Giancarlo Stanton is approaching 60 HR’s. For much of the year, Justin Turner was batting .380 or better. Chris Sale was just the 4th pitcher in history to reach 200 K’s in his first 20 starts of the season. There’s no question we are seeing some amazing things in 2017. I only hope that the postseason is every bit as exciting. All of these individual accomplishments got me to thinking about some of the great individual seasons I’ve seen in my lifetime – Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown in 2012; Alex Rodriguez’s 40/40 season in 1998; Pedro Martinez’s incredible season in 1999. But, to put those seasons in context, I decided to do a little research into the greatest single seasons in baseball history. Not surprisingly, there were some names that appeared multiple times (Ruth, Williams, etc.). So, I decided to dig a little deeper – who has had the greatest single season at each position?
Naturally, this may stir some debate, as the definition of the “greatest” season will vary, depending on which statistics you emphasize. But, based on the research I have done, there will be 10 posts in the coming days covering the most impressive seasons by any player at each position (splitting pitchers into starters and relievers). And, today’s is…
While this isn’t always one of the best hitting positions in the game, there is no shortage of great offensive seasons at catcher. Joe Mauer won a batting title, and the MVP, while also leading the league in OPS (1.031 – including the highest OBP by a catcher since 1935) in 2009. Mike Piazza had two 40-HR seasons, and drove in 100+ six different times. Buster Posey won a batting title in 2012, and had the highest single-season OPS+ by any catcher not named Piazza.
But, offense isn’t the only metric needed to measure a catcher’s success. Certainly, to be considered here, offense matters. But, a catcher’s defensive capabilities are every bit as important. And, when you have a catcher with a great bat and glove, you have something really special. Which is why honorable mention here goes to Gary Carter. In terms of dWAR, he owns the best season by a catcher in history, and it really isn’t even close (4.0 in ’83). He also has some great offensive seasons in his career, driving in 100+ five times, hitting 25+ HR’s five times. But, the greatest single season in history belongs to:
Johnny Bench – 1972
From an offensive perspective, it was the best season of his career. He led the league in HR (40), RBI (125), and even in IBB’s (23 – the 2nd most ever by a catcher!). He had a .920 OPS, and a 166 OPS+ (tied for the 6th highest in history by a catcher with at least 100 games behind the plate).
But, in addition to all of this – Bench was incredible behind the plate. He led all catchers in caught-stealing percentage (53%), and in defensive WAR (2.4), which played a part in him winning his 5th of 10 consecutive Gold Gloves. His overall WAR was 8.6, which among catchers is second only to Piazza’s 8.7 in ’97. It’s no wonder he won his second MVP in ’72, as he led the Reds to their 2nd of 4 World Series appearances during his career.
Up next: Greatest Single Season at First Base. Pujols? Gehrig? Foxx? We’ll see.