Comments on: The 20 greatest position players in baseball history This and that about baseball stats. Tue, 16 Jul 2013 17:01:55 +0000 hourly 1 By: JeffW Wed, 08 Sep 2010 19:15:13 +0000 Josh,

Yes, Bonds lost time to the lockout in '94. And at the end of his career, he was also breaking down physically.

You fail to appreciate Ruth's performance in the context of plate appearances, and the fact that he lost so many years as an everyday player to having been a pitcher. Also, ballpark dimensions were more -- shall we say -- Ruthian.

Babe Ruth, with proper weight and training regimens (not to mention a proper diet), might have hit 800 (or more) home runs, given the at bats that players like Henry Aaron and Barry Bonds had.

Babe Ruth hit 40 or more home runs in a season 11 times! He hit at least 50 four times. He was a full-time pitcher the first three full seasons of his career (1915-'17). Then, he split pitching and position playing for two more years (though he was pretty-much a regular outfielder in 1919, he did pitch in 17 games, starting 15 times).

As he appeared in 130 games that season, we'll use 1919 as his springboard to regular status. That means -- from 1919-1934 -- in a span of 16 years, Babe Ruth hit 688 home runs! That's an average of 43 homers per year. Over 16 seasons!

Hank Aaron hit between 40-48 homers eight 23 seasons. His high was 47. In just those eight cherry-picked years, his average was 43.5. Babe's cherry-picked eight best total an average of 46.12 (369 homers). Bonds hit 386, for an average of 48.25, but that includes his freak 73-homer year.

Yes, I said "freak." Bonds never again came within 23 homers of that mark. Ruth came within six of his 60 three other times. Bonds never even hit 50, other than that one season. As I said earlier, Babe topped 50 four times.

Bonds -- steroid-aided (do we still need to say "allegedly"?) -- hit a record 73 home runs in 2001. But just how legit is that? After that, his best was 46, done twice. He hit 40+ eight times, as did Aaron.

Let's look at Bonds vs. his contemporaries. In the four-year period from 1998-2001, there were five other totals of 60+ homers, besides Bonds' 73.

In the 10-year period from 1920-'29, when Ruth hit 50+ four times and 40+ eight times, there were just two other players who reached 40 even once: Lou Gehrig (47 in '27), and Rogers Hornsby (42 in '22). Ruth clearly far-outpaced his contemporaries, more so than Bonds could even dream.

Let's see Barry, without his gladiator pads, with Burleigh Grimes or Lefty grove on the hill. How much diggin' in is Barry gonna do? Especially since he won't have all that protection from being brushed back/knocked down like he enjoyed in the modern era. They would go after him, knock him off the plate, take away the outside, and make him git that *&!%^!@^$!@^&!# elbow out of the strike zone!

In his best 16 seasons, Bonds hit 648 home runs. Again, in the only 16 years Babe Ruth had as a full-time regular, he hit 688. Even against the cherry-picked best, the Babe busts all comers.

Babe Ruth, extrapolated to the (second-highest career total) 12,364 at bats Aaron accumulated, would have hit 1,051 home runs! You see, Ruth had just 8,389 career at bats.

But they may have been the best 8,389 at bats in Major League history.

Eat your heart out, Bonds.

And, as a defender, Ruth was good enough and athletic enough to play center field on 64 different occasions in his prime. His arm was strong.

He also stole 17 bases in a season twice during the '20's, though his percentage was not particularly noteworthy (123 in 240 attempts for his career).

For what it's worth, his Strat-o-Matic card has him rated as the Yankees' fastest baserunner (1-14) in 1920.

By: Josh Tue, 07 Sep 2010 21:18:20 +0000 A few points on Ruth vs Bonds:
1) Old timers defensive scores in WAR are not very reliable since there is no play by play data. Ruth is listed as +79 fielding runs in WAR, which seems to me like it could be high.
2) Bonds lost time due to the strike and at the end of his career when he was still perhaps the best hitter in the league.
3) Ruth's league excluded many of the best players in the world due to racism. The minor leagues were independent as well and did not always filter the best players to the majors.
4) The enormous improvements in money, internationalization, scouting, training, and increase in world population of ball playing countries leaves little doubt the average quality of play is much better now than in the 1920s. If you can play MLB ball now, you're going to do it, unless you have some other means of making millions per year while being famous and beloved. Sloshing through the minors in the hopes of making it to the majors for a working man's salary where you still have to work a real job in the off season may not have been uniformly appealing to talented kids in the past.
5) Ruth had an enormous edge over the rest of his league because he was an innovator. He was the first to swing as hard as he could with an uppercut, and since (A) no one else was trying to do that and (B) pitchers hadn't learned how to prevent home runs, Ruth could tower over the rest of the league. It took about 10 years for hitters to learn how to hit HRs in the AL -- hardly anyone but Ruth in the AL hit even 20-25 home runs in a season during the 1920s. If someone else had popularized home runs and Ruth had been just as good but come along 10 years later when other players were also using his hitting strategy, hypothetical Ruth would not have dominated the league nearly as much as he did in real life.

