The list of hitters that didn’t make my top 25 of the free agent era continues.
In case you missed my first group of ten, you can find it here:
In the group of ten batters below, we have several more that truly deserved it, or will deserve it someday. Let’s start with a mighty hitter, one I loved watching hit in my youth as a Yankees fan. Hell, as a baseball fan. First up:
Why he could’ve made it: Winfield had a stellar career. He finished with a respectable .282 batting average and homered 465 times, good for 34th in history.
Why he didn’t make it: Winfield amassed 12,358 PA and just kept an homering. The total is impressive, but he only hit over 30 three times. There can be no arguing he had tremendous power, but it wasn’t particularly elite, just steady and unwavering through 22 years of MLB service. His .353 OBP is not bad, just far below many of the other candidates.
Why he could’ve made it: The second undeserving victim of the Coors Field stigma. Helton’s numbers are like something out of a video game. He batted .316 with 369 HR, a ridiculous OBP of .414, and juicy slugging percentage of .539. He owned a 1.14 BB:K ratio.
Why he didn’t make it: It saddens me to leave him off the top 25. Truly. He was possibly #26, though I didn’t rank anyone under the line. Coors Field certainly padded his numbers, as his batting average and OBP were both about 60 points lower on the road. And in 229 more plate appearances at Coors, he homered 85 more times. The slugging is particularly dooming: .607 at home and .469 on the road. I loved Todd Helton. He was one of the finest pure hitters of our time. I just felt the tremors of these variances were a bit too much to ignore.
Why he could’ve made it: One of those great names from the 80s and 90s, Kirby Puckett was a hit machine, finishing with a .318 clip. This is argument enough to put him in the top 25.
Why he didn’t make it: Puckett’s OBP of .360 is relatively low when compared to the top 25, as you’ll see later. He barely topped 200 home runs, launching a long ball in under 3% of his at bats. Mostly though, it’s his short career that robs him. Had his career continued, and his average held firm for more years, he’s probably in. It’s rather sad that his career ended before he hit his way into the discussion, only amassing 7,831 plate appearances in 12 seasons. Only one player with less than 8,000 PA made it into the top 25, and Puckett isn’t it.
Why he could’ve made it: Biggio’s brand of baseball was one of hustle. He is 5th all-time in doubles, his total of 668 is the highest in history for a right-handed batter. He finished with 3,060 hits and a solid .281 average. He also launched 291 home runs.
Why he didn’t make it: Biggio’s counting stats sure are impressive. But it’s a testament to his longevity, playing into his 40’s and compiling 12,504 AB. There is no shame in that… his .281 average, .363 on-base, and .433 slugging just don’t elevate themselves above the other numbers we’ll be looking at.
Why he could’ve made it: Palmeiro is one of just five players in history to have 500 doubles, 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. His triple slash was incredibly solid at .288/.371/.515. To top it all off, he walked five more times (1,353) than he fanned (1,348). It’s incredibly hard to find many names with a better final stat line than Palmeiro.
Why he didn’t make it: Those damn PED’s. Palmeiro is like McGwire… what would we be saying about him without that shadow? He certainly did accumulated some pretty impressive numbers. However, counting stats also lose their luster a bit when you appear at the plate over 12,000 times like Rafael. A truly great hitter, a probable hall of famer until the admission of steroids, but he’s left out of this hall as well.
CAL RIPKEN JR.
Why he could’ve made it: The Iron Man is one of the greats of our time. His name is synonymous with baseball immortality, and his consecutive games streak might never be broken. Oh, by the way, he also racked up 3,184 career hits, 431 home runs (49th), and 603 doubles (16th). He finished with a fine .276 average.
Why he didn’t make it: This one just felt wrong. What’s not to like about Cal? Many people believe he brought the fans back by breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak after the 1994 strike. As a fan of the game, this wasn’t an easy decision. Alas, the Great Cal Ripken had one major offensive flaw: his on base percentage. At .340, he would’ve been a notch or two below the others in the list. His average is plenty respectable at .276, but together they just didn’t measure up to the bar. His elite counting stats were a result of a professional hitter batting for a really, really long time. While that deserves accolades, I wouldn’t put him above the 25 other men as a “better” hitter. I apologize to all who love baseball for this.
Why he could’ve made it: His on field antics and sense of humor made me want to include him. Besides being one of baseball’s best modern day personalities, it turns out he’s one of the steadiest hitters of our time. His stats are very similar to Ripken… 458 homers, 608 doubles, a slight advantage in average at .286 (all as of the date of this post). He sports an OPS of .821 in his career that dates back to 1998, and just recently joined the 3,000 hits club.
