After the rousing success of eight amazing seasons of the 1980s, my editor suggested we follow that up with nine for the '90s.
I told Dan, in my best Luke Skywalker voice, "That's impossible."
You see, the 1990s were such an astonishing statistical orgy that I couldn't pick just nine seasons. No, I had to go with 90.
In the 1980s, nobody hit 50 home runs. In the 1990s, it happened 12 times. In the 1980s, there were 13 40-homer seasons. In the 1990s, there were 72. In the 1980s, there were 18 seasons where a batter hit .340. In the 1990s, there were 33. In the midst of all that offense, however, we had a new generation of pitchers who dominated like never before.
Yes, we know now many of the numbers came with the help of artificial enhancement. What can I say? It happened. It was fun. The interesting thing is the decade started off ... well, normal. The first three seasons of the decade were actually low scoring, with 1992 seeing the fewest runs per game since 1981. Then things changed rather suddenly -- we'll touch on that later -- and the decade of the superstar kicked in.
Let's go back to the beginning ...
Want more 1990s baseball? Watch ESPN's new 30 for 30 film "Long Gone Summer," the story of the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, airing Sunday, June 14 on ESPN
The early years
90. Rickey Henderson, 1990 A's (.325/.439/.577, 28 HR, 119 R, 65 SB)
Rickey's best season and only MVP campaign. He led the American League in OBP, runs, steals and OPS. His 190 wRC+ was the highest between 1981 (Mike Schmidt) and 1992 (Barry Bonds). And he was a leadoff hitter.
89. Rob Dibble, 1990 Reds (8-3, 1.74 ERA, 98 IP, 136 K's)
Through 1994, your all-time leaders in K's per nine innings pitched (minimum 70 IP):
Rob Dibble, 1992: 14.08
Rob Dibble, 1991: 13.55
Rob Dibble, 1989: 12.82
Rob Dibble, 1990: 12.49
Tom Henke, 1987: 12.26
Dibble was a new kind of power reliever. He was the future of baseball, and 1990 was his best overall season, when he was part of the Nasty Boys bullpen and helped the Reds win the World Series.
88. Barry Bonds, 1990 Pirates (.301/.406/.565, 33 HR, 114 RBIs, 52 SB)
Bonds' first MVP season, when he led the National League in slugging and OPS. The only other 30-homer, 50-steal season in MLB history belongs to Eric Davis.
87. Dennis Eckersley, 1990 A's (4-2, 48 saves, 0.61 ERA, 73⅓ IP, 4 BB, 73 K's)
Eckersley would win Cy Young and MVP honors in 1992, but this was his best season, with 48 saves in 50 opportunities and just three unintentional walks. In fact, his 1989 and 1990 seasons remain 1-2 in the record books for best strikeout-to-walk ratio (minimum 50 innings). His .172 OBP allowed in 1990 still ranks second best of all time, behind Koji Uehara's .163 in 2013.
86. Cecil Fielder, 1990 Tigers (.277/.377/.592, 51 HR, 132 RBIs)
Fielder returned to the majors after playing in Japan in 1989 and was a revelation with the first 50-homer season since George Foster in 1977. He finished second in the MVP voting and would finish second again in 1991 after leading the AL in home runs and RBIs both seasons. Fielder was upset about that, but the idea that Fielder -- a one-dimensional slugger who couldn't run or play defense -- was more valuable than Henderson in 1990 or Cal Ripken in 1991 was silly.
85. Roger Clemens, 1990 Red Sox (21-6, 1.93 ERA, 209 K's, 211 ERA+)
Bob Welch won the Cy Young Award because he had 27 wins, but his ERA was more than a run higher than Clemens' and he allowed 19 more home runs. Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards, although he won one or two later in his career that he probably didn't deserve, so maybe it evened out in the end.
84. Cal Ripken, 1991 Orioles (.323/.374/.566, 34 HR, 114 RBIs, 85 XBH)
From 1987 to 1993, Ripken hit between .250 and .264 each season -- except for 1991, when he was so good he won MVP honors despite playing for a 95-loss Orioles team. No other MVP winner has played for a team that bad. Ripken deserved it, however. By Baseball-Reference WAR, it was the best season of the decade for a position player at 11.5.
