Re-imagining the Big Zone Sixties, revisited: Part 3

Our fresh look at the stats produced in the Swingin’ ’60s has so far encompassed the good and the very good. Now, to the main event: the greats.

All adjusted stat lines are presented in blue font. For our methodology, please see the References and Resources section below.

Top-notch tablesetters

Joe Morgan

Though he wouldn’t break out as a superstar until his trade to Cincinnati in 1972, Morgan was a terrific performer through this period.

Harry Walker was a generally successful manager, and had extraordinarily positive influence as a hitting coach on the career of Matty Alou, among others. But Walker’s slap-the-ball-on-the-ground approach just didn’t work with Morgan, as is made plain here: note the trough in batting average in 1969-71, the three seasons Morgan played under Walker.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1963   19   25    6    6    0    1    0    3    6    5 .240 .387 .320 .707
 1964   20   37    4    7    0    0    0    0    7    6 .189 .321 .189 .510
 1965   21  607  111  169   23   12   15   44  112   71 .279 .391 .433 .825
 1966   22  430   66  126   15    8    6   46  103   40 .293 .429 .403 .832
 1967   23  499   81  141   28   11    7   46   94   47 .283 .396 .424 .821
 1968   24   20    7    5    0    1    0    0    8    4 .250 .470 .350 .820
 1969   25  535   94  126   18    5   15   43  110   74 .236 .365 .372 .737
 1970   26  548  102  147   28    9    8   52  102   55 .268 .383 .396 .779
 1971   27  583   87  149   27   11   13   56   88   52 .256 .351 .407 .758

Lou Brock

Among the more intriguing players in history, in many regards.

Clearly Brock was somewhat overrated; the Hall of Merit disagrees with the Hall of Fame, and didn’t elect him. Yet the HOM discussion thread on Brock was long, intricate, and fascinating, as the consideration of Brock’s case leads to any number of complicated questions: the balance between OBP, base-stealing, and extra-base power in generating leadoff-hitter value; is there such a thing as “leadoff-hitter value” anyway, or should hitters simply be judged as hitters; the balance between peak value and career value; the assessment and impact of left field defense; the importance of postseason performance in the HOF/HOM case, and on and on.

Suffice to say that Brock’s career defies easy categorization or disposal. What is certain is that he was an extraordinarily intelligent and dedicated athlete who achieved the absolute maximum out of his potential, and he was tremendously exciting to watch.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1961   22   11    1    1    0    0    0    0    1    3 .091 .167 .091 .258
 1962   23  434   73  114   24    7    9   35   35   96 .263 .319 .412 .731
 1963   24  553   87  147   20   11   10   41   36  113 .265 .310 .396 .706
 1964   25  642  123  208   31   11   15   64   46  118 .324 .369 .480 .849
 1965   26  638  118  189   37    8   18   76   52  108 .296 .349 .462 .812
 1966   27  650  104  190   25   12   17   51   36  124 .293 .329 .445 .775
 1967   28  697  125  214   34   12   23   84   28  101 .307 .334 .490 .824
 1968   29  667  102  191   48   14    7   56   53  115 .287 .339 .431 .771
 1969   30  655   97  195   33   10   12   47   50  115 .298 .349 .434 .783
 1970   31  664  114  202   29    5   13   57   60   99 .304 .361 .422 .783
 1971   32  640  126  200   37    7    7   61   76  107 .313 .385 .425 .810

Pete Rose

As incredibly durable and consistent as any player in history, it’s essentially the case that the breakout season Rose achieved in 1965 was one he would replicate over and over for the next decade and a half. But a close look reveals some slight variations in the pattern: the up-to-30 Rose we see here didn’t draw as many walks as the older Rose would, and this Rose delivered more home run power.

Man, could he play.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1963   22  630  112  177   26    9    7   45   64   67 .281 .347 .383 .729
 1964   23  522   71  145   14    2    4   38   42   47 .277 .330 .336 .667
 1965   24  678  129  217   37   11   12   90   80   70 .320 .392 .461 .853
 1966   25  662  107  213   40    5   18   77   43   57 .322 .363 .477 .840
 1967   26  592   95  183   34    8   13   84   65   61 .309 .377 .460 .837
 1968   27  634  104  218   44    6   11   54   65   70 .344 .405 .485 .890
 1969   28  627  120  218   33   11   16   82   88   65 .348 .428 .512 .940
 1970   29  649  120  205   37    9   15   52   73   64 .316 .385 .470 .855
 1971   30  632   86  192   27    4   13   44   68   50 .304 .373 .421 .794
The 512 fraternity

Along with achieving an identical total of career home runs, these two all-time greats shared a common career shape: superstardom through their 20s, then a distinct drop-off to a good-but-not-great plateau. And in both cases, the apparent severity of that drop-off was amplified by the imposition of the big strike zone in 1963.

