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So, if Babe Ruth grew up today, would he be able to compete in MLB?
Seriously, though. I think that if Ruth were alive today, he'd have been David Wells. I'm not sure that a team today would give a competent or better Major League pitcher the opportunity into switch to position player.
been made an outfielder.
More likely he'd have been put at first base in today's game, with his body type.
Check out those OPS+s in his apprentice years during the dregs of the deadball era. I'd say the young Ruth did more than all right under conditions not favorable to the kind of hitter he was. Why makes you think he was struggling? To me, the very young Ruth's record clearly shows he was going to be a great hitter, Ruthian era or deadball era.
Ruth was anything but polished and while he became a great and feared hitter almost overnight he wasn't close to being polished as a hitter in his youth. His approach to hitting was very wild and it is a testament to his abilities as well as an indictment to the quality of pitchers back then that he was able to be the greatest hitter of all time virtually overnight.
. AB H 2B 3B HR BB BA OBP SLGHome 519 162 47 17 11 102 .312 .425 .532 Road 591 180 35 13 38 87 .305 .394 .601
The argument is, instead, that if you could magically transport Ruth from 1920 to today, swinging the same bat and wearing the same glove, he would be unable to succeed because of the improvements in the game since then. And if you did give him modern equipment, that wouldn't make up the difference.
Terrific talk. It doesn't so much tell you anything new as it consolidates a lot of relatively new insights into one compact perspective.
I don't think Ruth playing today would ever get a chance to pitch. Not that it couldn't be done, just that you would never risk a pitching injury if a guy has that good of a bat. Bryce Harper has a great arm. If he sucked at hitting I don't see any reason to think he couldn't turn into a Sean Doolittle or a Sergio Santos.
Buck O'Neill must never have seen Williams or Mantle or Frank Howard.
I mean, yeah, if you dump him out of a time machine, from an era when he wasn't allowed by the team to run to stay in shape, and has never seen a slider, he's going to scuffle a bit.
And Ruth would adapt to that.
Plus the first thing you have to do after you get out of the time machine is stop Hitler, and that's going to take a lot out of you.
Ruth's domination has more to do with figuring out a new way to play the game that his contemporaries weren't familiar with.
I mean, yeah, if you dump him out of a time machine, from an era when he wasn't allowed by the team to run to stay in shape, and has never seen a slider, he's going to scuffle a bit. But, you'd have to think an elite athlete would adjust very, very quickly.
You can't expect any athlete to step out of the time machine and grab today's equipment off the rack and go out and dominate, and I think it's obvious when you consider going the other way - you wouldn't expect a modern hitter to walk out of the time machine into the Polo Grounds and grab a fat-handled heavy bat and start hitting dingers off spitballs at twilight.
Oh no. If you're doing the timelining bit, he has the same thick bat, tiny glove and flannel unis they had back then.
The advance in speed is easy to document. Years ago, American sprinters ran the 100-yard dash. Now, due to the Olympics, they run the 100-METER, which is a bit longer. The current, and presumably forever, holder of the 100-yard dash record is a guy from my high school, Ivory Crockett. He ran it in 9.2 seconds, right before the distance went extinct. I think (not completely sure) that the 100-meter guys have closed that gap, and now run the 100-meters faster than Ivory could run the 100-yards.
People have mentioned nutrition, but I think it plays an even bigger roll than we give it credit for. Not just a better diet but the variety of our diet is a huge change from back in the day. How many lower- and middle-class kids had a salad with dinner in 1896? Not that everyone does today, but many more do. If your diet growing up is two potatoes a day and some dubious meat you're probably not going to grow up to be Frank Thomas.
But, if you gave everyone in 1920 modern equipment, or everyone in 2014 old equipment, it would wash out on average.
Eh, somebody else would have whacked him in short order. And even if he had never existed that powder keg was due to explode.
