list, indeed, and we’ll see some of those names appear again. 
 
The approach I’m using today shares some of the same thought process, but a little different. The key differences are:
  • I’m going to use rWAR instead of Win Shares
  • I’m going to multiply the margin between the player’s top 2 seasons by the ratio between the top 2 seasons to identify some top candidates, although I’m not going to strictly by those results. I’m just using that calculation to help narrow the options.
  • I’m excluding pre-1901 results as they cause more issues with these types of comparisons (especially among pitchers)
  • I’m only going to look at players who had "real" careers.
 
Although I didn’t put a specific numerical restriction on that last point, that guideline was more or less to eliminate players who were reviewed in the Bill Grabarkewitz All Star Team article I posted recently, because I think those players are a different animal. Those were players who essentially had one shining year, a year that, more or less, in terms of value represented their whole career, or, at least, the majority of it. The players in today’s article were good players who had decent careers, but they just happened to have 1 season that stood apart from the others.
 
Similar to the Grabarkewitz team, I’m going to do this review in the context of a team, position by position.
 
Catchers
 
The candidates:
Player
Year
Best Season rWAR
2nd Best
Ratio Best vs. 2nd Best
Margin Best vs. 2nd Best
Ratio x Margin
Rick Wilkins
1993
6.6
1.9
3.5
4.7
16.3
Chris Hoiles
1993
6.8
3.3
2.1
3.5
7.2
Rick Cerone
1980
4.2
1.7
2.5
2.5
6.2
Darrell Porter
1979
7.6
4.2
1.8
3.4
6.2
Glenn Myatt
1924
3.6
1.4
2.6
2.2
5.7
 
Something must have been in the water in ‘93…...
 
Hoiles had some other good years, but his ’93 season stands out with a .310 average, .416 OBP, and 29 HR’s.
 
Cerone’s 1980 season is pretty well known, and he certainly got a lot of mileage out of it. It was his first year with the Yankees after being traded from the Blue Jays in the off-season, and in that age-26 season he hit 14 home runs with 85 RBI and a .277 average. He ended up with an 18-year career, but never really approached those numbers again.
 
Porter’s 1979 season with the Royals was the best season among this group and is well know for its across-the-board quality (20 HR, 112 RBI, 121 walks, .291 average, .421 OBP), but Porter had other good seasons too, so he suffers a little on the ratio front.
 
Myatt might be unfamiliar to some of you, but he had a pretty long (16-year) career (mostly with the Indians), with a .270 career average, but he went a little nuts in 1924, hitting .342 in 105 games
 
Wilkins, though, is the clear winner here for the biggest anomaly season among catchers. Wilkins played 11 seasons with a .244 average and 81 home runs. In 1993 with the Cubs, though, he exploded for 30 home runs with 73 RBI and a .303 average.  He takes the prize.
 
First Base
 
The candidates:
Player
Year
Best Season rWAR
2nd Best
Ratio Best vs. 2nd Best
Margin Best vs. 2nd Best
Ratio x Margin
Jim Gentile
1961
6.9
3.1
2.2
3.8
8.5
Norm Cash
1961
9.2
5.4
1.7
3.8
6.5
Lew Fonseca
1929
5.5
2.7
2.0
2.8
5.7
Kevin Young
1999
5.6
2.8
2.0
2.8
5.6
Cecil Fielder
1990
6.5
3.8
1.7
2.7
4.6
 
This essentially comes down to the 2 big names – Gentile and Cash. A quick review of the other candidates:
 
Fonseca was a lifetime .317 hitter, but he had his big moment winning the batting title in 1929 with a .369 average, winning over the likes of Al Simmons, Heinie Manush, Tony Lazzeri, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, and Harry Heilmann.
 
Kevin Young’s big year in 1999 doesn’t look all that different from some of his others at first glance, but the big difference in that year was his OBP, which was normally in the lower .300’s, but shot up to .387 that year.
 
Fielder’s standout year was his first one after returning from a big season in Japan. He hit 51 HR’s with 132 RBI, both of which led the league. He may seem like a curious candidate on this list because, at first glance, it may not seem like that year was all that much better than his next one in which he hit 44 HR and 133 RBI (which, again, both led the league), but 1990 registers as a significantly better year on the rWAR scale. Fielder’s slugging percentage and OPS+ are also much higher in 1990.
 
But, again, this really comes down to a question of Gentile vs. Cash.   I believe by most methods, Cash’s season was better than Gentile’s when you look at it in total. However, Cash was also a better player, with a better career. I think in context of what else the players did outside of their big seasons, I would go with Gentile’s season as the slightly greater anomaly. But I don’t think you can go wrong either way.
 
