Mantle's Stats and Rankings Unplugged
I received several e-mails about the Mickey Mantle article, questioning his place in history. As a result, I decided to take a look at Mantle's career from different vantage points other than Win Shares and Runs Created Above Average and Above Position on a year-by-year basis.
ELITE EIGHT (in alphabetical order):
Of the eight players, all but Aaron have also earned The QUAD Award for leading the league in the two most important counting stats (times on base and total bases) and the two most important rate stats (on base percentage and slugging average). Capturing the QUAD demonstrates sheer dominance over the league and is a good measure of peak value, validating the appropriateness of the Elite Eight. Furthermore, all but Hornsby led the entire major league in each of the four categories rather than just their league. The Rajah was victimized by having a concurrent career with Ruth. Cobb (2x), Hornsby (4), Musial (2), Ruth (5), and Williams (5) have been bestowed QUAD honors for their individual league multiple times.
Based on the Jamesian standards outlined above, the Elite Eight would rank ahead of Mantle given that they all beat him out in each of the four categories. But one could make a strong case for placing Mantle ninth on the all-time list of players with the greatest career achievements. An argument could also be made on behalf of Willie Mays, who ranks ahead of his counterpart in three of the four areas (including two top fives). Mays comes up a little short in the Black Ink test (65 for the Oklahoma Kid and 57 for the Say Hey Kid).
There are only seven other players who outpoint Mantle in two of the four lists. By definition, it means that The Mick ranks higher than them in two of the four as well. However, in the case of Mantle, he places no lower than 18th in each of the rankings. Of the seven, only Barry Bonds and Nap Lajoie rate in the top 20 in all four standings. The other five (Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, and Tris Speaker) are not only Hall of Famers but among the best ever at their position.
Bonds, of course, is still active and is likely to continue climbing the leader boards every season between now and his retirement. Bonds needs ten more Black Ink and four more Gray Ink to surpass Mantle. In defense of Bonds, he has played his entire career with at least 12 teams in his league whereas Mantle spent half of his career with only eight and the other half with ten. As a result, Bonds has competed against more players than Mantle (and all of the other players from the pre-expansion era), making it more difficult for him to acquire Black and Gray Ink.
Based on the above discussion, there are 11 players who stand out in the all-time rankings offensively, at least in terms of the Black and Gray Ink, HOF Standards, and HOF Monitor lists.
ENORMOUS ELEVEN (in alpha order):
Interestingly, these 11 players also rank among the top 17 in batting Win Shares. I had mentioned three (Ott, Robinson, and Speaker) of the remaining six previously. The others are Eddie Collins (who ranks in the top 20 in three of the four tests), Rickey Henderson (no top 20s), and Pete Rose (two top 20s). Like Bonds, Henderson and Rose (to a lesser extent) have been disadvantaged by playing during the post-expansion era.
Given that these rankings are all based on cumulative stats, a review of a rate-based stat such as Adjusted OPS might provide some further color on the subject.
TOP 20 OPS+
Babe Ruth 207 Ted Williams 190 Barry Bonds 179 Lou Gehrig 179 Rogers Hornsby 175 Mickey Mantle 172 Joe Jackson 170 Ty Cobb 167 Jimmie Foxx 163 Mark McGwire 163 Frank Thomas 162 Stan Musial 159 Hank Greenberg 158 Johnny Mize 158 Tris Speaker 158 Manny Ramirez 157 Dick Allen 156 Willie Mays 156 Hank Aaron 155 Joe DiMaggio 155 Mel Ott 155
Only Honus Wagner (T28th at 150) from the list of 11 fails to place among the top 20 in OPS+. Interestingly, if we use the 11 players as a baseline for the top offensive performers, we can then rank them using OPS+ to get a feel for the best ever on a combined quantitative and qualitative basis.
Babe Ruth 207 Ted Williams 190 Barry Bonds 179 Lou Gehrig 179 Rogers Hornsby 175 Mickey Mantle 172 Ty Cobb 167 Stan Musial 159 Willie Mays 156 Hank Aaron 155 Honus Wagner 150
That's not a bad list, and it may serve as a ballpark ranking of the top offensive players of all time. We can create groups within groups, too. For example, Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Hornsby, and Cobb are the only players who place among the top ten in all four of the Bill James HOF standards as well as Adjusted OPS. Musial and Aaron rank among the top ten in the HOF standards and 12th and 19th, respectively, in OPS+.
