Devin Jordan

Top Fantasy Baseball Seasons of All Time

Billy Hamilton

The MLB Hall of Fame results came out last week, and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at Fantasy Baseball from a historical perspective. So I looked at the top Fantasy Baseball seasons of all time, and thought about how those seasons give us a glimpse into larger offensive trends and the reasons for those developments.

Top Fantasy Baseball Seasons

1894Billy HamiltonPhillies544419287980.40424.42
1921Babe RuthYankees54059177171170.37824.29
1911Ty CobbTigers5918147127830.4224.17
1887Pete BrowningColonels54741371181030.40223.80
1894Hugh DuffyBeaneaters53918160145480.4423.44
1887Arlie LathamBrowns6272163831290.31622.93
1895Billy HamiltonPhillies517716674970.38922.40
1887Charlie ComiskeyBrowns53841391031170.33522.26
1931Lou GehrigYankees61946163184170.34122.06
1922Rogers HornsbyCardinals62342141152170.40121.90
1930Hack WilsonCubs5855614619130.35621.78
1927Babe RuthYankees5406015816470.35621.75
1927Lou GehrigYankees58447149175100.37321.64
1932Jimmie FoxxAthletics5855815116930.36421.63
1915Ty CobbTigers563314499960.36921.62
1997Larry WalkerRockies56849143130330.36621.58
1930Chuck KleinPhillies6484015817040.38621.51
1891Tom BrownReds5895177721060.32121.41
1930Lou GehrigYankees58141143174120.37921.16
1896Joe KelleyOrioles5198148100870.36421.09
1920Babe RuthYankees45754158137140.37620.90
1920George SislerBrowns63119137122420.40720.87
1998Sammy SosaCubs64366134158180.30820.73
1887Tip O'NeillBrowns51714167123300.43520.52
2007Alex RodriguezYankees58354143156240.31420.47
1936Lou GehrigYankees5794916715230.35420.35
1923Babe RuthYankees52241151131170.39320.35
1931Babe RuthYankees5344614916350.37320.34
1930Al SimmonsAthletics5543615216590.38120.32
2001Barry BondsGiants47673129137130.32820.20
1930Babe RuthYankees51849150153100.35920.19
1922Ken WilliamsBrowns58539128155370.33220.18
1930Babe HermanRobins61435143130180.39320.18
1934Lou GehrigYankees5794912816590.36320.14
1938Jimmie FoxxRed Sox5655013917550.34920.14
1891Billy HamiltonPhillies5272141601110.3420.10
2001Sammy SosaCubs5776414616000.32820.07
1891Hugh DuffyReds5369134110850.33620.00
1909Ty CobbTigers5739116107760.37719.96
1893Ed DelahantyPhillies59519145146370.36819.94
1922George SislerBrowns5868134105510.4219.93
1996Ellis BurksRockies61340142128320.34419.93
1937Joe DiMaggioYankees6214615116730.34619.90
1896Hughie JenningsOrioles5210125121700.40119.89
1895Hughie JenningsOrioles5294159125530.38619.86
1929Rogers HornsbyCubs6023915614920.3819.82
1926Babe RuthYankees49547139150110.37219.80
1894Jake StenzelPirates52213148121610.35419.77
1932Chuck KleinPhillies65038152137200.34819.73
1889Billy HamiltonCowboys5343144771110.30119.71
1895Joe KelleyOrioles51810148134540.36519.69
1895Sam ThompsonPhillies53818131165270.39219.58
1897Willie KeelerOrioles564014574640.42419.51
1901Nap LajoieAthletics54414145125270.42619.42
1894Walt WilmotColts5975134130740.3319.41
1890Harry StoveyReds4811214284970.29919.38
1937Hank GreenbergTigers5944013718380.33719.35
1985Rickey HendersonYankees5472414672800.31419.35
1896Willie KeelerOrioles544415382670.38619.33
1887Denny LyonsAthletics5706128102730.36719.33
1998Alex RodriguezMariners68642123124460.3119.32
1914Benny KauffHoosiers571812095750.3719.22
1894Joe KelleyOrioles5076165111460.39319.21
1889Harry StoveyAthletics55619152119630.30819.21
2000Todd HeltonRockies5804213814750.37219.15
1928Babe RuthYankees5365416314240.32319.15
1930Kiki CuylerCubs64213155134370.35519.06
1899Ed DelahantyPhillies5819135137300.4119.03
1925Rogers HornsbyCardinals5043913314350.40319.01
1924Babe RuthYankees5294614312190.37818.99
1895Ed DelahantyPhillies48011149106460.40418.99
1938Hank GreenbergTigers5565814414670.31518.98
1982Rickey HendersonAthletics53610119511300.26718.96
1933Jimmie FoxxAthletics5734812516320.35618.95
1993Barry BondsGiants53946129123290.33618.94
1897George DavisGiants51910112136650.35318.92
1929Lefty O'DoulPhillies6383215212220.39818.90
1890Hugh DuffyPirates596716182780.3218.85
1894John McGrawOrioles512115692780.3418.84
1895Bill LangeColts4781012098670.38918.83
2001Alex RodriguezRangers63252133135180.31818.83
1956Mickey MantleYankees53352132130100.35318.77
1887Mike GriffinOrioles532314294940.30118.76
1949Ted WilliamsRed Sox5664315015910.34318.73
1887John WardGiants5451114531110.33818.66
1912Ty CobbTigers553712083610.40918.65
1948Stan MusialCardinals6113913513170.37618.65
1896Billy HamiltonBeaneaters523315252830.36518.64
1890Tommy McCarthyBrowns548613769830.3518.61
2011Matt KempDodgers60239115126400.32418.59
1963Hank AaronBraves63144121130310.31918.57
1996Barry BondsGiants51742122129400.30818.50
1997Ken Griffey Jr.Mariners60856125147150.30418.49
1962Frank RobinsonReds60939134136180.34218.48
1998Mark McGwireCardinals5097013014710.29918.47
2001Todd HeltonRockies5874913214670.33618.47
1888John ReillyRed Stockings52713112103820.32118.46
1955Willie MaysGiants58051123127240.31918.45
1936Hal TroskyIndians6294212416260.34318.42
1988Jose CansecoAthletics61042120124400.30718.39

