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August 14, 2006

A-Rod & Mickey

On May 2nd of this year, I wrote:

..., in terms of being a hitter, A-Rod is not in the class of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and/or a juiced Barry Bonds.

And, today, when that statement was brought up again on this site, a reader asked:

"I'd like to hear more of this theory that A-Rod isn't a "slugging monster" like Mantle, since A-Rod is going to outslug him when all is said and done."

Ask, and you shall receive! Some stats, via the Complete Baseball Encyclopedia - the "Top 25" in career OPS vs. the League Average (min. 7000 PA) - from 1900 through this past Sunday's games:


As you can see, in terms of being a punishing slugger, Alex Rodriguez is more like Jim Thome than like Mickey Mantle - not that there's anything wrong with that.

Posted by Steve Lombardi at August 14, 2006 11:20 PM


That's very interesting, Steve. Mize surprises me in particular.

What differentiates ARod from the top 7 guys is that his OBP, compared to that company, is low. That's bad because OBP should not really be weighted equally. What I'd like to see is a list of guys with OBP counted 1.5x more than Slg. Then again, I can just look at RCAA, I guess.

The list also could be used to make the case that ARod is the greatest non-Bonds player of the generation. All of the guys ahead of him either had steroid issues (McGwire), played defensively less important positions(Thomas, Thome), played defense poorly (Manny), or played in a fluke park (Walker).

Posted by: jonm [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 12:06 AM

Curious why you would use OPS to rank sluggers? Why not just use slugging percentage? The quote was that Arod would outslug Mantle, not outwalk him. Naturally, Arod would rank low in the OPS category because he doesn't draw as many walks as the guys at the top of the list. Also, what value does the league average add? Baseball has evolved over the years. Just because Phil Rizzuto couldn't hit home runs, doesn't mean that Mantle was a better slugger than A-Rod. It's true that A-Rod has played in an era of more power hitters, but the slugging pct formula is still the same. Sluggers are sluggers. Just because Ruth, Mantle, and others played in a small ball era, doesn't mean that they weren't trying to hit home runs.

Do you really think that Ty Cobb is a more punishing slugger than A-Rod (or Musial, or Ramirez, or Dimaggio...)?

Not arguing the validity of OPS or comarison to league averages in general, just questioning to application to this particular situation. I often see league averages used to compare players and that statistic is rarely applied correctly.

Posted by: christopher [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 10:06 AM


I think that Steve was talking about overall hitting ability -- not just slugging ability. Also, I think that it is fine to use comparisons to league averages here. That provides some context. The fact of the matter is that it was simply harder to hit a HR in the 10s or 60s than it was in the 90s. There are many reasons for the variance: size of parks, quality of the ball, rules affecting the dominance of pitchers, use of PEDs, etc.

Anyway, if you want pure slugging, here's a list (up to the end of 2005):
PLATE APPEARANCES displayed only--not a sorting criteria

1 Babe Ruth .285 .690 .404 10616
2 Ted Williams .236 .634 .398 9789
3 Lou Gehrig .213 .632 .419 9660
4 Barry Bonds .198 .611 .413 11636
5 Jimmie Foxx .193 .609 .417 9670
6 Rogers Hornsby .184 .577 .392 9475
7 Mark McGwire .174 .588 .414 7660
8 Joe DiMaggio .171 .579 .407 7671
9 Johnny Mize .171 .562 .391 7371
10 Manny Ramirez .166 .599 .433 7225
11 Mickey Mantle .165 .557 .392 9909
12 Stan Musial .157 .559 .402 12712
13 Hank Aaron .157 .555 .397 13940
14 Willie Mays .156 .557 .401 12492
15 Dick Allen .152 .534 .382 7314
16 Dan Brouthers .151 .519 .368 7676
17 Ty Cobb .148 .512 .364 13073
18 Larry Walker .146 .565 .419 8030
19 Alex Rodriguez .144 .577 .433 7100
20 Frank Thomas .144 .568 .424 8602
21 Frank Robinson .144 .537 .393 11743
22 Willie Stargell .143 .529 .386 9026
23 Albert Belle .141 .564 .422 6673
24 Ken Griffey Jr. .140 .561 .421 9072
25 Mike Schmidt .138 .527 .389 10062

Posted by: jonm [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 10:34 AM

I was thinking the same thing about slugging, Christopher.

