Harmon Killebrew passed away yesterday after a battle with cancer. The man known as Killer finished his career with 573 home runs, managing to hold his own against contemporary sluggers such as Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.
I always knew Killebrew as a great home run hitter. But when I looked closer at his numbers I was surprised by a number of things.
First, Killebrew had a very low career batting average (.256) and struck out over 20% of the time. Despite that, he managed a career .376 on-base percentage, thanks largely to a 15.9% walk rate.
Second, Killebrew had an incredibly low batting average on balls in play (BABIP) during his career (.252). He ranks third all-time in on-base percentage for hitters with <=.260 BABIP, ranking behind Roy Thomas and Mark McGwire. If you restrict the list to those hitters with >=20% strikeout rates he moves into second place.
Third, Killebrew also ranks second in wOBA for hitters with such a low BABIP (.389). Again, only McGwire (.415 wOBA, .255 BABIP) ranks higher.
What's really interesting is what hitters Killebrew stacks up with historically when you filter for the unique blend of statistics that defined his career.
Only three hitters have ever earned wOBA's over .380 for their careers while hitting less than .260 on balls in play: Killebrew, McGwire, and Hank Sauer.
If we look at hitters with >=15% walk rates, >=20% strikeout rates, and wOBA's greater than .380 we get a very short list: Mickey Mantle, McGwire, Jim Thome, Lance Berkman, Jason Giambi, Mike Schmidt, Killebrew, and Adam Dunn. Interesting how many modern players show up on that list.
Add in a career batting average <=.260, and you are left with Killebrew and Dunn:
Killebrew: 15.9% BB%, 20.9% K%, .256 AVE, .376 OBP, .509 SLG, .254 BABIP, .389 wOBA
Dunn: 16.3% BB%, 32.9% K%, .249 AVE, .379 OBP, .518 SLG, .296 BABIP, .382 wOBA
Amazing how similar their numbers look.
One gets the feeling that Killebrew would have fit right in with the modern game--providing great value by getting on-base at a high rate and slugging the ball when he manages to make contact.
Rest in peace, Killer.