Jan 16, 2013, 1:42 AM EDT
1987 was the first year I truly started paying attention to baseball statistics. I didn’t really get to watch any baseball; while I experienced the 1986 Braves season and that year’s playoffs on TV, I was without cable the following few years and NBC never came in very well through our antenna. However, I did start playing Little League, seriously collecting baseball cards and reading about Rotisserie League Baseball. Thus, baseball — and especially the numbers — became a big part of my life at age nine.
1987 was also the oddest baseball season in my lifetime. Maybe the oddest since World War II or even 1900, going by the numbers. That year’s stats would fit in nicely in 1935 or 2000, but they stick out like a sore thumb in the middle of what was a pitcher friendly era.
Most home runs in a season – 1980s
Andre Dawson – 49 – 1987
Mark McGwire – 49 – 1987
Mike Schmidt – 48 – 1980
George Bell – 47 - 1987
Kevin Mitchell – 47 – 1989
Dale Murphy – 44 – 1987
Highest OPS in a season – 1980s
George Brett – 1.118 – 1980
Jack Clark – 1.055 – 1987
Wade Boggs – 1.049 – 1987
Kevin Mitchell – 1.023 – 1989
George Brett – 1.022 – 1985
Mike Schmidt – 1.004 – 1980
Paul Molitor – 1.003 – 1987
Pedro Guerrero – .999 – 1985
Dale Murphy – .997 – 1987
Reggie Jackson – .995 – 1980
Eric Davis – .991 – 1987
Mark McGwire – .986 – 1987
Dwight Evans – .986 – 1987
Darryl Strawberry – .981 – 1987
That’s eight of the top 14 in the decade from 1987. If I went down further, it’d be 14 of the top 25, with Tony Gwynn, Bell, Guerrero, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and Will Clark all joining the list.
In writing up some of Andre Dawson’s comments a couple of days ago, I made the point that Dawson might not be a Hall of Famer today if not for the unique conditions of 1987. A couple of people actually countered my assertion that there was anything different about that season. I think 14 of the top 25 OPSs of the decade makes a pretty good case that there was.
You’ll notice Dawson’s name isn’t anywhere in the above OPS list. Of course, 1987 was his MVP season, thanks to his NL-leading 49 homers and 137 RBI. However, his .287/.328/.568 line gave him just the league’s 10th best OPS. His 130 OPS+ that season was the seventh best mark of his career. Many would argue that he was a better player in his days with the Expos.
1987 saw 79 different players hit 20 homers, far and away a new major league record.
Players with 20+ homers:
1982 – 51
1983 – 41
1984 – 45
1985 – 59
1986 – 60
1987 – 79
1988 – 45
1989 – 38
1990 – 45
1991 – 51
1992 – 37
1993 – 62 (expansion)
The number likely would have increased steadily from there if not for the strike cutting into the 1994 and 1995 seasons. 1987′s record was broken in 1996 (83 players). That was the first of nine straight seasons with 80, topping out at 103 in 1999 and 102 in 2000. As you surely guessed, it’s slipped again of late, going from 92 to 87 to 77 to 68 to 79 the last five years.
Among the players to hit 20 homers in 1987 was future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs. One of the most intelligent hitters in the game’s history, Boggs probably could have hit 20 homers annually if he wanted to. 1987, though, was the only season he thought it made sense to do so. Outside of his 24 that year, his high water mark for homers was 11.
Back to Dawson for a second. Apart from 1987′s 49-homer campaign, his career high for homers was 32. But then he was far from the only Cub to set a career high for homers that year.
- First baseman Leon Durham had 27, five more than in any other season. It was his last useful season before substance-abuse problems ended his career.
- Third baseman Keith Moreland had 27, 11 more than his next best total. He hit 11 more total in his career.
- Left fielder Jerry Mumphrey hit 13 in 309 at-bats. He previously had six seasons of at least 400 at-bats, yet he had never topped nine homers. He finished his career with 73 homerless at-bats in 1988.
- Infielder Manny Trillo had eight homers in 214 at-bats as a 36-year-old utilityman, an average of one every 27 at-bats. He had 53 homers in his other 5,736 major league at-bats, an average of one every 108 at-bats. After 1987, he’d have 205 more major league at-bats and hit one homer.