Ernie Banks

The quality of play Banks held for several years following his illness-plagued 1963 season was solid, but not star-quality. I’ve long maintained that the Cubs would have derived more value by not continuing to deploy Mr. Cub as the day-in, day-out regular at first base through those years, but instead sensibly weaving some decent left-handed bats in with his, resulting in perhaps 400-to-500 well-rested plate appearances per season from Banks.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   29  597   94  162   32    7   41  117   71   69 .271 .350 .554 .904
 1961   30  511   75  142   22    4   29   80   54   75 .278 .346 .507 .853
 1962   31  610   87  164   20    6   37  104   30   71 .269 .306 .503 .809
 1963   32  436   45  102   21    1   20   71   45   68 .234 .305 .423 .729
 1964   33  597   74  162   30    6   25  105   42   78 .272 .319 .470 .789
 1965   34  618   87  168   26    3   31  117   64   59 .272 .340 .474 .814
 1966   35  517   58  145   24    7   17   83   33   55 .280 .324 .450 .774
 1967   36  579   75  164   27    4   25  105   31   86 .284 .320 .476 .796
 1968   37  557   79  141   28    0   35   92   31   62 .254 .293 .494 .787
 1969   38  565   60  143   19    2   23  106   42  101 .253 .309 .416 .725
 1970   39  222   25   56    6    2   12   44   20   33 .252 .313 .459 .772
 1971   40   83    4   16    2    0    3    6    6   14 .193 .247 .325 .572

Eddie Mathews

Never as well-conditioned as Banks, Mathews was unable to sustain his Act II as extensively.

Mathews’ 1963 spike in walks was interesting, coming as it did simultaneously with his reduction in overall hitting robustness. Such a dynamic isn’t common, but neither is it extremely rare (see Willie Mays below); Bill James once surmised that it’s likely an effect of a veteran hitter discovering that he can’t get around on the good fastball like he used to, and so endeavoring to work the count to compensate.

That certainly might be true, but I suspect it isn’t necessarily so intentional. It just as well could be a case of the hitter fouling off a lot of pitches he once put into play, and so getting deeper into counts without trying to. And in the case of Mathews, it would appear that following 1963, pitchers learned that while he still had serious power, he was no longer a hitter they needed to handle with the extreme caution they once had.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   28  548  108  152   19    7   39  124  111  113 .277 .397 .551 .948
 1961   29  572  103  175   23    6   32   91   93   95 .306 .402 .535 .937
 1962   30  536  106  142   25    6   29   90  101   90 .265 .381 .496 .877
 1963   31  553   91  150   28    4   25   93  143  110 .271 .421 .474 .895
 1964   32  507   92  122   20    1   25   82   98   93 .240 .363 .434 .797
 1965   33  551   85  142   24    0   35  105   84  102 .258 .357 .494 .851
 1966   34  456   80  117   22    4   18   59   73   76 .257 .359 .439 .799
 1967   35  440   59  107   17    2   18   63   73   82 .243 .351 .411 .762
 1968   36   52    4   11    0    0    3    9    6   11 .212 .296 .407 .703
Latin line-drivers

Both of these free-swingers delivered splendid power while spraying base hits to all fields, and both saw their careers curtailed by severe knee trouble. Neither quite made the Hall of Merit.

Tony Oliva

Perhaps we’ll never know the truth for certain, but Baseball Reference has this Cuban’s birthdate as two years earlier than it was believed when he was playing. That certainly makes sense, as it helps to explain the degree to which he sprang forth as a rookie in spectacularly fully-developed form.

One wonders what sort of a major league performer Oliva might have been in the several seasons prior to 1964; he sure looks as though he was more than ready to hit up a storm. In 1961 he hit .410 in Class D; in ’62 .350 in Class A; and in ’63 .304 in Triple-A, all with good power.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1962   23    9    3    4    1    0    0    3    3    2 .444 .583 .556 1.139
 1963   24    7    0    3    0    0    0    1    0    2 .429 .429 .429  .858
 1964   25  681  121  226   45    9   35  104   39   63 .331 .368 .580  .948
 1965   26  583  118  192   42    5   18  108   64   59 .330 .396 .510  .905
 1966   27  630  109  199   34    7   28   96   48   67 .315 .364 .523  .887
 1967   28  563   84  167   36    6   19   92   51   57 .297 .355 .482  .837
 1968   29  475   60  141   25    5   20   75   52   57 .297 .367 .497  .864
 1969   30  637   97  197   39    4   24  101   45   66 .309 .355 .496  .851
 1970   31  628   96  204   36    7   23  107   38   67 .325 .364 .514  .878
 1971   32  487   73  164   30    3   22   81   25   44 .337 .369 .546  .915

