Baseball

The 25 most dominant pitching seasons in baseball history

Methodology: Each pitcher’s rating is based on the average of standard deviation of two components. One is the pitcher’s ERA+, the other is his number of innings pitched. In both cases, the standard deviations are calculated against the figures for all pitchers with sufficient innings to qualify for the earned run average title…generally 162 innings.  ERA+ is a calculation of each pitcher’s actual ERA modified by ballpark and era, and is presented on a basis of 100 representing league average. When we show a player with an ERA+ of 200, it is essentially a statement that the pitcher was twice as valuable as he average pitcher that season. The illustration below, from the 2017 National League season, serves as an illustration of how each year’s rating is calculated. The average ERA+ of the 31 qualifiers was 116.19; the average number of innings pitched was 182.62. The standard deviation of the 321 qualifiers’ ERA+ was 28.31; for innings pitched the standard deviation was 14.44.

Rank      2017 NL pitcher                 Team     ERA+     IP            ERA+ SD               IP SD      Avg. SD

  1. Max Scherzer Was       177         200.2     2.15                       1.22       1.68
  2. Zack Greinke Ari          149         202.1     1.16                       1.35       1.25
  3. Gio Gonzalez Was       150         201         1.19                       1.27       1.23
  4. Clayton Kershaw LA           180         175         2.25                       -0.53      0.86
  5. Stephen Strasburg Was       176         175.1     2.11                       -0.52      0.80
  6. Carlos Martinez Stl           117         205         0.03                       1.55       0.79
  7. Jacob deGrom NYM      119         201.1     0.10                       1.28       0.69
  8. Jeff Samardzija SF             94         207.2     -0.78                      1.70       0.46
  9. Gerrit Cole Pit           101         203         -0.54                      1.41       0.44
  10. Patrick Corbin Ari          119         189.2     0.10                       0.46       0.28
  11. Lance Lynn Stl           124         186.1     0.28                       0.24       0.26
  12. Zach Davies Mil          112         191.1     -0.15                      0.59       0.22
  13. Robbie Ray Ari          166         162         1.76                       -1.43      0.17
  14. R.A. Dickey Atl          100         190         -0.57                      0.51       -0.03
  15. Clayton Richard SD             86         197.1     -1.07                      1.00       -0.03
  16. Ivan Nova Pit           104         187         -0.43                      0.30       -0.06
  17. Jimmy Nelson Mil          126         175.1     0.35                       -0.52      -0.09
  18. Julio Teheran Atl            95         188.1     -0.75                      0.38       -0.18
  19. Jhoulys Chacin SD           106         180.1     -0.36                      -0.17      -0.27
  20. Jon Lester Chc         100         180.2     -0.57                      -0.17      -0.37
  21. Jake Arrieta Chc         123         168.1     0.24                       -1.01      -0.38
  22. Dan Straily Mia          95         181.2     -0.75                      -0.10      -0.42
  23. Tanner Roark                 Was         95         181.1     -0.75                      -0.11      -0.43
  24. Aaron Nola Phi          119         168         0.10                       -1.01      -0.46
  25. Jose Urena Mia        106         169.2     -0.36                      -0.93      -0.64
  26. German Marquez Col          114         162         -0.08                      -1.43      -0.75
  27. John Lackey Chc           95         170.2     -0.75                      -0.86      -0.80
  28. Michael Wacha Stl           103         165.2     -0.47                      -1.21      -0.84
  29. Matt Moore SF             76         174.1     -1.42                      -0.59      -1.00
  30. Luis Perdomo SD             88         163.2     -1.00                      -1.34      -1.17
  31. Ty Blach SF             87         163.2     -1.03                      -1.34      -1.19

 

 

Summary: The list of greatest passing seasons in history spans 124 seasons, from the 1880s through the present decade, with every decade of that period included at least once.  A total of 18 different pitchers produced the 25 best seasons, and five of those pitchers have the same surname: Johnson. Walter is one of five pitchers with two such seasons; Randy Johnson is the only pitcher to have produced three of the best 25.

 

Disclaimer: Our perceptions of the strength of individuals can be colored by factors that are extraneous to their actual dominance: general familiarity, the presence or absence of attention-getting personalities, subjective opinions that become engrained over time, superiority in certain statistical categories being the most likely. This rating is based on an objective methodology, meaning that it is immune to influence from any of those criteria. That also means its findings may vary – in some cases substantially – from the historical consensus. As you scan this list, be prepared to have your presumptions of relative greatness challenged.

 

Notably absent…

Christy Mathewson. Mathewson led the National League in this ranking for four consecutive seasons, 1910 through 1913, and seven times between 1904 and 1913. But his personal best of 2.52 in 1904 was not good enough to make the list.

Bob Feller. Feller’s best, 2.20, came in 1940.

Dave Stieb. Stieb led the AL in this calculation for four consecutive seasons during the 1980s. But his best only reached 2.21 in 1985.

Pud Galvin. Notwithstanding his 365 career victories, fifth best all time, Galvin never led the National League in this measurement, his best – 1.40 – coming in 1884.

Warren Spahn. A three-time National League leader, Spahn’s best was 2.06 in 1947.

Kid Nichols. With Cy Young and Amos Rusie comprising the best trio of pitchers in the 1890s, Nichols’ best was 2.14 in 1897.

Nolan Ryan. His best was 1.94 with the California Angels in 1977.

Tom Seaver. Like Mathewson, Seaver was a relative near miss, his best rating being a 2.51 achieved in 1971.

Ed Walsh. Walsh’s 1908 season, marked by his 464 inning workload, is iconic. But his 162 ERA+ was dwarfed by Addie Joss’s 204 and Cy Young’s 193, reducing his composite average to 2.46 and leaving him out of the top 25.

 

  1. Randy Johnson, 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, +2.73. Johnson labored a prodigious 249.2 innings in pursuit of the Diamondbacks’ world championship, in the process producing a 188 ERA+ that translated to a 3.40 standard deviation. His 2.49 ERA was the National League’s best by a wide margin; only teammate Curt Schilling, at 2.98, was also under 3.00. Johnson had a career-high 372 strikeouts, his fourth of five consecutive seasons topping 300.

 

  1. Lefty Grove, 1930 Philadelphia Athletics, +2.75. In 1930, Grove won 28 of his 33 decisions, posted a league-leading 2.54 ERA, pitched 291 innings, fanned 209 batters, and did it all during a season still considered legendary for its offense. Grove was versatile, making 32 starts and 18 relief appearances. He is the only pitcher in major league history to lead this ranking for five consecutive seasons, having done so from 1928 through 1932.

 

  1. Dwight Gooden, 1985 New York Mets, +2.76. Gooden came to the Mets as a 19-year-old in 1984 and made an immediate impression. In 1985, the 20-year-old won 24 of his 28 decisions with a league-leading 1.53 ERA in 276.2 innings of activity. His 268 strikeouts led the league for the second consecutive season, giving him a total of 544 whiffs before his 21st birthday. He was a unanimous Cy Young Award winner before going on to lead the Mets to the 1986 World Series championship.

 

  1. John Clarkson, 1889 Boston Beaneaters, +2.78. After Clarkson won 38 games for the 1887 Cubs, Cap Anson decided his salary demands had grown too big for Chicago’s budget, so Anson sold him to the Beaneaters. It was Boston’s lucky day. In 1889 Clarkson pitched 620 innings, winning 49 of his 72 starts with a 2.73 and 284 strikeouts. Somehow the Beaneaters still failed (by one game) to win the NL pennant. His workload set Clarkson apart. Those 620 innings amounted to more than double the average for qualifying pitchers that season, and 3.30 standard deviations ahead of the curve. It would be harsh to say that the 27-year-old pitcher was finished after 1889; he did average 28 victories the next three seasons. But his workload dropped into a more normal (for the time) 400 or so innings, wear and tear finally ending his Hall of Fame career at age 32 in 1894.

 

  1. Dazzy Vance, 1924 Brooklyn Dodgers, +2.80. Vance was known as a strikeout artist, leading the National League annually from 1922 through 1928. His 262 whiffs in 1924 was a career best. Vance won 28 of his 34 decisions on a 2.16 ERA, working 308.1 innings. Vance and Burleigh Grimes were a two-man mound force for the Dodgers, combining to start 70 games, pitch 45 percent of the Dodgers’ innings and claim 50 of their 92 victories.

 

  1. Clayton Kershaw, 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers, +2.81. Kershaw won the NL ERA title four consecutive seasons between 2011 and 2014, but 2013 was his best. His 1.83 stretched across a personal high 236 innings of work. With 232, he led the NL in strikeouts for the second of three times. Kershaw won his second of three Cy Young awards, missing unanimity by a single vote.

 

T-18. Pedro Martinez, 1999 Boston Red Sox, +2.83. Following the 1997 season, the cash-strapped Expos traded Martinez to Boston for Carl Pavano, one of the all-time steals. In 1999 he won a league-leading 23 games against just four defeats, compiling a league-leading 2.07 ERA and striking out 313 batters. That produced a 243 ERA+ which was 107 points higher than the runner-up, and 4.92 standard deviations better than the average for qualifying AL pitchers.

 

T-18. Steve Carlton, 1980 Philadelphia Phillies, +2.83. Carlton was the ace of the first Phillies world championship team in the franchise’s 97-season history. He led the National League in victories (24), starts (38), innings (304) and strikeouts (286). In the nearly four decades since Carlton’s performance, no major league pitcher has managed a 300 innings workload, a circumstance that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

 

  1. Robin Roberts, 1953 Philadelphia Phillies, +2.84. For pure doggedness, nobody surpasses Roberts, the ace of the 1950s Phillies. In 1953 he logged 346.2 innings, his fourth of six consecutive seasons above 300 innings. That was as extraordinary then as it sounds today; the runner-up in innings pitched managed 265 and the average for all NL ERA qualifiers was 197. When you do the math, that puts Roberts’ 1953 workload 3.70 standard deviations ahead of the norm, making it the most exceptional era-adjusted workload in MLB history. Even setting volume aside, Roberts was solid. He won 23 games and struck out 198, both also league-leading totals.

 

  1. Dolf Luque, 1923 Cincinnati Reds, +2.88. Luque was one of the game’s first Latin stars, arriving in 1914 and developing into a front-liner, mostly for the Cincinnati Reds. But 1923 was indisputably his high mark; he led the National League with 27 victories and a 1.93 ERA, his 37 starts including six shutouts. Luque’s 201 ERA+ was 62 points better than the runner-up, who happened to be teammate Eppa Rixey. This may prompt a question regarding exactly how the Reds failed to win the pennant? The answer lay in an indifferent supporting cast. The Reds’ offense merely matched the league norms in both average and power categories,

 

  1. Amos Rusie, 1894 New York Giants, +2.90. Rusie was famously nicknamed the Hoosier Thunderbolt for two obvious reasons, only one of which involved his Mooresville, Ind., birthplace. He was the first in a lineage of wide proclaimed “speedballers” that would over time grow to encompass Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Bob Feller and Randy Johnson. In 1894, Rusie won 36 games for the New York Giants, posting a league-best 2.78 ERA. If that sounds unremarkable, consider that the league batting average in 1894 was .309, and that NL teams averaged more than seven runs per game.

 

  1. Dizzy Trout, 1944 Detroit Tigers, +2.91. It would be an interesting debate whether the name of Trout or Luque was the least likely to show up on this list. Because the Tigers failed (by one game) to undermine the Cinderella story that was the St. Louis Browns’ race to their only AL pennant, Trout’s season is easy to overlook. Here’s a refresher. He won 27 games, led the AL with a 2.12 earned run average, made 40 starts, completed 33 of them, threw seven shutouts, and logged 352.1 innings. That translated to a 167 ERA+. The real reason Trout’s 1944 rates so highly on this list, though is that workload; it stands 3.37 standard deviations above the AL average for the season, making it the most exceptional workload – when normalized for era – in American League history.

 

T-12. Steve Carlton, 1972 Philadelphia Phillies, +2.98. Carlton’s 1972 season is routinely included in discussions of great seasons for what he had to overcome. The Phillies were terrible in 1972, winning just 59 games with a collective .236 batting average that produced just 3.22 runs per game. Yet Carlton won 27 times in 41 starts, 30 of which he completed. The losses were often excruciating, three of them coming by one run in games in which Carlton gave up two runs or fewer.

 

T-12. Lefty Grove, 1931 Philadelphia Athletics, +2.98. Grove’s 1931 season completed a three-season swing in which he led the A’s to three consecutive pennants and two World Series wins. He ran up a 3-14 record and his third straight ERA title (at 2.06) with 27 complete games. His 288.2 innings of work failed to lead the league only because teammate Rube Walberg managed 291, but his 217 ERA+ was 4.25 standard deviations better than the AL average for 1931.

 

  1. Cy Young, 1901 Boston Americans, 3.04. In mid-season, Young won the 300th game of his big league career. He was 34 at the time and had 211 more victories left in his arm toward an all-time record of 511 that hasn’t been threatened in the intervening 117 seasons and probably won’t be. A star in the National League for the previous decade, he jumped to the newly formed American League to cash in on his status as the day’s best pitcher, and produced 33 wins on a league-leading 1.62 ERA. His 219 ERA+ is nearly 90 points better than anybody else.

 

  1. Randy Johnson, 2002 Arizona Diamondbacks, +3.07. In 2002 Johnson won 24 of his 29 decisions, and did so with a league-leading 2.23 ERA across a league-leading 260 innings of work. Naturally that produced his fourth consecutive Cy Young Award in a unanimous vote. His 195 ERA+ was 3.53 standard deviations better than the league average.

 

  1. Greg Maddux, 1995 Atlanta Braves, +3.13. Maddux unanimously won his fourth straight Cy Young Award for reasons that will be evident in the next sentence. He led the NL in victories (19), took only two defeats, compiled a league-leading 1.63 ERA, and led in innings for the fifth straight season. That combined to net a 260 ERA+ that stood 4.68 standard deviations ahead of the NL average and still ranks as the fifth best of all time. Oh, and the Braves won the World Series.

 

  1. Randy Johnson, 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks, +3.18. Having been signed by the Diamondbacks as a free agent, Johnson promptly led the second-year franchise to the quickest division title in expansion history. He led the league in ERA (2.48), starts (35), complete games (12), strikeouts (364) and innings pitched (271.2). The combination led to his second Cy Young Award (and first of four straight with Arizona).

