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Best Sluggers of All Time

by Alfredo Nasiff Fors

The barrage of Home runs this MLB season resulted in a stratospheric number of broken records. Each year has its own peculiarities, though not as remarkable as this 2019 when even the MLB Commissioner’s Office was prompted to admit that some changes were made to the ball. If we look at the HR/AB mean per season, we would see the differences from one year to another that, independently of the many causes, must be taken into consideration by statisticians when drawing comparisons among sluggers from different decades.

Source: Lahman database in R (for all graphs)

The trend indicates that nowadays, it is easier to hit Home runs than at the beginning of MLB history. We can speculate that if Babe Ruth would have played in modern times, the total of his Home runs would have been higher, but we certainly will never know that. Nevertheless, comparisons can be made among players from different times, weighing in their performances against the rest of the players of each Season played, meaning dividing the individual performance against the Season mean of the parameter we are studying.

The purpose of this paper is to make the comparison of the greatest Home run sluggers of all times against the mean of each season played by them.

We begin by presenting the case of Babe Ruth as an example. The following graph shows HR/AB by year with three lines drawn, one represents Babe Ruth’s index, another one represents the mean of the Season and the last one the Rate, which is [Babe Ruth (HR/AB)]/ [Season (HR/AB)]. In 1920 Babe Ruth HR/AB index was 0.118; the Season mean was 0.007; therefore, he had a frequency of HR/AB 15.8 times above average (the Rate).

Adding up the Rate index accumulated by Babe Ruth along his entire career will make a total of 157.2 times above Seasons mean:

How does this compare with the other players listed among the top HR sluggers, the following table shows it in descending order by number of HR:

  Name Years AB HR (HR/AB) / Season(HR/AB)
1 Barry Bonds 1986-2007 9847 762 61.2
2 Hank Aaron 1954-1976 12364 755 59.3
3 Babe Ruth 1914-1935 8398 714 157.2
4 Alex Rodriguez 1994-2016 10566 696 43
5 Willie Mays 1951-1973 10881 660 51.7
6 Albert Pujols 2001-2018 10196 633 36.6
7 Ken Griffey 1989-2010 9801 630 46.7
8 Jim Thome 1991-2012 8422 612 51.5
9 Sammy Sosa 1989-2007 8813 609 39.4
10 Frank Robinson 1956-1976 10006 586 53.9
11 Mark McGwire 1986-2001 6187 583 57.4
12 Harmon Killebrew 1954-1975 8147 573 54.5
13 Rafael Palmeiro 1986-2005 10472 569 36.8
14 Reggie Jackson 1967-1987 9864 563 51.3
15 Manny Ramirez 1993-2011 8244 555 41.2
16 Mike Schmidt 1972-1989 8352 548 50.2
17 David Ortiz 1997-2016 8640 541 37.4
18 Mickey Mantle 1951-1968 8102 536 47.8
19 Jimmie Foxx 1925-1945 8134 534 71.5
21 Frank Thomas 1990-2008 8199 521 43.1
22 Ted Williams 1939-1960 7706 521 67.4
20 Willie McCovey 1959-1980 8197 521 56.9
24 Eddie Mathews 1952-1968 8537 512 43.4
23 Ernie Banks 1953-1971 9421 512 40.7
25 Mel Ott 1926-1947 9456 511 70.4
26 Gary Sheffield 1988-2009 9217 509 42.8
27 Eddie Murray 1977-1997 11336 504 39.4
29 Fred McGriff 1986-2004 8757 493 41
28 Lou Gehrig 1923-1939 8001 493 63.7
30 Adrian Beltre 1998-2018 11068 477 29.1
31 Stan Musial 1941-1963 10972 475 43.2
32 Willie Stargell 1962-1982 7927 475 50.5
33 Carlos Delgado 1993-2009 7283 473 31.9
34 Chipper Jones 1993-2012 8984 468 30
36 Dave Winfield 1973-1995 11003 465 39.5
35 Miguel Cabrera 2003-2018 8456 465 28
38 Adam Dunn 2001-2014 6883 462 34.7
37 Jose Canseco 1985-2001 7057 462 44.5
39 Carl Yastrzemski 1961-1983 11988 452 38
40 Jeff Bagwell 1991-2005 7797 449 28.1
41 Vladimir Guerrero 1996-2011 8155 449 27.4
42 Dave Kingman 1971-1986 6677 442 58.6
up to 2018

At first glance, one thought jumps out from the table: Babe Ruth “(HR/AB) / Season (HR/AB)” more than double the next player in the list.

If we look carefully, will see that in recent years it is tougher for players to excel above the mean, note that the only two active players on the list are doing very badly in the Index, which can be explained by the rise in the mean as seen in the first chart, or in simple words, it is harder to be the leader when everybody else hit a lot of Homeruns. This trend has multifactorial causes, among them it will be explored the hypothesis that these days players hit more Home runs thanks to the rise in competitiveness due to the fact that the selection process is made from a larger number of players, Teams, Leagues, training camps, and international contracts, and the advancements made in the technology applied to enhance performance, which plays a major role in nutrition, fitness, statistics, etc.

Could factors such as competitiveness and enhanced performance be measured? The proposition is to use the weight and height of the players as an expression of how those factors have improved their physical traits and therefore quantify how has this affected the mean of HR per Season.

The “Strength” of players will be then, the addition of both their height (in inches) and weight (in lbs.), reasoning that the taller and corpulent the player the farther will go his connections. Plotting the mean of each season, the graph looks like this:

It is effectively seen that in recent times, the players are stronger, therefore making it harder for power hitters to excel above the mean. In 1920 the Strength mean was 243.2 while Babe’s Strength was 289, taking over 45 points of advantage. In 2011, the year Mike Trout debuted with a Strength of 309, the mean topped the all-time list with 285, a meager 24 points below.

