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by Harold Friend
The 1925 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates had a third baseman named Harold "Pie" Traynor.
During his major league career, which spanned the years 1920-35, Traynor batted .320, averaged 5 home runs and 106 RBIs a season, and struck out 278 times.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a third baseman named Mark Reynolds. In his brief major league career, which started in 2007, Reynolds has batted .257, has averaged 34 home runs and 101 RBIs a season, and has struck out 556 times.
Baseball's Best Third Baseman
After he retired,Traynor was widely regarded as baseball's greatest third baseman. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1948, and was selected to the all-time selected in 1969 for baseball's centennial.
John McGraw, the Hall of Fame New York Giants' manager, considered Traynor to be the greatest player in the game.
Mark Reynolds hit 23 home runs his first season. He increased that total to 28 in his sophomore year, and in 2009, at the age of 25, Mark blasted 44 round-trippers.
Most managers and players consider Reynolds to be one of the game's top players. Although it is premature, if he continues to produce, Reynolds should have no problems becoming a Hall of Famer.
During Pie Traynor's era, most "experts" considered a strikeout a disgrace. In 1930, Traynor stuck out a mere seven times in 569 plate appearances. He batted .366, hit nine home runs, and batted in 119 runs.
Last season, Mark Reynolds struck out a record 223 times in 662 plate appearances. He batted .260, with 44 home runs and 102 RBIs.
A Dependent Statistic
Runs batted in is a dangerous statistic. It is dependent upon many factors that a player cannot control.
How many men were on base for a specific batter during the season?
How carefully did the opposition pitch to the batter?
Who followed the batter?
How good was the opposition's defense and pitching?
How did ball park factors affect the offense?
The 1930 Pirates averaged 5.9 runs a game. The 2009 Diamondbacks averaged 4.4 runs a game. Mark Reynolds, who drove in 102 runs, was more efficient that Pie Traynor, who drove in 119 runs.
Batting Average and Strikeouts
Today's fans, managers, and other experts are the most knowledgeable in the game's history, primarily because statistics reveal so much that was not known.
Batting average used to be an obscenely overrated statistic.
Mark Reynolds batted .260. Pie Traynor batted .366. Until recently, there would be no discussion. How could a player who hits 106 points lower than another player be more effective?
It has finally been recognized that a strikeout is merely an out.
What difference does it make if Mark Reynolds strikes out leading off an inning, or if Gary Mathews Jr. robs him of a home run by making a circus catch against the center field wall?
What difference does it make if Mark Reynolds bats with the bases loaded, two outs, and strikes out or is robbed by Mathews again?
Yes, with fewer than two outs, some outs are "productive" outs. A ground ball to the second baseman with no outs that moves a runner to third might be better than a strikeout, but a player who hits 44 home runs can make up for not being an effective "small ball" player.
Pie Traynor was a great hitter who didn't hit a home run or strike out often. He had a lot of help from similar hitters, such as Paul Waner, Lloyd Waner, George Grantham, and KiKi Cuyler.
As great announcer Bob Murphy used to say, "The Mets have to stitch some hits together to tie this game." That's how the Pirates used to score.
Mark Reynolds is a great home run hitter who strikes out more than anyone who has ever played major league baseball. He doesn't have much help on the offensively challenged Diamondbacks.
As great announcer Bob Prince used to say, "We need a bloop and a blast to tie this game."
If Pie Traynor were batting with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with his team trailing by a run, their chances weren't too bright.
If Mark Reynolds were batting in a similar situation. Bill James could tell you that the chances of tying the game were much better.
Would you take Pie Traynor over Mark Reynolds?