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Baseball Analysis  Michael Hoban, Ph.D

Derek Jeter and the Gold Glove
Can ARod Catch Honus?

The Win Shares System

Baseball’s Best Hitters of the Past Decade


Adapted from Fielder’s Choice: Baseball’s 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 player’s 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 player’s 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 Fielder’s Choice: Baseball’s Best Shortstops.  Dr. Michael Hoban points out that OPS simply does not go far enough.  It ignores the third important dimension of hitting – a player’s 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.  Isn’t 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, baseball’s 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 Fielder’s 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 team’s 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 Fielder’s Choice, here are the most proficient career hitters in baseball history (all data from


                                                           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 player’s ten best seasons – his peak years.  .01(RC) represents 1% of the player’s career runs created – his longevity factor.  So, the CPT (career proficiency total) is a combination of the player’s 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

12. Eddie Murray                        281                                        20                            301

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 Best Active Hitters – Five best Seasons


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

4. Frank Thomas                        338                                    9. Vladimir Guerrero                      320

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     

12. Gary Sheffield                        318                                    22. Mo Vaughn             297

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           

16. Jim Thome              310                              26. Bernie Williams             288

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.


It should be noted that this list is limited to those active players who have had five seasons in which they had 100 or more runs created.  A player like Jeff Kent (who has a five-year average of 283) is not included because he has had only four seasons of 100 or more runs created (all numbers from



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). 

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