On Wednesday, Mike Francesa, on YES had an interesting discussion on who was the better hitter, Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays.
Francesa said without any question Mays was the better all round player. This writer, might even take some issue with that.
But this article is going to deal with what the numbers say about which was the better hitter in their best years.
Mantle was a three time MVP and also was very close in the voting for MVP in other years.
Mays was an MVP twice, finished second in the voting once and third once.
Both of them were born in 1931, with Mays being about five months older than Mickey.
Mays missed two years in the early fifties in the military.
Mantle was injured for almost his entire career and never played healthy after his rookie season.
Mickey finished his 16 year career with a batting average of .298.
Willie finished his 22 year career with a batting average of .302.
So, let us compare stats from the three MVP years of Mantle and the two MVP years of Mays and see what they tell us.
Mantle had one of the greatest seasons of any hitter in 1956. He not only won the American League Triple Crown.
He also won the Major League Triple Crown as he hit more homers, drove in more runs and had a higher average than any player in either league. And of course he was MVP.
Mickey Mantle played the 1956 season at age 24. He played in 150 games and had 533 at bats.
That year the Mick had 188 hits and scored 132 runs. He had 22 doubles, five triples and 52 home runs. He drove in 130 runs and stole 10 bases. He was walked 112 times and struck out 99.
Mick finished the '56 season with a .353 average, an on base percentage of .464, a slugging percentage of .705, an OPS of 1.169 and an OPS+ of 210.
Today's Yankee fans are excited about the coming of Nick Johnson because he had an OBP last year of .426.
Mickey's OBP in 1956 was .464 and he hit 52 home runs. Everyone should pause a minute and reflect on that.
Mickey followed his Triple Crown season with what some baseball experts will argue was an even better year.
Mickey was hurt some in 1957 and only played in 144 games. He came to bat 474 times. But he had 173 hits and scored 121 runs, incredible numbers.
In '57 Mickey had 28 doubles, six triples and 34 homers. He drove in 94 runs, stole 16 bases, walked 146 times and struck out only 75.
His average was .365 with an OBP of .512, SLG of .665, OPS of 1.177 and an OPS+ of 222.
Look again, that is an OPS+ of 222.
Mickey's final MVP year was 1962. He was hurt alot that year and played in only 123 games and had only 377 at bats.
But he still had 121 hits, scored 96 runs and had 89 RBI.
Mick hit 15 doubles, one triple and 30 home runs. He walked 122 times and struck out 78. His BA was .321, his OBP was .486, his SLG .605, his OPS 1.091 and his OPS+ 196.
(In a year when Mick was not MVP, 1961, he hit 54 home runs, had 128 RBI, hit .317 and had an OPS+ of 206.)
So how did Willie do in his MVP years?
In 1954, at age 23, Willie played in 151 games, had 565 at bats, with 195 hits and 119 runs scored.
He had 33 doubles, 13 triples and 41 home runs. He drove in 110 runs, stole 8 bases, was walked 66 times and struck out only 57 times.
He finished the World Series '54 season with an average of .354, an OBP of .491, SLG of .667, OPS of 1.043 and an OPS+ of 184.
Willie was once again MVP in 1965.
He played in 157 games, at 558 ABs, 177 hits, 118 runs scored. He had 21 doubles, 3 triples, 52 home runs and drove in 112.
He walked 76 times in '65 and struck out 71. His average was .317, his OBP .398, SLG .645 with an OPS of 1.043 and an OPS+ of 184.
The stat that many sabermatricians use today to capture overall hitting value is OPS+.
After 1962 Mickey Mantle was never really the same. He played parts of six more seasons but his decline was pretty steep.
And yet when you look at the career OPS+, Mickey finished his career with a 172.
Mays on the other hand played a total of 22 years and was really good through 1970. And yet his career OPS+ is only 156.
The Mick had six years in which his OPS was above 1.000. Mays had five years in which his OPS was above 1.000.
Mickey had seven seasons in which his OPS+ was above 180.
Mays had only one year, his MVP season of 1965, when his OPS+ was above 180.
Willie Mays far surpassed Mickey in home runs, in part because of his longevity.
Mays had 660 home runs in 10881 times at bat.
Mickey on the other hand hit 536 homers in only 8102 times at bat.
So Mickey hit a home run every 15.115 times at the plate and Willie hit a home run every 16.486 times at bat.
If Mickey had as many ABs as Willie, The Mick would have hit 720 home runs.
There will always be the arguments about what Mickey could have been if he had been healthy.
But even with all his injuries, Mickey Mantle was a better hitter than Willie Mays.
The numbers prove it.