The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Adam Dunn”

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Johnny Mize

Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox is doing his best impersonation this season of “Casey at the Bat.”  Like Mighty Casey, Dunn either hits a heroic home run, or he flails at strike three, sending thousands of fans home disappointed.  Dunn is currently third in the A.L. in home runs with 25, and first in strikeouts with an incredible 131.  He is on pace to shatter the Major League single-season strikeout record of 223 set by 3rd baseman Mark Reynolds in 2009.

In fairness to Dunn, he does lead the league in walks (67), contributing to his acceptable .359 on-base percentage.

Thirteen of the top 15 strikeout seasons by a hitter in baseball history have occurred over the past dozen seasons.  To illustrate how much things have changed around the Majors as far as strikeouts are concerned, consider that Dave Kingman, who back in the 1970’s and early ’80’s, was known as the ultimate practitioner of the home run / strikeout approach to hitting, never struck out more than 156 times in a season.

Although he led the league in strikeouts as a hitter three times, his worst season (156 in 1982) now ranks as just the 128th highest total of strikeouts in a single season.

Indeed, current New York Mets third baseman David Wright actually surpassed Kingman’s career high when Wright struck out 161 times in 2010.

It wasn’t always this way.  There was a time when even power hitters considered the strikeout to be the ultimate embarrassment for a hitter, a reproach to the batter’s very manhood.  Some power hitters actually used to choke up on the bat when down two-strikes to minimize their chances of getting struck out.

When Mark Reynolds was asked if he’d like to be a player who struck out a lot less often, he replied, “I’d like to be, but I’m not going to make drastic changes, like choke up and hit grounders.”  Yes, because, obviously, hitting a ground-ball that might sneak through the infield for a hit is far worse than, say, striking out 200 time per year.  And real men don’t choke up.

English: An image of Major League Baseball Hal...

English: An image of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame first baseman Johnny Mize. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is no surprise, then, that when we look at the list of home run hitters who maintained relatively low strikeout rates, the vast majority of them played many, many decades ago, long before most of us were born.

One player who has always intrigued me as an overlooked power hitter — a player who I don’t think most baseball fans fully appreciate — was former Cardinal / Giant / Yankee first baseman, Johnny (Big Cat) Mize.

Johnny Mize played in the Majors from 1936-53, missing three of his prime years to WWII.  He led his league in home runs and slugging percentage four times each, and RBI, OPS and total bases three times each.  He even won a batting title, hitting .349 in 1939 for the Cardinals.

Johnny Mize was, along with Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams, one of the most difficult power hitters to strike out.  Mize hit 359 home runs in his career, while striking out only 524 times in his entire career.  By contrast, Ichiro Suzuki, perhaps the ultimate contact hitter of our generation, has already struck out 786 times in his career, while hitting 99 home runs.

So Mize could hit lots of home runs without striking out very much.  This raises a question:

English: New York Yankees first baseman .

English: New York Yankees first baseman . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did Johnny Mize ever have more home runs than strikeouts in a season? 

Before answering that question, keep in mind that since 1920, a player has accumulated more home runs than strikeouts (minimum of 30 homers) twenty-five times over the past 90 years.  Joe DiMaggio accomplished this feat an amazing six times.

Barry Bonds is the only player to have more homers than strikeouts in a season (45 homers / 41 strikeouts in 2004) in the past half-century.

The answer to my question regarding more home runs than strikeouts as far as Johnny Mize is concerned is, yes, Mize twice managed to accumulate more home runs than strikeouts in a season.  In 1948, he slugged 40 home runs while striking out only 37 times in 560 at bats.

But here’s the most amazing statistic I’ve seen in a long time.

In 1947, in 586 at bats, Mize slugged 51 home runs while striking out just 42 times.

Johnny Mize is the only player in baseball history to hit as many as 50 home runs in a season while striking out fewer than 50 times.  

Despite his amazing accomplishments, the BBWAA never voted Mize into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, the writers never gave Mize more than 43% of the vote.  It wasn’t until the Veteran’s Committee finally elected him in 1981 that Mize was finally honored among baseball’s greatest players with induction into the Hall of Fame.

Now that we have compared the achievements of modern power hitters — especially their strikeout totals — with the impressive exploits of Johnny Mize, we can more fully appreciate what a great hitter Mize was in his day.

Baseball’s Doppelgangers

Ralph Kiner

Image via Wikipedia

One of my favorite features of Baseball-Reference.com can be found near the bottom of every player’s  profile.  It appears in a red box and is called “Similarity Scores.”  Directly below that heading, you will find the sub-heading, “Similar Batters” or “Similar Pitchers,” depending on the given player’s specific occupation.  Also listed are the players who are most similar by age to the player you are researching.

It is a fantastic tool, and often provides an excellent perspective to a particular player’s career.

