Fantasy Baseball History:
The 100 Best Seasons of All-Time
Fantasy Baseball hasn't been around forever. But now that it is here, the game will certainly not go away. The game dates back approximately 25 years, yet it was certainly possible to enjoy the great hobby well before the advent of the Internet.
Suppose that in the days of the Big Red Machine, Murderer's Row and Tinker to Evers to Chance, we had fantasy baseball? We all know the great enthusiasm that Brooklyn Dodgers fans had for their players. Imagine if they could own them in a fantasy league. The Tigers of the 1960s were the darlings of the city, and fans of that era could certainly find great joy in owning their favorites.
Yes, fantasy baseball could have certainly existed many, many years ago, because the love of the game extends back so far. In such an alternate universe, arguments about who was the best between Willie, Mickey and the Duke would have partnered with quarrels about who was the best fantasy player of the three. And kids didn't have to just fantasize about being their heroes. They could manage and trade them, too, in simpler times when baseball cards were the very fabric of our lives.
The roots of Rotisserie Baseball, according to legend that has been chronicled many times, trace back to 1980, when a group of baseball enthusiasts gathered at a Manhattan restaurant, La Rotisserie Francaise, to lay the groundwork and rules for the first known league in history. Author Daniel Okrent has been inducted into the Fantasy Sports Trade Association's Hall of Fame, along with Glen Waggoner, who is now a Deputy Editor at ESPN The Magazine. The two have been widely hailed as the founding fathers of Rotisserie Baseball. Okrent went on to pen several books on fantasy baseball, and the game grew by more leaps and bounds with the explosion of the Internet in the 1990s.
Today, Alex Rodriguez is fantasy baseball's signature player. Yet in a world where fantasy lives forever, and it should, because statistics drive baseball itself, he's not even remotely close to being the king. Had our grandfathers and great grandfathers played fantasy baseball (and they would have loved it), they would certainly attest first-hand that Babe Ruth is the best fantasy baseball player ever. Because when you rank the 100 best fantasy seasons ever, as ESPN.com's Tristan H. Cockcroft did, the Bambino dominates the top tier of the list.
Barry Bonds might soon pass Ruth, but he'll never come close to him as a statistical monster in fantasy terms. Ruth had what could be considered as the two best fantasy seasons ever, in 1920 and 1921. In 1920, Ruth hit .376 with 54 homers and 137 RBI. In '21, Ruth hit .378, with 59 home runs, 171 RBI and even tossed in 17 steals. Ruth owns four of the 10 best fantasy seasons ever, and six of the top 17. Bonds' 2001 season does not appear on the list until No. 26, and A-Rod makes his first appearance at No. 47 (1998).
Ruth's teammate, Lou Gehrig, also made a great statistical mark on history, and he enjoyed two of the top-five fantasy seasons ever. In 1931, he hit .341 with 46 homers, 134 RBI, 17 steals and 163 runs scored. In '27, he had one of the best years of his career from a power perspective, as he hit .373 with 47 homers and 175 RBI. Gehrig also compiled top-40 fantasy seasons in 1934, 1936 and 1930. Boy, if fantasy baseball had existed early in the 20th century, auction bids for Yankees would be especially high.
The best seasons in fantasy history were determined by a combination of 5x5 Rotisserie scoring and point-based league scoring, as well as relative value to their positions and compared to other players in a given season. The record-breaking seasons of Roger Maris and Mark McGwire didn't get as much significance because both records were set in homer-friendly seasons. All-around production became a prime factor as well, and neither player had one of the best all-around statistical seasons. What you will see on our list are the most "valuable" players of any particular year.
The early-1900s legends dominate the top 15, and Pedro Martinez is the first modern-era player to appear on the list at No. 15. In 1999, Martinez won 23 of 27 decisions and struck out 313 batters. Larry Walker, who hit .366 with 49 homers and 33 steals in 1997, is the first present-day hitter to appear on the list. Martinez's 2000 season, in which he struck out 284 batters and fashioned a 1.74 ERA, also makes the top 30 with other notables such as Sandy Koufax and Walter Johnson, the only three pitchers to crack the group. Martinez, Walter Johnson and Randy Johnson are the only pitchers to have two top-30 seasons.
Sammy Sosa's 1998 season, in which he hit .308 with 66 homers, makes the top 40, as does Dwight Gooden, who might be the best fantasy "one-hit wonder" ever. Gooden's 1985 season, in which he went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA, actually ranks ahead of some of the best seasons of Koufax, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens, and it came during the earliest years of true fantasy baseball play. Jose Canseco's 1988 season, in which he hit 42 homers and stole 40 bases, also ranks as a great small window in time, and of course, one that might deserve an asterisk of sorts.
You'll be surprised to see some of the best hitters of all time ranked lower than expected. Willie Mays and Ted Williams won't rank as high as you might think they would, and you won't even see Albert Pujols on the list. Rickey Henderson's best season didn't even come in an Oakland A's uniform, and doesn't crack the top 50, despite being widely considered the best fantasy player of the fantasy era.
You'll see that in terms of speed, though, Ty Cobb would have been legendary not only in real baseball, but in fantasy terms. Randy Johnson will certainly go down in history for having some of the best fantasy seasons a starting pitcher could deliver, rivaling legends such as Christy Mathewson and Bob Gibson. Bonds and Greg Maddux appear more than once on the list, and you'll see Mays several times. You'll be surprised to see Mike Marshall, and it will be interesting to see the names of players like Maury Wills and Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown.
Yes, fantasy baseball would have quite a thrilling history if it had always been around. Of course, it hasn't, but isn't the word "fantasy" what this game is all about? So let's take a thrilling, imaginative trip back in time, and find out who has delivered the best fantasy baseball campaigns of all-time.
DEFINING THIS PROJECT
The all-time best fantasy baseball seasons take into account all years in Major League Baseball history, not just the ones since the advent of Rotisserie Baseball in 1980. So while there might not have been fantasy baseball in 1920, we can still apply the dynamics of today's game to that era simply by browsing the yearly statistics. Players are ranked based upon the best possible combination of value in Rotisserie 5x5 scoring and point-based leagues, as well as their relative value at their position and compared to other players in the majors in that given season. Position scarcity is also taken into account, though one must remember that an exceptional season by a player at a deep position like first base or outfield is still going to take precedent over a very good year by a catcher, second baseman or third baseman. Perceived draft-day value received only minor consideration in compiling the list; since fantasy drafts weren't widespread before the 1980s, factoring in whether a player's year was considered a sleeper, surprise or breakout didn't have much impact, only a couple spots up or down on average.
100. Mike Schmidt, 3B, 1981 Philadelphia Phillies
Stats: .316 AVG, 31 HR, 91 RBI, 12 SB, 78 R, 354 AB
A performance from the strike-shortened 1981 season warrants mention on this list? Schmidt's statistics in that shortened year were head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Project his numbers to a full year and he would have had 47 homers, 138 RBI, 18 steals and 118 runs. Schmidt winds up as the first of only two third basemen in the top 100; the position has simply lacked a true five-category superstar.
99. Nolan Ryan, SP, 1973 California Angels
Stats: 21-16 record, 1 SV, 2.87 ERA, 1.227 WHIP, 383 K, 326 IP
He might not have excelled in the early days of Rotisserie 4x4 scoring, but Ryan is still considered the greatest power pitcher in baseball history. His 383 strikeouts are still a modern (post-1900) record, and he did manage the fifth-most wins in the majors, while finishing in the top 10 in the American League in ERA and WHIP.