Orlando Cepeda

His triples column doesn’t show it, but Cepeda ran quite well for a big man. Before his knee surgery in 1965, Cepeda stole 92 bases in 137 attempts (67.2 percent) in seven seasons, and as late as 1969, he stole 12 bases in 17 attempts.

Moreover, though he combined just about every attribute likely to contribute to grounding into a lot of double plays—a right-handed cleanup hitter, never asked to bunt, rarely taking a walk, not striking out all that much—he never led the NL in that category, and only once in his NL career hit into more than 18. Only in 1973, as a 35-year-old designated hitter, did he finally lead the league in double plays, with 24. Contemporaries such as Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente, both noted for good speed, were consistently more likely than Cepeda to be doubled up.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   22  569   81  169   36    3   24   96   34   91 .297 .343 .497 .840
 1961   23  585  105  182   28    4   46  142   39   91 .311 .362 .609 .971
 1962   24  625  105  191   26    1   35  114   37   97 .306 .347 .518 .865
 1963   25  586  111  190   35    4   37  107   43   65 .325 .370 .589 .960
 1964   26  535   83  167   28    2   34  107   50   77 .313 .371 .565 .936
 1965   27   34    1    6    1    0    1    6    3    8 .176 .257 .309 .567
 1966   28  507   77  157   27    0   22   81   44   73 .310 .365 .494 .859
 1967   29  570  101  190   39    0   28  123   72   70 .334 .408 .547 .955
 1968   30  606   79  155   27    2   18   81   50   89 .256 .312 .395 .707
 1969   31  573   74  147   28    2   22   88   55   76 .257 .325 .428 .753
 1970   32  567   87  173   33    0   34  111   47   75 .305 .365 .543 .908
 1971   33  250   31   69   10    1   14   44   22   29 .276 .330 .492 .822
Prodigious power

Willie Stargell

One thing younger fans may not be aware of regarding Stargell is what a tremendous throwing arm he had. He was always slow, and not a good defensive outfielder overall, but as a young player he wielded a howitzer. Had he come up with just about any team other than the 1960s Pirates (who already had a pretty good right fielder), Stargell would have played right field, not left.

Stargell’s career took a rather unusual shape. In his 20s he was a good hitter, but not a great one (aside from 1966), and it wouldn’t have been at all surprising to see him fade once he passed 30, dropping back into a part-time role, maybe getting traded around a few times.

But instead, at the age of 31 Stargell suddenly broke through as a superstar slugger. He maintained that exceptional level of production for several years, and then fought off injuries and remained a highly productive hitter until he was 40.

In the modern era, such a career shape (and especially one from such a hugely strong athlete as Stargell) would undoubtedly bring forth speculations about steroids. But the historical existence of quite a few career patterns along these lines (see such variations on the theme as Gavvy Cravath, Bob Elliott, Jim Hickman, and Bill Robinson) is one of the factors undermining the persuasiveness of claims that mid-career or late-career improvement in a modern-day hitter is suspiciously indicative of PED usage.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1962   22   31    1    9    3    1    0    4    3   10 .290 .353 .452  .805
 1963   23  307   38   77   12    6   12   52   22   79 .251 .301 .447  .747
 1964   24  426   59  120   20    7   23   86   20   85 .281 .313 .524  .837
 1965   25  539   75  151   26    8   30  118   45  118 .280 .335 .524  .860
 1966   26  491   93  159   31    0   36  113   55  101 .324 .392 .610 1.003
 1967   27  467   60  130   19    6   22   81   77   95 .278 .381 .486  .867
 1968   28  439   63  107   16    1   26   74   54   97 .244 .327 .465  .792
 1969   29  522   89  160   31    6   29   92   61  120 .307 .382 .556  .938
 1970   30  474   70  125   18    3   31   85   44  119 .264 .329 .511  .840
 1971   31  511  104  151   26    0   48  125   83  154 .295 .398 .628 1.026

Richie Allen

On the other hand, this guy (who went by “Richie” all though this period) was a phenomenal hitter from the get-go. But his attention to conditioning was, shall we say, less than intense, and at the same age Stargell was climbing to a new peak, Allen was rapidly breaking down.

