Most Overrated Power Hitters Ever
Prince Fielder is going to make less via MLB free agency this winter than he would in an informational vacuum, just because Mo Vaughn once signed a bad deal with the Anaheim Angels. It may not be fair, but it's the truth.
After 140 years of playing the game, baseball teams and fans somehow still have not developed a fine-grained system for differentiating power hitters from one another. The sabermetric revolution has helped a bit, but far too many people still rely on counting numbers like home runs and RBI when evaluating sluggers.
We've evolved to the point where we all realize—a decade too late—that Albert Belle was a much better batter than Juan Gonzalez, but if real progress had been made, Fielder would not have to worry about comparisons with a previous big-money bust, simply because that player was also fat and relied on power for value.
Vaughn isn't the only slugger in the annals of the game who remains too high in fans' and analysts' esteem. Here are the 25 most overrated power hitters in MLB history.
25. Andre Dawson
Dawson is in the Hall of Fame, and ultimately, he probably deserves that honor. He could slug, to be sure, and he played an athletic right field early in his career. In 1987, he won the NL MVP award after his 49 homers and 137 RBI each led the league. So did his 353 total bases.
That was the good news. The bad news was that Dawson also posted a .328 OBP that year. In fact, he never had a single-season OBP north of .365, and his career figure was .323. In 1990, he drew 42 walks, 21 of them intentional.
By taking so few free passes, Dawson mitigated his offensive value, and his defensive value collapsed later in his career due to accumulating injuries. He was a great slugger, but he will be remembered better than he deserved.
24. Matt Williams
Williams clubbed 378 career home runs but had fewer doubles and triples combined. He hit 30-plus homers in six different seasons but often did not walk enough to make that power really work.
He was just nine percent better than an average hitter over his career, according to FanGraphs. Despite playing in a significantly better aggregate run environment than Dawson did, Williams compiled an even less impressive .317 on-base percentage.
23. Aubrey Huff
In four of his 11 full seasons, Huff has been a below-average hitter. He is not a consistent slugger, and he draws fewer unintentional walks than one hopes for from a middle-of-the-order guy. Still, he provides enough value to get by offensively. Home runs and RBI have led him to be overrated, but he does alright.
In the field, though, Huff is a nightmare. He's played a fair amount at third base and in each corner outfield over his career, but he's utterly awful there. Only at first base is he remotely viable, and there, his bat doesn't play all that well.
22. Sammy Sosa
There are those who actually underrate Sosa. He was an athletic, even elite right fielder during the first phase of his career. He had prodigious power. The steroid allegations surrounding him have never amounted to much, at least beyond circumstantial evidence.
In the main, though, Sosa gets too much credit for counting numbers: He always posted gaudy homer and RBI numbers and three times led the league in total bases.
However, his refusal to draw walks and proclivity for the strikeout made him less valuable than those achievements suggested. His career on-base percentage was .344.
21. Vernon Wells
If the majority of one's career fell between 1993 and 2009, and if that player has a .323 career OBP, that's not a valuable batter, almost regardless of his power profile.
That goes double for a player like Wells, who cannot defend center field anymore and who really only has 25-homer pop. Everyone knows the contract Wells is on is an albatross; too few realize it was an awful idea from the start.
20. Pete Incaviglia
Hitting 30 homers as a 22-year-old rookie is a good way to end up overrated. Incaviglia had old-player skills—and those alone—from the first time he donned a big-league uniform. He would never have a substantially better season than he had that first season, in 1986 with the Rangers.
He finished only a tick above the league average in terms of overall offensive value and posted a .310 OBP. He also lost defensive value fast, as he lunged around left field much the same way he lunged after curveballs.
19. Carl Yastrzemski
Of nearly 1,400 career plate appearances, Yastrzemski batted just once more at home in Fenway Park than on the road. Yet he collected 118 more doubles, 17 more triples and 22 more home runs there than elsewhere. Yastrzemski posted a career .904 OPS in Boston, and just a .779 everywhere else.
