Cover image for Baseball's all-time best hitters : how statistics can level the playing field
Baseball's all-time best hitters : how statistics can level the playing field
Schell, Michael J., 1957-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxi, 295 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GV869 .S34 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Tony Gwynn is the greatest hitter in the history of baseball. That's the conclusion of this engaging and provocative analysis of baseball's all-time best hitters. Michael Schell challenges the traditional list of all-time hitters, which places Ty Cobb first, Gwynn 16th, and includes just 8 players whose prime came after 1960. Schell argues that the raw batting averages used as the list's basis should be adjusted to take into account that hitters played in different eras, with different rules, and in different ballparks. He makes those adjustments and produces a new list of the best 100 hitters that will spark debate among baseball fans and statisticians everywhere.

Schell combines the two qualifications essential for a book like this. He is a professional statistician--applying his skills to cancer research--and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball. He has wondered how to rank hitters since he was a boy growing up as a passionate Cincinnati Reds fan. Over the years, he has analyzed the most important factors, including the relative difficulty of hitting in different ballparks, the length of hitters' careers, the talent pool that players are drawn from, and changes in the game that raised or lowered major-league batting averages (the introduction of the designated hitter and changes in the height and location of the pitcher's mound, for example). Schell's study finally levels the playing field, giving new credit to hitters who played in adverse conditions and downgrading others who faced fewer obstacles. His final ranking of players differs dramatically from the traditional list. Gwynn, for example, bumps Cobb to 2nd place, Rod Carew rises from 28th to 3rd, Babe Ruth drops from 9th to 16th, and Willie Mays comes from off the list to rank 13th. Schell's list also gives relatively more credit to modern players, containing 39 whose best days were after 1960.

Using a fun, conversational style, the book presents a feast of stories and statistics about players, ballparks, and teams--all arranged so that calculations can be skipped by general readers but consulted by statisticians eager to follow Schell's methods or introduce their students to such basic concepts as mean, histogram, standard deviation, p-value, and regression. Baseball's All-Time Best Hitters will shake up how baseball fans view the greatest heroes of America's national pastime.

Author Notes

Michael Schell is Associate Professor of Biostatistics at the University of North Carolina and the Director of the Biostatistics Shared Resource in the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Buried deep within every true baseball fan is a nerd with a scorecard and a calculator. A large part of the game's appeal is its statistical base and the comparisons those statistics permit fans to make between players of different eras. Schell, an associate professor of biostatistics at the University of North Carolina, offers a statistical resolution to one of baseball's timeless debates: Who is the best hitter of all time? To refute those who say players from different eras can't be compared because they played in different circumstances, Schell "levels the playing field" by building models to account for those varying circumstances: ballparks, pitching quality, night games, etc. For the math scholars out there, he explains his models in some detail, but the rest of us can drool over his lists of overall best hitters and best hitters by position. His conclusions are often surprising but well substantiated. So who is the best hitter? Let's not spoil the suspense. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)0691004552Wes Lukowsky

Library Journal Review

Schell (biostatistics, Univ. of North Carolina), a professional statistician, here turns his attention from his field of health science to a lighter but more contentious subject, baseball. The rating of players has been an unending argument among diehard fans and specialists, such as those dedicated aficionados of the Society for American Baseball Research, which has given statistical debate more credibility. Now this book from Princeton University Press is a signal that the academics have entered the fray, too. Schell's book, however, makes some strange claims. He ranks current player Tony Gwynn as the best all-time hitter, well ahead of the modern batting king, Ted Williams, and no doubt outraging the ghosts of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. Schell's statistics "level" the playing field because they downplay the importance of power, thus favoring Gwynn. Schell is on more solid ground when he proposes players who should be included in the Hall of Fame. All in all, this book is for the hardcore baseball fan, especially one comfortable with complex statistical analysis. For comprehensive baseball collections.ÄPaul M. Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Tables
Technical Notes
Introduction: In the Dugoutp. 3
Pt. I The Methodp. 13
1 On Deck with the Qualifying Playersp. 15
2 First Base - Adjusting for Late Career Declinesp. 29
3 Second Base - Adjusting for Hitting Feasts and Faminesp. 45
4 Third Base - Adjusting for League Batting Talentp. 67
5 Home - Adjusting for Ballparkp. 103
Pt. II The Findingsp. 133
6 The Adjusted Top 100 Hittersp. 135
7 Top Hitters by Positionp. 157
8 Best Single-Season Batting Averagesp. 173
9 The Ballparksp. 185
10 On Base Percentagep. 213
11 The Hall of Famep. 227
12 Where Would the Current Stars Rank?p. 241
Afterword: Post-Game Wrap-Upp. 249
App. I Abbreviations and Glossaryp. 253
App. II Right- vs. Left-Handed Hittingp. 257
App. III League Batting Averagesp. 259
App. IV Ballpark Effect Batting Averagesp. 269
App. V League Base on Balls Averagesp. 275
Referencesp. 283
Indexp. 285