Why he didn’t make it: This was a tough one. Beltre’s stats scream to put him in the top 25. Sure, his counting stats are similar to Ripken’s, but he did so in 1,700 less plate appearances. But looking over Beltre’s career, for every 2004 (.334, 48 HR), he had 3 or 4 sub-par campaigns. In the six seasons bordering 2004, Beltre had averages of: .265, .257, .240, .255, .268, and .276. And in those six, he never got on base higher than .328. In fact, his career on-base is .339. Beltre’s career has seen an increase in average and on-base since 2010, and had he batted like this his whole career, he’s in. But the first half of his career weighs down his overall candidacy. Between 1998 and 2009, he sported a sub-.800 OPS nine times. Beltre has put together a very memorable career, just falling short of my top 25 list. It’s also worth noting, advanced metrics put his defense at a very high level, so as an overall player, he ranks much higher than with offense alone.
Why he could’ve made it: Somewhat lost in the Sosa’s, McGwire’s, and Palmeiro’s was Juan Gonzalez. A pure slugger, Gonzalez sports the third highest HR percentage of anyone who didn’t make the list, launching a long ball in 6.65% of his plate appearances. The aforementioned Sosa and McGwire are the only two higher. Gonzalez’s slugging percentage is an elite .561, buoyed by his 434 homers. He also hit very well, finishing with a .295 average in 7,155 plate appearances. In 1998, he hit 45 homers and collected an absurd 157 RBI.
Why he didn’t make it: I’ll be so glad when I can stop writing this “why they didn’t make it” part. Every time I write the paragraph why someone should make it in, I nearly convince myself. Gonzalez makes a compelling case. His career wasn’t short, but in 17 years, injuries only allowed him the 7,000 plate visits. He should make the list, but a relatively short window of dominance, and a .343 OBP keep him out. He mashed, for sure, and I almost convinced myself to put him in.
Why he could’ve made it: Speaking of forgotten players! Albert Belle’s career lasted 12 seasons. He came to the plate 6,676 times. But he was a monster at the dish. He hit 389 home runs and batted .295. His on-base was a respectable .369, and his hammered his way to a .564 slugging percentage. In 1995, he hit 50 home runs.
Why he didn’t make it: His career was just too short, or he might have made it. It’s almost like Juan Gonzalez’s career, just cut off after 12 seasons. There really wasn’t anything to complain about when examining his numbers, he just didn’t sustain it long enough to join the graduating class.
Why he could’ve made it: Put an asterisk on Votto, because in a few years, he may very well deserve to move up the ranks. He’s currently batting .313 through 5,973 career plate appearances. His on-base is so good it makes me laugh: .427, and he provides a lot of bases per at-bat (.541 slugging). If his 2017 continues as is, he’ll have finished a season with an OPS over 1.000 four times.
Why he didn’t make it: To be honest, he’s probably a “better” hitter than some in the top 25, but the sample size is barely half of some of the players we’ll talk about. Not many guys I’d rather have at the plate with the game on the line, though. You can come back and tell me he’s better than 10 of the guys I’ll list in the top 25, and I’ll just shrug, because it’s hard to argue against it. I can’t wait to see his final stats, someday. All we have right now is half a career. A lot of these guys see their stats fade in the back half, and make it more of an apples to apples argument. Though I don’t see Votto’s stats dropping off significantly, he’s just too good, I need more than half a career (no fault of Joey’s) to make my top 25.
And so there we have it, the honorable mentions part II. Now we can get into the meat of the discussion. The previous 20 hitters just deserved to be mentioned in some way. In a completely subjective list such as this, I’ll be very right and very wrong, I have no doubt. But whatever. It’s baseball, the debate is half the fun, even if you know your stance may have weaknesses.
A few names I wanted to mention: Joe Morgan missed the criteria, totaling 6,578 plate appearances before free agency and 4,751 after, otherwise he would’ve been strongly considered, especially with his crazy-good 1.84 BB:K ratio.
I love on-base percentage and guys who walk more than, or nearly as much as, they strike out. And if you haven’t noticed that yet, you will when I talk about the top 25. Two more names I passed over deserve a shout: Willie Randolph equaled Morgan’s 1.84 BB:K percentage, walking 13.1% of his appearances versus a 7.1% K rate. Brian Giles was an underrated hitter, batting .291 and finishing with a 1.42 BB:K ratio.
Finally… on to “The List.” The 25 Best Hitters of the Free Agent Era.
Who will be #25?
I can’t wait to write about him. See you soon.