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Double Trouble

August 30, 2020

Hugh Atkins

Sometimes I get an idea for an article, check some statistics, and then decide that I’m chasing a flawed premise. That’s kind of what happened to me with this post, but the numbers I ran across were so interesting, I stayed with it.

Yesterday outfielder Nick Markakis of the Atlanta Braves drove a pitch from Adam Haseley of the Philadelphia Phillies off the base of the wall at Citizens Bank Ballpark. Markakis pulled up at second base with the 507th double of his career, putting him one two-bagger ahead of Babe Ruth for his career.

© T.C.G.

I suppose it’s impressive for a player to pass Babe Ruth in a statistical category, but does that mean anyone should bother comparing a player like Markakis to Ruth? The Big Bambino had 2,873 hits in his career, including 1,356 that went for extra bases; that’s 47.2% of his total. Markakis now has 2,370 hits, but only 718 have gone for extra bases; that’s just 30.2% of his total.

Of the top five players in career extra base hits, Ruth easily has the highest ratio of extra base hits to total hits. Henry Aaron, the all-time leader, had 3,771 hits, 1,477 of which were extra base hits; that’s 39.2% of his total.

Stan Musial, who sits between Aaron and Ruth on the list, had 3,600 hits, 1,377 of which were for extra bases; that’s 37.8%. The only active player among the top five, Albert Pujols, has 3,321 hits of which 1,340 were extra base hits; that’s 41.6% of his total.

Willie Mays had 3,283 hits, 1,323 of which were extra base hits, representing 40.3% of his total.

I always like to throw in Lou Gehrig when I’m comparing statistics of the all-time greats. Although his career was cut short, Gehrig still finished with 2,721 hits, 1,190 of which were for extra bases; that’s an impressive 43.7%. In 1927, Gehrig had 218 hits, 117 of which were for extra bases. With 101 singles, 52 doubles, 18 triples, and 47 home runs, 53.7% of Gehrig’s hits were extra base hits. That’s impressive, no matter how you analyze it.

© T.C.G.

It was interesting for me to check these numbers, and in many ways a high ratio of extra base hits to total hits is impressive, but I’m not sure it’s a useful metric. With players like Aaron, Musial, Ruth, Pujols, and Mays, who racked up a bunch of hits, it is really impressive that such a high number of them went for extra bases. But there were players who had a higher percentage of extra base hits than these guys who weren’t nearly as good as Aaron and company.

Jim Thome, for instance, had 1,089 extra base hits, which were 46.7% of his total. He was a fine hitter, as his 612 home runs demonstrate. But I don’t believe anyone would say he was a better hitter than the players mentioned above.

Then there is always someone like Adam Dunn. He had only 1,631 hits, but 806 were for extra bases; that’s 49.4% of his total. Rather than saying Dunn compares favorably with Ruth, this suggests that Dunn took an all-or-nothing approach at the plate.

After carefully analyzing all these numbers I have concluded that Nick Markakis having more doubles than Babe Ruth doesn’t mean he was better than Ruth at anything. It likely only means that the Sultan of Swat was too busy hitting home runs to settle for more than 506 measly doubles.

(All statistics are from Baseball Reference.)

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