 

  1. Walter Johnson, 1913 Washington Senators, +3.20. In 1913 Johnson pitched 346 innings, 30 more than any other AL pitcher, and compiled an extraordinary 259 ERA+, the sixth best of all time and third best in American League history. How? Try a 36-7 record and 1.14 ERA with 29 complete games and 11 shutouts. In an era when strikeouts were rare and contact was prized, Johnson whiffed 243 batters in 1913, nearly 70 more than anybody else.

 

  1. Pedro Martinez, 2000 Boston Red Sox, +3.23. When serious SABRmetricians rank pitching seasons, this is the one they often identify as the best ever. There is good reason to do so. Martinez compiled a1.74ERA during a season in which the AL average was 4.91. That translates to a 291 ERA+, the second best of all time, 150 points better than the runner-up and an extraordinary 5.42 standard deviations better than the average. Even when Martinez lost he was exceptional; four of his seven defeats came by scores of 1-0 or 2-1, and only one was by a margin of more than two runs. Where Martinez’ 2000 comes up a bit short by comparison with other remarkable seasons in this ranking is workload. He pitched 217 innings, a total exceeded by six other pitchers that season, although still notably above the 197 inning average for qualifying AL pitchers.

 

  1. Walter Johnson, 1912 Washington Senators, +3.29. Johnson’s 1912 season was even better than his remarkable 1913. Working an extraordinary 369 innings, he produced a league-leading 1.39 ERA, fanned 303 batters, and won 16 consecutive games in mid-season. His 243 ERA+ translated to 4.26 standard deviations better than the league average.

 

  1. Bob Gibson, 1968 St. Louis Cardinals, +3.36. Gibson’s 1.12 is the fourth lowest in major league history, and the lowest since 1914. As good as it was, his 22-9 record could have been even more impressive: in six of his nine losses, he allowed two earned runs or fewer. Between May 12 and May 28, Gibson went 0-4, losing by scores of 3-2, 1-0, 2-0 and 3-1. He struck out 268 opponents, pitched 304.2 innings, and threw 13 shutouts. Not surprisingly, he was a unanimous Cy Young Award winner. For good measure, he also took home the MVP, beating out Pete Rose and Willie McCovey.

 

  1. Grover Cleveland Alexander, 1915 Philadelphia Phillies, +3.51. Of all Alexander’s exceptional seasons, 1915 stands out. He won 31 games, led the National League with a 1.22 ERA, pitched 12 shutouts and worked 376.1 innings, carrying the Phillies to their first pennant. His 225 ERA+ was 4.22 standard deviations better than the league average, and his workload was 2.79 standard deviations ahead of the curve.

 

  1. Roger Clemens, 1997 Toronto Blue Jays, +3.57. Coming off a 10-13 record that got him run out of Boston as a washed-up 33 year old, Clemens resurrected his career during his two seasons in Toronto. This was the better of the two and the best of his career; he won 21 times, led the AL with a 2.05 ERA while striking out a career-best 292. His 222 ERA+ was 3.67 standard deviations better than the league average, but his 264 innings of effort – against the league average of 203 for ERA qualifiers — truly set him apart, standing 2.46 standard deviations to the good. When you combine quality with quantity, you get one of the legendary seasons in baseball history.

 

  1. Greg Maddux, 1994 Atlanta Braves, +3.72. Here’s a parlor game: Project what Greg Maddux might have done had not the strike intervened to abort the 1994 season. When it did, he had already won 16 games with a 1.56 ERA, 25 starts and 10 complete games across 202 innings of work. Projected across a full 162-game load, that works out to 24 victories, 37 starts, 15 complete games and 303 innings of a 1.56 ERA. The strike, of course, overwhelms our collective memory of what Maddux actually did, so let it be noted that when action stopped his 271 ERA+ — the fourth best of all time — was already 92 points better than the runner-up, and his 202 innings were already 23 better. His third of an eventual four successive Cy Young Awards followed unanimously.

 

 

The 25 most dominant offensive seasons in baseball history

Methodology: Each player’s rating is based on the average of two elements. The first is the standard deviation of his OPS+ measured against the average of all players in that league with sufficient plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. The second is the standard deviation of his plate appearances measured against the average of all players in that league with sufficient plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. OPS+ is used because it is the most accurate and comprehensive expression of exceptionality in batting. Major League Baseball defines OPS+ as follows: “OPS+ takes a player’s on-base plus slugging percentage and normalizes the number across the entire league. It accounts for external factors like ballparks. It then adjusts so a score of 100 is league average, and 150 is 50 percent better than the league average.” In civilian terms, OPS+ is the sum of the player’s on base average and the player’s slugging average with a park adjustment. The illustration below, from the famous 1930 National League season when the league as a whole batted .303, serves as an illustration of the method. The average OPS+ for the 42 qualified National League batters in 1920 was 113.10; the standard deviation was 30.51. The average number of plate appearances

 

Rank      1930 NL Player                  Team                     OPS+     PA          OPSSD  PASD     Avg. SD

  1. Hack Wilson Cubs                      177         709         2.09       1.24       1.65
  2. Babe Herman Dodgers               169         699         1.83       1.11       1.46
  3. Chuck Klein Phillies                  159         722        1.50       1.41       1.46
  4. Bill Terry Giants                   158         708         1.47       1.23       1.35
  5. Kiki Cuyler Cubs                      133         741         0.70       1.66       1.18
  6. Woody English Cubs                      125         755         0.45       1.84       1.15
  7. Fred Lindstrom Giants                   141         671         0.95       0.75       0.85
  8. Mel Ott Giants                   150         648         1.22       0.45       0.84
  9. Paul Waner Pirates                  129         666         0.58       0.69       0.63
  10. Adam Comorosky Pirates                  114         684         0.11       0.92       0.52
  11. Taylor Douthit Cardinals              87          748         -0.72      1.75       0.51
  12. George Grantham Pirates                  127         652         0.51       0.51       0.51
  13. Wally Berger Braves                  137         628         0.82       0.20       0.51
  14. Lefty O’Doul Phillies                  146         606         1.10       -0.09      0.51
  15. Johnny Frederick Dodgers               117         673         0.21       0.78       0.49
  16. Del Bissonette Dodgers               120         643         0.30       0.39       0.34
  17. Gabby Hartnett Cubs                      144         577         1.04       -0.46      0.29
  18. Pinky Whitney Phillies                    98         660         -0.38      0.61       0.11
  19. Frankie Frisch Cardinals              118         611         0.124    -0.02      0.11
  20. Gus Suhr Pirates                  106         638         -0.13      0.32       0.10
  21. Harry Heilmann Reds                      143         539         1.01       -0.96      0.03
  22. Pie Traynor Pirates                  124         572         0.42       -0.53      -0.05
  23. Wally Gilbert Dodgers                 75         688         -1.09      0.97       -0.06
  24. Chick Hafey Cardinals              146         515         1.10       -1.27      -0.08
  25. Glenn Wright Pirates                  114         581         0.11       -0.41      -0.15
  26. Hughie Critz 2 teams                  55         707         -1.71      1.22       -0.25
  27. Sparky Adams Cardinals                83         629         -0.84      0.21       -0.32
  28. Freddy Leach Giants                   103         581         -0.23      -0.41      -0.32
  29. Curt Walker Reds                      110         547         -0.01      0.85       -0.43
  30. Jim Bottomley Cardinals              102         562         -0.26      -0.66      -0.46
  31. Rabbit Maranville Braves                    74         628         -1.12      0.20       -0.46
  32. Charlie Gelbert Cardinals               89         574         -0.66      -0.50      -0.58
  33. Dick Bartell Pirates                  103         539         -0.23      -0.96      -0.59
  34. Joe Stripp Reds                      100         533         -0.32      -1.03      -0.68
  35. Travis Jackson Giants                   120         482         0.30       -1.69      -0.70
  36. Footsie Blair Cubs                        65         610         -1.40      -0.04      -0.72
  37. Tony Cuccinello Reds                      105         506         -0.16      -1.38      -0.77
  38. Tommy Thevenow Phillies                    52         624         -1.80      0.14       -0.83
  39. Lance Richburg Braves                    77         557         -1.03      -0.72      -0.88
  40. Bob Meusel Reds                        93         484         -0.54      -1.67      -1.10
  41. Fresco Thompson Phillies                    70         529         -1.24      -1.09      -1.17
  42. Charlie Grimm Cubs                        83         490         -0.84      -1.59      -1.22
  43. Fred Maguire Braves                    53         557         -1.77      -0.72      -1.25
  44. Fred Brickell 2 teams                 61         496         -1.52      -1.51      -1.52

 

Summary: It will surprise nobody familiar with baseball history that the list of greatest hitting seasons in baseball history, as measured by the standard deviation of OPS+ (on base percentage plus slugging percentage normalized for park effects) and plate appearances is dominated by  three players. Those three, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, jointly have produced 11 of the 19 best and six of the 10 best.

 

Disclaimer: Our perceptions of the strength of individuals can be colored by factors that are extraneous to their actual dominance: general familiarity, the presence or absence of attention-getting personalities, subjective opinions that become engrained over time, superiority in certain statistical categories being the most likely. This rating is based on an objective methodology, meaning that it is immune to influence from any of those criteria. That also means its findings may vary – in some cases substantially – from the historical consensus. As you scan this list, be prepared to have your presumptions of relative greatness challenged.

 

Steroid era revisions: With four seasons, Barry Bonds is a dominant presence on this list. The fact that his is also the pre-eminent face of the game’s steroid era may taint the findings for some. Those folks may prefer a parallel list which does not include steroid-qualified seasons, essentially those between 1998 and 2005. Three of Bonds’ seasons are from that period. For them, let it be noted that places 26 through 28 on this list – 23 through 25 were one to strike Bonds’ 2001, 2002 and 2004 seasons – were 1986 Don Mattingly, +2.24, plus 1926 and 1928 Babe Ruth as well as 2013 Mike Trout, all tied at +2.23.

 

T-24. Joey Votto, 2015 Cincinnati Reds, 2.25: Votto’s is one of three top 25 seasons that was not also the best of that particular year. Bryce Harper had an even better 2015; stand by for further developments on Harper. Often noted and sometimes derided for his plate discipline, Votto took a league-leading 143 bases on balls in 2015 on his way to a .315 batting average and 29 home runs. Votto’s strength was his work ethic; he got 695 plate appearances, 1.64 standard deviations better than the field average that season and 41 more than Harper, who had the better OPS+.

 

T-24, Jim Rice, 1978 Boston Red Sox, 2.25: This was Rice’s best season. In a league-leading 746 plate appearances he also led the American League in hits (213), home runs (46), RBIs (139) and slugging average (.600).  Rice deservedly won the MVP by wide margin over Ron Guidry despite Guidry’s 25-3 record for the World Champion Yankees.

 

 

T-22. Jeff Bagwell, 1994 Houston Astros, 2.26: Some are suspicious of the legitimacy of Bagwell’s numbers, but that suspicion has never advanced into the realm of the evidentiary. His 1994 performance, while not seemingly in a class with others on this list, was good enough to win the National League MVP unanimously. In that strike-shortened season, he hit 39 home runs, drove in a league-leading 116, batted .368, and led the league in slugging at .750. For the record, the league slugging average that year was .415.

 

T-22. Napoleon Lajoie, 1910 Cleveland Naps. This was the season of the famous Cobb-Lajoie batting duel when Lajoie collected seven controversial hits during a final-day doubleheader to edge out Cobb by one point (.384 to .383) and win the batting title as well as the automobile that went with it. It was Lajoie’s fifth batting title. The Cleveland star collected a league-leading 304 total bases in 1910, but the true measure of his superiority to Cobb that season lay in his work ethic. Nap had 677 plate appearances – 96 more than the average of qualifying players – while Cobb had just nine more.

 

  1. Honus Wagner, 1908 Pittsburgh Pirates, 2.29: His age 34 season was probably the best individual one of Wagner’s Hall of Fame career. In the depths of the dead ball era – the NL batting average was .239 — he batted .354 with a .415 on base average and .542 slugging average, easily leading the National League in all three categories. He also drove in a league-leading 109 runs, and his 53 stolen bases led in that category as well. His .957 OPS was 141 points better than the runner-up, and his 205 OPS+ is essentially a statement that he was twice as good as the average hitter that year. A member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class, Wagner played for 21 seasons.

 

  1. Albert Pujols, 2009 Cardinals, 2.32: Statistically Pujols’ best season, he had a career-high 700 plate appearances, batted .327 and led the National League in both on base (.443) and slugging (.658). That explains his 189 OPS+, 3.14 standard deviations better than the field average. The combination made Pujols a unanimous choice for MVP, his third such award and second in succession. It also carried the Cardinals to the NL Central title.

 

  1. Ted Williams, 1942 Boston Red Sox, 2.32: With American ballplayers joining their fellow citizens in marching off to war, the talent level began a four-season decline. Williams, who was 23, would in short order join that march to uniform, but in 1942 he remained a full-time player. He batted .356, adding to that 145 bases on balls for a .499 on base average. Williams also led the AL in home runs with 36, leading to a .648 slugging average that was 135 points higher than the runner-up.

 

  1. Barry Bonds, 2002 San Francisco Giants, 2.35: With Bonds as their centerpiece, the Giants won the National League pennant and took the Angels to a seventh World Series game before losing. Bonds’ home run total fell to 46, but that was largely because teams simply refused to pitch to him. He received 198 bases on balls, nearly one for every two official at bats. At a career-best .370, Bonds won his first batting title, adding a .582 on base average and .799 slugging average. That led to an OPS+ of 268, the best of all time and nearly 100 points ahead of runner-up Brian Giles. In fact Bonds led Giles by as large a margin as Giles led the man who finished 63rd. He was, to state the obvious, a unanimous MVP choice.

 

  1. Ty Cobb, 1917 Detroit Tigers, 2.37: At age 30, Cobb’s batting title – at .383 by 30 points over runner-up George Sisler – was his 10th since 1907. He led in on base (.444) and slugging percentage (.570), the latter by 84 points over Tris Speaker. Cobb also led in doubles, triples and stolen bases. Judging strictly by numbers, this does not appear to be a remarkable Cobb season. After all he had six higher batting averages – three of them surpassing .400 – 10 better on base averages and four higher slugging averages. Consider, however, that the American League as a whole batted just .248 in 1917, with a .318 on base average and a .320 slugging average. Seen in that context, Cobb’s dominance shines through.