98. Mike Marshall, RP, 1974 Los Angeles Dodgers
Stats: 15-12 record, 21 SV, 2.42 ERA, 1.186 WHIP, 143 K, 208.1 IP
From 1972-74, Marshall was perhaps the game's most dominant, durable closer. In his first year with Los Angeles in 1974, he managed to earn the National League's Cy Young award and set major-league records with 106 appearances and 208.1 innings pitched in relief. To put that into perspective, only 27 starters threw that many frames in 2004. That made his 2.42 ERA -- fourth in baseball -- about as valuable as a starter's today.
97. Roy Campanella, C, 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers
Stats: .312 AVG, 41 HR, 142 RBI, 4 SB, 103 R, 519 AB
The first of two catchers to make the top 100, Campanella finished in the top five in homers and RBI en route to winning his second of three NL Most Valuable Player awards. He and Yogi Berra, who also won three AL MVP awards in the 1950s, would have been the class of the position in fantasy leagues, but Campanella's 1953 represents the decade's best effort. Sadly, he would have been one of the more frustrating fantasy selections; in his career, he averaged .301-28-100 totals in odd-numbered years, .248-20-71 in even-numbered years.
96. Greg Maddux, SP, 1994 Atlanta Braves
Stats: 16-6 record, 1.56 ERA, 0.896 WHIP, 156 K, 202 IP
In the other major strike-shortened season in 1994, Maddux was effectively a model of perfection. The NL's Cy Young award winner, Maddux led the majors in ERA and WHIP and finished in the top five in wins and strikeouts. How dominant was he? Maddux's ERA was 1.09 lower and his WHIP was 0.130 lower than anyone else's that year.
95. Bruce Sutter, RP, 1977 Chicago Cubs
Stats: 7-3 record, 31 SV, 1.34 ERA, 0.857 WHIP, 129 K, 107.1 IP
He finished second in the majors in saves and sixth in the NL Cy Young balloting, but Sutter's 1977 was still one of the best by fantasy standards. Back then, a closer threw more innings than they do today, which is what makes Sutter's ratios so impressive. He finished with an ERA a full run lower than the leading starter, John Candelaria, and a WHIP 0.157 lower than Tom Seaver's.
94. Willie Mays, OF, 1956 New York Giants
Stats: .296 AVG, 36 HR, 84 RBI, 40 SB, 101 R, 578 AB
This won't be the last time you see the great Willie Mays on this list, so why not start with one of his two 30/30 campaigns? In 1956, he became only the second member of that club, and the first in 34 years. He led the majors in just one prominent offensive category -- stolen bases -- just a year after topping the majors in home runs. Now that's a well-rounded fantasy superstar.
93. Mike Piazza, C, 1997 Los Angeles Dodgers
Stats: .362 AVG, 40 HR, 124 RBI, 5 SB, 104 R, 556 AB
The second and final catcher to make the top 100, Piazza finished second in the NL MVP voting in the best year of his career in 1997, to a player you'll also find in the top 100. Piazza finished in the top 10 in the majors in batting average, home runs and RBI, and he batted 38 points higher and had 10 more homers and 38 more RBI than any other backstop. Most will tell you this was the best hitting season by a catcher in baseball history; fantasy owners certainly won't disagree.
92. Al Rosen, 3B, 1953 Cleveland Indians
Stats: .336 AVG, 43 HR, 145 RBI, 8 SB, 115 R
The second and final third baseman to make the top 100, Rosen set a single-season record for the position with his 145 RBI in 1953. He finished the year as the major-league leader in the category, placed second in homers, fifth in runs scored and sixth in batting average en route to winning the AL MVP. Unfortunately, Rosen's homers and RBI would decline in each of the following three seasons, and he'd be out of baseball just four years later.
91. Lindy McDaniel, RP, 1960 St. Louis Cardinals
Stats: 12-4 record, 26 SV, 2.09 ERA, 0.937 WHIP, 105 K, 116.1 IP
The "save," one of Rotisserie Baseball's primary categories, was "invented" just one year before McDaniel's career year, and it wouldn't become an official statistic for another six years. But we're applying the dynamics of fantasy baseball to a history that largely didn't even entertain our game, so why can't we also retroactively consider McDaniel's save total from 1960? He led the majors with 26 saves, at the time setting an NL record.
90. Ernie Banks, SS, 1958 Chicago Cubs
Stats: .313 AVG, 47 HR, 129 RBI, 4 SB, 119 R, 617 AB
Until "Mr. Cub" burst onto the scene, power hitting was an unheard of trait in a shortstop. Banks set a major-league record for homers at the position just three years earlier, but he would break that mark in 1958 by swatting 47 homers, a record that would stand for another 43 years. Banks led the majors in homers and RBI and finished in the top 10 in batting average and runs scored, earning NL MVP honors. He might serve as baseball history's best example that fantasy stars can be found on losing teams; his Cubs finished below .500 in his first 10 seasons, and he would never appear in the postseason.
89. Rickey Henderson, OF, 1982 Oakland Athletics
Stats: .267 AVG, 10 HR, 51 RBI, 130 SB, 119 R, 536 AB
Though he had the lowest batting average of any player in the top 100, Henderson was one of the best players in the early days of Rotisserie Baseball, and it was all a result of his speed. His 130 steals are still a modern record, and they were 52 more than anyone else in the majors. In fact, he had more steals than nine of the 13 other AL teams in 1982.
88. Dan Quisenberry, RP, 1983 Kansas City Royals
Stats: 5-3 record, 45 SV, 1.94 ERA, 0.928 WHIP, 48 K, 139 IP
He was never a strikeout artist, which set him apart from the game's all-time great closers, but Quisenberry was about as effective as they come in 1983. At the time, he shattered the single-season record for saves, finishing 12 ahead of anyone else that year, and finished second in the AL Cy Young balloting to LaMarr Hoyt.
87. Barry Bonds, OF, 1990 Pittsburgh Pirates
Stats: .301 AVG, 33 HR, 114 RBI, 52 SB, 104 R, 519 AB
This was the year in which Bonds elevated himself to superstar level, as he joined the 30/30 club for the first time and set a career high with 52 stolen bases en route to his first NL MVP award. Though he didn't lead the league in any prominent fantasy category, he did finish in the top 10 in the majors in homers, RBI, stolen bases and runs scored, while winning the first of his nine career NL OPS crowns.
86. Willie Mays, OF, 1965 San Francisco Giants
Stats: .317 AVG, 52 HR, 112 RBI, 9 SB, 118 R, 558 AB
The first player to appear twice on this list, Mays' 1965 is most notable in that it was the final time he managed either a .300 average or 40 homers. He set a new career high with 52 homers, leading the majors by 13, and finished in the top five in batting average, RBI and runs scored. His 1.043 OPS was the third-highest of his career.
85. Randy Johnson, SP, 1997 Seattle Mariners
Stats: 20-4 record, 2.28 ERA, 1.052 WHIP, 291 K, 213 IP
The Big Unit's first 20-win campaign came one year after back surgery limited him to just 14 appearances. In one of the best comeback campaigns in fantasy history, Johnson finished second in the majors in wins, fourth in ERA and strikeouts and sixth in WHIP. While he finished second in the AL Cy Young race, his 2.28 ERA remains a career high.
84. Rollie Fingers, RP, 1981 Milwaukee Brewers
Stats: 6-3 record, 28 SV, 1.04 ERA, 0.872 WHIP, 61 K, 78 IP
The final member of the 1981 fantasy baseball class to make the all-time top 100, Fingers won both the AL MVP and Cy Young awards in that strike-shortened season. Most people who remember that year will tell you that he was about as automatic as a closer has been in history, as he managed a win or save in 54.8 percent of the Brewers' victories.
