Baseball BeatAugust 10, 2003
Drilling Deeper Into The Greatest HR Hitters Ever
By Rich Lederer

Trying to rank the greatest home run sluggers in history is no easy feat. Thus far, I have produced lists based on the standard cumulative totals as well as lists with the differences between the individual player and his league average expressed in absolute and relative terms.

My main problem with ranking players based on cumulative totals only is that such rankings tend to be biased toward longevity and those who played in eras favoring that particular stat. As such, I prefer basing my rankings on how a player performed vs. the league average. The question then comes down to whether I should use absolute or relative differences. At the risk of losing those readers who may be mathematically challenged, let me try to explain why I think the best system is a combination of the two.

Although the ratios are the same, hitting 30 HR in a season vs. 10 for league average is clearly worth more than producing 12 HR in a league with an average of 4. As a result, a formula based on the ratio of HR vs. the league average will tend to overvalue hitters who played during the dead ball era and undervalue those who played during the live ball era.

The converse is also true. Although the absolute differences are the same, hitting 12 HR in a season vs. 4 for the league average is clearly more valuable than producing 18 HR in a league with an average of 10. As a result, a system based on the absolute differences of HR vs. the league average will tend to overvalue hitters who played when HR were more prevalent and undervalue those who played when HR were less prevalent.

Accordingly, it seems to me that evaluating the greatest home run sluggers of all time should be based on the combined standings of these two methods. After satisfying myself with the logic behind my system, I proceeded to create two lists. The first one ranked the top 100 HR hitters in modern baseball history by the absolute differences in HR vs. the league average and the second ranked the top 100 by the ratio of HR vs. the league average. To qualify for the next cut, I made it a requirement that a player make both lists. From there, I added the two rankings and then sorted them to come up with Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT's Top 30.

Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT's Top 30 HR Sluggers of All Time (1900-2002):

RANK	PLAYER			HR	DIFF	RATIO	COMB	HR TITLES

1 Babe Ruth 714 1 1 2 12 2 Jimmie Foxx 534 4 3 7 4 3 Lou Gehrig 493 7 2 9 3 4 Mel Ott 511 9 6 15 6 5 Mark McGwire 583 3 14 17 4 Ted Williams 521 8 9 17 4 7 Mike Schmidt 548 10 19 29 8 8 Barry Bonds 613 5 29 34 2 9 Hank Greenberg 331 27 8 35 4 10 Mickey Mantle 536 12 24 36 4 Johnny Mize 359 23 13 36 4 12 Hank Aaron 755 2 37 39 4 13 Rogers Hornsby 301 34 7 41 2 Willie McCovey 521 14 27 41 3 15 Harmon Killebrew 573 11 31 42 6 Willie Stargell 475 16 26 42 2 17 Dave Kingman 442 18 25 43 2 18 Ralph Kiner 369 25 20 45 7 19 Joe DiMaggio 361 27 21 48 2 20 Willie Mays 660 6 43 49 4 21 Cy Williams 251 53 4 57 4 22 Chuck Klein 300 43 17 60 4 23 Sammy Sosa 499 17 44 61 2 24 Reggie Jackson 563 15 48 63 4 25 Frank Robinson 586 13 52 65 1 26 Ken Griffey Jr. 468 20 47 67 4 27 Dick Allen 351 38 32 70 2 28 Hack Wilson 244 64 10 74 4 29 Frank Howard 382 32 46 78 2 30 Eddie Mathews 512 18 63 81 2

This list is not meant to be the list. However, it is meant to be a list. I believe it does as good a job as any in measuring the combination of quantitative and qualitative totals, which, as detailed in The Quad articles, is my favorite way of evaluating and ranking players.

Interestingly, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, and Ted Williams are the only players who rank in the top ten based on HR minus the league average and HR divided by the league average. Mark McGwire and Mike Schmidt are the only other players who rank in the top 20 in both cases.

The rankings are dynamic rather than static, but they are not as apt to change as the standard career lists (which seemingly fluctuate on a daily basis). Barry Bonds (currently at #8), Sammy Sosa (#23), and other active players have the potential of moving up on this list although the climb will be much more difficult than rankings based on cumulative totals only. Although Bonds is a good bet to blow by Willie Mays, Ruth, and Hank Aaron in career home runs before he calls it quits, it will be almost impossible for him to supplant The Bambino as the most dominant HR hitter ever (as determined by my system).

There are three players--Frank "Home Run" Baker, Gavvy Cravath, and Harry Davis--who may have been shortchanged based on my formula. The common thread among these players is that they excelled at hitting four baggers during the "dead ball" era of the 1900s and 1910s. These hitters fare extremely well on the ratio rankings but they failed to make the top 100 on absolute differences. Baker (1911-1914) and Davis (1904-1907) each led the American League in HR for four consecutive years, while Cravath (1913-1915, 1917-1919) topped the National League in HR for three straight years twice (for a grand total of six titles).

