Jan 16, 2013, 1:42 AM EST
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).
Dec 12, 2013, 5:55 PM EST
The Mariners just posted this Vine, showing Robinson Cano adding his signature to his ten-year, $240 million contract with recently-embattled GM Jack Zduriencik to his right and agent Jay-Z behind him. As beard aficionado Aaron Gleeman pointed out earlier, Cano is sporting a nice new beard which would have violated the Yankees’ personal grooming rules.
Dec 12, 2013, 2:50 PM EST
Robinson Cano‘s official introductory press conference in Seattle is today and the Mariners just put out this picture of him wearing No. 22 … and sporting a beard, which was of course banned by the Yankees. Robinson will wear #22 #HelloCano pic.twitter.com/JJ9qKhf3Ct — Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) December 12, 2013 As a locally recognized beard-haver myself,…
Dec 12, 2013, 2:34 PM EST
Remember Kevin Kouzmanoff? He hasn’t played in the majors since 2011, but the Rangers just announced that they’ve signed him to a minor-league contract. Texas also did the same with utility infielders Josh Wilson and Brent Lillibridge, adding some bench options (or Triple-A depth). Kouzmanoff put up some nice power numbers with the Padres early…
Dec 12, 2013, 1:40 PM EST
Free agent right-hander Joba Chamberlain is leaving the Yankees to sign with the Tigers, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com. Buster Olney of ESPN.com says it’s a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski is always looking to add high-velocity arms and despite his struggles Chamberlain averaged 94.7 miles per hour on his…
Dec 12, 2013, 1:10 PM EST
Jay Z lured Robinson Cano away from Scott Boras and then got him a $240 million contract with the Mariners, so naturally Boras took a couple shots at Beyonce’s husband yesterday: It’s very different to be the creator of the umbrella versus those who stand under it. … When you’re bringing the prettiest girl to…
Dec 12, 2013, 12:46 PM EST
Now that the Nationals are out of the left-handed reliever market after finally finding their southpaw yesterday some of the other dominoes can start falling, with Troy Renck of the Denver Post reporting that the Rockies are deep in talks with J.P. Howell. Howell is a soft-tosser, averaging just 87.4 miles per hour with his…
Dec 12, 2013, 12:12 PM EST
Clint Barmes has had back-to-back terrible seasons for the Pirates, hitting a combined .221 with a .579 OPS in 252 games, but Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports that Pittsburgh has re-signed the 35-year-old shortstop for $2 million. Obviously the Pirates like Barmes for his defense, which has always been strong, although at age 35 that’s…
Dec 12, 2013, 11:32 AM EST
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe is not a fan of the new rule banning home plate collisions. Indeed he’s so incensed that he decided to mock the idea of protecting athletes whose health and career are put at risk as a result of them: One of the game’s biggest stars — Buster Posey —…
Dec 12, 2013, 11:03 AM EST
The Rule 5 draft took place this morning. It’s traditionally the last thing that happens at the Winter Meetings, so there’s a bittersweet element to it I suppose. We all have to go home today. We all get to go home today. It’s like any vacation story I suppose. It’s not a terribly interesting event…
Dec 12, 2013, 10:47 AM EST
Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports that the Marlins have traded outfielder Justin Ruggiano to the Cubs for outfielder Brian Bogusevic. Ruggiano was pushed into extended action for the Marlins this year and struggled, hitting just .222 with a .694 OPS in 128 games, but if limited to a part-time role he’s capable of…
Dec 12, 2013, 10:15 AM EST
Philadelphia has signed right-hander Roberto Hernandez to a one-year contract, according to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Hernandez–formerly Fausto Carmona before being busted for identity fraud–posted an ugly 4.89 ERA in 151 innings for the Rays this year while being bumped from the rotation. On one hand the Rays not being able to fix a pitcher…
Dec 12, 2013, 9:45 AM EST
Looking to get his career back on track following a terrible season split between two teams, Michael Morse has agreed to a one-year deal with the Giants. Morse got off to a great start this year, but then hit just .201 with five homers and a .584 OPS in 64 games after May 1 while…
Dec 12, 2013, 9:27 AM EST
Both the New York Post and the New York Daily News decided that the best way to announce the Bartolo Colon signing on their back covers was to make fat jokes: Pretty pathetic, guys.
Dec 12, 2013, 9:08 AM EST
Not the biggest surprise in the world given that the M’s added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison yesterday, but: The #Mariners are letting teams know that Jesus Montero, as well as Justin Smoak, are available in trades. — Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 12, 2013 Both would seem to be prime candidates for a change of…
Dec 12, 2013, 8:51 AM EST
Alex Rodriguez‘s P.R. guy, Michael Sitrick, was allegedly served with a subpoena by Major League Baseball. They wanted him to testify in the arbitration as to whether he or his underlings leaked Biogenesis documents implicating Ryan Braun and Francisco Cervelli to the press. MLB believes that he did, and by doing so A-Rod — through his…
Dec 12, 2013, 8:24 AM EST
Why would anyone want to shop for Jonathan Papelbon when bargains like this exist around every corner? Joaquin Benoit‘s rep said to be looking for a deal in the range of $7 million-$10 million annually. — Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 12, 2013 Or Fernando Rodney for that matter, who is supposed to be seeking…
Dec 12, 2013, 7:48 AM EST
In the wake of yesterday’s news that home plate collisions will now be outlawed, I have a deep thought: will players who used to bowl over catchers now be retroactively considered cheaters the way pre-testing PED users are? Like, will we hold it against them for knocking over catchers even though there were no penalties…
Dec 12, 2013, 12:03 AM EST
After shocking the baseball world by agreeing to a 10-year, $240 million contract with second baseman Robinson Cano last week, the Mariners reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with Corey Hart today while picking up Logan Morrison in a trade with the Marlins. However, they aren’t done attempting to remake their offense. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick…
Dec 11, 2013, 11:34 PM EST
The Blue Jays already have one knuckleballer with 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and it sounds like they are about to add another one to the mix. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reports that the Blue Jays have reached a verbal agreement on a minor league contract with Tomo Ohka, who has reinvented…
Dec 11, 2013, 10:57 PM EST
Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports that the Marlins are interested in a trade for Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors confirms the report. It’s an odd fit on the surface, as the Marlins just signed Rafael Furcal to a one-year deal last week to be their second baseman.…
- Report: Two agents rumbled in the parking lot at the Winter Meetings 31
- Mets sign 40-year-old Bartolo Colon for two years, $20 million 40
- MLB rules committee decides to eliminate collisions at home plate 63
- Mariners sign Corey Hart to incentive-laden deal 28
- David Price would not consider an extension with the Mariners if he’s traded there 35
- Robinson Cano agrees to $240 million deal with Mariners (260)
- Report: Mariners willing to offer Robinson Cano a 10-year, $240 million deal (143)
- Report: Yankees have agreed to a three-year deal with Carlos Beltran (125)
- Not everyone is happy about home plate collisions being taken away (118)
- Brett Gardner is drawing “significant” trade interest (113)