Making powerful contact

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

693 .378 .512 .846 239  119 81 1.47

The 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

704 .401 .459 .722 207  102 50 2.04

It 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

717 .373 .474 .765 221  117 84 1.39

Hey, 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

703 .379 .473 .721 203 100 63 1.59

Gehrig 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

719 .386 .436 .687 159  107 50 2.14

Klein’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

701 .364 .469 .749 205  100 96 1.04

Foxx 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:
{exp:list_maker}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 {/exp:list_maker}Interesting. I hadn’t expected to find Olerud and Allen here.

Chuck Klein, 1932

711 .348 .404 .646 165  103 49 2.10

Klein 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

701 .337 .436 .668 172  103 101 1.02

Greenberg 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 .668 172

Then 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

694 .376 .450 .702 200  103 34 3.03

Stan 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:
{exp:list_maker}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 {/exp:list_maker}That is some exclusive company. Special props to Waner for accomplishing the feat despite hitting only eight homers (62 doubles helps) and to Holmes for fanning just nine times in 713 plate appearances.

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

629 .317 .401 .690 177  103 80 1.29

After 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

697 .372 .463 .698 163  103 61 1.69

Helton 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

728 .325 .429 .688 174  100 83 1.20

Gonzalez 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    93

Gonzalez 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

696 .336 .432 .685 160  105 104 1.01

Helton 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
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 57

It 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

664 .328 .515 .863 259  107 93 1.15

Bonds 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 .863

Yeah, that’ll work.

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  1. Dave Studeman said...

    Wow.  I don’t even remember Chris James.  But Campusano was considered a pretty hot prospect in the minors, so you can be forgiven that one.

  2. Geoff Young said...

    @Nick: I was expecting to see Pujols on this list. He’s still young; it could happen.

    @Jud: Good point about Sosa. It seems he belongs to an even more exclusive club!

    @Dave: You may remember his brother, Craig, who had a nice career in the NFL as a running back. And yeah, I really thought Campusano was going to be something special.

  3. Biggy Bri said...

    Notice also that all of the players are great, or had great seasons.  I hate to see the number of high volume strikeout guys in baseball, hurts the game.  It’s much more exciting when the ball is in play.

  4. James Tetreault said...

    Yes, Albert Belle was not Mr. Congeniality.  But perhaps a bigger reason why he didn’t win the MVP award is that his team had effectively won the AL Central division by the time Albert turned on the jets.  By August 1st, they had, for all intents and purposes, already won the AL Central.  By that date, Belle had hit something like 19 of his 50 homers.  He was no more the MVP of his own team than 4 or 5 of his teammates.  But he destroyed the league in garbage time.

    I don’t much support the “put his team over the top” interpretation of “most valuable”, but Vaughn certainly had Belle beat in that respect.

  5. Gilbert said...

    Canseco and Campusano were both in the Southern League as 20YO OF’s, but Canseco in 1985 (Huntsville) and Campusano in 1986 (Knoxville).  Campusano hit .256/.342/.430 with 32/6/14 2B/3B/HR, 18/10 SB/CS, 61/110 BB/K, 89/59 R/RBI.  Canseco the year before was .318/.406/.739 with 10/2/25, 6/0, 30/55, 47/80 in only 58 games before getting promoted to AAA.  Including AAA and MLB Canseco has a Pujolsian 1985, .328/.415/.620 with 41 HR (MLB leader was Darrell Evans with 40) and 140 RBI, as well as being 12/13 on the basepaths.
    So if you drafted Campusano in 1986 where he stayed in AAA or in 1987 after Canseco already had won AL ROY, it was a memorable reach.

  6. Nick Steiner said...

    Nice post Geoff.  Like you, I love batters like this. 

    Another interesting case was Pujols in 2006.  He only had 83 extra base hits, partly due to missing 3 weeks with an oblique strain, but he had 49 home runs and 50 strike outs. 

    Using BDB, the single leader in HR/SO ratio was Jim Sewell with 11 homers and 3(!) strikeouts in 503 at bats in 1932.  If you add a 40 home run qualifier, then you get Lou Gherig, with 49 homers and 31 strikeouts in 1934.  Pujols’ 2006 ranks 10th all time and 2nd in the Retroera. 

    The career leader with at least 4000 at bats and no home run qualifier is Jack Freeman with 82 home runs and 2 freaking strikeouts in 4208 at bats.  The leader among players who started their careers in the Retroera is Pujols, with 319 home runs and 506 strike outs (not including this year yet).     

    Joe Dimagio was pretty amazing also.  361 home runs and 369 strikeouts.

  7. Jud said...

    Interesting post! However looking at B-R, this is essentially the same list as that of players who have hit more than 100 extra base hits in a season period.
    According to B-R, there were 15 such seasons. In fact, the only player to have a season in which he hit more than 100 XBH but struck out more than that, was Sammy Sosa in 2001 (103 XBH; 153 K’s)

  8. lenhart said...

    Nice article. I’d love to see a follow up that counts down the top seasons ever in terms of XBH/SO ratio, with a minumum of 500 PA. Or maybe I should just buy a friggin’ Baseball Reference subscription and figure out the list myself.

  9. Bob Tufts said...

    I have to mention one of my favorite people – the late Tommy Holmes. In 1945, Tommy went .352/.420/.577..997/OPSS+ 195 – he led the league in hits (224), doubles (47) , HR’s (28) , SLG, OPS, OPS+ and total bases (367), while walking 70 times and striking out only 9 times. He had 81 xbh and 9 K’s in 1945.

    For his 11 year career in 5565 plate appearances he walked 480 times and struck out 122.

    Sure it was war aided (once everyone came home he never hit over 9 HR’s in a season) , but he deserves some love for a remarkable year, a .302 career average and a long time supporter of CYO baseball.