Second Base
 
The candidates:
Player
Year
Best Season rWAR
2nd Best
Ratio Best vs. 2nd Best
Margin Best vs. 2nd Best
Ratio x Margin
Andy High
1924
4.9
1.6
3.1
3.3
10.1
Randy Velarde
1999
7.0
3.4
2.1
3.6
7.4
Marcus Giles
2003
7.8
4.0
2.0
3.8
7.4
Jose Oquendo
1989
5.4
2.3
2.3
3.1
7.3
 
I had trouble finding good candidates at second base. I also thought for sure that Bret Boone would be a candidate based on his outstanding 2001 season (37 HR, 141 RBI, .331, 8.8 rWAR), but he didn’t come out well in this analysis because he had another season (2003) that was very good as well (35, 117, .294, 5.9 rWAR), and his OBP in 2003 was almost as high as it was in 2001, as he drew quite a few more walks in the latter season. In fact those 2 seasons are even closer if you isolate just the offensive component of WAR (oWAR), as he had 7.6 in 2001 vs. 6.3 in 2003. Boone’s defensive performance in 2001 makes the 2 seasons seem farther apart.
 
So, I went with the 4 listed in the table above. I don’t know that any of them are great candidates. 
 
My choice is Velarde, who was essentially a multi-position player for roughly the first decade of his career, alternating primarily among 3B, SS, and the OF. In his mid-30’s, he managed to have a couple of years where he was primarily a regular second baseman. 1999 was one of those years, a year where he split time between the Angels and the A’s. Combined, he hit 16 HR’s, 76 RBI, 105 runs, 200 hits, a .317 average, and a .390 OBP, with 24 steals to boot. He essentially had career highs in every meaningful offensive category. He’s my choice here.
 
Shortstop
 
The candidates:
Player
Year
Best Season rWAR
2nd Best
Ratio Best vs. 2nd Best
Margin Best vs. 2nd Best
Ratio x Margin
Zoilo Versalles
1965
7.2
2.5
2.9
4.7
13.5
Rich Aurilia
2001
6.7
2.4
2.8
4.3
12.0
Terry Turner
1906
9.4
4.3
2.2
5.1
11.1
Rico Petrocelli
1969
10.0
5.0
2.0
5.0
10.0
 
Some good candidates here, but right off the bat, I’m going to eliminate Turner.  Turner did have, for him, a relatively good offensive year in 1906, but his overall rWAR value skyrocketed that year because he had a legendary defensive season. He turned in (at least if you go strictly by dWAR) the greatest defensive season ever, one that stood alone until Andrelton Simmons tied it in 2013.
 
Highest single-season dWAR figures:
Player
Year
Defensive WAR
Andrelton Simmons
2013
5.4
Terry Turner
1906
5.4
Art Fletcher
1917
5.1
Kevin Kiermaier
2015
5.0
Mark Belanger
1975
4.9
Ozzie Smith
1989
4.7
Carlos Gomez
2013
4.6
Brooks Robinson
1968
4.5
Mark Belanger
1968
4.4
Frankie Frisch
1927
4.4
 
That’s impressive…..and it certainly qualifies as an anomaly, but I’m not sure it’s quite what we’re looking for.   When we think anomalies and outliers for position players, we tend to think more in terms of offensive performance. At least, that’s what I tend to think of. So, I’m going to eliminate Turner.
 
The 3 remaining options (Versalles, Petrocelli, Aurilia) are all solid options, and all pretty well known anomaly seasons. Let’s examine those a little closer:
 
Versalles 1965:
  • Led the league in PA, AB, runs, doubles, triples, and total bases
  • Had both his best offensive and defensive seasons (according to oWAR and dWAR)
  • Went 27 for 32 as a base stealer
  • Was voted AL MVP, a big key to the pennant-winning Twins
 
Petrocelli 1969:
  • Hit 40 HR’s, still one of the few shortstops to reach that level
  • Hit .297, 30 points higher than his 2nd highest average
  • Had a .403 OBP, nearly 50 points higher than his 2nd highest mark
  • Was 7th in the AL MVP voting
 
Aurilia 2001:
  • Had career highs of 37 HR, 97 RBI, .324 average, .369 OBP, 364 total bases, 114 runs, 201 hits
  • Finished 12th in the NL MVP
 
 
I think it’s a tough choice. Versalles’ season is probably still among the more commonly cited anomaly seasons, and he came out the highest according to this formula, although some of the margin is attributable to defense. Petrocelli’s season was probably better overall, and I think it’s the best season ever by a non-Hall of Fame shortstop not named Alex Rodriguez.
 
