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).
Mar 11, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacin suffered a right shoulder strain near the end of February and hasn’t progressed as quickly as hoped. So, as MLB.com’s Thomas Harding writes on Tuesday, it’s “almost a certainty” that the right-hander will begin the 2014 regular season with a 15-day disabled list stint. Chacin played catch at 90 feet on…
Mar 11, 2014, 9:40 PM EDT
The Indians announced Tuesday, via Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, that right-hander Justin Masterson will start for the club on Opening Day against the Athletics. That game is scheduled for Monday, March 31 at Oakland’s O.co Coliseum. It was an easy decision for the Tribe, who will likely follow Masterson this season with…
Mar 11, 2014, 8:31 PM EDT
From MLB.com beat reporter Mark Bowman … LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez confirmed on Tuesday that Brandon Beachy will not make his next scheduled Grapefruit League start. Beachy exited Monday’s start against the Phillies after grueling through two innings during which he was burdened by tightness around his right elbow and biceps muscle. Beachy…
Mar 11, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Saturday that Josh Hamilton — who has been sidelined because of an early-spring calf strain — was on track to make his Cactus League debut this week. It won’t happen. Scioscia was asked again about Hamilton’s status on Tuesday in camp and told Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register that…
Mar 11, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
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Mar 11, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
Justin Verlander got a late start to his spring training thanks to a core-muscle repair surgery in early January. But one gets the sense that he’ll be ready for the season regardless. Verlander pitched four innings against the Blue Jays today, throwing 52 pitches while giving up a single, walking two and striking out two. The key for…
Mar 11, 2014, 4:32 PM EDT
I saw Mark Prior at the Winter Meetings in Orlando. Indeed, he and I were staying on the same floor, so I saw him a lot. Walking up and down the hallway pretty frequently, always with a cell phone to his ear and a notebook in his hand. At various points I saw him in…
Mar 11, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Barry Bonds is back in a Giants uniform as a spring training instructor and Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com writes that “his every word was met with rapt attention” from players. For instance, outfielder Michael Morse got some tutoring on his swing and afterward told Baggarly: Oh my gosh, are you kidding me? The guy’s amazing.…
Mar 11, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
I love when old stories like this surface. A few years ago Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre and manager Ron Washington were tossed out of a spring training game by an umpire and then … well, I’ll let Stefan Stevenson of the Forth Worth Star Telegram take it from here: However, after the ejection Washington…
Mar 11, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
A little sigh of relief from Nationals camp, where right-hander Doug Fister was able to play catch this morning without any issues after previously being sidelined by elbow soreness. Fister first complained of soreness in early February and James Wagner of the Washington Post reports that he’s “been treated with anti-inflammatory medicine, ice and rest.”…
Mar 11, 2014, 2:04 PM EDT
This is odd. And potentially distracting: The Red Sox tried to spice things up in spring training Tuesday. After each pitch, it was mandated that the JetBlue Park public address announcer would announce the ball or strike call, and the count. Rob Bradford of WEEI talks to the guy whose idea it was, how it will work and…
Mar 11, 2014, 1:48 PM EDT
Oscar Taveras‘ ankle problems have lingered following last season’s surgery and now the stud outfield prospect is having hamstring issues in the same leg, so it sounds like the Cardinals have all but ruled out his making the team. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch that Taveras “needed…
Mar 11, 2014, 1:13 PM EDT
New Tigers manager Brad Ausmus accidentally gave a steal sign in a spring training game, so old Tigers manager Jim Leyland talked to Chris Iott of MLive.com about a time he once did that same thing while with the Pirates in 1992: “Tom Prince was on first,” Leyland said. “He was a slow catcher. We…
Mar 11, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT
ESPN shows us what a renaissance man Barry Bonds truly was: Impressive! RT @AviMillerBSR: According to @ESPN, Barry Bonds holds the record for most home runs in @NBA history. pic.twitter.com/6UHpTVS8QV — Bob Harkins (@Bharks) March 11, 2014 Also: he scored more goals than Muhammed Ali and was the last horse to win the Triple…
Mar 11, 2014, 12:03 PM EDT
People love to use baseball analogies because baseball is a pretty common and relatable frame of reference. But one thing you can be sure of: nearly 100% of the time someone is using a baseball analogy in politics, they are either mangling the baseball or mangling the politics. To wit, a senator using it to…
Mar 11, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
Mark Mulder, whose comeback attempt ended before it even really began thanks to a torn Achilles’ tendon, has been released by the Angels. Mulder has said that he’s not ruling out attempting another comeback next year, but he’ll miss the entire season recovering from the injury and at age 37 the odds of him succeeding…
Mar 11, 2014, 11:14 AM EDT
Braves right-hander Kris Medlen will seek a second opinion after an MRI exam on his sore elbow showed “some involvement of the ligament.” In other words: Not good. Medlen exited Sunday’s game after grabbing his elbow following one pitch and then short-hopping his next pitch to the plate, making his way into the Braves’ dugout.…
Mar 11, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
This time last year Brandon League had just signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract to become the Dodgers’ closer and now he’s in danger of not even making the team out of spring training. League was awful last season, losing the closer gig and being demoted to a mop-up role while posting a 5.30 ERA…
Mar 11, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Signed largely for his career-long durability, 37-year-old Bronson Arroyo has been sidelined with a bulging disk in his back for almost all of Diamondbacks camp and the injury hasn’t shown much improvement. He’s able to play catch, but Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reports that Arroyo was sore and stiff after doing so Monday and could…
Mar 11, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
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