His raw stats are impressive enough, but this exercise makes it even more plain just what a ferocious bat the young Allen wielded. He was an extremely scary presence at the plate.

I’m certainly not in the camp of Allen “apologists” who insist that he was largely blameless in his endless confrontations with management, and merely a victim of racism and misunderstanding. While racism and misunderstanding no doubt abounded, appallingly immature, selfish, and irresponsible behavior on Allen’s part did as well.

That said, the thumbs-down verdict of Hall of Fame voters is nuts. Even accounting for the trainload of baggage Allen toted, he was a player of rare greatness. The Hall of Merit voted him in on the first ballot.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1963   21   24    7    7    2    1    0    2    0    5 .292 .292 .458  .750
 1964   22  640  138  209   40   13   32  101   77  128 .327 .399 .580  .979
 1965   23  626  103  194   33   14   22   94   85  139 .310 .393 .513  .906
 1966   24  531  124  173   26   10   44  122   79  126 .325 .412 .662 1.075
 1967   25  469   98  148   33   10   25   85   87  108 .315 .422 .590 1.012
 1968   26  526   96  142   18    9   36  100   85  149 .271 .372 .546  .919
 1969   27  438   79  126   23    3   32   89   64  144 .288 .375 .573  .948
 1970   28  459   88  128   17    5   34  101   71  118 .279 .377 .560  .937
 1971   29  549   82  162   24    1   23   90   93  113 .295 .395 .468  .863
Back-to-back Cubs

Hitting No. 3 and No. 4 in the same lineup virtually every day for more than a decade, it’s just about impossible for two players to be more easily comparable; they played nearly their entire careers under identical conditions.

Given that, taking a look at the stats each compiled, can you make a good argument for Williams to be in the Hall of Fame, but not Santo? Especially when considering that Williams was a left fielder with so-so defensive ability, while Santo was a five-time Gold Glove-winning third baseman?

Billy Williams

To be fair, we don’t see Williams’ best year with the bat here, as it occurred in 1972.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   22   47    4   13    0    2    2    7    5   12 .277 .346 .489 .835
 1961   23  529   75  147   20    7   25   86   45   70 .278 .338 .484 .822
 1962   24  618   94  184   22    8   22   91   70   72 .298 .369 .466 .835
 1963   25  619   96  182   38    9   28  105   79   72 .294 .373 .518 .892
 1964   26  653  111  209   41    2   36  108   68   78 .320 .384 .556 .940
 1965   27  653  127  211   41    6   37  119   75   70 .323 .393 .577 .970
 1966   28  655  111  186   24    5   32  101   80   57 .284 .362 .483 .844
 1967   29  641  102  183   22   12   31   93   79   62 .285 .363 .502 .866
 1968   30  649  101  192   31    8   33  108   55   49 .296 .352 .522 .874
 1969   31  642  103  188   33   10   21   95   59   70 .293 .355 .474 .829
 1970   32  636  137  205   34    4   42  129   72   65 .322 .391 .586 .977
 1971   33  594   86  179   27    5   28   93   77   44 .301 .383 .505 .888

Ron Santo

Santo’s peak came rather early, at ages 24 through 27. My goodness, what a peak it was; through that four-year stretch Santo was almost as great as a third baseman can be. I’d take Mike Schmidt over Santo at his peak, and perhaps Eddie Mathews, but that’s about it, and that’s what you might call pretty swift company.

For what it’s worth, the Hall of Merit elected both Williams and Santo, the latter on the first ballot.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1960   20  347   44   87   24    2    9   44   31   44 .251 .311 .409  .720
 1961   21  578   84  164   32    6   23   83   73   77 .284 .362 .479  .841
 1962   22  604   44  137   20    4   17   83   65   94 .227 .302 .358  .660
 1963   23  637   87  194   30    6   28  109   48   85 .305 .354 .502  .856
 1964   24  599  104  192   35   13   33  126   99   89 .321 .417 .588 1.006
 1965   25  615   97  180   31    4   36  112  102  101 .293 .393 .534  .927
 1966   26  568  103  182   22    8   33  104  110   72 .320 .430 .562  .993
 1967   27  593  118  183   24    4   34  108  111   95 .309 .417 .536  .953
 1968   28  583   95  148   18    3   29  108  111   98 .253 .373 .442  .815
 1969   29  575   97  166   18    4   29  123   96   97 .289 .384 .485  .869
 1970   30  555   83  148   30    4   26  114   92  108 .267 .369 .476  .845
 1971   31  555   77  148   22    1   21   88   79   95 .267 .354 .423  .777
Rifleman right fielders

The skill profiles of these two are divergent in several important ways:

- Kaline burst into prominence as a star at age 20, and then never topped that performance, while Clemente struggled for several years before blossoming at age 25, and not peaking until his early 30s.
- Kaline exhibited more power, and was a very patient hitter who made reliable contact, while Clemente was extraordinary in the manner in which he didn’t manage the strike zone well at all (a very high proportion of his infrequent walks were intentional), yet still delivered a blistering batting average.
- Clemente was fairly durable, while Kaline was quite fragile.

