Sunday, November 29, 2015

Harry Stovey: Pre-Integration Era Ballot Hall of Fame Candidate


Hall of Fame candidate Harry Stovey

Nineteenth century slugger Harry Stovey is eligible to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the Pre-Integration Era ballot which is comprised of ten candidates who made their biggest contributions to the game prior to 1947.  Voting will take place on December 7 at the Baseball Winter Meetings.  Stovey shares the ballot with fellow player candidates Bill Dahlen, Wes Ferrell, Marty Marion, Frank McCormick, and Bucky Walters along with non-player candidates Sam Breadon, Garry Herrmann, and Chris von der Ahe as well as pioneer candidate Doc Adams.  Stovey played the bulk of his major league career in the American Association, which was a rival league to the National League.  Stovey dominated the game with power and speed and was arguably the greatest player in the American Association's ten-year history.  Stovey's career may have taken place over a century ago but his significant accomplishments make him worthy of election into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Stovey was born Harold Duffield Stowe in Philadelphia on December 20, 1856.  Stowe loved baseball and took to the game at an early age.  However, Stowe's mother was not fond of the sport so at age 20, he changed his last name to Stovey to keep her from learning that he had embarked on a career as a professional baseball player.  After spending three years in the minors, Stovey made his major league debut in 1880 with the Worcester Ruby Legs during the team's inaugural season in the National League.  Stovey made an immediate impact during his rookie campaign, leading the NL in home runs, triples, and extra base hits while also finishing runner-up in runs scored and total bases.  Stovey's league-pacing total of six round-trippers is low by today's standards but at the time home runs were an extremely rare occurrence because the baseball itself was softer and ball fields of the day were vast.  In addition, teams only played around an 85-game schedule.  Moreover, Stovey's six home runs represented nearly a tenth of the 62 longballs hit in the NL that year and his one-man total was higher than the team totals of three of the eight NL clubs.  On defense, Stovey split his time between first base and outfield. Stolen base records were not kept for the first six years of Stovey's career but his speed not only made him a constant threat to swipe a bag but also enabled him to hit inside-the-park home runs, extend drives into doubles and triples, and make the opposition pay for errors and wild pitches.

Following the 1882 season, the Worcester Ruby Legs disbanded and Stovey was quickly signed by the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association--which had just completed its first year as a direct competitor to the National League.  Stovey took the AA by storm, pacing his new league in several categories, including runs scored, doubles, slugging percentage, and total bases--in addition to setting the major league record for home runs with 14.  The young power-hitter once again towered over the league in longballs with his round-tripper total making up nearly an eighth of the 114 homers hit in the AA and equaling or bettering five of the eight AA clubs in four-baggers.  Stovey led the Athletics to a first place finish in a close race over the St. Louis Browns with the speedster even scoring the go-ahead run against the Louisville Eclipse in the Pennant-clinching game.  What's more, Stovey accomplished all this despite battling serious ankle injuries during the latter part of the season.      

Stovey was a fleet-footed power-hitter
After leading the Athletics to the Pennant, Stovey continued to dominate the AA with a series of strong campaigns.  Stovey's potent power and electric speed continued to be hallmarks of his game.  As the AA proved to be a formidable competitor to NL, the two leagues expanded their schedules from just under 100 games in 1883 to nearly 140 by the end of the decade.  In his first few seasons with Philadelphia, Stovey saw most of his time at first base before being used more regularly in one of the three outfield positions.  In 1886, the AA and NL both started keeping stolen base records.  During this time, the definition of what constituted a stolen base was more liberal than what it is today.  Nevertheless, the documenting of stolen base records showcased the speed part of Stovey's game and he is recognized as the AA's initial leader in swiped bags with 68 in 1886.  Three seasons later, Stovey paced the AA and set personal bests with 19 home runs and 119 RBIs.  Stovey's excellent 1889 campaign proved to be his last with Philadelphia as the fleet-footed slugger joined the Boston Reds of the Players League--a rival league that the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players formed because they were fed up with the reserve clause which bound a player to one club and kept salaries low.  Many of the AA's and NL's top players jumped to the Players League.  Stovey remained a standout talent in his new league--leading the PL with 97 stolen bases and ranking third with 12 home runs.  Stovey's stellar year helped Boston win the Players League's only Pennant as the new league folded after one season.

