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APRIL 22, 2004
Homeruns Without Strikeouts
By Steve Lombardi, NetShrine.com

During a segment on the Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio on April 21, 2004, Dan and his crew were discussing the incredible "swings taken" to homerun ratio of Barry Bonds this season (to date) with ESPN personality and baseball specialist Tim Kurkjian.  (Bonds ratio is close to something like 8 times better than the average player this year.  I cannot recall the exact difference; but, it is a huge gap.)

Kurkjian added that he was always impressed by hitters who could hit more homeruns in a season than the number of times they would strike out.  This accomplishment was something that I often pondered about as well - especially when looking at the career line of Joe DiMaggio (who had 361 career homeruns accompanied by only 369 strikeouts.)

It is my opinion that a homerun is the ultimate achievement of an at bat and that a strikeout is the ultimate failure of an at bat.  Can a batter do any better than hit a homerun?  In terms of "attempting to reach base" in an at bat, can there be anything worse than a strikeout?  My conclusion has always been that batters who could accomplish the ultimate achievement as many times, or more, than the ultimate failure were a special breed of player.

Listening to Tim's thoughts, I began to make a another personal deliberation on this topic - this time, a bit further than I had in the past.  The all-time leaders in homeruns and strikeouts (by batters) are lists that are easily attainable these days.  But, I began to think about something that the fabulous Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia (SBE) could tell us about the most homeruns and strikeouts in a career - specifically, who had the most in their career compared to "the league average."  After all, when it comes to comparing baseball career statistics, relativity is the most important component of any analysis.

So, with the help of the SBE, I ran the list of all batters (from 1900 through 2003) with 100+ career homeruns - along with their lifetime homeruns and strikeouts compared to league average.  Then, to get a relative feel of who in baseball history was able to hit homeruns without striking out often, I subtracted lifetime strikeouts compared to league average from their career homeruns compared to league average.

Below is the all-time Top 20 leaders in this measure:

Player Lifetime HR (A) HR/Lge Avg (B) SO/Lge Avg (A)-(B)

Tony Gwynn

135 -84 -975 891

Bill Buckner

174 -39 -874 835

Hank Aaron

755 457 -280 737

Cal Ripken

431 109 -574 683

Don Mattingly

222 46 -619 665

Stan Musial

475 234 -416 650

Mark Grace

173 -42 -688 646

Pete Rose

160 -133 -778 645

George Brett

317 79 -551 630

Yogi Berra

358 186 -413 599

Rafael Palmeiro

528 262 -331 593

Rusty Staub

292 76 -502 578

Ted Simmons

248 52 -509 561

Brooks Robinson

268 -2 -560 558

Gregg Jefferies

126 -19 -567 548

Gary Sheffield

379 189 -353 542

Wade Boggs

118 -115 -628 513

Vic Power

126 -34 -537 503

Billy Williams

426 216 -282 498

Buddy Bell

201 -7 -499 492

The first item that jumps out at you here is that many of the players in the above Top 20 are batters that should not be considered as the "power hitters" in the history of the game.  Therefore, the career 100 HR bottom qualifier was too low of a start.  The list was then re-run using 200+ lifetime HR as a minimum.  Below is the all-time Top 20 leaders in this measure:

Player Lifetime HR (A) HR/Lge Avg (B) SO/Lge Avg (A)-(B)

Hank Aaron

755 457 -280 737

Cal Ripken

431 109 -574 683

Don Mattingly

222 46 -619 665

Stan Musial

475 234 -416 650

George Brett

317 79 -551 630

Yogi Berra

358 186 -413 599

Rafael Palmeiro

528 262 -331 593

Rusty Staub

292 76 -502 578

Ted Simmons

248 52 -509 561

Brooks Robinson

268 -2 -560 558

Gary Sheffield

379 189 -353 542

Billy Williams

426 216 -282 498

Buddy Bell

201 -7 -499 492

Al Oliver

219 24 -463 487

Al Kaline

399 150 -331 481

Barry Bonds

658 426 -49 475

Carl Yastrzemski

452 165 -293 458

Joe DiMaggio

361 240 -207 447

Ted Kluszewski

279 125 -269 394

Eddie Murray

504 217 -173 390

Looking at this group, again, you see too many players on the list that should not be considered as the "power hitters" in the history of the game. Brooks Robinson, Buddy Bell, and Al Oliver were fine players; but, they were not sluggers.  The next decision was to run the list for all players with at least 200 career HR  - and who were also at least 100 HR above the league average in their career.  Below is the all-time Top 20 leaders in this measure:

Player Lifetime HR (A) HR/Lge Avg (B) SO/Lge Avg (A)-(B)