But their similarities are uncanny:

- Both were born in 1934, four months apart.
- Kaline had zero minor league development, and Clemente very close to that.
- Both played their entire major league career with a single ballclub.
- Both were exceptional defensive right fielders, routinely racking up Gold Gloves, with high-caliber arms (especially Clemente’s) and sufficient range to handle center field when called upon.
- Both are regarded as godlike by fans of their own clubs, but in truth both were a shade below the best players of the era.

And their bottom-line performances are amazingly similar:

- Kaline’s career OPS+ was 134, Clemente’s 130.
- Kaline earned .156 Win Shares per game, Clemente .155.

Al Kaline

This exercise shines a spotlight on just how extraordinary Kaline’s walk-to-strikeout ratio was, especially for a hitter delivering his power.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1960   25  551   77  153   29    4   15   68   65   47 .278 .354 .426  .780
 1961   26  586  116  190   41    7   19   82   66   42 .324 .393 .515  .908
 1962   27  398   78  121   16    6   29   94   47   39 .304 .376 .593  .969
 1963   28  558   98  179   25    3   30  112   62   44 .321 .389 .537  .926
 1964   29  531   85  160   33    5   19   75   87   47 .301 .399 .488  .887
 1965   30  403   80  116   19    2   20   80   83   45 .289 .410 .493  .903
 1966   31  484   94  143   30    1   32   97   94   61 .296 .410 .561  .971
 1967   32  464  104  147   29    2   28   86   96   44 .316 .433 .567 1.000
 1968   33  331   54   98   15    1   11   59   64   36 .295 .409 .446  .855
 1969   34  456   74  124   17    0   21   69   54   61 .272 .346 .447  .793
 1970   35  467   64  130   24    4   16   71   77   49 .278 .377 .450  .827
 1971   36  405   69  119   19    2   15   54   82   57 .294 .416 .462  .878

Roberto Clemente

For a guy who seemed to be constantly suffering from some nagging injury or another, Clemente sure didn’t sit out many games.

Forbes Field unquestionably shaped Clemente’s statistical profile. In a neutral ballpark, he’d have hit more homers and fewer triples, and his batting average wouldn’t have been quite so high. But it wasn’t an extreme distortion; Clemente was genuinely an exquisite all-fields line-drive hitter with moderate power.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   25  570   89  179   22    6   16   94   39   72 .314 .357 .458 .815
 1961   26  572  100  201   30   10   23   89   35   59 .351 .390 .559 .949
 1962   27  538   95  168   28    9   10   74   35   73 .312 .352 .454 .806
 1963   28  608   85  200   24    8   19   84   36   59 .329 .366 .488 .853
 1964   29  630  105  219   42    7   13   96   59   81 .348 .404 .500 .904
 1965   30  597  101  202   22   14   11   72   50   72 .338 .389 .478 .867
 1966   31  646  116  210   33   11   32  132   53  101 .325 .376 .558 .935
 1967   32  593  114  217   27   10   25  122   47   95 .366 .413 .575 .988
 1968   33  508   82  152   19   12   20   63   59   71 .299 .372 .501 .873
 1969   34  507   87  175   20   12   19   91   56   73 .345 .411 .544 .955
 1970   35  412   65  145   22   10   14   60   38   66 .352 .407 .556 .963
 1971   36  522   82  178   29    8   13   86   26   65 .341 .370 .502 .872
Superstars

Willie McCovey

These adjusted stats would give McCovey a career home run total of 542, or 21 more than his actual. And during that six-year sustained peak from 1965 through 1970, his lowest OPS would be .955.

McCovey looked all wrong at the plate. He moved his back foot for no fathomable purpose, and his violent swing had an oddly awkward stiffness. But, ye gods, did that bizarre approach yield results.