With the folding of the PL, Stovey's rights as a player laid with the Philadelphia Athletics in the AA.  However, in an apparent oversight, the Athletics had failed to include Stovey on their reserve list--unintentionally making him a free agent of sorts.  Stovey opted to stay in Boston to play for the Beaneaters of the NL.  Now a 34-year old veteran, Stovey proved he could still dominate at the plate as well as on the basepaths--leading the NL in a slew of categories including home runs, triples, and extra base hits while also stealing 57 bases--good for fifth highest in the league.  Stovey's potent bat and quick feet proved key to the Beaneaters who captured the NL flag--giving the veteran the interesting accomplishment of having won three Pennants in three different leagues.

Stovey got off to an uncharacteristically poor start the following season and, with the Beaneaters looking to cut their payroll, the veteran was released in June.  Stovey was signed by the Baltimore Orioles a couple of weeks later.  Perhaps the time off helped Stovey, as the slugger rebounded in Baltimore--hitting at 140 OPS+ clip over the balance of the season.  However, Stovey struggled to start the 1893 campaign.  After seeing a drop in his playing time, he asked for and was granted his release from Baltimore in late May.  Stovey then caught on with the Brooklyn Grooms in what would ultimately be his last year playing major league baseball.  Stovey played professionally in 1894 for former teammate King Kelly's Allentown club and later that season as player-manager for a team in New Bedford, Massachusetts--the same town where the slugger had met his wife, Mary, while playing for the city's minor league club in 1879.  Stovey joined the New Bedford Police in 1895 and made news again in 1901 when he jumped into the water to save a 7-year old boy from drowning while patrolling the waterfront.  Stovey was named Police Chief in 1915, a position he held until he retired in 1923.  Stovey passed away at age 80 in 1937.

At the time of his retirement from major league baseball, Stovey was the career leader in home runs.  Stovey initially set the career home record while still active in 1885, then was briefly passed by Dan Brouthers in 1887, before recapturing the top career mark during his stellar 1889 campaign.  Stovey's final career total of 122 was ultimately overtaken in 1895 by Roger Connor, who retired with 138 round-trippers.  Despite playing during an era of 85 to 140-game schedules, Stovey still ranked fourth in career home runs in 1921 when Connor was finally surpassed for the career longball mark by Babe Ruth.  Stovey's speed also played a key role in his ability to hit home runs as 27 of his 122 round-trippers were of the inside-the-park variety.  Not surprisingly, Stovey retired as the career leader for inside-the-park home runs and more than a century since his final game, still ranks tied for 15th all-time.

Stovey retired as the career leader in HRs
In addition to setting the career home run and inside-the-park home run marks, Stovey's 509 swiped bags placed him second to only Arlie Latham in career stolen bases when he played his final major league game in 1893.  While Stovey's stolen base totals may be incomplete due to the statistic not being recorded until his seventh major league season, the speed aspect of his game is also highlighted by his ability to hit triples and his incredible runs scored totals--two categories in which the fleet-footed slugger ranked number three all-time when he hung up his spikes.  Because the baseball itself was softer and the playing fields were vast, triples were much more common than home runs during the nineteenth century.  Stovey smacked 174 triples during his career and with 1,492 runs scored in just 1,486 games, Stovey holds the distinction of being one of only three players--Billy Hamilton and George Gore being the others--to play more than 600 games and finish their career with more runs scored than games played.  The speed and aggressiveness with which Stovey took to the basepaths were undoubtedly key factors to how he was able to amass such amazing triples and runs scored totals.  During the era in which Stovey played, baseball equipment was archaic compared to what is used today so fielding errors were much more common.  Errors themselves were tracked but many other important details such as reached on errors, stolen bases, and extra bases taken from errors and wild pitches were unrecorded during all or much of Stovey's career.  Stovey's quickness and daring put pressure on opposing defenses, causing them to make errors and pay significantly for them.

Stovey is also notable for being recognized as either the inventor--or at the very least an early adopter--of base running advancements such as sliding into bases feet first, wearing sliding pads to combat injuries, and using the pop up slide to better position himself for advancing to the next base.  Stovey played during an era plagued by poor sportsmanship.  That said, despite his propensity for sliding into bases feet first, Stovey was recognized as one of the game's cleanest players, earning him the nickname "Gentleman Harry."  Alfred Henry Spink, author of the book The National Game, wrote this of Stovey in 1910: "He always slid feet first but was not "nasty" with his feet in the way of trying to hurt the baseman, as some of his imitators were."