83. Al Simmons, OF, 1930 Philadelphia Athletics
Stats: .381 AVG, 36 HR, 165 RBI, 9 SB, 152 R, 554 AB
He didn't garner a single AL MVP vote for his efforts in 1930, but Simmons gets much-deserved attention in our top 100. Even though that was a hitting-friendly season, Simmons still should have received more credit despite finishing third in the majors in runs scored, fourth in RBI, fifth in batting average and ninth in homers. His 165 RBI rank 13th all-time, and his .381 average and 152 runs also rank highly among the all-time greats.
82. Ed Walsh, SP, 1908 Chicago White Sox
Stats: 40-15 record, 6 SV, 1.42 ERA, 0.860 WHIP, 269 K, 464 IP
He's one of two pitchers since 1900 to win 40 games in a season, and Walsh led the majors in wins and strikeouts while finishing in the top five in ERA and WHIP. He was one of the early masters of the split-finger fastball, and he earned 45.5 percent of the White Sox's 88 wins that year -- still an AL record.
81. Jackie Robinson, 2B, 1949 Brooklyn Dodgers
Stats: .342 AVG, 16 HR, 124 RBI, 37 SB, 122 R, 593 AB
Breaking the "unwritten" color barrier was an impressive feat in itself, but Robinson would establish himself as one of the game's all-around greats in 1949, his third season in the majors and the year he won the NL MVP award. In his first full year at second base -- he began in the majors as a first baseman -- he led the majors in stolen bases and finished third in batting average, fifth in RBI and sixth in runs scored.
80. Maury Wills, SS, 1962 Los Angeles Dodgers
Stats: .299 AVG, 6 HR, 48 RBI, 104 SB, 130 R, 695 AB
The third and final player to make the top 100 despite registering a batting average below .300, Wills makes the list thanks to his stolen base contribution, which earned him National League Most Valuable Player honors. Consider that from 1892-1961, a span of 60 seasons, no player in the major leagues topped 100 stolen bases in a single year. Wills, at the time, set a new modern record for steals, swiping 72 more than anyone else in 1962 and accumulating 7.7 percent of all major-league stolen bases that year.
79. Vida Blue, SP, 1971 Oakland Athletics
Stats: 24-8 record, 1.82 ERA, 0.952 WHIP, 301 K, 312 IP
Though he wasn't technically a rookie, Blue's first full year became the best of his career. In finishing second in the majors in wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, he set what would be personal bests in all four categories and earned both American League MVP and Cy Young honors. Fantasy owners would never have seen it coming; who would have figured it from a 21-year-old left-hander who had just 165 strikeouts in Triple-A ball in 1970?
78. John Hiller, RP, 1973 Detroit Tigers
Stats: 10-5 record, 38 SV, 1.44 ERA, 1.021 WHIP, 124 K, 125.1 IP
The AL Comeback Player of the Year in 1973, Hiller's performance was all the more remarkable because he achieved it just two years after suffering a heart attack. Even his own general manager didn't think he should pitch again, but Hiller achieved the seemingly impossible, leading the majors in saves -- by seven more than anyone else -- and finishing fourth in both the AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young races. He would set a single-season save record that would stand for 10 years.
77. Ted Williams, OF, 1941 Boston Red Sox
Stats: .406 AVG, 37 HR, 120 RBI, 2 SB, 135 R, 456 AB
The first of the Splendid Splinter's two appearances in the top 100, 1941 represents the last time any player in major-league baseball hit .400 or better in a season. Williams finished second in the AL MVP race to Joe DiMaggio that year, but he clearly had the better fantasy totals of the two. Williams paced all major leaguers in batting average, homers and runs scored, besting DiMaggio in every category but RBI (the Yankee Clipper had 125).
76. Tom Seaver, SP, 1971 New York Mets
Stats: 20-10 record, 1.76 ERA, 0.946 WHIP, 289 K, 286.1 IP
A three-time Cy Young award winner, Seaver's best fantasy season came in 1971, a year where he finished as the runner-up to Ferguson Jenkins. Seaver finished second in the NL in wins, but that was primarily the result of a Mets offense that averaged just 3.63 runs per game that season. He led the majors in ERA and WHIP and was third in strikeouts.
75. Honus Wagner, SS, 1908 Pittsburgh Pirates
Stats: .354 AVG, 10 HR, 109 RBI, 53 SB, 100 R, 568 AB
Baseball card collectors know this name from his pricey tobacco card, but the name Wagner would have stood for five-category superstar had fantasy baseball been around in the early 20th century. In the years before the MVP award, Wagner led the majors in batting average, RBI and stolen bases, finished second in homers, and third in runs scored.
74. Steve Carlton, SP, 1972 Philadelphia Phillies
Stats: 27-10 record, 1.97 ERA, 0.993 WHIP, 310 K, 346.1 IP
One of the game's all-time great left-handers, Carlton's best single season came in 1972, in his first year with the Phillies after being traded by the Cardinals for Rick Wise. Carlton won the NL Cy Young and the NL's Triple Crown, and in 1972 alone he struck out more batters than Wise did in his two years in St. Louis. Carlton led the majors in wins and finished among the top five in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts.
73. Greg Maddux, SP, 1995 Atlanta Braves
Stats: 19-2 record, 1.63 ERA, 0.811 WHIP, 181 K, 209.2 IP
The fourth and final performance from a strike-shortened year, Maddux's 1995 remains one of the best pitching efforts in history. He's the only starting pitcher in the top 100 who was never considered a strikeout artist in his career, but he earns a spot on the list because he managed an ERA a full 2.60 points below the league average. Maddux led the majors in wins, ERA and WHIP, and his WHIP still stands as the fifth-lowest in history.
72. Chuck Klein, OF, 1930 Philadelphia Phillies
Stats: .386 AVG, 40 HR, 170 RBI, 4 SB, 158 R, 648 AB
His numbers are often overlooked in the annals of history, as 1930 was generally known as a year friendly to offense. That was the year in which nine of the 16 major-league teams batted .300 or better, Klein's Phillies hit .315 and Hack Wilson set the single-season RBI record. Nevertheless, Klein's statistics still go down as some of the best in fantasy baseball history. He led the majors in runs scored, placed third in batting average and RBI, and finished fourth in homers; his 170 RBI are eighth-best all-time.
71. Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, SP, 1906 Chicago Cubs
Stats: 26-6 record, 3 SV, 1.04 ERA, 0.934 WHIP, 144 K, 277.1 IP
A farming accident at age 7 left Brown with only part of an index finger and therefore his distinct nickname, but he used his handicap to gain better movement on his pitches and become a pitcher who would have been known as a three-category stud in the early 20th century. Brown's ERA still stands as the third-lowest of all-time, and he also finished in the top five in the majors in wins and WHIP.
70. Bruce Sutter, RP, 1984 St. Louis Cardinals
Stats: 5-7 record, 45 SV, 1.54 ERA, 1.076 WHIP, 77 K, 122.2 IP
"Contract-year" players haven't just sprung up in the past decade; they can be found as far back as the advent of free agency. Sutter was a prime example in 1984. Playing out the final year of his deal with the Cardinals, he matched Dan Quisenberry's single-season record for saves, while logging an impressive 122.2 innings pitched.
