Michael Hoban, Ph.D
and the Gold Glove
Can ARod Catch Honus?
The Win Shares System
Baseballs Best Hitters of the Past Decade
Adapted from Fielders Choice: Baseballs Best Shortstops (Baseball Concepts:2003)
by Michael Hoban, Ph.D.
On-base percentage (OBP) is receiving an ever-growing acceptance among serious followers of baseball as an important part of judging good hitting. This is partly due to the conviction that batting average (BA) does not tell us very much about a players ability to hit. And a growing number of close followers of the game realize that combining OBP with slugging average (SLG) gives a still better idea of a players overall hitting ability. OPS is the name given to the metric that results from adding OBP with SLG.
There is no question that OPS (which is essentially a two-dimensional look at hitting) gives a better picture of hitting than any of the one-dimensional statistics mentioned above.
But why stop with just a two-dimensional metric? It is possible to take the next logical step and combine OPS with the third essential aspect of hitting (total production) to give an even more inclusive idea of who were the best hitters.
This is exactly what a mathematics professor has done in the book Fielders Choice: Baseballs Best Shortstops. Dr. Michael Hoban points out that OPS simply does not go far enough. It ignores the third important dimension of hitting a players total run production which, of course, is dependent on his playing time. He notes that OPS is essentially a rate statistic and does not take playing time into account. So, a player who plays in only 80 games in a season can have a better OPS than a player who plays in 160 games but this does not mean that the first player was a better hitter for the season than the second.
Here are two examples to consider.
During the 2002 season, Manny Ramirez had the third best OPS in the majors with 1.097 while Vladimir Guerrero was eighth with 1.010. But Manny played in only 120 games while Vlad played in 161. Isnt it possible that Guerrero was a better hitter in 2002 than Ramirez? Of course, depending on how you define better hitter.
In the 2000 season, Mark McGwire had the best OPS in baseball (1.229). However, McGwire played in only 89 games that season and was by no means a better hitter for the season than Frank Thomas who had an OPS of 1.061 but played in 159 games. After all, the better hitter is the one who contributes more to his team with his bat.
So, Hoban says that the question becomes - Why not take the next step? Why not add the third dimension to OPS and come up with a more inclusive metric? The professor indicates that what is needed is to combine OPS with another valid measure that includes the other dimension of hitting (total batting production) and takes playing time into account. This other measure is Runs Created (RC) a creation of Bill James, baseballs leading analytical guru. Even the simplest RC formula is a decent approximation of the number of runs that a player helped to create for his team and, as such, is one of the most valuable pieces of information about how good an offensive season a player really had.
So, for example, Manny Ramirez had a higher OPS than Vladimir Guerrero in 2002. But Guerrero (because of his playing time) had 154 runs created compared to 124 for Ramirez. This certainly seems to suggest that Guerrero was the better hitter in 2002.
And Mark McGwire in 2000 only had 83 runs created (because he played in so few games) while Frank Thomas had 158 runs created. Would anyone say that McGwire had a better hitting season than Thomas?
In Fielders Choice, Dr. Hoban introduces a new metric called batting proficiency (BP). In it, he combines OPS and Runs Created in a balanced manner and then translates the outcome into a batting-average-type number so that fans might identify with it more easily. Therefore, a BP for a season of 300 means that the player had a very good offensive season while 400 is extremely difficult to attain (only ten players in history have ever had a 400 season).
And, using BP, we can say that Vladimir Guerrero batted 344 in 2002 compared to Manny Ramirez 321. So, Guerrero was the more proficient batter in 2002. And, in 2000, Frank Thomas was the more proficient batter with a BP of 337 compared to 288 for Mark McGwire.
Batting proficiency combines the three most important dimensions of hitting:
1. the ability to get on base,
2. the ability to hit with power, and
3. the ability to contribute to the teams run production
and then translates the outcome into a number that the average fan is familiar with. In addition, BP is adjusted for season and for league.
RC (batting production) + OPS (batting efficiency) = BP (batting proficiency)
In this age of more sophisticated baseball measures, BP is still a relatively simple concept and supplies the best answer to what a fan really wants to know when he/she asks: Who was the best hitter during the past season? Batting proficiency tells us which player helped his team the most during the season with his bat.
By combining the three dimensions of hitting: on-base percentage (OBP), slugging average (SLG) and runs created (RC), batting proficiency (BP) comes up with a new number which reflects offensive production for the season in a more complete way (including playing time).
According to Fielders Choice, here are the most proficient career hitters in baseball history (all data from baseball-reference.com).