On the defensive side of the diamond, Stovey played the bulk of his games in the outfield but also saw time at first base.  During Stovey's first three major league seasons with the Worcester Ruby Legs, he split his time between the outfield and first base.  In his first two seasons in Philadelphia, the Athletics almost exclusively used Stovey at first base, then rotated him back and forth between the outfield and first for the next three years, before settling on using him in the outfield for his final two campaigns with the club.  After moving on from Philadelphia, Stovey was primarily used in the outfield for the remainder of his career.  In 1888, Stovey showcased his arm strength in a distance-throwing contest held by the Cincinnati Enquirer, finishing second to only Ned Williamson with a mark of 369 feet, 2 inches.  Overall for his career, Stovey played 550 games at first base and 944 in the outfield with 519 of those in left field, 251 in right, and 176 in center.  During Stovey's time, first base was considered a much more defensively challenging position than it is today, while the three outfield positions were considered the least demanding on the diamond.  Unlike shortstop Bill Dahlen, who also appears on the upcoming Pre-Integration Era ballot, Stovey's defensive prowess does not greatly strengthen his Hall of Fame case.  However, in contrast to his defensively challenged American Association peer Pete Browning, Stovey's fielding does not detract from his Hall of Fame case either.

Stovey was a five-time league leader in HRs
Stovey's overall dominance as player is underscored by the regularity in which he led his respective league in a variety of important categories:  Stovey was a five-time leader in home runs and extra base hits.  Stovey stood atop the league leaders chart in triples and runs scored on four occasions.  Stovey also ranked first in total bases and slugging percentage three times. Although stolen base totals were only recorded for the final eight seasons of Stovey's 14-year career, the daring speedster led twice in swiped bags.  Stovey also paced the league in doubles, RBIs, and OPS+ on one occasion each.  In addition to setting the record for career home runs, Stovey also set single-season records for home runs, extra base hits, triples, and stolen bases.  Stovey's dominance was not limited to just his time in the American Association as the fleet-footed power-hitter led the National League in home runs and triples on two occasions and also paced the Senior Circuit in total bases and slugging percentage one-time each--all despite spending only the first three and the final three years of his career in the NL.  Moreover, Stovey was the most prolific base stealer in the sole campaign of the Players League.

Stovey's dominance is further showcased by the Black Ink Test metric designed by sabermetrician Bill James which measures how often a player led their respective league in important offensive categories.  Stovey ranks 23rd all-time in position player career Black Ink--ahead of many Hall of Famers and trailing only three players--Barry Bonds, Pete Rose, and Ross Barnes--who are all retired but not in Cooperstown.  In addition, Dan Brouthers, Cap Anson, the aforementioned Barnes, and Ed Delahanty are the only nineteenth century position players ahead of Stovey in Black Ink.  However, the Black Ink Test somewhat favors players of Stovey's era since they played in leagues with 8 teams as opposed to players in later eras who played in leagues with 10 or more teams.  Regardless, Stovey's Black Ink totals are impressive and his career also looks strong by another James metric, the Gray Ink Test, which measures how often a player finished in their league's top ten in important categories.  Stovey is tied for 36th all-time among position players in Gray Ink, once again ahead of many enshrined players, with Bonds and Rose as the only retired non-Hall of Famers ahead of him.

Despite holding the career home run record for several seasons and regularly leading his respective league in several important categories, Stovey has yet to be honored with a bronze Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown.  Stovey was arguably the greatest player in the ten-year history of the American Association--ranking as the defunct league's all-time leader in position player WAR, home runs, extra base hits, and runs scored even though he only spent seven seasons in the AA.  However, having played a significant portion of his career in the AA has likely hindered Stovey's Hall of Fame case.  Fifty-six percent of Stovey's career plate appearances took place in the AA.  Thus far, the only players in the Hall of Fame who have anywhere near that high a percentage of their career plate appearances in the AA are Tommy McCarthy and Bid McPhee, who each had just over 40 percent of their career plate appearances in the defunct league.  McCarthy was voted in by the Old Timers Committee in 1946 as a player but was largely elected due to the innovative strategies he devised such as the hit and run.  McPhee's career is less associated with the defunct league because the Cincinnati Reds franchise where he spent his entire career joined the NL when the AA dissolved and because his years in the Senior Circuit took place during the high offense 1890s.  Although McPhee made it into the Hall of Fame, his time in the AA may have delayed his election to Cooperstown, which finally came by way of the Veterans Committee in 2000--more than a century after he played his last major league game.  Perhaps because the AA folded after ten seasons while its direct competitor the National League survived and continues to thrive, the accomplishments of its players have been discounted by Hall of Fame voters.