 

  1. Bryce Harper, 2015 Washington Nationals, 2.38: This was the season that ratified Harper’s reputation as the modern game’s pre-eminent young talent. At age 22, he batted .330 with 42 home runs and 124 walks. Those were good enough to lead the league in both on base (.460) and slugging (.649), creating a 1.109 OPS. It was a breathtaking combination, a full 100 points better than the OPS runner up in a season when the league averages were .316 and .397, and it deservedly won Harper the National League MVP.

 

T-14. Rogers Hornsby, 1922 St. Louis Cardinals, 2.39: This was Hornsby’s first of three .400 seasons, the irony being that the only one of those three not among the 25 greatest batting seasons of all time was his .424 average in 1924. In 1922, he swept the league stats, leading in runs scored, hits – with 250 –doubles, home runs (42), RBIs (152), on base, slugging, OPS and total bases. His 1.097 OPS was the first of eight such seasons he would produce during the 1920s. Hornsby’s .722 slugging average was 150 percentage points ahead of the runner-up and broke Hornsby’s own previous league record – set in 1921 – by 83 points.

 

T-14. Stan Musial, 1948 St. Louis Cardinals, 2.39: In 1948, Musial, then 27, was at his most dominant. His league-leading 230 hits including 103 for extra bases, 39 of them home runs, and a league-leading 131 RBIs. With career-high batting (.376), on base (.450) and slugging (.703), averages, he produced a 1.152 OPS translating to a 200 OPS+ that was 44 points better than the runner-up. His 698 plate appearances were the league’s second highest total. Musial was an obvious MVP choice, the surprise being that he did not win unanimously; Johnny Sain, pitcher for the pennant winning Braves, got five of the 24 first place votes and Braves shortstop Alvin Dark got one.

 

  1. Babe Ruth, 1924 New York Yankees, 2.44: The Yankees finished two games behind the surprising Senators in the AL race, but the fault was hardly Ruth’s. At .378 he won his only batting title, adding a .513 on base average and .739 slugging average. Although not especially remarkable for Ruth, those numbers were extraordinary for a year when the average American Leaguer had a .358 on base and .397 slugging average. Ruth won the on base title by 62 points, and won the slugging title by 206 points. That meant a normal OPS was .755; Ruth’s was 1.252. The runner-up was nearly 300 points behind him.

 

  1. Babe Ruth, 1923 New York Yankees, 2.45: By 1923 Ruth was a 28-year-old star of a magnitude never before seen in sports. He hit 41 home runs, which sounds pedestrian by Ruthian standards, but he was the only hitter with 30 or more. More critically to his OPS, Ruth drew 170 bases on balls; the runner-up in that category drew 98. Combine that with 99 extra base hits and – even in a season when the league OPS was .739 – you get a remarkable 239 OPS+, meaning that statistically Ruth was more than twice as productive as the average AL batter.

 

  1. Barry Bonds, 2001 San Francisco Giants, 2.48: Chronologically this was the first of Bonds’ mega seasons. It was the year he broke the single-season home record with 73, and he drew what to that point was a career-high 177 walks in the process, creating a .515 on base average and unthinkable .863 slugging average that remains the all-time record. His fourth career MVP, again in a runaway, followed naturally.

 

  1. Babe Ruth, 1927 New York Yankees, 2.49: When people think of Ruth, this is the season they think of. Sixty home runs in an age when entire teams didn’t hit as many will have that effect. The surprise, of course, isn’t that Ruth’s 1927 is on the list but that there were nine better…including one of Ruth’s and one other from 1927. If this were the best the Babe did, it would be pretty salty. Beyond the 60 homers, he led the league in walks (137), on base average (.486) and slugging (.772). Ruth’s 1927 fails to measure up to Lou Gehrig’s simply because Gehrig got more plate appearances, and as with other occupations, in baseball showing up is valuable in and of itself. The truly amazing aspect of Ruth’s 1927 season is that 26 American League players received Most Valuable Player award votes, yet the Babe was nowhere among them. Ira Flagstead, Hod Lisenbee, Phil Todt, Bill Regan and Frank O’Rourke all got votes; Babe Ruth did not. You can look it up.

 

  1. Ross Barnes, 1876 Chicago White Stockings, 2.53: Barnes, who only hard-core baseball historians have even heard of, was the National League’s first star. In the league’s inaugural season, Barnes led in runs scored, its, doubles, triples and walks. His .429 batting average was abetted by a practice known as “fair-foul” hitting – outlawed after 1876 – by which any ball initially landing in fair territory was counted as fair even if it subsequently rolled or bounced foul. Adept at that practice, Barnes finished 63 points ahead of the pack in average, 78 points ahead in on base average and 45 points ahead in slugging. In other words, he was the central offensive factor behind the White Stockings’ capturing of the first National League pennant.

 

  1. Frank Thomas, 1994 Chicago White Sox, 2.55: Thomas was 26 during the strike season, in his playing prime, and the stoppage halted what might have been a legendary campaign. He was on pace to score nearly 160 runs, drive in 165, approach 60 home runs and 70 doubles. Thomas batted .353 with a .487 on base average and .729 slugging average, leading the league in both of those departments. His 1.217 OPS was an AL high since Ted Williams in 1946, and has not since been approached. Thomas won his second consecutive MVP Award by a wide margin.

 

  1. Barry Bonds, 2004 San Francisco Giants, 2.56: The apex of Bonds’ career, 2004 produced a league-leading .362 batting average, a career-best .609 on base average that remains the all-time record, and an .812 slugging average. The result was a 263 OPS+, trailing only Bonds’ 2002 season all time. His 2004 numbers rank ahead of his 2002 numbers because they were slightly more exceptional. In 2002, the standard deviation of the OPS+ of 80 players who qualified for the batting title was 32.99; in 2004 the comparable figure was 29.64. So Version 2004 of Bonds was slightly more exceptional than Version 2002. His fourth consecutive MVP selection, and seventh overall, was close by standards of the Bonds era, coming by 96 points over Adrian Beltre.

 

  1. Barry Bonds, 1993 San Francisco Giants, 2.58: The least suspicious of Bonds’ brilliant offensive seasons, his first in San Francisco produced a league-leading 46 home runs, a league-leading 123 RBIs, a league-leading .458 on base average, a league-leading .677 slugging average, and (naturally) a league-leading 1.136 OPS. That made Bonds the first player to top 1.100 in OPS since George Brett in 1980, and the first to do it in the National League since Stan Musial in 1948.

 

  1. Ted Williams, 1949 Boston Red Sox, 2.58: Williams lost the batting title fractionally to George Kell (both hit .343), but added 162 walks, 43 home runs and 85 extra base hits to that. The result was a league-leading .490 on base average – 51 percentage points better than the runner-up – and a .650 slugging average that was 111 percentage points superior to the runner-up. Williams’ .343 batting average was actually fairly pedestrian by the standards he had set – three higher batting averages in his first eight seasons. But it was also his fourth successive post-war OPS above 1.100; the next best over that time was Joe DiMaggio at .994. Deservedly, Williams was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player.

 

  1. Stan Musial, 1946 St. Louis Cardinals, 2.58: The key factor in the Cardinals’ World Series winning season, Musial led the National League in every significant offensive category except home runs and stolen bases. He produced 366 total bases, 83 more than the runner-up (teammate Enos Slaughter) and 104 more than any individual National League opponent. As with Musial’s 1948, the surprise wasn’t that he won the MVP, but that the honor wasn’t unanimous; Slaughter picked up two first place votes.

 

  1. Lou Gehrig, 1927 New York Yankees, 2.63: Ruth’s 60 home runs better Gehrig’s 47, but Gehrig drove in 173 runs and accumulated 447 total bases, probably the key factors in his MVP Award. Gehrig batted .373 with a .474 on base average and .765 slugging average, and while the 220 OPS+ those numbers produced didn’t match Ruth’s 225, Gehrig’s additional plate appearances more than made up the difference. The MVP award was Gehrig’s first of two – he would also win in 1936.

 

  1. Babe Ruth, 1921 New York Yankees, 2.65: In the best season of Ruth’s transcendent career, he broke the home run record for the third consecutive year (with 59), drove in a career-best 168 runs, batted .378, reached base more than half the time, and compiled an .846 slugging percentage. The league average in that category was .408. Ruth’s OPS+ was 238; runner-up Harry Heilmann , who batted .394 to win that title, managed a 167 OPS+.

 

1. Ted Williams, 1947 Boston Red Sox, 2.73: This was Williams at his iconically most selective. He won the batting title at .343, layering on top of that a personal best 162 bases on balls to produce a .499 on base average. Williams never got himself out in 1949. His 81 extra base hits fueled a .634 slugging average which combined with his plate discipline to yield a 1.133 OPS. The margin between Williams and the OPS runner-up, Joe DiMaggio, was 220 points, equaling the margin between DiMaggio and the man who finished 34th. That is the definition of dominance. 1947 was also the season when Williams famously finished second (by one point) to DiMaggio in the MVP voting because one voter – who disliked Williams’ churlish nature with the press – left the Boston slugger off his top 10

The 25 most dominant baseball teams in history

Methodology: Each team’s rating is based on the sum of the standard deviation of its run scoring measured against the league average plus the inverse of the standard deviation of its run prevention measured against the league average. The example below shows the scores for each team during the 2017 American League season. The average runs scored was 762.87; the standard deviation 63.01. The average runs prevented was 755.80; the standard deviation was 86.20:

2017                                                       Runs      St. Dev. Allow.   Inv. SD. Score

Cleveland Indians                             818         0.87        564         2.23        3.10

Houston Astros                                 896         2.11        700         0.65        2.76

New York Yankees                           858         1.51        660         1.11        2.62

Boston Red Sox                                 785         0.35        668         1.02        1.37

Minnesota Twins                              815         0.83        788       -0.37       0.46

Texas Rangers                                   799         0.57        816       -0.70       -0.13

Los Angeles-Anaheim Angels      710       -0.84       709         0.54        -0.30

Seattle Mariners                               750       -0.20       772       -0.19       -0.39

Tampa Bay Rays                                694       -1.09       704         0.60        -0.49

Oakland A’s                                        739       -0.38       826       -0.81       -1.19

Baltimore Orioles                             743       -0.32       841       -0.99       -1.31

Kansas City Royals                            702       -0.97       791       -0.41       -1.38

Toronto Blue Jays                             693       -1.11       784       -0.33       -1.44

Chicago White Sox                           706       -0.90       820       -0.74       -1.64

Detroit Tigers                                     735       -0.44       894       -1.60       -2.04

               

 

Disclaimer: Our perceptions of the strength of teams (or individuals) can be colored by factors that are extraneous to their actual dominance: general familiarity, the presence or absence of attention-getting personalities, subjective opinions that become engrained over time, superiority in certain statistical categories being the most likely. This rating is based on an objective methodology, meaning that it is immune to influence from any of those criteria. That also means its findings may vary – in some cases substantially – from the historical consensus. As you scan this list, be prepared to have your presumptions of relative greatness challenged.

 

 

  1. 1971 Baltimore Orioles (3.073)

Record: 101-57

Post-season:  Beat Oakland Athletics 3-0 in ALCS; lost to Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Brooks Robinson 6.0; 2. Merv Rettenmund 5.8; 3. Don Buford 5.1; 4. Mark Belanger 4.6; 5. Davey Johnson 4.4.

Run differential: Scored 742 (1st), allowed 530 (1st).

Hall of Famers (4): Brooks Robinson (third base), Frank Robinson (outfield), Jim Palmer (pitcher), Earl Weaver (manager).

In a paragraph: The third consecutive Orioles pennant winner  featured a balanced approach that scored 41 more runs than any other team and allowed 34 fewer. This was the club with four 20-game winners: Dave McNally (21), and Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson (20 each).

 

  1. 2016 Chicago Cubs (3.074)

Record: 103-58

Post-season:  Beat San Francisco Giants 3-1 in NLDS; beat Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 in NLCS; beat Cleveland Indians 4-3 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Kris Bryant 7.7; 2. Anthony Rizzo 5.8; 3. Jon Lester 5.2; 4. Kyle Hendricks 4.9; 5. Addison Russell 4.3.

Run differential: Scored 808 (2nd), allowed 556 (1st).

Hall of Famers: (None eligible).

In a paragraph: The first Cubs World Series champions in 108 seasons led their division for all but one day, winning by 17.5 games.

 

  1. 1912 New York Giants (3.09)

Record: 103-48

Post-season:  Lost 4-3-1 to Philadelphia Athletics in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Christy Mathewson 7.8; Rube Marquard 5.8; 3. Larry Doyle 5.0; 4. Jeff Tesreau 4.7; Chief Meyers 4.6.

Run differential: Scored 823 (1st), allowed 571 (2nd).

Hall of Famers (3): Christy Mathewson (pitcher), Rube Marquard (pitcher), John McGraw (manager).

In a paragraph: Mathewson and Marquard combined for 49 victories in 72 starts, 49 of them complete games. The Giants may have been one of the runningest teams in history, stealing 319 bases, better than two per game. They featured eight players with 20 or more steals.

 

  1. 1882 Chicago White Stockings (3.096)

Record: 55-29

Post-season:  None.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Larry Corcoran 5.8; 2. Fred Goldsmith 4.6; 3. Cap Anson 4.4; 4. Ned Williamson 4.0; 5. George Gore 3.3.

Run differential: Scored 604 (1st), allowed 353 (1st).

Hall of Famers (2): Cap Anson (first base), King Kelly (catcher-outfielder).

In a paragraph: The 1882 team was Chicago’s third consecutive pennant winner, and all three of those teams rank among the best in history. Corcoran and Goldsmith split 55 victories, and Anson batted .362.

 

  1. 2017 Cleveland Indians (3.105)

Record: 102-60

Post-season:  Lost to New York Yankees 3-2 in ALDS.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Corey Kluber 8.1; 2. Jose Ramirez 6.8; 3. Francisco Lindor 5.5; 4. Carlos Carrasco 5.4; 5. Carlos Santana 3.4.

Run differential: Scored 818 (3rd), allowed 564 (1st).

Hall of Famers: (None eligible).

In a paragraph: The Indians won an American League record 22 consecutive games, allowing just 37 runs in the process. Lindor batted .337 with 33 home runs. Their ALDS loss to New York was further proof that anything can happen in a short series.

