Monday, November 27, 2006

Sparking a Debate: Who's the Best Hitter?

First off I have to give thanks to Baseball-Reference.com for their bevy of stats and to DA Humber for inspiring me to do undertake this post. After DA invited me to participate in his Friday Five, I was inspired to take a more in depth look at who the best hitter in baseball history was. In my original analysis, I took a cursory view of 8 different players, but I clearly left out a number of the all-time greats.

So before I delve into all the stats and their explanations, I must first give a disclaimer. The table I created (below) is by no means supposed be an end-all type of thing. I'm not trying to prove that a certain player is in fact the greatest hitter of all time. I just wanted to look take a look at the stats and see if I could get a better idea of how some of the all-time greats stacked up when compared to one another. Considering the fact that I'm still in college, I have hardly seen any of the all-time greats in action. I think my exclusion of Lou Gehrig in my analysis in the Friday Five is evidence enough that I didn't have a full for the game's history. I feel now after compiling all this data that I have a clearer picture, but not necessarily a full picture.
Please note that this is purely an exercise in numbers. It does not take into account overall play or prowess in the field. Mays is considered by many (I was among the many for awhile) to be the best all-around player of all-time, the five-tool player, but since I'm only looking at hitting he doesn't come out of this looking as impressive.
Finally, I will be posting another article similar to this (probably on Tuesday) looking at the same players but using sabermetrics to get a different view on the situation

So, without further ado, here is Table 1 followed by some observations. (Table 2 will follow in another post, most likely on Tuesday). To see a proper view of the table click on it.















Method to the Madenss - I took the career stats of Gehrig, Ruth, Pujols, Teddy Ballgame, Rogers Honrnsby, Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Bonds, A-Rod, Cobb, Musial, Cap Anson, Hank Aaron, Mantle, Mel Ott, Willie Mays, Honus Wagner, Frank Robinson, Mike Schmidt, Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose, Yaz, and to get a White Sox feel, I added Frank Thomas and Shoeless Joe. I crunched the numbers and compared their per game averages for runs, hits, doubles, homers, and RBIs as well as their batting average, OBP, SLG and OPS. I ranked each player in each category, and then added up the points, with the lowest number being best.

My Thoughts

-I can't believe how terribly I underrated Lou Gehrig. He was among the leaders in each category, finishing no worse than 8th. The original Iron Man was an RBI machine, averaging relatively close to an RBI a game!

-I'm shocked to see how high Pujols is. I realize that when he gets toward the end of his career, he'll put up less impressive number which will subsequently lower his averages, but it's still damn impressive that he ended up ranking third.

-It's interesting seeing hitters from the earlier years compared to power hitters from more recent times. Hornsby more than holds his own, as do Cobb, Anson, and Shoeless Joe.

-A good number of people would put Hank Aaron and/or Willie Mays in their top-5, yet in this table, they rank 15th and 18th respectively. Both Hank and Willie were consistent over long careers, which allowed them to amass their ridiculous career totals.

-In my original analysis, I left out Bonds, because the steroid cloud surrounding him takes him out of the running for my top five, but there's no denying the impressiveness of his stats.

-Clemente was undoubtedly a good player (but unless I'm missing something here) he seems rather pedestrian compared against the others. Perhaps his tragic death increased his legend.

-Any and all discussion is welcome. Feel free to leave any postive or negative feedback. If you think I missed the boat completely let me know, or if this helped open you eyes to the merits of one player's career, tell me. I'd love to head your all-time top five or ten, or your ranking of all these players. I suppose my main objective outside of braddening my view on some of the all-time great players is to try and stimulate some discussion.

Coming Soon, part 2. A comparison of these players vs. their contemporaries.

13 Comments:

Blogger DickdaStick said...

I like your effort on the overall ranking idea...

I have a couple thoughts - guys who get walked alot are penalized in the Hits / game category.... Maybe it should be hits & walks / Game....or something to take into accountguys who get walked alot.

I don't know if doubles is a fair category either....it took Ruth right out of first place all by itself. I'd rather have a great HR hitter than a great Doubles hitter, but if you just took those 2 categories by themselves, Rose scores 3 points better than Mantle.
I'd like Rose on my team, but I'd take Mantle way before Rose.

I think it's amazing to see Big Frank right up there with the Legendary Guys....good research Jeeves. Let me know what you think of my comments - your on to something here.

11/27/2006 11:09 PM  
Blogger Jeeves said...

Yah, it was really hard for me to reconcile what stats to use and what stats not to use.

I was considering using walks as well, but players in earlier years didn't walk nearly as much as players of today's game do.
From 1915-1922 the highest total was 86, whereas the past few years we've seens some ridiculous totals. I think adding in OPS to the equation instead of just its componenet, OBP and SLG, somewhat compensates for not including walks; so those that take a lot of walks would see a boost in the OBP and OPS categories.

Doubles was definitely the hardest category for me to reconcile using (that's why tomorrow's post will be a bit fairer). HR's are definitely an important part of the game, but again, if I had just HR's it would hurt the players who played in the "deadball era." So I felt inclined to add doubles, because if you're hitting a deadball hard it may not get out of the yard, it will at least get you a two-bagger.
As I was wrapping up my data charts, I realized there was probably a better way to do address my concerns though. I probably should have done doubles and triples per game as one stat, or done something like total bases per game. Unfortunately though I, pulled the necessary data off-line and then figured out the pergame averages at the airport so I didn't have the Internet to look up TB or 3B's, so I just left it as is. Doubles were definitely the iffiest stat for me too.

