FILE--San Diego Padres' Tony Gwynn connects with the ball in the third inning against the Seattle Mariners in the team's Cactus League opener Thursday, March 2, 2000 in Peoria, Ariz. Gwynn's agent rejected the San Diego Padres' latest contract offer and countered with three different options in an attempt to work out a deal before Thursday, Dec. 7, 2000 (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) ORG XMIT: NY188
Updated: June 23, 2014 11:52PM
When Padres great Tony Gwynn died last week, baseball lost its top hitter of the expansion era in terms of batting average.
Gwynn’s .338 tops Wade Boggs and Rod Carew by 10 points among players with at least 3,000 plate appearances whose careers started in 1961 or later, the year the American League added the Angels and the second incarnation of the Senators (now the Rangers) in the first wave of expansion.
That doesn’t mean Gwynn has been the best hitter or best offensive player of the time. Walks and power matter, and with 135 home runs and 790 walks in a 20-year career that ended in 2001, Gwynn averaged a modest nine homers and 52 bases on balls per 162 games.
By OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), the leader among those whose careers fell entirely within the expansion era is Barry Bonds at 1.051. Albert Pujols, now with the Angels, is at 1.000. Gwynn is 91st at .847.
By OPS-plus, which adjusts for ballpark and normalizes to league average so that 100 represents an average hitter, Bonds (182) and Pujols (164) are still the leaders, with Gwynn tied for 54th at 132. Include baserunning and switch to offensive wins above replacement, and Bonds (142.6) is followed by Alex Rodriguez (113.0), with Rickey Henderson (104.2) and Joe Morgan (103.7) also breaking 100. Gwynn is 33rd at 66.2.
The best offensive player in baseball is an extremely tough standard, though. At No. 33 in oWAR for a 50-year period, Gwynn is among the elite and is a worthy Hall of Famer.
In hitting for average, Gwynn was the leader of the pack. Stick to hitters whose careers started in 1961 or later, and the top 10 in batting average are Gwynn, Boggs (.328), Carew (.328), Miguel Cabrera (.321), Joe Mauer (.319), Pujols (.319), Ichiro Suzuki (.318), Vladimir Guerrero (.318), Kirby Puckett (.318) and Todd Helton (.316).
Gwynn did it largely by putting the ball in play. Compare his strikeout numers to those of the runners-up in batting average. Carew struck out 1,028 times in 10,550 plate appearances, a modest 67 per 162 games. Boggs struck out 749 times in 10,740 plate appearances (49 per 162 games).
But even compared to those two low-strikeout, high-average hitters, Gwynn was on a different planet at 434 strikeouts in 10,232 plate appearances, a mere 29 per 162 games. For comparison, he struck out in 4.2 percent of his plate appearances at a time when the major-league average was 15.4 percent. That means the average hitter struck out nearly four times as often as Gwynn did.
Boggs walked 1,412 times (94 per 162 games) and Carew played in a tougher era for hitters, contributing to oWARs of 80.6 for Boggs and 80.4 for Carew that are among the top 15 of the expansion era.
But in doing what he did best — avoiding strikeouts, putting the ball in play and contributing with a sky-high batting average — Gwynn got it done like no one else since the beginning of the expansion era.