On a recent post, one of my most faithful readers with the great guest name of, “RichieAllen1964,” did not understand what I meant by a batting average being somewhat meaningless. It is a fair question. Baseball fans like us who have been watching decades of games have been trained to think that if a batter hits .300 in a season or career, he is pretty special. While I cannot get past the old feelings that such a season or a career is pretty cool, not all .300 seasons or careers are the same.
My favorite example is the Tim Raines
and Tony Gwynn
career comparison. Gwynn was known as a magician with the bat and was an expert of hitting the ball “where they ain’t.” His career batting average after twenty seasons from 1982 to 2001 was .338. Along the way, he compiled 3,141 hits. Raines was never considered the hitter that Gwynn was. Raines finished his 21 year career from 1981 to 2001 (I am not counting two “cup of coffee” seasons) with a career batting average of .294. And Raines compiled 2,605 hits.
Most fans would look at those two careers and feel that Gwynn was a much better player than Raines. After all, Gwynn compiled 536 more career hits and had a batting average that was 44 points higher. But when you dig much deeper, the two players were worth about the same during their parallel careers.
Now you might jump to conclusions that I am including base running and fielding into this mix. And, yeah, if you want to look at the total valuation, Raines finished with an fWAR of 66.4 and Gwynn finished with an fWAR of 65. The two were so close (overall) that it is a wash. But I am not even talking about those overall evaluations. I am talking about just the offensive worth that does not include base running or fielding.
Raines compares with Gwynn offensively as well. Gwynn finished with a career wOBA of .370. Raines finished slightly behind him at .361. But that is not the full story. If we look at batting runs for their respective careers, Gwynn finished with 401.5 batting runs according to Fangraphs. That same site assigns Raines with 408.1.
Here is the statistic I really love. It is called Runs Created and was developed by Bill James
and others and it “estimates a player’s total contributions to a team’s runs total.” According to the career leaders in this statistic, both are exactly tied for 57th Place all time with 1,636 runs created!
In wOBA, Gwynn is slightly higher. In batting runs, Raines is slightly higher. In runs created, they are tied exactly. Gwynn’s higher batting average means nothing to the equation. In this comparison, the batting average is moot. The two players are virtually tied when it comes to offensive worth.
Let’s look at 2013 for a more recent example. Let’s compare Torii Hunter and Josh Donaldson. Hunter had 652 plate appearances and Donaldson had 668. Hunter batted .304 and Donaldson, .301. The two batting averages are virtually identical. But the offensive worth of their seasons were anything but.
Donaldson’s wOBA was .384. His batting runs according to Fangraphs.com were 37.3. His adjusted batting runs according to B-R were 40.64. Hunter’s wOBA was .346. His batting runs were 12.5 and his adjusted batting runs were 10.67. Donaldson’s season was a little better than three times greater offensively than Hunter which makes their batting averages the least important statistic when rating their offensive seasons.
And just for fun, I leave you with the “emptiest” .300 hitters since 1990: