What: "Baseball's All-Time Best Hitters"
Author: Michael J. Schell
Publisher: Princeton University Press, $22.95
Schell, a biostatistics professor at the University of North Carolina, is also a lifelong baseball buff who applies statistical methods to "level the playing field" between the baseball eras to arrive at a ranked list of the game's 100 greatest hitters.
And the winner is . . . Tony Gwynn.
Factoring in elements such as turn-of-the-century ballparks, rule changes, hitter-friendly ballparks, hitter-unfriendly eras, on-base percentage, and an added, fascinating factor--base-on-balls percentage.
Gwynn, Schell's number-crunching shows, emerges with an "adjusted" career average of .342, with Ty Cobb next at .340 and Rod Carew third at .332.
Others: 6. Ted Williams (.327), 8. Stan Musial (.325), 13. Willie Mays (.314), 15. Kirby Puckett (.313), 16. Babe Ruth (.312), 19. Joe DiMaggio (.311), 26 Hank Aaron (.308), 29. George Brett (.307), 34. Pete Rose (.306), 42. Mickey Mantle (.303), 57. Eddie Murray (.299), 75. Steve Garvey (.296).
Understanding Schell's methods is near impossible without an advanced degree in statistics, but along the way there are a lot of nuggets for the baseball fan. Examples:
* He wonders why, when the U.S. population is about 10% left-handed, about 34% of major leaguers hit left-handed.
* Of more than 8,300 hitters, only 105 have reached 8,000 at-bats. The youngest was Robin Yount, at 32.
* The only hitter on his list whose batting average increased after his 8,000th at-bat to career end was Roberto Clemente.
* Of the oft-overlooked factor of the ability to get walks, Schell writes of Max Bishop, a 1920s Philadelphia A's infielder. He had an adjusted career batting average of .248, but walked nearly 20% of the time.
As a result, Bishop scored as often per plate appearance as many hitters who are in the Hall of Fame.
Next best at getting walks: Babe Ruth. No. 100: Brett Butler.
Altogether, a good read--even better if you passed Statistics 101.