 

  1. 2013 St. Louis Cardinals (3.12)

Record: 97-65

Post-season:  Beat Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 in NLDS; beat Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 in NLCS; lost to Boston Red Sox 4-2 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Matt Carpenter 6.4; 2. Adam Wainwright 6.4; 3. Yadier Molina 5.6; 4. Shelby Miller 3.3; 5. Joe Kelly 2.6.

Run differential: Scored 783 (1st), allowed 596 (5th).

Hall of Famers: None eligible.

In a paragraph: The Cardinals averaged a half run per game more than any other NL team. At .319, Molina led four Cardinals above .300. Wainwright won 19 times.

 

  1. 1970 Baltimore Orioles (3.166)

Record: 104-58

Post-season: Beat Minnesota Twins 3-0 in ALCS; beat Cincinnati Reds 4-1 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Jim Palmer 6.5; 2. Paul Blair 5.8; 3. Boog Powell 5.1; 4. Frank Robinson 4.8; 5. Merv Rettenmund 4.8.

Run differential: Scored 792 (1st), allowed 574 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (4): Jim Palmer (pitcher), Frank Robinson (outfield), Brooks Robinson (third base), Earl Weaver (manager).

In a paragraph: The only World Series winner among Baltimore’s three straight pennant winners, this team assumed first place for good in late April. Their longest losing streak was just three games, and it came in the season’s second week.

 

  1. 1880 Chicago White Stockings (3.171)

Record: 67-17

Post-season:  None.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Larry Corcoran 6.9; 2. Cap Anson 5.0; 3. George Gore 4.6; 4. Abner Dalrymple 3.4; 5. Fred Goldsmith 3.3.

Run differential: Scored 538 (1st), allowed 317 (1st).

Hall of Famers (2): Cap Anson (first base), King Kelly (catcher-outfielder).

In a paragraph: Largely forgotten today, Corcoran was the find of the season. A 20-year-old rookie, he pitched 536 innings, won 43 games, and pitched a no-hitter. Gore batted .360 and Anson drove in 74 runs in 84 games.

 

  1. 1969 Baltimore Orioles (3.20)

Record: 109-53

Post-season: Beat Minnesota Twins 3-0 in ALCS; lost to New York Mets 4-1 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Frank Robinson 7.5; 2. Paul Blair 7.1; 3. Boog Powell 5.9; 4. Don Buford 4.8; 5. Jim Palmer 4.3.

Run differential: Scored 779 (2md), allowed 517 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (4): Jim Palmer (pitcher), Frank Robinson (outfield), Brooks Robinson (third base), Earl Weaver (manager).

In a paragraph: Pay no attention to the World Series loss to the Mets, these Orioles proved their superiority over the length of the season. They held first place from April 16 to season’s end, winning by 19 games. The pitching staff and defense allowed just 3.2 runs per game, nearly a run below the league average.

 

  1. 1990 Oakland Athletics (3.23)

Record: 103-59

Post-season: Beat Boston Red Sox 4-0 in ALCS; lost to Cincinnati Reds 4-0 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Rickey Henderson 9.9; 2. Mark McGwire 5.7; 3. Jose Canseco 5.4; 4. Dave Stewart 5.2; 5. Dave Henderson 4.8.

Run differential: Scored 733 (3rd), allowed 570 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (3): Rickey Henderson (outfield), Dennis Eckersley (pitcher), Tony LaRussa (manager).

In a paragraph: The third of three straight pennant winners, Oakland’s 1990 team was widely viewed as the best of them; hence, the World Series sweep at the hands of Cincinnati stands as one of the bigger post-season upsets of all time. McGwire and Canseco both pressed 40 home runs and topped 100 RBIs. Bob Welch won 27 games, the most by any pitcher in more than two decades.

 

  1. 1988 New York Mets (3.24)

Record: 100-60

Post-season: Lost to Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 in NLCS.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Dave Cone 5.8; 2. Darryl Strawberry 5.4; 3. Kevin McReynolds 4.5; 4. Dwight Gooden 4.0; 5. Ron Darling 3.6.

Run differential: Scored 703 (1st), allowed 532 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (1): Gary Carter, catcher.

In a paragraph: The Mets lost three of their first five, then won 19 of their next 23. With no pennant pressure, they closed by winning 29 of their final 37 before losing to the force and will of Orel Hershiser in the 1988 NLCS.

 

  1. 2016 Boston Red Sox (3.26)

Record: 93-69

Post-season: Lost 3-0 to Cleveland Indians in ALDS.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Mookie Betts 9.5; 2. Dustin Pedroia 5.7; 3. Jackie Bradley Jr. 5.3; 4. Rick Porcello 5.2; 5. David Ortiz 5.1.

Run differential: Scored 878 (1st), allowed 694 (3rd).

Hall of Famers: (None eligible)

In a paragraph: In the regular season, the Red Sox scored 101 more runs than the Cleveland Indians, had 163 more hits, 23 more home runs, and 103 more RBIs. But Cleveland had the better pitching staff, and in a best-of-five series pitching prevailed. Had the Red Sox won the World Series – as they easily might have gone on to do – we would all rank them among the great teams in history.

 

  1. 1975 Cincinnati Reds (3.275)

Record: 108-54

Post-season: Beat Pittsburgh Pirates 3-0 in NLCS; beat Boston Red Sox 4-3 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Joe Morgan 10.9; 2. Johnny Bench 6.6; 3. George Foster 4.8; Pete Rose 4.1; 5. Cesar Geronimo 4.1.

Run differential: Scored 840 (1st), allowed 586 (2nd).

Hall of Famers (4): Joe Morgan (second base), Johnny Bench (catcher), Tony Perez (first base), Sparky Anderson (manager).

In a paragraph: The interesting thing isn’t that the Reds won the World Series, but that the Red Sox extended them to seven games. Cincinnati led the majors in RBIs, walks and on base average, all with an offense that featured three future Hall of Famers in their prime as well as Pete Rose. Morgan batted .327 and Rose .317.

 

  1. 2015 Toronto Blue Jays (3.279)

Record: 93-69

Post-season: Beat Texas Rangers 3-2 in ALDS; lost to Kansas City Royals 4-2 in ALCS.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Josh Donaldson 8.8; 2. Kevin Pillar 5.2; 3. Jose Bautista 5.1; 4. Edwin Encarnacion 4.7; 5. Marco Estrada 3.6.

Run differential: Scored 891 (1st), allowed 670 (5th).

Hall of Famers: (None eligible).

In a paragraph: Their ALCS loss to the Royals unfairly colors our perception of the Blue Jays. Toronto was an offensive juggernaut, scoring 127 more runs than any other AL team with a 2.78 offensive standard deviation that is second in all of baseball history only to the 1996 Colorado Rockies (2.91). Bautista, Donaldson and Encarnacion combined for 120 home runs, 348 RBIs and a .929 OPS.

 

  1. 1939 New York Yankees (3.29)

Record: 106-45

Post-season: Beat Cincinnati Reds 4-0 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Joe DiMaggio 8.1; 2.Joe Gordon 6.3; 3. Red Rolfe 5.9; 4. George Selkirk 5.4; 5. Red Ruffing 5.3.

Run differential: Scored 967 (1st), allowed 556 (1st).

Hall of Famers (8): Bill Dickey (catcher), Lou Gehrig (first base), Joe Gordon (second base), Joe DiMaggio (outfield), Red Ruffing (pitcher), Lefty Gomez (pitcher). Joe McCarthy (manager), Ed Barrow (general manager).

In a paragraph: Three-time defending champions, the Yankees left no doubt about their status in 1939. Overcoming the early season loss of Lou Gehrig they won 37 of their first 46 games, and building a nine-game lead by mid-June. Joe DiMaggio (.381) led an offensive that scored 6.4 runs per game, nearly three per game more than the pitching staff allowed. In the World Series, the Yanks swept the Reds, outscoring the National League champs 20-8.

 

  1. 2001 Seattle Mariners (3.35)

Record: 116-46

Post-season: Beat Cleveland Indians 3-2 in ALDS; lost to New York Yankees 4-1 in ALCS.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Bret Boone 8.8; 2. Ichiro Suzuki 7.7; 3. Mike Cameron 5.9; 4. John Olerud 5.2; 5. Edgar Martinez 4.8.

Run differential: Scored 927 (1st), allowed 627 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (0).

In a paragraph: Their 116 victories equaled the all-time record. But the Mariners bowed to the most post-season savvy Yankees in the ALCS. Ichro Suzuki’s American debut included a .350 batting average.

 

  1. 1995 Cleveland Indians (3.38)

Record: 100-44

Post-season: Beat Boston Red Sox 3-0 in ALDS; beat Seattle Mariners 4-2 in ALCS; lost to Atlanta Braves 4-2 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Albert Belle 6.9; 2. Jim Thome 5.9; 3. Dennis Martinez 5.7; 4. Kenny Lofton 4-1; 5. Jose Mesa 4.0.

Run differential: Scored 840 (1st), allowed 607 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (2): Eddie Murray (designated hitter), Dave Winfield (designated hitter).

In a paragraph: Albert Belle hit 50 home runs in 143 games and the team combined for 207. Joining speed with power, they also stole 132 bases, making the Indians’ attack multi-dimensional.

 

  1. 1927 New York Yankees (3.45)

Record: 109-45

Post-season: Beat Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Babe Ruth 12.4; 2. Lou Gehrig 11.8; 3. Earle Combs 6.8; 4.TonyLazzeri 6.3; 5. Waite Hoyt 5.8.

Run differential: Scored 975 (1st), allowed 599 (1st).

Hall of Famers (8): Lou Gehrig (first base), Tony Lazzeri (second base), Earle Combs (outfield), Herb Pennock (pitcher), Waite Hoyt (pitcher), Miller Huggins (manager), Ed Barrow (general manager), Jacob Ruppert (owner).

In a paragraph: With Ruth and Gehrig combining for 107 home runs and 338 RBIs. The Yankees averaged nearly a full run per game more than any other AL team, and allowed 103 fewer. They won the pennant by 19 games and dispatched the Pirates in four games in the World Series.

 

  1. 1917 New York Giants (3.46)

Record: 98-56

Post-season: Lost to Chicago White Sox 4-2 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Art Fletcher 7.4; 2. George Burns 6.0; 3. Heinie Zimmerman 5.3; 4. Benny Kauff 4.7; 5. Ferdie Schupp 4.5.

Run differential: Scored 635 (1st), allowed 457 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (2): Ross Youngs (outfield), John McGraw (manager).

In a paragraph:  McGraw took advantage of a deep staff featuring three pitchers – Schupp, Slim Sallee and Pol Perritt – with ERAs below 2.20.  In fact the team ERA was 2.27, nearly a half point below the league average. Lacking glamour names and absent a World Series win, the Giants are lightly respected among pennant winners. But they led the league in both run scored and runs allowed.

 

  1. 1888 St. Louis Browns (3.49)

Record: 94-41

Post-season: Lost to New York Giants 6-4 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Silver King 15.8; 2. Nat Hudson 5.0; 3. Tip O’Neill 4.1; 4. Yank Robinson 3.5; 5. Arlie Latham 3.2.

Run differential: Scored 789 (2nd), allowed 501 (1st).

Hall of Famers (2): Charles Comiskey (first base, inducted as owner), Tommy McCarthy (outfield).

In a paragraph: The Browns were probably the best team produced by the American Association, a major league in the 1880s. The 1888 team, the last of four consecutive Association pennant winning teams, featured a shutdown pitching staff that allowed just 3.6 runs per game against a league average of 5.2. The ace, Silver King, won 45 games.

 

  1. 1984 Detroit Tigers (3.52)

Record: 104-58

Post-season: Beat Kansas City Royals 3-0 in ALCS; beat San Diego Padres 4- in World Series.

Top 5 players: 1. Alan Trammell 6.7; 2. Chet Lemon, 6.2; 3. Kirk Gibson, 5.1; 4. Willie Hernandez, 4.8; 5. Lou Whitaker, 4.3.

Run differential: Scored 829 (1st); allowed 643 (1st).

Hall of Famers (3): Alan Trammell (shortstop), Jack Morris (pitcher), Sparky Anderson (manager).

In a paragraph: The Tigers won 35 of their first 40 games, opened a double digit lead in mid-July, and were never threatened. They led the AL in both runs scored and fewest runs allowed, finished off the overmatched Royals in three games in the ALCS, then defeated the Padres in five games in the World Series.

 

  1. 1881 Chicago White Stockings (3.55)

Record: 56-28

Post-season:  None

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Cap Anson 5.8; 2. Ned Williamson 3.4; 3. King Kelly 2.8; 4. Silver Flint 2.4; 5. George Gore 2.4.

Run differential: Scored 550 (1st), allowed 380 (1st).

Hall of Famers (2): Cap Anson (first base), King Kelly (catcher-outfielder).

In a paragraph: The White Stockings seized first place in May and never again trailed, winning the pennant by nine games. Anson batted .399, Kelly .323 and Abner Dalrymple .323.

 

  1. 1906 Chicago Cubs (3.59)

Record: 116-36

Post-season: Lost to Chicago White Sox 4-2 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Frank Chance 7.3; 2. Mordecai Brown 7.2; 3. Harry Steinfeldt 7.0; 4. Joe Tinker 4.2; 5. Ed Reulbach 4.1.

Run differential: Scored 704 (1st), allowed 381 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (4): Frank Chance (first base-manager), Johnny Evers (second base), Joe Tinker (shortstop); Mordecai Brown (pitcher).

In a paragraph: By early April the Cubs held a firm grasp on the NL lead. Then they got hot, winning 48 of their final 54 games and burying the runner-up Giants 20 games behind. Their .763 winning percentage is the best since 1885.

 

  1. 1998 New York Yankees (3.74)

Record: 114-48

Post-season: Beat Texas Rangers 3-0 in ALDS; beat Cleveland Indians 4-2 in ALCS; beat San Diego Padres 4-0 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Derek Jeter 7.5; 2. Paul O’Neill 5.8; 3. Scott Brosius 5.3; 4. Bernie Williams 5.2; 5. David Wells 4.8.

Run differential: Scored 965 (1st), allowed 656 (1st).

Hall of Famers (1): Joe Torre (manager).

In a paragraph: Jeter, Rivera, the Yankee mystique…it and plenty of supporting talent adds up to 114 wins. New York led the AL in runs scored and ERA. With a 91-30 record they built a 20-game lead in mid-August before letting up on the gas over the final six weeks.

