B/R MLB Community Debates: Ruth vs. Ohtani, Trout vs. Mantle/Mays and More

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMay 27, 2021

B/R MLB Community Debates: Ruth vs. Ohtani, Trout vs. Mantle/Mays and More

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Welcome to the Bleacher Report MLB community mailbag!

    There is never a shortage of opinions on the B/R app, so it's time to put your thoughts to work. This time around, we mixed things up and asked readers to offer up their best Player A vs. Player B scenarios to be discussed in this week's article.

    You didn't disappoint.

    Lou Gehrig vs. Albert Pujols. Babe Ruth vs. Shohei Ohtani. Nolan Ryan vs. Jacob deGrom. Javier Baez vs. Francisco Lindor.

    That's just a sampling of what's in store, so let's get to it.


    If you'd like to have your question or hot take included in a future mailbag, be on the lookout each Tuesday afternoon for the crowdsourcing thread on the MLB stream in the B/R app.

All-Time Great First Basemen

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    Albert Pujols
    Albert PujolsPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    Albert Pujols vs. Lou Gehrig (@Big_Si)

    Who is the greatest first baseman in MLB history? That's essentially the question at hand.

    It seems like sacrilege to even suggest the answer is not New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig, but it's worth digging into the numbers as Albert Pujols comes down the homestretch of a Hall of Fame career. The 41-year-old is a shell of the player he was in his prime, and that's been the case for years, but his peak rivals any in MLB history.

    Here's a look at how their two careers stack up side by side:

    • Gehrig: 2,164 G, 179 OPS+, .340/.447/.632, 2,721 H, 493 HR, 1,995 RBI, 114.1 WAR
    • Pujols: 2,893 G, 145 OPS+, .298/.376/.545, 3,258 H, 668 HR, 2,117 RBI, 99.1 WAR

    With over 700 more games played, Pujols has an edge in the counting numbers, but the advanced stats favor Gehrig. I've used WAR per 162 games in the past as a way to compare players across eras with different sample sizes, and Gehrig (8.5) has a significant edge over Pujols (5.5).

    The other way to look at things would be to compare each player's 10-year peak:

    • Gehrig (1927-36): 1,538 G, 191 OPS+, .350/.457/.660, 2,022 H, 390 HR, 1,532 RBI, 90.9 WAR
    • Pujols (2001-10): 1,558 G, 172 OPS+, .331/.426/.624, 1,900 H, 408 HR, 1,230 RBI, 81.4 WAR

    It's once again advantage Gehrig.

    Verdict: Lou Gehrig

The Pride of Puerto Rico

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    David Banks/Associated Press

    Javier Baez vs. Francisco Lindor (@GOATGARDEN)

    Francisco Lindor (No. 8 overall, CLE) and Javier Baez (No. 9 overall, CHC) were the first two shortstops selected in the 2011 MLB draft, and both are natives of Puerto Rico who played together on the country's World Baseball Classic team in 2017.

    The two dynamic young talents faced off in the 2016 World Series, and they were slated to hit free agency together this winter before Lindor signed a 10-year, $341 million extension with the New York Mets.

    So who has the edge?

    This year, the answer is undeniably Baez, as Lindor has gotten off to a slow start in New York:

    However, Lindor has been the more well-rounded player throughout his career. He every bit the defender that Baez is at shortstop, and he's been a more consistent offensive performer with three straight 30-homer seasons on his resume and the on-base ability that is lacking from Baez's game.

    Lindor is a career .281/.343/.478 hitter, good for a 115 OPS+ in his seven seasons. By comparison, Baez has a .264/.304/.476 line and 104 OPS+, and his 28.8 percent career strikeout rate is more than double the 14.2 percent mark Lindor has produced.

    Despite the middling 2021 numbers, Lindor currently has a career-high hard-hit rate (42.2 percent), an average exit velocity (89.6 mph) in line with his career average (89.8 mph) and a .203 BABIP that suggests there is significant positive regression to come.

    Verdict: Francisco Lindor

AL Rookie of the Year Front-Runners

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    Ray Carlin/Associated Press

    Adolis Garcia vs. Yermin Mercedes for AL ROY (@LandonE)

    It's easy to root for a 28-year-old rookie finally finding MLB success after years of toiling in the minors. This year, there are two of themChicago White Sox designated hitter Yermin Mercedes and Texas Rangers center fielder Adolis Garcia.

    That duo is at the forefront of the American League Rookie of the Year race, and it's going to be difficult for the rest of the field to catch them if they keep swinging the bat the way they have over the first two months.

    • Garcia: 165 PA, .290/.327/.613, 19 XBH (15 HR), 40 RBI, 2.4 WAR
    • Mercedes: 168 PA, .344/.393/.519, 14 XBH (6 HR), 26 RBI, 1.3 WAR

    Who has a better chance of walking away with the hardware?