83. Tom Glavine, 1991 Braves (20-11, 2.55 ERA, 8.5 WAR)
The Braves went worst to first and kicked off their run of dominance as Glavine emerged as the Cy Young winner. It was the first of three straight 20-win seasons (and five overall) for Glavine and, based on WAR, his best season.
82. Barry Bonds, 1992 Pirates (.311/.456/.624, 34 HR, 103 RBIs, 39 SB)
Bonds goes 30-30 for the second time and raises his game to another level. Remember, this was the last season before league-wide offense increased in 1993. His 204 OPS+ -- which adjusts for league run environment and park -- was the first to reach 200 since George Brett in 1980 and the best since Willie McCovey in 1969. The five players with a 200 OPS+ in the decade:
Mark McGwire, 1998: 216
Jeff Bagwell, 1994: 213
Frank Thomas, 1994: 212
Barry Bonds, 1993: 206
Barry Bonds, 1992: 204
81. Barry Bonds, 1993 Giants (.336/.458/.677, 46 HR, 123 RBIs, 129 runs)
The Giants had drafted Bonds out of high school and offered him $70,000 to sign. Bonds wanted $75,000 and instead attended Arizona State. It cost the Giants $43.75 million over six years to sign Bonds as a free agent. In his first season in San Francisco, he raised his game to yet another level -- his .677 slugging percentage was the highest since Mickey Mantle in 1961.
You pick the MVP!
80. Ken Griffey Jr., 1993 Mariners (.309/.408/.617, 45 HR, 109 RBIs, 8.8 WAR)
79. John Olerud, 1993 Blue Jays (.363/.473/.599, 24 HR, 107 RBIs, 7.8 WAR)
78. Kenny Lofton 1993 Indians (.325/.408/.408, 116 R, 70 SB, 7.6 WAR)
77. Juan Gonzalez, 1993 Rangers (.310/.368/.632, 46 HR, 118 RBIs, 6.5 WAR)
76. Frank Thomas, 1993 White Sox (.317/.426/.607, 41 HR, 128 RBIs, 6.2 WAR)
75. Roberto Alomar, 1993 Blue Jays (.326/.408/.492, 109 R, 55 SB, 6.1 WAR)
Remember, WAR didn't exist in 1993! So consider the traditional numbers. Olerud chased .400 into early August. Gonzalez and Griffey ranked 1-2 in home runs. Griffey, Lofton and Alomar won Gold Gloves. Thomas was second in OPS and RBIs and third in home runs. The Blue Jays and White Sox were division winners. Who ya got? Surprisingly, the voting wasn't close, with Thomas winning unanimous election -- over Paul Molitor of the Blue Jays and then Olerud, Gonzalez, Griffey and Alomar, with Lofton way back in 15th.
While Thomas' unanimous win looks circumspect in retrospect -- Olerud had the better offensive season and was the better defender at first base while Griffey was the best all-around player -- you have to place yourself in 1993. Thomas' edge in home runs and RBIs over Olerud clearly played a factor. Thomas was imposing and the focal point of the White Sox lineup while Olerud faded down the stretch and had help from Molitor, Alomar and Joe Carter. Today? Thomas' leadership probably isn't valued as much and Griffey or Olerud probably wins.
The Greg Maddux run
74. Greg Maddux, 1992 Cubs (20-11, 2.18 ERA, 268 IP, 1.011 WHIP)
73. Greg Maddux, 1993 Braves (20-10, 2.36 ERA, 267 IP, 1.049 WHIP)
72. Greg Maddux, 1994 Braves (16-6, 1.56 ERA, 202 IP, 0.896 WHIP)
71. Greg Maddux, 1995 Braves (19-2, 1.63 ERA, 209.2 IP, 0.811 WHIP)
The smartest pitcher who ever lived, Maddux won four straight Cy Young Awards from 1992 to 1995. His 1994 and 1995 seasons, with a two-year ERA of 1.60, are off-the-charts ridiculous, coming in the middle of the steroids era and ranking second and third in the live-ball era for best adjusted ERA. Before Maddux, the only starting pitchers with a lower WHIP had come in the dead-ball era.
