Thursday, March 22, 2012

Best Offensive Baseball Season of the 1910s

1911 Ty Cobb (11.4 bWAR)

Even though Cobb was just 24, he was already entering his seventh big league campaign and had established himself as one of the top two position players in the Deadball Era, along with Honus Wagner.  The Georgia Peach was a three-time batting champ, Triple Crown winner, and had made three consecutive appearances in the World Series, although his Tigers came home emptyhanded each time.  There had been some controversy the year before, when he sat out the final games of the season to preserve his fourth straight batting title in the hopes of winning the Chalmers automobile reward.  But Nap Lajoie stroked eight hits (six of which were of the bunt single variety) during a doubleheader, allowing him to pass Cobb when it was eventually determined that one game had been counted twice.  Although league president Ban Johnson declared Cobb as the rightful owner of the batting title, both players won cars and history later stripped him of said title. 

So Cobb had a little extra motivation going into 1911 and produced what was probably the best season of his illustrious career.  It included a 40 game hitting streak and a unanimous selection as AL MVP (known as the Chalmers Award at the time).  He led the major leagues with 147 runs scored, 248 hits, 47 doubles, 127 RBI, 83 steals, a .420 batting average, .621 SLG, 1.088 OPS, 196 OPS+, and 367 total bases.  He also paced the Junior Circuit with two dozen triples.  All of these figures represent career highs except for steals and OPS+.  The only major categories that he failed to lead the American League in were home runs and OBP.  The premier slugger of the time, Frank "Home Run" Baker outhomered him, eleven to eight, and Shoeless Joe Jackson, who batted ,408 that year, beat him by one percentage point in the on-base department.

This season kickstarted a run of five straight batting crowns for Cobb, who topped the AL in batting average eleven times in thirteen seasons between 1907 and 1919.  Appropriately, his magical run ended the same year Babe Ruth rose to national prominence with his titanic home run blasts, ushering in a new era of baseball.

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