69. Ted Williams, OF, 1942 Boston Red Sox
Stats: .356 AVG, 36 HR, 137 RBI, 3 SB, 141 R, 522 AB
The second of Williams' two Triple-Crown campaigns, the Splendid Splinter actually led the major leagues in batting average, homers, RBI and runs scored in 1942. Incredibly, he finished second in the AL MVP balloting to Joe Gordon, whose Yankees edged the Red Sox out for first place. What made Williams' year stand out even more was that scoring was down overall in the majors in 1942; the league batted .253, down from .262 the year before.
68. Christy Mathewson, SP, 1909 New York Giants
Stats: 25-6 record, 2 SV, 1.14 ERA, 0.828 WHIP, 149 K, 275.1 IP
He had many great fantasy seasons, but Mathewson's 1909 performance stands out because his ERA still ranks as the fifth-lowest of all-time, and his WHIP still stands eighth-lowest in history. Mathewson's ERA was 1.40 runs lower than the league average, and he finished third in the majors in wins and 10th in strikeouts.
67. Ty Cobb, OF, 1909 Detroit Tigers
Stats: .377 AVG, 9 HR, 107 RBI, 76 SB, 116 R, 573 AB
Cobb, who remains the record holder with a .366 lifetime batting average, earned the only Triple Crown of his career in one of the least homer-friendly seasons in baseball history in 1909. He led the majors in batting average, homers, RBI and stolen bases, an extremely rare feat, and finished second in runs scored. Fortunately for fantasy owners, however, World Series performances wouldn't have hurt. Cobb went 0-for-4 in Game 7 as his Tigers fell to the Pirates in the Fall Classic.
66. Hal Newhouser, SP, 1946 Detroit Tigers
Stats: 26-9 record, 1 SV, 1.94 ERA, 1.069 WHIP, 275 K, 292.2 IP
No, it wasn't either of his two MVP seasons in 1944-45; Newhouser's best fantasy effort was the one he put forth in 1946, when he set career highs in WHIP and strikeouts. Newhouser led the majors in wins, ERA and WHIP, on his way to "settling" for a second-place finish to strikeout king Bob Feller in the MVP race.
65. Rube Waddell, SP, 1904 Philadelphia Athletics
Stats: 25-19 record, 1.62 ERA, 1.039 WHIP, 349 K, 383 IP
The 20th century's first true strikeout artist, Waddell set a single-season record with his 349 strikeouts in 1904. He was also a master of control, averaging 3.84 strikeouts per walk and 2.14 walks per nine innings, numbers comparable to Johan Santana today. Waddell finished sixth in the majors in wins and third in ERA that season.
64. Joe Morgan, 2B, 1976 Cincinnati Reds
Stats: .320 AVG, 27 HR, 111 RBI, 60 SB, 113 R, 472 AB
In case you've ever worried that players coming off an MVP year or World Series championship relax somewhat the following season, Morgan's 1976 performance should ease your concerns. He earned his second straight NL MVP award and finished in the majors' top 10 in batting average, homers, RBI, stolen bases and runs scored.
63. Dazzy Vance, SP, 1924 Brooklyn Robins
Stats: 28-6 record, 2.16 ERA, 1.022 WHIP, 262 K, 308.1 IP
The 1924 season saw a Triple-Crown winner (wins, ERA and strikeouts) in both the AL and NL, but Vance also pulled off the major-league Triple Crown, topping AL leader Walter Johnson in all three categories as well as WHIP. Actually, it wasn't even a contest; Johnson won just 23 games, had a 2.72 ERA, 1.116 WHIP and 158 strikeouts by comparison.
62. Babe Herman, OF, 1930 Brooklyn Dodgers
Stats: .393 AVG, 35 HR, 130 RBI, 18 SB, 143 R, 614 AB
The first time you'll see a man named "Babe" on this list, but it's not the one you're probably thinking of. Herman was one of the many high-profile sluggers of the 1930 offensive explosion, finishing with the majors' second-highest batting average and ranking among the top 10 in homers and runs scored. He would also place fourth in stolen bases, serving as the most complete five-category fantasy player in that hitting-friendly season.
61. Ron Guidry, SP, 1978 New York Yankees
Stats: 25-3 record, 1.74 ERA, 0.946 WHIP, 248 K, 273.2 IP
Another of the many dominant pitching performances in baseball history, Guidry led the majors in wins, ERA and WHIP while ranking third in strikeouts in 1978. He earned AL Cy Young honors, finished second in the MVP race, matched a league record with nine shutouts and set a new AL mark with 18 strikeouts in a June 17 game.
60. Jose Canseco, OF, 1988 Oakland Athletics
Stats: .307 AVG, 42 HR, 124 RBI, 40 SB, 120 R, 610 AB
The combination of power and speed is a rarity in a baseball player, and there might not be a better asset in fantasy baseball than a 40/40 man. Canseco would become the club's charter member in 1988, leading the majors in homers and RBI while finishing 12th in stolen bases. He earned American League Most Valuable Player honors, but at least his fantasy owners didn't have to stomach his 1-for-19 World Series performance.
59. Willie Mays, OF, 1962 San Francisco Giants
Stats: .304 AVG, 49 HR, 141 RBI, 18 SB, 130 R, 621 AB
Mays set career highs in RBI and runs scored in 1962, finishing second in the majors in each category, and paced the majors with 49 homers, the third-best total of his career. Mays was beginning to slow down by this point of his career, but the stolen base had become somewhat of a lost art anyway; his 18 still ranked him 14th in the game.
58. Bob Gibson, SP, 1968 St. Louis Cardinals
Stats: 22-9 record, 1.12 ERA, 0.853 WHIP, 268 K, 304.2 IP
One of the most memorable pitching performances in baseball history, Gibson's 1.12 ERA still stands as a post-World War I record. In fact, since 1920, no pitcher has come within 0.41 of his mark. Gibson tossed an incredible 13 shutouts in 1968, the third-best total all-time. But while fantasy owners continue to talk about what it might have been like to own Gibson in his National League MVP and Cy Young season, keep in mind it did come in an extremely pitching-friendly year. The major-league average was just .237 and only three players topped .300, while seven pitchers finished with a 2.00 ERA or lower.
57. Stan Musial, OF, 1948 St. Louis Cardinals
Stats: .376 AVG, 39 HR, 131 RBI, 7 SB, 135 R, 611 AB
Musial won his third and final NL MVP award in 1948, when he set career highs in batting average, homers, RBI and runs scored. He paced the majors with his .376 average, and finished in the top three in homers, RBI and runs scored. Incredibly, Musial would top a .300 average 11 more times, 30 homers five more times and 100 RBI eight more times, yet he would never again win the MVP (he finished second four times).
56. Rickey Henderson, OF, 1985 New York Yankees
Stats: .314 AVG, 24 HR, 72 RBI, 80 SB, 146 R, 547 AB
Most believe Henderson was the first true fantasy superstar, but that's more because he was the only real power/speed threat in the early days of Rotisserie than because of his actual statistics. Henderson was a great player, but his best all-around fantasy season was 1985, when he topped a .300 average, 20 homers and 80 stolen bases. His 146 runs scored was the highest total in 36 years, and they were 28 more than anyone else in the majors.
55. Christy Mathewson, SP, 1908 New York Giants
Stats: 37-11 record, 5 SV, 1.43 ERA, 0.837 WHIP, 259 K, 390.2 IP
The NL's Triple Crown winner in 1908, Mathewson actually didn't lead the major leagues in any one of the five prominent Rotisserie categories. He did, however, finish second in wins, WHIP and strikeouts, fourth in ERA and would have been second in saves had the category been around in the early 20th century. Mathewson's 37 wins were a career high.
