By Matt Cott, Matt Schwimmer and Moe Koltun of RotoAnalysis.com
There is a shockingly large amount of content covering fantasy baseball in the world today. Without fail, every big sports news outlet has some sort of coverage of the fantasy game, and oftentimes because of that, there isn’t enough fantasy news to go around. Rather than rehash what is happening in fantasy baseball this week as is being covered very well so many other places (CBS Philly’s Jack Morris writes a great 5 up, 5 down column every week), we decided to take this opportunity to look back into fantasy baseball history to determine the Top 5 Fantasy Seasons of All Time by Decade.
This is a 2 part series: this week, we’re going to go decade by decade (60’s-00’s as well as one bonus season) covering the best fantasy hitters of all time. Next week we’ll take on the pitchers.
Two Thousands Fantasy MVP: 2007 Alex Rodriguez
.314 AVG, 54 HR, 143 R, 156 RBI, 24 SB
73 long-balls are not enough to earn you the top spot in the steroid dominated era. In 2007, Alex Rodriguez led the league in home runs, RBIs, and runs while ranking in the top 25 in average and steals. A-Rod’s runs and RBIs rank him second and third respectively amongst any player’s season during the decade. We’ve neglected to mention that Rodriguez did all of this while playing 3B where no other player scored more then 120 runs in the decade or 131 RBIs. In 2007, A-Rod hit 20 more homers, scored 30 more runs, and drove in 36 more RBIs then his closest competitors at his position. While Bonds has one of the greatest seasons in major league history, Sosa was right behind him. Alex Rodriguez led the league all by himself in his 2007 MVP campaign.
2001 Barry Bonds: (.328 AVG, 73 HR, 129 R, 137 RBI, 13 SB)
2001 Sammy Sosa: (.328 AVG, 64 HR, 146 R, 160 RBI, 0 SB)
2000 Todd Helton: (.372 AVG, 42 HR, 138 R, 147 RBI, 0 SB)
Nineties Fantasy MVP: 1997 Larry Walker
.366 AVG, 49 HR, 143 R, 130 RBI, 33 SB
Walker lives up to the name of a five-tool player by producing a monster season in all categories. While Walker did not lead the league in a single category in 1997, he ranked second in average and runs while ranking third in home runs. Walker thrived at home in Coors Field, where the humidor was not yet installed, by hitting .389 in contrast to his .346 road average. Walker’s scorching April where he hit .456 with 11 homers and 7 steals helped carry him through the season. In contrast, Matt Kemp has one more homer this year despite an average 39 points lower with 4 less RBIs and 5 less runs and steals. I’ll take him over the members of the home run race in a decade with a ton of dominating performances.
1998 Sammy Sosa: (.308 AVG, 66 HR, 134 R, 158 RBI, 18 SB)
1998 Alex Rodriguez: (.310 AVG, 42 HR, 123 R, 124 RBI, 46 SB)
1996 Ellis Burks: (.344 AVG, 40 HR, 142 R, 128 RBI, 32 SB)
Eighties Fantasy MVP: 1988 Jose Canseco
.307 AVG, 42 HR, 120 R, 124 RBI, 40 SB
The original member of the 40-40 club started off the beginning of the steroid era with a bang; a 23 year-old Canseco led the league with 42 home runs. In fact, Darryl Strawberry (39), Fred McGriff (34), and Mark McGwire (32) were the only other hitters with over 30 homers. He also held the league lead in RBIs, was second in runs, and was one of 12 players over 40 steals. Rounding off the season 10th in the majors in batting average solidified his spot as the most dominant player in any single season in the 80s. While Rickey Henderson’s speed was supremely tempting, there was no one year he totally put it together with average and power. Steals were easier to come by in the 80s than they are now for fantasy owners, and while Henderson would have definitely been the pick to land #1 on the player rater, Canseco’s numbers in everything but steals blew him out. Whether it was power or average lagging and holding Henderson back, Canseco was the total package in 1988, and should be remembered as such.
1980 Mike Schmidt (.286 AVG, 48 HR, 104 R, 121 RBI, 12 SB)
1987 Eric Davis (.293 AVG, 37 HR, 120 R, 100 RBI, 50 SB)
1982 Rickey Henderson (.267 AVG, 10 HR, 119 R, 51 RBI, 130 SB)
1985 Rickey Henderson (.314 AVG, 24 HR, 146 R, 72 RBI, 80 SB)
Seventies Fantasy MVP: 1976 Joe Morgan
.320 AVG, 27 HR, 113 R, 111 RBI, 60 SB
Looking back, Joe Morgan is a severely underrated player. He is arguably the second best second baseman of all time to Rogers Hornsby, and seasons like 1976 are why. Morgan led the league in on base percentage by more than 30 points, and slugging percentage by more than 45; he ranked second in runs scored, second in RBIs, sixth in home runs, third in stolen bases, and ninth in batting average. That’s just nasty. To put that in perspective, ranking where he did in 2011 would put him at .314 with 37 HRs, 49 SBs, 121 runs and 120 RBIs. In a shallow year for power (George Foster would belt 52 a year later, but ’76 had only two players with over 32 HRs), Morgan was able to run away with his second straight MVP, and carry the Big Red Machine to their second straight title. Coming from a shallower infield position made him all the more valuable for fantasy, and the runaway candidate for the best individual fantasy season in the seventies when you take into account his position and his performance across the board.
1977 Rod Carew: .388 AVG, 14 HR, 128 R, 100 RBI, 23 SB
1974 Lou Brock: .306 AVG, 3 HR, 118 R, 48 RBI, 118 SB
1977 George Foster: .320 AVG, 52 HR,124 R, 149 RBI, 6 SB
1978 Jim Rice .315 AVG, 46 HR, 121 R, 139 RBI, 7 SB
Sixties Fantasy MVP: 1963 Hank Aaron
.319 AVG, 44 HR, 121 R, 130 RBI, 31 SB
Nowadays, people throw around the phrase ‘five-category performer’ like they grow on trees, but Hank Aaron epitomizes what a five-category performer is all about. While aesthetically his statistics don’t look very impressive, they have to be taken in context of the offensive environment of 1963. Aaron’s .319 average was tied for 4th in MLB, and he did it while finishing in the top 3 in the league in plate appearances, putting even more weight on his average for your fantasy team. His 44 homers were tied for second in the majors and his 31 steals were third best in the majors. That alone is a remarkable, but what’s added onto that is only 10 players in the entire major leagues stole more than 20 bases, making steals at much more of a premium than they are now. He was like a cross between today’s Michael Bourn and Albert Pujols. Lastly, Aaron finished first in both runs and RBIs, and he had 12 RBIs more than any other player in the major leagues. Hank Aaron somehow finished in the top 4 in every single fantasy category, while dominating in more than one. Aaron’s 1963 season displayed true, unrivaled fantasy greatness.
1961 Mickey Mantle: (.317 AVG, 54 HR, 132 R, 128 RBI, 12 SB)
1962 Frank Robinson: (.342 AVG, 39 HR, 134 R, 136 RBI, 18 SB)
1964 Willie Mays: (.317 AVG, 52 HR, 118 R, 112 RBI, 9 SB)
Pre-Sixties Fantasy MVP: 1921 Babe Ruth
.378 AVG, 59 HR, 177 R, 171 RBI, 17 SB
Babe Ruth hit 59 home runs in 1921. Nobody else hit 25. Babe Ruth had 177 runs, and 171 RBIs. No other player had 135 runs, nor did any other player have 140 RBIs. Those statistics alone would have made this outlandishly, without a doubt the best fantasy season of all time, but Ruth’s 17 steals still finished him top 20 in the majors, and his .378 average was good for 4th in the majors. I tried my best to put Honus Wagner as the best fantasy player of the pre-1960 era, but there were about six separate Ruth seasons that were more impressive. If you search highest “Wins Above Replacement” of all time among hitters, Ruth had the four best seasons. People say we will never see another Michael Jordan in basketball, but it seems to be forgotten that the most dominant athlete of all time was, by far, the Babe himself.
1908 Honus Wagner: (.354 AVG (1st in MLB), 10 HR (2nd in MLB, 3 ahead of next player), 53 SB (1st in MLB), 109 RBI (1st in MLB), 100 Runs (4th in MLB))
1927 Lou Gehrig: (.373 AVG, 47 HR, 149 R, 175 RBI, 10 SB)
1887 Arlie Latham: (.316 AVG, 2 HR, 163 R, 83 RBI, 129 SB)
1920 George Sisler: (.407 AVG, 19 HR, 137 R, 122 RBI, 42 SB)
1955 Willie Mays: (.319 AVG, 51 HR, 123 R, 127 RBI, 24 SB)
Agree? Disagree? Questions? Tweet @RotoAnalysis and be sure to follow Moe @MoeProblems and Matt @KidCotti21. Check out their work on RotoAnalysis.com, as well as The RotoAnalysis Fantasy Sports Podcast.