He did it all with movement and location rather than premium velocity. Thomas Boswell wrote in 1996 about two kids watching Maddux warm up before a game: "If Greg was throwing as hard as he could, we'd be ducking," one kid says. "I hate to disappoint those kids, but I was throwing as hard as I can," Maddux told Boswell. "That's all I've got."
The year things went absolutely bonkers
70. Frank Thomas, 1994 White Sox (.353/.487/.729, 38 HR, 101 RBIs)
69. Jeff Bagwell, 1994 Astros (.368/.451/.750, 39 HR, 116 RBIs)
68. Albert Belle, 1994 Indians (.357/.438/.714, 36 HR, 101 RBIs)
67. Ken Griffey Jr., 1994 Mariners (.323/.402/.674, 40 HR, 90 RBIs)
66. Paul O'Neill, 1994 Yankees (.359/.460/.603, 21 HR, 83 RBIs)
65. Tony Gwynn, 1994 Padres (.394/.454/.568, 12 HR, 64 RBIs)
64. Matt Williams, 1994 Giants (.267/.319/.607, 43 HR, 96 RBIs)
Oh, what could have been if the strike hadn't ended the 1994 season in August, with each team about 114 games into its schedule. Williams was on pace for 61 home runs, which would have tied Roger Maris' record, and Griffey wasn't far behind. Thomas, Bagwell and Belle each slugged over .700, the first players to do that since Ted Williams in 1957. Gwynn was chasing .400. O'Neill led the AL with a .359 average, the highest for a Yankees player since Mickey Mantle -- and not topped since. In all, 12 players topped 1.000 OPS -- that's more than the entire decade of the 1980s. Ten players hit at least 30 home runs despite the short season. Eight players hit at least .340. Fifty players hit at least .300.
So what happened? In 1992, there were 4.12 runs per game across the majors. In 1993, it went up to 4.60. In 1994, it soared to 4.92 (and 5.23 in the AL). Did everyone forget how to pitch? Did everyone start taking PEDs at the same time? While the 1993 expansion slightly diluted the pitching, that wouldn't explain the degree of the sudden increase in offense. In retrospect, it seems something changed with the ball. One theory is that Rawlings changed from hand-stitched balls to machine manufacturing, resulting in a more tightly wound core. The gains were not fully realized in 1993, theoretically, due to balls from 1992 still being in the pipeline. Whatever the reason, the best hitters went off -- and would keep doing so.
Forgotten ridiculous seasons
63. Kenny Lofton, 1994 Indians (.349/.412/.536, 12 HR, 109 runs, 60 SB, 7.2 WAR)
A quick word about Lofton. Wait, first a quick word about his 1994 season. Extrapolate those numbers over 155 games and you get 17 home runs, 151 runs, 83 stolen bases and 10.0 WAR. With Gold Glove defense. Lofton finished fourth in the MVP voting but could make a strong case as the best player in the league that season. From 1992 to 1999, Lofton hit .311/.387/.432 while averaging 105 runs and 54 steals. Only Bonds, Griffey and Bagwell had more WAR among position players in that span. The power numbers were so extreme in this era that Lofton was vastly underrated because his value came in other ways. But he was amazing.
62. Edgar Martinez, 1995 Mariners (.356/.479/.628, 29 HR, 113 RBIs, 52 doubles, 7.0 WAR)
Martinez led the AL in average, OBP, OPS, OPS+, runs and doubles. With runners in scoring position, he hit .384/.532/.674. He finished third in the MVP voting and in my completely biased opinion should have won. From 1995 to 2003, he posted a .438 OBP. There's a reason he finally made the Hall of Fame.
61. Ellis Burks, 1996 Rockies (.344/.408/.639, 40 HR, 128 RBIs, 142 runs, 32 SB, 7.9 WAR)
Coors Field or not, talk about filling up a scorecard.
Note to Dan: Sorry about not including more Rockies. Here are some Rockies seasons I didn't include on my list, but could have if I had given them their own subcategory: Andres Galarraga 1993 (.370 average), Dante Bichette 1995 (.340, 40 HR, 128 RBIs), Larry Walker 1995 (.306, 36 HR), Eric Young Sr. 1996 (.324, 53 SB), Galarraga 1996 (47 HR, 150 RBIs), Bichette 1996 (.313, 31 HR, 141 RBIs), Vinny Castilla 1996 (40 HR, 113 RBIs), Galarraga 1997 (41 HR, 140 RBIs), Castilla 1997 (40 HR, 113 RBIs), Castilla 1998 (46 HR, 144 RBIs), Walker 1998 (.363), Walker 1999 (.379, 37 HR), Todd Helton 1999 (.320, 35 HR).
