The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Carl Yastrzemski”

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Ted Williams

Ted Williams is commonly considered the greatest hitter in baseball history.

He was the last batter to hit over .400 (.406 in 1941, at age 22), and he won the Triple Crown twice in his career.  No modern player has won the Triple Crown even once since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967.

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

English: An image of Major League Baseball hall of famer Ted Williams. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Williams was an uncommonly patient hitter who hit a lot of home runs and drew a lot of bases on balls.  Unlike the mythical portrayal of “Casey at the Bat,” a superlative slugger who wasn’t afraid to strike out, Williams actually didn’t strike out very often.  In other words, he did not sacrifice batting average for power.

If you peruse Williams’ career numbers over at Baseball-Reference.com (as indispensable a baseball reference tool as exists anywhere), you’ll find lots of “black ink” on his resume, indicating that he led his league in multiple offensive categories several times throughout his fabled career.

There are batting crowns, home run titles, and, for the modern sabermetrics-inclined baseball fan, OPS+ and WAR victories as well.

But did Ted Williams, the greatest hitter of all-time, ever lead his league in hits?  

To clarify, I’ve already pointed out that Williams won several batting titles.  But was there a single season during which he actually accumulated the most safe hits in his league?

Among players who have won batting titles, several of them have also led their league in hits.  Tony Gwynn, for example, won eight batting crowns and also led his league in base hits seven times.

Ty Cobb won an amazing 11 batting titles and led the league in base hits eight times.  Rogers Hornsby won seven hitting crowns and led the league in hits four times.

Generally speaking, then, players who win multiple batting crowns also tend to  lead their league in actual hits at least some of the time.

It may surprise you to learn, then, that Ted Williams never once led his league in hits.

Ted Williams’ career high for hits in a season was 194 in 1949, when he was 30-years old.  Interestingly, despite winning six batting titles in his career, Williams did not lead the league in hitting in the season in which he accumulated a career high in base hits.

Ted Williams in the Marines

Ted Williams in the Marines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The secret to all those batting titles for Ted Williams, was, of course, his fantastic batting eye.  He might not have accumulated a staggering number of hits, but, perhaps more importantly, he generated very few outs per plate appearance, relative to virtually every other hitter who ever played the game.

Ted Williams simply would not swing at a bad pitch.  When he was in the batter’s box, it was the pitcher who was immediately at a disadvantage, despite the fact that the pitcher could throw any pitch he wanted, at any speed he wanted, anywhere he preferred.

What then to make of baseball’s continuing fetish for high hit totals, especially 200-hit seasons?

Just a decade and a half after Williams retired, Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey, a ten time All-Star and the N.L. MVP award winner in 1974 was widely regarded as one of the best players in the game.  Garvey made a science of accumulating 200 hits in a season, apparently reasoning that it was an obvious mark of excellence.  He reached the 200 hit mark six times in seven years from 1974-80.

Yet Garvey, who never walked more than 50 times in a season, also never won a batting title.  I recall as a boy growing up at the time that a base on balls was considered a wasted plate appearance.  Apparently, there were many players at the professional level who believed the same thing (and some who still do.)  As Juaqin Phoenix’s character, Merrell Hess says in the movie, Signs, “It just felt wrong not to swing.”

There have been many baseball pundits, philosophers, managers, coaches, players and mere fans who have reasoned over the past several decades that to hit for power, you have to sacrifice some batting average.

Sluggers are supposed to drive in runs by driving home runs out of the park.  Meanwhile, the rest of the players — especially at the top of the lineup — like Pete Rose, Lou Brock and Ichiro (none of whom drew very many walks overall)  are supposed to swing away, lashing singles and doubles around the park.

Yet Ted Williams proved long ago that a slugger does not have to sacrifice batting average for power, and that the number of base hits a player accumulates is not really all that important a statistic.

It appears, though, that Ted Williams was just way ahead of his time, and it has taken so-called baseball experts a while to catch up.

But the great ones are always ahead of their time and, as far as hitting is concerned, Ted Williams was the greatest of them all.

The Best Players I Have Ever Seen (Live)

Tomorrow I will be purchasing a dozen tickets to a baseball game for a group of people I work with.  We will be going to a Greenville Drive (Single A Red Sox) minor league baseball game in early May.  I don’t get to as many games as I used to, and I haven’t been to a Major League baseball game in an embarrassingly long time.

Greenville Drive marquee sign

Greenville Drive marquee sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still, baseball is baseball, and Fluor Field here in Greenville is a nice facsimile of Boston’s Fenway Park, complete with a Green Monster of its own in left field.

This got me to thinking of all the players I’ve seen live over the years, in both minor league and major league baseball parks.  So, inevitably, I decided to make a list of the best players I’ve seen in person at each position since my first game at Shea Stadium in 1974.  I’ve included the year and the city in which I witnessed them play.

First Base:  Steve Garvey (Shea Stadium, 1974), Willie McCovey (Shea Stadium, 1977), Willie Stargell (Shea Stadium, 1979), John Olerud (Seattle Kingdome, 1993), Mo Vaughn (Fenway Park, 1998.)

I was lucky to have seen a pair of first baseman, Garvey in ’74 and Stargell in ’79, who would each win their league’s MVP award that season.

Second Base:  Dave Lopes (Shea Stadium, 1974),  Rennie Stennett (Shea Stadium, 1976), Dave Cash (Shea Stadium, 1976), Roberto Alomar (Kingdome, 1993).

Not a lot to offer here.  Alomar was just beginning to reveal his greatness in ’93.

Sorry, fellow Mets fan, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to add Felix Millan to this list.