54. Hank Greenberg, OF, 1937 Detroit Tigers
Stats: .337 AVG, 40 HR, 183 RBI, 8 SB, 137 R, 594 AB
This is the first of Greenberg's two appearances on this list, and it's interesting to note that neither of the ones that made the cut were ones in which he earned his two AL MVP awards. He would finish third in the voting in 1937, but his 183 RBI still stand as the third-most in baseball history. Greenberg also placed second in the majors in homers, fourth in runs scored and 12th in batting average.
53. Roger Clemens, SP, 1997 Toronto Blue Jays
Stats: 21-7 record, 2.05 ERA, 1.030 WHIP, 292 K, 264 IP
Clemens has enjoyed many great years in his storied career, but his 1997 campaign might be his most underrated. In his first year in Toronto, after departing the Red Sox with then-general manager Dan Duquette spouting criticism of his declining skills, Clemens won the AL Cy Young award and Triple Crown. He led the majors in wins, placed second in ERA, and third in WHIP and strikeouts. So much for the "twilight of his career."
52. Alex Rodriguez, SS, 2001 Texas Rangers
Stats: .318 AVG, 52 HR, 135 RBI, 18 SB, 133 R, 632 AB
In his first year with the Rangers after signing the most lucrative contract in baseball history, A-Rod broke Ernie Banks' 43-year-old record for most homers by a shortstop in a single season. A-Rod would break his own record with 57 homers the following year, but it's his 2001 campaign that was the better one by fantasy standards. He batted 18 points higher, scored eight more runs and stole nine more bases.
51. Barry Bonds, OF, 1993 San Francisco Giants
Stats: .336 AVG, 46 HR, 123 RBI, 29 SB, 129 R, 539 AB
The move to the Bay Area paid big dividends for Bonds, who set new personal bests in batting average, homers, RBI and runs scored in his first year as a Giant. It would turn out to be his best homer total until his 2000 power explosion, and it would tie him for the major-league lead. Even better: Bonds' 29 stolen bases still placed him among the top 25.
50. Walter Johnson, SP, 1910 Washington Senators
Stats: 25-17 record, 1 SV, 1.36 ERA, 0.914 WHIP, 313 K, 370 IP
One of the game's greatest strikeout artists, Johnson set a post-1900 record for strikeouts by a right-hander in 1910. He struck out 55 more batters than any other pitcher, finished third in the majors in ERA and WHIP and fourth in wins. Johnson also paced the majors with 42 starts and 370 innings pitched that season, a testament to his durability.
49. Hugh Duffy, OF, 1894 Boston Beaneaters
Stats: .440 AVG, 18 HR, 145 RBI, 48 SB, 160 R, 539 AB
In the best fantasy season of the 19th century, Duffy became the National League's first Triple Crown winner, leading the NL in batting average, homers and RBI while finishing fourth in runs scored and ninth in stolen bases. His .440 average remains the best in history, and he had a whopping 237 hits that year. Had his Beaneaters been scheduled for 162 games, that would have projected to 291 hits, easily topping Ichiro Suzuki's 262 in 2004.
48. Mickey Mantle, OF, 1956 New York Yankees
Stats: .353 AVG, 52 HR, 130 RBI, 10 SB, 132 R, 533 AB
The Mick won his only Triple Crown in 1956, and even led the major leagues in batting average, homers, RBI and runs scored as he earned AL MVP honors. The fact that Mantle made the top 100 in just one season shouldn't detract from his career accomplishments; he was an excellent hitter but was more of a consistently solid performer than one with just one or two huge years. This was his finest year, and the only one in his career in which he topped a .300 average, 50 homers, 100 RBI and 15 steals in the same season.
47. Alex Rodriguez, SS, 1998 Seattle Mariners
Stats: .310 AVG, 42 HR, 124 RBI, 46 SB, 123 R, 686 AB
Had 1998 not been one of the highest-scoring seasons in baseball history, A-Rod's 40/40 effort would have placed higher on the list. He became just the third member of this exclusive club, and the first non-outfielder to achieve the feat. A-Rod set an AL record for homers in a season, and he came within 20 stolen bases of the major-league lead, the closest any of the three 40/40 men have come to leading that category
46. Eric Gagne, RP, 2003 Los Angeles Dodgers
Stats: 2-3 record, 55 SV, 1.20 ERA, 0.692 WHIP, 137 K, 82.1 IP
The most recent performance in the top 100, Gagne's 2003 is surely still fresh in everyone's minds. He won the NL Cy Young after leading the majors in saves by 10 over John Smoltz, earned a record 165 points in the Rolaids Relief Man race and held opposing batters to a .133 average. Gagne's 15.0 strikeouts per nine innings ratio also set a major-league record.
45. Hank Aaron, OF, 1963 Milwaukee Braves
Stats: .319 AVG, 44 HR, 130 RBI, 31 SB, 121 R, 631 AB
Everyone loves to point out that Hammerin' Hank, the all-time leader for home runs in a career, never hit 50 homers in a single season, but in doing so, they seem to gloss over the fact that he actually claimed membership in the 30/30 club in 1963. And if you think the stolen base is a lost art today, consider that in that season, 40 steals led the majors. Aaron's 31 steals placed him third, and he also ranked first in RBI and runs scored, second in homers and fourth in batting average.
44. Joe DiMaggio, OF, 1937 New York Yankees
Stats: .346 AVG, 46 HR, 167 RBI, 3 SB, 151 R, 621 AB
It wasn't the year of "The Streak" or any of his three Most Valuable Player campaigns, but DiMaggio's 1937 is significant in that it was the year in which he set career highs in homers, RBI, runs scored, hits and total bases. The Yankee Clipper would lead the majors in homers and runs while placing second in RBI and sixth in average, and he did it all at the age of 22. No "sophomore slumps" here.
43. Charley "Old Hoss" Radbourn, SP, 1884 Providence Grays
Stats: 59-12 record, 1 SV, 1.38 ERA, 0.922 WHIP, 441 K, 678.2 IP
Radbourn started and completed 73 of the Grays' 112 games -- an astonishing 65.2 percent -- won the NL Triple Crown and set a single-season record for wins. His 441 strikeouts are still the fifth-highest total in baseball history. An even more impressive feat: In the three-game "World Series" that year, Radbourn pitched all 22 innings for the Grays, allowing just three unearned runs en route to the championship.
42. Willie Mays, OF, 1955 New York Giants
Stats: .319 AVG, 51 HR, 127 RBI, 24 SB, 123 R, 580 AB
Mays' fourth and final appearance in the top 100 came in 1955, the first of his two 50-homer campaigns and one in which he became the first player in history to top 50 homers and 20 stolen bases in the same season. He would lead the majors with his 51 homers, place second in RBI and finish third in batting average, stolen bases and runs scored.
41. Nap Lajoie, 2B, 1901 Philadelphia Athletics
Stats: .426 AVG, 14 HR, 125 RBI, 27 SB, 145 R, 544 AB
The first Triple Crown winner in AL history, Lajoie led the major leagues by 50 points in batting average in his legendary 1901 campaign. How's this for position scarcity: Lajoie is one of only two second basemen to ever win the Triple Crown (Rogers Hornsby was the other); both players hit .400 or better in the years in which they achieved the feat
40. Randy Johnson, SP, 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks
Stats: 21-6 record, 2.49 ERA, 1.013 WHIP, 372 K, 249.2 IP
Though the Big Unit didn't even lead his own team in victories in 2001, his season was still one of the best for fantasy owners. He set a career high in strikeouts, registering the third-highest total of any pitcher since 1900, and posted a major-league best ERA more than two full runs lower than the league average. Johnson earned the National League Cy Young award for his performance, his third in a string of four straight.
