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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Willie Mays: best batter at 40 but not best hitter. Is Walking Hitting?

Is Walking Hitting?

David Ortiz and the Greatest Age-40 Season Ever
by Matthew Kory - February 8, 2016 fangraphs.com


Because Ortiz doesn’t play defense, he’s unlikely to post the best overall season ever, so let’s switch over to a purely offensive stat: wRC+. This is ideal, as it controls for park factors and the general run environment. This way, we can compare hitter quality across eras without getting bogged down in silly things like defense and base running. So, who has the highest wRC+ of any 40-year-old in baseball history? Willie Mays! From 1971!
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I will use OPS+ because it is more readily available than wRC+ and they produce similar results.

In 2015 at age 39 David Ortiz hit 37 home runs and slugged .553; career .547. His On Base Average: in 2015 .360; career .378. Ortiz reached OPS+ 141 in 2015 by hitting, not by walking. Career OPS+ 139.

50 player seasons qualified for leading in averages (502 plate appearances (PA) in recent seasons) for players at least 40 years old before July 1. Of those fifty, 27 had OPS+ >= 100. Rabbit Maranville had the two lowest at ages 40 and 41: 59 and 60. Here are the top 20:

Rk Player OPS+ Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Willie Mays 158 1971 40 SFG NL 136 537 417 82 113 24 5 18 61 112 11 123 3 1 4 8 23 3 .271 .425 .482 .907 *83H
2 Edgar Martinez 141 2003 40 SEA AL 145 603 497 72 146 25 0 24 98 92 7 95 7 0 7 17 0 1 .294 .406 .489 .895 *D/H
3 Dave Winfield 138 1992 40 TOR AL 156 670 583 92 169 33 3 26 108 82 10 89 1 1 3 10 2 3 .290 .377 .491 .867 *D9
4 Stan Musial 137 1962 41 STL NL 135 505 433 57 143 18 1 19 82 64 4 46 3 0 5 13 3 0 .330 .416 .508 .924 *79H
5 Darrell Evans 135 1987 40 DET AL 150 609 499 90 128 20 0 34 99 100 8 84 2 2 6 2 6 5 .257 .379 .501 .880 *3DH/5
6 Carlton Fisk 134 1990 42 CHW AL 137 521 452 65 129 21 0 18 65 61 8 73 7 0 1 12 7 2 .285 .378 .451 .829 *2DH
7 Ty Cobb 134 1927 40 PHA AL 133 574 490 104 175 32 7 5 93 67 12 5 12 22 16 .357 .440 .482 .921 *98/H
8 Rickey Henderson 128 1999 40 NYM NL 121 526 438 89 138 30 0 12 42 82 1 82 2 1 3 4 37 14 .315 .423 .466 .889 *7/HD
9 Honus Wagner 127 1915 41 PIT NL 156 625 566 68 155 32 17 6 78 39 64 4 16 22 15 .274 .325 .422 .747 *643/H
10 Luke Appling 126 1947 40 CHW AL 139 573 503 67 154 29 0 8 49 64 28 1 4 15 8 6 .306 .386 .412 .797 *6/H5
11 Luke Appling 125 1949 42 CHW AL 142 619 492 82 148 21 5 5 58 121 24 0 6 23 7 12 .301 .439 .394 .833 *6/H
12 Honus Wagner 121 1916 42 PIT NL 124 485 432 45 124 15 9 1 39 34 36 8 10 11 .287 .350 .370 .721 *63/H4
13 Graig Nettles 120 1985 40 SDP NL 137 515 440 66 115 23 1 15 61 72 5 59 0 0 3 10 0 0 .261 .363 .420 .784 *5H
14 Pete Rose 118 1981 40 PHI NL 107 486 431 73 140 18 5 0 33 46 5 26 3 1 3 8 4 4 .325 .391 .390 .781 *3
15 Sam Rice 118 1930 40 WSH AL 147 669 593 121 207 35 13 1 73 55 14 3 17 13 8 .349 .407 .457 .864 *98/H
16 Reggie Jackson 116 1986 40 CAL AL 132 517 419 65 101 12 2 18 58 92 11 115 3 0 3 14 1 1 .241 .379 .408 .787 *DH/9
17 Sam Rice 116 1932 42 WSH AL 106 323 288 58 93 16 7 1 34 32 6 0 3 7 4 .323 .391 .438 .828 9H87
18 Johnny Cooney 115 1941 40 BSN NL 123 477 442 52 141 25 2 0 29 27 15 0 9 13 3 .319 .358 .385 .743 *8/H3
19 Carl Yastrzemski 111 1982 42 BOS AL 131 523 459 53 126 22 1 16 72 59 1 50 2 0 3 12 0 1 .275 .358 .431 .789 *DH3/8
20 Luke Appling 111 1948 41 CHW AL 139 594 497 63 156 16 2 0 47 94 35 0 3 17 10 4 .314 .423 .354 .777 *56/H
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/9/2016.
Photo of Willie Mays
Willie Mays did not hit especially well at age 40. Mays led the National League in walks for the only time in his career with 112 in only 537 PA. Mays walked 21% of the time. His next highest walks: 82 in 665 PA (12%) in 1964 when he hit 47 HR.

In 1971 at age 40: 18 HR, .271/.425/.482. That .425 on base average was his highest and the only time Mays led the NL. Mays also had 123 SO; second most SO: 92 in 1967.

SO and BB composed 44% of his PA in 1971. Willie simply did not hit the ball much and when he did it was well below his usual standards and well below what David Ortiz did in 2015 at age 39.

The point is not to denigrate the great Willie Mays but to point out how much we have lost common sense in evaluating performance. The fangraphs.com article referenced above ignores the obvious items just mentioned about Mays, who was a shadow of his former self but who apparently had adapted at age 40 to his limited skill. At age 41 Mays also used walks to simulate production. In 309 PA with the Giants but mostly with the Mets, Mays BA dropped from .271 to .250 but his on base average was .400; his slugging plunged still further from .482 to .402; career .557.

Please read the document I wrote January 21, 2009. The link is the first and last lines of this post:

Is Walking Hitting?

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