The Heavyweight Champ of Baseball (part 10)

May 25, 2020

 

 Yaz waz not a one-year wonder: he also had strong years in 1968, which is the first year we’re looking at here, and 1970. He never did string three straight strong OPS+ years, so he will have a hard time becoming champ. Here he is, with his second straight strong year, leading the AL, just a hair behind the MLB leader, Willie McCovey:

 

 

 

1968

 

OPS+

1.

Willie McCovey

174

2.

Carl Yastrzemski

171

3.

Frank Howard

171

4.

Willie Horton

165

5.

Dick Allen

160

6.

Jim Wynn

158

7.

Willie Mays

156

8.

Ken Harrelson

155

9.

Hank Aaron

153

10.

Frank Robinson

153

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

<​p class="MsoNormal">What changes in 1968 is that for first time since Mantle’s run in the late 50s, we have a three-peater in Frank Robinson. We have a rather tight bunching at the top of the charts this time, illustrating how hard it is for anyone to gain a toehold. Robinson is still world’s champ, but even he is coming off two straight years following his Triple Crown of diminution. After averaging 154 games per season from 1961 to 1966, his TC year, Robinson now has had some problems staying healthy, not severe enough to disqualify him, but he’s barely hanging on here, a mere 13 OPS+ points better than Yaz over the 1966-68 period, or about 2% more productive each of the six years we’re counting here, not very much.

 

He’s also not very far ahead of challengers like Dick Allen, who has now put together three straight excellent seasons, and McCovey, who has entered the conversation but as of 1968 is still ranked #4. Such venerables as Kaline and Killebrew missed considerable playing time in 1968, two crucial injuries I remember well, Kaline recovering in time to give the Tigers a pleasant problem in the World Series, of four deserving starting outfielders but only three outfield positions for them to play, and Killebrew missing several weeks recovering from a groin injury stretching for a ball in that year’s All-Star game. (I still cup mine and wince, recalling that play.) Aaron and Mays and Mantle also show the signs of age—I’m still rooting for Aaron to bounce back at some point, but at the age of 34 that may be too much to ask. Mays and Mantle are effectively done by 1968, Mantle retiring after the year and Mays retreating to a lesser prominence than he has held. (After 1968, Mays still has 73 HRs left in him, but he’s never again Willie Mays in the same sense that he was. We needn’t see how high he ranks in OPS+--from here on in, it’s never going to be enough to get Willie back in the conversation again.)  Other names in 1968 are flashes-in-the-pan Ken Harrelson and Willie Horton, both having career highs in OPS+ that they would never repeat again.

 

 

1966-68

 

OPS+

1.

Robinson

1031

2.

Yaz

1018

3.

Allen

1009

4.

McCovey

1003

 

 

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In addition to McCovey, who has broken the 1000 threshold by leading  MLB in OPS+ (and who will lead MLB for the next two years as well, so—big reveal here—he’s going to win the OPS+ crown very soon), there’s another monster, an even bigger monster, about to break through, Frank Howard. He hasn’t broken through yet, because he’s still got a mediocre 1966 on his record—a 127 OPS+, with an 18/71/.278 slashline—but he’s on the verge of busting out with three straight 170+ OPS+ years coming up. Let’s get right to it:

 

 

1969

 

OPS+

1.

Willie McCovey

209

2.

Reggie Jackson

189

3.

Frank Howard

178

4.

Hank Aaron

177

5.

Harmon Killebrew

177

6.

Rico Petrocelli

168

7.

Roberto Clemente

168

8.

Jim Wynn

166

9.

Rusty Staub

166

10.

Dick Allen

165

 

 

 

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<​p class="MsoNormal"> 

It’s just round numbers but McCovey’s 209 OPS+ is our first 200+ score since 1961, when Mantle and Norm Cash cashed in, and the highest since 1957 when Mantle and Williams both had monster years. McCovey’s OPS+ score is a very big deal, and he’s our new champeen:

 

 

1967-69

 

OPS+

1.

McCovey

1134

2

Howard

1029

3.

Aaron

1004

4.

Allen

  989

5.

Robinson

  988

6.

Clemente

  979

7.

Wynn

  952

8.

Yaz

  921

 

McCovey’s immediate runnerup in 1969, Reggie Jackson, is not quite ready yet, missing a year. His pre-rookie year, 1967, was only 35 games, and poor games at that, so he’ll be ready in 1970 to qualify for a title bout. Next is Frank Howard, who has broken through the 1000 barrier for the first time. Close, but no cigar. Aaron too has broken through the 1000 barrier for the first time in a decade, if barely, while Allen falls just shy. Frank Robinson is virtually tied with Allen, and Clemente is right behind them. A so-so 1969 OPS+ of 136 knocks Yaz out of the running, back to number 8, which is an appropriate number for him to wear.

 

Poor Yaz. When he has his mawnstah seasons, someone else is just ahead of him, first Robinson, edging him out for the crown in 1967 and now McCovey in 1970:

 

 

1970

 

OPS+

1.

Willie McCovey

182

2.

Carl Yastrzemski

177

3.

Rico Carty

171

4.

Frank Howard

170

5.

Boog Powell

163

6.

Harmon Killebrew

159

7.

Tony Perez

158

8.

Jim Hickman

155

9.

Dick Dietz

153

10.

Frank Robinson

151

 

 

As the defending champ, McCovey hangs onto his crown easily by leading the majors in OPS+ for the second straight year. We see again that the top-ten list is filled with one-offs, guys enjoying unrepeatable career years: Carty, Hickman, Dietz, and even Perez to a degree. FRobby is unable to get a return title-bout after a tenth place finish, and the Killer is still recovering from a set-back in training camp, his groin injury in 1968. So that leaves Yaz, coming off a so-so 1969, and Howard, at his career peak with those three consecutive 170+ years, each of them a few OPS+ points behind McCovey. In boxing terms, I would say that McCovey didn’t even schedule a fight with any of the top contenders. We can see at a glance that McCovey holds the crown another year—no need to compute numbers this time around.

 

That completes the 1960s, however you want to count them. (And it’s irritating, isn’t it, how decades can be counted 1960-1969 or 1961-1970, often depending on the argument one wishes to make, rather than consistency or common consent or logic.)  Our updated chart of champeens:

 

Ruth 1929-1932 (4 years)

Foxx 1933-1935 (3 years)

Gehrig 1936-7 (2 years)

Mize 1938-1940 (4 years)

Williams 1941-1942 (2 years)

Keller 1943 (1 year)

Musial 1944 (1 year) 

Ott 1945 (1 year)

Cavarretta 1946 (1 year)

Williams 1947-49 (3 years)

Musial 1950-4 (5 years)

Mathews 1955 (1 year)

​Mantle 1956-59 (4 years)

Aaron 1960 (1 year)

Mantle 1961-62 (2 years)

Aaron 1963 (1 year)

Mays 1964-65 (2 years)

F. Robinson 1966-68 (3 years)

McCovey 1969-70 (2 years)

 

 


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COMMENTS (1 Comment)

jfenimore
Excellent work. Very enjoyable to read.
9:01 AM May 26th
 
 
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