On his pay site, baseball historian Bill James has written about a new study where he uncovers the best 26 seasons in baseball history by position.
He’s calling it “The 99th Percentile,” named in deference to all those school exams where the students are grouped into certain percentile categories. For example, both of my boys are in the 95th percentile in height and weight compared to similarly aged children that have been charted; my daughter is in the 50th percentile for both categories. Which is all fine and dandy, except that my five year old boy is now bigger than my seven year old girl, no matter how many ways she can tiptoe or draw an imaginary crooked line from the top of her head to her younger brother’s head to prove she’s still taller.
It appears that James is in the process of writing a bigger project where he can track a player’s career in comparing the player to his position peers year by year in rating him at a certain percentile for that player’s season. So, on the player’s best years he may be a 99 percentile (one of best 26 seasons ever at the position), or for an average season the player may be rated a 50. This would have to be a “dynamic” program since the baseline would seemingly change over time based on the continued improved level of performance in the game.
So, if you’re taking the 99th percentile, that would conversely mean James is searching for the top 1% of all seasons at any particular position. James has computed that there have been 2606 team/seasons from 1876 through 2009, so the top 1% of performances would include 26 players for each position. This is a really interesting read and I can’t wait to see the whole study or to find a publication with a player career tracker; it would show consistency levels of a player and make it easy to actually select the player’s peak seasons at a glance rather than gazing over an entire statistical chart and making your best guess.
The following are the Reds’ years represented. The numbers don’t represent a ranking; these are simply lists of the top 26 player seasons by a position. Also, James warns this program is just in it’s infancy, and he doesn’t say the method can be counted on for a whole lot of reliability. In any case, it’s still interesting.
Catcher: Johnny Bench has three of the top 26 catcher seasons of all time.
1) 1970, his first MVP season when he hit .293 with 45 homers and 148 rbi, OPS of .932
2) 1972, 2nd MVP season when he hit .270 with 40 homers, 125 rbi, 100 walks, OPS of .920
3) 1974, 160 games when he hit .280 with 33 homers, 129 rbi,, OPS of .870
Honorable mention: 1938, Ernie Lombardi, MVP season when he hit .342 with 19 homers and 95 rbi and .915 OPS
2nd Base: Pete Rose once and Joe Morgan three times:
1) Pete Rose, 1965, 162 games, .312, 11 homers, 81 rbi, 209 hits, OPS of .828
2) Joe Morgan, 1972, .292, 16 homers, 73 rbi, 115 walks, OPS of .851
3) Joe Morgan, 1975, 1st MVP season, .327, 17 homers, 94 rbi, 132 walks, OPS of .974
4) Joe Morgan, 1976, 2nd MVP season, .320, 27 homers, 111 rbi, 114 walks, OPS of 1.020
Honorable mention: Bid McPhee with 16 good seasons at the turn of the 20th century, but no real great seasons
3rd Base: Tony Perez
1970, .317, 40 homers, 129 rbi, OPS of .990
Honorable mention, 1996 Barry Larkin, .298, 33 homers, 89 rbi, .977 OPS; James says this probably top 2% season, 98 percentile
Leftfield: George Foster
1977, MVP season, .320, 52 homers, 149 rbi, 1.013 OPS
Centerfield: Cy Seymour
1905, .377, 8 homers, 121 rbi, 69 extra base hits, 219 hits, .988 OPS
Honorable mention: 1887, Pete Browning, .402, 55 extra base hits, 118 rbi, OPS of 1.011; okay he wasn’t even a Red at that time, but how many times does a player from the Louisville Colonels major league franchise get listed for something…and, after all, there may not have been Louisville Slugger bats if it weren’t for Browning needing a new bat.
Rightfield: Sam Crawford and Frank Robinson:
1) Sam Crawford, 1901, .330, 16 homers, 104 rbi, .903 OPS
2) Frank Robinson, 1962, .342, 39 homers, 136 rbi, 1.045, the year after his Reds MVP season; his Orioles MVP Triple Crown season (1966) is also listed. His Reds 1961 MVP season would be an honorable mention
How’s that for a batting order, taking into consideration the best season for each player.
1. Joe Morgan, 2b
2. Cy Seymour, CF
3. Frank Robinson, RF
4. Ted Kluszewski, 1b
5. George Foster, LF
6. Johnny Bench, C
7. Tony Perez, 3b
8. Barry Larkin, SS
None of our relief pitcher seasons were mentioned as a top 26 season, and James didn’t rate starting pitchers at this time since their roles have changed so greatly over the different eras of baseball.