A reader, Geoff, asked recently what player had the greatest difference between his career batting average and his career on base percentage. Naturally, he was asking about players with relatively long careers. So I decided to compile a list of every player with at least 5,000 plate appearances – everyone from Pete Rose with 15,876 trips to the plate to our 943rd ranked player, Lee Lacy with 5,004 PAs – and sort them by differences in BA and OBP.
I thought this work had been done in the past, and once I saw the list below I was sure of it. I would gladly link to anyone who’s already written about this. Just point it out in the comments section below if you wrote it or if you remember where you’ve seen it.
Whether you’ve seen this stuff in the past or you just have a keen sense of baseball’s walking men, you won’t be at all surprised by the results. Here are the top-20 players whose OBP eclipses their BA.
Player AVG OBP Difference 1 Max Bishop .271 .423 .152 2 Gene Tenace .241 .388 .147 3 Barry Bonds .298 .444 .146 4 Eddie Stanky .268 .410 .142 5 Eddie Yost .254 .394 .140 6 Ted Williams .344 .482 .138 7 Babe Ruth .342 .474 .132 8 Mark McGwire .241 .369 .131 9 Adam Dunn .238 .366 .128 Mickey Tettleton .241 .369 .128 11 Jim Thome .276 .402 .126 12 Mickey Mantle .298 .421 .123 Roy Thomas .290 .413 .123 14 Rickey Henderson .279 .401 .122 Jason Giambi .278 .400 .122 Eddie Joost .239 .361 .122 17 Joe Morgan .271 .392 .121 18 Harmon Killebrew .256 .376 .120 Earl Torgeson .265 .385 .120 20 Ralph Kiner .279 .398 .119
On this list we see some of the best hitters in the game’s history like Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, and Babe Ruth. We also see some all-or-nothing power guys like Mark McGwire, Harmon Killebrew, and Ralph Kiner. And we see some lesser-known walking men like Max Bishop, Roy Thomas, and the Eddies – Stanky, Yost, and Joost.
I’m most interested in the third group. The first group is just great. The second is as least scary, so pitchers might want to stay away from them. But it’s Max, Roy, and the Eddies that have me perplexed. That’s because they all slugged between .333 for Roy Thomas and the massive .371 for Eddie Yost. Only Yost is within 50 points of anyone else on the list. They’re perplexing, basically, pitchers did a poor job against these five when they didn’t need to. They generally weren’t great enough threats that pitchers shouldn’t have just challenged them with their best heat, even if that heat was mediocre. Even if they got hits, they weren’t likely to be much more valuable than the walks that often would follow.
Our bottom-20 is nearly as interesting as our top-20, maybe more so.
Player AVG OBP Difference 1 Ezra Sutton .294 .316 .022 Jack Burdock .250 .272 .022 3 Ozzie Guillen .264 .287 .023 4 Hobe Ferris .239 .265 .026 5 Shawon Dunston .269 .296 .027 George Stovall .265 .292 .027 Jerry Denny .260 .287 .027 8 Hal Chase .291 .319 .028 9 Charlie Comiskey .264 .293 .029 10 Manny Sanguillen .296 .326 .030 Neifi Perez .267 .297 .030 Ken Reitz .260 .290 .030 13 Garrett Anderson .293 .324 .031 Vic Power .284 .315 .031 Enos Cabell .277 .308 .031 Tommy Helms .269 .300 .031 Hy Myers .281 .312 .031 18 Bill Buckner .289 .321 .032 Everett Scott .249 .281 .032 Mickey Rivers .295 .327 .032 Willie Davis .279 .311 .032 Tim Foli .251 .283 .032
What a list! Starting from the bottom, we have Bill Buckner, infamous for more than not drawing walks. Everett Scott is there, he of baseball’s longest consecutive game streak other than Ripken and Gehrig. We see Manny Sanguillen, the guy who, coincidentally, took over for Gene Tenace (on the first list) in Oakland in 1977 after Tenace signed as a free agent in San Diego. There’s noted game-thrower, Hal Chase. We have Shawon Dunston, he of the rocket arm and nose for the ball. And then there’s Ezra Sutton at the very top, a player who we just removed from intellectual consideration for the HoME last election.
Ezra Sutton was a third baseman and occasional shortstop whose career spanned from the National Association’s first game in 1871 through the 1888 season. In his time in the NA, 1871-1875, he walked a total of five times in 1079 trips to the plate. Of course, he only struck out on eight occasions, so he was putting his bat on the ball. For the Philadelphia A’s in 1874, he put up what might be the worst three true outcomes season ever, and certainly one of the worst. In 243 plate appearances, he struck out twice, and he failed to either homer or walk. Wow!
Tied with Sutton on our list is Jack Burdock, a second baseman of the same era. “Black Jack” broke in with the 1872 Brooklyn Atlantics, walking just once in 175 trips that season. His career continued through 1888, with a few games in 1891 for good measure, but he never did begin to draw walks. His high was 18 for the 1887 Boston Beaneaters.
I enjoy looking at these bottom guys more than those at the top. So let’s change our parameters some. Just 78 players have come to the plate at least 10,000 times in their careers. Looking at the list from the bottom, let’s see if these players have anything in common.
Player AVG OBP Difference 1 Bill Buckner .289 .312 .032 2 Ivan Rodriguez .296 .334 .038 3 Vada Pinson .286 .327 .041 5 Nap Lajoie .338 .380 .042 Roberto Clemente .317 .359 .042 6 Andre Dawson .279 .323 .044 8 Dave Parker .290 .339 .049 Luis Aparicio .262 .311 .049 10 Lou Brock .293 .343 .050 Tony Gwynn .338 .388 .050
A couple of things jump out, I guess. First, Lajoie is the only player whose career began prior to 1955. And Lajoie and Buckner are the only Caucasians on the list. There is a Dominican baseball adage that applies to many Latinos, “You don’t walk your way off the island.” But there’s no such thought, as least none with which I’m familiar, about African American players. In any case, it’s an interesting list. Maybe we shouldn’t try to generalize about the players on it. To do so fairly would take more analysis.
Still, we can look at how over-rated some of the above are. Lou Brock, largely because of the massive stolen base total, is clearly better thought of than his overall record suggests he should be. Luis Aparicio, like Brock, is in the Hall but likely doesn’t belong there. Bill Buckner’s career, perhaps, lasted longer than it should have – I know Red Sox fans would agree. Then again, the list does contain some pretty great players like Clemente, Gwynn, and I-Rod. I guess the message here is that stinky players don’t last long enough to come to the plate 10,000 times. And you can be pretty great even if you don’t draw walks.