Not only was he defensively viable as a result of the cramped left field in Boston, but Yaz derived a huge percentage of his offensive value from the ability to take aim at the Green Monster. He's on a very short list of the least-worthy Hall of Fame players ever.
18. Todd Helton
This is the "players whose ballpark made them look much, much better than they were" portion of our program.
Consider Helton's career numbers at Coors Field in Colorado and elsewhere:
That split is huge; it's Yastrzemski-like. Helton is still a fine hitter, but if he gets even a whiff of Cooperstown, he has gotten too much credit.
17. Jorge Posada
It's not that Posada is or was a poor player. He has real value. He does everything fairly well, though he's not a real power hitter in the sense of socking 30-plus homers a year.
Posada is a fine player; he's just overrated. That's next-to inevitable when one plays for the Yankees in good times. The Posada-Jeter-Pettitte triumvirate that so helped the Yankees win five World Series all get the treatment. All three are good players, and all three were top five at their position at some point during the team's run of dominance.
That said, there's not a top-tier Hall of Famer among them, and Posada is going to get something like twice the number of votes he deserves five years after he retires.
16. Kevin Mitchell
Remembered largely for his potential and his explosive athleticism, Mitchell gets more credit than his actual achievements merit. He had only three 30-homer and two other 20-homer seasons.
He may have had a "World" of potential; that was his nickname. But Mitchell never really had the durability or consistency to realize that hype. He was a high-peak, sharp bell-curve player.
15. Todd Hundley
Many remember Hundley for hitting 40 home runs as the Mets' starting catcher in 1996. Many others remember him for being just dreadful after signing a big deal with the Chicago Cubs a few years later.
That's about right. Hundley had two very good and two above-average seasons in the big leagues, but remembering him as a slugging backstop in a league with guys like Gene Tenace insults the memory of the latter.
14. Fred McGriff
McGriff hung around long enough to pad his stats, though not quite all the way. He fell just shy of 500 home runs and just shy of 2,500 hits. He did finish with impressive career rate stats, but he is a breathing embodiment of how nice it was to be a slugger in the 1990s.
Even when he fell off—and he fell off precipitously from ages 31 to 34—McGriff was able to hit 20 homers and stay afloat, continuing to be viewed as an All-Star even as he delivered less than All-Star production.
13. Dante Bichette
In 1995, Bichette led the National League in both home runs and RBI. Along the way, he hit .377/.397/.755 at home, and .300/.329/.473 on the road. He had a 1.034 career OPS in Denver, or 46 percent better than elsewhere.
Not only was he a product of Mile High Stadium and Coors Field, but Bichette tallied fewer than a third as many walks as strikeouts in his career, leading to an utterly unimpressive .336 OBP despite career averages of .299 and .499 in batting and slugging, respectively.
12. Dave Kingman
Hitting 48 home runs in 1979 and 442 for his career made Kingman so famous it's easy to forget how bad he really was.
His career on-base percentage was .302. He struck out so much and put so little authority on balls that did not leave the park, that in 1981, he hit a league-leading 37 home runs, walked 59 times—and still finished at .204/.285/.432, for a below-average aggregate contribution.
11. Jose Canseco
Steroids can't make poor baseball players great, or even good. They can only make good players better.
In the case of Jose Canseco, however, it's clear steroids were a huge part of his success. His sheer physical strength was his greatest asset on the diamond, and he derived it illegitimately.
Canseco also didn't draw walks or make consistent contact, so even at his best, he was not what his numbers suggested he was.
10. David Justice
Though thought of as an elite slugger, Justice racked up only 305 career homers. Worse, he had just 280 doubles. In 1993, he hit 40 home runs for the Atlanta Braves, but thanks to a measly 15 doubles and four triples, he slugged just .515.
Justice finished his career with a modest .500 slugging average, at least for a so-called power hitter. He had a pretty pure stroke, but as often as not, his shtick was getting on base, not circling them all at once.
9. Mo Vaughn
Prince Fielder was born to be fat. Mo Vaughn just let himself get that way.
It was more than that, too. Vaughn was never as good as people supposed. He both hit .300 and led the league in RBI one year, which led to an ill-deserved MVP award.
