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Monday, August 19, 2002

Strong Men

Dan takes at look at HR/BIP rates for a few of today’s players.

Last week, after I asserted that Mark McGwire was the most powerful hitter   ever, there was a lot of discussion regarding my use of a certain statistic,   HR/BIP. With that in mind, I decided to take a deeper look at that stat by exploring   how certain current players are doing in that category, how it compares to their   past, and what it means for their present and future.

HR/BIP is calculated using the formula HR/(AB+SF+SH-SO). Because sacrifice   fly data varies in availability, cross-era comparisons in this stat are problematic.   Here, as stated above, the focus will be on active players, many of whom have   done very well in HR/BIP. Here are the top ten single-season rates through 2001:

    NAME           YEAR      HR/BIP
1   Mark McGwire   2000        .200
2   Mark McGwire   1998        .196
3   Barry Bonds    2001        .190
4   Mark McGwire   1999        .169
5   Mark McGwire   1996        .167
6   Mark McGwire   1995        .159
7   Mark McGwire   2001        .155
8   Mark McGwire   1997        .149
9   Sammy Sosa     2001        .147
10  Jim Thome      2001        .142

Four of the top 10 rates ever were set in 2001, by McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Jim Thome.  While McGwire has retired, it certainly makes sense to look at how the other three hitters are doing so far in 2002.

Barry Bonds

When Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001, he posted an astronomical .190 HR/BIP rate, which was far higher than anyone else except Mark McGwire had ever reached.  Everyone, of course, noticed the spectacular power Bonds had showed.  What fewer noticed was that his power surge was not at all new.  In 2001, he was 36 years old, and his HR/BIP rate was the second best ever at that age, behind McGwire’s age 36 season.  But Bonds already owned the second best marks ever posted by a 35-year-old and a 34-year-old (both, of course, behind McGwire).  While his 2001 season took his power to a new level, it also came after his two best power seasons to that point.

Barry Bonds
Year   Age    HR/BIP      TB/H      HR/H
1986    21     0.051     1.870     0.174
1987    22     0.054     1.882     0.174
1988    23     0.052     1.737     0.158
1989    24     0.039     1.715     0.132
1990    25     0.075     1.878     0.212
1991    26     0.056     1.758     0.168
1992    27     0.083     2.007     0.231
1993    28     0.099     2.017     0.254
1994    29     0.105     2.074     0.303
1995    30     0.077     1.960     0.221
1996    31     0.094     2.000     0.264
1997    32     0.089     2.006     0.258
1998    33     0.079     2.012     0.222
1999    34     0.115     2.355     0.366
2000    35     0.120     2.245     0.333
2001    36     0.190     2.635     0.468
2002    37     0.130     2.212     0.317

In 2002, Bonds is showing much less power than he did in 2001, and he will probably never approach that high a rate again.  However, he will likely end the season with—of course—the second highest rate ever by a 37-year-old, behind Mark McGwire.

One thing I’ve noted in the past about the fantastic season Bonds had last year: his batting average on balls-in-play was a very low .266, similar to that of Rey Ordo?ez.  This year, however, Bonds is posting a .323 rate, which is his best ever.  As a result, he’s hitting a career-best .357, and the difference in value between his 2001 and 2002 seasons is far less than his power numbers indicate.

Sammy Sosa

Sammy Sosa is a great power hitter, but it’s important to note that his high home run totals are largely the result of his stepping to the plate so often—which, in and of itself, of course, is commendable.  In every year from 1998 to 2001—his biggest home run years—Sosa had more plate appearances than McGwire, Bonds, or Thome have ever had in a single season.  As a result, Sosa’s rate stats are not quite as strong as the latter hitters’ (though they are still absolutely spectacular).

Sammy Sosa*
1990    21     0.038     1.734     0.121
1991    22     0.045     1.656     0.156
1992*   23     0.039     1.515     0.118
1993    24     0.071     1.859     0.212
1994    25     0.074     1.813     0.195
1995    26     0.083     1.868     0.238
1996    27     0.109     2.066     0.294
1997    28     0.076     1.913     0.224
1998    29     0.138     2.101     0.333
1999    30     0.137     2.206     0.350
2000    31     0.113     1.984     0.259
2001    32     0.147     2.249     0.339
2002    33     0.122     2.076     0.303

*Sosa did not meet the 300 plate appearance standard in 1989 (203 PA) or 1992 (291 PA).  1992 is included for continuity.

