Making powerful contactby Geoff Young
December 07, 2009
I was playing with some of the new features at Baseball Reference and decided to look for one of my favorite types of players. I speak of the mythical creature that knocks at least 100 extra-base hits in a season and whose ratio of extra-base hits to strikeouts exceeds 1.
Actually, this creature isn't mythical. Eleven men have accomplished the feat in big-league history. Three have done it twice (although two received a boost from their home parks). Nine did it between ages 24 and 28, while the other two were in their mid-30s (ah, the miracles of modern medicine!). To the men and the seasons in question:
Babe Ruth, 1921
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 693 .378 .512 .846 239 119 81 1.47The Sultan of Swat was first to meet our criteria (you were expecting someone else?). Ruth collected the most extra-base hits (119) and scored the most runs (177) among members of our exclusive club. He also received zero MVP votes... because no award was given that year.
It's funny; I always feel like I should have more to say about Ruth. Then I look at his numbers and can't imagine how I would add value by commenting on their absurdity. Then I comment on their absurdity anyway.
How do you lead the league in, oh, everything, every year? How do you end up with a 207 OPS+ over an entire career? Ruth had 10,616 plate appearances. Do you know who is second in plate appearances among players with a career OPS+ higher than 200? Ed Sanicki: He finished with a 229 OPS+ in 20 trips to the plate -- or 10,596 fewer than Ruth, if you're scoring at home.
Rogers Hornsby, 1922
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 704 .401 .459 .722 207 102 50 2.04It took 50 years for Ruth to become the first man to meet our criteria. It took Hornsby one year to become the second. He owns the highest batting average among our group and is tied for most hits (250). Hornsby also is the only one that didn't play a corner position. Like Ruth, Hornsby did not receive any MVP votes that year because the NL chose not to award one.
Lou Gehrig, 1927
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 717 .373 .474 .765 221 117 84 1.39Hey, finally an MVP winner. The irony is that Gehrig's season -- although remarkable -- wasn't quite as good as teammate Ruth's (the latter knocked 60 homers, a record that stood for quite some time). But the rules in those days held that the previous year's winner was ineligible for consideration, and so Ruth wasn't considered. Gehrig accomplished the feat at age 24, which is slightly more impressive than whatever I may have accomplished at the same age.
Lou Gehrig, 1930
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 703 .379 .473 .721 203 100 63 1.59Gehrig is our first repeat offender, and the only one among the repeaters who didn't get help from his home park. Despite his efforts, Gehrig received no MVP consideration because, once again, there was no award that year (if you're like me and wondering what was up with the MVP awards back then, Wikipedia provides a good starting point).
Chuck Klein, 1930
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 719 .386 .436 .687 159 107 50 2.14Klein's 1930 campaign represents the lowest OPS+ among any of our players. This season also marks the first of three in which more than one player met our criteria. His 250 hits ties Hornsby for most among players to meet our criteria.
Jimmie Foxx, 1932
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 701 .364 .469 .749 205 100 96 1.04Foxx is the second of two 24-year-olds to join our club. He won the AL MVP award that year, handily beating runner-up Gehrig. (Ruth finished sixth, in case you're wondering.)
Top 10 OPS+ since 1901 for 24-year-olds:
- Gehrig, 1927: 221
- Ruth, 1919: 219
- Mickey Mantle, 1956: 210
- Foxx, 1932: 205
- Ty Cobb, 1911: 196
- Tris Speaker, 1912: 188
- John Olerud, 1993: 186
- Hornsby, 1920: 185
- Joe DiMaggio, 1939: 184
- Dick Allen, 1966: 181
Chuck Klein, 1932
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 711 .348 .404 .646 165 103 49 2.10Klein is our second repeat offender. Not to take anything away from his accomplishment, but he got a nice assist from playing half his games at the Baker Bowl (although it's worth noting that his 38 homers represents the low-water mark among our group). He also won the NL MVP.
Hank Greenberg, 1937
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 701 .337 .436 .668 172 103 101 1.02Greenberg is the RBI leader (183) among our group. He's also the first of two players to strike out at least 100 times. Greenberg finished third in AL MVP voting, behind DiMaggio and Charlie Gehringer. I can understand DiMaggio, but Gehringer...
Player AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS+ Gehringer 564 133 209 40 1 14 96 90 25 .371 .458 .520 144 DiMaggio 621 151 215 35 15 46 167 64 37 .346 .412 .673 168 Greenberg 594 137 200 49 14 40 183 102 101 .337 .436 .668 172Then again, Gehringer did play second base, so maybe... On the bright side, Greenberg won two MVPs in his career. Both times, he just missed being a repeat offender on our list: In 1935, he collected 98 extra-base hits against 91 strikeouts and beat Wes Ferrell for the award; in 1940, when he beat Bob Feller, Greenberg's ratio was 99/75.
Stan Musial, 1948
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 694 .376 .450 .702 200 103 34 3.03Stan the Man has the lowest strikeout total among members of our club. His XBH/SO ratio got me to wondering whether others have reached such extremes.
As it happens, a 3-to-1 XBH/SO ratio isn't all that rare... at least, it didn't used to be. Among qualifiers for the batting title, it's occurred 167 times. The last to do it, though, was Nellie Fox in 1959, and he wasn't a power hitter (42 XBH, 13 SO).
