Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Best Offensive Baseball Season of the 1980s

1980 George Brett (9.6 bWAR)

The Royals third baseman had already been a tremendous hitter during the latter half of the 1970s, and was coming off an 8.9 bWAR year in which he finished third in the AL MVP race.  He'd made four straight All-Star teams and battled Reggie Jackson's Yankees in October, so it's safe to say that he was an established young star at the time. But 1980 was his age-27 season, and his numbers took off accordingly.  After starting slow out of the gates he caught fire during the summer, and by late August he was batting north of the magical .400 mark.  Even though Rod Carew had flirted with it just three years before by batting .388, America still turned its attention to Kansas City to see if the sweet swinging third-sacker  could become the first player since Ted Williams to accomplish the feat.  He peaked at .407 on August 26th, but when the dust settled in early October his average stood at .390, a modern record for third basemen and the closest anyone came to reaching .400 between 1941 and 1994--when Tony Gwynn hit .394 in the strike-shortened season.  In addition, he helped lead KC to 97 wins and their fourth postseason berth in five years (I doubt any baseball fan under the age of 35 will believe that), although the Royals fell to Mike Schmidt's Phillies in the Fall Classic.  Brett, as always, came up big in October with a 1.242 OPS in the ALCS victory over the Yankees and a 1.090 OPS in the World Series.

Injuries limited him to just 117 games and suppressed his counting stats, so he didn't lead the league in any of the sexy power categories (although his 24 dingers, 118 ribbies and 298 total bases were still excellent).  Sure, Reggie Jackson slugged more home runs, Rickey Henderson stole 100 bases, and Robin Yount had all those extra base hits, but Brett was the complete package.  His rate stats reflected his dominance; he topped the majors with his .390/.454/.664 line along with his 1.118 OPS, 203 OPS+, and lofty bWAR total.  For his efforts he was rewarded with the American League Most Valuable Player award, the Hutch Award (honoring the most competitive player), the Sporting News ML Player of the Year, and the first Silver Slugger ever awarded to an AL third baseman (he only won two more--go figure).  More importnantly, his career year catapulted him into the national spotlight and cemented his status as an elite player and future Hall of Famer.  He put it all together, the power, speed, defense, and incomparable hitting prowess, and the result was a season for the ages, a gold standard against which generations of third basemen will be measured.  He never had another season like it, but then again, how could he?

Check out some more fun facts from his phenomenal season:

-For the only time in his career, he finished a season with more home runs (24) than strikeouts (22), a truly remarkable feat.
-Drove in 118 runs (a career high) while playing just 117 games, but that's not surprising when you look at his numbers with runners in scoring position; .469/.542/.815
-He missed a month in the middle of the season and ten games in September (45 games in all, more than a quarter of the season).  Just to give you an idea about how productive he was on a per-game basis, check out his 162 game projections; 120 runs  242 hits  45 doubles  12 triples  33 home runs  163 RBI  20 steals  412 total bases
-If you like FanGraphs, his wOBA was .479 and his wRC+ was 200
-From May 27th through August 30th, he triple slashed .469/.516/.746.  Not only are those video game numbers, but he accomplished them during the heart of the oppressive Kansas City summer.  Baseball's dog days didn't pose much of an obstacle, as he batted .472 in June, .494 in July and .430 in August
-Was batting .400 as late as September 19th, but hit "just" .304 over the final two weeks of the season and saw his average tumble to .390
-Brett won three batting titles (1976, 1980 and 1990), each one in a different decade.  Off the top of my head I believe he is the only player to do so.

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