Best Seasons in San Francisco Giants History, Part One

Rules:

  • Only San Francisco. I don’t want to bother New York because, hey, they’re walking over there.
  • As tempting as it might be, I can’t justify putting Barry Bonds at shortstop, second base, and six other positions. That’d make for a quick post, but it wouldn’t be intellectually honest. Not that I’ve cared about that before.
  • I'm not just pulling up a list of WAR leaders and taking the top name. There has to be a spot for the author's discretion, such as with...

C - Buster Posey, 2010

Oh, this will stir something up with the Dick Dietz fan club. Dietz hit .300/.426/.515 for the 1970 Giants, racking up 612 plate appearances. He was a beast. A fluke and a curiosity -- he only played two full (fantastic) major league seasons before he disintegrated -- but a beast.

But Buster Posey won the World Series. Your argument is invalid. He bolstered a weak offense, and he managed a strong pitching staff. And then he won the World Series. This isn’t a list of the best WAR by position; it’s a list of the best seasons, and in 2500, Posey’s is the one they’ll carve on the side of a spaceship in an attempt to communicate with an alien civilization.

If you’re looking for Bengie Molina, he’s down there. Lower. Still lower. By WAR, every single season he had is below Rick Wilkins’s 183 plate appearances in 1996. WAR isn’t the definitive statistic to end all arguments of course, but wow.

Honorable Mention: Dick Dietz, 1970

 

1B - Willie McCovey, 1969

There’s something about his 1968 that fascinates me. The mound was high, ERAs were low, and McCovey still hit .293/.378/.545 -- good in any era. But his ‘69 was transcendent. Mystic crystal revelation, and the mind's true liberation. A 209 OPS+ with 45 intentional walks. Surely, the City would never see that sort of combination again. Will Clark’s defense might put his ‘89 over McCovey’s best season, but this ain’t Clark Chronicles.

McCovey was another Giant who had his best season when he was 30 or older. Mays did it. Bonds did it too. Must be all the paganism and vegan living.

Honorable Mention: Will Clark, 1989

 

2B - Jeff Kent, 2000

It was the last time that a player legitimately competed with a healthy Barry Bonds for the MVP. After applying positional adjustments and ignoring clankmittery, Kent was almost as good. Almost. He was a worthy MVP winner, and it was still one of the greatest seasons ever from a second baseman.

I’d like to remind you to check out The Amazin’ Avenue Annual, in which I write about the Giants and haphazardly relate it to the Mets. All I could think about while writing it was 2000. That was the best team I ever watched. Bonds/Kent/Burks was a ridiculous middle of the order. All five starting pitchers were above-average (once Russ Ortiz got on track in the second half, that is). Fantastic bench. And Bobby Jones shut them down like they were a team of beer-leaguers. I know 2002 got the emo seal of approval, but 2000 almost hurt just as much.

And then 11/1/10. Never forget.

Honorable Mention: Jeff Kent, 2002

 

SS - Rich Aurilia, 2001

Every time I look at these seasons, I wonder, why wasn’t that year the one that featured a parade down Market Street? And there’s always an answer. Oh. Hal Lanier’s 46 OPS+. Oh. Livan Hernandez’s ability to deliver bulk quantities of regurgitated innings. Aurilia’s season stands out because it didn’t lead to world domination. Sure, the cynics can point out that his teammates were on on the chemical express, but, what, he forgot the chemist’s number the next year? His 2001 looks like one of the great outlier seasons in baseball history, and it’s fantastic. Davey Johnson. Brady Anderson. Roger Maris. Rich Aurilia. Oh, and the last guy played a pretty good shortstop.

Honorable Mention: Chris Speier, 1972

 

3B - Matt Williams, 1994

The big surprise is that Jim Ray Hart had the two highest WAR numbers for third basemen in the San Francisco era. Well, it’s not that surprising -- Hart was a good player. But Williams seemed more iconic. Maybe that’s just because I was around for Williams but not Hart. I put Williams up because a) it was close enough that tie went to the player I’ve watched, and b) if I had to slight Will Clark, I needed to throw my weight behind Williams.

His WAR was higher in three different seasons, but ‘94 was the year that Williams was a nightly story. He was pursuing Roger Maris’s record, and he might have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling billionaires.

Honorable Mention: Jim Ray Hart, 1967

 

LF - Barry Bonds, 2004

One hundred and twenty intentional walks. One two zero. A .609 on-base percentage -- that’s two Cody Rosses duct-taped together. A .362 batting average, which was the second-highest in San Francisco history behind Bonds’s 2002. More home runs than strikeouts. A home run every eight at-bats. Two hundred and three runs created.

And six stolen bases!

He was obviously laboratory-infused, and that’s a shame. But I never saw Manny Alexander do this, or Jason Giambi, or any of the thousands of hitters who used. He was taking chemicals to improve strength and stamina, not sending up an android in his place. But his stats suggest the latter, a Robocop-like freak of robotics who was programmed to take pitches outside the strike zone.

Honorable Mention: Barry Bonds, 2002

 

CF - Willie Mays, 1965

Heck, I don’t know what it was like to watch Willie Mays play. I really don’t. I can watch footage, and I can listen to old-timers wax rhapsodic, but I’ll never know what it was like to watch him take over a game or a series.

My best guess: Imagine what Buster Posey did last year, but even better, and for about 20 straight seasons. No big whoop. There’s a reason he’s considered the archetype, the all-around player by which others will be measured for the next couple of centuries. My time machine’s first stop is at the Polo Ground or Seals Stadium to watch Willie Mays play baseball. Well, after a quick stop to poke Paul O’Neill in the eye for breaking up Scott Garrellts’s no-hitter.

Honorable Mention: Willie Mays, 1962

 

RF - Bobby Bonds, 1973

So, so unappreciated for how good he was. The stone-tool users back then couldn’t stop focusing on his strikeouts, and he was constantly in the shadow of Mays. Thirty-nine home runs, 131 runs scored, and 43 stolen bases to go with an OBP of .370 and great defense. The Giants were able to create talented outfielders in the ‘60s and ‘70s by cutting a piece off one and growing another in a petri dish. Bonds, Garry Maddox, Gary Matthews, Jr., George Foster, Jack Clark...and it was Cody Ross who helped the Giants win their first World Series in San Francisco. The answer was Cody Ross. That will never fail to make me shake my head and smile.

Also of note: Stan Javier’s 1997 was the 14th best RF season by WAR. I had no idea.

Honorable Mention: Bobby Bonds, 1969

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