Thursday, February 6, 2014

Kiner's Korner Kloses

Ralph Kiner has died at age 91. People remember him as a longtime Mets TV announcer, but in his day, he was a devastating hitter.

Kiner played from 1946 to 1955, a fairly short career. Here are the leaders in various batting categories during those years:
    Home Runs                Runs Scored    
1. Ralph Kiner      369    1. Stan Musial    1,178
2. Stan Musial      289    2. Pee Wee Reese    978
3. Ted Williams     267    3. Ralph Kiner      971
4. Gil Hodges       239    4. Ted Williams     921
5. Hank Sauer       238    5. Jackie Robinson  886

    Runs Batted In           Slugging Percentage
1. Stan Musial    1,107    1. Ted Williams    .642
2. Del Ennis      1,029    2. Stan Musial     .595
3. Ralph Kiner    1,015    3. Duke Snider     .552
4. Ted Williams     955    4. Ralph Kiner     .548
5. Yogi Berra       898    5. Ted Kluszewski  .511

    On Base Percentage       On Base Plus Slugging
1. Ted Williams    .490    1. Ted Williams   1.131
2. Stan Musial     .431    2. Stan Musial    1.027
3. Ferris Fain     .424    3. Ralph Kiner     .946
4. Elmer Valo      .414    4. Duke Snider     .935
5. Jackie Robinson .411    5. Larry Doby      .892
6. Ralph Kiner     .398

In 1951, Kiner batted .309 and led the league in home runs, runs scored, walks, extra base hits, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and on base plus slugging. He was second in total bases and runs batted in. He finished tenth in the MVP vote. Among those ahead of him was his teammate, Murry Dickson, a pitcher who went 20-16 despite a worse-than-average ERA.

Why doesn't he get more recognition for being a great hitter? I think there are four reasons:
  1. He played at the same time as Ted Williams and Stan Musial. As you can see, they completely dominated the mid-40s to the mid-50s, even though Williams missed all but 43 games in 1952-53 when he served in the Korean War.
  2. As I noted, he played for only ten years. He was just 32 when back problems forced him into retirement.
  3. He didn't hit for a high batting average: .279 lifetime, over .300 only three times. People focus on batting average, even though, as I've shown, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and on base plus slugging are all truer measures of run generation.
  4. He played for some bad ball clubs. From 1946 to 1952, he was with the Pirates, who had one winning season during that span and a remarkable 42-112 record in 1952. In 1953 he was traded from the last-place Pirates to the second-to-last-place Cubs, who were 7th in 1954 as well. He ended his career with a good Indians team in 1955 that finished three behind the Yankees. He never played in the postseason.
He led the NL in homers every year from 1946 to 1952. Nobody's matched that streak. He hit 51 homers in 1947 and 54 in 1949, making him one of only five clean players to top 50 twice (Ruth, Griffey, Mantle, Mays).

As I said, people remember Kiner as a TV announcer. They should remember him as a great hitter as well.

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