Yesterday, our friends at Purple Row celebrated the release of their team's ZiPS projections by finding the best and worst single season performances in Colorado Rockies history. Despite being founded in 1991, the Rockies have had a surprising number of impressive performances. However, it got me thinking. After 113 seasons in the American League, what are the best single-season performances in Detroit Tigers history?
First, a brief explanation of my methodology. A player can only be considered one time. Otherwise, this would have had Ty Cobb's name on it six or seven times. Position players were required to have 350 plate appearances or more, while starting pitchers needed at least 100 innings. A position player needed to start at least 50 percent of his games played at the position he was considered for.
Without further ado, here are the best single-season performances in Tigers history.
Comerica Park silhouette via Eephus League
The names on this list shouldn't surprise anyone. With so many great players having donned the Olde English D over the years, the Tigers have had a huge number of incredible performances. Ty Cobb alone had six seasons with nine WAR or more, and Bill Freehan's 6.9 WAR in 1968 -- the lowest WAR figure by a non-DH on this list -- is still the sixth-best performance by a catcher in American League history.
On the pitching side, four of the five pitchers rank among the top five pitchers in Tigers' history, in terms of WAR. Hal Newhouser had three seasons of eight WAR or more by himself, while Lolich and Trout added a pair of 7+ WAR seasons of their own. The lone exception, Mark Fidrych, is arguably the biggest one-hit wonder in MLB history. His performance during the 1976 season is still referenced by Tigers fans young and old, and his 9.6 WAR was a rookie record that stood until Mike Trout compiled 10.8 WAR in 2012.
It also comes as no surprise that there are a few recent performances on this list. Justin Verlander's 8.4 WAR in 2011 won him the AL MVP award, the first pitcher in either league since Dennis Eckersley in 1992. Miguel Cabrera's 7.5 WAR in 2013 earned him a second consecutive AL MVP award and the third consecutive for the Tigers. Amazingly, he is the only position player on this list to win the MVP award in the season indicated (Gehringer won an MVP in 1937, but he only accumulated 7.4 WAR that year). Victor Martinez's 5.3 WAR in 2014 was the best total in Tigers history by nearly two full wins.
Tigers fans will be disappointed to know that only four of the players listed above are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Three are still playing, with Verlander and Cabrera standing a reasonable chance to be enshrined one day. Two others -- Trammell and Freehan -- are also considered by many to be deserving of baseball's highest honor. Despite the snubs, just about all of these players are household names to most Tigers fans, and their performances will forever be a part of Tiger lore.