Monday, September 8, 2008

The Greatest Switch Hitter of All Time


I have one of those page-a-day calendars on my desk that has sports trivia on each day. It is a little odd because the trivia doesn't have anything to do with what day it is, like most do, they are just random facts. Last week one of the facts started out like this: "Arguably the greatest switch hitter of all time, Mickey Mantle..."

Reading that, I wondered what the argument would be - who could possibly be argued to be a better switch hitter than the Mick? So I did a little digging and I don't think there is much of an argument. Here are the Mick's credentials:

18 season career: .298/.421/.557 536 home runs, 1,509 rbi (if you like that kind of thing), 153 stolen bases, 344 doubles, 2,415 hits, 172 OPS+. He also hit 50 or more homers twice, 40 or more homers four times, and 30 or more homers nine times. He also had more than 100 rbi four times and batted over .300 nine times. He won three MVP's, went to 20 all star games (early in his career there were two per year), won a triple crown and won a gold glove.

No other switch hitter really comes close to matching those numbers, but for fun here are the two closest competitors. First, their credentials:

Player #1 - 15 season career: .310/.406/.547 406 home runs, 1,366 rbi, 137 stolen bases, 445 doubles, 2,258 hits, 144 OPS+. He hit 40 or more homers once, and 30 or more six times. He had more than 100 rbi nine times and batted over .300 ten times. He won one MVP and went to five all star games.

Player #2 - 21 season career: .287/.359/.476 504 home runs, 1,917 rbi, 110 stolen bases, 560 doubles, 3,255 hits, 129 OPS+. He hit 30 or more homers five times, had 100 or more rbi six times and batted over .300 seven times. He also won rookie of the year, three gold gloves and went to eight all star games.

Can you guess who they are? Clearly, Player #2 is inferior to Player #1 (and certainly to Mantle). He doesn't get on base as much and didn't hit for as much power, although the length of his career allowed him to accumulate good numbers in the counting statistics. Player #2 is Eddie Murray. Quality ballplayer, not on same level as Mickey Mantle, but probably the third best switch hitter of all time.

Player #1 isn't much below Mantle in on base percentage or slugging percentage, but he does lag behind a bit. He is also behind in the counting stats, but, since this is an active player, he can still add to those totals. Player #1 is Chipper Jones. Jones is having a great season this year, although it has been marred by nagging injuries. Jones is only 36, so it isn't out of the question that he could play another three years to match Mantle's 18 seasons. If he does, it is likely that he would pass the Mick in rbi and hits, although it is unlikely that he will hit 130 home runs over that period. It is possible, however that he could get to 500 home runs in that time (although it might be a stretch considering his health issues).

So, in conclusion, I don't really think it is arguable that anyone has been a better switch hitter than Mickey Mantle. For that matter, there isn't really anyone currently active that could challenge him for that title: Chipper will fall short and guys like Lance Berkman and Mark Teixeira aren't really on pace to do it, either.

Daily Links - 9/9/08

Here is a credible argument that Curtis Granderson is as good or better than Grady Sizemore.

Also from Fangraphs is a two part argument for Max Scherzer being in the Arizona starting rotation. Here is part one and here is part two.

Here is a pitching workload study on CC Sabathia from Josh Kalk.

A seemingly disinterested AL team has a tangential reason to watch the NL playoff race.


Anonymous said...

How does Pete Rose compare to "The Mick"

roarke said...

Rose is, of course, a little bit different type of hitter than Mantle, Jones or Murray - which is probably why he slipped past me the first time. I would still put Rose either third or fourth on the list, though after looking at the numbers. Here are his credentials:

24 seasons: .303/.375/.409 160 homers, 1314 rbi, 198 stolen bases, 746 doubles, 4256 hits, 118 OPS+. He hit .300 or better 15 times, he was a 17 time all star, won an MVP, ROY and three batting titles.

He didn't have near the power of the other three guys (although 746 doubles is a ton) and his batting average was second and OBP was third amongst the four of them. His counting stats, especially the hits record, got a huge boost because he kept playing after he had stopped being a productive major leaguer (although he did throw in a couple of near leage average seasons in his 40's).

Overall I'd say he falls way short of Mantle and I'd put him fourth, but I could understand an argument that put him above Murray.