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Baseball's All-Time Best Hitters Hardcover – March 1, 1999
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Baseball is a game of numbers, and if you look deeply enough into them, they begin to speak in truly mysterious ways. For Schell, a professor of biostatistics, the numbers sing in an enigmatic language that lets him rank and compare hitters from different eras with a self-concocted, time-tested mathematical certainty--albeit a certainty that is as subjective as the next in an arena filled with formulas and number crunching. Less a volume to read than one to muck around in and develop a dialogue--or argument--with, Baseball's All-Time Best Hitters is heavy on the stats, charts, and theories that explain why and how averages must be adjusted over different eras to accommodate different styles of play, rule changes, and ballparks. Using the various adjustments he's come up with, Schell works to make his baseball cabala understandable; then he sends out a lineup of rankings that are as surprising as they are, in fact, logical--if you buy the logic. So who is the best hitter of all time? Well, it's not Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Joe Jackson, or Ted Williams. He is alive at this writing, though, and the shock is that he's still playing in 1999, patrolling right field for the San Diego Padres and rapping line drives with astonishing consistency. --Jeff Silverman
From Library Journal
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.APaul M. Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Mr. Schell has a more more recent book that will seem more sensible to most fans. It gives weight to slugging ability or so-called power hitting and restores Ruth to a high place in the pecking order and drops Gwynn to a spot we can believe in.
Tony hit 135 homers in his career. Three Gwynns wouldn't have equaled the number of HRs by one Mays, or one Aaron, or one Frank Robinson, or one Musial, one Mantle, one Williams, etc. Yet all of these guys did pretty well with batting average and batting titles, too. In fact, they are all far closer to (or, in some cases, equal to) Tony in batting average than Tony is to them in round trippers. And this doesn't even get into RBI, Slugging, etc.
I admire Tony, but Tony is no Ted or Willie or Hank or Stanley Frank or Robbie or Mick or Rajah. Just to name a few. Not even including Lou and
Foxx and Babe and Junior and Dimag and Ott. And, yes, Cobb and Shoeless, too. And, I've intentionally excluded all the steroid power boys of the 1990s and 21st century (Bonds and Pujols and ARod, etc.). Tony might make the top fifteen hitters, but I doubt even that, and certainly not the top ten. But these days anybody with the number-crunching power enabled by a computer can find thousands of ways of getting himself a little attention by lying with numbers.
In our benighted age, data is the opiate of the people.
Key effects include the home ball park, stage of career and interventions such as the lowering of the pitcher's mound after 1968. To adjust for players whose abilities decline substantially in the latter years of their career Schell uses only the first 8000 at bats to gauge the players hitting ability. This helps players like Mickey Mantle whose performance declined appreciably at the end of his career due in part to injuries.
Schell provides a lot of interesting statistics and comparisons. Ty Cobb had the highest lifetime batting average but after all the adjustments finishes second to Tony Gwynn, a result that will surely create controversy.
Nevertheless Schell's approach makes sense and his results are not too surprising. As he notes his adjustments move many of the modern players whose numerical averages are lower than the players from the late 1800s and early 1900s, ahead on the list.
Schell relates how he showed up to meet and congratulate Gwynn on the date of his 8000th at bat when he clinched first place based on the Schell adjustment system.
Mike Schell is a sports enthusiast and a professor of biostatistics at the University of North Carolina. In 2002 he was one of the invited speakers at the Sport Statistics Section Session of the Joint Statistical Meetings.
This book was published just one month after his other book on home run hitters. The methodology is quite similar. This book got a lot more fan fare due to the publicity regarding Tony Gwynn.