Both my dentist and my eye doctor say that the increased size over time has changed things in our heads. I only grew in 3 wisdom teeth, all of which had to be pulled, because my jaw didn't have enough room for them. The dentist, who was in his 70s at the time, said that when he got started back in the 1930s, there were almost no cases of this. But people have gotten bigger, and their teeth have gained size at a faster rate than our skulls. The eye doctor said the same thing. Nearsightedness was not anything like as prevalent 50 years ago as it is now, because (I've forgotten which) our eyes have grown faster than our skulls, or the other way around. As for absolute size, my dad played high school basketball in the 1920s. His team was very good, because they had a very tall center who was almost impossible to guard. They lost the state championship to a small school that had a short team, but a team that ran and ran and ran, and eventually wore Dad's team out. The center in question, who went on to a very good career in Division I play, was 6' 2". That was a TALL center in the 1920s. Now it's a short point guard.
Ruth's domination has more to do with figuring out a new way to play the game that his contemporaries weren't familiar with. If the uppercut had been the standard when he first arrived on the scene instead of deadball strategies, I doubt he would have stood out as much as he did.
Bob Kurland, who died last fall, was the same age as Mikan, and taller (7'0") – he's the player who inspired the goaltending rule. He continued to be a dominant player after the rule was instated, but it's interesting that as soon as he established the overwhelming advantage of sheer height, the rules were changed to minimize it. Something of the same thinking happened when the dunk was later banned for a while in college ball.
The idea is to identify how much lower the competitive level was in, say, 1920 compared to today. Any specific player is of only tangential interest. What we could do, hypothetically, is take a player like Ruth and force him to face modern conditions with a 48 oz bat, etc. He wouldn't do very well, certainly not as well as he did in 1920. Then we could take a modern player -- say, Mike Trout -- and put him and his 33 oz bat into 1920. He'd do very well, I suspect. Then we could get a sense of how much the overall level of competition differed.
If we had a time machine, that is.
Your very tall, lanky pitchers (Randy Johnson being the extreme) are probably worse athletes than your more standard build pitchers of yore, and therefore worse hitters.
Our jaws are smaller now which is why the wisdom teeth don't fit. We don't need to break down as many fibrous plants and veggies, and we cook our meat, which makes it easier to chew. Our teeth are the same size they always were. Plus - evolution takes a long time, it's certainly not going to happen over two generations..
Teeth don't fit jaws more often now because we have more heterogenous gene pools.
And if you use pitchers-as-hitters as a baseline, you find that today's players really are much better than the average player of Ruth's era. At the same time, Ruth would still be an outstanding hitter today
If we're not using it to compare individual players across eras, I have no idea why we'd care.
Is there anyway you can show us any of the details of you use "pitcher as hitters baseline" to prove all this? Is there some reference? Is this technique publicly available?
We are going to use it to compare individual players, but we're going to compare actual performance, not hypothetical performance. ... When people say they want to timeline, what they mean is that they want to know if that average/replacement level in 1920 was 10% better than today or 30% worse, or whatever.
...today position players are about 100 points in OPS+ better than pitchers (who post an average OPS+ of about zero or less). If you look back at the 1920s, the average position player was about 58 points higher...
I think what's confusing to me and perhaps to others, is that you are suggesting something real i.e. "actual vs hypothetical" but isnt all this discussion, entirely theoretical? Even the method you suggest. Are you really suggesting that you have a pretty good idea of how actual 1925 version of Ruth would fare in today MLB? That seems entirely hypothetical to me, but maybe you have an answer for that.
Randy Johnson was a miserable hitter (-22 OPS+ for his career). Being 6'10" and gawky as hell certainly didn't help him there.
You also have to remember that 90 years ago almost all the best physically gifted players were pitchers. On average they were taller and bigger than your typical position player.
I think it's a silly hypothetical. It's totally uninteresting how Ruth would perform when you handicap him badly.
A meaningless question
It doesn't help you evaluate Ruth vs. Trout, b/c you are seriously handicapping Ruth.
The question, "What if 16 y.o. Babe Ruth and 16 y.o. Mike Trout and 16 y.o. Willie Mays were all put in the same environment, how would their careers unfold", is interesting.
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