Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pete Rose is Better Than Ichiro Suzuki (But Ty Cobb Beats Them Both)

Last week, Ichiro Suzuki became the sixth player in the history of professional baseball to reach 4,000 hits (1). The other five: Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Pete Rose, and Jigger Statz . But among these six, who’s the best hitter? May I present to you the members of the 4,000 hit club, ranked six through one, based upon on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage (SLG), on-base plus slugging (OPS) and OPS+ (2).

A note regarding these rankings: These aren’t the top six hitters of all time. In my opinion, there are only two players worthy of consideration for the superlative of “Greatest Bat Swinger”: Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. Instead, this is a ranking of the members of the 4,000 hit club (still great hitters all) based upon how well they hit. So without further ado, let’s begin.

6. Jigger Statz, CF
In eight years in the majors, Arnold John Statz accrued 737 hits and an OPS+ of 87, both the lowest major league numbers of any of the men on this list. Because of his low numbers in OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+, Statz lands at number six here. But don’t think him a poor player by any means. Not everyone plays eighteen years in the Pacific Coast League and racks up 3,356 hits in said league (3). His place on this list is rightfully earned.

5. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
In his thirteen MLB seasons so far, Ichiro has amassed 2,728 total hits (before play began on Saturday, August 31) with the Mariners and Yankees, along with a SLG of .416. His SLG is fourth-best among the six men on this list, and ahead of both Statz and Pete Rose, but his lesser numbers in OBP, OPS, and OPS+ put him at number five in my countdown. Again, Ichiro earned his place as a member of the 4,000 hit club, but there’s a man named Charlie who beat him out for the number four slot.

4. Pete Rose, OF, 1B, 3B, 2B, RF
Okay, so Pete Rose’s name isn’t really Charlie, but he is referred to as “Charlie Hustle.” The Hit King reached base safely via the hit 4,683 times throughout his 27 seasons as a Red, Phillie, Expo, and minor leaguer (4). He lands at number four on this list after beating Ichiro out narrowly in OBP, OPS, and OPS+ (no more than 13 points in any one category). However, his numbers aren’t nearly as good as the next hitter on this list.

3. Hank Aaron, RF
Hank Aaron, with his 4,095 total hits and 755 major league home runs, places third on this list, and it’s not even close (5). Though Pete Rose has a career OBP that’s one point better than Aaron’s, Hammerin’ Hank crushes Rose in OPS, SLG, and OPS+. Aaron’s highest numerical margin of victory over Rose is in SLG, in which he wins by 146 points. 

2. Stan Musial, 1B, LF, RF
Stan the Man hit more than 3,600 of his 4,001 professional hits as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals (6). He’s number two on this list because of his SLG and OPS, both of which are tops among this unique fraternity of six. But he comes in second in my ranking to….

1. Ty Cobb, CF
Tyrus Raymond Cobb is one of just two men on this list (the other being Pete Rose) to rack up 4,000 of his hits in the big leagues alone. But Cobb is number one here because of his OPS+ and (mostly) because of his OBP (7), both of which were tops among the six swingers in this exclusive club. To add even more to Cobb’s number one ranking, he’s also tops in offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) among these six men, nearly 20 points better than Aaron (second in oWAR). So of the players who’ve racked up more than 4,000 hits in pro baseball, Ty Cobb is tops.

**Note: All statistics in this blog post either came from, or were based on the numbers on, except for the sentences marked with a footnote, in which cases the sources are listed just under this paragraph.

***Note 2: All of Ichiro Suzuki’s statistics are current
prior to the beginning of play today. This means his offensive statistics from today’s game are not counted in the totals on this post.

1.There is at least one source noting that a seventh pro baseball player, Julio Franco, also might had more than 4,000 professional hits: A blog post by KennethMatinale.
2. In determining the rankings on this blog post, the idea proposed by Paul DePodesta in Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball that when examining OPS, OBP is worth triple the amount that SLG is worth, was used (pp. 127-29). So, when I ranked the players in OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+, OBP was weighted most heavily of all the statistics.
3. Jigger Statz’s Pacific Coast League numbers from
4. Pete Rose hit total from Kenneth Matinale’s blog post.
5. Hank Aaron hit total from Kenneth Matinale’s blog post.
6. Stan Musial hit total from Kenneth Matinale’s blog post.
7. Again, recall that OBP has three times the value of SLG when looked at in OPS (Paul DePodesta as referenced in Michael Lewis, Moneyball, pp. 127-29).