Ranking the 40 greatest individual seasons in MLB since 1940 is no easy endeavor. But MLB Network did just that, revealing its top 40 seasons on Sunday night. To say the list is impressive is an understatement. From starting pitchers with ERAs below 2.00 to hitters slugging over .700, here
Ranking the 40 greatest individual seasons in MLB since 1940 is no easy endeavor. But MLB Network did just that, revealing its top 40 seasons on Sunday night. To say the list is impressive is an understatement. From starting pitchers with ERAs below 2.00 to hitters slugging over .700, here are the best single-season performances of all time.
No. 40: Rickey Henderson, 1985
The all-time stolen-base king swiped 80 bags, while also hitting 24 home runs and slashing .314/.419/.516. Henderson walked 99 times and struck out only 65 times in 654 plate appearances.
No. 39: Mike Marshall, 1974
Coming off a season in which he finished as the runner-up in National League Cy Young Award voting, Marshall claimed the honor in '74 after turning in an even better campaign. The right-hander posted a 2.42 ERA in an MLB-record 106 relief appearances for the Dodgers. He also set an MLB record by pitching 208 1/3 relief innings.
No. 38: Ken Griffey Jr., 1997
"The Kid" had what was perhaps the finest season of his Hall of Fame career, slugging .646 while belting 56 home runs and winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
No. 37: Clayton Kershaw, 2014
Kershaw won his third NL Cy Young Award, after posting a 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and a 7.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also had a career-high six complete games and tossed a no-hitter against the Rockies on June 18, in which he struck out 15 without walking a batter.
No. 36: Hank Greenberg, 1940
Greenberg led the AL in doubles (50), home runs (41), RBIs (150), slugging percentage (.670), OPS (1.103) and total bases (384), taking home his second career MVP Award.
No. 35: Rod Carew, 1977
Carew finished the season with a .388 batting average -- the highest single-season mark since Ted Williams hit .406 in '41. Carew also posted a .449 on-base percentage and slugged .570, en route to being named AL MVP.
No. 34: Robin Yount, 1982
Yount won the first of two career AL MVP Awards after slashing .331/.379/.578 with 29 home runs for the pennant-winning Brewers. He also won his first Gold Glove Award at shortstop and had a 10.5 Wins Above Replacement.
No. 33: Michael Trout, 2016
Trout posted a 10.5 WAR, slashing .315/.441/.550 with 29 home runs and 30 steals. The 25-year-old center fielder won his second career AL MVP Award.
No. 32: Mark Fidrych, 1976
"The Bird" burst onto the Major League scene, winning AL Rookie of the Year after posting a 2.34 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 31 games (29 starts) -- 24 of which were complete games. Fidrych -- who was known for his unorthodox style on the mound, which included talking to the baseball -- was also runner-up in AL Cy Young Award voting.
No. 31: Tony Gwynn, 1987
Gwynn, who was most known for his incredible eye at the plate, hit .370. But he also posted career highs in stolen bases (56) and triples (13), while winning his second Gold Glove Award in right field.
No. 30: Jose Cabrera, 2012
Cabrera became the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, hitting .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs for the Tigers. He won the first of two consecutive AL MVP Awards.
No. 29: Hank Aaron, 1957
Aaron led the Milwaukee Braves to a World Series title -- slashing .322/.378/.600 with 44 home runs during the regular season, before hitting .393 with three homers in the Fall Classic against the Yankees. The 25-time All-Star was named NL MVP for the only time in his career.
No. 28: Nolan Ryan, 1973
The all-time strikeout king fanned a modern MLB-record 383 batters for the Angels, as he posted a 2.87 ERA in 326 innings.
No. 27: Sammy Sosa, 2001
For the third time in four seasons, Sosa hit more than 60 homers -- as he belted 64. He also drove in 160 runs to become only the second player to do so since Greenberg in 1937 (Manny Ramirez had 165 RBIs in '99).
No. 26: Roger Maris, 1961
Maris broke the all-time single-season home run record held by Babe Ruth, when he hit his 61st homer on the last day of the regular season. Maris also won his second consecutive AL MVP Award.
No. 25: Vida Blue, 1971
At 22, Blue became the youngest pitcher to win an AL Cy Young Award, as he started 39 games and posted a 1.82 ERA in 312 innings for the A's. He was also named the AL MVP that season, after tossing 24 complete games -- including eight shutouts.
No. 24: Joe Morgan, 1976
Morgan was an integral part of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine that won back-to-back World Series titles in '75 and '76. While Morgan was named NL MVP in '75, he was even better in '76 -- slashing .320/.444/.576 with 27 home runs and 60 steals, as he was named MVP for the second straight season.
No. 23: Willie Mays, 1955
In the season following his famous over-the-shoulder catch in the World Series, Mays followed up his '54 MVP campaign with another outstanding showing on the field. He slashed .319/.400/.659 with 13 triples, 51 homers and 24 steals for the Giants.
No. 22: Fernando Valenzuela, 1981
Amid the euphoria in Los Angeles that became known as "Fernandomania," Valenzuela tossed seven complete games -- including five shutouts -- in his first eight career starts. His ERA over that span was 0.50. Overall, the 20-year-old left-hander finished with a 2.48 ERA and was voted NL Rookie of the Year, as well as the NL Cy Young Award winner.
No. 21: Bryce Harper, 2015
Harper won the NL MVP Award at age 22, after slashing .330/.460/.649 with 42 home runs and posting a 9.9 WAR.
No. 20: Roger Clemens, 1986
In his third Major League season, the 23-year-old Clemens won the AL Cy Young and MVP Awards. He recorded a 2.48 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, and also set a new MLB record by striking out 20 in a game against the Mariners on April 29.
