50 years ago, if a baseball fan was asked who the best hitters were, the only significant resource would have been the sports section of the Sunday newspaper. Somewhere in the back pages, there was a long, slender list in very small type showing all current major league players. And those players were ranked by their BA (Batting Average) because that had historically been the benchmark for position players.
Looking back at 1970, we find that the top five BA’s belonged to Rico Carty (.366), Alex Johnson (.329), Carl Yastrzemski (.329), Joe Torre (.325) & Manny Sanguillen (.325). Fine players all, but were they the five best hitters in baseball? Not when you consider that the two MVP winners (Johnny Bench and Boog Powell) didn’t even hit .300. Sanguillen, for example, had only 7 HR’s & 61 RBI’s.
As modern baseball analytics have evolved, one of the most accepted statistics has become OPS (On-Base % + Slugging %). Not only does it prioritize getting on base, it also adds the concept of moving more runners around the bases. After all, Slugging Percentage is defined as Total Bases /At Bats. Old school fans might question the veracity of the stat but baseball history tells the tale. The five highest lifetime OPS numbers belong to Babe Ruth (1.16), Ted Williams (1.12), Lou Gehrig (1.08), Barry Bonds (1.05) & Jimmie Foxx (1.04). There are only two other hitters with a number over 1.00… Hank Greenberg and Rogers Hornsby. Mike Trout is at #8 with .999.
With Spring Training around the corner, here’s one Duck’s opinion on the hitters for 2020 that could be the top ten this season…based on the projections from a highly respected Fantasy website.
1) Mike Trout, Angels OF, 1.034 OPS – 20 years from now, people will be describing his career as “once in a generation”. His consistency and still youthful age (28) makes him the consensus #1 hitter in the game. This type of performance would put over the 1.000 mark for his career.
2) Christian Yelich, Brewers OF, 1.030 OPS – Also 28, he reached 1.100 in 2019.
3) Cody Bellinger, Dodger 1B/OF, .958 OPS – The NL MVP also won a Gold Glove and he’s only 24.
4) J.D. Martinez, Red Sox DH, .957 OPS – 2019 was viewed as an off year, but really only in comparison to 2018. His OPS was .939 with 105 RBI’s.
5T) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B, .950 OPS – His consistency causes him to be somewhat underrated. 38 HR’s & 121 RBI’s in 2019 shouldn’t be overlooked.
5T) Juan Soto, Nationals OF, .950 OPS – Has 56 HR’s entering his age 21 season!!
7) Alex Bregman, Astros 3B, .939 OPS – Bang your trash can if you’re not rooting for him.
8) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF, .929 OPS – Even with those troublesome injuries the last two years, his 4-year OPS is .952.
9) Yordan Alvarez, Astros DH, .924 OPS – The AL ROY had astonishing numbers for a first-season player including a 1.067 OPS…he’s 22 years old.
10) Nelson Cruz, Twins DH, .922 OPS – Amazing production at age 39.
Did your favorite player get left off the list? The next five are all over .900…Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson, Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper & Anthony Rendon. Or maybe some youngsters take the next step? We’ll all be watching.
As for 1970, the four players who exceeded 1.000 OPS were McCovey, Yastrzemski, Carty & Jim Hickman.