Ranking the 25 best individual MLB seasons of all-time
Baseball history is filled with great players who had distinguished careers, but what if we look at the best individual MLB seasons of all time?
If we just think about the best individual seasons in MLB history, it opens the door for players to be on this list multiple times, as well as opening the door for players who may not have had long careers but had one of the greatest individual MLB seasons ever seen.
That’s why we decided to extend our list all of the way to the top 25 greatest baseball seasons by a player.
Best individual MLB seasons of all time
With the use of modern metrics, we got a little help from the ranking of the best MLB seasons by WAR. But the best individual season in MLB history is about more than numbers and metrics.
We tried to dig below the surface a little bit when putting together our ranking of the 25 best individual MLB seasons of all time.
25. Jackie Robinson, 1947
Historically speaking, there was no more important season in baseball history than Jackie Robinson’s 1947 season with the Dodgers when he broke the color barrier. But his performance on the field that season is not to be overlooked.
He won Rookie of the Year honors and led the National League in stolen bases with 29. Amidst everything else that was happening, Robinson hit .297 with 12 home runs and an OPS of .810. Even though it was far from his best season, given the circumstances, it’s surely one of the best individual MLB seasons of all time.
24. Babe Ruth, 1923
Get used to seeing Babe Ruth’s name on this list because he’s going to come up a lot. The 1923 season was after Ruth had established himself as a feared power hitter, although that didn’t stop him.
He took 170 walks this season, akin to Barry Bonds in the early 2000s. Much like Bonds, that didn’t stop Ruth from picking and choosing his spots. Amidst all of the walks, he still hit .393 with 41 home runs and 131 RBIs. With an OPS of 1.309, this stands out as one of Ruth’s best seasons and among the best of all time.
23. Nap Lajoie, 1901
While often forgotten historically, Nap Lajoie has to be remembered, especially for his exploits during the 1901 season. This was the year of his first of five batting titles, not to mention his only Triple Crown.
The second baseman batted .421 that season with 14 home runs, which was a heck of a lot in that era. Lajoie added 14 triples and 48 doubles for an OPS of 1.101, which was astronomical at the time.
22. Rogers Hornsby, 1922
While he played in a different era, Rogers Hornsby is still among the best hitters of all time. He also put together one of the best individual MLB seasons of all time on multiple occasions, including the 1922 season.
That’s when Hornsby blossomed into a bonafide superstar by hitting over .400 for the first of three occasions. Not only did he improve his average from .397 the previous year to .401 in 1922 but he also smashed a career-high 42 home runs. The combination of power and average is something that few hitters have been able to do, but it’s something Hornsby excelled at.
21. Frank Robinson, 1966
This is the season that made Frank Robinson the first (and only) player to win MVP in both leagues, so it has to be mentioned among the greatest individual seasons of all time.
Keep in mind that this was Robinson’s first season in the American League, which was a bigger deal back then because he had to adjust to all of the new pitchers.
More importantly, he won the Triple Crown with a .316 average and 49 home runs. Robinson finished the year with a career-high 1.047 OPS and then proceeded to win World Series MVP honors, leading the Orioles to a sweep of the Dodgers and their first championship in franchise history, which has to count for something too.
20. Lefty Grove, 1931
Based purely on volume, Lefty Grove’s 1931 season has to be considered among the best ever by a pitcher. It was during that year that he tied the all-time with 16 straight wins, only to be denied the record because of an error behind him.
After that one loss, Grove won his next eight starts, so he wasn’t far from making the record unreachable. When all was said and done, Grove won 31 games that year while pitching to a 2.06 ERA over 288.2 innings.
19. Honus Wagner, 1900
Honus Wagner had multiple seasons that could be in consideration for the best individual season in baseball history. But the legendary shortstop had arguably his most balanced season in 1900.
That was the only season that Wagner produced an OPS over 1.000, which was a rarity in those days. That was the year of his first batting title with a .381 average. While he didn’t lead the majors in steals, he did rack up 38 stolen bags that season while also hitting 45 doubles and driving in 100 runs. While he had many more great years to come, that season was Wagner at his best.
18. Pedro Martinez, 1999
The 1999 season was perhaps the first season that we saw Pedro at his finest. He won the Cy Young and the Triple Crown that year during his second season with the Red Sox. Martinez set a career-high with 23 wins in 1999 while pitching to a 2.07 ERA with five complete games. He also showcased some of his best stuff while striking out 313 batters in 213 innings.