 

  1. 1986 New York Mets (3.78)

Record: 108-54

Post-season: Beat Houston Astros 4-2 in NLCS; beat Boston Red Sox 4-3 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Keith Hernandez 5.5; 2. Lenny Dykstra 4.7; 3. Ron Darling 4.3; 4. Bob Ojeda 4.3; 5. Dwight Gooden 4.2.

Run differential: Scored 783 (1st), allowed 578 (1st).

Hall of Famers (2): Gary Carter (catcher), George Foster (outfield).

In a paragraph: The Mets assumed first place on April 22 and never let go, taking a 20-game lead into late August. The secret was depth: four pitchers with 15 wins or more and an offense that produced nearly 50 runs more than any of New York’s opponents.

The 25 most dominant pitching seasons in baseball history

Methodology: Each pitcher’s rating is based on the average of standard deviation of two components. One is the pitcher’s ERA+, the other is his number of innings pitched. In both cases, the standard deviations are calculated against the figures for all pitchers with sufficient innings to qualify for the earned run average title…generally 162 innings.  ERA+ is a calculation of each pitcher’s actual ERA modified by ballpark and era, and is presented on a basis of 100 representing league average. When we show a player with an ERA+ of 200, it is essentially a statement that the pitcher was twice as valuable as he average pitcher that season. The illustration below, from the 2017 National League season, serves as an illustration of how each year’s rating is calculated. The average ERA+ of the 31 qualifiers was 116.19; the average number of innings pitched was 182.62. The standard deviation of the 321 qualifiers’ ERA+ was 28.31; for innings pitched the standard deviation was 14.44.

Rank      2017 NL pitcher                 Team     ERA+     IP            ERA+ SD               IP SD      Avg. SD

  1. Max Scherzer Was       177         200.2     2.15                       1.22       1.68
  2. Zack Greinke Ari          149         202.1     1.16                       1.35       1.25
  3. Gio Gonzalez Was       150         201         1.19                       1.27       1.23
  4. Clayton Kershaw LA           180         175         2.25                       -0.53      0.86
  5. Stephen Strasburg Was       176         175.1     2.11                       -0.52      0.80
  6. Carlos Martinez Stl           117         205         0.03                       1.55       0.79
  7. Jacob deGrom NYM      119         201.1     0.10                       1.28       0.69
  8. Jeff Samardzija SF             94         207.2     -0.78                      1.70       0.46
  9. Gerrit Cole Pit           101         203         -0.54                      1.41       0.44
  10. Patrick Corbin Ari          119         189.2     0.10                       0.46       0.28
  11. Lance Lynn Stl           124         186.1     0.28                       0.24       0.26
  12. Zach Davies Mil          112         191.1     -0.15                      0.59       0.22
  13. Robbie Ray Ari          166         162         1.76                       -1.43      0.17
  14. R.A. Dickey Atl          100         190         -0.57                      0.51       -0.03
  15. Clayton Richard SD             86         197.1     -1.07                      1.00       -0.03
  16. Ivan Nova Pit           104         187         -0.43                      0.30       -0.06
  17. Jimmy Nelson Mil          126         175.1     0.35                       -0.52      -0.09
  18. Julio Teheran Atl            95         188.1     -0.75                      0.38       -0.18
  19. Jhoulys Chacin SD           106         180.1     -0.36                      -0.17      -0.27
  20. Jon Lester Chc         100         180.2     -0.57                      -0.17      -0.37
  21. Jake Arrieta Chc         123         168.1     0.24                       -1.01      -0.38
  22. Dan Straily Mia          95         181.2     -0.75                      -0.10      -0.42
  23. Tanner Roark                 Was         95         181.1     -0.75                      -0.11      -0.43
  24. Aaron Nola Phi          119         168         0.10                       -1.01      -0.46
  25. Jose Urena Mia        106         169.2     -0.36                      -0.93      -0.64
  26. German Marquez Col          114         162         -0.08                      -1.43      -0.75
  27. John Lackey Chc           95         170.2     -0.75                      -0.86      -0.80
  28. Michael Wacha Stl           103         165.2     -0.47                      -1.21      -0.84
  29. Matt Moore SF             76         174.1     -1.42                      -0.59      -1.00
  30. Luis Perdomo SD             88         163.2     -1.00                      -1.34      -1.17
  31. Ty Blach SF             87         163.2     -1.03                      -1.34      -1.19

 

 

Summary: The list of greatest passing seasons in history spans 124 seasons, from the 1880s through the present decade, with every decade of that period included at least once.  A total of 18 different pitchers produced the 25 best seasons, and five of those pitchers have the same surname: Johnson. Walter is one of five pitchers with two such seasons; Randy Johnson is the only pitcher to have produced three of the best 25.

 

Disclaimer: Our perceptions of the strength of individuals can be colored by factors that are extraneous to their actual dominance: general familiarity, the presence or absence of attention-getting personalities, subjective opinions that become engrained over time, superiority in certain statistical categories being the most likely. This rating is based on an objective methodology, meaning that it is immune to influence from any of those criteria. That also means its findings may vary – in some cases substantially – from the historical consensus. As you scan this list, be prepared to have your presumptions of relative greatness challenged.

 

Notably absent…

Christy Mathewson. Mathewson led the National League in this ranking for four consecutive seasons, 1910 through 1913, and seven times between 1904 and 1913. But his personal best of 2.52 in 1904 was not good enough to make the list.

Bob Feller. Feller’s best, 2.20, came in 1940.

Dave Stieb. Stieb led the AL in this calculation for four consecutive seasons during the 1980s. But his best only reached 2.21 in 1985.

Pud Galvin. Notwithstanding his 365 career victories, fifth best all time, Galvin never led the National League in this measurement, his best – 1.40 – coming in 1884.

Warren Spahn. A three-time National League leader, Spahn’s best was 2.06 in 1947.

Kid Nichols. With Cy Young and Amos Rusie comprising the best trio of pitchers in the 1890s, Nichols’ best was 2.14 in 1897.

Nolan Ryan. His best was 1.94 with the California Angels in 1977.

Tom Seaver. Like Mathewson, Seaver was a relative near miss, his best rating being a 2.51 achieved in 1971.

Ed Walsh. Walsh’s 1908 season, marked by his 464 inning workload, is iconic. But his 162 ERA+ was dwarfed by Addie Joss’s 204 and Cy Young’s 193, reducing his composite average to 2.46 and leaving him out of the top 25.

 

  1. Randy Johnson, 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, +2.73. Johnson labored a prodigious 249.2 innings in pursuit of the Diamondbacks’ world championship, in the process producing a 188 ERA+ that translated to a 3.40 standard deviation. His 2.49 ERA was the National League’s best by a wide margin; only teammate Curt Schilling, at 2.98, was also under 3.00. Johnson had a career-high 372 strikeouts, his fourth of five consecutive seasons topping 300.

 

  1. Lefty Grove, 1930 Philadelphia Athletics, +2.75. In 1930, Grove won 28 of his 33 decisions, posted a league-leading 2.54 ERA, pitched 291 innings, fanned 209 batters, and did it all during a season still considered legendary for its offense. Grove was versatile, making 32 starts and 18 relief appearances. He is the only pitcher in major league history to lead this ranking for five consecutive seasons, having done so from 1928 through 1932.

 

  1. Dwight Gooden, 1985 New York Mets, +2.76. Gooden came to the Mets s a 19-year-old in 1984 and made an immediate impression. In 1985, the 20-year-old won 24 of his 28 decisions with a league-leading 1.53 ERA in 276.2 innings of activity. His 268 strikeouts led the league for the second consecutive season, giving him a total of 544 whiffs before his 21st birthday. He was a unanimous Cy Young Award winner before going on to lead the Mets to the 1986 World Series championship..

 

  1. John Clarkson, 1889 Boston Beaneaters, +2.78. After Clarkson won 38 games for the 1887 Cubs, Cap Anson decided his salary demands had grown too big for Chicago’s budget, so Anson sold him to the Beaneaters. It was Boston’s lucky day. In 1889 Clarkson pitched 620 innings, winning 49 of his 72 starts with a 2.73 and 284 strikeouts. Somehow the Beaneaters still failed (by one game) to win the NL pennant. It was the workload that set Clarkson apart. Those 620 innings amounted to more than double the average for qualifying pitchers that season, and 3.30 standard deviations ahead of the curve. It would be harsh to say that the 27-year-old pitcher was finished after 1889; he did average 28 victories the next three seasons. But his workload dropped into a more normal (for the time) 400 or so innings, wear and tear finally ending his Hall of Fame career at age 32 in 1894.

 

  1. Dazzy Vance, 1924 Brooklyn Dodgers, +2.80. Vance was known as a strikeout artist, leading the National League annually from 1922 through 1928. His 262 whiffs in 1924 was a career best. Vance won 28 of his 34 decisions on a 2.16 ERA, working 308.1 innings. Vance and Burleigh Grimes were a two-man mound force for the Dodgers, combining to start 70 games, pitch 45 percent of the Dodgers’ innings and claim 50 of their 92 victories.

 

  1. Clayton Kershaw, 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers, +2.81. Kershaw won the NL ERA title four consecutive seasons between 2011 and 2014, but 2013 was his best. His 1.83 stretched across a personal high 236 innings of work. With 232, he led the NL in strikeouts for the second of three times. Kershaw won his second of three Cy Young awards, missing unanimity by a single vote.

 

T-18. Pedro Martinez, 1999 Boston Red Sox, +2.83. Following the 1997 season, the cash-strapped Expos traded Martinez to Boston for Carl Pavano, one of the all-time steals. In 1999 he won a league-leading 23 games against just four defeats, compiling a league-leading 2.07 ERA and striking out 313 batters. That produced a 243 ERA+ which was 107 points higher than the runner-up, and 4.92 standard deviations better than the average for qualifying AL pitchers.

 

T-18. Steve Carlton, 1980 Philadelphia Phillies, +2.83. Carlton was the ace of the first Phillies world championship team in the franchise’s 97-season history. He led the National League in victories (24), starts (38), innings (304) and strikeouts (286). In the nearly four decades since Carlton’s performance, no major league pitcher has managed a 300 innings workload, a circumstance that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

 

  1. Robin Roberts, 1953 Philadelphia Phillies, +2.84. For pure doggedness, nobody surpasses Roberts, the ace of the 1950s Phillies. In 1953 he logged 346.2 innings, his fourth of six consecutive seasons above 300 innings. That was as extraordinary then as it sounds today; the runner-up in innings pitched managed “only” 265 and the average for all NL ERA qualifiers was 197. When you do the math, that puts Roberts’ 1953 workload 3.70 standard deviations ahead of the norm, making it the most exceptional era-adjusted workload in MLB history. Even setting volume aside, Roberts was solid. He won 23 games and struck out 198, both also league-leading totals.

 

  1. Dolf Luque, 1923 Cincinnati Reds, +2.88. Luque was one of the game’s first Latin stars, arriving in 1914 and developing into a front-liner, mostly for the Cincinnati Reds. But 1923 was indisputably his high mark; he led the National League with 27 victories and a 1.93 ERA, his 37 starts including six shutouts. Luque’s 201 ERA+ was 62 points better than the runner-up, who happened to be teammate Eppa Rixey. This may prompt a question regarding exactly how the Reds failed to win the pennant? The answer lay in an indifferent supporting cast. The Reds’ offense merely matched the league norms in both average and power categories,

 

  1. Amos Rusie, 1894 New York Giants, +2.90. Rusie was famously nicknamed the Hoosier Thunderbolt for two obvious reasons, only one of which involved his Mooresville, Ind., birthplace. He was the first in a lineage of wide proclaimed “speedballers” that would over time grow to encompass Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Bob Feller and Randy Johnson. In 1894, Rusie won 36 games for the New York Giants, posting a league-best 2.78 ERA. If that sounds unremarkable, consider that the league batting average in 1894 was .309, and that NL teams averaged more than seven runs per game.

 

  1. Dizzy Trout, 1944 Detroit Tigers, +2.91. It would be an interesting debate whether the name of Trout or Luque was the least likely to show up on this list. Because the Tigers failed (by one game) to undermine the Cinderella story that was the St. Louis Browns’ race to their only AL pennant, Trout’s season is easy to overlook. Here’s a refresher. He won 27 games, led the AL with a 2.12 earned run average, made 40 starts, completed 33 of them, threw seven shutouts, and logged 352.1 innings. That translated to a 167 ERA+. The real reason Trout’s 1944 rates so highly on this list, though is that workload; it stands 3.37 standard deviations above the AL average for the season, making it the most exceptional workload – when normalized for era – in American League history.

 

T-12. Steve Carlton, 1972 Philadelphia Phillies, +2.98. Carlton’s 1972 season is routinely included in discussions of great seasons for what he had to overcome. The Phillies were terrible in 1972, winning just 59 games with a collective .236 batting average that produced just 3.22 runs per game. Yet Carlton won 27 times in 41 starts, 30 of which he completed. The losses were often excruciating, three of them coming by one run in games in which Carlton gave up two runs or fewer.

 

T-12. Lefty Grove, 1931 Philadelphia Athletics, +2.98. Grove’s 1931 season completed a three-season swing in which he led the A’s to three consecutive pennants and two World Series wins. He ran up a 3-14 record and his third straight ERA title (at 2.06) with 27 complete games. His 288.2 innings of work failed to lead the league only because teammate Rube Walberg managed 291, but his 217 ERA+ was 4.25 standard deviations better than the AL average for 1931.

 

  1. Cy Young, 1901 Boston Americans, 3.04. In mid-season, Young won the 300th game of his big league career. He was 34 at the time and had 211 more victories left in his arm toward an all-time record of 511 that hasn’t been threatened in the intervening 117 seasons and probably won’t be. A star in the National League for the previous decade, he jumped to the newly formed American League to cash in on his status as the day’s best pitcher, and produced 33 wins on a league-leading 1.62 ERA. His 219 ERA+ is nearly 90 points better than anybody else.

 

  1. Randy Johnson, 2002 Arizona Diamondbacks, +3.07. In 2002 Johnson won 24 of his 29 decisions, and did so with a league-leading 2.23 ERA across a league-leading 260 innings of work. Naturally that produced his fourth consecutive Cy Young Award in a unanimous vote. His 195 ERA+ was 3.53 standard deviations better than the league average.

 

  1. Greg Maddux, 1995 Atlanta Braves, +3.13. Maddux unanimously won his fourth straight Cy Young Award for reasons that will be evident in the next sentence. He led the NL in victories (19), took only two defeats, compiled a league-leading 1.63 ERA, and led in innings for the fifth straight season. That combined to net a 260 ERA+ that stood 4.68 standard deviations ahead of the NL average and still ranks as the fifth best of all time. Oh, and the Braves won the World Series.

