MASTER NOTES: The Top 200 fantasy hitters of all time (well, since 1947)

Earlier this week, the feature expert on the March 27 “Tuesday Tout” edition of our BaseballHQ Radio podcast was Rudy Gamble of Razzball.com. One of the many interesting things we discussed was a quiz Rudy had uploaded to the Sporcle website, about the Top 200 fantasy baseball seasons for hitters from 1947 to 2013. The challenge was to guess the player by looking at just the stats and the year.

This topic interested me because a few years ago, I had tried to figure out the very same thing: Which hitters had the most valuable fantasy seasons? I had thought the best seasons would be Rickey Henderson’s 1982 season, when he stole 130 bases, and Mickey Mantle’s 1961 season, when he hit 54 dingers, scored 132 runs, drove in 128, stole 12 bags and batted .317.

Imagine my surprise, then, when both of those epic seasons were on the list but not even in the top-50: Henderson’s bagfest year was 185th of the top 200 at $34, while Mantle’s ’61 was a little better, at 65th overall, a little short of $40.

The top season belonged to Mike Schmidt, but there could be an asterisk. Schmidt carded a season of 31 HR, 91 RBI, 12 SB, 78 Runs and a .316 BA, which seems too paltry for a valuation well over $50. But as Rudy explained, ’81 was a strike year, and Schmidt accomplished those totals in just 354 AB. The stats weren’t pro-rated (had they been, they’d have been something like 53/154/20/132, in an era when 30 HR was more the norm for sluggers).

If you’re scoring at home, the other Top-10 hitter seasons were:

Player           Year   Val   HR   RBI   SB   Runs    BA
========================================================
Aaron,Hank       1963   $52   44   130   31   121   .319
Morgan,Joe       1976   $50   27   111   60   113   .320
Morgan,Joe       1972   $50   16    73   58   122   .292
Walker,Larry     1997   $50   49   130   33   143   .366
Bagwell,Jeff     1994   $48   39   116   15   104   .368
Canseco,Jose     1988   $48   42   124   40   120   .307
Robinson,Jackie  1949   $47   16   124   37   122   .342
Rodriguez,Alex   2007   $46   54   156   24   143   .314
Johnson,Howard   1989   $46   36   101   41   104   .287

I asked Rudy why Henderson didn’t make the cut with those 130 swipes, and he raised a very telling point: Stats are assembled in a larger context, and the value of any stat depends on the seasonal context in which it was acquired. In that 1982 season, for example, MLB baserunners stole 3,182 bases—almost as many as there were HRs that year (3,379). Six players stole 50 or more, and another 13 had 30 or more. By contrast, in 2017, players had 2,527 SB, compared with 6,105 HR, and only six players swiped 30 or more. Henderson backed up his bags with 119 Runs, but contributed just 10 HR, 51 RBI and a .267 BA. Little wonder that he was easily outvalued that season by Robin Yount, who had a pedestrian 14 SB, but also logged 29/114/129/.331 BA, worth $41.

Another way to think about the context is to ask what percentage of the available stats a player accounted for in a season. Returning to Henderson’s 1982, his 130 bags represented a little more than 4% of the gamewide 3,176 bags. By contrast, Maury Wills’ 104 steals in 1962 accounted for almost 8% of that year’s steals across the game. Interestingly, when I totaled the season percentages of counting stats for each hitter, Wills was the highest, at 9.2% of all available counting stats (in addition to his 104 bags, he had 130 runs and Henderson-like HR and RBI totals).

By the total-percentage method, one player jumps out above all others: Willie Mays’s 12 Top-200 seasons included five of the top-10, as well as four more in the top-50. What a great player. Henry Aaron was also magnificent by this measure, with seven top-50 campaigns.

Looking at the stat percentages one-at-a-time, the top four HR% seasons had two each by late-40s sluggers Johnny Mize and Ralph Kiner, who were whacking taters into the 50s in seasons when all of baseball was managing a total in the 1500s.

The top-three RBI leaders started with Ted Williams, who plated 159 in 1949, 1.5% of MLB’s RBIs that year, as well as Vern Stephens, also in ’49; and Joe DiMaggio in ’48. SBs were led by Wills’s 1962, but Mays had three of the next four spots. Williams also dominated runs scored—he stomped the dish 150 times, 1.3% of all the runs in 1949. Williams also made the top of the runs-scored percentage list in 1947. Interestingly, except for Stan Musial’s 1949 season, the third through 11th run-percentage seasons were all by thosee great CFs celebrated in song: Mickey, Willie and the Duke.

Wills, Mays, Jackie Robinson and Henderson are the only hitters to have more than 4% of gamewide steals in a season.

Other interesting notes from the overall Top-200:

Seventeen hitters appeared three times or more on the list:

Mays,Willie      12     Mantle,Mickey     4
Aaron,Hank       10     Pujols,Albert     4
Bonds,Barry       7     Robinson,Frank    4
Rodriguez,Alex    7     Schmidt,Mike      4
Bonds,Bobby       5     Bench,Johnny      3
Henderson,Rickey  5     Foster,George     3
Morgan,Joe        5     Snider,Duke       3
Banks,Ernie       4     Soriano,Alfonso   3
Griffey,Ken Jr.   4

Note Morgan, Foster and Bench were all members of the Big Red Machine of the early- to mid-70s. Foster makes the list because he was one of the few guys during his era bashing 50 HRs a season.

The most recent top-10 year (remember, the list ends in 2013, missing some great recent seasons) was 2007, when Alex Rodriguez had a 54/156/24/143/314 season worth over $46. One other relatively recent super-season was in 2011, when Matt Kemp logged a 39/126/40/115/.324 worth $45. And if you wondering about Jose Canseco’s 40-40 in 1988, it’s top-10 as well, coming in seventh at $48.

And finally, I asked Rudy if he ever did the same thing with pitchers, and he said he hadn’t. But he added that he suspects it would be hard to top Pedro Martinez’  1999 season in BOS—23 wins, a 2.07 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 313 strikeouts. Pedro might also have had the next-best season in his next season, 18/1.74/0.74, with 284 Ks. About the only competition I could think of was Mike Marshall’s 1973 season, when he had 15 wins, 21 saves, 2.42/1.19 decimals and 143 strikeouts—all in relief! Decimals not so good, but those saves really help the old dollar value.

If you remember any seasons by pitchers or hitters that were super-high value, mention them in the comments field below this Master Notes at BaseballHQ.com, or Tweet your idea to me at @patrickdavitt.

Enjoy Opening Weekend and the rest of your fantasy seasons. May you have someone give you a top-200 performance!


Click here to subscribe

  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.