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)|
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”:
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.
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.