- Outfielder Bob Dernier hit eight homers in 199 at-bats, twice as many as he had ever hit previously. He averaged a homer every 25 at-bats that year and one every 152 at-bats over the rest of his 10-year career.
Rafael Palmeiro, for what it’s worth, did not hit for his highest homer total as a 22-year-old rookie for the Cubs in 1987. However, after hitting 14 in 221 at-bats that year, he went on to hit a total of 16 in 1,139 at-bats over the next two years. He didn’t top 14 until 1991, though he did it a few times after that.
1987 also produced some weird statistics on the pitching side, most notably Nolan Ryan leading the NL in ERA while going 8-16 for Houston. Rick Sutcliffe led the NL with 18 wins, which was the lowest total ever to lead the league in a non-strike year until 2006 came along. That result helped produce a remarkably close Cy Young race, with closer Steve Bedrosian (57 points) edging out Sutcliffe (55) and Rick Reuschel (54).
The MVP balloting, of course, gets a very bad rap these days, with WAR saying that neither Dawson nor AL winner George Bell were among the 10 best players in their respective leagues. WAR says Gwynn, who hit .370/.447/.511 to Dawson’s .287/.328/.568, was the NL’s top player, with Eric Davis next in line. WAR ranks Cy Young winner Roger Clemens first in the AL, with Boggs and Trammell not far behind. Trammell finished a close second to Bell in the balloting, claiming 12 first-place votes to Bell’s 16.
So, that’s a bit about 1987. MLB has never gone on record about what exactly changed inside the baseball to produce the unique season, but whatever alterations were made were quickly reversed afterwards.
I should also probably mention here that the Twins beat the Cardinals in the World Series, with Frank Viola capping a terrific season by winning Games 1 and 7 (he lost Game 4) and taking home MVP honors.
Of course, having had a bedtime, I don’t really remember much of that happening. However, I’m pretty sure I’ll always remember 49 (Dawson and McGwire) and 47 (Bell).
May 22, 2013, 11:09 PM EDT
Don Mattingly had some harsh things to say about the club he manages on Wednesday afternoon, leaving many to guess that he might be officially canned at some point during Thursday’s scheduled team off day. But that apparently will not happen. Via the Los Angeles Times: Don Mattingly will be managing the Dodgers on Friday when they open a…
May 22, 2013, 10:01 PM EDT
Josh Rutledge showed signs of promise in 2012 when he hit eight home runs, stole seven bases and registered a .775 OPS in 73 games as a 23-year-old. But the middle infielder has failed to meet the hype so far in 2013 and was officially optioned Wednesday evening to Triple-A Colorado Springs according to beat…
May 22, 2013, 9:13 PM EDT
The Cardinals learned today that Jaime Garcia needs what will likely be season-ending shoulder surgery. And now another starter is in trouble. According to MLB.com beat writer Jenifer Langosch, sinkerballer Jake Westbrook was unable to make it beyond 20 pitches in a bullpen session this evening because of lingering discomfort in his right elbow. He…
May 22, 2013, 8:27 PM EDT
Indians first baseman Nick Swisher was placed on the paternity leave list Tuesday following the birth of his daughter. After getting a few days to spend with his family’s newest addition, he will return to the Tribe’s starting lineup on Friday night in Boston. This according to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. Swisher, 32, is batting…
May 22, 2013, 7:34 PM EDT
David Freese suffered a gash on his right thumb Sunday when he lunged to tag Norichika Aoki on the left leg during a rundown along the third base line. It was only a minor cut, but he got stitches after the game and has not made an appearance since. Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reports that Freese is…
May 22, 2013, 6:40 PM EDT
Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that Orioles infield prospect Jonathan Schoop has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back and is likely to need 6-8 weeks of rest. He will meet with another doctor this week for a second opinion, but the initial diagnosis probably won’t change. Schoop is hitting .268/.331/.386 with three…
May 22, 2013, 5:32 PM EDT
Jered Weaver threw 5.2 innings of one-run ball in an extended spring training game today, potentially setting him up to come off the disabled list and rejoin the Angels’ rotation next week. Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times reports that Weaver threw 75 pitches, 62 for strikes, and struck out nine versus zero walks.…
