I was looking for some ideas for my article today and put out a feeler to my BtB cohorts on something to write about. Our leader, Justin Bopp, came up with what boiled down to quite a simple phrase: How good was Babe Ruth?
Justin had a longer response than that to help spark this article, but my immediate thought was "uhh, just click here." But, intrigued at the possibilities, I followed my own advice and headed over to the indispensable Baseball Reference.
Now, let me just say that it's blatantly obvious that you don't need this article to know that Babe Ruth was the best player of all time. He leads in an absurd amount of categories including career Wins Above Replacement, edging out Barry Bonds 172 to 171.8. Nor, do you need me to point out that the difference between Ruth's 172 WAR and tenth place Eddie Collin' 126.7 WAR (45.3 WAR difference) is slightly more than the amount of WAR Kirby Puckett accrued in his career (44.8).
But, how can we quantify just how good Babe Ruth was in another, quasi-interesting way?
Naturally, what I did was turn to the best current player in the game: Albert Pujols. I think it's safe to say that there's no debate over who the best player in the major leagues currently is. Hell, there's a reason he's commanding 10 years and $300 million. But, how does he compare to The Great Bambino?
Well, in terms of raw OPS, he currently lags behind Ruth by 0.114 points. Obviously, they played in different eras though. So what I did was compute OPS+ for each hitter, without the park adjustment. I did this because I wanted to toy around with the OPS+ number for each guy and it was easier to omit the park adjustment in this instance. Plus, I don't have the smarts or computer skills of Matt Klaassen or any of our PITCHf/x gurus to run my own database, so I did this the oh-so-2005 way of copy/paste.
The non-park adjusted OPS+ for both Ruth and Pujols came out at 199 and 179. These are relatively close to their 206 and 172 park-adjusted marks that B-Ref has. My question: What does Albert Pujols have to do to reach the 199 non-park adjusted OPS+ figure that Ruth sports?
Well, how about raising his on-base percentage 0.029 points and his slugging by 0.051. That doesn't sound like much initially (well, it didn't to me, initially), but this is substantial. Albert Pujols, in order to get his OPS+ that I calculated above Ruth's 199, would need to somehow get on base an additional 198 times in his career and pound out another 290 total bases.
Albert averages 678 plate appearances per year and reaches base, on average, in about 289 of them. Pujols would need to average almost 310 times reaching base per year, while his PA total remained static. Additionally, he averages 358 total bases per year and an average of 573 at-bats. Pujols would have to add on another 29 total bases to raise his count to 387 per year.
For fun, let's just say his extra times reaching base were walks, he'd have to raise his walk rate from it's current 13.5% to 16.4% -- or an entire duplicate of AJ Pierzynski's walk rate in 2010. Furthermore, the quickest way to rack up total bases is via the long ball, so let's assume his extra total bases he adds on come in the form of the home run. Pujols would have to add 72.5 homers to his 408 career bombs. This would raise his Isolated Power from its current .293 to .331 - an increase of 38 points!
All of this will just ever-so-slightly edge out Ruth for the top spot in non-park-adjusted OPS+ by moving Pujols from 179 to 200. An additional twenty walks and 7-8 homers per season for someone who already rates (tied for) sixth all-time in actual OPS+.