He served up home runs in two distinct varieties: soaring rainmakers that climbed and climbed and climbed and looked as though they would never come down, and vicious shots that were beyond the fence with the crack of the bat. Once an interviewer asked McCovey about the assistance of Candlestick Park’s swirling winds on his home run output, and McCovey’s reply, delivered in his customary cheerful, patient Alabama drawl was classic: “I don’t need no wind. When I hit ‘em, they go out.”

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1960   22  260   37   62   15    3   13   51   45   53 .238 .349 .469  .818
 1961   23  328   59   89   12    3   18   50   37   60 .271 .350 .491  .841
 1962   24  229   41   67    6    1   20   54   29   35 .293 .368 .590  .958
 1963   25  570  114  164   20    5   48  113   58  110 .288 .353 .596  .949
 1964   26  367   61   83   15    1   20   60   70   68 .227 .351 .434  .785
 1965   27  546  103  155   18    4   43  102  102  109 .284 .396 .568  .964
 1966   28  508   94  154   27    6   40  106   88   93 .303 .406 .615 1.021
 1967   29  461   81  131   18    4   34  101   82  102 .284 .392 .563  .955
 1968   30  529   90  159   17    4   40  116   83   66 .301 .396 .573  .968
 1969   31  491  101  157   26    2   45  126  121   66 .320 .453 .656 1.109
 1970   32  495   98  143   39    2   39  126  137   75 .289 .444 .612 1.056
 1971   33  329   45   91   13    0   18   70   64   57 .277 .396 .480  .876

Harmon Killebrew

The Killer “lost” 23 home runs to the Big Zone; his adjusted career total would be 596.

In this exercise he puts together back-to-back 50+ homer seasons in 1963-64; he would have been just the second player in history to accomplish that. The first was Babe Ruth (who did it twice).

Another interesting aspect of this exercise on Killebrew is the manner it which it reveals his adjusted 1967 stat line and his actual 1969 stat line as uncannily alike, straddling his injury-marred 1968.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1960   24  442   84  122   19    1   31   80   71  106 .276 .375 .534  .909
 1961   25  541   94  156   20    7   46  122  107  109 .288 .405 .606 1.011
 1962   26  552   85  134   21    1   48  126  106  142 .243 .366 .545  .911
 1963   27  520   97  138   19    0   50  106   83   97 .266 .367 .588  .955
 1964   28  583  105  162   12    1   54  123  107  125 .278 .390 .579  .970
 1965   29  405   86  112   17    1   28   83   83   64 .277 .400 .527  .928
 1966   30  575   98  166   28    1   43  122  119   91 .289 .411 .566  .977
 1967   31  553  116  153   25    1   48  125  151  103 .277 .432 .589 1.021
 1968   32  297   44   64    7    2   19   44   81   65 .217 .384 .444  .828
 1969   33  555  106  153   20    2   49  140  145   84 .276 .427 .584 1.011
 1970   34  527   96  143   20    1   41  113  128   84 .271 .411 .546  .957
 1971   35  500   61  127   19    1   28  119  114   96 .254 .386 .464  .850

Carl Yastrzemski

The story is well-known of Yaz’s 1966-67 weightlifting regimen that transformed his doubles power into home run power. What seems to be less well-remembered is just what kind of doubles power Yastrzemski had been demonstrating: yowza, was he a wicked line-drive hitter.

He would be unable to sustain the new-found megapower, but in the 1967 and 1970 seasons, at least, Yaz was an astoundingly great player.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1961   21  583   71  155   31    6   11   80   50   96 .266 .324 .396  .720
 1962   22  646   99  191   43    6   19   94   66   82 .296 .363 .469  .832
 1963   23  577  101  190   42    3   15   75  110   67 .330 .437 .493  .930
 1964   24  573   85  170   30    9   17   74   87   83 .297 .389 .469  .858
 1965   25  500   86  160   47    3   22   80   81   54 .320 .415 .559  .974
 1966   26  601   90  172   41    2   18   88   97   56 .286 .385 .449  .834
 1967   27  586  124  196   33    4   48  134  105   64 .335 .436 .652 1.088
 1968   28  545  100  168   34    2   25   82  137   83 .309 .448 .517  .965
 1969   29  603   96  154   28    2   40  111  101   91 .255 .362 .507  .869
 1970   30  566  125  186   29    0   40  102  128   66 .329 .452 .592 1.044
 1971   31  508   75  129   21    2   15   70  106   60 .254 .381 .392  .773
The inner circle

