We continue our countdown of the top 25 hitters of the free agent era. All posts can be found here.
Jeff Bagwell was born in Boston and grew up a Red Sox fan. He was drafted by the Red Sox in 1989.
And then, he was traded by the Red Sox. In 1990, “Bags” was traded for bullpen help, and the Astros dealt them Larry Anderson for a 22-year-old third baseman named Jeff Bagwell. Of course, being traded from his childhood favorite team was not what Bagwell wanted, but he made the most of it.
Wasting no time establishing his batting skills, he won Rookie of the Year in 1991. He batted .294 that season and hit 15 home runs, while getting on base at a .387 clip. In 1993, he batted .320. Then in the strike-shortened 1994 season, Bagwell took the baseball world by a storm.
His 1994 line: .368 average, .451 OBP, .750 slugging, 39 homers, 116 RBI, 104 runs. This in only 110 games. Doing some quick math, the OPS leaps off the page at 1.201. His adjusted OPS+ (and advanced statistic that puts the average player at 100 and is adjusted for ballparks) of 213 is the 24th highest for a single season in the history of baseball. And half of the seasons ahead of him belong to some guys named Ruth, Bonds, Williams, and Mantle.
The 39 homers is outstanding in a normal season. He did it in 110 games!
Then, in a stretch of seasons from 1996 through 2003, he hit at least 30 homers, three of those seasons were over 40 and two more at 39. Jeff Bagwell with his signature wide stance, pummeled baseballs for over a decade. Here’s an example of him drilling a ball into the third deck in Pittsburgh.
A somewhat less glamorous stat was his abilities to generate walks. Granted, he scared a lot of pitchers into pitching around him, but it takes a special kind of hitter to walk 100+ times in seven consecutive seasons. Three times in his career did Bagwell have an on-base percentage over .450. As a result, his career OBP was .408, 36th on the all-time list of qualifying batters.
When all was said and done, his other career stats have an impressive shine to them. He hit .297 with 449 home runs (40th all-time). His career ISO power is .243, good for 39th in history. It’s easy to see why Jeff Bagwell was inducted into the Hall of Fame earlier this season.
What’s not easy was deciding where to put Bags on the list. His dominance is inarguable. He was one of the most intimidating hitters in the game between 1994 and 2003, which is ten solid years. Had he dominated for longer, or kept up that level of production for all 15 seasons, he probably is higher on the list. It’s hard to punish a guy who only had 10 seasons of greatness, but there are an awful lot of elite players still to talk about.
Jeff Bagwell was one of the most prolific power hitters in the 90s and early 2000s. He lost baseballs in the seats 5.76% of his plate appearances, and walked over 14% of the time. There aren’t many batters who can boast these kinds of statistics, and his inclusion in this list was a foregone conclusion for me from the outset.