Another factor that has hurt Stovey's Hall of Fame case is the fact that his career took place during an era with shorter schedules.  Stovey spent most of the first half of his career playing between 83 to 113-game schedules before the ledger finally expanded to around 140 games at the outset of his seventh season.  The timing of Stovey's career also worked against his Hall of Fame case as during his final season the pitching distance was moved from 55 feet to 60 feet 6 inches.  This change resulted in a significant increase in scoring that--along with playing their career under longer schedules--helped strengthen the Hall of Fame cases of hitters who played their prime years in the 1890s and made sluggers from Stovey's era look weak by comparison.

The upcoming election will mark the second vote held for Pre-Integration Era candidates.  In the previous election three years ago, the Pre-Integration Committee voted owner Jacob Ruppert, umpire Hank O' Day, and slugger Deacon White into the Hall of Fame.  Like Stovey, White was a dominant player in the nineteenth century who made notable innovations to the game.  The Hall of Fame cases of White and Stovey have long been championed by writers and historians familiar with the early days of baseball.  Moreover, the Society for American Baseball Research selected White and Stovey as Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legends in 2010 and 2011, respectively.  Stovey's incredible combination of power-hitting and base running gave him the ability to regularly lead his respective league in a number of important categories and dominate the game like few players have.  Although Stovey's career took place more than a century ago, his significant career accomplishments make him worthy of election to the Hall of Fame.

----by John Tuberty

Sources:  Baseball Reference, Baseball Reference Play Index, Baseball Hall of Fame, SABR, 19th Century Baseball, Baseball Almanac, Philly.com, The Roanoke Times Virginia Chronicle, SouthCoastToday.com, David Nemec and Mark Rucker-The Beer and Whiskey League (Globe Pequot), Edward Achorn-The Summer of Beer and Whiskey (PublicAffairs), David L. Porter-Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Q-Z (Greenwood Publishing Group), Alfred Henry Spink-The National Game (National Game Publishing Company), Norman L. Macht-Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball (University of Nebraska Press), John Thorn-Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, Volume 7 (McFarland)

Photo credit:  National Baseball Hall of Fame Library engraving originally published in the New York Clipper August 7, 1880; National Baseball Hall of Fame Library circa 1888 Old Judge Cigarettes Card; Headshot from 1883 Philadelphia Athletics team picture used in Philly.com article via Robert Edward Auctions and Stovey's Baseball Reference player page headshot; 2013 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions card  

Other Tubbs Baseball Blog Articles:
Holding Separate Elections For Player and Non-Player Candidates Would Greatly Improve the Hall of Fame's Era Ballot Vote Process

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Gonzalez, and Albert Pujols Combine to Set the Major League Record For Most Players to Finish a Season With 40 or More Home Runs and Less Than 100 RBIs



Harper hit 42 HRs in 2015 yet drove in just 99 runs
Much of the focus on the 2015 baseball season has centered on stories such as the excellence of pitchers Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke, the surprising emergence of the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs, and the shocking struggles of the Washington Nationals and Detroit Tigers.  One story that has flown under the radar is the unusual number of players who finished the season with 40 or more home runs yet drove in less than 100 runs.  In fact, five well-established sluggers:  Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Gonzalez, and Albert Pujols combined to set the major league record for most players to achieve this odd and somewhat dubious feat during the 2015 campaign, in the process breaking the previous record set by two players during each of the 1969, 1973, 1994, and 2006 seasons.

Ever since winning their league's respective Rookie of the Year Awards in 2012, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have been compared to the legends of the game.  Through their first three full seasons, Trout was undoubtedly the more impressive of the two sluggers, finishing runner-up in the AL MVP Award in his first two full seasons before unanimously being selected for the honor last year.  However, coming off an injury-plagued 2014, Harper took his game to another level in 2015, smashing 42 longballs and in the process nearly doubling his previous career-high.  Despite his spectacular campaign, Harper's Washington Nationals--a pre-season favorite of many to win the World Championship--finished a disappointing 83-79 and missed the playoffs.  Although Harper's team failed to make the postseason and the slugger pulled up just shy of 100 RBIs, as the NL leader in home runs, runs scored, OBP, slugging percentage, OPS+, and WAR, the young phenom appears poised to win his first MVP Award.