 

  1. Randy Johnson, 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks, +3.18. Having been signed by the Diamondbacks as a free agent, Johnson promptly led the second-year franchise to the quickest division title in expansion history. He led the league in ERA (2.48), starts (35), complete games (12), strikeouts (364) and innings pitched (271.2). The combination led to his second Cy Young Award (and first of four straight with Arizona).

 

  1. Walter Johnson, 1913 Washington Senators, +3.20. In 1913 Johnson pitched 346 innings, 30 more than any other AL pitcher, and compiled an extraordinary 259 ERA+, the sixth best f all time and third best in American League history. How? Try a 36-7 record and 1.14 ERA with 29 complete games and 11 shutouts. In an era when strikeouts were rare and contact was prized, Johnson whiffed 243 batters in 1913, nearly 70 more than anybody else.

 

  1. Pedro Martinez, 2000 Boston Red Sox, +3.23. When serious SABRmetricians rank pitching seasons, this is the one they often identify as the best ever. There is good reason to do so. Martinez compiled a1.74ERA during a season in which the AL average was 4.91. That translates to a 291 ERA+, the second best of all time, 150 points better than the runner-up and an extraordinary 5.42 standard deviations better than the average. Even when Martinez lost he was exceptional; four of his seven defeats came by scores of 1-0 or 2-1, and only one was by a margin of more than two runs. Where Martinez’ 2000 comes up a bit short by comparison with other remarkable seasons in this ranking is workload. He pitched 217 innings, a total exceeded by six other pitchers that season, although still notably above the 197 inning average for qualifying AL pitchers.

 

  1. Walter Johnson, 1912 Washington Senators, +3.29. Johnson’s 1912 season was even better than his remarkable 1913. Working an extraordinary 369 innings, he produced a league-leading 1.39 ERA, fanned 303 batters, and won 16 consecutive games in mid-season. His 243 ERA+ translated to 4.26 standard deviations better than the league average.

 

  1. Bob Gibson, 1968 St. Louis Cardinals, +3.36. Gibson’s 1.12 is the fourth lowest in major league history, and the lowest since 1914. As good as it was, his 22-9 record could have been even more impressive: in six of his nine losses, he allowed two earned runs or fewer. Between May 12 and May 28, Gibson went 0-4, losing by scores of 3-2, 1-0, 2-0 and 3-1. He struck out 268 opponents, pitched 304.2 innings, and threw 13 shutouts. Not surprisingly, he was a unanimous Cy Young Award winner. For good measure, he also took home the MVP, beating out Pete Rose and Willie McCovey.

 

  1. Grover Cleveland Alexander, 1915 Philadelphia Phillies, +3.51. Of all Alexander’s exceptional seasons, 1915 stands out. He won 31 games, led the National League with a 1.22 ERA, pitched 12 shutouts and worked 376.1 innings, carrying the Phillies to their first pennant. His 225 ERA+ was 4.22 standard deviations better than the league average, and his workload was 2.79 standard deviations ahead of the curve.

 

  1. Roger Clemens, 1997 Toronto Blue Jays, +3.57. Coming off a 10-13 record that got him run out of Boston as a washed-up 33 year old, Clemens resurrected his career during his two seasons in Toronto. This was the better of the two and the best of his career; he won 21 times, led the AL with a 2.05 ERA while striking out a career-best 292. His 222 ERA+ was 3.67 standard deviations better than the league average, but his 264 innings of effort – against the league average of 203 for ERA qualifiers — truly set him apart, standing 2.46 standard deviations to the good. When you combine quality with quantity, you get one of the legendary seasons in baseball history.

 

  1. Greg Maddux, 1994 Atlanta Braves, +3.72. Here’s a parlor game: Project what Greg Maddux might have done had not the strike intervened to abort the 1994 season. When it did, he had already won 16 games with a 1.56 ERA, 25 starts and 10 complete games across 202 innings of work. Projected across a full 162-game load, that works out to 24 victories, 37 starts, 15 complete games and 303 innings of a 1.56 ERA. The strike, of course, overwhelms our collective memory of what Maddux actually did, so let it be noted that when action stopped his 271 ERA+ — the fourth best of all time — was already 92 points better than the runner-up, and his 202 innings were already 23 better. His third of an eventual four successive Cy Young Awards followed unanimously.

 

 

The 25 most dominant offensive seasons in baseball history

Methodology: Each player’s rating is based on the average of two elements. The first is the standard deviation of his OPS+ measured against the average of all players in that league with sufficient plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. The second is the standard deviation of his plate appearances measured against the average of all players in that league with sufficient plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. OPS+ is used because it is the most accurate and comprehensive expression of exceptionality in batting. Major League Baseball defines OPS+ as follows: “OPS+ takes a player’s on-base plus slugging percentage and normalizes the number across the entire league. It accounts for external factors like ballparks. It then adjusts so a score of 100 is league average, and 150 is 50 percent better than the league average.” In civilian terms, OPS+ is the sum of the player’s on base average and the player’s slugging average with a park adjustment. The illustration below, from the famous 1930 National League season when the league as a whole batted .303, serves as an illustration of the method. The average OPS+ for the 42 qualified National League batters in 1920 was 113.10; the standard deviation was 30.51. The average number of plate appearances

 

Rank      1930 NL Player                  Team                     OPS+     PA          OPSSD  PASD     Avg. SD

  1. Hack Wilson Cubs                      177         709         2.09       1.24       1.65
  2. Babe Herman Dodgers               169         699         1.83       1.11       1.46
  3. Chuck Klein Phillies                  159         722        1.50       1.41       1.46
  4. Bill Terry Giants                   158         708         1.47       1.23       1.35
  5. Kiki Cuyler Cubs                      133         741         0.70       1.66       1.18
  6. Woody English Cubs                      125         755         0.45       1.84       1.15
  7. Fred Lindstrom Giants                   141         671         0.95       0.75       0.85
  8. Mel Ott Giants                   150         648         1.22       0.45       0.84
  9. Paul Waner Pirates                  129         666         0.58       0.69       0.63
  10. Adam Comorosky Pirates                  114         684         0.11       0.92       0.52
  11. Taylor Douthit Cardinals              87          748         -0.72      1.75       0.51
  12. George Grantham Pirates                  127         652         0.51       0.51       0.51
  13. Wally Berger Braves                  137         628         0.82       0.20       0.51
  14. Lefty O’Doul Phillies                  146         606         1.10       -0.09      0.51
  15. Johnny Frederick Dodgers               117         673         0.21       0.78       0.49
  16. Del Bissonette Dodgers               120         643         0.30       0.39       0.34
  17. Gabby Hartnett Cubs                      144         577         1.04       -0.46      0.29
  18. Pinky Whitney Phillies                    98         660         -0.38      0.61       0.11
  19. Frankie Frisch Cardinals              118         611         0.124    -0.02      0.11
  20. Gus Suhr Pirates                  106         638         -0.13      0.32       0.10
  21. Harry Heilmann Reds                      143         539         1.01       -0.96      0.03
  22. Pie Traynor Pirates                  124         572         0.42       -0.53      -0.05
  23. Wally Gilbert Dodgers                 75         688         -1.09      0.97       -0.06
  24. Chick Hafey Cardinals              146         515         1.10       -1.27      -0.08
  25. Glenn Wright Pirates                  114         581         0.11       -0.41      -0.15
  26. Hughie Critz 2 teams                  55         707         -1.71      1.22       -0.25
  27. Sparky Adams Cardinals                83         629         -0.84      0.21       -0.32
  28. Freddy Leach Giants                   103         581         -0.23      -0.41      -0.32
  29. Curt Walker Reds                      110         547         -0.01      0.85       -0.43
  30. Jim Bottomley Cardinals              102         562         -0.26      -0.66      -0.46
  31. Rabbit Maranville Braves                    74         628         -1.12      0.20       -0.46
  32. Charlie Gelbert Cardinals               89         574         -0.66      -0.50      -0.58
  33. Dick Bartell Pirates                  103         539         -0.23      -0.96      -0.59
  34. Joe Stripp Reds                      100         533         -0.32      -1.03      -0.68
  35. Travis Jackson Giants                   120         482         0.30       -1.69      -0.70
  36. Footsie Blair Cubs                        65         610         -1.40      -0.04      -0.72
  37. Tony Cuccinello Reds                      105         506         -0.16      -1.38      -0.77
  38. Tommy Thevenow Phillies                    52         624         -1.80      0.14       -0.83
  39. Lance Richburg Braves                    77         557         -1.03      -0.72      -0.88
  40. Bob Meusel Reds                        93         484         -0.54      -1.67      -1.10
  41. Fresco Thompson Phillies                    70         529         -1.24      -1.09      -1.17
  42. Charlie Grimm Cubs                        83         490         -0.84      -1.59      -1.22
  43. Fred Maguire Braves                    53         557         -1.77      -0.72      -1.25
  44. Fred Brickell 2 teams                 61         496         -1.52      -1.51      -1.52

 

Summary: It will surprise nobody familiar with baseball history that the list of greatest hitting seasons in baseball history, as measured by the standard deviation of OPS+ (on base percentage plus slugging percentage normalized for park effects) and plate appearances is dominated by  three players. Those three, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, jointly have produced 11 of the 19 best and six of the 10 best.

 

Disclaimer: Our perceptions of the strength of individuals can be colored by factors that are extraneous to their actual dominance: general familiarity, the presence or absence of attention-getting personalities, subjective opinions that become engrained over time, superiority in certain statistical categories being the most likely. This rating is based on an objective methodology, meaning that it is immune to influence from any of those criteria. That also means its findings may vary – in some cases substantially – from the historical consensus. As you scan this list, be prepared to have your presumptions of relative greatness challenged.

 

Steroid era revisions: With four seasons, Barry Bonds is a dominant presence on this list. The fact that his is also the pre-eminent face of the game’s steroid era may taint the findings for some. Those folks may prefer a parallel list which does not include steroid-qualified seasons, essentially those between 1998 and 2005. For them, let it be noted that places 26 through 28 on this list – 23 through 25 were one to strike Bonds’ 2001, 2002 and 2004 seasons – were 1986 Don Mattingly, 2.24, plus 1926 and 1928 Babe Ruth as well as 2013 Mike Trout, all tied at 2.23.

 

T-24. Joey Votto, 2015 Cincinnati Reds, 2.25: Votto’s is one of three top 25 seasons that was not also the best of that particular year. Bryce Harper had an even better 2015; stand by for further developments on Harper. Often noted and sometimes derided for his plate discipline, Votto took a league-leading 143 bases on balls in 2015 on his way to a .315 batting average and 29 home runs. Votto’s strength was his work ethic; he got 695 plate appearances, 1.64 standard deviations better than the field average that season and 41 more than Harper, who had the better OPS+.

 

T-24, Jim Rice, 1978 Boston Red Sox, 2.25: This was Rice’s best season. In a league-leading 746 plate appearances he also led the American League in hits (213), home runs (46), RBIs (139) and slugging average (.600).  Rice deservedly won the MVP by wide margin over Ron Guidry despite Guidry’s 25-3 record for the World Champion Yankees.

 

 

T-22. Jeff Bagwell, 1994 Houston Astros, 2.26: Some are suspicious of the legitimacy of Bagwell’s numbers, but that suspicion has never advanced into the realm of the evidentiary. His 1994 performance, while not seemingly in a class with others on this list, was good enough to win the National League MVP unanimously. In that strike-shortened season, he hit 39 home runs, drove in a league-leading 116, batted .368, and led the league in slugging at .750. For the record, the league slugging average that year was .415.

 

T-22. Napoleon Lajoie, 1910 Cleveland Naps. This was the season of the famous Cobb-Lajoie batting duel when Lajoie collected seven controversial hits during a final-day doubleheader to edge out Cobb by one point (.384 to .383) and win the batting title as well as the automobile prize that went with it. It was Lajoie’s fifth batting title. The Cleveland star collected a league-leading 304 total bases in 1910, but the true measure of his superiority to Cobb that season lay in his work ethic. Nap had 677 plate appearances – 96 more than  the average of qualifying players – while Cobb had just nine more.

 

  1. Honus Wagner, 1908 Pittsburgh Pirates, 2.29: His age 34 season was probably the best individual one of Wagner’s Hall of Fame career. In the depths of the dead ball era – the NL batting average was .239 — he batted .354 with a .415 on base average and .542 slugging average, easily leading the National League in all three categories. He also drove in a league-leading 109 runs, and his 53 stolen bases led in that category as well. His .957 OPS was 141 points better than the runner-up, and his 205 OPS+ is essentially a statement that he was twice as good as the average hitter that year. A member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class, Wagner played for 21 seasons.

 

  1. Albert Pujols, 2009 Cardinals, 2.32: Statistically Pujols’ best season, he had a career-high 700 plate appearances, batted .327 and led the National League in both on base (.443) and slugging (.658). That explains his 189 OPS+, 3.14 standard deviations better than the field average. The combination made Pujols a unanimous choice for MVP, his third such award and second in succession. It also carried the Cardinals to the NL Central title.

 

  1. Ted Williams, 1942 Boston Red Sox, 2.32: With American ballplayers joining their fellow citizens in marching off to war, the talent level began a four-season decline. Williams, who was 23, would in short order join that march to uniform, but in 1942 he remained a full-time player. He batted .356, adding to that 145 bases on balls for a .499 on base average. Williams also led the AL in home runs with 36, leading to a .648 slugging average that was 135 points higher than the runner-up.

 

  1. Barry Bonds, 2002 San Francisco Giants, 2.35: With Bonds as their centerpiece, the Giants won the National League pennant and took the Angels to a seventh World Series game before losing. Bonds’ home run total fell to 46, but that was largely because teams simply refused to pitch to him. He received 198 bases on balls, nearly one for every two official at bats. At a career-best .370, Bonds won his first batting title, adding a .582 on base average and .799 slugging average. That led to an OPS+ of 268, the best of all time and nearly 100 points ahead of runner-up Brian Giles. In fact Bonds led Giles by as large a margin as Giles led the man who finished 63rd. He was, to state the obvious, a unanimous MVP choice.

