Top 5 individual offensive seasons in Padres history
There have been some truly great hitters that passed through San Diego for either brief stops on their way to Cooperstown or for their entire Hall of Fame careers. The list of the top five offensive seasons in Padres history is littered with current or possible future Hall of Famers.
Plenty of statistics were taken into account to compile the list, no one stat was the end-all-be-all. oWAR (offensive WAR) pulled the most weight, but stats like OPS+ (weighted on-base plus slugging), wRC+ (weighted runs created), home runs, OPS, and awards won also came into consideration. Some very strong seasons missed the cut by a slim margin for one reason or another. Tony Gwynn himself put together numerous seasons that could be considered.
5. Gary Sheffield, 1992
The average baseball fan may forget that before Sheffield was launching moonshots for the Marlins or Dodgers among other teams, he was in Padres pinstripes for a brief period. The Brewers dealt him to San Diego ahead of the 1992 season and the Friars reaped major rewards. He posted a .967 OPS in the month of April in 1992, flying out of the gates- then the power came. The 23-year-old, with that famous bat waggle, launched 33 home runs and drove in 100 runs. His 168 OPS+ was the third-most in single-season franchise history and his 7.0 oWAR ranks fourth.
His 172 wRC+ from that campaign ranks as the single highest wRC+ season in Padres history. Along with his power numbers and high marks in weighted stats, he boasted a .330 batting average, which won him the National League batting crown, edging out his teammate Tony Gwynn, who checked in at .317. Sheffield was just two homers and nine RBI away from winning the Triple Crown. He ended up finishing third in MVP voting after earning his first of nine All-Star selections and five Silver Slugger Awards. An argument can be made for Sheffield’s 1992 output to rank higher than fifth.
4. Greg Vaughn, 1998
It would be hard to leave off Vaughn’s record-breaking 1998 season. In the heat of the Padres’ run to the National League pennant and World Series appearance, Vaughn put up gaudy power numbers that would’ve sent shockwaves through the league in basically any other year besides 1998, when three players hit more than 55 home runs. The powerful left fielder smacked 50 home runs for San Diego, shattering the previous franchise single-season record of 40. No other Padres hitter has come within seven dingers of this mark before or since.
The reason why Vaughn’s historic power surge isn’t higher on this list is that his peripheral numbers were not as impressive as others in franchise history. His 6.2 oWAR ranks eighth and his 156 OPS+ ranks 12th among Padres hitters. He finished with a .272 average, 119 RBI, and a .960 OPS.
Plus, his playoff heroics must be mentioned as well, giving San Diego a key 2-0 lead in Game 1 of the NLDS against Hall of Famer Randy Johnson and the Astros. He also hit two home runs in Game 1 of the World Series against the Yankees.
3. Fernando Tatis Jr., 2021
Believe it, Padres fans- Tatis already has a top-three Padres season under his belt. At just 22 years of age, Tatis’ 2021 campaign stacks up against just about any other single season in Padres history. One can only imagine what the future holds for San Diego’s $340 million shortstop. His power is second-to-none, as he launched a National League-leading 42 home runs in 2021, the second-most by any Padres hitter. His 7.5 oWAR and 166 OPS+ both rank third among Padres single seasons. He became just the second Padres hitter to lead the NL in home runs.
His .611 slugging percentage is the second-highest by any Friar and his .957 OPS ranks fourth. Any way you slice it, Tatis had a historic season for the franchise. He is far from a one-trick pony who just hits home runs, as the 23-year-old phenom also stole 25 bases, hit 31 doubles, and scored 99 runs. He’s the only Padres hitter ever to hit at least 40 home runs while stealing at least 20 bases. He did all of this while missing 32 games. Just imagine what those numbers would have looked like had he stayed healthy the entire year. Perhaps he even challenges Vaughn for the single-season homer mark or becomes just the fifth player ever with 40 homers and 40 steals. At any rate, he finished third in MVP voting and won his second straight Silver Slugger Award for his efforts. This is just the beginning.
2. Tony Gwynn, 1987
At first glance, it might seem strange to award Gwynn’s 1987 season as the second-best offensive year in Padres history when it might not even be the best season of the first-ballot Hall of Famer’s career. With seven home runs and 54 RBI, it certainly isn’t “sexy.” However, once you dive deeper, it’s clear how elite this season was. First off, his .370 average earned him his second of what would be eight batting titles, the third-highest mark in franchise history. That is the second-highest mark of his career in a non-strike shortened season. His 7.8 oWAR is the highest mark in Padres franchise history. How did he put that number up with such little power? Look no further than his on-base percentage and stolen bases. His .447 on-base mark is the highest among any Padre player besides the strike-shortened 1994 season when Gwynn himself was at .454. Only three times has a Padres player exceeded a .420 OBP and this was one of those seasons.
Another number that pops off the page is 56 stolen bases, which is Gwynn’s career-high by a clear 16 steals. When you combine a .370 average, with a .447 on-base percentage and 56 steals, it’s unquestionably one of the best seasons at the plate by any Friar. Despite his lack of power that year, his .958 OPS was still higher than any season Dave Winfield, Manny Machado, or Fred McGriff put together in San Diego. The fact that it’s the highest single-season oWAR mark in Padres history carries a lot of weight.
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1. Ken Caminiti, 1996
When a season at the plate wins the only MVP award in franchise history, it’s bound to be No. 1 on the list. Yes, this season is marred by controversy with Caminiti’s admission to using steroids. However, the numbers are the numbers and are etched in history, for better or worse. If you take the numbers at face value, they are incredible. Aside from Gwynn’s stellar-but-shortened 1994 campaign, Caminiti is the only Padre hitter to finish a season north of a 1.000 OPS, with a 1.028 mark in 146 games, a franchise record. He arrived at that mark thanks to a franchise single-season record .621 slugging percentage, of which Tatis fell just short in 2021. Only Gwynn’s 1987 season generated a higher oWAR than Caminiti’s 7.5 mark in 1996.
Caminiti was an absolute weapon in the lineup, being a switch hitter. He batted over .310 with an OPS north of .980 from both sides of the plate in this stellar campaign. Overall, he became the first Friar to eclipse the 40-homer mark. He set multiple franchise single-season records that still stand today including RBI (130), OPS (1.028), slugging (.621), OPS+ (174), and his 169 wRC+ mark is only exceeded by Sheffield’s 1992 total. Adding a .326 batting average to a 40-homer season will raise anyone’s eyebrows. All of this led to Caminiti winning the 1996 NL MVP, beating out names like Mike Piazza, Chipper Jones, and Barry Bonds, making it the single-greatest offensive season in Padres history.
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.