17. Pedro Martinez, 2000
While Pedro Martinez was great in 1999 and a couple of brilliant seasons before then, he might have been at his best in 2000, which qualifies as one of the best individual MLB seasons of all time by a pitcher.
He didn’t win as many games as the previous year, finishing 18-6. But his ERA dropped to 1.74 with a WHIP of 0.74. For the modern era, those are unreal numbers for a pitcher who threw over 200 innings, all while striking out 284 batters.
16. Steve Carlton, 1972
There is only one other left-handed pitcher who had a better season than Steve Carlton did in 1972. Of his 41 starts that year, 30 were complete games, including eight shutouts.
The southpaw ended up on the winning side 27 times while pitching to a 1.97 ERA and striking out 310 batters. It’s even more impressive when you know that Carlton did all of that and won the Cy Young while playing on a last-place team.
15. Babe Ruth, 1920
In his first season after being traded to the Yankees, Babe Ruth showed why it was such a huge mistake for the Red Sox to trade him.
He had started to showcase his power as a hitter the previous year, but he took things to the next level during his first year in pinstripes by smacking 54 home runs. Ruth did so without sacrificing his patience or ability to make contact, batting .376 while drawing 150 walks. He finished his first year in the Bronx with an OPS of 1.379, which was his best season at the time but wouldn’t be his best when all was said and done.
14. Barry Bonds, 2002
This won’t be the last time we see Barry Bonds on this list, even if some of his numbers were likely inflated by PED use. While the validity of his 46 home runs can be debated, Bonds hit .370 while also drawing 198 walks during the 2002 season.
He was productive in a variety of ways, even legging out a couple of triples. With an OPS of 1.381, this is one of the great individual performances of all time.
13. Denny McLain, 1968
As we’ll see, the 1968 season was a special one for pitchers, not just Denny McLain. But this was the year that he won 31 games, making McLain the last pitcher to reach 30 wins in a single season.
He earned those wins too, starting 41 games and pitching 28 complete games, helping him to rack up 336 innings. Amidst all of those innings, McLain struck out 280 batters and pitched to a 1.96 ERA, which is absolutely mesmerizing for a pitcher to accomplish over that many innings.
12. Lou Gehrig, 1927
Not surprisingly, Lou Gehrig had a lot of great seasons while he was setting the record for most consecutive games played. But his finest season came early in his career in 1927.
That’s when he won MVP honors for the first time after batting .373 with 47 home runs and an astounding 175 RBIs in 155 games. Even though he’d eventually win another MVP and a Triple Crown, this was Gehrig’s best season, not to mention a historically great season with a 1.239 OPS and all of those RBIs.
11. Rogers Hornsby, 1925
Despite having a legendary season in 1922 and hitting .424 in 1924, Rogers Hornsby might have had his finest season during the 1925 campaign.
While his average dropped to .403 this year, his OPS shot up to 1.245 thanks to 39 home runs, which was the second-highest total of this career. Hornsby’s 1925 season also stands out because he drove in 143 runs, a total that was only topped during his 1922 season.
10. Dwight Gooden, 1985
We have to account for Dwight Gooden’s age in calling this one of the best seasons by a pitcher ever. He was just a 20-year-old kid at the time, although he did make 31 starts the previous year.
Nevertheless, he dominated hitters like an experienced pitcher in his prime. Over 35 starts, Gooden threw 16 complete games, including eight shutouts. He also went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA while racking up 268 strikeouts. Most Hall of Famers would kill to have a season like that in their prime, yet Gooden did it at the age of 20.
9. Barry Bonds, 2004
If he hadn’t set the home run record a few years before this, the 2004 season might have been Barry Bonds’ best season ever. Of course, with an OPS of 1.421, it can’t be ignored as one of the best performances in baseball history.
Again, his 45 homers this year can be debated. But we can’t overlook Bonds hitting .362 and setting a career-high with an on-base percentage of .609, which is just staggering no matter how many PEDs he was taking.
8. Mickey Mantle, 1956
Mickey Mantle would eventually write a book about the 1956 season, calling it his favorite summer, so it’s more than reasonable to think this was one of the best individual MLB seasons of all time.
