Top 10 fantasy seasons of all time

Choosing the best fantasy seasons by position

Top 10 fantasy seasons of all time

Fantasy baseball may have only been around for the past 35 years or so, but high-value seasons have been around ever since Levi Meyerle led the National Association with a .492 average back in 1871.

Greats like Nap Lajoie or Walter Johnson may have had no idea what their auction value was or where they would have fallen in an AL-only format, but they put up seasons relative to their era that would impress even the Mike Trouts of the world.

Back then, rotisserie was just chicken, a keeper league was simply, well, the league (given the reserve clause) and the concept of drafts in general wouldn't come for several decades. 

But if Daniel Okrent's innovation had come a hundred years or so earlier, the following would be the seasons to live on in fantasy lore.

C: 1997 Mike Piazza -- 40 HR, 124 RBIs, .362 AVG, 104 R, 5 SB

The 1997 campaign saw Piazza reach his peak, finish second in National League MVP voting and register the top all-time Wins above Replacement (WAR) tally for a catcher (8.7). Only three catchers in history have reached the 40-100-.300 plateaus: Javy Lopez, Roy Campanella and Piazza, who did it twice. Despite the mid- to late-1990s outburst of power, Piazza managed to perform incredibly well compared with his contemporaries. In 1997, no catcher came within 10 long balls, 38 RBIs or 38 batting-average points of the then-Dodgers backstop. If restricted to just the National League, Piazza's positional runner-up that year would have been Todd Hundley, who had 30 homers with 86 RBIs, but held a batting average 89 points below Piazza's. Furthermore, Piazza (a current Hall of Fame candidate) led all MLB catchers in runs.

Honorable mentions

1999 Ivan Rodriguez -- 35 HR, 113 RBIs, .332, 116 R, 25 SB

1953 Campanella -- 41 HR, 142 RBIs, .312, 103 R, 4 SB

1B: 1927 Lou Gehrig -- 47 HR, 175 RBIs, .373 AVG, 149 R, 10 SB

One could argue that Gehrig's campaign was not even the best of 1927, or by an American Leaguer, or even a Yankee. Granted, outdoing teammate Babe Ruth and his 60 home runs is a difficult feat. But Gehrig did produce the best fantasy season by a first baseman in history. In the 87 seasons that followed 1927, 54 of them would have seen Gehrig's numbers win the American League Triple Crown. By comparison, Miguel Cabrera's excellent 2012 campaign would have taken the honor in just 12 seasons dating back to 1927. The Iron Horse's 447 total bases in '27 rank third all-time, behind two players who appear below.

Honorable mentions

1932 Jimmie Foxx -- 58 HR, 169 RBIs, .364, 151 R, 3 SB

1920 George Sisler -- 19 HR, 122 RBIs, .407, 137 R, 42 SB

2B: 1922 Rogers Hornsby -- 42 HR, 152 RBIs, .401 AVG, 141 R, 17 SB

Second base is not typically known as a position of great offensive contributors, especially in the power department. Hornsby would scoff at such a notion. Hornsby won the Triple Crown in 1922, posting a home-run tally that rests second ever among players at the keystone position, an RBI figure that remains unbeaten at the position and a batting average that has not been eclipsed by another second baseman (except, of course, by Hornsby himself in both 1924 and 1925). As far as Hornsby's contemporaries are concerned, only one second baseman (the St. Louis Browns' Marty McManus) was able to muster even a 10-100-.300 season that year.

Honorable mentions

1901 Nap Lajoie -- 14 HR, 125 RBIs, .421, 145 R, 27 SB

1976 Joe Morgan -- 27 HR, 111 RBIs, .320, 113 R, 60 SB

3B: 1980 George Brett -- 24 HR, 118 RBIs, .390 AVG, 87 R, 15 SB

This season -- the only one of Brett's 21 represented by an MVP trophy -- could have been in consideration for the greatest modern-era campaign had he not missed 47 games. The then-27-year-old led the Major Leagues in batting average (triumphing over runner-up Cesar Cedeno by 38 points), and also cracked the top 10 on the American League HR (ninth) and RBI (T-second) leaderboards. Just five Major League third basemen in 1980 registered more steals than Brett's 15 and only one of them (Darrell Evans) managed an OPS+ above 110, recording a 119 mark compared with Brett's 203. Finally, Brett's .390 batting average was the highest mark between Ted Williams' .406 in 1941 and Tony Gwynn's .394 in 1994.

Honorable mentions

1953 Al Rosen -- 43 HR, 145 RBIs, .336, 115 R, 8 SB

1989 Howard Johnson -- 36 HR, 101 RBIs, .287, 104 R, 41 SB

SS: 1908 Honus Wagner -- 10 HR, 109 RBIs, .354 AVG, 100 R, 53 SB

One year before his face was printed on the card that would later sell for $2.8 million, Wagner had a nearly priceless campaign. In addition to leading the Majors in RBIs and batting average, the "Flying Dutchman" personified his nickname, stealing a Major League-high 53 bases. Many incredible seasons could have taken this honor, but what tipped the scales in Wagner's favor was just how much he stood out among his peers. Only fellow Hall of Famer and double-play-man-of-lore Joe Tinker managed an OPS+ above 115 at shortstop that year, posting a 119 mark to Wagner's otherworldly 205.

