By: Neil Munro
Canadian Baseball Network
As April 1st nears (opening day for the 2016 season) it is an opportune time to look back at the best career performances for Canadian ball players and make some prognostications about the progress active players might be expected to make in moving up the charts of the career leaders.
The following tables delineate the top 15 career performances in the significant batting categories, and the top 10 for the minor categories which are not usually summarized. The following statistics include all of the totals accumulated by Canadian-born major leaguers from 1876 through the 2015 season, and include several players who were not born in Canada, but who were Canadian citizens or lived in our country for long periods of time.
In the last 140 years, we have witnessed modest or even stellar batting performances by a great many Canadians resulting in the fact that several productive seasons are needed before younger batting stars even make appearances on any of the following lists.
Three current star performers – Justin Morneau, Joey Votto and Russell Martin – have accumulated enough playing time over the last decade that they are getting ever nearer to the top of several batting categories. One of more of these ball players is sure to overtake Larry Walker (the current leading performer in almost every significant category) in one or more batting statistic category in the next few seasons.
Indeed, Morneau currently stands second behind Walker in several significant statistical categories, including at bats, hits, doubles, RBI and total bases. Votto and Martin are now well into the top 10 in many of the lists below as well.
Two other players just beginning to make appearances in these charts are Brett Lawrie (now playing with the Chicago White Sox) and Michael Saunders (assuming a full recovery from the serious injury he suffered last year).
The first three tables track long playing careers without reference to high batting averages or major achievements in run production. A player can rank near the top of the charts as a result of avoiding significant injuries or by being reliable fielders at important defensive positions. George (Moon) Gibson, Frank O’Rourke and Arthur Irwin are quintessential examples in this regard. Justin Morneau will need at least three more years as a regular to catch Larry Walker in any of these categories signifying lengthy playing time.
Russell Martin has a guaranteed contract with the Blue Jays through 2019 and will undoubtedly see more playing time after that, but catching does take a heavy toll on remaining in the lineup on an every-day basis. The best bet among the three is that Joey Votto will eventually emerge as the leading Canadian in terms of longevity. Brett Lawrie is at least three years away from cracking the top 15 in these categories and Michael Saunders will take even longer.
Career Leaders in Games Played
Career Leaders in At-Bats
Career Leader in Total Plate Appearances
The next three categories are the most important in terms of run production. Once again, Larry Walker (Canada’s most prolific batter, benefiting as well form playing at altitude in Colorado) is well ahead of the rest of the pack in runs scored, RBI and total bases. Even though Morneau now ranks second in RBI and total bases, he is unlikely to overhaul Walker in these batting categories before his playing days are over.
Again, Joey Votto has the best chance to be the eventual Canadian career leader in all three categories listed here. Nonetheless, he will need at least three full years before he passes Morneau (or George Wood in runs scored) even for second place. Russell Martin does have excellent career stats for a catcher. And will eventually place in the top five in some categories. Brett Lawrie should crack the top 15 in RBI within three seasons.
Career Leaders in Runs Scored
Career Leaders in Runs Batted In
Career Leaders in Total Bases
The next four tables present breakdowns of high career totals in base hits and in hitting for power (doubles, triples and home runs). Once again, second seeded Morneau is highly unlikely to catch Walker in any of these batting categories. He still needs more than 600 base hits, 130 doubles and 140 home runs to get even close. Eventually, Walker, Morneau and Votto will ultimately hold down the top three stops in hits, double and homers (likely seeing Votto, Walker and Morneau in that order eventually).
Russell Martin will reach the 200 career home run level in three years – a feat accomplished by only 17 other catchers in major league history. He has a chance to make the top ten in career homers among catchers (he needs to exceed 250 to get there). Brett Lawrie makes his first appearance on the Canadian leaders here moving up to 14th place in career home runs. Michael Saunders falls just short in this category, as he is still stuck at 16th place in HR with 51, having been blanked last year due to injuries.
It is interesting to note that none of our current batting stars will ever be a threat to move up the chart of leaders in career triples. This is a category in which no current major leaguer will ever crack the top ten. Indeed just one ball player in among the top 15 all-time saw any playing action since 1930. Among Canadians in our own list of top fifteen, only Walker and Terry Puhl had any playing time at all since 1990.
These speedsters also rank 1-2 in career stolen bases by a wide margin. The active career triple leaders through 2015 were: Morneau (22), Saunders and Votto (14 each), Lawrie (13) and Martin (with 9). Interestingly enough, Justin Morneau managed to leg out three triples last year in just 168 at bats – one fewer than his single season career high.
Career Leaders in Base Hits
Career Leaders in Doubles
Career Leaders in Triples
Career Leaders in Home Runs
The next six categories of batting statistics, while not as important as runs, RBI or home runs are still quite important in contributing to a team’s offensive production. Usually the league leader in singles denotes a player who makes bangs out a high number of hits without much power. This is obviously not the case with career leading Larry Walker here. His singles total is more a reflection of the fact that he played in a large number of games while posting a high batting average. With the exception of Morneau, Heath and Stairs (all power hitters), the rest of the top ten in singles are players from the 19th century or were “singles hitters”.