Mickey Mantle

The Mick’s steady breakdown over the decade of the 1960s seemed even more severe than it was due to the influence of the Big Zone, but it was genuinely severe. Yet it’s a measure of how stratospheric Mantle’s peak had been that even though he lost all his speed and a great deal of both his power and his capacity to hit for average, he remained a highly productive offensive player to the very end. Most of that productivity in his final years was rooted in his exceptional strike zone judgment, the one element of his game Mantle never lost at all.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1960   28  527  119  145   17    6   40   94  111  125 .275 .399 .558  .957
 1961   29  514  132  163   16    6   54  128  126  112 .317 .448 .687 1.135
 1962   30  377   96  121   15    1   30   89  122   78 .321 .486 .605 1.091
 1963   31  174   44   56    8    0   17   39   46   30 .322 .464 .655 1.120
 1964   32  471  102  147   26    2   39  123  114   95 .311 .446 .622 1.068
 1965   33  365   49   96   13    1   21   51   84   70 .262 .401 .475  .875
 1966   34  337   44  100   13    1   25   62   66   70 .296 .411 .566  .977
 1967   35  444   70  112   18    0   24   61  124  105 .253 .415 .457  .872
 1968   36  439   63  107   15    1   20   60  122   90 .244 .409 .417  .826

Frank Robinson

Cincinnati owner/GM Bill DeWitt’s decision to trade Robinson following the 1965 was based on DeWitt’s judgment that Robinson was “an old 29,” beginning to decline. And looking purely at the raw stats, such a conclusion wasn’t irrational: Robinson had endured an injury-nagged off-year in 1963, and neither his 1964 nor ’65 performances, while marvelous, were in the same realm as the stupendous heights he’d scaled in 1961 and ’62.

But alas DeWitt would have been well-advised to take into consideration the post-1962 change in league scoring context.

Thresholds have a profound influence on the way all of us interpret data; we make good use of them as organizing and clarifying tools. Looking only at Robinson’s raw stats, in 1964 he fell short of the thresholds of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, and in 1965 he fell short of the threshold of a .300 average, while also reaching, for the first time, the threshold of 100 strikeouts. Those signals made Robinson’s stat lines from those seasons stand out as declining. But viewed in the form we see here, Robinson’s 1964 and ’65 seasons meet all the positive thresholds, and miss the negative one, and thus look like just two more great years.

Certainly no one could have been expected to foresee Robinson’s towering 1966 performance. But even if he’d just continued to produce at 1964-65 rates, he’d have remained a major star.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1960   24  464   86  138   33    6   31   83   82   67 .297 .407 .595 1.002
 1961   25  545  117  176   32    7   37  124   71   64 .323 .404 .611 1.015
 1962   26  609  134  208   51    2   39  136   76   62 .342 .421 .624 1.045
 1963   27  487   87  130   20    3   23  101   94   64 .267 .385 .463  .848
 1964   28  575  114  181   40    6   32  106   91   62 .315 .409 .572  .981
 1965   29  589  121  179   35    5   36  125   81   93 .304 .388 .565  .953
 1966   30  583  135  189   36    2   54  135  100   83 .324 .424 .670 1.094
 1967   31  485   92  155   24    7   33  104   82   78 .319 .418 .603 1.021
 1968   32  425   76  117   28    1   17   58   84   78 .276 .396 .464  .860
 1969   33  539  111  166   19    5   32  100   88   62 .308 .415 .540  .955
 1970   34  471   88  144   24    1   25   78   69   70 .306 .398 .520  .918
 1971   35  455   82  128   16    2   28   99   72   62 .281 .384 .510  .894

Hank Aaron

Bad Henry’s consistency and durability seem beyond the limits of mortal capability. Frank Robinson, great as he was, got hurt or had a minor slump once in a while, but those were concepts unknown to Aaron.

Okay, okay, here’s something: his 1964 season is the closest thing one can find to an anomaly in Aaron’s record. Both his strikeout rate and his home run rate were noticeably down that year, while his batting average was among his best. I’ve never found confirmation for it (though to be honest I’ve never looked very hard), but I’ve always suspected that for much or all of 1964 Aaron was dealing with some sort of nagging injury that inhibited his ability to drive the ball (perhaps a sore wrist), and he adapted by becoming a bit more contact-oriented. If so, all that does is illustrate what an amazing hitter Aaron was.

Or, it may be nothing more than a slight fluke, as his numbers that year weren’t all that far out of line with those he put up with machinelike regularity.

How about this for consistency and durability: in the 15 seasons from 1955 through 1969, Aaron’s age-21 through age-35 seasons, his worst year was probably 1966—a year in which Aaron tied his career best in homers, led the majors in RBIs, stole 21 bases in 24 attempts, had an OPS+ of 142, and earned 27 Win Shares.

