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Apples vs. oranges part I: Mel Ott vs. Rickey Henderson

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  • Apples vs. oranges part I: Mel Ott vs. Rickey Henderson

    Here's a real brain-bender, seeing as how the two players are vastly different. Henderson is the greatest basestealer of all time. He had 3,000+ hits and he holds the record for most runs scored, too. Mel Ott, on the other hand, is one of the best sluggers of all time. He had over 500 home runs and nearly 3,000 hits and he has nearly 2,000 runs scored for his career.

    But which one was better?
    Mel Ott
    Rickey Henderson

  • #2
    Depends what you mean by 'better player'. I think Henderson had the slightly more valuable career, and slightly better peak seasons..however Ott was more durable and consistent from season to season.

    Both guys got on base a lot, and played a long all comes down to what would you prefer: Henderson's steals, or Ott's power. I suppose it would depend on your team's needs.


    • #3
      I'll take Rickey by the slimmest of margins.
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      • #4
        Ott was a tremendous hitter. He could hit for contact (.304 career BA), not amazing but still decent. He could also take a walk, with 100+ BB's 10 separate seasons (lead the league 6 times). And then we get to his best attribute, his HR's. He has 511 career HR including leading his league in HR 6 times. He put up a decent amount of Black Ink over his career (26th all-time). He got it done at the plate, that is for sure.

        Henderson is a different story. As a hitter, he was good (127 OPS+). Not AS good of a hitter but also he was a different type of hitter and as a leadoff hitter, had different expectations. He was not expected to hit HR's (though he still did hit nearly 300 HR - yes over 25 years but still...). But what he is best known for is his efforts on the basepaths. The most prolific base stealer the game has ever seen. With 500 more SB's than the next guy, it is not even close. Three 100+ SB seasons, lead the league in SB's 11 out of 12 years and 12 years altogether including a league leading 66 SB's as a 39 year old.

        He was not the contact hitter that Ott was but was not deficient in that area either. And he was pretty much the equal of Ott in the BB's category. He was a leadoff hitter who got on base at a good clip and wreaked havoc on the bases. He lased 25 years in the league but did not have the greatest in season durability.

        In the end, I go with Henderson who just revolutionized and epitomized the role of a leadoff hitter and did so for such a long time that it puts him ahead of Ott.


        • #5
          Tough. Road splits say different, but wasn't Ott greatly helped by the tiny distance to the right field foul pole at the Polo Grounds?
          "Allen Sutton Sothoron pitched his initials off today."--1920s article


          • #6
            I took Rickey, but its close. Rickey would be my MVP for the '81, '85, '89 and '90 seasons as well as second to Brett in 1980, and he was probably the best player of the 80s, given Schmidt's drop off in '88 and '89. He was a sure hall of famer by the end of 1990.

            Then from '91 to the end of his career, he plays almost another 1500 games, puts up a .399 on base percentage, 15 home runs, 52 steals (at a 79% clip) and 111 runs per 162.

            What gets missed is that whether he looked lazy out there or not, he was probably the best defensive corner outfielder of the 80s. From '91 on, not so good but not bad.

            Ott did average 148 games played for 14 years. Henderson only played 120 or more 13 times.

            Ott probably benefitted from his park only slightly, on a relative basis. He hit 323 home runs at home to 188 on the road, but he had more doubles (306 to 182) and a higher average (.311 to .297) on the road so he looks like a guy who adjusted his style to maximize his productivity.

            Here are Ott's road relative OPS+ verus his overall from 1928 on:
            Road to Overall
            '28: 169 to 139
            '29: 208 to 165
            '30: 145 to 150
            '31: 186 to 151 (hit 20 of 29 home runs at home road but batted .349 on the road versus .233 at home).
            '32: 183 to 174
            '33: 146 to 138
            '34: 218 to 168 (hit .388 with 49 XBHs on the road to .256 with 25 XBHs at home)
            '35: 148 to 157
            '36: 172 to 177
            '37: 170 to 150
            10 year split: 175 on the road/157 overall which would suggest a 139 home rate
            '38:165 to 178
            '39: 175 to 174
            '40: 142 to 137
            '41: 103 to 150
            '42: 120 to 165
            '43: 108 to 134
            '44: 180 to 172
            '45: 123 to 151
            Here it looks like about 140 on the road to 176 at home. He was actually better compared to the league on the road for these 18 years than he was at home in OPS+. I have him at 159 relative to the road and 155 relative to home during those years.

            Using Baseball Reference split data, he produced at 106% of his overall rate at home, and 94% on the road, but the average player produces 103-105% better rates at home than overall, and 95-97% on the road, and furthermore it looks like the discrepancy was built up almost entirely in '26, '27 and '46 when he was developing and declining.
            Last edited by brett; 09-26-2012, 01:36 PM.


            • #7
              I have Rickey at 19th and Ott at 20th overall in my rankings. I originally had Ott's durability and better slugging ahead of Henderson until I adjusted for era. I also think both guys are underrated by most.