Getting back to the issue of Mantle, only four players--Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, and Hornsby--rank higher than him in all five areas. This does not mean that Mantle is the fifth most productive offensive player ever. It just suggests it would be difficult to argue that he deserves to be listed among the top four. Nonetheless, I think it is fair to place Mantle somewhere between #6 and #11 on the all-time list of hitters. The upper end would be determined more on peak value, rate stats, and relative rankings whereas the lower end would be predicated more on career totals.
RUNS CREATED ABOVE AVERAGE
1 Babe Ruth 1795
Voila! The top eight in RCAA are among the top 11 discussed throughout. Looked at another way, the 11 players I've identified all rank among the top 14 in RCAA. More impressively, 10 of these 11 players comprise the top 10 in Runs Created Above Position (RCAP). Aaron is the only one of the Enormous Eleven outside the top 10 in RCAP, and he is not far back in a tie for 12th place.
RUNS CREATED ABOVE POSITION
1 Babe Ruth 1594 2 Ted Williams 1246 3 Barry Bonds 1218 4 Rogers Hornsby 1094 5 Ty Cobb 1078 6 Mickey Mantle 1009 7 Honus Wagner 994 8 Stan Musial 992 9 Lou Gehrig 988 10 Willie Mays 856 11 Mel Ott 831 T12 Eddie Collins 822 T12 Hank Aaron 822 14 Joe Morgan 820 15 Tris Speaker 777 16 Jimmie Foxx 700 17 Frank Robinson 674 18 Rickey Henderson 636 19 Eddie Mathews 633 20 Joe DiMaggio 629
What Does It All Mean?
From my vantage point, these lists suggest that no matter which metrics (HOF standards, OPS+, Win Shares, and/or RCAA and RCAP) or style (counting, rate, and/or relative stats) one uses, the best offensive players identify themselves. This study also goes a long way in proving that Mantle has unquestionably earned his status as one of the very best hitters ever. Choosing the best overall players is more problematic, given the need to account for positions, defensive performance, and baserunning skills. Having said that, I wouldn't dismiss any of these 11 from, say, a list of the top 15 overall players (excluding pitchers) as none of them are so poor defensively or on the base paths as to detract materially from their production at the plate.
Williams is probably the worst combination of position (LF), defense ("C") and baserunning (24 career SB, 17 CS; 58%), followed by Ruth (corner OF w/ "C-" grade and 110 SB vs. 117 CS in the years both were counted) and Hornsby (2B w/ "C" and only 56 SB vs. 64 CS in the years both were counted). Gehrig (1B, "B-", 102 SB/101 CS) and Musial (corner OF, "B", 29 SB/31 CS in the years both were counted--which unfairly penalizes him by excluding the first nine years of his career) were above-average defensively and on the basepaths. Aaron and Bonds rank surprisingly low defensively ("C") but both were fast with high stolen base totals and outstanding SB percentages. As corner outfielders, I believe Win Shares undervalues their defensive contributions by comparing them to CF. Aaron won three Gold Gloves and had a 2.08 range factor vs. 1.88 for the league average and a .980 fielding percentage vs. .976. Bonds has won eight Gold Gloves and has an above-average range factor (2.24 vs. 1.92) and fielding percentage (.985 vs. .981).
On the other hand, Wagner and Mays rank high defensively ("A+") and both were among the fastest and most successful base stealers of their time (Wagner, 722 SB--10th all time--with limited CS data; Mays, 338 SB/103 CS, 76%). Cobb ("B+" defensively with 892 SB--4th all time--and a 72% success rate during the only three years in his prime in which CS were kept) would rate right behind Wagner and Mays in these peripheral areas. A case could also be made on behalf of Mantle ("B+" and considered one of the fastest runners in the history of baseball in his early years plus an astounding 80% SB rate) ranking on the heels of this trio.
Among the players on the fringes, Collins (2B, "A-", 744 SB--7th all time) and Speaker (CF, "A+", 432 SB--54th all time--but only a 56% success rate in the years in which CS were maintained) would rate best based on a combination of defense and baserunning. One might be able to make a case for DiMaggio (CF, "A+"), too, although it is difficult to give him as high of a mark for his baserunning given his lack of stolen bases (30) although he was effective (76%). Adding these three players into the mix produces a total of 14. Throw in the next top three sluggers (Foxx, Ott, and Robinson) plus several players (Lajoie, Henderson, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, and Alex Rodriguez come to mind) from positions (3B, C, and SS) or eras (decade of the 1900s plus 1970s-on) that are under represented and one can come up with the makings of a pretty good top 25 list (excluding pitchers, 19th century performers, and Negro League players).
Sources: Baseball-Reference.com (Black Ink, Gray Ink, HOF Standards, HOF Monitor, and OPS+), the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia (RCAA and RCAP), and Win Shares by Bill James and Jim Henzler.