In a season of incredible home run totals, Giancarlo Stanton stands alone. He's a mammoth of a man, and has the type of raw power we haven't seen since the late 90's. No matter the era, 53 home runs is quite the feat, and he's still got a month to add to that total.
As amazing as Stanton is, considering how homer-happy this era is, we're not quite watching a god walk the earth in Miami. (That's in Anaheim.) Stanton is a man of modern baseball. But what if he were born in a different era? What if Giancarlo Stanton were a man of the Deadball Era?
The Deadball Era, which ran from about 1900 to 1918, was the time period in which the ball was basically a dirty, wet sock, a foul ball wasn't counted a strike, and the parks were immense. The Cubs’ West Side Grounds measured 560 feet to center, and Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston was 635 feet. This was the time in which Home Run Baker got the uninspired but totally rad nickname “Home Run” by hitting 33 home runs over a three-year period. It was a time when the game of baseball was completely different from what Stanton knows baseball to be.
It's impossible to get a totally accurate idea of what he'd actually do in those days (and even harder if we have to decide between the "teleported back as an adult" and "born in that era" options). But let’s fiddle a bit anyway.
HOME RUNS VACATED
Offense was in the tank in the Deadball Era. Most notably though, and most damaging for Stanton, there was a decided dearth of home runs. This graph, courtesy of Wikipedia, demonstrates the slugging percentage contribution of each type of hit:
Given the tobacco-soaked Hacky Sack nature of the ball in this era, and the size of so many of the parks, Stanton in this age is not sniffing 50 home runs. Or 25. Or 20, for that matter. When Baker led the league with 11 home runs in 1911, there were 514 hit across baseball. Baker accounted for about 2.1 percent of them. This season, for comparison, Stanton's 53 is a shade over 1 percent of baseball's total home runs. In 2011, that rate would give Stanton just over five homers on the year.
But there's still another 47 batted balls in there; would they become outs? If you figure Stanton keeps hitting a ton of fly balls — only eight of his home runs are categorized as line drives; they'd likely become routine hits — the parks are bigger, and the ball doesn't fly as far, a lot of those are turning into outs (even with fielders half as talented as they are today). If we estimate half become outs, Stanton's slash line slides to something like .192/.301/.283. Which is bad, even in an era where the average slash line was .254/.307/.332 (from 1910–18). Fly balls were a killer in those days.
The other issue we have in making this estimate is determining how home runs were hit then. There are gaps in the historical record, but in Baker's home run log, there are several inside-the-park homers as well as a few listed as "Bounced." I assume this means it bounced over the fence, and ground rule doubles weren't a thing yet. Add to that other odd rules, like how a walk-off home run that drives in a baserunner as the winning run is credited to the hitter as just a triple. That happened to Babe Ruth at least once, so he sort of has 715 home runs, but only got credit for 714 and a walk-off triple.
Stanton is many things, but fleet of foot is not one of them; I doubt his ability to get an inside the park home run. The bounced thing, though, is a curious idea. Perhaps he’d get a few to go his way and challenge Baker for the home run crown. Even a ball of muddy twine, hit at 108 miles per hour, is going to go somewhere, fast.
ACTUAL MATH BASED ON THINGS STANTON IS DOING
The other way to do this would be to take what Stanton does compared to his peers and see how they would rate against the averages of the Dead Ball Era. Compared to league averages this year Stanton has:
2.6 times the league average home run rate
1.4 times the average walk rate
1.1 times the average K rate
1.16 times the average BA
1.4 times the average OPS
If we take those rates and multiply them against compiled averages between the 1910 and 1918 seasons (any earlier and the data gets spotty), that ends up with 1910s Stanton's line looking something like this:
Deadball Stanton Stats
|Statistic||League Average||1910's Stanton|
|Statistic||League Average||1910's Stanton|
It’s not a terrible season, but if he were to have a season like that back then, it would be the 200th-highest single-season OPS between 1910 and 1918. Not that calculating all his rates like this necessarily makes sense — especially the strikeout rate. He’d be facing much worse pitchers. But he’d also be a man of that era.
If Stanton did just become the same player he is now relative to his peers then, he’d still be good even without all the home runs. Home Run Baker’s .772 OPS in 1916 was good for a 130 OPS+. Danny Murphy put up a .772 OPS in 1910, which worked out to a 140 OPS+. Stanton would be right there with them in this hideous mess of an offensive black hole. Of course he’d have value.
Stanton is very much a representative of the world he lives in. The stars of the Dead-Ball Era were Ty Cobb or Shoeless Joe Jackson or, yes, Home Run Baker. They hit line drives, smacked around 45 doubles each year, made triples a 20-ish-a-season thing, and bounced home runs over the fence like cricket or something. That’s not what a man like Stanton does.
Who knows, though? This is probably more inexact than I think it is, but it’s something to think about all the same. Plus, he’d probably change with the times. He’s already adjusted his stance so starkly from when he came to the majors, and all that’s turned into is half a hundred homers this year (and he's shown this capability in the past). Maybe he could dominate by adjusting his swing to a flatter plane, and take advantage of parks with fences that ran out to the high 300’s in the corners and a tenth of a mile to center. He just wouldn’t have the stolen base numbers of, say, Cobb or someone.
There’s just too many moving parts to really know. It’s a testament to how much the game has changed, and how the players themselves have changed. What Stanton is doing versus baseball of a century ago is near-unrecognizable. We’re probably better off this way. But just once I’d like to hear the sound of Stanton squaring up one of those 1914 tobacco Koosh Balls. We all have dreams.
Merritt Rohlfing writes about the world of baseball at Beyond the Box Score and Let’s Go Tribe, probably putting more time into it than is healthy. His cat? Still small. He can be followed @merrittrohlfing and provides baseball, hummustoast and cat opinions.