39. Sammy Sosa, OF, 1998 Chicago Cubs
Stats: .308 AVG, 66 HR, 158 RBI, 18 SB, 134 R, 643 AB
For 37 years, many players had been chasing Roger Maris' single-season record of 61 homers. Mark McGwire would be the man to finally achieve the feat in 1998, but Sosa, who also surpassed Maris in that same year, is the one who had the more complete fantasy season. Most people knew the name McGwire entering 1998, but no one could have forecasted Sosa as the year's NL Most Valuable Player, the major-league leader in RBI and runs scored, and the man with the third-highest single-season home run total of all time.
38. Lou Gehrig, 1B, 1930 New York Yankees
Stats: .379 AVG, 41 HR, 174 RBI, 12 SB, 143 R, 581 AB
The first of several appearances by Gehrig on this list, his 1930 campaign ranks lowest because it came in one of the higher-scoring seasons in baseball history. Nevertheless, he still registered the second-most RBI in the majors, and the sixth-most RBI in a single season all time, in that year. He also placed third in homers, seventh in batting average and eighth in runs scored.
37. Sandy Koufax, SP, 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers
Stats: 25-5 record, 1.88 ERA, 0.875 WHIP, 306 K, 311 IP
It's a shame fantasy baseball wasn't widespread by the 1960s, because Koufax would have absolutely owned the game for the four-year span from 1963-66, much like how Pedro Martinez dominated the late 1990s. This was Koufax's first big fantasy year, as he led the major leagues in wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts on his way to earning the NL MVP and major-league Cy Young awards (it was shared back then).
36. Ty Cobb, OF, 1915 Detroit Tigers
Stats: .369 AVG, 3 HR, 99 RBI, 96 SB, 144 R, 563 AB
Amazingly, Cobb won just one MVP award and one Triple Crown in his Hall-of-Fame career, yet he still receives plenty of recognition as one of the game's all-time best hitters. Imagine what fantasy baseball would have done for him? Cobb practically owned the batting average, RBI and stolen base categories for a 10-year span in the early 20th century, and in 1915, he led the majors by 27 points in batting, 41 stolen bases and 26 runs scored.
35. Babe Ruth, OF, 1930 New York Yankees
Stats: .359 AVG, 49 HR, 153 RBI, 10 SB, 150 R, 518 AB
The 1930 season could have been considered the first true "juiced-ball" season, and Ruth's example as the slugger of the previous decade could easily be pointed to as inspiration for the offensive outburst. While Ruth was no longer alone in his hitting dominance, he did rank second in homers, fifth in runs scored, sixth in RBI, 10th in batting average in 1930. His 49 homers would become the sixth-highest single-season total at the time, trailing four of his own performances and Hack Wilson's 56 in 1930.
34. Dwight Gooden, SP, 1985 New York Mets
Stats: 24-4 record, 1.53 ERA, 0.965 WHIP, 268 K, 276.2 IP
Yet another player who wasn't struck by the "sophomore slump," Gooden actually improved upon his 1984 rookie season, in which he set a new rookie strikeout record. In 1985, he wound up winning the NL Triple Crown as well as the Cy Young award, leading the majors in wins, ERA and strikeouts and finishing second in WHIP. Gooden also had 16 complete games and eight shutouts, numbers that now seem virtually unreachable.
33. Jimmie Foxx, 1B, 1933 Philadelphia Athletics
Stats: .356 AVG, 48 HR, 163 RBI, 2 SB, 125 R, 573 AB
Though Foxx's 1933 season was somewhat disappointing when compared to his previous campaign, he still displayed the same level of statistical dominance over the rest of the league. The American League Triple Crown winner and MVP, Foxx led the majors in homers (by 14) and RBI (by 24) and finished second in batting average and runs scored.
32. Pete Alexander, SP, 1915 Philadelphia Phillies
Stats: 31-10 record, 3 SV, 1.22 ERA, 0.842 WHIP, 241 K, 376.1 IP
This would be the first truly exceptional season of Alexander's career, and strangely enough, he didn't garner a single MVP vote for it despite placing in the top 10 in the balloting in 1911 and 1914. In 1915, however, Alexander was the major-league leader in wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, and by a pretty decent margin in each category.
31. Hank Greenberg, 1B, 1938 Detroit Tigers
Stats: .315 AVG, 58 HR, 146 RBI, 7 SB, 144 R, 556 AB
Greenberg led the major leagues in homers and runs scored in 1938, and he finished second in RBI. His 58 homers tied him for the third-most all time, and were just two away from tying Ruth's single-season record. Some say Greenberg might have surpassed Ruth had he not walked a career-high 119 times; surprisingly enough, his batting average tumbled 22 points from the previous season despite the increase in walks.
30. Pedro Martinez, SP, 2000 Boston Red Sox
Stats: 18-6 record, 1.74 ERA, 0.737 WHIP, 284 K, 217 IP
Fantasy owners love to see a pitcher keep runners off the basepaths, and no pitcher in history did it better than Martinez in 2000. He set the single-season record for WHIP with his 0.737 mark, and he registered an ERA 3.25 points below the league average. Martinez's win total might leave something to be desired, but in his second straight AL Cy Young season, he was about as mistake-free as a pitcher can be.
29. Rogers Hornsby, 2B, 1925 St. Louis Cardinals
Stats: .403 AVG, 39 HR, 143 RBI, 5 SB, 133 R, 504 AB
His second NL Triple Crown also earned him his first league-MVP award, as Hornsby led the major leagues in batting average, homers and RBI and finished third in runs scored. He also had a career-best 1.203 OPS, a number which has been topped by only three men in baseball history, all outfielders (Barry Bonds, Ruth and Ted Williams).
28. Babe Ruth, OF, 1928 New York Yankees
Stats: .323 AVG, 54 HR, 142 RBI, 4 SB, 163 R, 536 AB
Ruth's fourth and final 50-homer campaign came before any other player had notched even one in his career. It would be two more years before Hack Wilson would reach that plateau, and Ruth still owned the category in 1928, leading the majors by 23. Ruth also led the majors in runs scored by 21 and tied teammate Lou Gehrig for the RBI lead.
27. Jimmie Foxx, 1B, 1938 Boston Red Sox
Stats: .349 AVG, 50 HR, 175 RBI, 5 SB, 139 R, 565 AB
Foxx reached the 50-homer plateau for the second time in his career in 1938, becoming just the second player to reach that level twice, and the first one to do it with two different teams. He would finish second in the majors to Hank Greenberg's 58, but Foxx would still manage to lead the majors in batting average and RBI while placing second in runs scored.
26. Barry Bonds, OF, 2001 San Francisco Giants
Stats: .328 AVG, 73 HR, 137 RBI, 13 SB, 129 R, 476 AB
While the 2001 season was extremely homer-friendly, the fact remains that Bonds still hit nine more homers than anyone else in baseball that year, 16 more than the No. 3 man, 21 more than No. 4 and 24 more than No. 5. He also became one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball, breaking Ruth's single-season record by drawing 177 walks, which, in turn, helped him increase his batting average. Bonds also managed to land in the top 10 in both RBI and runs scored.
25. Randy Johnson, SP, 2002 Arizona Diamondbacks
Stats: 24-5 record, 2.32 ERA, 1.031 WHIP, 334 K, 260 IP
At the ripe age of 38, the Big Unit enjoyed the best fantasy season of his career, winning a career-high 24 games. He led all major leaguers in that department as well as strikeouts, and finished second in ERA and fifth in WHIP en route to his fourth consecutive NL Cy Young award. Even more impressive is that Johnson threw a major-league high 260 innings, a remarkable total for a pitcher of his age.