Mantle ranks 15th in the modern era, with .165 SLG vs. league (.559). ARod ranks 23rd, with .144 vs. league (.577).

I included the raw stats, but I do agree with the application of vs. league here. Your mileage may vary.

Posted by: hopbitters [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 10:35 AM

Sorry Jon. I guess I was posting at the same time. The reason the rankings are different are different minimum PA cutoffs. Jon's ~6500 cutoff is probably the better one to go by.

Posted by: hopbitters [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 11:37 AM

This is a tough one. I think that there are a number of factors that go into league average slugging and OBP that could distort the numbers in both directions. I think it is definitely true that Mantle had bigger parks, smaller pitcher pool, etc.. On the other side, ARod has played in a hitting era where fitness and roids distort league averages. I think there may have been (don't know if this is true) a larger dichotomy between best and worst in Mantle's era due to non-standard fitness regimes and what not. I could be wrong, but just wanted to note that there is no black and white here, but a fair amount of gray.

Posted by: Seamus [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 11:49 AM

I was thinking in terms of pure slugging. If looking at overall hitting skills, I have no beef with Steve's list.

I understand and agree with the number of home runs being higher now than in past eras, but comparing pure league averages just doesn't seem right to me. Using the '50s as an example, an average team may only get 15 or so combined home runs out of their 2B, SS, and C positions, but their top sluggers would still hit 35-50 home runs. Because of bigger parks, PEDs, better pitchers, whatever, teams were built differently, but the top sluggers still got their HRs. Relatively insignifcant players like Kluszewski, Sievers, Rosen, etc all had huge HR seasons. Look at the '54 Reds for example. Kluszewski had 49 HRs, while the C, 2B, 3B, and SS combined for 14 HRs. You don't see that type of disparity today and I don't think today's sluggers should be knocked down a peg because of it. I think that guys like Frank Thomas, Thome, A-Rod, etc would have had their 40+ Hr seasons in 1940, 1950, whenever. I don't think you can look at league average alone to make comparisons between eras.

Basically, what I'm saying is that Cobb playing in the deadball era doesn't make him a better slugger than Frank Robinson.

Posted by: christopher [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 12:22 PM

I look at that list, and I wasn't surprised since I knew Mantle's OPS+ was ridiculously high. But what's really impressive is one, how high Dick Allen is (above Hank Aaron), and also how high Honus Wagner is considering he retired 89 years ago.

Posted by: jdasilva [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 01:33 PM

Re: the statement ~~"Arod would rank low in the OPS category because he doesn't draw as many walks as the guys at the top of the list."~~

FWIW, the more feared the slugger, the more he would walk. See "Bonds, Barry" the last few seasons.

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 03:43 PM

You raise some interesting points about league average, Christopher, but I don't know of a better baseline. Is there something that takes a better consideration of the distribution of an era's hitters?

Posted by: hopbitters [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 04:19 PM

"FWIW, the more feared the slugger, the more he would walk. See "Bonds, Barry" the last few seasons."

I've gotta disagree with you a little on that one, Steve. Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Roberto Clemente, for example, never had particularly high walk rates, and they were certainly feared hitters.

In a sense, the reverse of your statement could also be partially true. That is, "the more a player walks, the more he is feared." Ted Williams believed this in a way -- he believed that a hitter should be selective and hit his pitch. Bonds and Giambi probably believe it too.

Posted by: jonm [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 04:43 PM

A hitter's batting philosophy has more to do with their walk totals than their slugging ability. Bonds is leading the NL in walks this year, but he's not exactly knocking the cover off the ball. Abreu, Giles, Youkillis, and others are selective batters without a huge home run total. On the flip side, Pujols is probably the most feared hitter in the league and he's yet to draw 100 walks in a season.

hopbitters - I don't know of a better baseline either. I just don't put a lot of faith into the vs. league stat. A dude by the name of Firpo Marberry had 3 times more saves than anyone else in the mid-1920's through early-1930's but that doesn't mean he was the best closer of all time. I know that's an extreme example, but the point is the same.

Posted by: christopher [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2006 06:06 PM