    1945 28 BSN NL 154 713 636 125 224 47 6 28 117 15 70 9 .352 .420 .577 .997 175 367 11 4 3   *O MVP-2

  10. Nick Steiner said...

    lenhart, here’s the top 30

    First   Last   Year   At bats   Homers   Strikeouts   Ratio
    Joe   Sewell   1929   578   48   4   12.0000
    Joe   Sewell   1932   503   35   3   11.6667
    Joe   Sewell   1925   608   45   4   11.2500
    Charlie   Hollocher   1922   592   48   5   9.6000
    Willie   Keeler   1894   590   54   6   9.0000
    Tommy   Holmes   1945   636   81   9   9.0000
    Joe   Sewell   1926   578   50   6   8.3333
    Dan   Brouthers   1894   525   71   9   7.8889
    Joe   Sewell   1927   569   54   7   7.7143
    Sam   Thompson   1895   538   84   11   7.6364
    John   Ward   1893   588   38   5   7.6000
    Dan   Brouthers   1887   500   68   9   7.5556
    Stuffy   McInnis   1922   537   36   5   7.2000
    Lave   Cross   1894   529   50   7   7.1429
    Charlie   Gehringer   1936   641   87   13   6.6923
    Mickey   Cochrane   1929   514   52   8   6.5000
    Joe   DiMaggio   1941   541   84   13   6.4615
    Lou   Boudreau   1948   560   58   9   6.4444
    Tris   Speaker   1927   523   51   8   6.3750
    Pie   Traynor   1929   540   43   7   6.1429
    Tris   Speaker   1923   574   87   15   5.8000
    Tris   Speaker   1921   506   69   12   5.7500
    Heinie   Manush   1928   638   80   14   5.7143
    Hugh   Duffy   1894   539   85   15   5.6667
    Sam   Rice   1921   561   56   10   5.6000
    Sam   Rice   1929   616   50   9   5.5556
    Tommy   Holmes   1944   631   61   11   5.5455
    Jake   Stenzel   1894   522   72   13   5.5385
    Ed   McKean   1896   571   48   9   5.3333
    Yogi   Berra   1950   597   64   12   5.3333</pre>

  11. Cyril Morong said...


    You wrote: “The career leader with at least 4000 at bats and no home run qualifier is Jack Freeman with 82 home runs and 2 freaking strikeouts in 4208 at bats.”

    Is it possible that he played in some years when they did not keep track of strikeouts?”


  12. Geoff Young said...

    @Gilbert: This was ‘86. The publications that mattered back then (Maz, Street & Smith) were touting Campusano big time.

    @lenhart: Thanks for the suggestion!

    @Cyril: Thanks for the link. Those are fun lists.

  13. Wrencis said...

    Geoff, Dawson is a Hall of Fame level player. Comparing him to Dave Parker and Luis Gonzalez isn’t cool.

    Parker’s about 300 HR and 2500 hits, 3 GG RF. Dawson’s about 425 HR and 2800 hits, 9 GG in Center. Andre’s one of the alltime great power/speed players ever. The only reason he is not first ballot (and shouldn’t be) is because all of his rate stats suffered from a lack of walks. Parker, like Gonzo, is just another good corner outfielder.

  14. Geoff Young said...

    @Wrencis: Dawson actually won four Gold Gloves in CF; he won the rest in RF. From where I sit, all three players are pretty similar:

    2627 G, 2774 H, 438 HR, .279/.323/.482, 119 OPS+
    118 HOF Monitor, 44 HOF Standards
    #19 RF in TNBJHBA
    340 Win Shares, 20.96 WS/162 G

    2591 G, 2591 H, 354 HR, .283/.367/.479, 118 OPS+
    102 HOF Monitor, 48 HOF Standards
    unranked in TNBJHBA, which came out the year before he hit 57 HR
    (don’t have Gonzo’s Win Shares data handy)

    2466 G, 2712 H, 339 HR, .290/.339/.471, 121 OPS+
    124 HOF Monitor, 42 HOF Standards
    #14 RF in TNBJHBA
    327 Win Shares, 21.48 WS/162 G

    I’ve looked closely, and I’m not seeing a clear winner here.

  15. Wrencis said...

    Ah, I just saw that I took some hits away from the Cobra. My mistake.

    Still I disagree that they are even. As I stated before, if you look at rate stats, they discount Andre for his lack of walks (basically all rate stats include walk numbers). Not that walks are unimportant bc clearly they are. That’s why Andre didn’t deserve first ballot HOF. But outside of the walk numbers, Dawson is the superior player:

          Hits, 2B,  3B, HR, SB, Pwr/Spd, ISO, GG
    Dawson:  2774, 503, 98, 438, 314, 365.8, .203, 9
    Parker:  2712, 526, 75, 339, 154, 211.8, .181, 3
    Gonzalez:2591, 598, 68, 354, 128, 188.0, .196, 0

    Dawson was a superior power threat, superior speed threat, and superior defender. Don’t get me wrong, Dawson and Parker had similar numbers of years w/ an MVP vote and AS appearances. And both had 1 MVP award.

    But Gonzo’s not close and I don’t think is nearly the player the other two were. All of Gonzo’s best years were in the Juiced era, unlike the Cobra and the Hawk. Gonzo never won an MVP and got votes only 3 times. Dawson 9, Parker 8. AS appearances? Gonzo 4, Dawson/Parker 9. Gonzo excelled in a easier era for hitters, a quick look at his pre-strike numbers shows he’s a product of the Juiced era. His stats against contemporaries don’t show up HOF, MVP voters didn’t think him HOF, fans didn’t think him HOF.

    To me it’s pretty clear. Gonzo shouldn’t even be in the conversation; Parker is borderline; Dawson should be in.

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