Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Year Babe Ruth hit .402 with 61 Homeruns, and other Year-long Hot Streaks


(Originally posted June 15, 2012)

On May 10, 1920, Babe Ruth was 20 games into his first season with the New York Yankees.  He had played in 18 of those games, and was batting .210 with 2 homeruns.  On May 11 in Chicago, he went 3-3 with a triple and two homeruns, kicking off arguably the greatest hot streak in baseball history, over the course of which he would become the most famous athlete in the history of American sports.  His 1920 season totals are enough for it to be ranked among the greatest seasons in baseball history: a .376 average, 54 homeruns (breaking the previous record of 29, set by Ruth the year before), an .847 slugging percentage (the record until 2001).  But from May 11 on, he batted .403 with a .924 slugging percentage.  Ruth was arguably even better in 1921, because unlike in 1920, he started the season hot, busting nine homeruns in his first 18 games.  Over the 365-day period beginning May 11, 1920, the Babe put up these outrageous numbers:

Babe Ruth (May 11, 1920 to May 10, 1921)


G   AB  R   H   2B 3B HR RBI BB  SO SB CS BA   OBP  SLG  OPS
142 463 169 186 37 9  61 146 154 74 13 14 .402 .553 .916 1.469


Ruth never actually hit .400 in any one season; he topped out at .393 in 1923.  Rogers Hornsby, however, accomplished the feat three times ... in fact, he hit .402 over the course of an entire five-year span (1921-1925).  Halfway through the 1924 season, Hornsby was having an okay year - he was hitting .389.  But then he decided to kick it up a notch.  He finished the season hitting .424 ... the highest batting average of the liveball era.  He continued his outrageous hitting into the following season, 1925, and cruised to his second triple crown, hitting .403 with 39 homers and 143 rbi.  Here's what he did from the second half of the 1924 season through the first half of '25:

Rogers Hornsby (July 1, 1924 to June 30, 1925)


G   AB  R   H   2B 3B HR RBI BB  SO SB CS BA   OBP  SLG  OPS
144 524 146 230 43 9  38 129 101 29 3  6  .439 .530 .773 1.303


No one has hit .400 since Ted Williams in 1941, and it is likely that no one ever will again; but for twelve months in the 1920s, Rogers Hornsby hit damn near .440, and with power too.  Speaking of players we may never again see the likes of: in the 1980s Eric Davis was supposed to be the second coming of Willie Mays.  And once he actually got into the regular line-up in June of 1986, for a year or so he was Willie Mays, only with more speed.

Eric Davis (June 15, 1986 to June 14, 1987)


G   AB  R   H   2B 3B HR RBI BB SO  SB CS BA   OBP  SLG  OPS
148 517 132 154 24 3  43 114 87 133 91 10 .298 .398 .605 1.003


Only four players in baseball history have reached the 40-40 club in homeruns and stolen bases.  But over a one-year period in 1986 and '87, Eric the Red was a 40-90 player.  It's mind-boggling how good he was before injuries took their toll on his game.

In 1998 Sammy Sosa hit 66 homeruns for the Cubs...yet he was second among Chicago outfielders in slugging percentage.  Albert Belle quietly had a spectacular season for the White Sox; he was overshadowed by Sosa and Mark McGwire as they both broke Roger Maris's 37-year-old homerun record.  But three years earlier, Belle was the most feared hitter in baseball, and the favorite to break Maris's record.  In 1995, he became the first (and still only) player to hit 50 doubles and 50 homeruns in the same season, and did so despite playing a shortened 144-game schedule.  He started well in 1995, then went on a tear beginning around the end of May, and continued his torrid hitting through the start of the '96 season.  The result is a year that Belle never actually had in any one season; he was Sammy Sosa from a few years later, but with more hits and doubles and half the strikeouts:

Albert Belle (May 31, 1995 to May 27, 1996)


G   AB  R   H   2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS BA   OBP  SLG  OPS
162 608 143 203 51 2  65 159 89 88 5  2  .334 .420 .745 1.165


I cut Belle off a little early because he actually played 165 games for the year beginning May 31, 1995.  And speaking of the homerun record, we come full-circle to the man who holds both the single-season and career marks.  Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001, but if not for a bad first week, he might have hit several more.  He went 3-for-29 in the Giants' first seven games, got benched in game 8, then basically went on an unprecedented tear that lasted through the rest of that season and all of the next three.  Here's what he did in that first year, from early in the 2001 season through the first week of 2002:

Barry Bonds (April 12, 2001 to April 11, 2002)


G   AB  R   H   2B 3B HR RBI BB  SO SB CS BA   OBP  SLG  OPS
154 470 136 162 33 2  77 148 185 88 14 3  .345 .535 .915 1.449


This is the highest level of dominance displayed by any player since Babe Ruth, eighty years before.  And for all the differences in the eras they played in - Ruth in day games in big ballparks against white-only competition, Bonds in small parks under the lights with PEDs against the best players in the world - their slugging percentages are nearly identical: .916 for Ruth, .915 for Bonds.  These are the two players who, more than anyone else who's ever played the game, reached the pinnacle of prowess for an entire year.

1 comment:

  1. Nice way to come full circle on the players.

    ReplyDelete