Baseball is associated with its records more than any other sport. What is the record for NFL passing yards in a season? How about the record for 3-pointers in an NBA season? I don’t know. I could Google it, but I bet you don’t have to run a search engine to spit out the home run record or the longest hitting streak.
That being said, not every record gets the attention and respect it deserves. I submit to you my list of the top 10 single-season offensive records (since 1900):
10. HBP (50)- Ron Hunt in 1971
Ron Hunt is a staggering 47% better than second-place Craig Biggio at 34. Showing he had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, he led the league in plunks for 7 straight seasons.
9. AB/K (167.67) – Joe Sewell in 1932
Nobody could get Joe down on strikes. He alone has posted 5 of the 6 seasons better than 100 AB/K. In 1932, he had 503 at-bats-and struck out 3 times. In fact, from 1925-1933, he struck out an average of just 5 times per year. In this year, he didn’t punch-out until July 28th. Evidence that strikeouts aren’t necessarily the worst thing in the world: his three lowest season slugging percentages came in his three best seasons for strikeouts. Would you rather have him swing and miss a few more times if it meant he hit it harder when there was contact?
8. Stolen Bases (130) – Rickey Henderson in 1982
Rickey’s 130 is 12 better than the second person, and he, Vince Coleman, and Maury Wills are the only people with triple digit steals in a single season. He even stole at a 75% clip, which is astounding in that quantity. Most times a guy with a lot of steals has also been caught a lot- not providing much to his team in the process. The Man of Steal not only got on base 259 times that season, but successfully stole a base almost exactly half of the time.
7. Runs Scored (177) – Babe Ruth in 1921
The Babe had more runs scored than games played (by 23), which, frankly, is a lot. Now, certainly the powerhouse Yankees lineup he was a part of helped, especially when you consider that the top 4 seasons in this category are from either Ruth or his teammate, Lou Gehrig. That doesn’t change the fact that he got on base enough to be driven in 177 times.
6. Triples (36) – Chief Wilson in 1912
Obviously, baseball was a different game in 1912. The top season since 1930 is merely 22nd on the all-time list (Curtis Granderson had 23 in 2007), but Wilson has a full 10 triples on the second-place guy, Sam Crawford. Oddly enough, Wilson had just 19 doubles and 11 homers this season. That means that 55% of his extra-base hits were triples.
5. AB/HR (6.52) – Barry Bonds in 2001
This stat is owned by Bonds, Babe Ruth, and Mark McGwire. They own the best 9 seasons, and number 10 is Sammy Sosa (way back at 9 AB/HR). It stands out to me that this big three have a noticeable similarity- they are all big time power hitters with extraordinary batting eyes and plate discipline. So, this stat often gets passed over in favor of the counting stat “home runs,” benefiting players like Andruw Jones and Willie Mays, who each hit 50 homers in a season with AB/HR ratios that rank just 74th and 41st, respectively. They hit many home runs, but needed a lot of at-bats to do so compared to Bonds, Ruth, and McGwire. The big three walked a lot, and with good reason. When they were pitched to, they were more likely than anyone else to crush it.
4. Walks (232) – Barry Bonds in 2004
This number stands out in the record books like Cy Young’s career win total. The closest any other person has come to Bonds’ record is Babe Ruth, whose 170 walks were the record for nearly 80 years. Bonds was so feared that his 120 intentional walks (also a record) alone would’ve topped the Majors in total walks last year.
3. Batting Average (.427) – Nap Lajoie in 1901
In the very first year of the American League, Nap Lajoie set its still-standing record in batting average. It was his last season for the Philadelphia Athletics; the next year he would join the Cleveland team which would name itself after him. Obviously, he led the league in average this year. He also paced the Junior Circuit in OBP, SLG, R, 2B, HR, and RBI.
2. SLG (.863) – Barry Bonds in 2001
Everybody knows Bonds’ home run record, and just as many people probably know about his ability to take a walk. However, what gets lost is that he also was a pure hitter. This year he hit .330, showing his ability to appease traditionalists. His 107 extra-base hits (3rd best ever) astonish the more discerning fans. Finally, his .863 slugging percentage silences any critics of his skill, period.
1. OBP (.609) – Barry Bonds in 2004
Barry is statistically absurd. Let me break down how hard it was to get this guy out based on the count. After throwing ball one, he got on base 71% of the time. Throwing ball 2 increased that to 83%. So, after going to 2-0, you had a mere 17% chance of retiring this superhuman. Freakishly, getting him to two strikes limited his OBP to .450. Yes, his two-strike OBP alone would rank third among actual OBPs since 2004 (only Chipper Jones and Albert Pujols in 2008 did better).