60. Bernard Gilkey, 1996 Mets (.317/.393/.562, 30 HR, 117 RBIs, 8.1 WAR)
One of the best seasons in Mets history (third among position players in WAR).
59. Jim Thome, 1996 Indians (.311/.450/.612, 38 HR, 116 RBIs, 122 runs, 7.5 WAR)
Thome would go on to have bigger home run seasons, but this was his career high in WAR, when he was still a third baseman. Check out those on-base and slugging numbers. Thome finished 15th in the MVP voting! Then again, 1996 may have been the wildest season of the decade. Fifteen players finished with a 1.000 OPS (only the year 2000 has had more), 10 of those in the AL, which averaged 5.39 runs per game -- the highest mark of the whole steroids era.
58. Barry Larkin, 1996 Reds (.298/.410/.567, 33 HR, 36 SB, 117 runs, 7.2 WAR)
Larkin was the NL MVP in 1995 (saving us from Bichette winning), but 1996 might have been his best season, when he swung for the fences and also drew 96 walks while striking out just 52 times. He finished 12th in the MVP voting.
57. Gary Sheffield, 1996 Marlins (.314/.465/.624, 42 HR, 120 RBIs, 142 walks, 5.9 WAR)
Only 5.9 WAR? Whaaaaaattttt ....
Smoltz vs. Brown
56. John Smoltz, 1996 Braves (24-8, 2.94 ERA, 253⅔ IP, 276 K's)
55. Kevin Brown, 1996 Marlins (17-11, 1.89 ERA, 233 IP, 159 K's)
Smoltz led the NL in wins, innings, strikeouts and K's per nine innings. Brown led in ERA and WHIP. Smoltz won the Cy Young, collecting 26 of 28 first-place votes. Who would win today? You may look at Brown's sizable advantage in ERA and think he would win easily, but modern analytics suggest it might still be a close vote. Brown had a slight edge in Baseball-Reference WAR (7.9 to 7.5), but Smoltz had a notable lead in FanGraphs WAR thanks to all those strikeouts (8.4 to 6.7).
54. Ken Griffey Jr., 1996 Mariners (.303/.392/.628, 49 HR, 140 RBIs, 125 R, 16 SB)
53. Ken Griffey Jr., 1997 Mariners (.304/.382/.646, 56 HR, 147 RBIs, 125 R, 15 SB)
52. Ken Griffey Jr., 1998 Mariners (.284/.365/.611, 56 HR, 146 RBIs, 120 R, 20 SB)
51. Ken Griffey Jr., 1999 Mariners (.285/.384/.576, 48 HR, 134 RBIs, 123 R, 24 SB)
50. Alex Rodriguez, 1996 Mariners (.358/.414/.631, 36 HR, 123 RBIs, 141 R, 15 SB)
49. Alex Rodriguez, 1997 Mariners (.300/.350/.496, 23 HR, 84 RBIs, 100 R, 29 SB)
48. Alex Rodriguez, 1998 Mariners (.310/.360/.560, 42 HR, 124 RBIs, 123 R, 46 SB)
47. Alex Rodriguez, 1999 Mariners (.285/.357/.586, 42 HR, 111 RBIs, 110 R, 21 SB)
In terms of Baseball-Reference WAR, it goes '96 Griffey, '96 A-Rod, '97 Griffey, '98 A-Rod, '98 Griffey, '99 Griffey, '99 A-Rod. In terms of aesthetic quality, I'm going '96 A-Rod (batting title and record 91 extra-base hits for a shortstop), '97 Griffey (MVP season), '96 Griffey (his best defensive season), '98 A-Rod (40-40), '98 Griffey (back-to-back 56), '99 A-Rod (42 bombs in 129 games), '99 Griffey (final season in Seattle) and '97 A-Rod (still hit .300). If I ever come upon a time machine and can go back to 1996, I'm not investing in Apple or Google. I'm getting the Mariners some damn pitching.
You pick the MVP!