While Walker also leads in career walks, Joey Votto is closing fast and is almost sure to pass him early in 2017. If he can avoid any serious injuries in the future, Votto will likely finish in the top 15 in career bases on balls among all major leaguers. Through this stage of his career, Votto’s rate of walks per at bat is 0.1911. This ranks him 20th all-time among players who have accumulated at least 700 BB in their career.
This places him just behind Harmon Killebrew (0.1914) and just ahead of Lou Gehrig (0.1885) in this respect. In the last five seasons, when his walk totals have soared, Votto has managed a walk per at bat rate of 0.2281), a level exceeded by just six players in major league history. If you are curious, the top two in this regard are Ted Williams (0.2623) and Barry Bonds (0.2598). Votto also stands second (behind Walker) in career intentional bases on balls and could pass Walker this season. In fairness, Jeff Heath’s IBB are known for only about two-thirds of his career, while no information exists at all about the intentional walks accumulated by players from before 1940.
As indicated earlier, Walker and Terry Puhl are well ahead of their Canadian counterparts in career stolen bases. None of the active players will ever make much headway in moving near the top of this category unless Dalton Pompey catches on as a regular outfielder and displays his talents on the base paths over several productive seasons.
It is noteworthy to observe that Martin is getting very close to being one of only a trio of catchers with more that had more than 100 HR and 100 SB in their careers. Right now, Carlton Fisk (376 HR and 128 SB) and Ivan Rodriguez (311 HR and 127 SB) are the only catchers who can make this claim. Russell Martin has also moved into second place on the list of batters being plunked by a pitch. Since he is averaging nearly 10 HBP per year in his last four seasons, he has a chance to eventually overtake Larry Walker in this category.
I have consolidated the statistical category of “sacrifices” into one category here. Sacrifice hits were not officially recorded before the 1894 season, so players like Tip O’Neill and Pop Smith do not register here at all. From 1894 until 1953, sacrifice flies were included in the general category of the “sacrifice hit” most years (although not in the period from 1931 to 1953).
In some seasons, a SH was awarded to a batter that advanced a fellow base runner in any regard by making a fly ball out. You can see that the leaders her come primarily from the 1900 to 1930 era when SH figures were at an all-time high. In fact, we also have three pitchers making the top 15 in this batting category.
Career Leaders in Singles
Career Leaders in Bases on Balls
Career Leaders in Intentional Bases on Balls
Career Leaders in Stolen Bases
Career Leaders in Hit by a Pitch
Career Leaders in Sacrifices
Next, we have four tables showing the best career performances in the percentage categories. The category of OPS (on-base average plus slugging percentage) is considered to be just about the best indicator of batting prowess used to rank ball players today, although the likes of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams would be quite mystified by this acronym.
These categories are such that a player can easily move up or down on the list as his career progresses. Generally a batter’s best years are in the middle portion of his playing career, while his averages tend to diminish in his last few seasons in the big leagues, especially for big name players who are able to hold down a roster spot when they are well past their prime.
It is hard to imagine that Tip O’Neill will be ousted for the top career batting average in the foreseeable future. Votto may well drop several batting points before he hangs up his spikes for good. Morneau and Martin are also quite likely to drop a few places on the four lists shown here before they are finished. Brett Lawrie is capable of moving up somewhat over time. I would expect his power numbers to only improve in the next five years.
A few Canadians rank quite highly among all major league players in some categories here. Larry Walker finished his career placing twelfth all-time in slugging percentage, 54th in OBA and 15th in OPS. Votto currently ranks 18th in career OPS (second among all active players only to Albert Pujols) and a highly respectable career 14th in OBA (well ahead of the next active player on the list, Miguel Cabrera at .399). George Selkirk holds down the all-time 56th rank in career OBA (mere decimal places ahead of Cabrera (.3998 to .3992). George Selkirk and Jeff Heath make the all-time top 100 on the list of career OPS, holding down the 84th and 94th spots respectively.
Career Leaders in Batting Average
Career Leaders in Slugging Percentage
Career Leaders in On-Base Average
Career Leaders in OPS
The final two batting categories shown here might well be ones that a player would not want his name shown on, as they actually represent negative contributions. Still, they are probably more indicative of a long playing career rather than a futile batting performance. Russell Martin (having passed Walker last year for the top spot among Canadians), Morneau and Votto all rank in the top five in the category of grounded into double plays.
It must be noted that this batting category was first officially record only in 1933 in the National league and in 1939 in the American League. Jeff Heath would rank somewhat higher if his full career totals were known, while the likes of Tip O’Neill, Bill Phillips and Jack Graney do not appear at all here. Since Martin has been slowing down as his career evolves over time, it is quite likely that he will continue to hold the top spot in GIDP for decades to come.
In the same manner, the number of times a base runner was caught stealing was recorded in only a haphazard fashion before 1951. Data does exist for several decades for American League players before this date but only for about ten years for National Leagues seasons before 1951. Jack Graney would likely have had more instances of being caught stealing than Terry Puhl had if his full career totals were known. Michael Saunders (now with 20 career CS) will soon crack the top ten here as well.
Career Leaders in Grounding into Double Plays
Career Leaders in Caught Stealing
There you have it – the all-time Canadian batting leaders and those who will move up significantly on these lists over the next few years. It will be interesting to review the progress (or lack of it) from Votto, Martin and Morneau this time next year.