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).
Jul 22, 2014, 8:41 PM EDT
Watch as Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin leaps above the right-center field wall at Yankee Stadium to rob Brian McCann of a home run in the bottom of the second inning Tuesday night …
Jul 22, 2014, 7:53 PM EDT
Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker will be called back up from Triple-A Tacoma to start Wednesday night against the Mets at Seattle’s Safeco Field.
Jul 22, 2014, 7:08 PM EDT
Oscar Taveras has started just two of the Cardinals’ last seven games and the left-handed-hitting outfield prospect is not in St. Louis’ starting lineup on Tuesday night against Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi. Getting the nod instead is the right-handed-hitting Allen Craig. What’s the deal?
Jul 22, 2014, 6:14 PM EDT
According to Brian Stull of CBS Sports 920, left-handed reliever Kevin Siegrist joined back up with the Cardinals on Tuesday in St. Louis and is expected to be activated from the disabled list on Wednesday.
Jul 22, 2014, 5:27 PM EDT
Troy Tulowitzki exited Saturday’s game with what the Rockies called a “cramp” in his quadriceps, but now the star shortstop is out of the lineup tonight for the third consecutive game and it’s clear the injury is more serious.
Jul 22, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
Could be cool?
Jul 22, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
A’s outfielder Josh Reddick is off the disabled list after missing all but one week of the past two months with knee problems.
Jul 22, 2014, 4:31 PM EDT
Apparently, one does not ask Kirk Gibson about the decisions he and his coaching staff make about on-the-field decisions.
Jul 22, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
At this point the Rangers’ injury situation is absurd.
Jul 22, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
After a bit of a dance, it seems like the early favorite to take over for Bud Selig is the favorite when it really matters.
Jul 22, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
Darwin Barney logged 500-plus plate appearances for the Cubs each season from 2011-2013 and was the Opening Day second baseman this year, but today he was designated for assignment to make roster room for Emilio Bonifacio’s return from the disabled list.
Jul 22, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
Justin Masterson tossed five innings in a minor-league rehab start Sunday, but rather than welcoming him back from the disabled list the Indians will have the right-hander make another rehab start.
Jul 22, 2014, 2:05 PM EDT
The softer side of Roy Halladay.
Jul 22, 2014, 1:22 PM EDT
Two seasons ago Headley smacked 31 homers, led the league in RBIs, and finished fifth in the MVP balloting, but his production plummeted last season and this year he’s been mostly injured and ineffective.
Jul 22, 2014, 12:46 PM EDT
Cuddyer, who won the batting title last season by hitting .331 with a .919 OPS in 130 games, hit .317 with five homers and an .866 OPS in 31 games before the injury this year.
Jul 22, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Murray Chass — yes, Murray Chass — has an excellent article about this today.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT
After letting Matt Cain pitch (poorly) through a “cranky” elbow since spring training the Giants finally shut him down yesterday, placing him on the disabled list with elbow inflammation.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
That’s some real Nattitude right there.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
Last night Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud hit a home run to left-center field, except Mariners left fielder Dustin Ackley jumped up, reached over the fence, and brought the ball back with a spectacular catch.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Non-fatal, but serious enough to where, after eight years, he is going public.
- Rockies place Troy Tulowitzki on the disabled list 17
- Rob Manfred “heavily favored” to be Bud Selig’s replacement 25
- Yankees acquire Chase Headley from Padres 103
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 39
- Cliff Lee struggles in first start back from disabled list 15
- On the 10th anniversary of his MLB debut, let’s appreciate David Wright 29
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights 36
- Odrisamer Despaigne loses his no-hitter with two outs in the eighth inning 8