This exercise yields a career home run total of 775 for Aaron, and still without the benefit of a solitary 50-homer season.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1960   26  590  102  172   20   11   40  126   60   63 .292 .352 .566  .918
 1961   27  603  115  197   39   10   34  120   56   64 .327 .381 .594  .975
 1962   28  592  127  191   28    6   45  128   66   73 .323 .390 .618 1.008
 1963   29  639  134  209   30    4   48  144   90   87 .327 .410 .615 1.025
 1964   30  577  114  194   31    2   26  105   72   43 .337 .410 .536  .946
 1965   31  577  121  188   42    1   35   98   69   75 .326 .398 .586  .984
 1966   32  610  129  175   24    1   48  140   88   89 .286 .376 .568  .944
 1967   33  607  125  191   39    3   43  121   73   90 .315 .388 .601  .990
 1968   34  613   93  181   35    4   32   95   74   57 .295 .371 .521  .892
 1969   35  547  100  164   30    3   44   97   87   47 .300 .396 .607 1.003
 1970   36  516  103  154   26    1   38  118   74   63 .298 .385 .574  .959
 1971   37  495   95  162   22    3   47  118   71   58 .327 .410 .669 1.079

Willie Mays

He was just a hair below Aaron’s astonishing standard of consistency and durability, but Say Hey …

In the 13 seasons from 1954 through 1966, Mays’s age-23 through age-35 seasons, his worst year was 1956—a year in which Mays was seventh in the majors in slugging, was third in the league in total bases, stole 40 bases in 50 attempts, had an OPS+ of 146, and earned 27 Win Shares.

Had the Big Zone not interfered:

- In 1961-66 Mays would have put together six consecutive 40-plus-home run seasons, becoming the first National Leaguer to do so, and nearly matching Ruth’s major league record of seven.
- In 1964-65 Mays would have followed up Harmon Killebrew’s 1963-64 back-to-back 50-plus-homer seasons with a set of his own, becoming the first National Leaguer to do so (the next would be Mark McGwire in the 1990s).
- Killebrew and Mays both exceeding 50 big flies in 1964 would mark the first time in history that had been simultaneously achieved in both leagues, a circumstance not to be repeated until 1998.
- In 1965 Mays would have set a new National League record with 57 home runs.
- Mays would become just the second player in history (the first was Ruth) to achieve three 50-plus-homer seasons.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1960   29  595  107  190   29   12   29  103   61   70 .319 .381 .555  .936
 1961   30  572  129  176   32    3   40  123   81   77 .308 .393 .584  .977
 1962   31  621  130  189   36    5   49  141   78   85 .304 .384 .615  .999
 1963   32  603  127  194   34    7   42  114   76   77 .322 .398 .610 1.008
 1964   33  585  134  178   22    9   52  123   95   67 .304 .401 .639 1.040
 1965   34  565  130  184   22    3   57  124   88   66 .326 .416 .680 1.096
 1966   35  558  109  165   30    4   41  114   81   75 .296 .385 .584  .969
 1967   36  491   92  133   23    2   24   77   59   85 .271 .349 .474  .823
 1968   37  504   93  150   21    5   25   87   77   75 .297 .391 .510  .901
 1969   38  403   64  114   17    3   13   58   49   71 .283 .362 .437  .799
 1970   39  478   94  139   15    2   28   83   79   90 .291 .390 .506  .896
 1971   40  417   82  113   24    5   18   61  112  123 .271 .425 .482  .907

References & Resources
Some notes on methodology:

The precise percentage differences derived between MLB 1963-68 and 1960-62/69-71 averages:

Runs: 10.5873%
Hits: 3.9586%
Doubles: 4.958%
Triples: 1.726%
Home Runs: 10.2001%
Walks: 15.4743%
Strikeouts: -7.883% (yielding a multiplier of 0.92693)

The % change in triples is too small to show up in any individual player season. I think this makes intuitive sense: in a higher-scoring 1963-68 era, there certainly would have been more opportunities to stretch doubles into triples, but correspondingly, less incentive to take the risk.

An impact of a greater rate of hits is an increase in at-bats. I used a simple method to increase at-bats: every batter’s at-bats are increased by his number of increased hits. Outs are constant, of course, and I assume as well a constant rate of double plays and baserunning outs – probably not exactly proper assumptions, but close enough for our purposes. What the increase in both hits and at-bats for batters yields is generally about an 8-point increase in batting average in the .240-to-.300 range – that is, a .270 hitter usually emerges as a .278 hitter.

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