    The quality of contact that each player has produced is telling in projecting how they might fare the rest of the way, and it's impossible to ignore the disparity:

    • Garcia: 95th percentile in exit velocity, 93rd percentile in hard-hit rate
    • Mercedes: 21st percentile in exit velocity, 10th percentile in hard-hit rate

    There is no way Mercedes is going to maintain a .388 BABIP with those contact numbers. It's also worth mentioning that Garcia is also making an impact with the glove (5 DRS, 8.1 UZR/150), which has helped him nearly double Mercedes in WAR.

    Verdict: Adolis Garcia

Flamethrowing Right-Handers

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Jacob deGrom vs. Nolan Ryan (@willbse)

    Nolan Ryan used one of the greatest fastballs in MLB history to rack up 5,714 strikeouts while tallying 324 wins and tossing a record seven no-hitters, and his 61 shutouts rank seventh on the all-time list.

    However, his peak never came close to what Jacob deGrom is doing right now.

    Here's a look at the five best seasons of Ryan's career based on WAR:

    • 1977: 141 ERA+, 2.77 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 204 BB, 341 K, 299 IP, 7.8 WAR
    • 1973: 123 ERA+, 2.87 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 162 BB, 383 K, 326 IP, 7.7 WAR
    • 1972: 128 ERA+, 2.28 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 157 BB, 329 K, 284 IP, 6.2 WAR
    • 1974: 118 ERA+, 2.89 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 202 BB, 367 K, 332.2 IP, 5.9 WAR
    • 1987: 142 ERA+, 2.76 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 87 BB, 270 K, 211.2 IP, 5.4 WAR

    By comparison, deGrom has a 1.99 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 702 strikeouts in 534 innings since the start of the 2018 season, and he had a 9.9-WAR season in 2018 and an 8.0-WAR campaign in 2019. He's doing it with a 100 mph fastball of his own and some of the most electric secondary stuff in the game.

    There's no argument based on career counting numbers, but I'd take deGrom right now over Ryan at any point in his career if I need one pitcher to start one game.

    Verdict: Jacob deGrom peak, Nolan Ryan career

The Future Best Pitcher in Baseball?

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Shane Bieber vs. Walker Buehler (@Mathlete)

    Who will be the best pitcher in baseball once Jacob deGrom passes the torch?

    The 32-year-old has at least a few elite years left in the tank if his 0.80 ERA, 0.60 WHIP and 74 strikeouts in 45 innings this year are any indication, which means it will likely be a pitcher just now entering his prime who will ultimately take up the mantle.

    The leading candidate appears to be Shane Bieber (25 years old) or Walker Buehler (26 years old).

    Bieber won AL Cy Young honors last year when he posted a 1.63 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 122 strikeouts in 77.1 innings, recording an absurd 281 ERA+ in the process.

    Buehler battled injury during the shortened 2020 regular season but returned strong in the playoffs with a 1.80 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 25 innings over five starts. He tossed six innings of three-hit, one-run ball while striking out 10 in Game 3 of the World Series.

    Over the first two months of the 2021 season, Buehler has had the edge:

    • Bieber: 3.32 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 23 BB, 98 K, 65 IP, .237 BAA
    • Buehler: 2.78 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 8 BB, 59 K, 58.1 IP, .209 BAA

    With a dynamic four-pitch mix, success on the postseason stage and no lingering effects from his early-career injury issues, Buehler is my pick to unseat deGrom as baseball's best.

    Verdict: Walker Buehler

Young Phenoms

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    Alex Rodriguez
    Alex RodriguezGary Stewart/Associated Press

    Alex Rodriguez vs. Juan Soto (@NYCSports321)

    The No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 draft, Alex Rodriguez made his MLB debut the following year a few days shy of his 19th birthday.

    By his age-20 season, he was a bona fide star, hitting .358/.414/.631 with 54 doubles, 36 home runs and 123 RBI to win the AL batting title and finish runner-up in AL MVP voting.

    Juan Soto made his MLB debut at 19 years, 207 days old when injuries in the Washington Nationals outfield paved the way for playing time, and after finishing runner-up in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2018, he helped lead the Washington Nationals to a World Series title in his age-20 season.

    Last year, he won a batting title of his own, posting a .351/.490/.695 line with 14 doubles and 13 home runs in 47 games.

    Comparing the two is tricky.

    While Soto became an everyday player when he was a year younger, Rodriguez quickly made up for lost time with elite production at a premium defensive position during the shortstop boom of the 1990s.

    Soto won't turn 23 until after the 2021 regular season, and he has already amassed 11.3 WAR.

    By comparison, A-Rod had already piled up 23.0 WAR by the end of his age-22 campaign, so Soto still has a long way to go if he hopes to catch his career trajectory.

    Verdict: Alex Rodriguez

The $300M Men

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    Manny Machado
    Manny MachadoDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Bryce Harper vs. Manny Machado (@jarwnj)

    One of the biggest storylines in recent years was the long-awaited free agency of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper during the 2018-19 MLB offseason.

    Both young stars secured the bag, with Harper (13 years, $330 million) signing for more years, while Machado (10 years, $300 million) snagged a higher average annual value.

