Who is the best base stealer in
MLB history? Most “who da best?”
questions don’t provoke answers as
seemingly obvious as this one. But…
I’ll post a quickie with my take
that the obvious answer isn’t the
right one. Maybe in a week or two.
For now, y’all can think about it.
Who is the best base stealer in
See previous article for background.
The batters who walked most often per AB in MLB history (minimum 800 walks drawn) are, in order:
Hitter Walks At Bats Walk rate
T Williams2021 7706 .208
B Bonds 2558 9847 .206
M Bishop 1153 4494 .204
B Ruth 2062 8398 .197
E Stanky 996 4301 .188
F Fain 904 3930 .187
G Tenace 984 4390 .183
Cullenbine853 3879 .180
E Yost 1614 7346 .180
M Mantle 1733 8102 .176
J McGraw 836 3924 .176
MMcGwire1317 6187 .176
But some batters played when walks were more or less common. Using the Baseball Prospectus translated stats to adjust for this, and for ease of competition, below is a ranking of batters who had the highest translated walk rate.
At bats walks walk rate
BBonds 9876 2495 .202
MBishop 4492 1074 .193
BRuth 8494 1984 .190
RThomas 5627 1305 .188
JMcGraw 4101 941 .186
THartsel 5099 1146 .184
GTenace 4447 981 .181
TWilliams 7703 1691 .180
EStanky 4321 926 .176
Aha – Ted Williams played when the AL was a league where walks were freely given out; his ‘eye’ maybe was not QUITE as precise as legend has it (but fear not, Splinter fans, his bat still was!). Roy Thomas and Topsy Hartsel played 100 years ago; their names are not as well known, but check out their records. Thomas led the NL in bases on balls 7 times in 8 years. Oddly, Hartsel played in the same city (Philadelphia) in the other league at the same time, and had many of the same skills.
Now… how about we adjust for the players’ (isolated) POWER. Using the formula translated walk rate + .015 – translated ISO ^ 2 * .656, below is the table of Best Eye Hitters – those who would have walked the most often, given they had average power (i.e., equally feared [or not!] by opposing pitchers).
ab w iso walk rate
adj walk rate
MBishop 4492 1074 0.111 .239 .246
RThomas 5627 1305 0.102 .232 .240
JMcGraw 4101 941 0.149 .229 .230
EStanky 4321 926 0.117 .214 .220
THartsel 5099 1146 0.181 .225 .218
MHuggins 5826 1126 0.099 .193 .202
GTenace 4447 981 0.272 .221 .187
Henderson11139 2162 0.189 .194 .186
The Babe was walked more due to his incredible bat more than anything else. Ditto Ted and Barry. The real king of the strike zone was the man whose nickname was…. Camera Eye. Max Bishop, the man who scored 1153 runs in his major league career, which only lasted 1338 games. He had the best eye. Ever.
The Texas Rangers are LEADING the AL in run prevention! I did NOT see that coming. So, how are they doing it?
Check out the rotation: of the Rangers 6 pitchers who have started the most games, the THIRD best ERA is Holland, at 4.88! Hmmm… doesn’t seem all that special.
New call-up Tommy Hunter is on a roll; but a Fly-ball pitcher with a fairly low KO rate uis not a prescription to for an ERA in the low 2s, as he has so far. Combine that with his 4.2 minor league ERA in 09, and I think he’s over his head.
The Rangers have allowed an incredibly low 28 UNearned runs (league avg is 42). Even though they have committed an average amount of errors. Great ‘clutch’ play there I guess.
Their bullpen has been superb – anyone see Darren O’Day’s ERA of 1.69 coming, after the Mets waived him since his ERA last season was 4.57?
All told, I’m not big on expecting Texas to win the wild card; sure looks like smoke and mirrors. But go ahead guys, surprise me.
Which major league hitter had the best “eye”? How do we answer that question?
We could say Bonds drew the most walks; but many of them were intentional. We could look at walk rate (W/PA or W/AB) to normalize by career length; but one issue that will be raised, legitimately, is that Ruth/Bonds/etc were often walked BECAUSE they were feared. Who knows, maybe Dal Maxvill would have drawn 100 walks a year if he actually had been able to HIT.
Other potential things to wrassle with:
1 in some eras of MLB play, walks were more prevelant than others.
2 what about park effects?
3 level of play corrections?
4 does “good eye” change over time; do we need to make a “peak” and “career” assessment of the best eye?
Sometime soon, I’ll outline my methods to deal with these issues, and write an article about who Realyl had the best “eye”. Until then, suggestions welcome.
Walks: do they correleate with batter ability? The answer is, they do correlate with ISO (isolated power, or ‘bases above singles’ per AB: doubles are 1, triples = 2, home runs = 3. Can also be calculated as SLG – AVG.
I used 20 years of MLB play (1953-56, 1965-72, 1981-88) and ran a regression using the 3700+ players who had at least 300 PA in any year.
There was no tendency for players with higher AVG to draw more walks. Which surprised me. But higher ISOs definitely correlated well with walks. The best fit was a 2nd order fit; avg walk/AB = .076 +.656 * ISO^2. So a player with absolutely NO power at all should walk 7.6 times per 100 AB. But a Ruthian man with an ISO of .350 would be expected to walk 15.6 per 100 AB. In an average enivronment. So in this way, the raw walk rate of a player can be adjusted for how much power he had.
Be back next week with a report of who had the best eye ever.
See the followup here.