I think I’ll stick with Versalles.
 
Third Base
 
The candidates:
Player
Year
Best Season rWAR
2nd Best
Ratio Best vs. 2nd Best
Margin Best vs. 2nd Best
Ratio x Margin
Randy Ready
1987
5.8
1.8
3.2
4.0
12.9
Al Rosen
1953
10.1
6.0
1.7
4.1
6.9
Ken Caminiti
1996
7.6
4.8
1.6
2.8
4.4
Tommy Harper
1970
7.4
4.7
1.6
2.7
4.3
 
There were a few other candidates (Chone Figgins 2009, Aurelio Rodriguez 1970, Art Devlin 1906) that were near the top due in large part to dWAR figures that were significantly higher than their norms, so I subjectively eliminated those, as I was mostly interested in offensive outliers. But, these are 4 worthy candidates.
 
Ready calculates with the highest figure, but that’s in part because his ratio to his second best season is so high (and his second best season is relatively low). Ready had a decent career, playing for 13 seasons, but he never really established himself as a regular at any of his stops. The 1987 sticks out and was certainly a quality season (.309/.423/.520), but I think I would subjectively remove him.
 
Caminiti’s season was one of the ones highlighted by Bill in the Historical Abstract – 1996 was his MVP year, 40 HR, 130 RBI, .326/.480/.621. The revelations about his steroid usage came out a few years later (after he had retired), and cast a huge cloud over his performance.
 
Harper had a pretty famous season in 1970, which was the first year after the expansion Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. Harper, who had never hit more than 18 home runs in a season before, hit 31 in 1970, combining it with 38 steals to become a member of the 30-30 club, back when it was still a pretty rare achievement (the ones who had accomplished it prior to Harper were Ken Williams, Willie Mays (twice), Hank Aaron, and Bobby Bonds). Harper also slashed .296/.377/.522, all career highs for him. He wasn’t a third baseman for most of his career, but he was primarily one in 1970.
 
Rosen had other good seasons, but his 1953 MVP really stands out…..43 HR, 145 RBI, .336/.422/.613. You can make a case that Rosen’s 1953 is the best season any third baseman has ever had. It may not be the best…..but it’s certainly among the contenders.
 
All things, considered, I’ll go with Rosen.
 
Left Field
 
The candidates:
Player
Year
Best Season rWAR
2nd Best
Ratio Best vs. 2nd Best
Margin Best vs. 2nd Best
Ratio x Margin
Bob Cerv
1958
6.3
2.0
3.2
4.3
13.5
Bernard Gilkey
1996
8.0
4.5
1.8
3.5
6.2
George Stone
1906
8.7
5.4
1.6
3.3
5.3
Kevin Mitchell
1989
6.9
4.1
1.7
2.8
4.7
 
We have a Kansas City A’s sighting…..
 
By this method, Cerv is a clear winner by both margin and ratio. At the age of 33, he hit 38 HR’s with 104 RBI in 1958, with a .305/.371/.592 slashline, finishing 4th in the MVP voting. Cerv had displayed offensive potential with the Yankees prior to his big year, but his time with the A’s was really the only time he was able to get regular at-bats.
 
Gilkey in 1996 was making his Mets debut after several years with the Cardinals. He had hit for a good average with decent power with the Cards, but surged to 30 HR’s and 117 RBI with the Mets. He never again approached his success in that season.
 
George Stone played in the early 1900’s, mostly for the St. Louis Browns, and had a pretty short career, not really playing regularly until age 28, and then being done by age 33. As is mentioned in his SABR bio, Stone, who hit .358 in 1906, is the only non-Hall of Famer to win an AL batting title from 1901 through 1928. Lajoie, Flick, Cobb, Speaker, Sisler, Heilmann, Ruth, Manush, Goslin….and George Stone. He had a short but good career, and had other good years, but in 1906 he led the AL in average (.358), OBP (.417), Slugging (.501), OPS+ (193), and total bases (291), as well as being top 10 in doubles, triples, home runs, stolen bases and walks. He was basically among the league leaders in everything.
 
Kevin Mitchell’s 1989 was identified by Bill in the Historical Abstract as the #1 fluke season by his methodology. I don’t have quite to the same degree Bill did (Mitchell’s 1990 season was pretty good too), but it was definitely an anomaly. Mitchell took home the MVP award that year. 
 
