H-Town = Hit Town: Astros' best with a bat
HOUSTON -- Two players -- Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell -- are in the Hall of Fame, a third -- Lance Berkman -- probably deserves a longer look based on his credentials, while another -- Jose Altuve -- may be forging a path toward Cooperstown himself.
Those four names dominate the Astros’ offensive record books through the first 59 years of the franchise’s existence, with others, such as Cesar Cedeno, Jose Cruz, Moises Alou and George Springer, leaving their mark in team’s history as well.
Here are the franchise’s top individual seasons by position players:
1) Jeff Bagwell, 1994
Key stat: Bagwell became only the fourth player in history with a slugging percentage of at least .750. The other three -- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby -- had all done it roughly seven decades earlier.
A unanimous choice for the National League MVP Award, Bagwell put up the kind of numbers in 110 games that would have stood out in a full 162-game season. He was the first player to finish first or second in his league in average (.368), runs (104), RBIs (116) and home runs (39) since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and the first player to lead the NL in runs and RBIs since Mike Schmidt in ’81. Bagwell also won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards and made his first All-Star team.
Bagwell led the NL in slugging (.750), OPS (1.201), OPS+ (213) and total bases (300). He had 147 hits and scored 104 runs before breaking his left hand when he was hit by a pitch Aug. 10 -- just two days before a work stoppage ended the season. He hit a franchise-record 13 homers in June, to go along with a .394 batting average and 28 RBIs, and he hit .409 with 11 homers and a franchise-record 29 RBIs in July.
If you took Bagwell's final numbers in 1994 and prorated them over a full 162-game slate, he would have finished with an incredible 216 hits, 153 runs scored, 57 home runs and 171 RBIs. Over the history of baseball, not a single player has reached all those totals in a single season.
The Astros finished with 602 runs in 1994 -- second in the NL -- and Bagwell either scored or drove in 37% of them.
“He was a great hitter, but he was among the top sluggers of his era,” former Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. “To do what he did, playing a big part of his career in the Astrodome was even more incredible, which arguably was historically still the toughest hitters’ park ever constructed. He got pitched around a lot. He certainly had great discipline with all the walks he acquired, but the frustration of having to hit -- maybe pitches he didn’t want to hit -- was just very difficult for him. He was just a very special hitter.”
2) Lance Berkman, 2001
Key stat: He was the first switch-hitter in MLB history with at least 50 doubles and 30 homers.
In his first full season in the big leagues, Berkman made the All-Star team and finished fifth in the NL MVP Award voting after finishing among the league leaders in several categories, including first in doubles (55), third in batting average (.331) and fifth in on-base percentage (.430) and extra-base hits (94). His 1.051 OPS is second-highest in club history behind Bagwell's 1.201 in 1994. He also hit 34 homers with 126 RBIs.
Berkman’s 55 doubles broke the MLB record for a season by a switch-hitter set by Pete Rose in 1978 and tied by Jose Vidro in 2000, and he set the record for most extra-base hits by a switch-hitter in a season. Berkman was the fifth Astros player with 30 homers, 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored, and he had a 21-game hitting streak from June 17-July 8.
3) Jose Altuve, 2017
Key stat: His .420 average over a span of 60 games (May 27-Aug. 8) tied for the highest by any player on record in a 75-day span (since 1904).
Altuve led all of baseball in 2017 with a .346 batting average, while 204 hits were tops in the AL. He set career highs in home runs (24), on-base percentage (.410), slugging percentage (.547) and OPS (.957).
Altuve drove in 81 runs and stole 32 bases. He led the AL in multi-hit games (59) and led the Majors in games with at least three hits (23). Altuve also ranked first in the AL in infield hits (35), tied for second in runs (112), third in on-base percentage (.410), third in stolen bases and third in OPS.
In balloting by the BBWAA, Altuve garnered 27 of a possible 30 first-place votes for a runaway win for the AL MVP over Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, who was the AL Rookie of the Year. The voting didn’t take into account Altuve’s postseason performance that year, which included three homers in Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Red Sox.
"I was surprised that I won it," Altuve said. "I wasn't expecting this. When you see Aaron Judge and José Ramírez, they had really good seasons. I was really happy to be in the top three finalists, and then all of a sudden, they announced the MVP and that was me. I couldn't believe it. I have to thank my teammates and my fans."
4) Craig Biggio, 1997
Key stat: His 146 runs scored were the most in a season in NL history since Chuck Klein's 152 for the 1932 Phillies.
Simply put, Biggio was one of the top five players in the game in the late 1990s, with an ability to beat teams in so many ways. He hit for power, hit for average, stole bases and was piling up Gold Glove Awards at second base, which wasn’t even his original position. He broke into the Majors as a catcher in 1988 and made the move to second base a few years later.
Picking one of those late 1990s seasons over the other is tough, but the Hall of Famer’s '97 season stands out as one of the best in franchise history for many reasons. Biggio slashed .309/.415/.501 that year with 22 homers, 81 RBIs, a league-leading 146 runs and 47 steals. He made his fourth consecutive All-Star team, finished fourth in the NL MVP Award voting, won his fourth Silver Slugger Award and fourth consecutive Gold Glove. He also played in all 162 games for the second season in row.
That was also the year Biggio, who led MLB with 744 plate appearances, didn’t ground into a double play all season, becoming only the third player to play 162 games and avoid getting doubled up.
5) Lance Berkman, 2006
Key stat: His 136 RBIs that season remain a club record.
There have been 11 seasons in Astros history in which a player finished the season with an OPS of at least 1.000, including five by Bagwell (1995-97, ’99-00) and three by Berkman (’01, ’04, ’06). Moises Alou ('00), Richard Hidalgo ('00) and Alex Bregman (’19) are the only others to achieve that.
Berkman, who like Bagwell owns five of the top 13 single-season OPS marks in club history, made a run to duplicate his phenomenal 2001 season in ’06, when he slashed .315/.420/.621 with 45 homers and a club-record 136 RBIs. He accounted for 19.2% of the club’s RBIs while scoring 95 runs, hitting 29 doubles and walking 98 times. His 1.041 OPS was fourth-highest in club history.