This was still relatively early in Mantle’s career when he won the Triple Crown and his first of three MVP awards. Mantle batted .353 while smashing 52 home runs. He would only top each of those numbers once during the rest of his career, and not in the same season. While he would be one of the best hitters in the majors for a long time to come, 1956 was Mantle at his best.
7. Sandy Koufax, 1965
By 1965, Sandy Koufax was approaching the end of his career and starting to pitch through some pain. However, it ended up being arguably his best season and one of the best individual MLB seasons of all time by a pitcher.
Of course, 1965 was the year that Koufax pitched his perfect game, which was also his fourth no-hitter. But he also racked up an astonishing 335.2 innings of work, striking out a ridiculous 382 batters in the process. His 2.04 ERA that year wasn’t the lowest of his career, but it might be the most impressive considering his innings count, not to mention his 26 wins that year.
6. Joe DiMaggio, 1941
Out of all of Joe DiMaggio’s great seasons, it’s his 1941 campaign when he set the all-time record with a 56-game hitting streak that obviously stands out the most.
After all, we’re talking about a record that will likely never be broken and that few have even come close to matching. DiMaggio also recorded the second-highest batting average and third-highest OPS of his career in 1941. When you had his epic hitting streak on top of that, this has to be one of the finest seasons any hitter has ever had.
5. Ty Cobb, 1911
It’s a shame that Ty Cobb doesn’t have more years on this list, although his 1911 MVP season surely belongs among the best seasons of all time. He actually won the Triple Crown two years earlier, but the 1911 season was special with Cobb hitting .420.
His eight home runs that year were also a solid total for him during the dead-ball era, helping him produce a career-high OPS of 1.088. Of course, the 248 total hits, 127 RBIs, and .420 average combined make this a spectacular and historically important season for Cobb.
4. Ted Williams, 1941
Even though DiMaggio set the hit streak record in 1941, Ted Williams arguably had the better season, batting .406 and posting an OPS of 1.286.
Not only did Williams hit over .400 that year but he also did so while hitting 37 home runs, showing a combination of power and average that few hitters have ever matched in a single season.
Ironically, Williams would win the Triple Crown twice and MVP honors twice in his career, but in 1941. Nevertheless, the year that Williams won his first of six batting titles is undoubtedly the best of his career and one of the greatest of all time.
3. Bob Gibson, 1968
Pitching was never better than it was in 1968, and Bob Gibson was easily the best pitcher in the majors that year, putting together one of the best individual MLB seasons of all time, regardless of pitcher or position hitter.
He pitched a ridiculous 304.2 innings while also setting the live-ball era record with a 1.12 ERA. With 268 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.85, Gibson was un-hittable, throwing 13 complete games and 47 consecutive scoreless innings at one point. In many ways, it was close to a perfect season for Gibson with his success becoming the driving force in MLB lowering the pitching mound the following year.
2. Barry Bonds, 2001
Among modern-day players from the 21st century, the 2001 campaign from Barry Bonds is at the top of the best MLB seasons by WAR. Obviously, that is to be expected in the year when Bonds set the all-time single-season home run record with 73.
Not only did Bonds hit one homer after another that year but he also got on base in other ways. Whenever Bonds wasn’t hitting it over the wall, it seemed like he was getting pitched around and drawing walks.
He drew 177 walks that year but also batted .328. His OPS finished at 1.378 and Bonds drove in 137 runs, allowing him to run away with his first of what would become four consecutive MVP awards.
1. Babe Ruth, 1921
In terms of the best MLB seasons by WAR, it doesn’t get much better than what the Bambino did in 1921. This was just his second season with the Yankees, and after setting a new home run record with 54 the previous year, Babe Ruth kept hitting long balls in 1921.
He ended up setting a new bar with 59 homers that year, although he would eventually surpass that total a few years later. But what makes this season stand out from some of his other campaigns was that he hit .378 and had an OPS of 1.358.
Ruth did everything that year, including setting career-highs with 16 triples and 17 stolen bases. It was arguably the best season from arguably the best hitter of all time.
Oct 8, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Former San Francisco Giants great Barry Bonds waves to the crowd in the fifth inning during game one of the 2021 NLDS at Oracle Park. Mandatory Credit: D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports Baseball history is filled with great players who had distinguished careers, but what if we look…
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