Falling shy of 100 RBIs in 2015 may cost Trout AL MVP votes
Unlike Harper, Trout did not necessarily take his overall game to a new level but the Los Angeles center fielder was able to maintain his excellence and lead the AL in WAR for an amazing fourth year in a row.  However, the 2015 Angels club experienced significant drops in OBP, slugging, and runs scored compared to the previous year's squad.  This dip in team offense had a direct effect on Trout's RBI totals which slid from a league-leading 111 in 2014 to just 90 in 2015, despite the reigning AL MVP stroking a career-best 41 home runs and seeing decline in his strikeout rate from last season.  Even though Trout fanned less, both he and his NL contemporary Harper each can attribute their respective whiff totals of 158 and 131 as reasons why they finished 2015 with under 100 RBIs.  The combination of Trout's team missing out on the postseason and not having a triple digit RBI total may cost him support in what should be a close MVP vote between him and Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson.

Free agent pick up Nelson Cruz proved that moving from the Baltimore Orioles' hitter-friendly home ballpark of Camden Yards to the spacious Safeco Field of the Seattle Mariners could not keep him from being a consistent home run threat as the slugger's longball total jumped from 40 in 2014 to 44 in 2015.  However, the combination of the Mariners' weaker offense in a less forgiving home venue coupled with Cruz's uptick in strikeouts set the stage for the free agent acquisition to finish 2015 under the 100 RBI threshold.

Playing his home games in the thin air of Coors Field and a torrid second half of the season were not enough to push Colorado Rockies right fielder Carlos Gonzalez past the 100 RBI line.  Coming off a knee injury which cut short his 2014 campaign, Gonzalez got off to a slow start to the 2015 season and was briefly dropped as low as sixth in the batting order.  Gonzalez eventually worked his way out of the slump, then went on an absolute tear after the All-Star break, crushing 27 homers with 62 RBIs in just 285 plate appearances.  Gonzalez's incredible rebound in the season's latter half allowed the slugger to reach 40 longballs but his slow start doomed him to end the 2015 campaign shy of 100 RBI.

Probably the most surprising of the five sluggers to have a 40 home run/sub-100 RBI season in 2015 was Mike Trout's teammate Albert Pujols who just barely completed the odd feat, hitting his 40th round tripper on the final day of the regular season.  Pujols' 40-home run campaign was the seventh of his career but his first since 2010.  After a steady decline in power over the last few seasons, Pujols proved he was still a serious longball threat in 2015.  Although, after finishing the year with a career low .244 batting average--which loomed large in his inability to reach 100 RBIs--it is clear that Pujols' days as a dominant player are over.

Below are the statistics from the five 40 or more home run/less than 100 RBI campaigns from the 2015 season.  League-leading totals are highlighted in bold:



G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Harper 153 654 521 118 172 38 1 42 99 124 131 0.330 0.460 0.649 1.109 195
Trout 159 682 575 104 172 32 6 41 90 92 158 0.299 0.402 0.590 0.991 176
Cruz 152 655 590 90 178 22 1 44 93 59 164 0.302 0.369 0.566 0.936 160
Gonzalez 153 608 554 87 150 25 2 40 97 46 133 0.271 0.325 0.540 0.864 115
Pujols 157 661 602 85 147 22 0 40 95 50 72 0.244 0.307 0.480 0.787 118

With the trend over the last several seasons showing a rise in strikeouts, drops in batting average, OBP, and runs scored, along with a sustained focus on power it is likely seasons of 40 or more home runs with less than 100 RBI may become more common.  In fact, Pujols was the only one of the five sluggers to complete the odd feat who was not a regular strikeout victim.  What's more, none of the five 40 or more home run/sub-100 RBI seasons produced in 2015 were abbreviated by injury or had any other special circumstances.  However, having five players produce this rarely seen combination in one season amounts to a statistical anomaly that may never happen again.  Prior to 2015, the odd combination of the 40 or more home runs/less than 100 RBI season had only been completed sixteen times by thirteen different players.  Obviously not a celebrated group like the Triple Crown, 300-strikeout, or 40 home run/40 stolen bases clubs, the 40 home run/less than 100 RBI club, nevertheless, has its own unique history.  Not surprisingly, most of the players to join the 40 home run/less than 100 RBI club were feared power-hitters and were often among the best of their era.  However, a few of these odd seasons were produced by unexpected contributors:

Snider was the charter member of the 40 HR/less than 100 RBI club
In 1957, Duke Snider became the first slugger to reach the 40 home run plateau while finishing a season shy of 100 RBIs.  Capable of hitting for both power and a high average while playing his home games at the hitter-friendly Ebbets Field for the perennial Pennant-contending Brooklyn Dodgers, Snider was coming off of four straight seasons with at least 40 home runs and 100 or more RBIs going into the 1957 campaign.  However, the 1957 Dodgers lacked the punch of the Brooklyn teams from previous years, scoring their lowest number of runs in a season since 1944.  In addition, Snider's 139 games marked his lowest total over a full season up until that point in his career.  Snider hit his 40th round tripper on what turned out to be his final at bat of the season--as he did not play in the final four games.  Snider's drive also wound up being the last home run hit at Ebbets Field--as the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles for the 1958 campaign.  Interestingly, Snider almost became the first player to reach 40 homers without driving in 100 runs the prior year when he went into the 1956 season finale with 41 longballs and 97 RBIs but smacked two round trippers and drove in four runs to finish with 101 RBIs.

