Ruth & Bonds: Learning about Numbers

Is a LF who played 22 seasons with a career batting line of .298/.444/.607, the greatest baseball player ever?

Barry Bonds

What do AVG/OBP/SLG actually mean?

The most important batting statistic in baseball is (and has always been) on-base percentage (OBP).
OBP adds up all plate appearances, and measures how often a batter doesn’t make an out.
Making outs is bad for batters because after 27 outs, your team loses; unless there are extra innings. It is not helpful to make outs in extra innings either.
Over the course of a season, OBP is 2-3x more valuable (in terms of winning) than the second-most useful measure of hitting: SLG.

Slugging percentage (SLG) blends AVG with power– crediting extra weight for doubles, triples & HRs.
Extra-base hits directly correlate to increased run production.
Power creates runs, and teams need runs to win.
Therefore, SLG creates wins.

Batting average (AVG) is a subset of OBP & SLG.
It is the measure of how often a batter gets a hit when he puts the ball in play.

OBP is the better overall measure of batting value, but AVG tells you things OBP can’t.
In a situation against a good pitcher, who doesn’t walk many batters; AVG is a better measure of the hitter’s chance for success than OBP.

Example: The difference between a .240 and .320 AVG hitter (both with .360 OBPs), is that the .240 batter will strikeout or hit into an easy out substantially more often than the .320 guy, against good pitching.
The .240 hitter exercises more patience & strike-zone judgement by taking more walks when they are most available, against inferior pitching.
The .320 hitter will swing at more pitches outside the strike zone, but is better at hitting line drives.

Most hits are line drives.
Increased SLG means more line drives go over the fence.

Adam Dunn (RF/DH)  .237/.365/.492  14 seasons (still active)
Ichiro Suzuki (RF) .317/.360/.412  14 seasons (still active)


This is why Billy Beanes’ shit doesn’t work in the post-season.
Over the course of a long season, it’s OBP that determines who is best.
In the smaller sample-sized post-season, its a different model in favor of SLG.
The strongest teams line up their best pitching in a short series, and it’s much tougher to produce runs with only OBP and no SLG.

That doesn’t imply an endorsement of “small-ball” tactics.
High-percentage base stealing & the ability to take the extra base gives any team an added dimension, but the gains are negligible in relation to hitting & pitching power.

If a manager needs an extra base in a clutch situation, a pinch runner (w/ a high SB%) is a better option than sacrificing or calling for the hit-and-run.
Terry Francona demonstrated this famously in using Dave Roberts in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS.
Since this era is built around power, letting hitters use their OBP & SLG skills (instead of excessive bunting & other small-ball tactics), is understood as better managing in today’s game.


It is power pitching & hitting, along with good defense, that historically wins in the post-season.
Power costs money, which is why it is usually high-payroll teams playing late into October.

Pitching power is measured in staff ERA & Strikeouts (or K/9 IP).
Starting pitchers with 200+ IP, high K’s with good ERAs in relation to the league average, are the aces.

Closers must be over a strikeout per IP, with an ERA well under 3.00 (low walks) to be considered reliable.
Relief pitching is the most volatile commodity in MLB.
More money (as measured in $$/win) is wasted on relief pitching, than any other part of the modern MLB roster.


The arguments for greatest (non-pitcher) player ever are:

Ty Cobb (CF)         .366/.433/.512 24 seasons
Honus Wagner (SS)    .328/.391/.467 21 seasons
Rogers Hornsby (2B)  .358/.434/.577 23 seasons
Babe Ruth (RF/LHP)   .342/.474/.690 22 seasons
Lou Gehrig (1B)      .340/.447/.632 17 seasons
Ted Williams (LF)    .344/.482/.634 19 seasons (DNP his age 24-26 seasons and most of his age 33-34 seasons due to military service)
Willie Mays (CF)     .302/.384/.557 22 seasons
Mickey Mantle  (CF)  .298/.421/.557 18 seasons
Hank Aaron (RF)      .305/.374/.555 23 seasons
Barry Bonds (LF)     .298/.444/.607 22 seasons
Alex Rodriguez(SS/3B).299/.384/.558 20 seasons (suspended in 2014, but still active)
Albert Pujols (1B)   .318/.405/.592 14 seasons (still active)