Fenway Park on June 21, 2008

Fenway Park on June 21, 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Third Base:  Ron Cey (Shea Stadium, 1974), Mike Schmidt (Shea Stadium, 1976, ’77), Lenny Randle (Shea Stadium, 1977), Richie Hebner (Shea Stadium, 1979),  Butch Hobson (Fenway Park, 1979), Robin Ventura (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000).

One Hall of Famer and…Lenny Randle.  Hebner supplemented his income in the off-season by digging graves.  Ventura’s career WAR of 55.5 is right there with several HOF’ers, including Boudreau, Medwick, Herman, Kelley, Terry and Gordon.

Shortstop: Bud Harrelson (Shea, 1974), Larry Bowa (Shea, 1976, ’77), Nomar Garciappara (New Britain, CT, Double-A Minor League park, while playing for the Trenton Thunder, 1995), Nomar Garciappara (Fenway Park, 1998), Edgar Renteria (Portland, ME, Double-A Minor League park, Portland SeaDogs, 1995), A-Rod (Fenway Park,  1999).

Hadlock Field, Portland ME. May 12, 2007 Photo...

Hadlock Field, Portland ME. May 12, 2007 Photo by me, alcinoe 06:36, 25 September 2007 . . Alcinoe . . 1,100×768 (256 KB) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s some real talent to choose from there.  Renteria was just 18-years old when he had a breakout season playing up north for the Portland SeaDogs.  I watched him play there several times in ’95.  I also watched a very skinny Nomar lash a triple and make an outstanding defensive play in Double-A for the BoSox minor league team that same year. He was clearly the star of the show that day.

Catcher:  This is where mediocrity rules the day.  Jerry Grote or Steve Yeager in ’74?  (both fine defensive catchers), John Stearns (at Shea in ’78?)  Stearns set the N.L. record for steals in a season by a catcher (25).  How about Ed Ott (Shea, 1979) of the Pirates?

Charles Johnson of the Sea Dogs was a fine defensive catcher who could hit with some power.  He became the very first draft pick ever for the Florida Marlins in 1992.  I saw him play in Portland a few times in ’94 and ’95.

But I suppose I’ll have to take Jason Kendall who turned in a fine performance for the Pirates back in 2000 (Three Rivers Stadium.)  Ironically, Kendall broke John Stearns N.L. single-season stolen base record for catchers a couple of years earlier.

Three Rivers Stadium

Three Rivers Stadium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I wanted to cheat, I would add Pudge Rodriguez and Mickey Tettleton, both with the Rangers, each of whom I saw play in Spring Training in 1996 down in Florida.

Outfield:  Jimmy Wynn (Toy Cannon came to Shea in ’74), Rusty Staub (Shea, several times throughout the mid-70’s), Dave Kingman (Shea, ’75 and ’76), Del Unser (Shea, 1975), Greg Luzinski (Shea, ’76, ’77), Lee Mazzilli (Shea, 1977-’81), Dave Parker (Shea, ’79), Freddy Lynn (Fenway, ’79)  Jim Rice (Fenway, ’79), Dwight Evans (Fenway, ’79), Bobby Bonds (Fenway, ’79), Ken Griffey, Jr. (Kingdome, 1993, Fenway Park, 1998), Jay Buhner (Kingdome, 1993), Joe Carter (Kingdome, 1993), Brian Giles (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000).

But Vladimir Guerrerro (Harrisburg Senators, Expos AA team, playing at Portland, ME, 1996) is responsible for my favorite jaw-dropping performance.  I watched Vlad take apart the Sea Dogs in a game in the summer of ’96 where he hit a ball so hard to straight away center field, that it was still rising slightly on a line over the raised, distant scoreboard, and it just kept going like a missile until it hit a clump of trees at the base of the railroad track up on an embankment beyond the stadium.

I’d never heard a ball hit that hard in my life.  Neither had anyone else in the park, for as young Vlad rounded the bases, the stadium was just stunned into silence.  It was as if a shotgun blast had just echoed around the park.  I remember turning to my brother after this homer and saying, “Looks like this kid’s got a pretty good future ahead of him, huh?”

Designated Hitter:  I think I’ve seen only about a half a dozen games in American League ballparks, but I have seen three of the best.

Carl Yastrzemski (Fenway Park, 1979), Paul Molitor (Kingdome, 1993), Edgar Martinez (Fenway Park, 1998).  Edgar did not play in the game I went to at the Kingdome in ’93.

Shea

Shea (Photo credit: Kethera)

Pitchers:  Don Sutton (Shea, 1974), Tom Seaver (Shea, 1975), Jerry Koosman (Shea, 1976), Randy Jones (Shea, 1976), Jerry Reuss (Shea, 1980), Dwight Gooden (on Rehab., pitching for Tidewater vs. Maine Guides, Triple-A, Old Orchard Beach, ME, 1987), Al Leiter (Kingdome, 1993), Roger Clemens (Fenway Park, 1996), Tom Gordon (Fenway Park, 1996), Pedro Martinez (Fenway Park, 1998), Al Leiter (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000), Josh Beckett (Hadlock Field, Portland, ME, pitching for the Double-A Sea Dogs, 2001).

So I got to see Al Leiter twice, seven year apart, pitching for two different teams (Blue Jays and Mets.)  I’ve seen five pitchers who have won Cy Young awards.

That’s it.  By my count, I’ve seen nine players who are already in the Hall of Fame.  I’ve also seen several others (A-Rod, Griffey, Jr., Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens) who certainly have a case for future HOF induction.  Also, players like Evans, Staub, Nomar and Edgar Martinez were all among the very best players of their respective eras.

But an entire generation of new, young players has emerged in the last few years, few of whom I’ve had a chance to go out and see perform live.

Guess it’s time to buy those tickets.

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