All things considered, I’ll go with Cerv.
 
Center Field
 
The candidates:
Player
Year
Best Season rWAR
2nd Best
Ratio Best vs. 2nd Best
Margin Best vs. 2nd Best
Ratio x Margin
Harry Walker
1947
6.1
1.8
3.4
4.3
14.6
Carl Reynolds
1930
6.3
2.7
2.3
3.6
8.4
Jim Hickman
1970
5.0
2.4
2.1
2.6
5.4
Willie McGee
1985
8.1
5.3
1.5
2.8
4.3
Cy Seymour
1905
8.0
5.5
1.5
2.5
3.6
 
Harry "The Hat" Walker was the brother of Dixie "The People’s Cherce" Walker. Dixie was clearly the better player, but Harry one-upped his brother by hitting .363 and winning the batting title in 1947, just 3 years after Dixie hit .357 to lead the NL in 1944.   The .363 mark represented a 127 point improvement over Walker’s .237 average just one year earlier.
 
1930 was a big hitting year all the way around, but even adjusting for context, Reynolds had a big year that year, hitting .359 with 22 home runs, double what he hit any other year.
 
Hickman wasn’t a pure center fielder in 1970, as he split his time among center, first base, and right field, but he was listed as a center fielder from my data source when I did my pull, so I left him there. Hickman was a pretty ordinary player prior to 1970, having compiled a .236 batting average and generally hitting in low-to-mid teens in home runs, never driving in more than 57. He surged in 1970 putting together a 32-HR, 115 RBI, .315/.419/.582 season, making his lone All Star team (and driving in Pete Rose on the famous Rose-Fosse collision play), and finishing 8th in the MVP.
 
McGee’s 1985 MVP season is pretty famous – he hit .353 for the NL champs and led the league in hits and triples. He fell off nearly 100 points in batting average the next season. He did rebound to win a 2nd batting title in 1990 (in a year in which he was traded from St. Louis to Oakland), but 1985 still stands out as an outlier.
 
Cy Seymour’s 1905 season reminds me an awful lot of George Stone’s 1906 season noted earlier in terms of his across-the-board performance. Seymour led the NL in average (.377), slugging (.559), hits (219), doubles (40), triples (21), total bases (325), OPS+ (182), and RBI (121). He hit 8 home runs, finishing 2nd…..if he had hit one more home run, he would have earned the triple crown. Seymour was #2 on Bill’s list.
 
I’ll go with Walker here.
 
Right Field
 
The candidates:
Player
Year
Best Season rWAR
2nd Best
Ratio Best vs. 2nd Best
Margin Best vs. 2nd Best
Ratio x Margin
Ken Harrelson
1968
5.0
1.6
3.1
3.4
10.6
Ryan Ludwick
2008
5.5
2.0
2.8
3.5
9.6
Sammy Sosa
2001
10.3
6.4
1.6
3.9
6.3
Tommy Holmes
1945
8.0
4.6
1.7
3.4
5.9
Al Cowens
1977
5.3
2.9
1.8
2.4
4.4
 
Harrelson had quite the year in 1968….the "Year of the Pitcher". He hit 35 home runs and led the AL with 109 RBI. He finished 3rd in the MVP voting behind 31-game winner Denny McLain and McLain’s battery mate, Bill Freehan.   Another Tiger (Willie Horton) finished 4th. Harrelson was a career .239 hitter but he hit .275 in 1968. He hit 30 home runs the following season but sank to a .221 average, and was pretty much done for his career.
 
Ludwick had a nice, 12-year career, but it all came together in 2008 for the Cardinals, with 37 home runs, 113 RBI, and a .299/.375/.491 slash line.   He had some other decent seasons, but nothing to compare to 2008.
 
Sosa feels like an odd candidate. After all, he won the MVP in 1998, so it seems odd to call 2001 an anomaly. The thing that makes 2011 stand out from a statistical standpoint is that Sosa hit .328 with a .437 OBP and a .737 slugging percentage, all of which were significantly better than his other seasons. Still, I would subjectively remove him from consideration for this team.
 
Holmes had a famous year in 1945, the last full season played under the cloud of World War II. Holmes finished as MVP runner-up as he led the league with 28 home runs, 224 hits, 47 doubles, 367 total bases, and a .577 slugging percentage. He hit a career-high .352, and the 28 home runs were more than double he hit in any other season. He also compiled his NL record (at the time) 37 game hitting streak. He was a good player, but 1945 was certainly an outlier.
 
