Top 5 position-player seasons in SD history

December 1st, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres have seen no shortage of individual brilliance over their five decades as a franchise. A small handful of spectacular seasons stand out.

Here's one subjective ranking of the five greatest seasons by a position player in Padres history:

5. Greg Vaughn, 1998
At the time, no Padre had homered more than 40 times in a season. Left fielder Greg Vaughn shattered that club record in 1998, going deep 50 times, including a game-winning blast on the season's final day. Then Vaughn tacked on three more homers in the postseason, including two in the World Series, as the Padres won their second National League pennant. Vaughn slashed .272/.363/.597 and finished fourth in the NL MVP Award voting, behind Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Moises Alou.

4. Fernando Tatis Jr., 2021
Had the 2020 season not been shortened by COVID-19, Tatis might have found himself on this list twice. Instead, it’s only his ’21 campaign that gets the nod, as Tatis became the first Padre to finish in the top five of NL MVP Award voting in consecutive years. Though Tatis missed time because of a balky shoulder, he still posted the greatest season by a shortstop in franchise history. His 42 homers trail only Vaughn’s 50 in the single-season record books, and he swiped 25 bags, as well, finishing with a remarkable .282/.364/.611 slash line -- incredible numbers for a primary shortstop.

3. Tony Gwynn, 1994
It's no fault of that his legendary 1994 season is only third on this list. Had the season been completed, there's little doubt it would take the top spot. But it was halted in mid-August and strike-shortened, so we'll defer to two of the best full seasons in franchise history for the purposes of this list. Still, Gwynn's '94 was incredible. The right fielder's .394 batting average is immortalized as the best mark since Ted Williams and the closest anyone has come to hitting .400 since World War II. It left the baseball world wondering: What if?

2. Ken Caminiti, 1996
is the only Padre to win an MVP Award, and he won it unanimously, when in 1996, he did it all. Caminiti slashed .326/.408/.621 and posted the highest slugging percentage, OPS (1.028) and OPS+ (174) in franchise history. His 130 RBIs also took the top spot. Caminiti hit 40 home runs, then a franchise record, but he was hardly a one-dimensional player. Caminiti dazzled at third base, taking home the second of his three consecutive NL Gold Glove Awards. It's hard to imagine a more dominant all-around season. Except, of course...

1. Tony Gwynn, 1987
One of the most underappreciated seasons in baseball history and the easy choice for the top spot on this list. It's criminal that Gwynn finished only eighth in NL MVP Award voting in 1987 (likely because the Padres finished 65-97 and last place in the NL West).

Nonetheless, 1987 saw Gwynn at his absolute best in every facet. He slashed .370/.447/.511 with a Major League-leading 218 hits. He won NL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards. He swiped 56 bases and smacked a franchise-record 13 triples. Gwynn's 8.6 wins above replacement led in the NL and rank No. 1 in Padres history. In retrospect, it's pretty obvious voters got it wrong 33 years ago. But MVP or not, Gwynn's '87 season was special.

Honorable mentions
• Gary Sheffield’s breakout came in San Diego in 1992. Playing third base, he spent most of the year flirting with a Triple Crown and batted .330, earning the only batting title in franchise history won by anyone not named Tony Gwynn.

• Right fielder Dave Winfield was worth 8.3 WAR in 1979, trailing only Gwynn's '87 campaign for the highest in franchise history among position players. Winfield hit 34 homers and led the NL with 118 RBIs.

Adrián González's 2009 and '10 seasons were both spectacular offensively, and he brought the first-base defense to match.

• You could make a case for another dozen seasons from Gwynn, but 1984 deserves special recognition. He batted .351 and led the Padres to their first pennant.