46. Larry Walker, 1997 Rockies (.366/.452/.720, 49 HR, 130 RBIs, 33 SB, 9.8 WAR)
45. Craig Biggio, 1997 Astros (.309/.415/.501, 22 HR, 146 runs, 47 SB, 9.4 WAR)
44. Mike Piazza, 1997 Dodgers (.362/.431/.638, 40 HR, 124 RBIs, 8.7 WAR)
43. Barry Bonds, 1997 Giants (.291/.446/.585, 40 HR, 101 RBIs, 37 SB, 8.2 WAR)
42. Jeff Bagwell, 1997 Astros (.286/.425/.592, 43 HR, 135 RBIs, 31 SB, 7.7 WAR)
Remember, WAR didn't exist in 1997. So consider the traditional numbers. We have Walker going bonkers in Coors Field with maybe the greatest fantasy season ever. Biggio scored 146 runs, tied for the most since 1949, didn't ground into a double play and won a Gold Glove. Piazza had the greatest offensive season ever for a catcher. Bonds almost went 40-40 and drew 145 walks. Bagwell hit 43 home runs in the cavernous Astrodome and swiped 31 bases -- as a first baseman. Sick. In the end, it went Walker-Piazza-Bagwell-Biggio-Bonds, but the vote wasn't close, with Walker receiving 22 of the 28 first-place votes.
The pitchers strike back
41. Roger Clemens, 1997 Blue Jays (21-7, 2.05 ERA, 264 IP, 292 K's, 11.9 WAR)
40. Pedro Martinez, 1997 Expos (17-8, 1.90 ERA, 241⅓ IP, 305 K's, 9.0 WAR)
39. Randy Johnson, 1997 Mariners (20-4, 2.28 ERA, 213 IP, 291 K's, 8.0 WAR)
38. Greg Maddux, 1997 Braves (19-4, 2.20 ERA, 232⅔ IP, 177 K's, 7.8 WAR)
37. Kevin Brown, 1997 Marlins (16-8, 2.69 ERA, 237⅓ IP, 205 K's, 7.0 WAR)
36. Curt Schilling, 1997 Phillies (17-11, 2.97 ERA, 254⅓ IP, 319 K's, 6.3 WAR)
Clemens with his greatest season. Pedro with his first great one. Schilling fans 300. The Big Unit dominates while Maddux and Brown have Cy Young-worthy years. This is what made the 1990s so much fun: unstoppable hitters, unbeatable pitchers.
Second to none
35. Chuck Knoblauch, 1996 Twins (.341/.448/.517, 13 HR, 140 runs, 45 SB)
Imagine scoring 140 runs and finishing 16th in the MVP voting?
34. Craig Biggio, 1998 Astros (.325/.403/.503, 123 runs, 51 doubles, 50 SB)
The only other player with 50 doubles and 50 steals in a season: Tris Speaker in 1912.
33. Jeff Kent, 1998 Giants (.297/.359/.555, 29 HR, 121 RBIs, 94 runs)
The only second basemen with more RBIs in a season: Rogers Hornsby and Bret Boone.
32. Roberto Alomar, 1999 Indians (.323/.422/.533, 24 HR, 120 RBIs, 138 runs, 37 SB)
Throw in a Gold Glove as well.
31. Jay Bell, 1999 Diamondbacks (.289/.374/.557, 38 HR, 112 RBIs, 132 runs)
One of my favorite random power surges of the decade.
McGwire and Sosa
30. Mark McGwire, 1996 A's (.312/.467/.730, 52 HR, 113 RBIs)
29. Mark McGwire, 1997 A's/Cardinals (.274/.393/.646, 58 HR, 123 RBIs)
28. Mark McGwire, 1998 Cardinals (.299/.470/.752, 70 HR, 147 RBIs)
27. Sammy Sosa, 1998 Cubs (.308/.377/.647, 66 HR, 158 RBIs)
26. Mark McGwire, 1999 Cardinals (.278/.424/.697, 65 HR, 147 RBIs)
25. Sammy Sosa, 1999 Cubs (.288/.367/.635, 63 HR, 141 RBIs)
How did we feel about these two in 1998? "McGwire and Sosa gave America a summer that won't be forgotten," wrote Gary Smith in Sports Illustrated, "a summer of stroke and counterstroke, of packed houses and curtain calls, of rivals embracing and gloves in the bleachers and adults turned into kids -- the Summer of Long Balls and Love."
