Thursday, November 30, 2006

My Closing Thoughts on the Greatest Hitter Debate

We've crunched a bunch of numbers now, from the traditonal to the sabermetric. I've been mum on my top-five throughout this process, partially because I wanted the numbers to speak for themselves and partially because it's still tough for me to decide.

I know we'll never be able to get a universal top-five or even a solid number one, but we can agree on the fact that there are far too many factors to declare someone the greatest of all time. This isn't like track where things stay relatively the same. Yes, runners are now stronger and faster than they used to be, but time hasn't changed, the distance hasn't changed, it's all fairly comparable. There aren't nearly as many factors that have drastically changed the sport of track as there are in baseball. There was integration, the lowering and highering of the mound, the creation of new pitches like the splitter, the outlawing of other pitches like the spit ball, the specialization of relief pitchers, steroids, and countless others. There is so much that changes from era to era; we even have a time period known as the deadball era.

What would you say is more impressive? Sosa's '98 season when he posted 66 HR with .308/.377/.647/1.024 for rate stats of Yaz's '68 season when he posted 23 HR with .301/.426/.495/.921 for rate stats? The raw numbers say Sosa, but it doesn't paint the whole picture. If you look at the more realiable OPS+, Yaz actually looks more impressive with and OPS+ of 171 vs. Sosa's 160 (kudos to UCLASoxFan for brining that up). This example illustrates just how hard it is to compare different eras.

Even though it took me a good amount of time (thank you flight delays at O'Hare) I think you can for the most part throw the first data table out. It's unfair to make comparisons based on stats that aren't normalized to each year or to the competition. The whole process, though, was interesting to me; I definitely learned a lot about some of history's greatest players, and I can now make better assumptions because of it, but to make any decisions based solely on that particular set of data would be fallacious. There's a distinct possibility that I may revisit the first data chart and recalibrate things with a weighting system, but it won't be until later in the month, maybe during winter break.

The second set of data, albeit not perfect, is a whole lot more realiable. I'm willing to make some assumptions and base some of my thoughts on it.

Ruth is unbelievably dominant. He is among the all-time most dominant players of any sport. You could put up there with him, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Edwin Moses (won the 400-meter hurdles 122 straight times), Roy Jones Jr. when he was in his prime, and John Wooden's UCLA Bruins.

Gehrig and Teddy Ballgame were pretty damn unreal too. It's a shame Williams lost years to the war; he would have put up even better numbers without that gap. Gehrig had to be the ultimate protection for Ruth. If you think Manny and Papi are great back to back or Thome-Konerko-Dye is unbelievable, they have NOTHING on Ruth and Gehrig.

Although Pujols hasn't played for that long, there's no denying he is on a historical projectory. I'm praying injuries don't bite him in the ass they did Griffey.

Those that think Big Frank doesn't deserve to be a first ballot hall-of-famer are delusional. I stand by my claime that he is the greatest pure hitter (both in the sense of straight hitting ability and steroids) of the 90's.

Alrite, so the long awaited list, here is what my top-5 of pure hitting ability looks like.

1. Babe Ruth
2. Ted Williams
3. Lou Gehrig
4. Willie Mays
5. Rogers Hornsby

With Aaron just off the pace (as much as that pains me to do). I actually keep flip-floping Aaron in my mind with Hornsby. Prior to all this stat stuff, my top five would have been (no particular order) Ruth, Williams, Mays, Aaron, and Mantle.

Just to pull things together here's a final data chart which tracks how each player rated and scored in the previous two charts, and give a final ranking based on those performances.

(Chart coming tomorrow, it doesn't want to upload at the moment)


Blogger SRF said...

Was Hornsby's OPS that good?

I was surprised at that, as it is a completely different era. I knew the guy was a .400 pure hitter.

12/01/2006 8:04 AM  
Blogger Jeeves said...

his OPS+ was 175 which ranked 5th

his overall OPS was 1.001 which ranked 7th.

12/01/2006 12:41 PM  
Anonymous Kman said...

I like the OPS+ stat myself. Ruth had insane OPS stats back at the start of his hitting career. 1920 is still unreal to me, as Ruth hit more homers than any team in the AL. A little known stat, Travis Hafner has led the AL in OPS+ in each season for the past three years. The most under-rated player in the game. But your a White Sox guy, so I don't need to tell you about Hafner being a stud...

12/01/2006 6:38 PM  
Blogger DickdaStick said...

Nice piece of work Jeeves....

you got anything left in the tank to rate the best pitchers of all time ??

12/02/2006 5:05 PM  
Blogger Jeeves said...

I think I do. I'll recharge over finals week (how often do you ever hear that) and then take a stab at it.

12/05/2006 4:23 AM  

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