The players with the highest OBP are Williams (.482), Ruth (.474), Gehrig (.447) then Bonds (.444)

The highest career SLG are Ruth (.690), Williams (.634), Gehrig (.632) then Bonds (.607)


Base running and defense:

*In 1916-17, Babe Ruth (age 21-22 seasons) was an ace LHP with the Boston Red Sox, the best pitcher in the AL.  Ruth helped BOS win the World Series in 1915, 1916 & 1918, before he was sold to the NYY.
Ruth’s incomplete career base running numbers are:  123 SB / 117 CS.
CS weren’t counted in the AL until 1920, so Ruth’s career SB% was likely under 50%.
He infamously ran into the last out of the 1926 WS; getting thrown out trying to steal second base with the NYY down by multiple runs.

Barry Bonds was a 8-time Gold Glove LF and an outstanding base runner/base stealer: 514 SB/141 CS; translating into a nifty 77.3% career success rate.

Lou Gehrig played 1B well by most accounts; 102 SB / 100 CS in his career. First basemen have all their value in their bat.

Ted Williams was slow on the bases (24 SB / 17 CS career), and considered a poor defensive LF.
He would often be observed taking practice swings in the outfield.


“Character” issues:

Ruth drank, smoked and whored around excessively.
The media of that era ignored it; today that would be inconceivable.

Gehrig was (and still is) under-appreciated, playing beside the Bambino.
His farewell speech at Yankee Stadium still stands as one of the most moving moments in sports history.  If he had lived he may have become the greatest, and that is the heroic tragedy of Lou Gehrig.  He was diagnosed with ALS in his age 36 season.

*Both Ruth & Gehrig played entirely in the pre-integration era of MLB.
Surely their dominance would have been curtailed by the likes of RHPs Smoky Joe Williams, Satchel Paige, etc… and their numbers rivalled by (C) Josh Gibson , (1B) Buck Leonard, etc… if blacks had been allowed to play MLB.

Williams & Bonds were sensitive to criticism and castigated by the sporting press of their eras.
Ted Williams lost 5 prime seasons due to military service, and would have added 150+ HRs and 900+ hits to his career totals.
He was still the greatest hitter ever (.344/.482/.634).

By the early 2000’s, Bonds joined baseball’s PED scandal; becoming a permanent scapegoat for the MLB policy of tolerance/encouragement, which began a decade earlier.
In 2007 at age 42, Bonds hit .276/.480/.565 with the SFG; breaking Henry Aaron’s career home run record and establishing the new mark at 762.
That year, Pac Bell Park was sold out all season, for a SFG team that finished last in the NL West at 71-91.

Bonds was not offered a contract by any team in MLB for 2008, when he surely could have been a productive LF/DH for at least 2 more seasons.

*As a fan of the newly-renamed TB Rays, I believe they squandered their best shot ever at winning a World Series, by not signing Bonds in 2008.


If you go on his feats & the numbers (and include his pitching– which you must), then Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player ever.
Realistically however, too much of what the Babe did (and was allowed to get away with) would be impossible now.
The best player must be able to dominate in any era.

Bonds won 7 MVP’s and probably should have won several more.
He was clearly the best player in baseball from 1990-2004– a 15-season span.
Barry Bonds was the greatest baseball player of his or any era.

MLB Midseason 2014: The TB Rays & Other Notables

We are deep enough into the 2014 season to be able to use the numbers to make sense of what’s going on in Major League Baseball. The concept of ‘fair sample size’ is important in statistical analysis.  In baseball, this means we need to wait until around June before we can positively identify significant season trends.
Before then, the sample size is often too small to be accurate.

Baseball’s two most important batting stats are OBP & SLG, in that order.
OBP & SLG are conventionally presented with batting average (AVG) as triple slash stats AVG/OBP/SLG; which tells you basically everything you need to know about a hitter in one line.


The TB Rays have the worst record in baseball.
Didn’t the experts anoint them as the best team in the AL?

Fans should not be too surprised, as the TBR have operated on a razor-thin margin for a long time now. When it collapses it quickly becomes a free-fall, because there is little depth.
TBR lineup is a least 2 bats short (at 1B & DH); the two most-important production slots.
An adaquate catching platoon would be helpful; Ryan Hanigan (.212/.299/.336) and Jose Molina (.129/.180/.129) doesn’t let you compete in the AL East.