I was also pleasantly pleased to see The Big Hurt so high up. In my mind he was always one of the best pure hitters in the game; to me he was the best pure hitter (pure in the sense of straight hitting and in the sense of not doing steroids) of the 90's. His '94 season was magical. (http://chisoxblog.blogspot.com/2006/10/sock-it-to-em-big-frank.html])But until looking at the data, I was worried that I overvalued him because he is the White Sox franchise. I guess the numbers somewhat validate my claims.

Thanks for picking my brain Dickie...I was hoping someone would end up commenting sooner or later. I definitely agree with you on though that there are some inefficiencies to the whole process. Like I hinted before, I'm going to take a more sabermetric approach (for lack of a better word) tomorrow, which will offer another view as to who are among the best hitters of all time.

11/28/2006 2:05 AM  
Blogger DickdaStick said...

did you consider hitters such as George Brett, Tony Gwynn, and Rod Carew? I'm sure there's many more and it would get crazy trying to compare them all, but those 3 are some of the purest hitters I ever saw.

The more I think of this, the more monumental the task seems...good luck !

....oh, and by the way, USC is ripe for an upset. Turn those UCLA DE's loose on John David and knock him on his Booty

11/28/2006 12:45 PM  
Blogger UCLASoxFan said...

Great stuff Jeeves!

I'm kinda iffy on doubles, but I guess I can see where youre comin' from.

I crunched some numbers and Gwynn Carew and Brett all would rank toward the bottom of the list. They only places they ranked even moderately high were hits/g, avg. They were mediocre to crappy for the rest.

Concerning what you Dickdastick said, I agree they were some of the purest hitters, especially of recent history, but it looks like their lack of power took them out of the running.

Looking forward to seeing the sabermetric table.


I'm lookin for some big sacks from #17!!

FUCK 'SC THE ROSE BOWL!

11/28/2006 6:54 PM  
Blogger jamesmnordbergjr said...

Unfortunately, the main thing not taken into account and the biggest detractor when comparing hitters from different eras (although the comments have brought it up in a different guise) is the pitching/ mound height/ pitch types. How you would integrate that into the rankings, I have no clue. Maybe a column could be added with mound height as a stat. I think we all will agree, the higher the mound the better the pitching (or maybe not), but that might add a little perspective to the type of pitching faced. (Then again, that kind of research might take quite a while, and what of guys whose careers overlapped mound changes?)

11/29/2006 4:38 AM  
Blogger jamesmnordbergjr said...

Okay, one other thought, can each stat be looked upon as equal?

Is drawing a walk just as important as hitting a HR?

Should some stats be weighted by importance? (I guess this goes along with Dickie saying the 2Bs are somewhat unnecessary and misleading in the total count.)

11/29/2006 4:42 AM  
Blogger jamesmnordbergjr said...

Gotta love this one Bonds comparison: 23rd in hit/g but 3rd in OBP.

11/29/2006 4:45 AM  
Blogger jamesmnordbergjr said...

It's somewhat interesting that A-Rod, Thomas, and Bonds all average out to the same score.

11/29/2006 4:48 AM  
Blogger Jeeves said...

I was hoping no one would get to that; I was going to toss that question out there myself...What do you think of putting weight to each category. For example, 1 for hits, 1.1 for doubles, 1.2 for runs, 1.3 for RBI's, 1.4 for HR's, etc, meaning you'd multiply a person's rank for each category by the appropriate weight.

How would you rank each stat in order of importance? How much weight would you put on each stat.

11/30/2006 2:55 AM  
Blogger Jeeves said...

I was hoping no one would get to that...I was planning on tossing out that very question...If you were to put weight to each category, how would you weigh them?

For example. I'd probably put a weight of 1 on walks. maybe 1.1 for hits, 1.2 for doubles, 1.3 for runs, 1.4 for RBI's, 1.5 for HR's or something along those lines. Meaning I'd multiply the rank by the weight and then add all those up for the total score.

How would y'all rank each stat?

11/30/2006 2:56 AM  
Blogger UCLASoxFan said...

I think some weighting is definitely in order here. In my books importance goes like this...
OPS
OBP
SLG
HR
BA
RBI
R
2B's (and I would add 3B's to this category)
Hits

11/30/2006 3:58 AM  
Blogger jamesmnordbergjr said...

usf's list is about right, except that I'd flip BA & Runs...for me, BA can be such an overrated stat when it comes to measuring the stature of a hitter

11/30/2006 6:16 AM  
Blogger Jeeves said...

Yah, I ageee. Generally it is an overrated stat. A few squibbers through the infield can make a sizable difference, but if a hitter consistently puts up a ridiculous AVG, i.e. Hornsby it's fair to use it as a tool to evaluate his performance.

Just some things I noticed about Hornsby, since I mentioned him...
He has the highest single season average ever, at .424.
He has the second highest career BA at .358 (the highest for a righty) behind Cobb.
Over a six year span, he won the triple crown TWICE
During that five year span his BA was .402
During that span he led the league in hitting each year, in RBI's four times and HR's twice

12/01/2006 1:30 PM  

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