In 1987, Tony Gwynn led the league with a .370 batting average. He scored 119 runs, drove in 54 runs, stole 56 bases and won a Gold Glove. He finished ninth in the MVP voting.
"Ninth!" Gwynn said, via the New York Daily News in 1996. "It bugged the hell out of me for awhile. It really did. But I don't worry about it anymore. You find your niche. I have fun with it now. I just do what I do: see the ball, and hit it."
Gwynn drove in 8.1 percent of the Padres' runs and scored 17.8 percent of their runs in 1987.
Gwynn was not a home run hitter. He had an economical swing that allowed him to make contact. He never struck out more than 40 times in a season and averaged a mere 29 strikeouts over a 162-game season compared to an average of 52 walks.
The Padres' Hall of Fame outfielder became used to those "experts" in the media responding to his seven batting titles by stating, "But he doesn't hit home runs."
As early as high school, Gwynn realized that he was not a home run hitter. He thought that if he went for the long ball, he would not be successful and his average would become pedestrian. He knew that he was a better hitter than any of his contemporaries, and that included Wade Boggs.
If Gwynn played today, his batting skills would be respected less, in part because the sabermetricians have told fans that batting average is not a good statistic, singles don't win championships and a strikeout is just another out.
In 2009, Mark Reynolds hit 44 home runs. He struck out 223 times, which is the major league record. Reynolds averages 218 strikeouts a season with a career .237 batting average.
This is not an attempt to denigrate Reynolds. It is an illustration of how baseball owners have gone along with the "experts" and how differently a player's value is measured today.
When Reynolds hit 44 home runs, he drove in 102 runs and scored 98 runs. The Arizona Diamondbacks scored 720 runs that season. The league average was 718 runs or 4.43 runs a game.
Reynolds drove in 14.2 percent of the Diamondbacks' runs. He scored 13.6 percent of his team's runs.
In 1997, at the age of 37, Gwynn hit 17 home runs, drove in 119 runs and scored 97 runs. The San Diego Padres scored 795 runs that season. The league average was 746 runs or 4.60 runs a game.
Gwynn drove in 15.0 percent of the Padres' runs and scored 12.2 percent of their runs.
This article's premise is that two of a player's most important statistics, despite depending on his teammates, are runs batted in and runs scored.
Team Runs: Gwynn Vs. Reynolds
In 1987, when he hit seven home runs, batted .370 and struck out 35 times, Gwynn drove in 8.1 percent of the Padres' runs and scored 17.8 percent of their runs.
In 2009, when Reynolds hit 44 home runs, batted .260 or 110 points less than Gwynn and struck out 223 times, he drove in 14.2 percent of the Diamondbacks' runs and scored 13.6 percent of their runs.
Much more research remains, but in the "old days," comparing a player such as Mark Reynolds to Tony Gwynn would be considered idiotic. Today, it seems more reasonable, at least with respect to their offensive contributions.
Could it be that a player like Reynolds is as valuable to his team as a player like Gwynn is to his?