All-Modern Day Deadball All-Stars–hitting by year
The last post got me thinking, what players in the modern day would have thrived in the Deadball era.
Deadball era hitters were known for low home run totals, high batting averages, bad Isolated Discipline (on-base percentage – batting average) and low strike out rates.
I went on Baseball-Reference’s Play Index (jeez is that thing fun to play with) and set the first parameters for career: BA >= .315, OBP >=.370, HR <= 400, minimum 3,000 plate appearances.
The list is surprisingly thin and chock full of first basemen of all things. Turns out a number of them were hurt because of late-career declines, so I scrapped that and started looking under single season for the same parameters, with HR <=20, between 1961-2009 (expansion era).
And that’s when the hits just kept coming.
Here’s what came up (slash stats are batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage/no. of home runs):
C Joe Mauer, 2006 (.347/.429/.507/13)
1B Rod Carew, 1977 (.388/.449/.570/14)
2B Paul Molitor, 1979 (.322/.372/.469/6)
SS Dick Groat, 1963 (.319/.377/.450/6)
3B Wade Boggs, 1985 (.368/.450/.478/8)
LF Pete Rose, 1973 (.338/.401/.437/5)
CF Ichiro Suzuki, 2004 (.372/.414/.455/8)
RF Tony Gwynn, 1987 (.370/.447/.511/7)
Bench (active players only)
C Jason Kendall, 1998 (.327/.411/.473/12)
OF Juan Pierre, 2004 (.326/.374/.407/3)
OF Reggie Willits, 2007 (.293/.391/.344/0)
IF Freddy Sanchez, 2006 (.344/.378/.473/6)
UT Chone Figgins, 2007 (.330/.393/.432/3)
2B was probably the hardest. First there was Willie Randolph’s 1991 season (.327/.424/.374/0). I can’t imagine a year without a home run in the modern era more impressive than that one. But Randolph’s IsoD (OBP-BA) was too high in the end. Then there was Mark Loretta’s 2004 season (.335/.391/.495/16). Loretta had more doubles than strike outs in 2004 (47 doubles, 45 Ks). But Loretta’s HR total (16) was too high–I made an exception for Mauer and Carew because catcher is hard to find and Carew had more triples than homers. We needed something in single digits. Paul Molitor’s 1979 season was basically the perfect fit. Doubles and triples power, high BA and not-so-high OBP. Robinson Cano also got some consideration, but like Loretta, too many homers.
Originally, Carew won third base over Wade Boggs, 1985, who had an impressive year too, but I realized later that Carew had played first and second for most of that year. In fact, Carew only played like two games of his entire career at 3B. I don’t know what I was thinking. So they both got a spot. Carew also had another year in consideration: 1974 (.364/.433/.446/2). I’ve been waffling for a little bit on which was the better year for our search, but a .570 slugging with 14 home runs and 16 triples is downright Ty Cobb-esque.
1996 Lance Johnson was a consideration for CF (21 triples is the most in the expansion era for a single season with fewer than 20 homers), as was 1994 Kenny Lofton, but Ichiro 2004, when he broke the single-season hits record, was deadball as heck. Singles singles singles! Ichiro probably would have been worshipped in deadball times for his arm alone.
Right field was tough between Roberto Clemente and Tony Gwynn. But in the search query, Gwynn pretty much showed up at the top with every single year, regardless of what stat was used for sorting. I went with 1987 because of the doubles (36), triples (13) and stolen bases (56 with 12 caught stealing). He probably would have had 45 triples and 200 stolen bases adjusting for era from 1987 to 1911.
2006 Jeter was going to be the SS (.343/.417/.483/14), but 102 strikeouts and 14 homers are too many for a deadball hitter. Though he barely made our time cutoff, 1963 Dick Groat put up a damn good deadball year with six homers, 11 triples and 46 doubles. 2003 Edgar Renteria was also looked at, but again, too many homers.
Catchers either hit with power or don’t hit at all, so the parameters were loosened a bit. Joe Mauer put together some power, but 2006 was an impressive year with a small amount of homers. Other contenders were Kendall’s 1998 season and Manny Sanguillen’s 1975 season, but neither really compared.
There were a number of good candidates for LF (Hal McRae, Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson, etc.), but Rose took the cake with the highest BA, fewest HR and fewest strike outs (an amazing 42 Ks in 752 PAs).
For the bench, basically I just wanted to get Jason Kendall and Juan Pierre onto this team. Kendall and Pierre speak for themselves. Chone’s 2007 strike out total was a little high (82), but it went overlooked because everything else is in line and he fills a variety of fielding roles. Reggie Willits made the team because he’s annoying and hits for no power. And Freddy Sanchez because the dude is the definition of an empty batting average and he plays a few infield positions.
Surprisingly, only three Angels made the team (Carew, Willits and Figgins).
A lot of other players earned consideration–Mark Grace, Robinson Cano, Todd Helton–and a few things could have gone either way–Jeter for SS over Groat; Loretta for 2B over Molitor–but these were the guys that seemed to fit the pattern the best.
Up next, pitchers!