Snider’s 1957 season
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
139 592 508 91 139 25 7 40 92 77 104 0.274 0.368 0.587 0.955 143

Mickey Mantle became the second player to reach the 40 home run plateau while driving in less than 100 runs in 1958 and first to do it a second time when he performed the odd feat again in 1960.  Each of those campaigns took place during Pennant-winning seasons for Mantle's New York Yankees.  Mantle led the AL with 40 longballs in 1960 but his inability to reach 100 RBIs likely caused him to lose out to teammate Roger Maris in one of the closest MVP votes.  A noted free-swinger for his time, Mantle led the AL in strikeouts in 1958 and 1960, just as Snider had led the NL in whiffs during his 40 or more home run/sub 100 RBI season.  Mantle and Snider were able to offset their high strikeout totals by drawing walks on a regular basis.  In fact, Mantle paced the AL in free passes in 1958.  Snider's and Mantle's 40 or more home run/sub 100 RBI campaigns occurred just before baseball expanded the regular season from 154 to 162 games.  Had Snider and Mantle each had the extra eight games then it is possible they would have reached the 100 RBI mark.    

Mantle’s 1958 and 1960 seasons
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
150 654 519 127 158 21 1 42 97 129 120 0.304 0.443 0.592 1.035 188
153 643 527 119 145 17 6 40 94 111 125 0.275 0.399 0.558 0.957 162

In 1963, Harmon Killebrew became the first player to stroke 40 or more longballs with less than 100 RBIs under the 162 game schedule.  Killebrew missed 19 games early in the season yet still hunted down and passed the league leaders to capture the AL home run crown--though the missed games played a large role in the Minnesota Twins slugger's inability to reach triple digits in RBIs.

Killebrew’s 1963 season
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
142 596 515 88 133 18 0 45 96 72 105 0.258 0.349 0.555 0.904 147

The 1969 season marked the first campaign in which two sluggers reached 40 home runs without driving in 100 runs when Hank Aaron and Rico Petrocelli each completed the odd feat.  Aaron's 44 round trippers helped the Atlanta Braves capture their first NL West title.  While "Hammerin' Hank" already had five 40-home run seasons to his name and had been one of the game's premier sluggers for nearly a decade and a half, Petrocelli was a shortstop with moderate power who had topped out with a career-best 18 longballs during the 1966 campaign.  Unlike his predecessors who joined the 40 home run/less than 100 RBI club--each of whom were future Hall of Famers batted in the heart of the order--Petrocelli began the season as the Boston Red Sox's number seven hitter.  However, after smacking 12 home runs with a .357 batting average in the first 34 games, Petrocelli was moved up to fifth in the batting order.  Had Petrocelli started the season higher in the batting order, the Boston shortstop likely would have crossed the 100 RBI threshold.  The following season, Petrocelli was regularly batted fifth and despite seeing his batting average and power numbers go down, he reached the 100 RBI mark.

Aaron’s and Petrocelli’s 1969 seasons
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
147 639 547 100 164 30 3 44 97 87 47 0.300 0.396 0.607 1.003 177
154 643 535 92 159 32 2 40 97 98 68 0.297 0.403 0.589 0.992 168