Sosa followed a relatively disappointing 2000 with his best season to date.  But his 2002 so far has not met the standards of his best campaigns.  Still, Sosa can be expected to be a consistently great power hitter for some time, and one of the most valuable hitters in the game, especially if he can continue to post over 700 plate appearances a season.

Jim Thome

Jim Thome is, of course, the least heralded of these hitters.  However, his recent numbers show that he belongs in this elite group:

Jim Thome*
Year   Age    HR/BIP      TB/H      HR/H
1994    23     0.084     1.953     0.233
1995    24     0.073     1.775     0.176
1996    25     0.104     1.968     0.242
1997    26     0.112     2.021     0.282
1998    27     0.099     1.992     0.233
1999    28     0.101     1.949     0.241
2000    29     0.095     1.973     0.247
2001    30     0.142     2.144     0.320
2002    31     0.145     2.240     0.360

*Thome did not meet the 300 plate appearance standard in 1991-1993 (104, 131, and 192 PA).

Thome showed more power at a young age than Bonds or Sosa, and he is now beginning   to come into his own even more. His 2002 so far has been even better than his   incredible 2001, and he leads the majors commandingly in all three of the above   categories. If he keeps his current rate up, 2002 will put him again in the   top 10 of all time (pushing his 2001 season off). Thome’s 2003 season could   be very interesting. If I had to predict the next player to hit 60 home runs,   he would be my guess. The tantalizing prospect of Thome’s power improving further   (Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire all put up their best numbers after age 31) adds an   extra dimension to the speculation about whether he will stay in Cleveland.   Others Alex Rodriguez will be fun to watch. So far, his numbers have   been very good, given his age.

Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez*
Year   Age    HR/BIP      TB/H      HR/H
1996    20     0.071     1.763     0.167
1997    21     0.047     1.653     0.131
1998    22     0.073     1.803     0.197
1999    23     0.104     2.056     0.294
2000    24     0.092     1.920     0.234
2001    25     0.102     1.955     0.259
2002    26     0.101     1.979     0.264

*Rodriguez did not meet the 300 plate appearance standard in 1994-1995 (59 and 149 PA).

While he has yet to show the power of the above hitters, his numbers look good   when compared to their numbers at similar ages. He may never dramatically improve   to their level, but it’s certainly not impossible, and either way, his power   is already excellent, especially for a shortstop.

Erubiel Durazo

And, finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out what Erubiel Durazo had done   so far this year in a very limited number of plate appearances:

Erubiel Durazo
Year   Age    HR/BIP      TB/H      HR/H    PA
1999    23     0.096     1.804     0.216   185
2000    24     0.052     1.673     0.154   233
2001    25     0.094     2.000     0.255   207
2002    26     0.135     2.282     0.359   170

Sample size considerations apply, but it certainly is tempting to imagine the   possibilities of a full season for Durazo. Watch this hitter.

Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: August 19, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 4 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. John Posted: August 19, 2002 at 12:41 AM (#605898)
Just curious...you point out that Barry's BA/BIP was in the .260 range last year, and is around .350 this year. Considering Voros McCracken's work that shows that pitchers don't have much control over BA/BIP, have you come to any conclusion that hitters do or don't? And just to clarify, your BA/BIP does include HR's, or not? Thanks, Dan.
   2. Mike Emeigh Posted: August 19, 2002 at 12:41 AM (#605899)
My analysis (where I exclude HRs from BA/BIP) suggests that hitters have more control over it than pitchers.

-- MWE
   3. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: August 19, 2002 at 12:41 AM (#605900)
I have never done any research into hitter control over BIP averages myself, but a number of reliable sources I've heard (including Mike Emeigh) say it's largely a skill on the part of the hitters.

And no, I don't include HR, which I should have clarified. Thanks.
   4. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: September 19, 2002 at 12:49 AM (#606346)
Bill, if you're still around, drop me a line and let me know, and I'll explain it.

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