24. Babe Ruth, OF, 1924 New York Yankees
Stats: .378 AVG, 46 HR, 121 RBI, 9 SB, 143 R, 529 AB
The 1924 season could have been considered a "down" year by Ruth's usual standards, but by leading the majors by 19 homers, he still proved his ability to carry a fantasy team in the category. He also led the majors in runs scored, leading by 22, finished second in batting average and third in RBI. At the time, Ruth's 46 homers gave him each of the three highest single-season home run totals.
23. Chuck Klein, OF, 1932 Philadelphia Phillies
Stats: .348 AVG, 38 HR, 137 RBI, 20 SB, 152 R, 650 AB
As home-run production continued to increase across the majors in the early 1930s, stolen base totals were on a steep decline. Fewer than 1,000 bases were stolen in 1932, making a five-category performer like Klein much more valuable had there been fantasy baseball at the time. He finished third in the majors with his 20 steals, and he also placed first in runs scored, third in homers, fifth in batting average and sixth in RBI.
22. Lou Gehrig, 1B, 1936 New York Yankees
Stats: .354 AVG, 49 HR, 152 RBI, 3 SB, 167 R, 579 AB
Gehrig earned his second and final AL MVP award in 1936, when he led all major leaguers in homers and runs scored, while ranking second in RBI and fifth in batting average. It would be his 10th consecutive season registering an OPS of 1.000 or greater, and he'd extend the streak to 11 the following year, a record which still stands today.
21. Larry Walker, OF, 1997 Colorado Rockies
Stats: .366 AVG, 49 HR, 130 RBI, 33 SB, 143 R, 568 AB
The advent of baseball in Colorado had the fantasy baseball world full of excitement in the mid-1990s, as the thinner air led to increased offensive totals, and therefore more thrilling performances. There have been dozens of great hitting efforts in Rockies history, but Walker's 1997 is the one that stands out as an all-time great. That's the year in which he joined the 30/30 club, with a unique distinction: He hit more homers than any player achieved in the 46 30/30 seasons in baseball history, and he was just one homer short of becoming the first player to ever top 50 homers and 30 steals in the same season. Walker, the NL MVP, also finished second in batting average in 1997. Maybe baseball purists can write off great hitting performances by Rockies due to the Coors Field factor, but in fantasy baseball, we're all about the numbers, and these were great ones.
20. Sandy Koufax, SP, 1966 Los Angeles Dodgers
Stats: 27-9 record, 1.73 ERA, 0.985 WHIP, 317 K, 323 IP
He certainly saved his best for last, setting new career highs in wins and ERA and leading the majors in each of those categories as well as strikeouts in his final season. Koufax would also place second in WHIP, earning himself the National League Triple Crown and major-league Cy Young award. He would retire the following winter at the age of 30 after pitching much of his career with arthritis, making his statistical accomplishments from 1963-66 all the more impressive.
19. Hack Wilson, OF, 1930 Chicago Cubs
Stats: .356 AVG, 56 HR, 191 RBI, 3 SB, 146 R, 585 AB
We've already talked quite a bit about the incredible hitting totals of the 1930 season; the 16 major-league teams combined to bat .296 that year. But don't let that detract from what Wilson accomplished. That was the year he set the single-season record for RBI, leading the majors by 16 while also topping everyone by seven homers. What was most interesting about Wilson's numbers is they only kept improving nearly 70 years later. In 1999, Major League Baseball credited Wilson with an additional RBI, raising his record-setting total from 190 to 191.
18. Walter Johnson, SP, 1912 Washington Senators
Stats: 33-12 record, 2 SV, 1.39 ERA, 0.908 WHIP, 303 K, 369 IP
League scoring was beginning to climb by the early 1910s, but Johnson's numbers kept improving as he reached his mid-20s. In 1912, he led the majors in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts and finished second in wins, finishing third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting. His 1.39 ERA was 1.95 below the league average, representing the greatest differential between those numbers of his 21-year career. Johnson became the second pitcher since 1900 to record two seasons of 300-plus strikeouts; there wouldn't be a third for another 53 years.
17. Babe Ruth, OF, 1931 New York Yankees
Stats: .373 AVG, 46 HR, 163 RBI, 5 SB, 149 R, 534 AB
Even at age 36, the Bambino was still dominating fantasy leagues like few other players throughout history. The rest of the game was finally starting to catch up in the home-run department, his most dominant category, but Ruth still managed to tie teammate Lou Gehrig for the major-league lead. Ruth also placed second in batting average to Al Simmons, and trailed only Gehrig in RBI and runs scored.
16. George Sisler, 1B, 1920 St. Louis Browns
Stats: .407 AVG, 19 HR, 122 RBI, 42 SB, 137 R, 631 AB
While this was a year practically owned by Ruth, Sisler's numbers shouldn't be overlooked just because he wound up the No. 2 fantasy player of that season. He was still the major-league leader in batting average, and he trailed only Ruth in homers, RBI and runs scored. In addition, Sisler's 42 stolen bases placed him third, making him the most complete Rotisserie player of that year.
15. Pedro Martinez, SP, 1999 Boston Red Sox
Stats: 23-4 record, 2.07 ERA, 0.923 WHIP, 313 K, 213.1 IP
In another of the most dominating pitching performances in baseball history, Martinez won the AL Triple Crown and Cy Young award while leading the majors in wins, ERA and WHIP in 1999. His 2.07 ERA was a full three runs below the league average of 5.07, and he set career highs in wins and strikeouts despite making just 29 starts. Martinez struck out at least 10 batters on 13 occasions in 1999, carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning or later three times and even struck out 17 Yankees in a one-hit effort in September.
14. Babe Ruth, OF, 1926 New York Yankees
Stats: .372 AVG, 47 HR, 146 RBI, 11 SB, 139 R, 495 AB
Most everyone knew about the Babe's home-run ability by this point in his career, and there's no question that he would have been the No. 1 pick overall for most of the 1920s had there been fantasy baseball back then. But Ruth was coming off a down year in 1925 due to stomach surgery, so 1926 might have been the rare year of his career where he was surrounded by serious questions. All he did was answer them by leading the majors in homers (by 26), RBI (also by 26) and runs scored (by four), finishing six points behind Heinie Manush for the batting title.
13. Ty Cobb, OF, 1911 Detroit Tigers
Stats: .420 AVG, 8 HR, 127 RBI, 83 SB, 147 R, 591 AB
It's a rarity in today's game for a player to claim league leadership in both RBI and stolen bases, but back in 1911, Cobb pulled it off, leading the majors in each category as well as batting average and runs scored. He earned AL MVP honors after setting career highs in average, RBI, runs, hits (248) and slugging percentage (.621), and he even had a 40-game hitting streak, which set a then-AL record.
12. Ken Williams, OF, 1922 St. Louis Browns
Stats: .332 AVG, 39 HR, 155 RBI, 37 SB, 128 R, 585 AB
He was baseball's first 30/30 man, and there wouldn't be a second for another 34 years. To give you a sense of how rare the feat was back then, consider that there have been 22 30/30 men in the past 10 seasons. Williams led the majors in RBI and finished in the top five in homers, stolen bases and runs scored. He had a 28-game hitting streak and dethroned four-time defending AL home run champ Ruth
11. Jimmie Foxx, 1B, 1932 Philadelphia Athletics
Stats: .364 AVG, 58 HR, 169 RBI, 3 SB, 151 R, 585 AB
At the time, Foxx's 58 homers were the third-most in a season all time, and they were just two behind Ruth's record set just five years earlier. Foxx's total was good enough to top the majors by 17, and he would also register the most RBI while placing second in batting average and runs scored. Foxx picked up his first of three AL MVP awards in the process.
