Compared to What?

My brother-in-law sent me an e-mail about Ted Williams and how ESPN had come up with some “bogus” number to prove that he wasn’t as good as Ruth. I love Ted Williams. How could I not? He played for my favorite team. He was the guy my idol “Yaz” replaced in left field. And he was one of the greatest baseball players ever!

But there is some feeling that Williams is the greatest hitter ever–especially in the wake of his passing. “Ruth didn’t face the same competition.” “Williams missed his five best years for the war.” “Williams hit .400 and Ruth didn’t.” The list goes on.

Of course, that got me started, and I had to compare numbers on and

I’ve been toying with player ranking stats for years. I’ve read all the books by Bill James, and I can almost calculate all the permutations of his Runs Created formula. For a complete discussion on the RC formula…and some insight into how insane I am (because I like this stuff)…see Deciphering the New Runs Created. You’ll run away screaming in no time.

Anyway, I looked at several of the different offensive stats to remind me of how the Ruth vs. Williams debate stacks up.

Right off the bat (ahem), I will let you know that I think Ruth is the greatest baseball player ever. Williams didn’t pitch. Ruth was a 20-game winner twice. His 1916 ERA was 1.75 (23 – 12, with 170 K’s).

Plus, he so dominated his era that no other player could keep up. For example, in 1920, Ruth had 54 home runs. That’s more than the teams of St. Louis, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, Cleveland, Detroit or Boston had.

Here are the comparisons, plus some notes on how today’s players are doing in climbing up the charts.

Batting Average: Williams (.344), Ruth (.342)
In spite of being the last man to hit .400, Williams lags behind Ty Cobb (.366) and several other pre-1940 hitters. Modern players you think of as high-BA hitters, like Gwynn (.338), Carew (.328) and Boggs (.328), aren’t even close. The number one active player is Mike Piazza (.325).

On-base Pct: Williams (.482), Ruth (.474)
Williams and Ruth lead the pack here. Bonds beating Ruth’s walk record is nothing to sneeze at. There’s a reason good hitters are good…they wait for the right pitch to hit. The number one active player is Frank Thomas (.438).

Slugging Pct: Ruth (.690), Williams (.634)
Damn! .690!! It’s insane. (Williams is number 2, by the way.) McGwire’s slugging is only .588, for crying out loud.

In fact, to slug above .600 for a career is quite a feat. Only five players have done it: Ruth, Williams, Gehrig (.632), Foxx (.609), and Greenberg (.605).

The number one active player is Manny Ramirez (.594).

OPS: Ruth (1.1636), Williams (1.1155)
I like OPS. As long as someone figures out On-base and Slugging ahead of time, you just add the two together. It’s not 100% accurate, but it’s a pretty good measure of hitting performance–how often you get on base times how many bases you get per at-bat.

Only nine players have career OPS above 1: Ruth, Williams, Gehrig (1.0798), Foxx (1.0376), Greenberg (1.0169), Thomas (1.0153), Hornsby (1.0103), Bonds (1.0034), and Ramirez (1.0002). Of course, Thomas, Bonds and Ramirez are still active and could screw it up.

In Adjusted OPS (adjusted to show the player relative to the league and to adjust for park factors), it’s Ruth (207) – Williams (190), and the closest competitor is Gehrig (179).

Runs Created per 27 Outs: Ruth (11.92), Williams (11.47)
Again, this is a tough group to join. Only five players have RC/27 over 10: Ruth, Williams, Dan Brouthers (10.83), Billy Hamilton (10.62), and Gehrig (10.39). The number one active player is Thomas (8.91).

Offensive Winning Pct: Ruth (.865), Williams (.849)
Only nine players over .800: Ruth, Williams, Mantle (.822), Hornsby (.822), Joe Jackson (.818), Cobb (.818), Gehrig (.816), Bonds (.809) and Thomas (.808).

I suppose I could go on with more obscure stats, but it’s pretty clear that Babe Ruth is the greatest player and the greatest hitter ever. But nobody else came as close as Ted Williams.

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5 Responses to Compared to What?

  1. Ejen says:

    Solonor, I agree with most of your thoughts, and I do idiolize the splinter myself. However there is one factor that makes the modern player such as Bonds seem better than what you’d think. Most of the players in the 40’s and before never played night games, never faced professional relief pitchers and true closers, and God forbid they play against Africian American players. I guess it was easy to hit for average and get on base when starters tired but were forced to finish games back in the Good Ole days eh? Just a thought!

  2. Solonor says:

    Comparing players across decades is dicey at best. There are so many different factors, including the ones you mentioned. The best you can do is make the assumption that if Player A is X times better than players in his own time, he will be the same factor better than players in a different time. (This is totally bogus, but it’s a neat comparison.)

    So, for example, find out how many home runs Bonds hit compared to his league (percentage), find the league average for Ruth’s time, and move Bonds in with that same percentage. I know these stats are around someplace. I’ll look them up.

  3. Ejen says:

    Hey Solonor, I don’t have the book in front of me but didn’t Bonds break the all time OBP last year?

  4. Solonor says:

    Nope. He broke the single season home run, walk, and slugging pct. records. He’s not that high (relatively speaking) on the career list for slugging pct. Of course, he’s only behind Aaron, Ruth and Mays in homers!

  5. Ejen says:

    Of course there are other factors as well such as when Ty Cobb played. I believe they called it the dead ball era or something. I know some of the ballparks he played in had dimensions of 550′ to center. The old Yankee standium dimensions my father used to tell me were like death valley. I think they used to have statues in center field didn’t they??

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