Like Holmes, Al Cowens finished 2nd in the MVP voting in his standout season.   Covens was a good young outfielder heading into his age 25-season in 1977, but he really broke out with 23 home runs, 112 RBI, and a .312 average. He severely regressed in 1978, and rebounded to have some decent seasons later in his career with Seattle, but never reached the level that he did in 1977.
 
Tough call here. I’m tempted to go with Holmes, but I’ll go with Ludwick.
 
 
Starting Pitchers
 
The candidates:
Player
Year
Best Season rWAR
2nd Best
Ratio Best vs. 2nd Best
Margin Best vs. 2nd Best
Ratio x Margin
Dick Ellsworth
1963
9.9
3.3
3.0
6.6
19.8
Dwight Gooden
1985
13.3
5.7
2.3
7.6
17.7
Bobby Shantz
1952
9.6
3.6
2.7
6.0
16.0
Jack Coombs
1910
10.1
4.0
2.5
6.1
15.4
Jack Chesbro
1904
11.0
5.6
2.0
5.4
10.6
Smoky Joe Wood
1912
11.7
6.4
1.8
5.3
9.7
 
There is no shortage of starting pitcher candidates for this team. You probably are pretty familiar with all of these names and seasons.
 
Ellsworth’s season still fascinates me. He essentially had a 10-win rWAR season, and won 22 games (with a 2.11 ERA, 2nd behind Sandy Koufax) for a Cubs team that was barely over .500. Ellsworth only had one other season in which he had more wins than losses. I think he deserves to rate first here.
 
Gooden was also on Bill’s list of the top fluke seasons. What I find interesting about Gooden is that the year before (1984), which was his rookie season, he was much better at striking people out. In 1984, Gooden struck out 276 batters in only 216 innings. In his big 1985 season, he struck out 268, but needed 276 2/3 innings to do so.   Still….24-4, 1.53 ERA….it’s one of the greatest pitching seasons we’ve seen in the expansion era. Looking at just pitching WAR (which would exclude fielding and hitting), these are the highest single-season figures in the expansion era (1961-present):
 
Player
Pitching WAR
Year
Tm
W
L
IP
H
BB
SO
ERA
Dwight Gooden
12.2
1985
NYM
24
4
276
198
69
268
1.53
Steve Carlton
12.1
1972
PHI
27
10
346
257
87
310
1.97
Roger Clemens
11.9
1997
TOR
21
7
264
204
68
292
2.05
Pedro Martinez
11.7
2000
BOS
18
6
217
128
32
284
1.74
Wilbur Wood
11.7
1971
CHW
22
13
334
272
62
210
1.91
Bob Gibson
11.2
1968
STL
22
9
304
198
62
268
1.12
Gaylord Perry
11.0
1972
CLE
24
16
342
253
82
234
1.92
Randy Johnson
10.9
2002
ARI
24
5
260
197
71
334
2.32
Wilbur Wood
10.7
1972
CHW
24
17
376
325
74
193
2.51
Sandy Koufax
10.7
1963
LAD
25
5
311
214
58
306
1.88
 
The early ‘70’s sure were fun, weren’t they?........
 
Shantz in 1952 is another player that was on Bill’s list. Shantz had an interesting career, bouncing around quite a bit between starting and relieving, along the way earning a reputation as one of the great fielding pitchers of all time, taking home 8 Gold Glove awards, a number exceeded only by Greg Maddux, Jim Kaat, and Bob Gibson. In 1952, Shantz went 24-7 with a 2.48 ERA, and won the MVP award. He actually had a lower ERA in 1957, winning the AL ERA title with 2.45, but the big difference in value between the 2 years was that in 1952 Shantz pitched just short of 280 innings, where as in 1957 he was more than 100 innings below that figure.
 
The next 3 were all famous (and I would even call legendary) seasons by pitchers in the early 1900’s. 
 
Coombs went 31-9 with a 1.30 ERA in 1910, and then won 3 more times in the World Series as the A’s grabbed the championship. Coombs went 28-12 the next year, but his ERA ballooned to 3.53 in a league that had a 3.34 ERA.
 
Chesbro’s 1904 season was his famous 41-12 year, where he pitched a tremendous number of innings (454 2/3), about 130 more than any other season he pitched.
 
Wood’s 1912 season might be the most famous of the 3……a 34-5 record, 1.91 ERA, a league-leading 10 shutouts, and then picked up 3 more wins in the World Series triumph over the Giants (although he was shelled in one of his starts).   Like Shantz, Wood had another year later in his career in which he led the league in ERA with an even lower figure than in his outlier season, but with many fewer innings. But 1912 is the year that made Wood a legend.
 
