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 1971, we find that the top five BA’s belonged to Joe Torre (.363), Ralph Garr (.343), Glenn Beckert (.342), Roberto Clemente (.341) & Tony Oliva (.337). Fine players all, but were they the five best hitters in baseball? Torre won the NL MVP but three of the others didn’t finish in their league’s top five. Garr & Beckert had 44 & 42 RBI’s respectively.
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 less than two months away, here’s one Duck’s opinion on the hitters for 2021 that could be the top ten this season…based on the projections from a highly respected Fantasy website.
1) Mike Trout, Angels OF, 1.057 OPS – 20 years from now, people will be describing his career as “once in a generation”. His consistency and still youthful age (29) makes him the consensus #1 hitter in the game even though he seems to have put stolen bases in the rear-view mirror. This type of performance would put over the 1.000 mark for his career.
2) Juan Soto, Nationals OF, 1.007 OPS – Still in his early 20’s, his game seems complete.
3) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B/, .972 OPS – The NL MVP is in his prime.
4) Christian Yelich, Brewers OF, .938 OPS – At age 29, most fans & scribes seem to be giving him a “Mulligan” for 2020.
5) Anthony Rendon, Angels 3B, .935 OPS – His first campaign with the Halos produced a .915 OPS.
6) Mookie Betts, Dodgers OF, .931 OPS – Lived up to the hype and won a ring…he loves L.A.
7) Yordan Alvarez, Astros DH, .921 OPS – Lost the entire 2020 season with knee issues but the potential at age 23 is off the charts.
8) Cody Bellinger, Dodgers OF/1B, .917 OPS – Won ROY & MVP in his first three seasons…don’t let 2020 scare you off.
9) Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres SS, .912 OPS – Just turned 22 and in his first 558 MLB AB’s, has 39 HR’s & 27 SB’s.
10) Bryce Harper, Phillies Of, .909 OPS – Still only 28 with lots of experience, he had more Walks than Strikeouts in 2020.
Did your favorite player get left off the list? The next two are also over .900…Xander Bogaerts & Alex Bregman. Or maybe some youngsters take the next step? We’ll all be watching.
As for 1971, the two players who exceeded 1.000 OPS were Hank Aaron & Willie Stargell.