Ranking the greatest offensive seasons in Orioles history
With another monstrous moonshot Wednesday night, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis moved into a tie for third place in franchise history for most home runs in a single season.
Sitting at 46, he needs just one homer in each of the remaining five weeks to pass Brady Anderson's 50 from 1996 and become the Orioles' single-season home run leader. If Davis blasts 15 more in the club's final 36 games, he would tie the New York Yankees' Roger Maris for the most ever hit in a season by an American League player.
If Davis put his bat in the rack today and took an early vacation from the game, he would already have turned in one of the greatest offensive seasons in modern franchise history.
The question is: How great?
Where does it rank compared to other eye-popping Orioles season-long performances (from 1954 to the present), five of which have garnered the American League MVP Award?
We weren't the only ones wondering.
Davis, who spent part of Tuesday on a "man date" with Orioles slugging legend Boog Powell, admitted that he, too, was curious about how his accomplishments this year have stacked up against past Oriole greats.
"I honestly have thought about it a little bit, the company I have been keeping. And it is an honor for me," Davis said. "Every time I allow myself to think about it, I mean, it's just a privilege to be a part not only of this team but of this organization. And it's special to be able to do things that put you in the same category with guys like Brady Anderson, Jim Gentile, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Miggy Tejada, and the other guys that have had such great careers."
The task today is trying to put Davis' in-progress season into historical perspective.
If the games ended today, only Frank Robinson's 1966 Triple Crown season would be firmly ahead of Davis' current run. Gentile's 1961 season gets a slight edge for No. 2, though Davis is on his way to surpassing Diamond Jim.
In our estimation, Davis, at this moment, is having the third-greatest offensive season in Orioles history. And mark that spot with a bullet, because he has the opportunity to move higher by Sept. 29.
All of this, of course, is exceptionally subjective, though we studied statistics -- old and new -- for comparison's sake.
Besides the old-school Triple Crown and slash categories, we looked at Wins Above Replacement (WAR, which measures how many wins a player creates over a replacement player at his position), Offensive WAR (oWAR, similar to WAR, but with the defensive component removed) and Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA, which measures a player's overall offensive contributions per plate appearance based on escalating values from walks to homers).
We also talked to some writers, players and baseball observers, and mixed it all together. Admittedly, there still are some glaring omissions. Two of the MVP seasons, Cal Ripken Jr.'s in 1983 and Powell's in 1970, ultimately didn't make the cut, though both players are represented with what we believe were their best years. There wasn't a limitation put on how many times a player appears on the list, it just worked out that no one makes it more than once.
Robbie Alomar's remarkably complete 1996 season is omitted. And it's not because of the infamous spitting incident. It just fell behind two of his teammates' performances that year -- offensively anyway. Larry Sheets and Chris Hoiles, among others, also had standout seasons that fell just short.
And yes, different time frames are intermingled here, meaning Steroid Era seasons, in some cases, are ranked above performances in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of you will have a major problem with that -- two players who made the list eventually failed drug tests in their careers (Tejada and Rafael Palmeiro). But the decision was made to compile the rankings based on numbers and not suspicions or eventual positive tests.
The bottom line: The Orioles have a dizzying number of great offensive seasons in their history. Whittling it down was daunting. So much that this started out as a top 10 list and ended up as the top dozen offensive seasons in Orioles history.
Let the debate begin.
-- Dan Connolly
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1. Frank Robinson, 1966( Richard Stacks, Baltimore Sun / September 21, 2004 )
Stats: .316 average/.410 on-base/.637 slugging. 49 homers, 122 runs, 122 RBIs. 7.6 Wins above replacement (WAR), 8.9 offensive WAR (oWAR), .427 Weighted on-base average (wOBA).
Skinny: No matter what Davis does, it just seems unlikely he -- or anyone -- can top Robinson's first season in an Orioles uniform. Not only did he have amazing numbers, but Robinson's season catapulted the club into its most dominant run. He won the Triple Crown (leading the league in homers, RBIs and batting average) and the AL MVP award while ushering the club to its first World Series title. His 49 homers are now tied for 43rd overall in one season, but hitting 50 or more homers had happened just 17 times at that point in the sport's history. And remember, Robinson did it at a time when fans and players were complaining that pitchers had a competitive advantage.