I get to pick 4 starters for this team. I’m going with Dick Ellsworth, Dwight Gooden, Bobby Shantz, and Jack Coombs.
 
Relief Pitchers
 
The candidates:
Player
Year
Best Season rWAR
2nd Best
Ratio Best vs. 2nd Best
Margin Best vs. 2nd Best
Ratio x Margin
Mark Eichhorn
1986
7.4
3.0
2.5
4.4
10.9
John Hiller
1973
8.1
4.2
1.9
3.9
7.5
Jim Kern
1979
6.2
3.1
2.0
3.1
6.2
Greg Minton
1982
5.5
2.8
2.0
2.7
5.3
Al Hrabosky
1975
4.1
1.8
2.3
2.3
5.2
Ted Abernathy
1967
6.0
3.3
1.8
2.7
4.9
Jim Konstanty
1950
4.4
2.2
2.0
2.2
4.4
 
Eichhorn is the only one above who would not have been considered the "closer" on his team (Tom Henke was the closer on the Blue Jays that year), but it remains one of the more remarkable relief seasons ever. It basically had everything but a lot of saves (10)…..he pitched a ton of innings (157), allowed only 6 hits per 9 innings, had 166 K’s, 45 walks (14 of which were intentional), and a 1.72 ERA. And, all of this in his rookie season! What else would you want?  He had some other good years, but 1986 towers above the rest.
 
Hiller’s 1973 is legendary. 10-5 record, 1.44 ERA, and a then-record 38 saves. The next season (1974) was notable in its own right, as Hiller was involved in an incredible 31 decisions, going 17-14. His ERA jumped to 2.64 (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But, 1973 was so amazing, that even a terrific season like 1974 pales in comparison.
 
Kern was a good pitcher, making the All Star team 3 straight seasons during the late 1970’s. Cleveland sent him to Texas (for Bobby Bonds and Len Barker) before the 1979 season, and he had a relief season for the ages…..13-5, 1.57 ERA in a whopping 143 innings pitched, 29 saves, 4th in the Cy Young voting. Alas, that was pretty much it for him.
 
Minton had several good seasons for the Giants, but 1982 was on a different level. 10-4, 1.82 ERA, 30 saves, 123 innings, and 123 innings pitched. Again, he had other good ones…but 1982 stands out.
 
Ah yes….the "Mad Hungarian", Al Hrabosky. One my favorites to watch. 1975 was the peak of the Mad Hungarian’s antic-filled success. He led the league in both winning percentage (13-3) and saves (22), and had a stingy 1.66 ERA. He finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting, 8th in the MVP. His season isn’t as impressive as the others already listed because his innings total (97) wasn’t quite as high as the others, but it was a stellar season, and stands out from Hrabosky’s other years.
 
Abernathy, who had one of the more unusual pitching deliveries you’ll see, delivered a miniscule 1.27 ERA in 1967, leading the league with 70 games pitched and 28 saves. He only surrendered 5.3 hits per 9 innings. He had another really strong season in 1965, but 1967 remains an anomaly.
 
Konstanty’s 1950 season is another very famous one, the year of the Philadelphia "Whiz Kids". Konstanty was no kid by then, of course. He was 33, and hadn’t had much success up to that point, but he was a big part of the Phillies’ magical ride to the NL pennant. Konstanty went 16-7 with a league-leading 22 saves in 152 innings, and took home the MVP.
 
 I’m going with 4 relievers on this team – Eichhorn, Hiller, Kern, and Konstanty.
 
So, that’s it. My all-anomaly team is:
 
Position
Player
Year
C
Rick Wilkins
1993
1B
Jim Gentile
1961
2B
Randy Velarde
1999
SS
Zoilo Versalles
1965
3B
Al Rosen
1953
LF
Bob Cerv
1958
CF
Harry Walker
1947
RF
Ryan Ludwick
2008
SP
Dick Ellsworth
1963
SP
Dwight Gooden
1985
SP
Bobby Shantz
1952
SP
Jack Coombs
1910
RP
Mark Eichhorn
1986
RP
John Hiller
1973
RP
Jim Kern
1979
RP
Jim Konstanty
1950
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Dan 
 
 

COMMENTS (22 Comments, most recent shown first)

DMBBHF
Steve,

A fair question. I considered that, but I wasn't sure how to pull a dataset that way. The Baseball Gauge has a tool to pull best "x" seasons (best 1,best 2,3,4,5, etc.) by rWAR, so I did 2 pulls....one for best single season, then for the best 2, then subtracted to isolate the 2nd best. But I didn't know how to to a pull that only brought in based on oWAR. If there is a way, it wasn't apparent to me. So, I pulled it by total rWAR. If there's a way to do it based just on oWAR, I agree with you....that would have been preferred.