Hank Aaron

755 457 -280 737

Cal Ripken

431 109 -574 683

Stan Musial

475 234 -416 650

Yogi Berra

358 186 -413 599

Rafael Palmeiro

528 262 -331 593

Gary Sheffield

379 189 -353 542

Billy Williams

426 216 -282 498

Al Kaline

399 150 -331 481

Barry Bonds

658 426 -49 475

Carl Yastrzemski

452 165 -293 458

Joe DiMaggio

361 240 -207 447

Ted Kluszewski

279 125 -269 394

Eddie Murray

504 217 -173 390

Ted Williams

521 376 -3 379

Ernie Banks

512 266 -80 346

Gary Carter

324 149 -169 318

Willie Mays

660 389 84 305

George Bell

265 111 -184 295

Vlad Guerrero

234 117 -177 294

Kent Hrbek

293 134 -150 284

This is an interesting group.  There are some names that you would expect to see (Berra, Bonds, DiMaggio, and Ted Williams) as well as some names that you would not expect to see (such as Carter, Bell, and Hrbek).  It is the latter group that led to the suggestion that we should look at using 300+ lifetime HR as a minimum.  Below is the all-time Top 20 leaders in this measure:

Player Lifetime HR (A) HR/Lge Avg (B) SO/Lge Avg (A)-(B)

Hank Aaron

755 457 -280 737

Cal Ripken

431 109 -574 683

Stan Musial

475 234 -416 650

Yogi Berra

358 186 -413 599

Rafael Palmeiro

528 262 -331 593

Gary Sheffield

379 189 -353 542

Billy Williams

426 216 -282 498

Al Kaline

399 150 -331 481

Barry Bonds

658 426 -49 475

Carl Yastrzemski

452 165 -293 458

Joe DiMaggio

361 240 -207 447

Eddie Murray

504 217 -173 390

Ted Williams

521 376 -3 379

Ernie Banks

512 266 -80 346

Gary Carter

324 149 -169 318

Willie Mays

660 389 84 305

Johnny Mize

359 252 -27 279

Mike Piazza

358 202 -66 268

Graig Nettles

390 181 -84 265

Don Baylor

338 136 -128 264

Compare the last two lists.  Note that the Top 10 in each list is the same. In fact, the Top 10 in the last three lists is the same.  Pushing up the qualifiers here is not impacting the leaders of the pack.  This is a somewhat intriguing group in the Top 10.  

Most fans who follow the history of the game could have guessed that Aaron, Musial, Berra, Kaline, Billy Williams, Yaz and Barry Bonds would be in an all-time "homers a lot and strikes out not a lot" leader board.  But, how many would have guessed Cal Ripken Jr. at #2?  How many would have placed current stars Rafael Palmeiro and Gary Sheffield in the Top 10 list here?  

The scrawling on this scorecard indicates that we now have something else to consider when we think about the greatness of Ripken, Palmeiro and Sheffield.  They are in some nice company.  Few batters in the history of the game have generated that much power without the baggage of excessive strikeouts.

Lastly, as some may wonder, who are the trailers in this statistic?  Below is the all-time Bottom 20 of the 100+ career homeruns group (with no other filters):

Player Lifetime HR (A) HR/Lge Avg (B) SO/Lge Avg (A)-(B)

Reggie Jackson

563 327 1182 -855

Rob Deer

230 127 759 -632

Bobby Bonds

332 173 751 -578

Dave Kingman

442 285 832 -547

Rick Monday

241 105 641 -536

Willie Stargell

475 305 826 -521

Gor. Thomas

268 148 650 -502

An. Galarraga

398 183 662 -479

Jose Canseco

462 254 731 -477

Pete Incaviglia

206 92 565 -473

Jose Hernandez

146 13 471 -458

Juan Samuel

161 12 465 -453

Ray Lankford

232 73 523 -450

Greg Luzinski

307 164 610 -446

Jim Thome

381 220 664 -444

Dick Allen

351 215 652 -437

Vince DiMaggio

125 69 497 -428

Danny Tartabull

262 125 546 -421

Mickey Tettleton

245 113 512 -399

D. Clendenon

159 51 432 -381

Not many surprises here.  For the most part, it is the batters most known for striking out often - Reggie, Deer, Bobby Bonds, Kingman, Stargell, Galarraga, Canseco, etc.  But, look who did not make the Bottom 20.  There are some players not here that you would expect to make this list based on their career strikeout totals.  No Sammy Sosa.  No Mike Schmidt.  No Mickey Mantle.  Someday in the next few years, Sammy Sosa may perhaps become the all-time leader in strikeouts by a batter.  If that happens, many will associate a superfluity of whiffs with his name.  Based on what we see here, in all likelihood, Sammy deserves better than that.  Currently, he is only the 32nd "worst" on this list (through 2003).  His ultimate failures at the dish were offset by ultimate achievements more than many others.  


Steve Lombardi is the Creator & Curator of NetShrine.com.  Scrawling On The Scorecard appears regularly during the baseball season and sporadically during the off-season.  Steve can be contacted at sots@netshrine.com

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