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The Best Forgotten Seasons of Greatness in MLB History

Anibal Sanchez pitching for the Detroit Tigers; CC by License 2.0

Baseball is a game that has been around for over 100 years and has had many seasons of pure dominance. From the .400 season of Ted Williams to the unbelievable Pedro Martinez 2000 season there are many years that will not be forgotten in the history books. However, there are a lot of seasons that have been forgotten by history mainly due to the players who had them. Today I will be going into a couple of the many seasons that have been forgotten across history by some players whose names might not be as big. A couple of parameters for this are that I will try to not use any big names or players and also no big single seasons in which players used steroids or were suspected of for their one big season; for example Brady Anderson in 1996 or Ken Caminiti also in 1996.


George Foster-1977

When you think of 1970s Reds players the first ones that usually come to mind are legends Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, or even Tony Perez. However, none of these guys hit more home runs in a season than George Foster did in 1977. In fact, Foster was the only player in the 1970s to hit over 50 home runs in a season, and this is coming from a guy most people have never heard of. Foster came up in 1969 with the Giants and was traded to the Reds in 1971. From 1969 to 1975 Foster was a solid OF as he posted a 112 OPS+ and 7.6 bWAR which is respectable but by no means is it elite or where he would end up. He hit just 50 home runs across these 6 seasons and over 1500 PA. However in 1976, Foster found his power stroke as he hit a new career-high 29 HRs and a .894 OPS as well. This season started a 10-year run in which he hit over 20 home runs every season and had a 133 OPS+. During this run of consistently he put together arguably the best offensive seasons of the 1970s.



This is an incredible season as he led the NL in Runs, Home Runs, RBIs, TB, SLG, and OPS. This season is largely forgotten largely due to the fact that George Foster never really repeated this and he was never a true superstar of the era like Bench, Schmidt, or even Willie Stargel. This season is incredible because as mentioned earlier, it was the only 50 HR season in the 1970s. On top of this, his K% at only 15.5% is very impressive for his HR total and especially rare given today's game. After Foster's dominant ‘77 season, he continued to be a legit HR bat. From ‘78 to ‘85, he hit 203 HRs and had a 124 OPS+. Foster retired after the ‘86 season as one of the best power bats of the 70s with his 1977 season being his greatest accomplishment. This truly is one of the best seasons of the 1970s and it has been forgotten across history. Safe to say this might be the most forgotten 50 HR season ever.


George Bell-1987

After George Foster put together an elite season in 1977, another George put together another forgotten season 10 years later in 1987. Bell came up in 1981 for the Blue Jays but did not get a full season of ABs until 1984. That started a four-year run of an amazing power and contact combo that resulted in the ‘87 season that led to his MVP season. Even though this ‘87 season was by far his best of the four-year run, the previous three were still extremely dominant. From 1984-1986 he hit 85 HRs with a .838 OPS, 123 OPS+, and 11 bWAR. All of this accumulated in the 1987 season.


Bell’s ‘87 season was everything from his previous years coming together. This was his career high in OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, HRs, RBIs, Runs, and bWAR. Similar to Foster, he was able to put together these great power numbers while maintaining a low K% which is something that has been forgotten in today's game. The most impressive part of Bell’s season was his low BABIP of just .284 which is below average. A typical average BABIP is .300 and Bell’s being below average like that shows that he was unlucky to some extent. With just a little more luck, Bell could have easily put together a .315 BA at least and an OPS getting a lot closer to 1.000. After his MVP season in ‘87, he never returned to those numbers but remained solid. From ‘88 to ‘92 he hit 113 HRs with a 109 OPS+; he never eclipsed 30 HRs again and retired after the ‘93 season. Bell finished with a solid career but without a doubt, his ‘87 season was best. This season, Bell ranks 3rd in Blue Jays history for Home Runs, 4th in SLG, 9th in OPS, and 3rd in RBIs. George Bell’s 1987 is one of the most forgotten MVP seasons of the 80s and overall in baseball history.


Brad Penny-2007

Moving onto the first pitcher on the list, Brad Penny put together a top 3 Cy Young Season in the middle of a relatively mediocre career. Penny was called up in 2000 as just a 22-year-old with the Marlins. Through the first seven years of his career, Penny was a decent back of the rotation arm. From 2000-2006, he threw over 140 innings in all but one year and had an ERA of 4.06 with a 104 ERA+. Penny was very average through these first seven years and by 2007 when he had made his way to the Dodgers, he was expected to do much of the same. However, Penny came out of nowhere to produce one of the most surprising and forgotten seasons in the 2000s.



This season came out of nowhere as this was his career low in ERA, HR/9, ERA+, bWAR, and wins and it is his second-lowest FIP in a season. So what changed for Penny this season to lead to this? His HR/9 fell off a table. He was always solid at controlling the HR ball, but in 2007, it became elite. This is the lowest HR/9 in a season from a Dodgers starter in the live ball era, better than anything that Kershaw, Koufax, or any other great Dodgers pitcher did. This decrease in HR/9 came from a decrease in FB% and LD% which leads to fewer home runs. The fact that he was only able to do this for one season in the middle of his career is probably a product of some luck, but it is still insanely impressive that Brad Penny was able to do something that many Dodgers legends could not accomplish. After the ‘07 season, Penny fell off quickly as he played just 5 more seasons and put together a 5.16 ERA across those seasons. He retired after the 2014 season having had a long 14-season career, but nothing ever came close to his dominant yet forgotten ‘07 season.


Anibal Sanchez-2013

When people talk about the early 2010s Tigers pitchers the first names brought up usually are Verlander, Scherzer, or even David Price. However, during this time, longtime workhorse Anibal Sanchez put together one of the most forgotten seasons of the 2010s. He came up in 2006 with the Marlins and became an immediate impact as he finished 9th in ROTY voting. Sanchez stayed with the Marlins until he was traded to the Tigers during the 2012 season. During this first seven-season stretch he tossed 869 innings with a 3.75 ERA and 111 ERA+. He never placed in the CY voting or made an all-star team but was always a reliable arm for the Marlins. In 2013 he was expected to provide depth behind Scherzer, Verlander, and Doug Fister however he ended up outperforming them all.


This season by Sanchez came out of nowhere and is largely forgotten. He led the AL in ERA, FIP, and HR/9 this season. Similarly to Penny above, Sanchez’s HR/9 was elite and one of the best in franchise history. However, unlike Penny, Sanchez was able to back this up with an elite K/9 as well. This season produced a career-best for Sanchez in the following stats: ERA, FIP, HR/9, K/9, H/9, bWAR, and ERA+. Sanchez was able to put together a very solid season in the middle of a much more average but good career. Like Penny, Sanchez likely benefited from some batted ball luck, but still, putting together these elite numbers is not easy. Sanchez finished the season 3rd in Cy Young voting and got robbed of an all-star nomination. After his ‘13 season, he put together a long career and ended up winning a World Series in 2019. From 2014 to 2022 Sanchez went back to being a solid back-of-the-rotation guy putting together a 4.62 ERA and 91 ERA+. Overall it was an amazing season for Sanchez and one that has been forgotten among the great pitching seasons of the 2010s.


Sources:

Baseball reference

MLB.com



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