This is a fun exercise from David Laurila of FanGraphs. He asked ten major leaguers — some players and some coaches — who they thought was “better,” Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds. David didn’t define the terms. He left it up to the respondents to decide what “better” meant and to explain their choices.
I won’t give away how many thought Ruth was better than Bonds — you have to read that for yourself — but I will say I was pretty impressed with the answers. Especially given who a couple of the respondents were (note: Luke Scott was one of them, and in the past his reasoning on various topic has been … curious). I was impressed because the players seem to have a way better appreciation of the differences between eras than most fans and even many baseball writers do. I was a bit disappointed that a couple of them didn’t appreciate that Ruth was also an elite pitcher when talking about the “all-around game” of the two, but on the whole I think the answers are pretty darn good. Even Scott’s. Indeed, his may be one of the best-reasoned in the lot.
As for me: I agree with the guy who said that Bonds would do better in Ruth’s era than Ruth would in Bonds’. I think it’s hard to argue against that. If you differ, please give me your reasons for it. I’m genuinely curious.
Yesterday, in Milwaukee, utilityman Hernan Perez pitched two scoreless innings, and backup catcher Erik Kratz pitched one himself, mopping up in a blowout loss to the Dodgers. In doing so they became the 31st and 32nd position players to pitch this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most position players who have taken the mound in a season in the Expansion Era, which began in 1961. Presumably far fewer ever did so when the league had only 16 teams.
It’s pretty remarkable to set that record now, in this age of 13 and sometimes 14-man pitching staffs. That’s especially true when teams shuttle guys back and forth from the minors more often than they ever have before and when, due to the shortened, 10-day disabled list, it’s easier to give guys breaks because of “injuries” than it ever has been.
Pitcher usage is driving this, however. While teams carry far more relievers than they ever have before, they actually carry far fewer swingmen or mopup men who are capable of throwing multiple innings in a blowout to save other pitchers’ arms. Rather, teams focus on max-effort, high-velocity relievers who go one or two innings tops, thus requiring catchers and utility guys to help do the mopping that actual pitchers used to do.
I don’t know if that’s a bad thing necessarily — some of these backup catchers throw harder than a lot of pitchers did 30 years ago and it’s always kind of fun to see a position player pitch — but it is yet another way the game has changed due to a focus on specialization and velocity when it comes to pitchers.