Love or hate Bonds, I am confident his performance is by far the most impressive of any player ever. He dominated nearly as much as Ruth did in a fully developed game against extremely high competition quality.

By: Lawrence Azrin Tue, 07 Sep 2010 14:49:44 +0000 #91/ Todd Says: "Interesting observations. In general, I'm indifferent to the issue of PEDs as far as the HOF is concerned. I think the players should be ranked against their peers and judged accordingly, just like guys who played in the 30s have to be judged against their league and not by their raw numbers compared to, say, guys who played in the 60s."

Todd, I wish more people felt that way, it would certainly simplify these sort of discussions

#92/ Mike Felber: Yes, I remembered James' ranking of Rogers Hornsby ranking incorrectly, it was #22. If you added in the pitchers/Negro Players that we are not considering, my ranking of #15 would be about the same as Bill James.

By: Mike Felber Mon, 06 Sep 2010 18:27:54 +0000 That is within the realm of possibility, it really depends on both how much replacement level has improved, & if the real elite could retain more/most all of their value, unlike the more average players. Many observers like Gould felt like they could. Also your scenario presumably allows no modern training, science, nutrition, technology, & presumes that the players were just reincarnated on a field of dreams.

I tend to think that this is a fair way to compare absolutely how good the players WERE. There is a philosophical issue though re: whether if we want to see who is best, we should provide neutral training conditions, that this is similar to everyone using the same equipment & in the same era. Parenthetically, since these players all played modern baseball, to be scien-terrific about it, you would also need to send recent guys back decades & see how they did under those often rougher play & travel conditions.

By: Michael E Sullivan Mon, 06 Sep 2010 17:15:11 +0000 The chances that Cobb was actually better than Mays are so small it's not even worth considering. The general player pool during Mays career was light years ahead of the pool during Cobb's career, and yet Mays's WAR/PA is slightly higher, and total WAR only slightly lower.

My suspicion is that if we compare players to their own time's fair equivalent of a replacement player today, then Bonds is the best ever (if we ignore whatever PED's were worth to him), followed by Mays, Aaron and Mantle, with Ruth the only guy from pre-integration that really belongs in the conversation.

By: Michael E Sullivan Mon, 06 Sep 2010 16:55:33 +0000 "If Babe Ruth's back up had been Barry Bonds, his WAR would be a lot less impressive but he'd have still been Babe Ruth."

The concept of "replacement player" has nothing to do with who is backing you up. And that is made very clear if you read any of the information here about what the various sabermetric stats mean.

A replacement player is the same for everyone. It is merely a description of a baseline level of play.

By: Jeff James Mon, 06 Sep 2010 16:36:33 +0000 @103 "Jeff, I didn't intentionally list them in that order but, looking at the order that's how I would rank them. How would you rank them?"

You said "best CF". I'd think it would be

Speaker's career was better than Mantle
but Mantle's peak was better than Speaker

By: BalBurgh Mon, 06 Sep 2010 06:44:01 +0000 @94/97: Always love a Dave Parker reference. He was close to the best player in baseball there for a couple of years. Imagine if he doesn't run into that spot of trouble in the early 80s...

By: John Autin Mon, 06 Sep 2010 03:49:15 +0000 Andy (@4) -- It stands to reason that the gap between MLB star and "replacement player" is far smaller now than it was in Babe Ruth's heyday, which would skew the WAR results towards the pre-WWII decades. In 1920, the U.S. population was about 106 million; today it's about 308 million. In 1920, there were no black players in the major leagues, and virtually no Hispanics, Asians, or non-Americans; today, no one is barred, and talent is drawn from all over the world, especially Latin America. In 1920, scouting in the less populated states was limited and haphazard; today, scouting is generally much more pervasive and organized. So even though there are almost twice as many MLB teams today, the talent pool competing for each MLB roster spot is still much deeper.

By: JeffW Mon, 06 Sep 2010 02:01:45 +0000 WarSucks (#104) brings to mind a few questions I have about WAR:

How does the relative level of replacement-level players change throughout history? Are replacement-level players in the Deadball Era comparable to replacement-level WWII-era players? And, how do they match up against modern scrubs?

The respective strength of teams and their leagues can be discerned by the won-lost differentials and the number of games in the standings separating the top from the bottom.

But even that only measures the relative strength of the teams/league in that season (and maybe a few seasons on either side that have essentially the same player pool to compare).

You can't judge the worthiness of the 1927 Yankees against the 2001 Mariners (for instance), without taking into consideration the comparative strength -- top to bottom -- of their respective leagues. And that is highly subjective, at best, since they never played against each other. Hence, the classic arguments of which team over time was really better.

So, how does the WAR calculation take into consideration the difference between the top-to-bottom skill levels of different eras?

Honus Wagner may have been (however much) better than a replacement-level player in his era, but how do we accurately compare the replacement-level players of those years and the 2000's to complete the comparison between Wagner and -- say -- Pujols? Especially in light of the way the game has changed over the intervening years.

Also (specifically relating to someone like Wagner), how do you judge his replacement-level player, since he played so many games at so many different positions? Replacement-level skill sets are so different for the various positions, does that alter the formula?