The Rays 17th in OBP (.315) and 26th in SLG (.365).
Their once historically-great defense, is now middle-of-the-pack by most metrics.
The Rays innovations in shifting defenses & alignment have been noted by MLB, thus eroding another advantage they once held.
The Rays DER (Defensive Efficiency Ratio: the measure of converting balls-in-play into outs) is .687, 18th in MLB.

Note: NYY is 27th, BOS 28th, and TEX 30th in DER; all high-priced, veterean-heavy– under-performing teams.

TBR are 22nd in team ERA at 4.10.
#2 starter Matt Moore needed TJ surgery, and is out until next June– minimum.
Ace starter David Price is a free agent after the season, so it won’t get better.

Joe Maddon is a great field manager, but he needs some help if the Rays are ever going to seriously compete.
Rays owner, Stuart Sternberg is worth an estimated $800 million. Player payroll needs to increase by $20-30 million/season, otherwise TBR will no longer compete in this division.
Someone with nearly a billion dollars in wealth should invest in his business, and not use poor attendance as an excuse for frugality.

Rays fans don’t come to Tropicana Field because: 1) there is a jobs depression in Tampa, just like everwhere else– only it’s a bit worse there; 2) it’s located in congested traffic at the end of a penninsula; 3) it’s a dump.

The problem with the Rays in 2014 is that they were set up to fail.
They have always competed short-stacked against payroll behemoths in TEX, NYY, BOS… and every year they eventually bust to one of them.
Attrition through free agency has diminished the ranks somewhat, but few of the name players they let go (Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton) are really helpful at their free-agent contract prices.
The real problem is in Scouting & Player Development, starting with when they chose Tim Beckham over Buster Posey with the #1 overall pick in 2008.
They’ve had other drafts with multiple compensation picks, and failed to develop an impact player.
As a result there is very little help on the way from their once-fertile minor league system.

TBR are not the worst team in baseball, but they might end up with the worst record in 2014.
This is because they play in the toughest division in sports, the AL East.


TOR is the best team in the AL East as of mid-June, and they are for real.
TOR is 4th in OBP (.332) & 2nd in SLG (.446) to COL (.462).
Mark Buehrle (10-2, 2.04 ERA) anchors a decent rotation, and their team ERA is 18th (3.99), which is an improvement over recent seasons.

OAK is a MLB best in team ERA (2.91) & OBP (.336), and 2nd in DER (.717); which is why they have the best record in the AL.
If you still don’t believe in Moneyball, then you are hopeless.

The NYY are old, injured, and heading for a 4th-place finish.
Masahiro Tanaka (9-1, 2.02 ERA) is the only thing keep them afloat, at this point.

BOS has starting pitching injury issues, ERA 17th (3.89), and a completely unproductive outfield.
RF Shane Victorino (.242/.276/.352) tops the BOS outfield in SLG.

LAD have the best RF in baseball, Yasiel Puig (.333/.430/.584), and a hugely overpaid remaining lineup.
No disrespect to MIA RF Giancarlo Stanton (301/.393/.589)
Clayton Kershaw (5-2, 3.17 ERA) & Zack Grienke (8-2, 2.62 ERA) are the best 1-2 in the NL.
The MIL, SFG, & STL are all better bets to go to the WS.

MIL finally has some starting pitching (ERA 3.65, 11th in MLB) and have stabilized their defense (5th in DER at .706), so they are for real.
They can always mash; 8th in SLG (.409).
This is the good Rickie Weeks .307/.365/.443; I hope he stays healthy.
I don’t believe anything Ryan Braun (.299/.337/.529) says in front of a camera or through his spokespeople.

TEX is last in MLB in team ERA at 4.60.
They had a great lineup, until they: 1) let Nelson Cruz (.303/.374/.636) get away to BAL; and 2) traded Ian Kinsler (.287/.316/.449) to DET for Prince Fielder (.247/.360/.360 in 150 AB before neck surgery ended his season) and $30 million.
TEX gets this season and six more of Prince Fielder at $24 million/year.
I don’t know why Nolan Ryan left the front office, but I’m betting decision-making like this was part of the problem.

All part of the game, as bad trades a just part of baseball…

Enjoy the summer:)