 

  1. Ty Cobb, 1917 Detroit Tigers, 2.37. At age 30, Cobb’s batting title – at .383 by 30 points over runner-up George Sisler – was his 10th since 1907. He led in on base (.444) and slugging percentage (.570), the latter by 84 points over Tris Speaker. Cobb also led in doubles, triples and stolen bases. Judging strictly by numbers, this does not appear to be a remarkable Cobb season. After all he had six higher batting averages – three of them surpassing .400 – 10 better on base averages and four higher slugging averages. Consider, however, that the American League as a whole batted just .248 in 1917, with a .318 on base average and a .320 slugging average. Seen in that context, Cobb’s dominance shines through.

 

  1. Bryce Harper, 2015 Washington Nationals, 2.38: This was the season that ratified Harper’s reputation as the modern game’s pre-eminent young talent. At age 22, he batted .330 with 42 home runs and 124 walks. Those were good enough to lead the league in both on base (.460) and slugging (.649), creating a 1.109 OPS. It was a breathtaking combination, a full 100 points better than the OPS runner up in a season when the league averages were .316 and .397, and it deservedly won Harper the National League MVP.

 

T-14. Rogers Hornsby, 1922 St. Louis Cardinals, 2.39. This was Hornsby’s first of three .400 seasons, the irony being that the only one of those three not among the 25 greatest batting seasons of all time was his .424 average in 1924. In 1922, he swept the league stats, leading in runs scored, hits – with 250 –doubles, home runs (42), RBIs (152), on base, slugging, OPS and total bases. His 1.097 OPS was the first of eight such seasons he would produce during the 1920s. Hornsby’s .722 slugging average was 150 percentage points ahead of the runner-up and broke Hornsby’s own previous league record – set in 1921 – by 83 points.

 

T-14. Stan Musial, 1948 St. Louis Cardinals, 2.39: In 1948, Musial, then 27, was at his most dominant. His league-leading 230 hits including 103 for extra bases, 39 of them home runs, and a league-leading 131 RBIs. With career-high batting (.376), on base (.450) and slugging (.703), averages, he produced a 1.152 OPS translating to a 200 OPS+ that was 44 points better than the runner-up. His 698 plate appearances were the league’s second highest total. Musial was an obvious MVP choice, the surprise being that he did not win unanimously; Johnny Sain, pitcher for the pennant winning Braves, got five of the 24 first place votes and Braves shortstop Alvin Dark got one.

 

  1. Babe Ruth, 1924 New York Yankees, 2.44: The Yankees finished two games behind the surprising Senators in the AL race, but the fault was hardly Ruth’s. At .378 he won his only batting title, adding a .513 on base average and .739 slugging average. Although not especially remarkable for Ruth, those numbers were extraordinary for a year when the average American Leaguer had a .358 on base and .397 slugging average. Ruth won the on base title by 62 points, and won the slugging title by 206 points. That meant a normal OPS was .755; Ruth’s was 1.252. The runner-up was nearly 300 points behind him.

 

  1. Babe Ruth, 1923 New York Yankees, 2.45: By 1923 Ruth was a 28-year-old star of a magnitude never before seen in sports. He hit 41 home runs, which sounds pedestrian by Ruthian standards, but he was the only hitter with 30 or more. More critically to his OPS, Ruth drew 170 bases on balls; the runner-up in that category drew 98. Combine that with 99 extra base hits and – even in a season when the league OPS was .739 – you get a remarkable 239 OPS+, meaning that statistically Ruth was more than twice as dominant as the average AL batter.

 

  1. Barry Bonds, 2001 San Francisco Giants, 2.48: Chronologically this was the first of Bonds’ mega seasons. It was the year he broke the single-season home record with 73, and he drew what to that point was a career-high 177 walks in the process, creating a .515 on base average and unthinkable .863 slugging average that remains the all-time record. His fourth career MVP, again in a runaway, followed naturally.

 

  1. Babe Ruth, 1927 New York Yankees, 2.49: When people think of Ruth, this is the season they think of. Sixty home runs in an age when entire teams didn’t hit as many will have that effect. The surprise, of course, isn’t that Ruth’s 1927 is on the list but that there were nine better…including one of Ruth’s and one other from 1927. If this were the best the Babe did, it would be pretty salty. Beyond the 60 homers, he led the league in walks (137), on base average (.486) and slugging (.772). Ruth’s 1927 fails to measure up to Lou Gehrig’s simply because Gehrig got 27 more plate appearances, and as with other occupations, in baseball showing up is valuable in and of itself. The truly amazing aspect of Ruth’s 1927 season is that 26 American League players received Most Valuable Player award votes, yet the Babe was nowhere among them. Ira Flagstead, Hod Lisenbee, Phil Todt, Bill Regan and Frank O’Rourke all got votes; Babe Ruth did not. You can look it up.

 

  1. Ross Barnes, 1876 Chicago White Stockings, 2.53: Barnes, who only hard-core baseball historians have even heard of, was the National League’s first star. In the league’s inaugural season, Barnes led in runs scored, its, doubles, triples and walks. His .429 batting average was abetted by a practice known as “fair-foul” hitting – outlawed after 1876 – by which any ball initially landing in fair territory was counted as fair even if it subsequently rolled or bounced foul. Adept at that practice, Barnes finished 63 points ahead of the pack in average, 78 points ahead in on base average and 45 points ahead in slugging. In other words, he was the central offensive factor behind the White Stockings’ capturing of the first National League pennant.

 

  1. Frank Thomas, 1994 Chicago White Sox, 2.55: Thomas was 26 during the strike season, in his playing prime, and the stoppage halted what might have been a legendary campaign. He was on pace to score nearly 160 runs, drive in 165, approach 60 home runs and 70 doubles. Thomas batted .353 with a .487 on base average and .729 slugging average, leading the league in both of those departments. His 1.217 OPS was an AL high since Ted Williams in 1946, and has not since been approached. Thomas won his second consecutive MVP Award by a wide margin.

 

  1. Barry Bonds, 2004 San Francisco Giants, 2.56: The apex of Bonds’ career, 2004 produced a league-leading .362 batting average, a career-best .609 on base average that remains the all-time record, and an .812 slugging average. The result was a 263 OPS+, trailing only Bonds’ 2002 season all time. His 2004 numbers rank ahead of his 2002 numbers because they were slightly more exceptional. In 2002, the standard deviation of the OPS+ of 80 players who qualified for the batting title was 32.99; in 2004 the comparable figure was 29.64. So Version 2004 of Bonds was slightly more exceptional than Version 2002. His fourth consecutive MVP selection, and seventh overall, was close by standards of the Bonds era, coming by 96 points over Adrian Beltre.

 

  1. Barry Bonds, 1993 San Francisco Giants, 2.58: The least questioned of Bonds’ brilliant offensive seasons, his first in San Francisco produced a league-leading 46 home runs, a league-leading 123 RBIs, a league-leading .458 on base average, a league-leading .677 slugging average, and (naturally) a league-leading 1.136 OPS. That made Bonds the first player to top 1.100 in OPS since George Brett in 1980, and the first to do it in the National League since Stan Musial in 1948.

 

  1. Ted Williams, 1949 Boston Red Sox, 2.58: Williams lost the batting title fractionally to George Kell (both hit .343), but added 162 walks, 43 home runs and 85 extra base hits to that. The result was a league-leading .490 on base average – 51 percentage points better than the runner-up – and a .650 slugging average that was 111 percentage points superior to the runner-up. Williams’ .343 batting average was actually fairly pedestrian by the standards he had set – three higher batting averages in his first eight seasons. But it was also his fourth successive post-war OPS above 1.100; the next best over that time was Joe DiMaggio at .994. Deservedly, Williams was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player.

 

  1. Stan Musial, 1946 St. Louis Cardinals, 2.58: The key factor in the Cardinals’ World Series winning season, Musial led the National League in every significant offensive category except home runs and stolen bases. He produced 366 total bases, 83 more than the runner-up (teammate Enos Slaughter) and 104 more than any individual National League opponent. As with Musial’s 1948, the surprise wasn’t that he won the MVP, but that the honor wasn’t unanimous; Slaughter picked up two first place votes.

 

  1. Lou Gehrig, 1927 New York Yankees, 2.63: Gehrig’s 60 home runs better Gehrig’s 47, but Gehrig drove in 173 runs and accumulated 447 total bases, probably the key factors in his MVP Award. Gehrig batted .373 with a .474 on base average and .765 slugging average, and while the 220 OPS+ those numbers produced didn’t match Ruth’s 225, Gehrig’s 26 additional plate appearances more than made up the difference. The MVP award was Gehrig’s first of two – he would also win in 1936.

 

  1. Babe Ruth, 1921 New York Yankees, 2.65: In the best season of Ruth’s transcendent career, he broke the home run record for the third consecutive year (with 59), drove in a career-best 168 runs, batted .378, reached base more than half the time, and compiled an .846 slugging percentage. The league average in that category was .408. Ruth’s OPS+ was 238; runner-up Harry Heilmann , who batted .394 to win that title, managed a 167 OPS+.

 

  1. Ted Williams, 1947 Boston Red Sox, 2.73: This was Williams at his iconically most selective. He won the batting title at .343, layering on top of that a personal best 162 bases on balls to produce a .499 on base average. Williams never got himself out in 1949. His 81 extra base hits fueled a .634 slugging average which combined with his plate discipline to yield a 1.133 OPS. The margin between Williams and the OPS runner-up, Joe DiMaggio, was 220 points, equaling the margin between DiMaggio and the man who finished 34th. That is the definition of dominance. This was the season when Williams famously finished second (by one point) to DiMaggio in the MVP voting because one voter – who disliked Williams’ churlish nature with the press – left the Boston slugger off his top 10 ballot entirely.

The 25 most dominant baseball teams in history

Methodology: Each team’s rating is based on the sum of the standard deviation of its run scoring measured against the league average plus the inverse of the standard deviation of its run prevention measured against the league average. The example below shows the scores for each team during the 2017 American League season. The average runs scored was 762.87; the standard deviation 63.01. The average runs prevented was 755.80; the standard deviation was 86.20:

2017                                                       Runs      St. Dev. Allow.   Inv. SD. Score

Cleveland Indians                             818         0.87        564         2.23        3.10

Houston Astros                                 896         2.11        700         0.65        2.76

New York Yankees                           858         1.51        660         1.11        2.62

Boston Red Sox                                 785         0.35        668         1.02        1.37

Minnesota Twins                              815         0.83        788       -0.37       0.46

Texas Rangers                                   799         0.57        816       -0.70       -0.13

Los Angeles-Anaheim Angels      710       -0.84       709         0.54        -0.30

Seattle Mariners                               750       -0.20       772       -0.19       -0.39

Tampa Bay Rays                                694       -1.09       704         0.60        -0.49

Oakland A’s                                        739       -0.38       826       -0.81       -1.19

Baltimore Orioles                             743       -0.32       841       -0.99       -1.31

Kansas City Royals                            702       -0.97       791       -0.41       -1.38

Toronto Blue Jays                             693       -1.11       784       -0.33       -1.44

Chicago White Sox                           706       -0.90       820       -0.74       -1.64

Detroit Tigers                                     735       -0.44       894       -1.60       -2.04

               

 

Disclaimer: Our perceptions of the strength of teams (or individuals) can be colored by factors that are extraneous to their actual dominance: general familiarity, the presence or absence of attention-getting personalities, subjective opinions that become engrained over time, superiority in certain statistical categories being the most likely. This rating is based on an objective methodology, meaning that it is immune to influence from any of those criteria. That also means its findings may vary – in some cases substantially – from the historical consensus. As you scan this list, be prepared to have your presumptions of relative greatness challenged.

 

 

  1. 1971 Baltimore Orioles (3.073)

Record: 101-57

Post-season:  Beat Oakland Athletics 3-0 in ALCS; lost to Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Brooks Robinson 6.0; 2. Merv Rettenmund 5.8; 3. Don Buford 5.1; 4. Mark Belanger 4.6; 5. Davey Johnson 4.4.

Run differential: Scored 742 (1st), allowed 530 (1st).

Hall of Famers (4): Brooks Robinson (third base), Frank Robinson (outfield), Jim Palmer (pitcher), Earl Weaver (manager).

In a paragraph: The third consecutive Orioles pennant winner  featured a balanced approach that scored 41 more runs than any other team and allowed 34 fewer. This was the club with four 20-game winners: Dave McNally (21), and Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson (20 each).

 

  1. 2016 Chicago Cubs (3.074)

Record: 103-58

Post-season:  Beat San Francisco Giants 3-1 in NLDS; beat Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 in NLCS; beat Cleveland Indians 4-3 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Kris Bryant 7.7; 2. Anthony Rizzo 5.8; 3. Jon Lester 5.2; 4. Kyle Hendricks 4.9; 5. Addison Russell 4.3.

Run differential: Scored 808 (2nd), allowed 556 (1st).

Hall of Famers (None eligible).

In a paragraph: The first Cubs World Series champions in 108 seasons led their division for all but one day, winning by 17.5 games.

 

  1. 1912 New York Giants (3.09)

Record: 103-48

Post-season:  Lost 4-3-1 to Philadelphia Athletics in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Christy Mathewson 7.8; Rube Marquard 5.8; 3. Larry Doyle 5.0; 4. Jeff Tesreau 4.7; Chief Meyers 4.6.

Run differential: Scored 823 (1st), allowed 571 (2nd).

Hall of Famers (3): Christy Mathewson (pitcher), Rube Marquard (pitcher), John McGraw (manager).

In a paragraph: Mathewson and Marquard combined for 49 victories in 72 starts, 49 of them complete games. The Giants may have been one of the runningest teams in history, stealing 319 bases, better than two per game. They featured eight players with 20 or more steals.

 

  1. 1882 Chicago White Stockings (3.096)

Record: 55-29

Post-season:  None.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Larry Corcoran 5.8; 2. Fred Goldsmith 4.6; 3. Cap Anson 4.4; 4. Ned Williamson 4.0; 5. George Gore 3.3.

Run differential: Scored 604 (1st), allowed 353 (1st).

Hall of Famers (2): Cap Anson (first base), King Kelly (catcher-outfielder).

In a paragraph: The 1882 team was Chicago’s third consecutive pennant winner, and all three of those teams rank among the best in history. Corcoran and Goldsmith split 55 victories, and Anson batted .362.

 

  1. 2017 Cleveland Indians (3.105)

Record: 102-60

Post-season:  Lost to New York Yankees 3-2 in ALDS.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Corey Kluber 8.1; 2. Jose Ramirez 6.8; 3. Francisco Lindor 5.5; 4. Carlos Carrasco 5.4; 5. Carlos Santana 3.4.

