This annotated week in baseball history: Feb. 27-Mar. 12, 2011by Richard Barbieri
March 03, 2011
In honor of his upcoming 27th birthday, Richard looks back at some of the great seasons ever posted by men that age.
Next week I will be turning the alarmingly adult-seeming age of 27. As I will be taking next week off—hey, it’s my birthday, cut me some slack—I thought this would be a good occasion to look back on the best seasons ever posted by players in their age-27 season. In addition to being motivational, it would also prove interesting to see what players were on the top of their form at the same age I am about to be.
So without further ado, here are the age-27 All-Stars, selected using Baseball Reference’s WAR.
Catcher: Darrell Porter, 1979
This one surprised me a little bit. I know Porter is criminally underrated; he appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1993 and failed to receive a single vote despite being easily among the top fifteen catchers in baseball history at the time. But I had no idea that Porter’s age-27 season would be better than that of any number of Hall of Fame catchers.
And not only was Porter’s season better than any others, it was much better. He was nearly two wins ahead of Johnny Bench’s 1975—the second best season—and around three wins better than the seasons posted by the likes Yogi Berra, Joe Mauer (who was 27 last year) and Mickey Cochrane.
First Base: Lou Gehrig, 1930
Probably the best first baseman who ever lived, so as surprised as I was to see to see Porter topping the catcher list, I was equally unsurprised to see Gehrig at the top of the list for first baseman. Somewhat incredibly, while this is the greatest season in age-27 first base history, it is not even among Gehrig’s top three seasons by WAR. Nonetheless, Gehrig is almost a win ahead of every other first baseman.
In the last four years, three of the best age-27 seasons at first base have been posted—Albert Pujols in 2006, Adrian Gonzalez in 2009 and Miguel Cabrera last year.
Second Base: Eddie Collins, 1914
Given that Collins is one of the great second baseman of all time, it did not shock me that he was he was the greatest age-27 second baseman of all time. What did surprise me was some of the rest of the top ten. For one thing, the second greatest season was posted by Chuck Knoblauch in 1996. “Knobby” hit .341 that year with almost 100 walks and 50 steals.
Another one-time Yankee second baseman (and recent column subject), Joe Gordon, has the third-best season. Meanwhile, current Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano had the eighth-best age-27 season just last year.
Shortstop: Ernie Banks, 1958
The first year of Banks’ back-to-back MVPs, and (like 1967, as you are above to see) a good year for age-27 players, Banks hit 47 home runs this year with 129 RBI. The home runs set a new record for shortstops, breaking Banks’ own record, and this new mark would stand until 2001 when Alex Rodriguez hit 51 playing for the Rangers.
A-Rod does appear on the top ten list for age-27 seasons by a shortstop, but a number of other notables do not, including Cal Ripken (19th) and Derek Jeter (25th). Honus Wagner, incidentally, played fewer than fifty percent of his games at shortstop in his age-27 season and, therefore, doesn’t appear on the list. Had he played the required percentage, he would rank third all time behind Banks and Bobby Wallace.
Third Base: Ron Santo, 1967
Even more so than Porter, Santo’s omission from the Hall of Fame borders on criminal. One of the great third baseman ever, that Santo died before seeing his name in Cooperstown is an embarrassment to the Hall. But at least he can have the title of best age-27 third baseman, barely edging out George Brett, Mike Schmidt and Home Run Baker by less than a win for the title.
Despite having the infield’s narrowest margin of victory—and really, any of the quartet would be a suitable pick for this spot—Santo is a deserving honoree.
|The two greatest age-27 players of all-time (Icon/SMI)|
Left Field: Carl Yastrzemski, 1967
Yaz is, if you are wondering, the all-time leader for WAR in age an age-27 season. But, incredibly, he also has the narrowest margin of victory, finishing less than half a win ahead of Ted Williams’ equally great 1946 season.
Of course, when looking at Yaz’s numbers from the “Impossible Dream” season, one can easily see why he has this spot. Yaz led the American League in runs, hits, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs and RBI.
He received all but one of the first-place votes for MVP and won a Gold Glove in left field for good measure. There are a lot of great players on this list, but Yaz’s season is pure brilliance.
Center Field: Willie Mays, 1958
As with Gehrig, one can hardly claim to be even a little taken aback to see someone as great as Mays topping this list.
This was a standard marvelous Mays season in his peak, during which he lead the league in both OPS and stolen bases while winning the Gold Glove.
Mays likely would have won the Most Valuable Player award that year, if not for the season posted by Banks, celebrating his own age-27 season.
Right Field: Stan Musial, 1948
Like Mays, the year-in, year-out brilliance of Musial can make singling out one year particularly difficult. But 1948 was probably Stan the Man at his absolute best. Musial led the league in an almost comical panoply of statistics: runs, hits, doubles, triples, batting average, on-base and slugging percentage, and RBI. Musial won the MVP award, despite incredibly missing out on a full quarter of the first-place votes.
(Musial actually only played 49% of his games in right field that year, but it is close enough—and his season so outstanding—that we’ll cut him a break.)
Pitcher: Steve Carlton, 1972
This is Carlton’s most famous season, when he went 27-10 on a Phillies team that was 32-87 (.268, or 43 wins in a 162-game season) otherwise. There are a lot of ways to express how great Carlton’s season was, but perhaps the best way is to list those seasons which Carlton topped.
One of those is Pedro Martinez’s sparkling 1999 season when he went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA. Carlton had more WAR than that. Carlton topped Ron Guidry’s awesome 25-3 1978 season, and Sandy Koufax’s sublime 1963 season that won him the MVP Award. Those seasons were all remarkable, but none topped Carlton’s 1972 for the all-time best at age 27.
Without running comparable teams for other ages, it is hard to say just how the age-27 All-Stars could do against other ages. But seeing the number of great players attaining great achievements, it does give me confidence I can excel in my age-27 year.
Questions, comments and thinly veiled threats can be mailed to Richard on the back of a twenty dollar bill or e-mailed to him at RichardBarbieri@yahoo.com
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