His walk rates were always inflated by needless free passes, though, and his .993 career OPS at Fenway Park only helps prove he was a product of his time and place.
8. Brady Anderson
Hitting 50 home runs is like making a hit record. It puts you into books and onto the tongues of those most acutely tuned to trivia for years, but it doesn't guarantee quality or sustainability. Brady Anderson learned that the hard way.
Anderson clubbed 50 bombs for the Orioles in 1996, but in only two other seasons did he manage even 20 homers. He finished his career (during which he was primarily a leadoff hitter) with only 210 total home runs.
If it wasn't steroids, it was simply the flukiest home-run binge ever, and though he hardly had us all fooled, that wild season is still the first thing that comes up when Anderson's name finds a conversation.
7. Roger Maris
With apologies to Billy Crystal, Maris truly was overrated. He had an exceptionally brief peak and an unspectacular career.
His 1961 season was terrific and ought not to be diminished, but the travesty of his never having reached the Hall of Fame would be far outweighed by the travesty of him someday, you know, reaching the Hall of Fame.
6. Reggie Jackson
Jackson struck out a ton. Not only does he have the most sheer whiffs in the history of the game, but the league-wide strikeout rate back then was much lower than it is now. Jackson's equivalent performance in modern baseball might have led to 3,000 strikeouts.
That's not all that makes him overrated. Jackson's personality made him seem a titan, a true giant of the game with power akin to Babe Ruth's. Hardly so. He didn't rack up doubles and had a career slugging average of just .490. That was great for his era, but not supernal.
His three-homer game in the World Series continues to be one of the great overrated achievements in baseball history.
5. Juan Gonzalez
Gonzalez played the whole of his good career within the offense-friendly 1990s and very early 2000s. He called Texas home for the lion's share of his career, a bonus. He had some high-homer seasons and big RBI seasons, all of which helped to obscure the fact that he never drew a walk.
On top of that flaw, Gonzalez was also a poor defender. Hie glove was so atrocious in left field that in 1996, when he won his first AL MVP, he was actually only worth 2.8 wins above replacement.
4. Ryan Howard
Once again, counting stats trump rates in player evaluation. Howard has twice led the NL in homers, three times in RBI and once in total bases, so he has been seen as elite. Nevermind that he has never led in batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS or adjusted OPS.
Howard won the 2006 NL MVP because he hit 58 home runs, but Albert Pujols was a mile better. Howard's defense and his strikeout-to-walk ratio make him one-dimensional.
3. Andres Galarraga
From 1990-92, Andres Galarraga came to bat 1,375 times in the big leagues. He hit .242/.289/.383 with 39 home runs, a line 11 percent worse than a league-average hitter. He made his way to the Colorado Rockies in 1993, with his career on the line already at age 31.
At Mile High Stadium, he posted a .379/.413/.638 line. When the Rockies moved to Coors, Galarraga kept plugging to the tune of .333/.394/.631. His career artificially extended by his new home park, Galarraga hit 172 home runs in five seasons for the Rockies before moving on.
He hit 399 career homers, and some view him as an underrated gem. To the contrary, he was quite lucky to achieve what he did in the game.
2. Joe Carter
Over 2,000 hits, nearly 400 home runs, nearly 1,500 RBI and a whole bunch of doubles make Carter memorable.
His World Series-winning home run makes him legendary. His .306 career on-base percentage makes him a poser.
Carter never drew walks, had few secondary skills and survived mostly because when he hit the ball, it flew well.
1. Adam Dunn
Dunn racked up home runs in hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark, and he racked up walks in walk-friendly modern baseball. He had an atrocious season in 2011, though he should bounce back a bit. His power, and his overall offensive profile, is fine.
Dunn, however, is a defensive abomination scarcely imaginable. He tried for years to fit in left field and at first base, and in his first season as a DH, he suddenly forgot how to hit.
If Dunn ever wants to have value again, he has to get used to hitting cold. When he plays the field—anywhere—he cancels out a huge chunk of his own offensive value.