Conclusion: The Heavyweight Champ of Baseball

May 26, 2020
Worked out purdy well, din’t it?

 

We counted up 42 seasons, 1929-1970, and had 14 different champions over that stretch of time, some of their reigns being truncated into two separate parts. The longest reigns were:

 

Musial (6 years total)

Mantle (6 years total)

Williams (5 years total)

Ruth (4 years total)

 

With the qualifier that Ruth certainly won a bunch of titles in the 1920s prior to 1929, making him the champeen champeen, and Aaron may have won one or more titles in the early 1970s, bumping him up to this premier group.

 

The biggest takeaway from this project is that I did it wrong. I used cut-offs, so that hitters who qualified for the batting average title qualified for inclusion in my yearly charts, and if they didn’t, they didn’t qualify.  I saw early on that this wasn’t working because Williams got bumped from Chief Title-Holder on account of WWII, and it took him years to get back to the top, on account of he had to start all over accruing OPS+ points for three straight years, and then Korea bumped him off again, and then he missed time because of injury, though piling up good OPS+ numbers in 300 or 400 Plate Appearances, and—it was a mess. This project could have been called "How To Undermine Ted Williams’ Dominance of Baseball in Only 14,918 Easy Steps."

 

Same thing happened to Mantle, and to Killebrew, and a few others over time. I don’t think it made for gross inaccuracies over the 42-year span, but a title or two would have changed hands if I had used a system that included one extra step, that of multiplying OPS+ by some quantifying number like PA or TB so that a guy who got an OPS+ of 200 with 700 PA earned more credit than a guy whose 200 OPS+ was accrued in only 500 PA, but no one ever got bumped off the charts completely because of one non-qualifying year.

 

That was never going to happen, not in my study, because that would have added hours of work to every computation. Baseball-reference.com listed charts of the top ten OPS+ guys that I could cut-‘n’-paste into my article (why one guy’s name always showed up highlighted in yellow, or why players showed up underlined sometimes and not other times despite my attempts to eliminate the underlines, I’ll never know) and that made this effort-intensive project, well, not easy, but "manageably tedious."  If I had to do that extra step of converting "OPS+" to "OPS+ x PA" (and checking to see who I might have missed in the top ten once I’d converted that), I would have given up pretty early.

 

I also realized that I really didn’t need to start that far back in time to get up to the 1960s, which was my point of interest. I could have started anywhere, as long as I accepted that I’d need to do three years of computation to get my first year’s result. After that, I’d have to do new three-year computations every time anyway, so I could have started wherever I wanted to start. If anyone is curious about the 1970s, or the 1920s, you can use these methods to take the project further back or further forward, but I think I’m done for now.

 

My conclusion is that I have more respect for Johnny Mize’s game than I had going into this study, and for Stan Musial as well, and less for Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays, both of whose dominance (as hitters) I had seriously over-estimated when this project began.  Mel Ott also emerged favorably, more for the length of time that he was a top contender than the number of years he held the top spot (one season, 1945, during the war, when he was on the verge of retirement). Ted Williams, too, came through as completely dominant, though he was pretty much there to begin with. Like Ott, but at a higher level, for twenty years Williams was the best hitter in MLB, except when he was off to war or suffering some sort of injury that kept him, usually for several succeeding years, from making my three-year rankings. I could easily see re-jiggering this study in a few useful ways that would have given him the title from 1939 through 1960. Constructed differently, I think this study would have shown that Williams and Ruth, quite unsurprisingly, have been the dominant figures in baseball’s history of batting, and it’s one step down to Musial and Mantle and Mize, and two steps down to Ott and Eddie Mathews and other one-time champeens of the world.

 

Thanks for your enthusiastic support and careful reading.

 
 

COMMENTS (6 Comments, most recent shown first)

bewareofdow
"bewareofdow, you go right ahead and figure the numbers for Schmidt's era. Love to see how it works out."

Thank you, Steven. Kidding aside, that was a great idea and execution for an article series.
11:26 AM May 28th
 
malbuff
This was a great read, and I liked the boxing analogy running throughout-- who
is going to dethrone the Champ? And I appreciate how you've restated several times that this is just a starting point, a model that can be taken and used with WAR or Win Shares, as others here have suggested, or another method. Being a former semipro pitcher, I'd like to do something similar to determine the Pitching Champeen. Maybe after I retire. Thank you!
8:08 AM May 27th
 
Steven Goldleaf
wdr1946, if you think back to the first of these "Heavyweight" articles, I was going to compute these figures in any number of different ways, including WAR and Win Shares, and triangulate (or any-number-of-things-angulate) the results to form a consensus stat. And then I was going to account for defense to create a greatest position-player champ, not just a greatest-hitter champ, AND then I was going to find a way to include pitchers into the equations, so we ended up with a greatest player, period. This is just a (partial) opening salvo.

bewareofdow, you go right ahead and figure the numbers for Schmidt's era. Love to see how it works out.
7:33 AM May 27th
 
wdr1946
Using WAR instead of OPS+ shows different results. Yaz's four best seasons in a row (1967-70) were: 12.5; 10.5; 5.5; and 9.5. In 1967 he had the third highest WAR of any player in history- yes, of any player in history- behind only two seasons by Babe Ruth. F. Roby's four year run around his Triple Crown season (1964-67) were: 7.9; 5.1; 7.7 (1966); and 5.4. His best ever season was 8.7 in 1962. Yaz tailed off and Robinson has a higher lifetime WAR, but Yaz. had higher peaks. These were not clearly seen at the time because of the unusually low hitting context of the 1960s, and, of course, because modern methods of statistical analysis hadn't been invented, only the traditional stats. Both Mantle and Mays are much more dominant by WARs. As to Joe DiMaggio, he may well be underestimated. The Yanks failed to win a pennant in 1933-34-35, despite having Gehrig, Dickey, Lazzeri, Ruffing, Gomez. an the tail end of the Babe. DiMaggio joined the Yanks in 1936, and they won four pennants in a row. In these four World Series, the Yankees won 16 games, the NL teams won 3. It was then that the image of "pinstripe invincibility" began, it seems, not under Ruth. Obviously there were 24 other players on the Yanks besides DiMaggio, but he was central. He was severely handicapped by playing in Yankee Stadium as a right handed hitter, as we all know. He hit 148 HRs at home, but 213 on the road. At home, his slash stats. were .315/.391/.547- very good. On the road: .334/.406/.611.
3:02 AM May 27th
 
bewareofdow
Wait, what? You’re wrapping it up when my boy, Mike Schmidt, was about to take the belt?
12:10 AM May 27th
 
Steven Goldleaf
A small post script: Voros McCracken was tweeting about badly underrated ballplayers yesterday, and he mentioned Johnny Mize as a prime example, just as I was typing up my conclusions about Mize above, so I responded by mentioning that coincidence, and Bill tweeted the following in response to me:

"Yeah . . .Mize is tremendously underrated in history. To me, it's pretty clear that he was better than Greenberg, but. . .nobody remembers. Was fantastic for five years, lost several years to World War II, came back and led the league in homers twice in a row with 40, 51." [slightly edited]
1:01 PM May 26th
 
 
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