Fifty homers has long been the benchmark for great power-hitting seasons. Brady Anderson’s fluky 50-homer year got me thinking about players with high and low homer totals. As it turns out, every 50-homer season isn’t a great season.
Fifty has been reached 43 times, and yet some of those seasons aren’t what we’d usually consider All-Star-type seasons. In 2007 Prince Fielder cracked an even 50, and he ended up with a mere 3.6 WAR, 44 runs of which came from his batting. That’s the least valuable 50-homer year by far. A good rule of thumb is that any season of five or more WAR is an All-Star-level year, and Fielder (thanks to crappy fielding and base running) didn’t get close. Here’s the 5 least valuable 50-homer seasons according to BBREF:
NAME YEAR HR WAR ============================== Prince Fielder 2007 50 3.6 Sammy Sosa 1999 63 4.8 Mark McGwire 1997 58 5.1 Ryan Howard 2006 58 5.2 Mark McGwire 1999 65 5.2
Not surprisingly, Fielder, McGwire, and Howard are big, lumbering guys with negative fielding and base running that decreased their value. Fielder lost 18 runs on the bases and in the field. Though he at least picked one run back up in avoiding DPs. In 1997, Big Mac dropped 12 runs, and in 1999 15. Ryan Howard missed out on 13 in his big year. Sosa was a decent outfielder but he didn’t walk all that much. He lost only 8 runs.
Even so, none of these guys, with those runs or without them, would have racked up anything special for a fifty-homer year. The average such year netted an even 8 WAR with 64.5 batting runs. These guys all had batting runs in the forties despite the big power totals.
So this got me to wondering. What if they had been replaced by players with zero homers. The best players with zero homers. Well, the boppers would have a run for their money. Here are the five best seasons with zero homers:
NAME YEAR HR WAR ============================== Nap Lajoie 1906 0 10.0 Eddie Collins 1912 0 8.8 Hughie Jennings 1896 0 8.3 Tris Speaker 1915 0 7.1 John McGraw 1898 0 7.1 Willie Keeler 1897 0 7.1
If you wanted to draw up a list of absolute opposites of the homer hitters above, these guys would be it: throwing infielders, playing in the deadball era, with excellent gloves and valuable legs. Keeler, as it turns out, represents something near the outer limit of batting value with zero home runs. He hit .424 in 1897, good for 59 batting runs. He and Jennings are the only two zero heroes to reach 50 batting runs, and Jennings needed 51 plunkings to get there.
So what about a more modern look at it. No one hits .400 anymore, and base running has calmed down a lot. Since 1920, these are the best zero-homer seasons in terms of overall value:
NAME YEAR HR WAR ============================== Dave Bancroft 1920 0 6.8 Ozzie Smith 1987 0 6.4 Lance Johnson 1993 0 6.1 Eddie Stanky 1946 0 5.8 Ozzie Smith 1986 0 5.6 Richie Ashburn 1957 0 5.5
Ozzie Smith is Mark McGwire turned inside out, the king of valuable zero-homer seasons. All glove and legs with little batting value (he reached only +10 batting runs in 1987 and 1991) and was at -1.3 batting runs in the 1986 season shown above. Now you might think that these guys must have been batting titlists or hit for crazy averages in these years to earn enough value to be All-Stars without the circuit clouts. Nope. Johnson came in highest at .311 (plus 14 triples!). In fact, Stanky hit a mere .273 but let the league with 137 walks. It’s all the little stuff adding up. And gosh darn if they don’t beat out our thumpers.
Would I rather have a fifty-homer guy in my lineup than a zero homer guy? Of course. Bancroft is the best of the low-wattage All-Stars, and he tops out below 7 WAR. Remember the average fifty homer season resulted in eight wins of value. But it’s sure true that there’s more than one way to be an All-Star, and you don’t have to be the Incredible Hulk to be exceptionally valuable.