McGwire might have broken Maris' record in 1996, when he smashed 52 home runs in 130 games. He fell just short in 1997. Then came the magical ride of 1998. Almost as impressively, they both gave it another shot the following season.
The big 5-0
24. Albert Belle, 1995 Indians (.317/.401/.690, 50 HR, 126 RBIs, 52 2B)
The only player in MLB history with 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season.
23. Brady Anderson, 1996 Orioles (.297/.396/.637, 50 HR, 110 RBIs, 117 runs)
Maybe the most famous fluke home run season ever, Anderson's second highest total is 24. Fun fact: Anderson, Barry Bonds and Ryne Sandberg are the only players with a 40-homer season and a 50-steal season and since Sandberg topped out at 40 home runs, that makes Anderson and Bonds the only 50-50 players. Oddly, I remember Anderson being one of the BIG stories of 1996, and the Orioles made the playoffs, but he ended up finishing just ninth in the MVP voting. (That was the year Juan Gonzalez won over A-Rod and Griffey in one of the worst MVP votes ever.)
22. Greg Vaughn, 1998 Padres (.272/.363/.597, 50 HR, 119 RBIs, 112 runs)
Are you getting dizzy yet? Vaughn swung with arms that looked like two sides of beef hanging from his shoulders. It wasn't pretty, but he hit 95 home runs over 1998-99.
Random seasons from first basemen
21. Mo Vaughn, 1996 Red Sox (.326/.420/.583, 44 HR, 143 RBIs, 118 runs)
20. Frank Thomas, 1996 White Sox (.349/.459/.626, 40 HR, 134 RBIs, 110 runs)
19. John Jaha, 1996 Brewers (.300/.398/.543, 34 HR, 118 RBIs, 108 runs)
18. Tino Martinez, 1997 Yankees (.296/.371/.577, 44 HR, 141 RBIs, 96 runs)
17. Rafael Palmeiro, 1999 Rangers (.324/.420/.630, 47 HR, 148 RBIs, 96 runs)
Good luck making the All-Star team if you were an American League first baseman in the 1990s. Plus, if you can find a way to work John Jaha into an article, you absolutely do it (and, yes, the Brewers were still in the AL in 1996).
Random seasons you absolutely forgot about
16. Chris Hoiles, 1993 Orioles (.310/.416/.585, 29 HR, 82 RBIs, 80 runs)
The Mitch Garver of 1993. The only other catchers with a 1.000 OPS season with enough qualifying plate appearances are Mike Piazza, Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnett, Joe Mauer and Roy Campanella.
15. Lance Johnson, 1996 Mets (.333/.362/.479, 227 hits, 21 triples, 50 SB)
The most hits -- and triples -- in a season in the decade.
14. Brian Giles, 1999 Pirates (.315/.418/.614, 39 HR, 115 RBIs, 109 runs)
The 1999 Indians scored 1,009 runs, the most runs in a season by any team since 1950. Imagine how many they would have scored if they hadn't traded Giles after 1998 (for reliever Ricardo Rincon).
Power plus speed
13. Barry Bonds, 1996 Giants (.308/.461/.615, 42 HR, 40 SB, 129 RBIs, 122 runs)
12. Jeff Bagwell, 1999 Astros (.304/.454/.591, 42 HR, 30 SB, 126 RBIs, 143 runs)
This was the decade of the 30-30 player, with 20 individual 30-homer/30-steal seasons. Bonds did it five times and Bagwell twice. Ron Gant, Sammy Sosa and Raul Mondesi also had two 30-30 seasons.
1999 was very good to me
11. Ivan Rodriguez, 1999 Rangers (.332/.356/.558, 35 HR, 113 RBIs, 116 runs, 25 SB)
Pudge was the AL MVP, and the vote was very controversial at the time. Five players received at least four first-place votes in one of the most split results in MVP history. Like so many seasons in the 1990s, there were numerous great players to choose from. Griffey hit 48 home runs, drove in 134 runs and finished 10th. A-Rod hit 42 home runs as a shortstop and finished 15th. Edgar Martinez led the league with a .447 OBP and didn't pick up even a single 10th-place vote. And that's just the Mariners! Pudge was a worthy choice, but as we'll see, perhaps not the best one.