    It will be years before we know which of those contracts was the best for the teams involved, but it's worth checking in on how both players have performed thus far:

    • Harper: 253 G, 137 OPS+, .264/.386/.513, 55 HR, 160 RBI, 7.2 WAR
    • Machado: 259 G, 121 OPS+, .262/.341/.478, 54 HR, 160 RBI, 7.0 WAR

    The only glaring offensive difference is Harper's superior on-base ability, though it is largely negated by Machado's superior defensive value at the hot corner.

    It's close, but I'll take Machado for the contributions he's making as a veteran leader on a young, up-and-coming Padres team poised to contend for the foreseeable future.

    Verdict: Manny Machado

Legendary Center Fielders

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    Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle
    Willie Mays and Mickey MantleRH/Associated Press

    Mike Trout vs. Mickey Mantle vs. Willie Mays (@TheWolfofBroadSt)

    In the years to come, there will be no shortage of discussions on where Mike Trout fits among the greatest to ever play the game.

    For now, we can compare his production to date to some of the all-time greats at the same point in their respective careers.

    Here's a look at where Trout, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr., for good measure, all stood at the conclusion of their age-29 seasons:

    • Trout: 1,288 G, 176 OPS+, .305/.419/.583, 1,419 H, 310 HR, 76.1 WAR, 3x MVP
    • Mantle: 1,552 G, 175 OPS+, .308/.425/.579, 1,700 H, 374 HR, 84.7 WAR, 2x MVP
    • Mays: 1,218 G, 158 OPS+, .317/.390/.585, 1,481 H, 279 HR, 68.1 WAR, 1x MVP
    • Griffey: 1,535 G, 149 OPS+, .299/.380/.569, 1,742 H, 398 HR, 70.7 WAR, 1x MVP

    It has to be mentioned that Mays missed most of the 1952 and all of the 1953 seasons serving in the military. He won NL MVP upon returning in 1954, so those can certainly be categorized as prime seasons of lost production.

    Still, based solely on accumulated production in their age-28 seasons, Trout has been the best of the bunch and still has time to add to those numbers this year once he returns from the injured list.

    He still has a ways to go to solidify his legacy, but in comparison to other Hall of Famers at a similar point in their careers, he's on an elite trajectory.

    Verdict: Mike Trout, through age-28 season

The No. 1 Prospect in the 2021 MLB Draft

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    Jordan Lawlar
    Jordan LawlarMichael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Jordan Lawlar vs. Marcelo Mayer vs. Jack Leiter (@pittsburghbob)

    This is the question facing the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 1 overall in the 2021 draft.

    Vanderbilt right-hander Jack Leiter looked like the clear choice a few months ago when he threw a no-hitter against South Carolina in his first SEC start of the year, but he has been far more hittable of late.

    That has opened the door for a pair of high school shortstops to enter the conversation.

    Both Jordan Lawlar and Marcelo Mayer boast 60-hit/55-power offensive profiles in their MLB.com scouting reports, and a strong senior season has seemingly pulled Mayer even with Lawlar after the latter was widely regarded as the nation's top prep player at the start of the spring.

    Mayer may ultimately have a bit more upside offensively, but Lawlar is more polished with a higher floor and better speed.

    If Leiter pitches well down the stretch and into the postseason for Vanderbilt, he is still a strong contender to go No. 1 overall.

    But if the draft were held today, I'd pick Lawlar at 1-1 and happily slot him into the Pittsburgh farm system.

    For those wondering why they would consider drafting another shortstop after taking Nick Gonzales last year, you don't draft for need in the MLB draft. You draft on talent and let the rest sort itself out.

    Verdict: Jordan Lawlar

Baseball's 2-Way Stars

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    Babe Ruth
    Babe RuthAnonymous/Associated Press

    Babe Ruth vs. Shohei Ohtani (@jwilliams248)

    For all the times Shohei Ohtani has been compared to Babe Ruth for his two-way abilities, Ruth really only had two seasons as a true two-way player during his time with the Boston Red Sox.

    • 1918: 382 PA, 192 OPS+, 48 XBH (11 HR), 4.7 WAR; 19 GS, 13-7, 2.22 ERA (122 ERA+), 166.1 IP, 2.3 WAR
    • 1919: 543 PA, 217 OPS+, 75 XBH (29 HR), 9.1 WAR; 15 GS, 9-5, 2.97 ERA (102 ERA+), 133.1 IP, 0.8 WAR

    Ruth tied for the MLB lead in home runs in 1918 and set the single-season record with 29 long balls the following year in his first season seeing regular at-bats.

    It's hard to compare stats like OPS+ since Ruth was playing another game entirely than the rest of the baseball world when he first started launching home runs.

    With 1.6 WAR as a hitter and 1.2 WAR as a pitcher this season, Ohtani is on pace for a 9.5-WAR season, which would fall just short of the WAR total Ruth posted during the 1919 season. However, that value came almost entirely from the offensive side, whereas Ohtani's value has been fairly evenly split between hitting and pitching.

    If he can hold on at his current pace at the plate and on the mound the rest of the way, it's fair to say Ohtani would trump anything Ruth accomplished in terms of single-season production as a two-way player.

    Verdict: Shohei Ohtani, if his current pace holds


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, and accurate through Tuesday's games.