Between 1994 and 2003, things went a little… haywire in Major League Baseball. Offensive output didn’t merely shoot through the roof; it burst through it, shattered the ozone layer and started knocking satellites out of orbit. Hitters like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa (among many, many others) went to town on baseball’s record book, egregiously rewriting so many milestones, they eventually ceased being meaningful.
The ten-year stretch was undoubtedly doused in a vat of steroids; we know this. Several players from that era have admitted it, tested positive, forgot how to speak English and/or been indicted.
But whether the accomplishments were chemical-aided or not – it’s still relevant and, frankly, revelatory to assess Jeff Bagwell’s place during the greatest stretch of offensive baseball in the game’s history.
Bagwell finished among the top 10 in eight vital offensive categories between 1994 and 2003, including:
1st in runs produced (1,949; runs + home runs + runs batted in)
1st in runs scored (1,160)
2nd in walks (1,066)
3rd in WAR (60.8)
3rd in runs batted in (1,155)
3rd in total bases (3,131).
5th in home runs (336)
6th in OPS+ (156)
7th in OPS (.994)
8th in on-base percentage (.420)
Ack! Numbers, right? NERD! Let’s distill this down and make it a little more palatable, shall we? If you list the ten most… common offensive measures currently available, only Bonds has more top 10 finishes (9 to Bagwell’s 8).
So it’s pretty easy to conclude that during Bagwell’s peak years, he was the second-best hitter of the era, which, again, was an era marked by inflated offensive numbers. Think about all the stars of the 90s and 00s – Bagwell outhit McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro… Frank Thomas, too; as well as Mike Piazza, Larry Walker… And oh, by the by… six of those years were spent playing home games in the cavernous Astrodome, historically one of the greatest pitcher’s park in baseball.
And here’s something else to consider… look where Bagwell finished in home runs: fifth. He hit quite a few, let’s not be naive. But for a guy often thought of as “just a power hitter”… fifth in home runs but second in walks and, most strikingly, first in runs.
This is an idea we’ll return to over and over again – Bagwell was more than “just a power hitter.”