Recalculating the “Times_HRperAB_over_SeasonMean” Rate dividing it by the “Times_Strength_over_SeasonMean” resulting in “Times HRRate_vs_StrengthRate”, shows the difference in “Diff_HRperAB_vs_Strength”:

  Name Years AB HR Strength Times_HRperAB_

over_SeasonMean

Times_Strength_over

_SeasonMean

Times_HRRate_

vs_StrengthRate

Diff_HRperAB

_vs_Strength

1 Barry Bonds 1986-2007 9847 762 258 61.2 21.4 63.3 2.1
2 Hank Aaron 1954-1976 12364 755 252 59.3 22.5 60.7 1.4
3 Babe Ruth 1914-1935 8398 714 289 157.2 25.9 133.2 -24
4 Alex Rodriguez 1994-2016 10566 696 305 43 24.4 38.8 -4.2
5 Willie Mays 1951-1973 10881 660 240 51.7 21.4 55.5 3.8
6 Albert Pujols 2001-2018 10196 633 315 36.6 20.3 32.5 -4.1
7 Ken Griffey 1989-2010 9801 630 270 46.7 23 46.4 -0.3
8 Jim Thome 1991-2012 8422 612 326 51.5 29.9 43.2 -8.3
9 Sammy Sosa 1989-2007 8813 609 237 39.4 16.9 44.4 5
10 Frank Robinson 1956-1976 10006 586 256 53.9 21.9 54.2 0.3
11 Mark McGwire 1986-2001 6187 583 292 57.4 18.9 51.7 -5.7
12 Harmon Killebrew 1954-1975 8147 573 267 54.5 22.8 52.6 -1.9
13 Rafael Palmeiro 1986-2005 10472 569 252 36.8 19.1 38.7 1.9
14 Reggie Jackson 1967-1987 9864 563 267 51.3 21.8 49.5 -1.8
15 Manny Ramirez 1993-2011 8244 555 297 41.2 22.9 37.7 -3.5
16 Mike Schmidt 1972-1989 8352 548 269 50.2 18.8 48.1 -2.1
17 David Ortiz 1997-2016 8640 541 305 37.4 22 34.2 -3.2
18 Mickey Mantle 1951-1968 8102 536 266 47.8 18.6 46.3 -1.5
19 Jimmie Foxx 1925-1945 8134 534 267 71.5 22.4 67.1 -4.4
20 Willie McCovey 1959-1980 8197 521 274 56.9 24.4 53.6 -3.3
21 Frank Thomas 1990-2008 8199 521 317 43.1 23.6 36.5 -6.6
22 Ted Williams 1939-1960 7706 521 280 67.4 20.8 61.6 -5.8
23 Ernie Banks 1953-1971 9421 512 253 40.7 18.6 41.4 0.7
24 Eddie Mathews 1952-1968 8537 512 263 43.4 18.4 42.5 -0.9
25 Mel Ott 1926-1947 9456 511 239 70.4 21 73.9 3.5
26 Gary Sheffield 1988-2009 9217 509 261 42.8 23.4 43.8 1
27 Eddie Murray 1977-1997 11336 504 264 39.4 23.4 38.6 -0.8
28 Lou Gehrig 1923-1939 8001 493 272 63.7 18.6 58.1 -5.6
29 Fred McGriff 1986-2004 8757 493 275 41 21.9 39.2 -1.8
30 Adrian Beltre 1998-2018 11068 477 291 29.1 22 27.9 -1.2
31 Stan Musial 1941-1963 10972 475 247 43.2 21.2 44.8 1.6
32 Willie Stargell 1962-1982 7927 475 262 50.5 21.4 49.7 -0.8
33 Carlos Delgado 1993-2009 7283 473 290 31.9 18.2 29.8 -2.1
34 Chipper Jones 1993-2012 8984 468 286 30 19.9 28.6 -1.4
35 Miguel Cabrera 2003-2018 8456 465 325 28 18.5 24.3 -3.7
36 Dave Winfield 1973-1995 11003 465 298 39.5 26.5 34.3 -5.2
37 Jose Canseco 1985-2001 7057 462 316 44.5 22.9 36.9 -7.6
38 Adam Dunn 2001-2014 6883 462 363 34.7 20.8 26.8 -7.9
39 Carl Yastrzemski 1961-1983 11988 452 246 38 22 39.8 1.8
40 Jeff Bagwell 1991-2005 7797 449 267 28.1 15 28 -0.1
41 Vladimir Guerrero 1996-2011 8155 449 310 27.4 18.1 24.1 -3.3
42 Dave Kingman 1971-1986 6677 442 288 58.6 21.3 52.4 -6.2

The largest differences were accounted by Babe Ruth (-24) who still almost double his closest tracker (Mel Ott, who displaced Jimmie Foxx of the second place thanks to his low 239 Strength) and Sammy Sosa (+5). So, the physical traits of Babe Ruth (74 in + 215 lbs = 289) impacted negatively in his “Times HR/AB over Season mean”, as the other players of his time were in physical disadvantage with him, looking like kids playing around with a Pro.

Corollary

Babe Ruth, despite this later skirmish using the Strength statistic, seems to be once again, immovable as the Greatest Player of All-Time.

Big names show up topping the list of the “Times HRRate_vs_StrengthRate”: 1-Babe Ruth; 2-Mel Ott; 3-Jimmie Foxx; 4-Barry Bonds; 5-Ted Williams; 6-Hank Aaron; 7-Lou Gehrig; 8-Willie Mays; 9-Frank Robinson; 10-Willie McCovey; 11-Harmon Killebrew. Make your own judgment.

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