Cy Williams once again shows up well in this ranking. Like Baker, Cravath, and Davis before him, Williams also played in the "dead ball" era. Of the top 30, only Williams (1916) and Ruth (1918 and 1919) won home run titles prior to the introduction of the live ball in 1920.

On a separate note, I thought it was noteworthy that four of the top ten HR hitters above (Ruth, Foxx, Gehrig, and Hank Greenberg) also ranked in the top ten in HR %, HR/100 Outs, and HR/100 Plate Appearances relative to the league in absolute and relative terms. These lists are shown for information only and were not used in calculating my rankings.

HR%                             DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE
   
1    Babe Ruth                  7.30     8.50     1.20   
2    Mark McGwire               6.52     9.42     2.90   
3    Jimmie Foxx                4.85     6.57     1.72   
4    Ralph Kiner                4.68     7.09     2.41   
5    Ted Williams               4.63     6.76     2.13   
6    Lou Gehrig                 4.60     6.16     1.57   
7    Barry Bonds                4.59     7.35     2.77   
8    Hank Greenberg             4.52     6.37     1.86   
9    Harmon Killebrew           4.42     7.03     2.61   
10   Mike Schmidt               4.37     6.56     2.20
HR/100 OUTS                     DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE
   
1    Babe Ruth                 10.80    12.40     1.60   
2    Mark McGwire               8.45    12.15     3.71   
3    Ted Williams               7.11     9.85     2.74   
4    Jimmie Foxx                7.07     9.37     2.30   
5    Lou Gehrig                 6.87     8.98     2.11   
6    Hank Greenberg             6.49     8.97     2.48   
7    Ralph Kiner                6.34     9.47     3.13   
8    Barry Bonds                6.30     9.84     3.54   
9    Mickey Mantle              5.87     9.09     3.22   
10   Harmon Killebrew           5.66     8.95     3.30
HR/100 PA                       DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE
   
1    Babe Ruth                  5.67     6.73     1.06   
2    Mark McGwire               5.04     7.61     2.58   
3    Jimmie Foxx                4.00     5.52     1.52   
4    Dave Kingman               3.90     5.95     2.05   
5    Hank Greenberg             3.78     5.43     1.65   
6    Ralph Kiner                3.76     5.90     2.14   
7    Lou Gehrig                 3.72     5.10     1.38   
8    Sammy Sosa                 3.70     6.32     2.62   
9    Harmon Killebrew           3.51     5.83     2.32   
10   Mike Schmidt               3.49     5.45     1.96
HR%                             RATE   PLAYER   LEAGUE
   
1    Babe Ruth                   706     8.50     1.20   
2    Lou Gehrig                  394     6.16     1.57   
3    Jimmie Foxx                 382     6.57     1.72   
4    Cy Williams                 381     3.70     0.97   
5    Ken Williams                366     4.03     1.10   
6    Mel Ott                     353     5.40     1.53   
7    Hank Greenberg              343     6.37     1.86   
8    Hack Wilson                 342     5.13     1.50   
9    Tilly Walker                340     2.33     0.68   
10   Rogers Hornsby              328     3.68     1.12
HR/100 OUTS                     RATE   PLAYER   LEAGUE
   
1    Babe Ruth                   777    12.40     1.60   
2    Lou Gehrig                  426     8.98     2.11   
3    Jimmie Foxx                 407     9.37     2.30   
4    Cy Williams                 390     4.98     1.28   
5    Ken Williams                378     5.49     1.45   
6    Mel Ott                     372     7.54     2.03   
7    Rogers Hornsby              365     5.45     1.49   
8    Hank Greenberg              362     8.97     2.48   
9    Ted Williams                359     9.85     2.74   
10   Hack Wilson                 351     7.13     2.03
HR/100 PA                       RATE   PLAYER   LEAGUE
   
1    Babe Ruth                   635     6.73     1.06   
2    Cy Williams                 374     3.25     0.87   
3    Lou Gehrig                  369     5.10     1.38   
4    Jimmie Foxx                 363     5.52     1.52   
5    Ken Williams                361     3.49     0.97   
6    Tilly Walker                348     2.08     0.60   
7    Home Run Baker              334     1.44     0.43   
8    Hank Greenberg              330     5.43     1.65   
9    Mel Ott                     328     4.51     1.37   
10   Hack Wilson                 327     4.39     1.34

Source: sabermetric baseball encyclopedia

Next weekend, I will take a look at the one player who has yet to appear on any of my HR lists (due to falling just shy of the minimum number of plate appearances of 5,000) but has the potential of becoming the all-time leader on a cumulative basis before he retires.