Run differential: Scored 818 (3rd), allowed 564 (1st).

Hall of Famers (None eligible).

In a paragraph: The Indians won an American League record 22 consecutive games, allowing just 37 runs in the process. Lindor batted .337 with 33 home runs. Their ALDS loss to New York was further proof that anything can happen in a short series.

 

  1. 2013 St. Louis Cardinals (3.12)

Record: 97-65

Post-season:  Beat Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 in NLDS; beat Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 in NLCS; lost to Boston Red Sox 4-2 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Matt Carpenter 6.4; 2. Adam Wainwright 6.4; 3. Yadier Molina 5.6; 4. Shelby Miller 3.3; 5. Joe Kelly 2.6.

Run differential: Scored 783 (1st), allowed 596 (5th).

Hall of Famers: None eligible.

In a paragraph: The Cardinals averaged a half run per game more than any other NL team. At. 319, Molina led four Cardinals above .300. Wainwright won 19 times.

 

 

  1. 1970 Baltimore Orioles (3.166)

Record: 104-58

Post-season: Beat Minnesota Twins 3-0 in ALCS; beat Cincinnati Reds 4-1 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Jim Palmer 6.5; 2. Paul Blair 5.8; 3. Boog Powell 5.1; 4. Frank Robinson 4.8; 5. Merv Rettenmund 4.8.

Run differential: Scored 792 (1st), allowed 574 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (4): Jim Palmer (pitcher), Frank Robinson (outfield), Brooks Robinson (third base), Earl Weaver (manager).

In a paragraph: The only World Series winner among Baltimore’s three straight pennant winners, this team assumed first place for good in late April. Their longest losing streak was just three games, and it came in the season’s second week.

 

  1. 1880 Chicago White Stockings (3.171)

Record: 67-17

Post-season:  None.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Larry Corcoran 6.9; 2. Cap Anson 5.0; 3. George Gore 4.6; 4. Abner Dalrymple 3.4; 5. Fred Goldsmith 3.3.

Run differential: Scored 538 (1st), allowed 317 (1st).

Hall of Famers (2): Cap Anson (first base), King Kelly (catcher-outfielder).

In a paragraph: Largely forgotten today, Corcoran was the find of the season. A 20-year-old rookie, he pitched 536 innings, won 43 games, and pitched a no-hitter. Gore batted .360 and Anson drove in 74 runs in 84 games.

 

  1. 1969 Baltimore Orioles (3.20)

Record: 109-53

Post-season: Beat Minnesota Twins 3-0 in ALCS; lost to New York Mets 4-1 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Frank Robinson 7.5; 2. Paul Blair 7.1; 3. Boog Powell 5.9; 4. Don Buford 4.8; 5. Jim Palmer 4.3.

Run differential: Scored 779 (2md), allowed 517 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (4): Jim Palmer (pitcher), Frank Robinson (outfield), Brooks Robinson (third base), Earl Weaver (manager).

In a paragraph: Pay no attention to the World Series loss to the Mets, these Orioles proved their superiority over the length of the season. They held first place from April 16 to season’s end, winning by 19 games. The pitching staff and defense allowed just 3.2 runs per game, nearly a run below the league average.

 

  1. 1990 Oakland Athletics (3.23)

Record: 103-59

Post-season: Beat Boston Red Sox 4-0 in ALCS; lost to Cincinnati Reds 4-0 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Rickey Henderson 9.9; 2. Mark McGwire 5.7; 3. Jose Canseco 5.4; 4. Dave Stewart 5.2; 5. Dave Henderson 4.8.

Run differential: Scored 733 (3rd), allowed 570 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (3): Rickey Henderson (outfield), Dennis Eckersley (pitcher), Tony LaRussa (manager).

In a paragraph: The third of three straight pennant winners, Oakland’s 1990 team was widely viewed as the best of them; hence, the World Series sweep at the hands of Cincinnati stands as one of the bigger post-season upsets of all time. McGwire and Canseco both pressed 40 home runs and topped 100 RBIs. Bob Welch won 27 games, the most by any pitcher in more than two decades.

 

  1. 1988 New York Mets (3.24)

Record: 100-60

Post-season: Lost to Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 in NLCS.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Dave Cone 5.8; 2. Darryl Strawberry 5.4; 3. Kevin McReynolds 4.5; 4. Dwight Gooden 4.0; 5. Ron Darling 3.6.

Run differential: Scored 703 (1st), allowed 532 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (1): Gary Carter, catcher.

In a paragraph: The Mets lost three of their first five, then won 19 of their next 23. With no pennant pressure, they closed by winning 29 of their final 37 before losing to the force and will of Orel Hershiser in the 1988 NLCS.

 

  1. 2016 Boston Red Sox (3.26)

Record: 93-69

Post-season: Lost 3-0 to Cleveland Indians in ALDS.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Mookie Betts 9.5; 2. Dustin Pedroia 5.7; 3. Jackie Bradley Jr. 5.3; 4. Rick Porcello 5.2; 5. David Ortiz 5.1.

Run differential: Scored 878 (1st), allowed 694 (3rd).

Hall of Famers (None eligible)

In a paragraph: In the regular season, the Red Sox scored 101 more runs than the Cleveland Indians, had 163 more hits, 23 more home runs, and 103 more RBIs. But Cleveland had the better pitching staff, and in a best-of-five series pitching prevailed. Had the Red Sox won the World Series – as they easily might have gone on to do – we would all rank them among the great teams in history.

 

  1. 1975 Cincinnati Reds (3.275)

Record: 108-54

Post-season: Beat Pittsburgh Pirates 3-0 in NLCS; beat Boston Red Sox 4-3 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Joe Morgan 10.9; 2. Johnny Bench 6.6; 3. George Foster 4.8; Pete Rose 4.1; 5. Cesar Geronimo 4.1.

Run differential: Scored 840 (1st), allowed 586 (2nd).

Hall of Famers (4): Joe Morgan (second base), Johnny Bench (catcher), Tony Perez (first base), Sparky Anderson (manager).

In a paragraph: The interesting thing isn’t that the Reds won the World Series, but that the Red Sox extended them to seven games. They led the majors in RBIs, walks and on base average, all with an offense that featured three future Hall of Famers in their prime as well as Pete Rose. Morgan batted .327 and Rose .317.

 

  1. 2015 Toronto Blue Jays (3.279)

Record: 93-69

Post-season: Beat Texas Rangers 3-2 in ALDS; lost to Kansas City Royals 4-2 in ALCS.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Josh Donaldson 8.8; 2. Kevin Pillar 5.2; 3. Jose Bautista 5.1; 4. Edwin Encarnacion 4.7; 5. Marco Estrada 3.6.

Run differential: Scored 891 (1st), allowed 670 (5th).

Hall of Famers: (None eligible).

Their ALCS loss to the Royals unfairly colors our perception of the Blue Jays. Toronto was an offensive juggernaut, scoring 127 more runs than any other AL team with a 2.78 offensive standard deviation that is second in all of baseball history only to the 1996 Colorado Rockies (2.91). Bautista, Donaldson and Encarnacion combined for 120 home runs, 348 RBIs and a .929 OPS.

 

  1. 1939 New York Yankees (3.29)

Record: 106-45

Post-season: Beat Cincinnati Reds 4-0 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Joe DiMaggio 8.1; 2.Joe Gordon 6.3; 3. Red Rolfe 5.9; 4. George Selkirk 5.4; 5. Red Ruffing 5.3.

Run differential: Scored 967 (1st), allowed 556 (1st).

Hall of Famers (8): Bill Dickey (catcher), Lou Gehrig (first base), Joe Gordon (second base), Joe DiMaggio (outfield), Red Ruffing (pitcher), Lefty Gomez (pitcher). Joe McCarthy (manager), Ed Barrow (general manager).

 

  1. 2001 Seattle Mariners (3.35)

Record: 116-46

Post-season: Beat Cleveland Indians 3-2 in ALDS; lost to New York Yankees 4-1 in ALCS.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Bret Boone 8.8; 2. Ichiro Suzuki 7.7; 3. Mike Cameron 5.9; 4. John Olerud 5.2; 5. Edgar Martinez 4.8.

Run differential: Scored 927 (1st), allowed 627 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (0).

In a paragraph: Their 116 victories equaled the all-time record. But the Mariners bowed to the most post-season savvy Yankees in the ALCS. Ichro Suzuki’s American debut included a .350 batting average.

 

  1. 1995 Cleveland Indians (3.38)

Record: 100-44

Post-season: Beat Boston Red Sox 3-0 in ALDS; beat Seattle Mariners 4-2 in ALCS; lost to Atlanta Braves 4-2 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Albert Belle 6.9; 2. Jim Thome 5.9; 3. Dennis Martinez 5.7; 4. Kenny Lofton 4-1; 5. Jose Mesa 4.0.

Run differential: Scored 840 (1st), allowed 607 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (2): Eddie Murray (designated hitter), Dave Winfield (designated hitter).

In a paragraph: Albert Belle hit 50 home runs in 143 games and the team combined for 207. Joining speed with power, they also stole 132 bases, making the Indians’ attack multi-dimensional.

 

  1. 1927 New York Yankees (3.45)

Record: 109-45

Post-season: Beat Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Babe Ruth 12.4; 2. Lou Gehrig 11.8; 3. Earle Combs 6.8; 4.TonyLazzeri 6.3; 5. Waite Hoyt 5.8.

Run differential: Scored 975 (1st), allowed 599 (1st).

Hall of Famers (8): Lou Gehrig (first base), Tony Lazzeri (second base), Earle Combs (outfield), Herb Pennock (pitcher), Waite Hoyt (pitcher), Miller Huggins (manager), Ed Barrow (general manager), Jacob Ruppert (owner).

 

  1. 1917 New York Giants (3.46)

Record: 98-56

Post-season: Lost to Chicago White Sox 4-2 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Art Fletcher 7.4; 2. George Burns 6.0; 3. Heinie Zimmerman 5.3; 4. Benny Kauff 4.7; 5. Ferdie Schupp 4.5.

Run differential: Scored 635 (1st), allowed 457 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (2): Ross Youngs (outfield), John McGraw (manager).

In a paragraph:  McGraw took advantage of a deep staff featuring three pitchers – Schupp, Slim Sallee and Pol Perritt – with ERAs below 2.20.  In fact the team ERA was 2.27, nearly a half point below the league average.

 

  1. 1888 St. Louis Browns (3.49)

Record: 94-41

Post-season: Lost to New York Giants 6-4 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Silver King 15.8; 2. Nat Hudson 5.0; 3. Tip O’Neill 4.1; 4. Yank Robinson 3.5; 5. Arlie Latham 3.2.

Run differential: Scored 789 (2nd), allowed 501 (1st).

Hall of Famers (2): Charles Comiskey (first base, inducted as owner), Tommy McCarthy (outfield).

In a paragraph: The Browns were probably the best team produced by the American Association, a major league in the 1880s. The 1888 team, the last of four consecutive Association pennant winning teams, featured a shutdown pitching staff that allowed just 3.6 runs per game against a league average of 5.2. The ace, Silver King, won 45 games.

 

  1. 1984 Detroit Tigers (3.52)

Record 104-58

Post-season: Beat Kansas City Royals 3-0 in ALCS; beat San Diego Padres 4- in World Series.

Top 5 players: 1. Alan Trammell 6.7; 2. Chet Lemon, 6.2; 3. Kirk Gibson, 5.1; 4. Willie Hernandez, 4.8; 5. Lou Whitaker, 4.3.

Run differential: Scored 829 (1st); allowed 643 (1st).

Hall of Famers: None.

 

  1. 1881 Chicago White Stockings (3.55)

Record: 56-28

Post-season:  None

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Cap Anson 5.8; 2. Ned Williamson 3.4; 3. King Kelly 2.8; 4. Silver Flint 2.4; 5. George Gore 2.4.

Run differential: Scored 550 (1st), allowed 380 (1st).

Hall of Famers (2): Cap Anson (first base), King Kelly (catcher-outfielder).

In a paragraph: The White Stockings seized first place in May and never again trailed, winning the pennant by nine games. Anson batted .399, Kelly .323 and Abner Dalrymple .323.

 

  1. 1906 Chicago Cubs (3.59)

Record: 116-36

Post-season: Lost to Chicago White Sox 4-2 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Frank Chance 7.3; 2. Mordecai Brown 7.2; 3. Harry Steinfeldt 7.0; 4. Joe Tinker 4.2; 5. Ed Reulbach 4.1.

Run differential: Scored 704 (1st), allowed 381 (1st).

Hall of Famers  (4): Frank Chance (first base-manager), Johnny Evers (second base), Joe Tinker (shortstop); Mordecai Brown (pitcher).

In a paragraph: By early April the Cubs held a firm grasp on the NL lead. Then they got hot, winning 48 of their final 54 games and burying the runner-up Giants 20 games behind. Their .763 winning percentage is the best since 1885.

 

  1. 1998 New York Yankees (3.74)

Record: 114-48

Post-season: Beat Texas Rangers 3-0 in ALDS; beat Cleveland Indians 4-2 in ALCS; beat San Diego Padres 4-0 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Derek Jeter 7.5; 2. Paul O’Neill 5.8; 3. Scott Brosius 5.3; 4. Bernie Williams 5.2; 5. David Wells 4.8.

Run differential: Scored 965 (1st), allowed 656 (1st).

Hall of Famers (1): Joe Torre (manager).

In a paragraph: Jeter, Rivera, the Yankee mystique…it and plenty of supporting talent adds up to 114 wins. New York led the AL in runs scored and ERA. With a 91-30 record they built a 20-game lead in mid-August before letting up on the gas over the final six weeks.

 

  1. 1986 New York Mets (3.78)

Record: 108-54

Post-season: Beat Houston Astros 4-2 in NLCS; beat Boston Red Sox 4-3 in World Series.

Top 5 players by WAR:  1. Keith Hernandez 5.5; 2. Lenny Dykstra 4.7; 3. Ron Darling 4.3; 4. Bob Ojeda 4.3; 5. Dwight Gooden 4.2.

Run differential: Scored 783 (1st), allowed 578 (1st).

Hall of Famers (2): Gary Carter (catcher), George Foster (outfield).

In a paragraph: The Mets assumed first place on April 22 and never let go, taking a 20-game lead into late August. The secret was depth: four pitchers with 15 wins or more and an offense that produced nearly 50 runs more than any of its opponents.

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