10. Sandy Koufax, SP, 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers
Stats: 26-8 record, 2.04 ERA, 0.855 WHIP, 382 K, 335.2 IP
There might not be a single more dominant pitching year than Koufax's 1965. He earned virtually every honor that season: the major-league Cy Young award, the NL Triple Crown, World Series MVP honors and the major-league lead in wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. In fact, Koufax's 382 strikeouts broke a modern record at the time, and it's still the second-most since 1900. Unfortunately, the main thing that keeps him from being the top-ranked pitcher is the depth of quality pitching in his time; he simply didn't stand out quite as much against his brethren than the two men ahead of him.
9. Lou Gehrig, 1B, 1934 New York Yankees
Stats: .363 AVG, 49 HR, 165 RBI, 9 SB, 128 R, 579 AB
Looking back at the numbers, it's outright incredible that Gehrig won the AL's Triple Crown in 1934, yet finished just fifth in the MVP voting. Unfortunately, that was the year Detroit won the AL pennant, a primary reason three Tigers finished ahead of the Iron Horse in the balloting. Don't let that take away any of the luster from Gehrig's fantasy achievements, however; standings and postseason performances are irrelevant to us. He still paced the majors in batting average, homers and RBI and finished third in runs scored.
8. Babe Ruth, OF, 1923 New York Yankees
Stats: .393 AVG, 41 HR, 131 RBI, 17 SB, 151 R, 522 AB
The only time in his 22-year major-league career that he ever won the AL MVP award, Ruth led the major leagues in homers, RBI and runs scored and finished a close second to Harry Heilman for the batting title in 1923. Ruth also matched his career high in stolen bases and finished 17th in the majors in that category. This was also around the time opposing pitchers became about as afraid to pitch to Ruth as they are afraid to throw to Barry Bonds today; Ruth drew a record 170 walks in 1923, a mark since broken by Bonds.
7. Walter Johnson, SP, 1913 Washington Senators
Stats: 36-7 record, 2 SV, 1.14 ERA, 0.780 WHIP, 243 K, 346 IP
Johnson's best year was also the greatest pitching performance in fantasy baseball history. He was the AL MVP and Triple Crown winner, as well as the major-league leader in wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts in 1913. Among his career-high numbers that set historical accomplishments: No one has won as many as his 36 games since; his 1.14 ERA is sixth-lowest all-time; and his 0.780 WHIP is third-lowest.
6. Babe Ruth, OF, 1927 New York Yankees
Stats: .356 AVG, 60 HR, 164 RBI, 7 SB, 158 R, 540 AB
For the third time in eight seasons, Ruth set a new single-season home run record in 1927, beating his own mark of 59, set six years earlier. By this point, Ruth would own five of the six highest single-season home run totals of all time (Gehrig had the other, also in 1927). Ruth's 60 homers would stand as the record for another 34 years. He also led the majors in runs scored, finished second in RBI and eighth in batting average.
5. Lou Gehrig, 1B, 1927 New York Yankees
Stats: .373 AVG, 47 HR, 175 RBI, 10 SB, 149 R, 584 AB
We've already talked about Ruth's hitting dominance, but in 1927, the year of the fabled "Murderer's Row" Yankee team, Gehrig was every bit as feared a hitter. The AL's MVP, Gehrig would lead the majors in RBI and place second in homers and runs scored and third in batting average. Ruth and Gehrig combined to claim the first two spots in the majors in homers, RBI and runs scored, with no other player coming within 17 homers, 33 RBI or 12 runs of either of the Yankee sluggers.
4. Lou Gehrig, 1B, 1931 New York Yankees
Stats: .341 AVG, 46 HR, 184 RBI, 17 SB, 163 R, 619 AB
For years, Ruth always seemed to have the advantage over Gehrig in homers and RBI, but in 1931, Gehrig finally managed to match Ruth for the major-league home run lead and beat his teammate for the RBI crown. Gehrig would also lead the majors in runs scored and finish seventh in batting average, but it's that RBI total that deserves special note; it's the second-highest single-season total in baseball history.
3. Rogers Hornsby, 2B, 1922 St. Louis Cardinals
Stats: .401 AVG, 42 HR, 152 RBI, 17 SB, 141 R, 623 AB
The National League's Triple Crown winner, Hornsby became the first player in NL history, and second in major-league history, to hit at least 30 homers in a season. He still holds the all-time record for homers by a second baseman -- Davey Johnson matched his 42 in 1973 -- and is the only second baseman to lead the majors in homers. Hornsby also led the majors in runs scored and finished second in batting average and RBI.
2. Babe Ruth, OF, 1921 New York Yankees
Stats: .378 AVG, 59 HR, 171 RBI, 17 SB, 177 R, 540 AB
Had fantasy baseball existed back in the 1920s, many commissioners might have had to create a rule precluding Ruth from being drafted in a league following his 1921 performance. For the second straight year he set a new single-season home run record, leading the majors in homers by 35, RBI by 32 and runs scored by 45. By the time 1922 drafts rolled around, any owner who had the first pick in the draft would have earned such an advantage in the offensive categories that it would have been downright unfair to allow Ruth's statistics to count. Of course, his owner sure wouldn't have been complaining.
1. Babe Ruth, OF, 1920 New York Yankees
Stats: .376 AVG, 54 HR, 137 RBI, 14 SB, 158 R, 458 AB
One could make a case for either Ruth's 1920 or 1921 seasons as the greatest fantasy effort of all time, but we'll give the nod to 1920 because it was probably the most unexpected performance by any player in baseball history. Fantasy baseball champions are the ones who best predict the big years, but to forecast what Ruth did in his first year in pinstripes would, quite frankly, be predicting the impossible. He led the majors in RBI and runs scored and placed fourth in batting average, but it was the Sultan of Swat's contribution in the home run category that places him atop our list. His 54 homers were 35 more than any other major leaguer, the same margin of victory as in 1921, and shattered his old record of 29, set in 1919. Ruth alone accounted for 8.6 percent of all homers hit in the major leagues in 1920, and he out-homered 14 of the 15 other teams in baseball. To give you a sense of how unbelievable his total was to baseball fans back then, it would be essentially the equivalent of someone hitting around 150 homers today. Ruth effectively created the word "slugger," so it's only fitting that a man who brought such importance to one of our primary fantasy categories earns our list's top spot.
I would have gone with Gagne. What did he give up like 11 ER's the whole year? 55 Saves, amazing ratios, great K's. And only ate up 82 of your max innings. He was seriously worthy of a #1 pick that year if you had been able to see into the future when you were drafting.
Babe Ruth pre-dates fantasy baseball, so he doesn't count.
(taps little picture of a microphone)... is this thing on?
43. Charley "Old Hoss" Radbourn, SP, 1884 Providence Grays Stats: 59-12 record, 1 SV, 1.38 ERA, 0.922 WHIP, 441 K, 678.2 IP Radbourn started and completed 73 of the Grays' 112 games -- an astonishing 65.2 percent -- won the NL Triple Crown and set a single-season record for wins. His 441 strikeouts are still the fifth-highest total in baseball history. An even more impressive feat: In the three-game "World Series" that year, Radbourn pitched all 22 innings for the Grays, allowing just three unearned runs en route to the championship.