Thanks,
Dan
10:22 AM Mar 17th
 
steve161
Dan: since you're mainly interested in offensive outliers, why not use oWAR (from whatever source) instead of polluting the numbers with defense and position adjustment?
8:56 AM Mar 17th
 
DMBBHF
Charles,

Good question. If we went strictly by best season rWAR as percentage of career rWAR and put a modest limit of 10 career rWAR (just so we don't get flaky results like someone posting a best season of 2 out of a career of 3, or something like that), it would look like this (listing the top 3 at each position). Several of the names overlap with the ones in the article, but it does introduce some new ones:

Catcher
Rick Wilkins - 1993 - 47.5%
Todd Hundley - 1996 - 45.4%
Ray Fosse - 1970 - 40.3%

First Base
Ray Grimes - 1922 - 54.4%
Mike Epstein - 1972 - 41.7%
Jim Gentile - 1961 - 40.6%

Second Base
Marcus Giles - 2003 - 46.7%
Charlie Neal - 1959 - 43.1%
Andy High - 1924 - 40.5%

Shortstop
Eddie Lake - 1945 - 63.6%
Zoilo Versalles - 1965 - 57.6%
Alex Gonzalez - 2010 - 45.9%

Third Base
Randy Ready - 1987 - 53.2%
Hank Blalock - 2003 - 47.4%
Morgan Ensberg - 2005 - 45.7%

Left Field
Bob Cerv - 1958 - 57.3%
Carlos Quentin - 2008 - 51.0%
Austin McHenry - 1921 - 50.0%
-
Center Field
Harry Walker - 1947 - 56.0%
Bobby Tolan - 1970 - 53.5%
Goody Rosen - 1945 - 45.3%

Right Field
Ryan Ludwick - 2008 - 52.4%
Harry Lumley - 1906 - 42.5%
Derek Bell - 1998 - 41.9%

Starting Pitcher
Mark Fidrych - 1976 - 83.5%
Dave Davenport - 1915 - 63.7%
Jair Jurrjens - 2009 - 63.6%

Relief Pitcher
Phil Regan - 1966 - 44.3%
Jim Kern - 1979 - 44.0%
Ken Sanders - 1970 - 41.7%

Thanks for the question!
Dan
8:32 AM Mar 17th
 
CharlesSaeger
I wonder how single-season WAR as a percentage of career WAR would influence these ratings.
9:16 PM Mar 16th
 
shthar
Noone ever points out that 1961 was the ONLY year Cash hit the left.


3:50 PM Mar 16th
 
DMBBHF
Thanks for all the comments, guys.

Maris,

Yeah, I copied data from https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/1961_American_League_Most_Valuable_Player_Award and it showed Maris with 142. Oh well...... :)

Greg,

Good call on Mitchell '94. That was a helluva year too, but just abbreviated. If that had played out to a full year, Mitchell probably wouldn't have even showed up on this list at all.

jaybracken,

Re: Ready.....I understand what you're saying, and it's a valid question. I was using the ratio x margin calculation to skinny the list down to some viable candidates, but then examined those seasons closer. I didn't make the final decision based SOLELY on the calculation. With Ready, taking everything into consideration, his standout season just wasn't quite what I was looking for, so I subjectively chose Rosen.

Thanks,
Dan

6:54 AM Mar 15th
 
trn6229
Nice article. Jim Gentile was stuck in the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system. They already had Gil Hodges and didn't need another first baseman. He got a shot in 1960 with the Orioles and platooned with Walt Dropo for a bit, then took over fulltime. In 1961, he got a chance to play. Then he went to Houston which was the most extreme pitchers park in the majors. Norm Cash was a good player. He got stuck in the second Dead Ball era from 1963-1968. He only had over 500 at bats three times. He would have had bigger numbers if he got some more playing time.