Braves teammates Aaron, Johnson, & Evans each reached 40 HRs in '73
Four years later, Atlanta Braves sluggers Hank Aaron and Dave Johnson became the first teammates to hit 40 longballs while failing to reach 100 RBIs.  Aaron's 1973 campaign was unique in comparison to other seasons of the like in that his inability to reach the century mark in RBIs was directly related to his limited playing time.  The 39-year old Aaron appeared in only 120 games with just 465 trips to the plate, though the extra rest did have its benefits as he homered in a career-high 8.6% of his plate appearances.  In contrast to Aaron, Johnson was an even more unlikely player to reach 40 round trippers than Rico Petrocelli.  Johnson had come over from the Baltimore Orioles in an offseason trade.  Known more for his glove than his bat, Johnson had picked up three Gold Glove Awards at second base.  Like fellow middle infielder Petrocelli, Johnson had topped out with a career-high of 18 homers yet was coming off an injury-plagued season in which he hit just 5 longballs.  Healthy and freed from playing his home games at the pitcher-friendly Memorial Stadium, Johnson found himself on the other end of the ballpark spectrum at Atlanta Stadium which was nicknamed "The Launching Pad" for the number of home runs hit over its walls.  Similar to Petrocelli, Johnson was not batted in the heart of the order at the beginning of the season, starting the year as Atlanta's number six hitter. However, even as Johnson began to hit longballs out at a consistent rate, he still spent the bulk of his time hitting out of the six hole with nearly half of his plate appearances over the course of the season coming from that spot while seeing about equal time at the fifth and seventh spots in the order.  Atlanta Stadium certainly lived up to "The Launching Pad" nickname as Darrell Evans' 41 home runs made himself, Aaron, and Johnson the first trio of teammates to finish a season with 40 or more longballs.  Although, Evans was the only one of the three to reach the 100 RBI plateau--albeit barely--finishing the campaign with 104 tallies.     

Aaron’s and Johnson’s 1973 seasons
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
120 465 392 84 118 12 1 40 96 68 51 0.301 0.402 0.643 1.045 177
157 651 559 84 151 25 0 43 99 81 93 0.270 0.370 0.546 0.916 143

Coincidentally, twelve years later Darrell Evans became the next player to hit 40 home runs without driving in 100 runs.  After spending several years playing his home games at the cavernous Candlestick Park following a trade from the Atlanta Braves to the San Francisco Giants, Evans finally found himself back in a hitter-friendly home ballpark when he signed with the Detroit Tigers prior to the 1984 season.  Evans had an off-year in his first season with Detroit, though he was able to help the Tigers to a World Championship.  However, Evans came back strong in 1985, becoming the first player to hit 40 home runs in both leagues and at age 38 became the oldest slugger to lead his respective league in longballs.  Evans chance at 100 RBIs was hindered by the Tigers offense which did not score runs at the rapid pace of the previous year's championship squad.  In addition, Evans' usually found himself batted in the five hole but also had a combined 204 plate appearances at the number two, six, and seven spots in the order.

Evans’ 1985 season
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
151 594 505 81 125 17 0 40 94 85 85 0.248 0.356 0.519 0.875 138

Griffey Jr. & Williams joined the 40 HR/less than 100 RBI club in '94
In 1994, Ken Griffey Jr. and Matt Williams each joined the 40 home run/less than 100 RBI club though the pair's inability to reach triple digits in RBIs was the result of the player's strike limiting their team's seasons to 112 and 115 games, respectively.  Due to the rise in home runs and overall offense in the game during the mid-1990s, there were no 40 home run/less than 100 RBI seasons again until 2003 when the combination was accomplished by Barry Bonds.  Bonds' situation was similar to Hank Aaron's thirty years earlier as at age 38, he was often rested--playing in just 130 games with 550 plate appearances.  Bonds was also regularly walked by opposing pitchers--earning a staggering 148 free passes with 61 of those being of the intentional variety.  Despite not reaching 100 RBIs, Bonds was easily voted the NL's MVP at the end of the season.  Bonds nearly duplicated the odd feat the following year, once again drilling 45 home runs but this time finished just over the century mark with 101 RBIs.        

Griffey Jr.’s and Williams’ 1994 seasons
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
111 493 433 94 140 24 4 40 90 56 73 0.323 0.402 0.674 1.076 171
112 483 445 74 119 16 3 43 96 33 87 0.267 0.319 0.607 0.926 141

Bonds’ 2003 season
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
130 550 390 111 133 22 1 45 90 148 58 0.341 0.529 0.749 1.278 231

