Barry Bonds soldiers on at demigod level. Adrian Beltre is on pace to crack 51 homers. There’s the blanket party that is the Cardinals’ heart of the order. Todd Helton continues to rack up numbers that defy the “Coors Discount.” Carlos Guillen becomes the best-hitting shortstop in the game. I could go on.
This season, we’re seeing some remarkable statistical bestowals from hitters around baseball. To put a finer point on it, if paces hold, we’ll have five hitters eclipse the 90.0 Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) mark (VORP projections determined by multiplying VORP-per-plate appearance times projected number of end-of-season plate appearances):
Hitter Projected VORP Current Rate Stats B. Bonds 145.8 .371/.612/.822 A. Pujols 98.0 .321/.405/.642 T. Helton 95.9 .333/.458/.622 S. Rolen 92.4 .329/.414/.623 A. Beltre 91.3 .333/.380/.643
There’s a little less than six weeks to go in the regular season, which means the following guys, with even modest productivity gains, could join the above litany of 90-plussers:
Hitter Projected VORP Current Rate Stats J. Edmonds 88.9 .304/.421/.630 M. Loretta 88.5 .344/.395/.518 M. Mora 87.0 .348/.425/.594
That’s potentially eight hitters with at least a reasonable shot at making the 90.0 VORP cutoff. Impressive, no?
Yes, but it’s not a record. Most fans, when reflecting upon the seasons in recent history that provided us with a lion’s share of staggering individual performances, will think of 1998, when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire hawked down Roger Maris‘ single-season home run record. Or maybe they’ll think of 2001, when Bonds re-wrote the record books with the revisionist vigor of a Texas schoolbook committee.
However, in terms of hitters reaching or surpassing a 90.0 VORP, 1996 and 2000, with a total of 11 hitters in each season, are tops. Here are the numbers:
2000 Hitter VORP Rate Stats C. Delgado 114.3 .344/.470/.664 A. Rodriguez 111.1 .316/.420/.606 J. Giambi 106.2 .333/.476/.647 N. Garciaparra 104.2 .372/.434/.599 J. Kent 102.4 .334/.424/.596 T. Helton 97.8 .372/.463/.698 F. Thomas 94.1 .328/.436/.625 B. Bonds 93.8 .306/.440/.688 S. Sosa 93.1 .320/.406/.634 V. Guerrero 92.2 .345/.410/.664 M. Ramirez 90.4 .351/.457/.697
Some observations on the 2000 season:
- In 2000, the NL averaged 5.00 runs per game, which is tied for the highest mark in the senior circuit since 1930. The AL averaged 5.30 runs per game, the second-highest runs-per-game average in the AL since 1938.
- Not surprisingly, a number of “counting stat” gold standards were achieved that season. Helton logged 405 total bases and smacked 103 extra-base hits (59 of which were doubles, the highest mark in either league since Joe Medwick knocked 64 in 1936). Jeff Bagwell scored 152 runs, and he, Helton, Frank Thomas, Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi and Darin Erstad all reached base more than 300 times. Speaking of Erstad, he also tallied 240 hits, and Cristian Guzman legged out 20 triples, the highest AL total since Willie Wilson‘s 21 in 1985.
- It’s a growth economy for stellar offensive seasons when a qualifying catcher playing half his games at pitcher-friendly Shea Stadium (Mike Piazza) hits .324/.398/.614 and finishes 22nd in VORP.
- Yes, Moises Alou, it’s possible to rack up 517 plate appearances, slug .623, get on base at a .416 clip and be only the 36th-most productive hitter in the game.
- Who was the 100th-best hitter in baseball in 2000? Greg Colbrunn, who came to the plate 385 times and hit .313/.405/.523 for the D-Backs.
- Boston 2B Jose Offerman that season hit .255/.353/.359, which is vaguely respectable for a middle infielder in most years, but still wound up as the seventh-worst qualifying hitter in either league in 2000.
On to ’96:
1996 Hitter VORP Rate Stats A. Rodriguez 119.9 .358/.411/.631 C. Knoblauch 108.0 .341/.448/.517 F. Thomas 103.3 .349/.459/.626 M. McGwire 101.1 .312/.467/.730 B. Bonds 98.1 .308/.461/.615 B. Anderson 95.3 .297/.393/.637 G. Sheffield 94.6 .314/.465/.624 R. Alomar 93.1 .328/.406/.527 A. Belle 93.0 .311/.410/.623 J. Thome 92.5 .311/.450/.612 J. Bagwell 91.3 .315/.451/.570
Data ruminations forthwith…
- In ’96, the NL averaged 4.68 runs per game, which at that time was the highest level of run-scoring in the National League since 1953. The AL logged 5.39 runs per game, which happened to be the highest AL mark since 1938. Given that historically wide spread between the AL and NL, it’s not surprising to observe that eight of the top 10 hitters in baseball that season hailed from the junior circuit.
- That season, the best ever for future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, he came to the plate 627 times, batted .298/.410/.567, stole 36 bases against only 10 caught, manned shortstop and just barely cracked the top 15 in VORP.
- Explain to me again how Alex Rodriguez wasn’t the MVP that season?
- San Diego’s Ken Caminiti, the NL MVP that season, ranked “only” 17th in VORP in 1996. Juan Gonzalez, the AL MVP in ’96, finished 19th in VORP.
- Sure, Coors is partly to blame, but Andres Galarraga, despite slugging .601, was merely the 50th-most productive hitter in the game that season.
We’re seeing some incredible feats this year, including the best individual offensive performance in baseball history (Bonds, ibid). But as the season winds down, we remember that the statistical upper class as a whole has seen better days.