If we impose an artificial minimum, say 80 extra-base hits, we are left with a total of 11 seasons:
- George Sisler, 1920: 86 XBH/19 SO
- Speaker, 1923: 87/15
- Heinie Manush, 1928: 80/14
- Bill Terry, 1932: 81/23
- Paul Waner, 1932: 80/24
- Gehrig, 1934: 95/31
- Gehringer, 1936: 87/13
- DiMaggio, 1941: 84/13
- Musial, 1943: 81/18
- Tommy Holmes, 1945: 81/9
- Musial, 1948: 103/34
Holmes leads comfortably in the obscure "most extra-base hits with fewer than 10 strikeouts" category. Lou Boudreau, who notched 58 extra-base hits against nine strikeouts for the 1948 Cleveland Indians, ranks second.
Albert Belle, 1995
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 629 .317 .401 .690 177 103 80 1.29After the second longest drought in history (Ruth, you recall, first accomplished the feat 50 years after MLB's inception), Belle became the eighth wonder of the world. He also accomplished the feat in fewer games and fewer plate appearances than anyone before or since. Due to the strike that began a year earlier, teams played only 144 games in '95. Belle's .317 batting average ranks lowest among our group, as do his runs (121) and RBI (126) totals. Belle finished second in the AL MVP race that year because voters found Mo Vaughn less abrasive.
Todd Helton, 2000
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 697 .372 .463 .698 163 103 61 1.69Helton is the new Klein. Helton knocked the most doubles (59; tied with Klein, 1930) among our group. Useless but true: Helton hit .452/.543/.848 in Rockies wins that year. He also finished fifth in NL MVP voting, behind Jim Edmonds, Mike Piazza, Barry Bonds and winner Jeff Kent.
Luis Gonzalez, 2001
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 728 .325 .429 .688 174 100 83 1.20Gonzalez is the first man older than 28 to meet our criteria (he was 33). He also is by far the least accomplished player on our list. Not that there's anything wrong with being a career .283/.367/.479 hitter with nearly 2,600 hits and more than 350 home runs, but Gonzalez simply isn't in the same class as the rest of these guys. Here are some key numbers for players on our list, ranked by career OPS+ in descending order:
Player Career Best Worst Ruth 207 256 161 Bonds 181 268 114 Gehrig 179 221 127 Hornsby 175 222 124 Foxx 163 205 128 Musial 159 200 134 Greenberg 158 172 118 Belle 143 193 109 Helton 140 165 117 Klein 137 176 81 Gonzalez 118 174 93Gonzalez easily had the lowest career numbers, while only Helton had a lower ceiling and only Klein had a lower floor. Gonzalez's second-best OPS+ (138) is on par with Klein's career totals, and Klein is the second weakest performer among the lot.
Gonzalez is Chili Davis with one monster season thrown in for fun. Gonzalez's 2001 (which netted him a third-place finish in NL MVP voting, behind Sammy Sosa and winner Bonds) is sort of like Dave Parker's 1978 or Andre Dawson's 1981 -- great seasons by really good players, but a bit out of character. In fact, Gonzalez's 2001 is even more freakish than Parker's and Dawson's seasons -- both of them had superior "second-best" seasons.
We shouldn't expect to find Gonzalez on this list, but there he is.
Todd Helton, 2001
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 696 .336 .432 .685 160 105 104 1.01Helton is the first (and only) player ever to reach our criteria in consecutive seasons. As MVP voters noticed (he finished ninth), Helton was helped by Coors Field more this time around than the previous year:
Home | Road Year PA BA OBP SLG XBH SO | PA BA OBP SLG XBH SO 2000 368 .391 .484 .758 56 30 | 329 .353 .441 .633 47 31 2001 356 .384 .478 .774 60 47 | 340 .286 .383 .593 45 57It will be interesting to see what the voters do with Helton when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame. His numbers are comparable to those of Klein (in), but also to those of Will Clark, Larry Walker, and Bob Johnson (out). The main problem I see is that, assuming Helton's career continues along its current path, he's likely to be remembered as a guy that popped 15 homers a year in an absolute hitter's haven rather than the dominant force he was in his 20s.
Barry Bonds, 2001
PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ XBH SO XBH/SO 664 .328 .515 .863 259 107 93 1.15Bonds owns the highest OPS+ among our group (breaking Ruth's old mark with room to spare). He also leads in homers (73), walks (177), OBP and SLG (and is last in hits and doubles). Bonds is the oldest (36) to accomplish the feat. What's truly sick is that Bonds' 2001 represents his third highest single-season OPS+. Whatever else he may have been doing at this stage of his career, he sure was hitting the snot out of baseballs.
This isn't relevant to anything, but when Bonds was still in the minors, I had a chance to draft him in my Rotisserie League. I passed on him in favor of Chris James. That's even worse than the time I took Silvestre Campusano over Jose Canseco.
* * *
For grins, here are the average, minimum, and maximum lines for the above seasons (numbers may not add up exactly due to rounding errors):
PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG Avg 697 587 142 211 47 10 48 154 99 74 .359 .454 .720 Min 629 476 121 156 32 1 38 126 54 34 .317 .401 .646 Max 728 650 177 250 59 18 73 183 177 104 .401 .515 .863Yeah, that'll work.
References and Resources
Geoff Young covers the San Diego Padres at Ducksnorts and is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. Feel free to send Geoff comments via email.