10. Manny Ramirez, 1999 Indians (.333/.442/.663, 44 HR, 165 RBIs, 131 runs)
Ramirez drove in 165 runs -- tied for 13th since 1900 and still the most in any season outside the 1920s and '30s -- and finished fourth in the MVP voting. He hit .377 and slugged .743 with runners on base. He went 11-for-22 with the bases loaded. From 1998 to 2000, he drove in 432 runs in 415 games, more than an RBI per game over three seasons.
9. Chipper Jones, 1999 Braves (.319/.441/.633, 45 HR, 110 RBIs, 116 runs, 25 SB)
The NL MVP, Jones locked up the award when he killed the Mets during a crucial September series in which he homered four times in three games.
8. Vladimir Guerrero, 1999 Expos (.316/.378/.600, 42 HR, 131 RBIs, 102 runs)
I had to get Vlad the Impaler on the list! Imagine what he would have done with a little more help on those bad Expos teams? He drove in 131 runs -- for a team that finished 14th in the NL in runs. But maybe the wildest Vlad stat from 1999: He made 19 errors. As an outfielder. I would love to see a mix tape of those plays.
Cy Young times two
7. Randy Johnson, 1995 Mariners (18-2, 2.48 ERA, 214⅓ IP, 294 K's)
6. Randy Johnson, 1999 Diamondbacks (17-9, 2.48 ERA, 271⅔ IP, 364 K's)
"What makes Johnson even tougher is that he's a little bit wild," Angels outfielder Jim Edmonds said in 1997. "There's nobody like him. On the one hand, I hope I do get in the lineup against him. On the other hand, I hope I don't. You know what I mean?"
From May 1994 through the end of 1997, Johnson went 54-9, interrupted by back surgery that limited him to eight starts in 1996. In some fashion, the best was yet to come. He signed with the Diamondbacks in 1999 and won the first of four straight Cy Young Awards. He raised his mastery of the strikeout to a new level. Before he came along, no starting pitcher had averaged 12 K's per nine innings. Johnson did it in 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. Through 2002, he had seven of the top 10 K's/9 IP seasons of all time, including 13.41 in 2001. Yeah, you might not want to face him either.
P.S.: Apologies for not squeezing Kerry Wood's 1998 rookie season on here. His 12.58 K's per nine set a record and still ranks sixth on the all-time list.
Nomar vs. Jeter
5. Nomar Garciaparra, 1998 Red Sox (.323/.362/.584, 35 HR, 122 RBIs, 7.1 WAR)
4. Derek Jeter, 1998 Yankees (.324/.384/.481, 19 HR, 84 RBIs, 127 runs, 7.5 WAR)
3. Nomar Garciaparra, 1999 Red Sox (.357/.418/.603, 27 HR, 104 RBIs, 6.6 WAR)
2. Derek Jeter, 1999 Yankees (.349/.438/.552, 24 HR, 102 RBIs, 134 runs, 8.0 WAR)
Even now, 20 years later, the debate rages on: Who was better in their prime? Jeter came up in 1996 and Nomar arrived in 1997, right when the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry reached epic heights of hostility and jealousy. Garciaparra finished second in the MVP vote in 1998 and seventh in 1999, when he won the batting title but missed 27 games. Jeter finished third in 1998, when the Yankees won 114 games, then a disappointing sixth in 1999, his best season when he led AL position players in WAR. Who do you have?
1. Pedro Martinez, 1999 Red Sox (23-4, 2.07 ERA, 213⅓ IP, 313 K's)
At Pedro's peak, it felt like what he did was impossible. How could one pitcher be so much better than everyone else? The No. 2 pitcher in ERA in the AL in 1999? David Cone at 3.44. Pedro averaged 13.2 K's per nine -- almost five K's per nine better than Chuck Finley, the No. 2 guy. It was absurd how good he was. It was a miracle.
"The plate," Pedro told Sports Illustrated the following spring, "it looks so close. There are days when I first get out to the mound and it feels just like this, like the plate is closer than it's supposed to be. Then I know right away. It's over. You are f---ed. F---ed."