Although home run and scoring rates were still high in 2006, the unique talents of Alfonso Soriano and Adam Dunn set the stage for the fourth pair of players to hit 40 home runs while driving in fewer than 100 runs during the same season.  Soriano was a speedy power-hitter who had nearly joined the 40 home run/40 stolen base club as well as the 40 home run/less than 100 RBI club, when he smacked 39 longballs, swiped 41 bags, and drove in 102 RBIs while batting out of the leadoff spot for the 2002 New York Yankees.  Soriano was acquired by the Washington Nationals prior to the 2006 campaign.  Eligible for free agency at the season's end, Soriano immediately butted heads with veteran skipper Frank Robinson, refusing to move from second base to left field.  After the club threatened to place him on the disqualified list which would have forfeited his pay as well as his service time--which Soriano needed to be eligible for free agency at the end of the season--he relented and moved to left.  The previous year's Washington squad had finished at the bottom of the majors in both home runs as well as runs scored and started the year with the powerful Soriano batting fifth.  However, after seeing Soriano slump in the five and three spots in the order, yet flourish when batted in the one-hole, the Nationals and manager Frank Robinson announced in mid-May that they would permanently move their temperamental superstar to the leadoff spot for the remainder of the season.  Having a power-hitter like Soriano hitting at the very top of the order on an offense-starved team proved to be the perfect storm of events for a player to hit 40 round trippers while failing to drive in 100 runs.  Soriano joined both the 40 home run/less than 100 RBI club in addition to the 40 home run/40 stolen bases club--albeit while being caught stealing a staggering 17 time in 58 attempts.  After the season, Soriano signed a lucrative multi-year contract with the Chicago Cubs.

Soriano’s 2006 season
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
159 728 647 119 179 41 2 46 95 67 160 0.277 0.351 0.560 0.911 135

Known for his likeliness to end each at bat with either a home run, a walk, or a strikeout, Adam Dunn epitomized the "Three True Outcomes" hitter.  Going into 2006, Dunn had already had close calls at joining the 40 home run/less than 100 RBI club--reaching the 40 round tripper mark in both 2004 and 2005 while just barely crossing the 100 RBI line each time.  Dunn also drew over 100 walks and led the majors in strikeouts in both 2004 and 2005, fanning 195 times in 2004 and in the process breaking the 35-year old dubious record held by Bobby Bonds.  Finally in 2006, drops in Dunn's batting average and doubles coupled with his consistently high walk and strikeout rates resulted in the slugger producing the odd 40 home run/sub-100 RBI combination.

Dunn’s 2006 season
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
160 683 561 99 131 24 0 40 92 112 194 0.234 0.365 0.490 0.855 114

Three seasons later, Adrian Gonzalez squeaked into the 40 home run/less than 100 RBI club with exactly 40 longballs while driving in 99 runs.  At the time, Gonzalez manned first base for the punchless San Diego Padres who averaged the lowest runs scored per game in the majors, no doubt hindered by playing their home games in spacious, pitcher-friendly Petco Park.  Not necessarily known for his patience at the plate, Gonzalez took free passes at a rate not seen by the powerful first baseman before or since and led the NL in walks.  Gonzalez saw a career-high jump in home runs per plate appearance as well.

Gonzalez’s 2009 season
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
160 681 552 90 153 27 2 40 99 119 109 0.277 0.407 0.551 0.958 162

Prior to this year's explosion of 40 home run/less than 100 RBI seasons, the most recent occurrence was Adam Dunn's 2012 campaign for the Chicago White Sox.  In doing so, Dunn joined Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron as the only players with two such seasons.  Dunn's having another 40 longball/sub-100 RBI year was hardly surprising since his "Three True Outcomes" skill set made him a perennial threat to complete the odd feat.  In fact, Dunn had finished the 2008 season with exactly 40 home runs and 100 RBIs.  What was surprising was that Dunn was able to rebound after an abysmal 2011 campaign in which he hit just .159 with 11 home runs and an OPS+ of 54--all career lows.  Dunn's 2012 was certainly the ugliest of the twenty-one 40 home run/less than 100 RBI seasons as his .204 batting average was, by far, the lowest of any slugger to produce the unique combination.  In addition, the free-swinging Dunn set the AL strikeout record with 222 whiffs (fellow "Three True Outcomes" slugger Mark Reynolds had broken Dunn's major league record by fanning 223 times in 2009).

Dunn’s 2012 season
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
151 649 539 87 110 19 0 41 96 105 222 0.204 0.333 0.468 0.800 114

Although there is a history of 40 home run/less than 100 RBI seasons, the two statistical outcomes are rarely seem together which makes this year's bumper crop of sluggers achieving the odd feat all the more interesting.

----by John Tuberty                        

Sources:  Baseball Reference, Baseball Reference Play Index, SABR, Washington Post

Photo credit:  Bryce Harper 2015 Topps Stadium Club, Mike Trout 2014 Topps Tribute, Duke Snider 1994 Nabisco All Star Legends, Hank Aaron 1972 Topps, Davey Johnson 1975 Topps, Darrell Evans 1974 Topps, Ken Griffey Jr. and Matt Williams 1995 Fleer 9

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