How great, for example, was Kenny Lofton?  According to his Similarity Scores, three of the ten players he was most similar to are in the Hall of Fame:  Harry Hooper, Max Carey, and Fred Clarke.  A fourth player on this list, Tim Raines, should also probably be in The Hall.

Without this useful context, it is a bit more difficult to begin to construct the foundation of an argument that Kenny Lofton just possibly deserves to be in The Hall.

Just for fun, I constructed a list of dozens of currently active Major League ball players, and I researched each of their respective baseball doppelgangers, the players most similar to each of them.  I found the results to be interesting and useful, and I decided to share some of them with you.

I decided not, however, to research players who have been active fewer than five years in the Major Leagues because their career profiles are likely to change significantly as they accumulate more playing time.

In each pair of ball players listed below, the first player is still currently active, and the second name in the pair is his retired doppelganger.

A)  Paul Konerko:

365 HR, 1156 RBI, .280 BA, .854 OPS, 119 OPS+, 22.1 WAR

B)  Joe Adcock:

336 HR, 1122 RBI, .277 BA, .822 OPS, 123 OPS+, 34.2 WAR

A)  Adam Dunn:

354 HR, 880 RBI, .250 BA, .902 OPS, 133 OPS+. 27.1 WAR

B)  Ralph Kiner:

369 HR, 1015 RBI, .279 BA, .946 OPS, 149 OPS+, 45.9 WAR

Kiner is in the Hall of Fame.  He played ten seasons.  He hit 40+ homers in five consecutive seasons, followed by a 37 home run season.  He retired at age 32.

Dunn has played ten seasons.  He hit 40+ home runs in five consecutive seasons, followed by two 38 home run seasons.  He is 31 years old.

A)  Magglio Ordonez:

289 HR, 1204 RBI, .312 BA, .883 OPS, 128 OPS+, 36.9 WAR

B)  Chuck Klein:

300 HR, 1201 RBI, .320 BA, .922 OPS, 137 OPS+, 39.2 WAR

Hall of Famer Klein played 17 years and retired at age 39.  If Ordonez plays three more seasons, he will have played 17 years and will have retired at age 39.  They each won a batting title.  They each topped 20 stolen bases one time.  And they each hit at least 25 home runs in a season six times.

A)  Tim Hudson:

165 wins – 87 losses, 3.42 ERA, 1541 S.O., 1.247 WHIP, 128 ERA+, 46.3 WAR

B)  Jimmy Key:

186 wins – 117 losses, .3.51 ERA, 1538 S.O., 1.229 WHIP, 122 ERA+, 45.7 WAR

A)  Jorge Posada:

261 HR, 1021 RBI, .275 BA, .856 OPS, 123 OPS+, 46 WAR

B)  Gabby Hartnett:

236 HR, 1179 RBI, .297 BA, .858 OPS, 126 OPS+, 50.3 WAR

Hartnett retired at age 40.  Posada, nearing the end of the line, is 39 years old.  Hartnett played in six All-Star Games; Posada has played in five.  It required several years on the ballot before Hartnett was eventually elected to the Hall of Fame.  One can foresee a similar fate awaiting Posada.

A)  Mark Teixeira:

275 HR, 906 RBI, .286 BA, .913 OPS, 134 OPS+, 36.7 WAR

b)  Hal Trosky:

228 HR, 1012 RBI, .302 BA, .892 OPS, 130 OPS+, 26.2 WAR

Migraine headaches forced Trosky into retirement at age 28.  Twice he came out of retirement, but he was just a shadow of the player he had been over the first several years of his career.

A)  Roy Oswalt:

150 wins – 83 losses, 3.18 ERA, 1666 S.O., 1.184 WHIP, 135 ERA+, 44.6 WAR

b)  Dizzy Dean:

150 wins – 83 losses, 3.02 ERA, 1163 S.O., 1.206 WHIP, 131 ERA+, 39.6 WAR

At first, when I noticed that their career win-loss records were identical, I thought I must have made a mistake.  But those are the correct numbers, folks.  Now that’s what I call a baseball doppelganger.

Dean’s career lasted about a decade.  Oswalt has ten complete seasons under his belt.  Dean is in the Hall of Fame.  Can you tell me why Oswalt, then, shouldn’t be once he retires?

There are many more pairs I found interesting:  Mark Buehrle / Johnny Podres, Carlos Lee / Del Ennis, and Matt Holliday / Chick Hafey are but a few examples of these doppelganger pairs.

In general, it was more difficult to find reasonably similar pitchers across time than it was to find pairs of hitters who matched up well with one another.

Take from this research what you will.  As for me, I have come to recognize that there are several more players than I realized who have built strong Hall of Fame cases for themselves over the past decade.  Once they retire, these kinds of comparisons will go a long way to buttressing arguments regarding their respective Hall of Fame worthiness.

Friendly Reminder: I invite you to check back in to this blog on Friday of this week for the third of twelve planned installments of the series, “Baseball’s Best of the Worst,” that Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present and I are collaborating on.

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