BPR .01(RC) CPT
1. Babe Ruth 427 27 454
2. Ted Williams 387 23 410
3. Lou Gehrig 385 23 408
4. Rogers Hornsby 371 20 391
5. Stan Musial 364 26 390
6. Barry Bonds 364 21 385
7. Jimmie Foxx 363 21 384
8. Ty Cobb 357 25 382
9. Willie Mays 343 23 366
10. Hank Aaron 339 26 365
11. Mickey Mantle 341 19 360
12. Tris Speaker 337 22 359
13. Frank Robinson 325 21 346
14. Mel Ott 323 21 344
15. Honus Wagner 325 19 344
BPR (batting proficiency rating) is the average of the players ten best seasons his peak years. .01(RC) represents 1% of the players career runs created his longevity factor. So, the CPT (career proficiency total) is a combination of the players peak performance and his career batting achievements.
As you can see, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams are the most proficient hitters in history. And, at the end of the 2002 season, Barry Bonds was the sixth best career hitter with a chance to move even higher.
The Best Hitters of the Past Decade
Here are the most proficient hitters in baseball over the past decade based on their ten best seasons and 1% of their career runs created. In order to be on this list, a player had to have played at least ten seasons between 1988 and 2002.
BPR .01RC CPT
1. Barry Bonds 364 21 385
2. Frank Thomas 316 15 331
3. Jeff Bagwell 313 15 328
4. Mark McGwire 309 14 323
5. Larry Walker 303 13 316
6. Ken Griffey Jr. 298 15 313
7. Rafael Palmeiro 293 17 310
8. Wade Boggs 291 17 308
9. Edgar Martinez 294 14 308
10. Sammy Sosa 294 13 307
11. Fred McGriff 289 16 305
13. Mike Piazza 289 11 300
14. Albert Belle 286 12 298
15. Gary Sheffield 284 13 297
16. Tony Gwynn 279 17 296
17. Paul Molitor 274 18 292
18. Andres Galarraga 275 13 288
19. Juan Gonzalez 268 12 280
These nineteen players are the only ones who had a CPT of 280 or better at the end of 2002. Here are some examples of other good contemporary players who have not reached the 280 level.
Mark Grace 264 14 278
Rickey Henderson 260 18 278
Cal Ripken Jr 260 18 278
Bernie Williams 265 12 277
John Olerud 264 12 276
Roberto Alomar 259 14 273
The top five players on the list: Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire and Larry Walker are in very elite company. Only 37 players in baseball history have a BPR (batting proficiency rating) of 300 and these five players are among them.
The next eight players: Ken Griffey Jr., Rafael Palmeiro, Wade Boggs, Edgar Martinez, Sammy Sosa, Fred McGriff, Eddie Murray and Mike Piazza are also in special company. Only 60 players have ever achieved a CPT (career proficiency total) of 300 and these eight are among those.
The list above requires a player to have played at least ten seasons in order to calculate his CPT. What would happen if we required a player to have played only five seasons? Only players who had five seasons with at least 100 runs created and who were still active in 2003 are included here. This first list gives the top ten active hitters based on their five best seasons. You will note that when the number of seasons is reduced to five, players such as Todd Helton, Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero and Jason Giambi appear among the best hitters playing today.
1. Barry Bonds 401 6. Todd Helton 336
2. Sammy Sosa 347 7. Chipper Jones 322
3. Larry Walker 344 8. Alex Rodriguez 322
5. Jeff Bagwell 336 10. Jason Giambi 319
This next list shows the other active players who have a five-year-average BP of at least 280.
11. Manny Ramirez 319 21. Juan Gonzalez 298
13. Edgar Martinez 315 23. John Olerud 295
14. Ken Griffey Jr. 314 24. Bobby Abreu 294
15. Mike Piazza 310 25. Nomar Garciaparra 292
17. Andres Galarraga 306 27. Shawn Green 283
18. Rafael Palmeiro 305 28. Roberto Alomar 282
19. Carlos Delgado 301 29. Tim Salmon 281
20. Fred McGriff 299 30. Jim Edmonds 280
These thirty players are arguably the best hitters playing today of those who have completed five full seasons in the major leagues.
Michael Hoban, Ph.D is Professor Emeritus of mathematics at the City University of N.Y. He has been an avid baseball fan for over 60 years and has become a serious baseball analyst for the past 10. He is the author of two baseball books: BASEBALL'S COMPLETE PLAYERS (McFarland: 2000) and FIELDER'S CHOICE (Booklocker: 2003).