No 19: Dwight Gooden, 1985
Fresh off an NL Rookie of the Year campaign, Gooden won the NL Cy Young Award with a spectacular season for the Mets. He posted a 1.53 ERA in 35 starts -- including 16 complete games. He also led MLB in strikeouts for the second consecutive season, fanning 268.
No. 18: Mark McGwire, 1998
McGwire eclipsed Maris' single-season home run record of 61 by belting 70 for the Cardinals. He also walked 162 times and homered once every 7.3 at-bats.
No. 17: Ron Guidry, 1978
Guidry was absolutely dominant, posting a 1.74 ERA in 35 starts for the Yankees to win the AL Cy Young Award and finish as the runner-up in AL MVP voting. He also tossed 16 complete games, nine of which were shutouts.
No. 16: Stan Musial, 1948
Musial had the finest season of his Hall of Fame career, winning his third NL MVP Award after slashing .376/.450/.702 with 18 triples and 39 homers.
No. 15: Frank Robinson, 1966
Robinson won his second MVP Award -- this time in the AL with the Orioles, after winning in the NL while with the Reds in '61. He posted a career-high 198 OPS+, while slugging 49 homers and helping lead Baltimore to a World Series title.
No. 14: Greg Maddux, 1995
Perhaps the best starting pitcher of the '90s and the anchor of the best starting rotation of the decade, Maddux had an incredible campaign in the middle of the Braves' amazing run. Maddux was brilliant in helping to lead the organization to its first World Series title since moving to Atlanta, as he posted a 1.63 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in 28 starts. He walked only 23 of the 785 batters he faced.
No. 13: Mickey Mantle, 1956
Mantle slugged a career-best .705 and swatted 52 home runs during an MVP campaign for the Yankees. His slugging percentage was the highest in a season since Ted Williams in '41 (.735).
No. 12: Denny McLain, 1968
McLain went 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA for the Tigers, winning the AL Cy Young and MVP Awards. He had 28 complete games in 41 starts, while pitching 336 innings. McLain went on to win a second straight Cy Young Award the following season.
No. 11: Carl Yastrzemski, 1967
Yastrzemski had an outstanding season, both at the plate and in the field. He won the Triple Crown, AL MVP and his third Gold Glove in left field. He slashed .326/.418/.622 with 44 home runs and 121 RBIs for the Red Sox, helping them reach the World Series. Yaz hit .400 with three homers against the Cardinals in the Fall Classic.
No. 10: Randy Johnson, 2001
Few pitchers in baseball history have had as overpowering a season on the mound as the Big Unit did, as he helped lead the D-backs to a World Series title. Johnson posted a 2.49 ERA and struck out 372 batters (13.4 strikeouts per nine innings). He won his third consecutive NL Cy Young Award and was named co-MVP of the World Series with Curt Schilling.
No. 9: Steve Carlton, 1972
Carlton won the first of four NL Cy Young Awards with a brilliant campaign, as he pitched 346 1/3 innings and posted a 1.97 ERA. He struck out 310 and walked 87 in 41 starts, of which he completed 30.
No. 8: Ted Williams, 1941
"The Splendid Splinter" remains the last player to hit .400 or better in a season, as he finished the '41 campaign with a .406 mark. At just 22 years old, Williams' OBP was .553 and he slugged .735 with 37 homers, as Williams capped one of the greatest offensive seasons in MLB history. His 235 OPS+ is tied for eighth-highest all-time.
No. 7: Orel Hershiser, 1988
Hershiser's phenomenal season was highlighted by an MLB-record 59 consecutive scoreless innings. The Dodgers right-hander posted a 2.26 ERA and logged 15 complete games -- including eight shutouts. He won the NL Cy Young Award and also went on to be named MVP of the NL Championship Series and World Series.
No. 6: Sandy Koufax, 1965
In the midst of a five-season stretch that is among the greatest ever put together by a starting pitcher, Koufax posted a 2.04 ERA in 43 games (41 starts) -- including 27 complete games and eight shutouts. He struck out 382 batters in 335 2/3 innings and won the second of three career NL Cy Young Awards. He also won his second World Series MVP Award with a 0.38 ERA in three starts against the Twins.
No. 5: Joe DiMaggio, 1941
DiMaggio set a record that stands to this day -- and which no one has come close to matching -- as he hit safely in 56 consecutive games. While Williams hit .406 for the season, it was DiMaggio who was named AL MVP, as he slashed .357/.440/.643 with 30 homers for the Yankees.
No. 4: Pedro Martinez, 1999
Martinez posted a career-high 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.07 ERA in '99, in the midst of one of the highest run-scoring eras in baseball history, as he surrendered only nine home runs in 213 1/3 innings. During the All-Star Game at Fenway Park, he struck out the first four NL batters he faced -- Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sosa and McGwire. He also won the second of three career Cy Young Awards.
No. 3: Jackie Robinson, 1947
Under the enormous pressure of being the player who broke baseball's color barrier, Robinson won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and helped the Brooklyn Dodgers reach the World Series. He slashed .297/.383/.427 with 12 home runs and 29 stolen bases -- which included four steals of home.
No. 2: Bob Gibson, 1968
Gibson's 1.12 ERA over 34 starts is the lowest single-season ERA since Dutch Leonard's 0.96 in '14. The intimidating right-hander was utterly overpowering, as he tossed 28 complete games -- including 13 shutouts. In the World Series that year, Gibson had a 1.67 ERA and 35 strikeouts in three starts. He won the NL Cy Young Award and NL MVP.
No. 1: Barry Bonds, 2004
Bonds walked an astounding 232 times, of which 120 were of the intentional variety. It spoke volumes about just how feared he was as a slugger, and it played a large part in his MLB-record .609 on-base percentage. Bonds still hit 45 home runs, while slugging .812 -- the fourth-highest single-season slugging percentage of all time.
Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.