Ty Cobb won the Triple Crown in 1909. He batted .377, hit nine home runs and drove in 107 runs. Yes, it certainly was the dead ball era when nine home runs leads the league.
In 1909, American League teams averaged 3.44 runs a game. In 2011, American League teams averaged 4.46 runs a game. Yes, it still is the lively ball era.
One result of the lively ball era is that Cobb is slightly underrated as an offensive force.
Cobb ranks at the top of many offensive categories when one uses traditional statistics.
His .366 batting average is the best ever, he ranks ninth with a .433 on base percentage, he slugged .512 and is fifth with 5,854 total bases. Until Pete Rose broke his record, Cobb was first with 4,189 hits.
Cobb is second in runs scored with 2,246, which is remarkable considering that runs were at a premium for most of his career. Cobb is fourth in doubles, second in triples, seventh in runs batted in and fourth in stolen bases.
Until the late 1960s, Cobb was considered the greatest player in history. With the passage of time, that honor now belongs to Babe Ruth.
Now to the fun part. I do not know how Cobb fares when one evaluates his career using modern statistics. We are going to find out.
Cobb ranks third in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) with a 159.4. Ruth leads with 172.0, followed by Barry Bonds’ 171.8.
Cobb is second in offensive WAR with a 156.0 compared to Ruth’s 164.6. On defense, Cobb’s dWAR has not been determined since data are complete only since 1974.
The leader in dWAR is Brooks Robinson with a 27.3 followed by Andruw Jones’ 23.9.
RAR purports to measure the number of runs better a player is when compared to a replacement player.
Cobb has a career RAR of 1,463 with a high of 112 in 1909. Ruth has a career RAR of 1,739 with a high of 147 in 1923. In eight different seasons, Ruth had a RAR better than Cobb’s best of 112.
Ruth is clearly the better offensive player, but let’s examine how their eras affected some of the numbers.
Cobb scored 2,246 runs, averaging about 94 runs a season. He batted in 1,938 runs, averaging 81 RBIs a season. He led the league in RBIs four different seasons.
During Cobb’s career, American League teams scored 124,854 runs or an average of about 5,202 runs a season.
Dividing Cobb’s 2,246 runs by the league’s 124,854 runs scored reveals that Cobb scored 1.8 percent of the league’s runs during his career.
Dividing Cobb’s 1,938 RBIs by the league’s 124,854 runs scored reveals that Cobb batted in 2.6 of the league’s runs.
Since Ruth was a pitcher who could have been voted into the Hall of Fame had he remained a pitcher, we will use 1919-34 for him.
During those 16 seasons, Ruth scored 2,062 runs, averaging 129 runs. He batted in 2,085 runs, averaging 130 RBIs a season. Ruth led the league in RBIs in six of those years.
From 1919-34. American League teams scored 96,830 runs or an average of 6,052 runs a season.
Ruth scored 2.1 percent of the league’s runs from 1919-34. He batted in 2.2 percent of the league’s runs.
Player Runs RBIs
Cobb 1.8 2.6
Ruth 2.1 2.2
No matter how one views the numbers, Ruth was the better offensive player. The only surprising result is that Cobb was slightly better at driving in runs, which brings up major differences between them.
Ruth drove in many of his runs with the long ball. Cobb did it with singles, doubles and triples.
Ruth scored many of his runs when hit home runs. Cobb put himself into scoring position with stolen bases and extra base hit.
They are the top two players ever.