The 2014 season will be a special one for the Baltimore Orioles, and not just because there are postseason dreams around Birdland. The O’s will celebrate 60 years in Baltimore, which presents the perfect opportunity to reflect on great players and memories since 1954.
In the spirit of the occasion I’ve decided to highlight some of the great individual seasons we’ve witnessed from 1954-2013. So far, we’ve looked at left field, center field, right field, and third base.
This week, we continue around the infield with shortstop.
Cal Ripken Jr., 1991
.323/.374/.566 – 99 runs, 46 doubles, 34 home runs, 114 RBI, AL MVP Award, Gold Glove Award
Many of Cal Ripken’s seasons were good. A few were great. In 1991, Ripken was legendary.
Manning a premier defensive position, Ripken led the American League in total zone runs with 23. He was tops among shortstops in putouts (267), assists (528), double plays turned (114), and fielding percentage (.986). By Baseball Reference’s defensive wins above replacement (dWAR), 1991 was Cal Ripken’s second best season with the glove (behind 1984) and he was the most valuable in the field of any AL position player that year.
Offensively, Ripken led the majors in total bases (368) and extra base hits (85). He was second in the AL in slugging percentage, hits (210), doubles, and runs created (134). He was also third in OPS+ (162 – career high), fourth in home runs, and seventh in RBI.
An interesting fact: Ripken struck out just 46 times in 650 at-bats. That’s the fewest of any season he played 160+ games (15 such seasons).
When you add everything together, you have one of the finest all-around seasons ever. Ripken’s wins above replacement (WAR) in 1991 was 11.5. That’s the 11th best season for a position player in MLB history. Take out years by Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds, and it’s fourth highest behind Carl Yastrzemski (12.4 – 1967), Rogers Hornsby (12.1 – 1924), and Lou Gehrig (11.8 – 1927). Not bad company to be in.
Miguel Tejada, 2004
.311/.360/.534 – 107 runs, 40 doubles, 34 home runs, 150 RBI
After spending seven seasons with the Oakland A’s, Miguel Tejada came to Baltimore after the 2003 season. For the Orioles, Tejada was better in 2004 than he was in 2002, the year he won the American League MVP Award.
In his first season with the Orioles, Tejada set career-highs in RBI, slugging percentage, OPS+ (131), and total bases (349 – 3rd in AL). His 150 RBI led the majors and are the most by an Oriole since 1954. Tejada’s 6.8 offensive wins above replacement (oWAR) was tops in the American League. He was also fourth in the AL in hits (203) and extra base hits (76), eighth in home runs and runs created (121), and ninth in doubles.
During All-Star Weekend, Tejada became the second Orioles player (Cal Ripken in 1991) to win MLB’s Home Run Derby with a total of 27.
Mark Belanger, 1975
.226/.286/.276 – 44 runs, 11 doubles, 3 home runs, 27 RBI, 16 stolen bases, Gold Glove Award
One look at the numbers above tells you Mark Belanger wasn’t in the lineup for his bat. By OPS+, 1975 was only his sixth most productive season at the plate. But since we’re looking at the greatest individual seasons, let’s focus on what he did with the glove that year, because it was spectacular.
Mark Belanger’s 1975 season ranks the best defensive season by a shortstop in Baltimore Orioles history. He paced the major leagues with 35 total zone runs. The next highest shortstop was at 18. The closest position player to him had 25.
Belanger’s dWAR that year was 4.9. That’s the fourth best in MLB history for a single season. Two of the seasons above him were by players in 1906 and 1917. The third was by Andrelton Simmons last year.