This past week we saw two monumental events in the world of baseball. One was the passing of Hall of Famer and long time Mets broadcaster, Ralph Kiner. The other was the announcement from Derek Jeter that 2014 will be his final season, a sure fire first ballot Hall of Famer (hopefully). What’s special about these two men was that they have been able to have Hall of Fame careers, without amassing a large amount of home runs. Ralph Kiner retired with 369 career home runs, albeit he would’ve had more if injuries did not cut his career short. While Derek Jeter will enter his final season with 256 career home runs. Their combined home run total of 625 puts them behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr.’s all time mark, just to give an idea of how far behind they are to the great power hitters of our game. Like Kiner and Jeter, there have been plenty of great hitters who have made a name for themselves without breaking any significant home run milestones. So, this post will pay homage to the greatest hitters of the live ball era (after the 1919 season) who have not hit 200 career home runs.
5. Tony Gwynn (1982-2001) – .338/135/1138/.847
If there ever was a professional hitter, it would be Tony Gwynn. His stroke was perfect and he always put the ball in play. He never struck out more than 40 times in a season, which was impressive then and is even more so now as league strikeout rates are at record highs. On top of that, he led the league in hitting eight out of his 20 years in the big leagues. However, his lack of run production hurts him in the rankings and his Offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) backs this claim up. Out of the five, he has the lowest career oWAR at 66.3. While he was one of the best at getting base hits, it wasn’t enough to make up for his lack of runs driven in compared to the rest of the list.
4. Paul Waner (1926-1945) – .333/113/1309/.878
In 1927, Paul Waner had one of the most unusual statistical seasons for a hitter. While only hitting 9 HRs, he led the league with 131 RBIs and 342 Total Bases. On top of that he led the league in batting average, hits, triples, plate appearances and games played on his way to winning the league MVP and helping the Pirates win the 1927 National League pennant. Unfortunately for us, batting average with runners in scoring position was not kept in 1927. One can only imagine how high it must have been to have an RBI total that high, with so few long balls. Outside of his impressive 1927 campaign, Waner was a consistent hitter for the Pirates through his late 30s. He led the league in hitting three times and had nine seasons with 75 or more RBIs.
3. Charlie Gehringer (1924-1942) – .320/184/1427/.884
Charlie Gehringer had one of my favorite nicknames of all time, the Mechanical Man. He earned this nickname due to his stoic nature and his consistency on the field. A no frills player who earned the respect of his much hated, yet talented manager, Ty Cobb. Gehringer’s stat lines are more reminiscent of Cobb’s era than the 1920s and 1930s, during his prime years. He had seven seasons where he had over 100 RBIs, yet never hitting more than 20 HRs. While he only led the league in hitting once, he had a span where he finished in the top five for five consecutive years from 1933-1937. Always consistent.
2. Pete Rose (1963-1986) – .303/160/1314/.784
The all-time hits, games played, plate appearances and at-bats leader and due to a Bud Selig power trip, the only non-Hall of Famer on the list. Regardless, Rose’s career was nothing short or brilliant. In his long career, he had ten 200 hit seasons, ten 100 run seasons on his way to breaking Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record with 4,256 career hits. Similar to Gwynn, his run production numbers hindered his ranking, although not as severely as Gwynn. There’s a little more leeway when you are the all-time hit king. Finally, put Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame!
1. Wade Boggs (1982-1999) – .328/118/1014/.858
This is probably the most controversial part of these rankings. In terms of career oWAR, Boggs leads everyone on the list at 80.5, although Rose’s career oWAR is 82.5, he played in 6 more seasons than Boggs. Why is this so? He got on base more. This reasoning is starting to sound like a sabermetrician’s cop out argument to balk at any debates over the validity of advanced metrics, but there is legitimacy to it. Wade Boggs has a career OBP of .415, which pure him at 26th all-time. That is also forty points higher than Pete Rose’s career OBP of .375. Also, we must look at the statistic, career Runs Created per Game (RC/G). This stat measures the offensive value of the player by weighing all his offensive events based on importance, run scoring opportunities, power and on base ability, among other things, and is vital in calculating oWAR. When we figure out the RC/G for their career we can see who was more valuable and productive with their hitting. Our calculations puts Wade Boggs ahead of Pete Rose with a career RC/G of 7.1, compared to Rose’s 5.8. While this may be surprising to some this is a great example of what advanced metrics does exactly. Find hidden value. So, while Rose has higher career numbers, Boggs was the more valuable and productive hitter. But who knows, maybe in Boggs’ WAR calculation they factored in his legendary drinking ability to give him a boost in the rankings.