Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Faves #7 - Favorite baseball seasons where a player led the league in hits and walks

Killing two birds with one stone on this one. I hadn't given the Friday Fave a lot of thought this week but had been looking at various baseball related things. I started with the Hall of Fame ballot which got me thinking about a smaller Hall of Fame which got me thinking about a statistical based Hall where certain thresholds have to be met to qualify. Personally I think it's a horrible idea because the game changes and so criteria meaningful now might not be in the future, but it is sort of fun. Like I was toying with the idea of limiting the Hall to those players with a .400 OBP and 250+ combined SB and HR. No reason except that it narrows the Hall to about forty players. 21 current HOFers like Musial, Cobb, Collins, Gehrig, Ruth, Mantle, Williams. Then 18 guys who aren't in, my favorite being Roy Thomas. Of those 18, though, thirteen played in the past decade and seven are active. A definite imbalance. Like I said, a bad idea.

But then that got me thinking about getting on base. The thirteen above who have played in this decade were all power hitters in the heart of the order (Bonds, Thome, Ramirez, Thomas, Chipper, Pujols, Bagwell, Giambi, Walker, Berkman, Helton, Edgar and Giles). Where are the leadoff hitters? That got me wondering what leadoff hitters led the league in both hits and walks. I figured there would be a bunch of them. After all, that's what you want from a leadoff hitter; a guy who gets on, ideally by hits and walks.

So I looked and there have been a whopping total of six players to have achieved the feat, one of whom did it twice. Blew me away. I wouldn't think it was that tough. Heck, I thought some non-leadoff hitters might make the cut. Like Lou Gehrig. Gehrig had seven seasons of 200 hits and 100 walks. He never led the league in both categories, though (he was second in both categories in both 1927 and 1934).

Not having a Friday Faves lined up, I thought I'd cheat and make this my topic for the week. Here are my favorite performances by players who led their leagues in hits and walks in the same season.

#1 Rogers Hornsby, 1924 St. Louis Cardinals - This was my favorite for a number of reasons. First, Hornsby achieved the feat batting third and despite missing eleven games. He did it primarily by hitting .424. His 227 hits led the league as did his 89 walks which gave him an OBP of .507. It doesn't seem right to me that a major leaguer can achieve an OBP over .500. Getting on base every other time to the plate? Wow. Hornsby also led the league in doubles and was second in homers giving him a SLG of .696. Yet he only drove in 94 runners which might explain how the Cardinals went 65-89 that season. One man can't carry a baseball team.

#2 Ross Barnes, 1873 Boston Red Stockings - Barnes was the first player to lead his league in hits and walks, pacing the National Association in 1873. It doesn't look too impressive on the surface because the Red Stockings only played 60 games. So Barnes' 20 walks look a little mundane. Given that he led the league in runs, hits, walks, doubles, triples and steals, though, the relative performance is mighty fine, even if the raw counts don't boggle the mind.

#3 Ross Barnes, 1876 Chicago White Stockings - Barnes also was the second player to lead his league in hits and walks. Different league, different stockings. 20 walks again, 138 hits again. Kind of spooky. This was the end of the line for Barnes. Injuries curtailed his career and he never experienced any degree of success after 1876.

#4 Sliding Billy Hamilton, 1891 Philadelphia Phillies- When you get on base 290 times in a season and your nickname is "Sliding Billy", you might expect a lot of stolen bases. Hamilton did just that, tying his own record of 111 and marking his third straight season with over 100 stolen bases. He would also steal 100 more in 1894, a season where he had an OBP of .521 (led the league in walks and was second in hits) and score 198 runs, a record that still stands.

#5 Richie Ashburn, 1958 Philadelphia Phillies - I think my preference for old-timey baseball is shining through on this list as Ashburn is the first player on this list to play after Babe Ruth ruined baseball. Ashburn comes in at #5 because I liked him as a broadcaster. His season leading the league in hits and walks is probably the most "empty" as his SLG (.441) just eked out his OBP (.440).

Honorable mention:
Carl Yastrzemski, 1963 Boston Red Sox - I've never appreciated Yaz and I think it is because my birth coincided with his decline. Up through 1970, he was definitely one of the elite players in the American League. The 1963 season was just his third in the majors and there he was, leading the league in hits and walks. In 1967, of course, he won the MVP as he paced the league in average, homers and RBI (and OBP and SLG). In 1968 he won his third batting title. In 1970, he led the league in OBP and SLG again. From 1971 to 1983 he was "just" a star player. The only thing he lead the league in over those thirteen seasons was runs (in 1974). By the time I saw him play, he was old and slow and a decent hitter. Sorry, Yaz. Your timing was off.

Lenny Dykstra, 1993 Philadelphia Phillies - By contrast, I saw Lenny Dykstra play at his peak, which was this season. If you remember this season, you remember how out of nowhere it was and how Nails credited his "good vitamins" for his successful year. After this incredible year, Dykstra played just 186 more games in his major league career. Of course, Lenny has been in the news a lot in the decade and a half since his retirement. A lot of people, especially in Philly, appreciated his hard nose play. Me, I found it hard to get past the constant tobacco spitting.

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