Take Care,
Tom Nahigian
7:10 PM Mar 14th
 
greg1990
Great article Daniel, really enjoyed it. Kevin Mitchell also had a very good year for the Reds during the strike shortened 1994 season - his OPS+ was 185 that year. Abernathy's season is the best ever by bWAR for a Reds reliever, he also only surrendered 1 HR in 106.1 innings. Thanks!
5:59 PM Mar 14th
 
pgaskill
I believe at least part of the reason Ken Harrelson's career was over when it was over was because of the broken ankle he suffered. I believe I recall he was sliding into second base at the time and caught his spikes in the dirt. Besides, he had so many good lines saved up that he could hardly wait to use them on TV. . . .
4:08 PM Mar 14th
 
BobGill
For evanecurb: I checked Brady Anderson, and his WAR for the 50-homer year in 1996 was 6.9, not that much better than 1992 (5.2) and 1999 (5.9), so he wouldn't really have been in the running for this honor. According to Win Shares, in fact, his 1992 season beats out 1996, 29 to 28.

1:28 PM Mar 14th
 
bhalbleib
Did you look at Wilcey Moore's 1927 season for relief pitchers? I realize he wasn't completely a relief pitcher (he started 12 games) and it was his rookie campaign, so nothing to compare it beforehand, but just wondering.
12:58 PM Mar 14th
 
Fireball Wenz
Amazing to me that Cash and Gentile were born in the same year. Gentile's career ended the same year as Vic Power's and Jimmy Piersall's and Del Crandall's. Norm Cash and Robin Yount were both regulars in 1974.
12:21 PM Mar 14th
 
evanecurb
So, as a player, Ken Harrelson was able to shout "You can put it on the board, YES!!!!" 35 times in 1968. No wonder he became an announcer. He loves that line and wants to say it as often as he can.
11:44 AM Mar 14th
 
Steven Goldleaf
The wackiest part about Ellsworth's 1963 is that he pitched half his games in Wrigley. On the road, his ERA was 1.77. For illustration, Koufax, who pitched half his games in Chavez Ravine, of course, had a road ERA of 2.31.
11:32 AM Mar 14th
 
bearbyz
Fun article, thank you.
11:08 AM Mar 14th
 
Gfletch
Enjoyed that, Dan. Thanks.

I was surprised to see that I have at least heard of almost every player mentioned here, but not surprised that the few I haven't are all very recent or active players. I'm clearly living in the past.

My other amusement came because I have a tendency to skim articles...sorry, it's not you, it's just something that gets worse and worse as I get older...anyway, this caught my eye:

"Harrelson had quite the year in 1968….the "Year of the Pitcher". He hit 35 home runs..."

Upon seeing the name of Harrelson I immediately thought of Bud and the subsequent mention of him hitting 35 home runs did, for a moment, make me feel like I had accidentally slipped into an alternate universe.

Anyway, I'm okay now. I think.
10:04 AM Mar 14th
 
evanecurb
I'm surprised that there aren't more steroid era guys who qualified at their positions. I can think of Len Dykstra, 1993, Brady Anderson, 1996, and you already mentioned and explained Brett Boone, 2001.

There was a post or an article on this site that explained that Cash's 1961 and 1962 three true outcomes were very similar, but his batting average on balls in play had a huge discrepancy, something like 150 points of batting average. The thesis is that Cash was the same player in 1961 and 1962, but had an all time good luck season followed by an all time bad luck season.

I have no idea what got into Gentile. Back then, Memorial Stadium was a relatively tough home run park unless you hit it right down the lines. Gentile hit 16 home runs at home, 30 on the road. His other hitting stats (BA, OBP, RBI, SLG) were much better at home, oddly enough.

Gentile had almost three fourths of his plate appearances against right handed pitchers (73.2%) and hit much better against righties, including 38 of his 46 home runs and 111 of his 141 RBI.
9:47 AM Mar 14th
 
jaybracken
"Ready calculates with the highest figure, but that’s in part because his ratio to his second best season is so high"

... Apologies if I'm misunderstanding the intent of this article, but isn't that exactly what you were looking for? The biggest anomaly? I don't understand why this season was dismissed for this reason.
7:30 AM Mar 14th
 
bbbilbo
I thought it was Neil vs. Johnny.
6:37 AM Mar 14th
 
tigerlily
Nice article. Thanks Dan.
6:08 AM Mar 14th
 
OldBackstop
Cash had a corker of a season.
12:36 AM Mar 14th
 
MarisFan61
Thanks for giving Maris his old RBI total of 142.
It pisses me off that now the records show just 141. :-)
11:38 PM Mar 13th
 
 
©2018 Be Jolly, Inc. All Rights Reserved.|Web site design and development by Americaneagle.com|Terms & Conditions|Privacy Policy