The original Billy Hamilton, as we will call him, played from 1888 to 1901 for the Phillies, Beaneaters, and Cowboys, was appropriately named “Sliding Billy,” and was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1961.

While Hamilton set numerous records in his career, the numbers that he put up in 1894 allowed him to have the greatest Fantasy Baseball season of all time. And they tell us something about the offensive trends of that era and why they occurred.

In 1894, Hamilton set the all-time record for most runs in a season with 198, and he led the league in stolen bases with 98 swipes. Hamilton is also tied for the major-league record for most stolen bases in a game with seven, and in 1937, Hamilton said, “I was and will be the greatest base stealer of all time.”

Then, out of nowhere, stolen bases began to plummet.

Stolen Base Average

Average number of stolen bases per qualified players from 1887 to 2013.

Players didn’t become slower over night, and catchers didn’t get surgery to have mechanical arms attached to their shoulders.

The rules changed.

In the 1900s, players were credited with stolen bases as they are today, but they were also accredited in ways dissimilar from modern baseball. A website on nineteenth century baseball reveals that in the 1900s, “If a base runner makes a start and a battery error is made, the runner should receive the credit of a stolen base and the battery error is scored against the player making it. Should a base runner overrun a base and then be put out; he should receive the credit of a Stolen Base.” In plain English, a battery error is a dropped third strike or a passed ball, and as far as players getting credit for a stolen base even after he overran the base, that’s like if a guy “finished” before he actually hooked up with a girl, yet he still got credit for it — you just look stupid.

Circa 19th Century catchers mitts

Numbers aside, imagine how many more passed balls and dropped third strikes there probably were in the 19th century when catchers used mitts you could use to take a pizza out of the oven with, but not really catch a baseball.

In essence, the rules curbed offense more than a swing in talent actually did.

Thinking About Offense Today …

From 2012 to 2013, home runs dropped at one of the largest rates in baseball history. In 2013, players averaged as many home runs as they did in 1977 — and this is all while batting average has trended down.

Batting average and home run trends

Batting average and home run averages per qualified players since 1871.

Two players — Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis — hit over 40 home runs last year, while there were 13 players that hit 40 or more in 1999. Also in 1999, 24 players hit 35 or more dingers, but in 2013, only five players hit at least 35 homers.

When you look at the top Fantasy Baseball seasons since 1970 (listed below), there are only two players on that list post-2001: Alex Rodriguez (2007) and Matt Kemp (2011). 

Kemp was able to push his way onto this list with a season that was one home run shy a 40-HR/40-SB season, while it will still be debated whether Rodriguez did it with skill or the syringe.

Top Fantasy Baseball Seasons Since 1970

1997Larry WalkerRockies56849143130330.36621.58
1998Sammy SosaCubs64366134158180.30820.73
2007Alex RodriguezYankees58354143156240.31420.47
2001Barry BondsGiants47673129137130.32820.20
2001Sammy SosaCubs5776414616000.32820.07
1996Ellis BurksRockies61340142128320.34419.93
1985Rickey HendersonYankees5472414672800.31419.35
1998Alex RodriguezMariners68642123124460.3119.32
2000Todd HeltonRockies5804213814750.37219.15
1982Rickey HendersonAthletics53610119511300.26718.96
1993Barry BondsGiants53946129123290.33618.94
2001Alex RodriguezRangers63252133135180.31818.83
2011Matt KempDodgers60239115126400.32418.59
1996Barry BondsGiants51742122129400.30818.50
1997Ken Griffey Jr.Mariners60856125147150.30418.49
1998Mark McGwireCardinals5097013014710.29918.47
2001Todd HeltonRockies5874913214670.33618.47
1988Jose CansecoAthletics61042120124400.30718.39
1999Jeff BagwellAstros56242143126300.30418.30
1996Alex RodriguezMariners60136141123150.35818.27
Larry Walker

It’s appropriate to show some respect for that mullet and, more so, Larry Walker’s 1997 batting line.

Like the deflation of stolen bases upon an amendment to the rules in the early 20th century, home runs and offensive production has dipped in the early 21st century because of a rule change — drug testing.

Trends are often a result of subtle changes to the rules that we are unsure of how they will affect the game until years after those alterations have been made. Billy Hamilton was the greatest base stealer of all time because the rules allowed him to be, just like Barry Bonds was the greatest home run hitter of all time because of the rules that existed while he played.

It’s unfair to judge people and players by a standard that exists after their time.

People used to think smoking tobacco was good for you; people used to burn their trash in their back yards; Coca-Cola used to be made with cocaine.

Culture deemed these activities to be acceptable while they happened and were only considered reprehensible after the fact. The same can be said for the steroids era.

Follow Me on TwitterDevin Jordan is obsessed with statistical analysis, non-fiction literature, and electronic music. If you enjoyed reading him, follow him on Twitter @devinjjordan.

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