Honorable mentions

1897 George Davis -- 10 HR, 136 RBIs, .353, 112 R, 65 SB

1962 Maury Wills -- 6 HR, 48 RBIs, .299, 130 R, 104 SB

LF: 1921 Babe Ruth -- 59 HR, 171RBIs, .378 AVG, 177 R, 17 SB

Selecting just one Ruth season for this list was a difficult task, but all things considered, 1921 takes the cake. That year, the slugger notched the most total bases (457) in history and had more homers and RBIs in one year than anyone previously. Additionally, his tally of 177 runs scored currently sits second all-time behind the original Billy Hamilton's 198. Topping off a simply masterful season, the Sultan of Swat was also the Sultan of Swipe in 1921, stealing a career-best 17. And perhaps most impressively, the Great Bambino out-homered five of the American League's eight clubs by himself.

Honorable mentions

1941 Ted Williams -- 37 HR, 120 RBIs, .406, 135 R, 2 SB

2001 Barry Bonds -- 73 HR, 137 RBIs, .328, 129 R, 13 SB

CF: 1956 Mickey Mantle -- 52 HR, 130 RBIs, .353, 132 R, 10 SB

The only Triple Crown winner with more than 50 homers in the year of his coronation, Mantle shined brightest in 1956. Despite playing in the Big Apple with future Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Duke Snider as both were in their primes, the Commerce Comet was easily the best of the three that year, posting a 210 OPS+ to their 146 and 155 marks, respectively. The Yankees, for all the success the franchise has had in the past 58 years, have never quite seen a season of pure offensive domination since Mantle's first of three MVP campaigns.

Honorable mentions

1911 Ty Cobb -- 8 HR, 127 RBIs, .420, 147 R, 83 SB

1894 Hugh Duffy -- 18 HR, 145 RBIs, .440, 160 R, 48 SB

RF: 1948 Stan Musial -- 39 HR, 131 RBIs, .376, 135 R, 7 SB

Though Musial already had two MVPs to his name heading into 1948, The Man ascended to a superior level that season. In addition to more than doubling his best home-run total from any prior season (19), Musial set career highs in both RBIs and batting average (leading the National League in both). Musial also tallied the sixth-most total bases ever with 429 and had the most runs (135) by a Cardinal after World War II until Albert Pujols eclipsed that mark 55 years later.

Honorable mentions

1997 Larry Walker -- 49 HR, 130 RBIs, .366, 143 R, 33 SB

1930 Chuck Klein -- 40 HR, 170 RBIs, .386, 158 R, 4 SB

SP: 2000 Pedro Martinez -- 18-6, 0 SV, 1.74 ERA, 284 K, 0.74 WHIP

This position was the hardest to decide upon, as seasons of outlandish statistics -- such as Old Hoss Radbourn's 59 wins, Matt Kilroy's 513 strikeouts or Tim Keefe's 0.86 ERA (all products of the 1880s) -- were strongly considered. But all were ultimately passed over for Martinez's 2000 Cy Young Award-winning campaign. Though his 18-6 record may seem garden variety in the context of great seasons, Martinez had a 1.76 ERA that was more than three runs lower than the American League average (4.91) and less than half of the AL runner-up's mark (Roger Clemens, 3.70). Notably, Martinez's 1999 season (23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 K) was also a close contender for this honor.  

Honorable mentions

1913 Walter Johnson -- 36-7, 2 SV, 1.14 ERA, 243 K, 0.78 WHIP

1965 Sandy Koufax -- 26-8, 2 SV, 2.04 ERA, 382 K, 0.86 WHIP

RP: 1964 Dick Radatz -- 16-9, 29 SV, 2.29 ERA, 181 K, 1.03 WHIP

Keeping in mind that these selections are the best fantasy seasons relative to the year in which they occurred, Radatz may have been the easiest pick of the bunch. Though his 29 saves may be a middling total by today's standards, Radatz tied the all-time mark and led the Major Leagues in 1964, when only seven hurlers in the game reached 20 saves. Radatz also shined in a department that is usually a throwaway for bullpen arms, leading his Red Sox club with 16 wins (fourth ever among relievers) that year. Possibly even more impressive is that Radatz ranked seventh in the Junior Circuit that year with 181 strikeouts despite never starting a single game. 

Honorable mentions

2003 Eric Gagne -- 2-3, 55 SV, 1.20 ERA, 137 K, 0.69 WHIP

2012 Fernando Rodney -- 2-2, 48 SV, 0.60 ERA, 76 K, 0.78 WHIP

Dalton Mack is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.