May 22, 2013, 5:02 PM EDT
Superman has kryptonite. Matt Harvey has Zack Cozart. Despite being a nearly unhittable pitcher this year, the Reds’ Cozart got four hits off Harvey today en route to a 4 for 5, two-double performance. Overall Harvey had his worst outing of the season, allowing four runs on nine hits in six and a third. One…
May 22, 2013, 4:31 PM EDT
Kinda feels like a lot of Rays farmhands get suspended for drugs: The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball announced today that Tampa Bay Rays Minor League right-handed pitcher Angel Yepez has received a 50-game suspension without pay after testing positive for metabolites of Nandrolone, a performance-enhancing substance in violation of the Minor League Drug…
May 22, 2013, 4:16 PM EDT
UPDATE: Las Vegas police issued the following statement: The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is currently investigating a Sexual Assault case. Jose Conseco [sic] has been named as the suspect in this investigation. At this time no charges have been filed and our investigation remains ongoing. Per department policy neither victim information or investigation details…
May 22, 2013, 4:00 PM EDT
Even though they met in the World Series nearly 22 years ago, the Twins-Braves series still stirs up some emotions in partisans of each team. Mostly Braves fans, to be honest, as we are bitter and angry and all of that stuff even more than two decades later. Freakin’ Kent Hrbek. Freakin’ Kirby Puckett. Freakin’…
May 22, 2013, 3:45 PM EDT
It’s not often that you see an Opening Day starter sent to the minors, let alone demoted less than two months into the season, but that’s exactly what the Twins just did with Vance Worley. Worley got knocked around for eight runs in 3.2 innings against the Braves today, falling to 1-5 with a 7.21…
May 22, 2013, 3:00 PM EDT
Adam Eaton was diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in March and was playing in rehab games. Then this: #Dbacks OF Adam Eaton has returned to Phx to see doc after having soreness in elbow. — Steve Gilbert (@SteveGilbertMLB) May 22, 2013 Eaton hit .259/.382/.412 in his cup of coffee last year and was…
May 22, 2013, 2:44 PM EDT
Remember how Rafael Soriano called out Bryce Harper for blowing last night’s game by missing a catch in right field? Not surprisingly the Nationals closer took it all back today, telling James Wagner of the Washington Post that the comments came during what he thought was an off-the-record conversation with a reporter. Here’s more from…
May 22, 2013, 2:30 PM EDT
We’re talking phenoms on HBT Daily today.
May 22, 2013, 2:00 PM EDT
Jeremy Affeldt was interviewed about his new book. Which, it seems, reveals the deeply Christian Affeldt to have experienced a transformation on the matter of homosexuality: When Jeremy Affeldt came to the Bay Area as an opposing player, he refused to leave his hotel room aside from going to and from the ballpark. He was…
May 22, 2013, 1:48 PM EDT
Chase Utley was scratched from last night’s game with pain in his right side and Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reports that the Phillies second baseman is getting an MRI exam. Utley complained of a burning sensation in his rib cage and Salisbury speculates that it might be an oblique strain, which would almost certainly require…
May 22, 2013, 1:00 PM EDT
I’m usually the last guy to call for a manager’s head, but I’m sorry, when you call out your own team’s toughness and your boss’ construction of the roster, you’re not long for your job. Here’s Bill Plunkett of the OC Register, quoting Mattingly today about what ails the Dodgers: Don Mattingly pregame seemed to…
May 22, 2013, 12:46 PM EDT
When the Cardinals placed left-hander Jaime Garcia on the disabled list last week they feared that he’d need shoulder surgery and sure enough Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that he’ll go under the knife. Garcia has a long history of arm problems and the possibility of shoulder surgery has been looming since last year, when…
May 22, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT
He didn’t actually use those words, but I kinda wish he did because I have a lot of fun with the “robot umps now” thing on Twitter. But Brenly does tell Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic that he thinks the game is too fast, the technology is too good and the calls are too…
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