              Ott appeared to adjust to different parks very well. On the road per 162 games, Ott averaged 107 run, 36 doubles, 6 triples, 109 RBI with a .311/.408/.510 and 90 walks. The odd thing is that Ott walked 23 more times at home per 162 games.
              Last edited by pheasant; 09-23-2012, 09:54 AM.


              • #8
                I'd go with Rickey because I think his value of his skills is less dependent upon context...Rickey probably would have been an extremely good deadball player, but also could have banged out a bunch of homers in a bandbox ballpark. Ott most likely could have been a good in the deadball era, but I doubt that he would have been a big star.
                I didn't like Rickey one bit as a person during his ML career, but he was a truly great player. I don't think it's an insult to another great like Ott to say Rickey was a bit better.

                This is a bit random, but I just read that Rickey used a taller stance against Quisenberry, as he felt that helped him track the odd pitch trajectories a little better. Probably also a testament to Quiz' control in that Rickey must have found that Dan could throw strikes into his tiny "normal" strike zone without too much trouble, but I think that's pretty good evidence of a smart baseball mind trying to find a way to hit a pitcher who gave him a hard time.
                "If I drink whiskey, I'll never get worms!" - Hack Wilson


                • #9
                  Have to go with Henderson here. His 1990 season>>Any Mel Ott season.


                  • #10
                    As most others have posted, I see it as extremely close. It's clear that Ott did nearly as well overall on the road as at home, except for hitting fewer homers. Ott was a really good defensive outfielder who also did a good job at third base. His consistency was high, and he stayed in the lineup.

                    Henderson was also a marvelous player, not the hitter Ott was, but still quite good- especially from the leadoff spot. He also was a good defender, actually very good in his early seasons. In season durability was sporadic, but longevity was enormous. No comment needed about his baserunning, particularly base stealing.

                    I've got Ott at around 18-19 among position players, Henderson at 20 or 21. Just about as close as it can get for two very different types of players. In fairness, probably too close to call, but if pressed I give the slightest edge to Ott.


                    • #11
                      Nice, finally a debate that has nothing to do with RBIs. Ott can be regarded as the third best player of the 30s, behind Gehrig and Foxx. Henderson, as many have posted, could be the best player of the 80s alongside Schmidt, even better due to Schmidt's 88 and 89 seasons.

                      Ott was the first slugger in the NL with a lengthy career, while Henderson made a revolution as what to expect of a leadoff hitter. Its a very close debate, since both players are regularly placed between 15 and 25 in most of our lists.

                      Still, I go with Henderson by the most slim margin.
                      "I am not too serious about anything. I believe you have to enjoy yourself to get the most out of your ability."-
                      George Brett


                      • #12
                        Just wanted to post this as ROAD versus HOME.
                        ROAD to HOME relative OPS+
                        '28: 169 to 109
                        '29: 208 to 122
                        '30: 145 to 155
                        '31: 186 to 116
                        '32: 183 to 165
                        '33: 146 to 130
                        '34: 218 to 118
                        '35: 148 to 166
                        '36: 172 to 182
                        '37: 170 to 130
                        Split: 175 to 139
                        '38:165 to 191
                        '39: 175 to 172
                        '40: 142 to 132
                        '41: 103 to 197
                        '42: 120 to 210
                        '43: 108 to 160
                        '44: 180 to 164
                        '45: 123 to 179
                        '38-'45 split: 140 to 176

                        '26, '27 and '45: 62 to 107 for a total of a little less than a full season.

                        If we exclude those three years he does end up about 1-2% better on the road than at home RELATIVE TO ALL PLAYERS on the road and at home, but I wonder if anything changed in his home park maybe around '38 that helped him benefit more from his park. His road OPS+ dropped from 175 through '37 to 140 for the next 8 years, while his home OPS+ rose almost by the same amount. Anyone know a lot about the ballpark off the top of your head?

                        Ott's career line predicted from his road numbers alone are quite interesting to me, and different perhaps than the image of the third player to reach the 500 home run barrier.

                        BA: .317
                        Hits: 3092
                        Doubles: 625
                        Triples: 104
                        Home runs: 384
                        Walks: 1530
                        Slugging: .521
                        OB%: .417

                        More of a little reduced version of Musial.


                        • #13
                          I went with Henderson here.
                          "The first draft of anything is crap." - Ernest Hemingway

                          There's no such thing as an ultimate stat.


                          • #14
                            My dad said he used to argue with my uncle about who the best NL rightfielder of the '30's was: Ott or Paul Waner.

                            It's easy to say Ott today, but it was a serious topic back them.

                            Do you suppose Ott would have been a base stealer in another (think more recent) era?


                            • #15
                              I remember an article by Peter Gammons claiming if you were to split Rickey Henderson down the middle you would have stats enough for two hall of famers.

                              Rickey Henderson was cocky but he backed up the cockiness 99.9%.


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