Barry or Babe?

It is the eternal question amongst most baseball fans: Who is the best player to ever play the game? The answer of course is subjective. The beautiful part of statistics in baseball is it allows us to compare players against their comrades, to form an answer. Of course doing this across different eras is much more difficult, but stats have yet to fail us. Adjusted stats like OPS+, WAR, etc have helped us while adjusting for eras and ball park effects. All stats are misleading of course, and many will be taken into consideration in this next comparison. The comparison is: Who was better? Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth. This comparison is solely number based and will not penalize Bonds’ for suspected steroid use.

Raw stats
Bonds: .298 /.444 /.607 /1.051
Ruth: .342 /.474 /.690 /1.164

I am not a big average guy but Ruth does have the lead for OBP & SLG.

OPS+ and WAR
Bonds: 182 OPS+, 162.4 WAR
Ruth: 206 OPS+, 163.1 WAR

200 OPS+ Seasons
Bonds: 6
Ruth: 11

8+ WAR Seasons
Bonds: 11
Ruth: 12

Best 10 years:
Bonds: 268, 263, 259, 231, 206, 204, 188, 188, 178, 170[Avg: 216]
Ruth: 255, 239, 238, 225, 225, 220, 218, 217, 211, 206 [Avg: 225]

Bonds: 11.9, 11.8, 10.6, 9.9, 9.7, 9.6, 9.2, 9.0, 8.1, 8.0 (Tot: 97.8, Avg: 9.8)
Ruth:14.1, 12.9, 12.4, 11.9, 11.7, 11.5, 10.3, 10.3, 10.1, 9.4 (Tot: 114.6, Avg: 11.5)

Of course, Ruth played in a much different time when many hitters were not slugging HR and more focused on getting hits. In 1920 Ruth hit more homeruns than every team in the AL. Bonds never came close to doing this. In fact the differences in the leagues seemed to have inflated his adjusted stats to an extent with respect to SLG.  In 1920 the AL SLG was .387, while in 01 the SLG for the NL was .425.

Other interesting facts: These two men were two of the most dominant players we will ever see. Bonds’ OBP exceeded .500 5 times (he went over .600 in 04) and he slugged over .800 twice (one year at .799). Ruth also had an .OBP that exceeded .500 5 times and slugged .800 twice. Bonds walked over 150 times 4 times and almost had 2 200 walk seasons (232 in 04, 198 in 02). Ruth walked over 150 twice. Aside from Ted Williams, Eddie Yoast and Mark McGwire are the only other people besides Ruth and Bonds to walk over 150 times in one season. No one besides Bonds and Ruth have slugged over .800, in fact the closest was Lou Gehrig in 1927 slugging .765 (Bonds and Ruth eclipsed this mark 3 times each). If all of Ruth’s HR in 1920 were converted to doubles, he would have still slugged .611 (good for second in the league). If you took away half of Bonds’ hits from 04 he still would have had a .500 OBP and led the league in OBP.

Conclusion: When compared to their eras, Ruth was more dominant. Of course Ruth almost played a different game compared to Bonds, the fact that he could out homer teams shows this. Pitchers in the 20s logged 300 innings and likely threw in the low 80s. Bonds faced more specialized pitchers who could hit 100 and didnt pitch every day. I think if you swapped players and put Bonds in the 20s/30s and Ruth 90s/00s. Then Bonds would perform better. However, that is impossible and we can only compare them for what they did against their peers and for that Ruth was better.

This of course this excludes what Ruth did as a pitcher. Which is a another story itself.