Countdown To Spring Training: Mickey Mantle

We’re at seven days. SEVEN.

It’s the homestretch and after that, the next countdown, though we more than likely won’t be writing about it, is the one of the number of days until the first Spring Training game.

In this installment of our countdown, I’m cheating slightly and reposting something I wrote about Mickey Mantle’s 1956 season. It was posted on High Heat Stats a couple of weeks back and I thought it would be a good post for today. So enjoy!

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I once saw a tweet that mentioned Mickey Mantle‘s OPS+ in his second to last season as a player – it was 149. The person was impressed by the number. Mantle was 35-years-old and on his last legs. Then I thought about Mantle’s career as a whole and I remembered looking some of his numbers from his MVP winning years – 1956, 1957 and 1962 – when I was researching for another post. So I decided to take a look again at his stats and I was amazed.

All fans of the New York Yankees, young and old, know that Mickey Mantle was quite a player and I thought for this post, I’d focus on one of those MVP years in particular.

Now, I am not one to mince words. I’ve never been afraid to say what I feel, no matter how harsh, and the two words that came to mind when I looked at Mickey Mantle’s 1956 season stats were “Holy” and oh, okay I’ll censor myself, the other word rhymes with sit.

First up, Mantle’s slash line: .353/.464/.705/.1169

See what I mean?

Let’s not even look at his batting average, let’s focus on his OPS – which is his on base percentage + slugging (.464/.705). Those are pretty gaudy numbers. What’s even crazier is that Ted Williams of the Red Sox, who finished sixth in MVP voting that year, had an even higher on base percentage (.479) than Mantle.

Slugging percentage is total bases divided by the number of at bats (([Singles] + [Doubles x 2] + [Triples x 3] + [Home Runs x 4])/[At Bats]).

Mantle’s SLG was .705 compared to Williams who finished second with a .605 slugging percentage. And the 1.169 OPS for Mantle led the league and was followed by Williams’s 1.084.

How about Mantle’s OPS+? (OPS+ which is OPS with some adjustments)

From Fangraphs:

This statistic normalizes a player’s OPS — it adjusts for small variables that might affect OPS scores (e.g. park effects) and puts the statistic on an easy-to-understand scale. A 100 OPS+ is league average, and each point up or down is one percentage point above or below league average. In other words, if a player had a 90 OPS+ last season, that means their OPS was 10% below league average.

So league average OPS+ is 100. In 1956, Mickey Mantle’s was 210. But get this, his OPS+ was even better the next year when it was 221.

Some saberists don’t like OPS or OPS+ – they deem them to be too simple which truthfully, they are, since I understand them perfectly. (Haha)

Those same people like to look at a stat called wOBA – which stands for Weighted On-Base Average.

The weights in which you measure wOBA vary from year to year. SB Nation’s Beyond the Boxscore goes into great detail and shows the weights for every year from 1871-2010.

Fangraphs’s rule of thumb is that a wOBA of 0.400 is excellent. Well, in 1956, Mickey Mantle’s wOBA was .502. Amazingly, that was not the highest of his career. He’d do better in 1957 with an wOBA of .504.

Next up: Mantle’s 11.1 WAR

This is another stat that according to some, has seen it’s day come and go. But I’m still going to talk about it anyway because as long as it’s listed on Baseball Reference and Fangraphs, it counts.

I think it’s safe to say that Mantle led everyone in baseball in this stat and he did so by a pretty large margin. Early Wynn of the Cleveland Indians finished second with a WAR of 8.0 – Wynn was a pitcher. The next offensive player on the list in WAR was Mantle’s teammate Yogi Berra who finished with a 7.6.

Now for some simple numbers…

Walks: 112

Mantle led the league in walks, Williams finished in second with 102 of his own and third on the list was Roy Sievers of the Washington Senators who walked 100 times but finished 31st in MVP voting that year – he only had one vote. Interesting to note, Mantle was intentionally walked six times in 1956. That number increased the following season when he was given a free pass 21 times.

Home runs and RBI: 52 and 130

I know these stats are not as important anymore but they were in 1956 and they’re probably what helped Mantle get his first of three MVP Awards. His average combined with his home runs and RBI helped him achieve the Triple Crown – something that is not done too often.

Mickey Mantle followed up his amazing 1956 with an equally astounding 1957 season, helping him win back-to-back MVP Awards and leading the New York Yankees to back-to-back American League Pennants. The Yankees won the World Series four games to three over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 and lost four games to three to the Milwaukee Braves in 1957.

Mantle would go on to play until 1968 and was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 appearing on 321 out of 365 ballots.

3 thoughts on “Countdown To Spring Training: Mickey Mantle

  1. bottom line

    At the risk of upsetting a whole lot of people, I will make the following point.

    On the 1950s Yankees Mantle was great, but he was only the second most valuable player on the team. You had to be there, I guess, but as a kid watching Yankee games there was no question who I wanted up in the eighth inning, down two runs, with two men on. Mantle may have already gone 2 for 3 with a walk and a homer, but Yogi was the guy who always delivered late. I know, the numbers say different. But in an age that believed there was such a thing as clutch hitting, Yogi swung the killer bat when the chips were down. .

    • Professor Longnose

      You’re not the first person I’ve heard say that.

  2. Hawaii Dave

    One of my great sources of sadness is that I was born about 5 years too late to enjoy seeing the Mick play. By the time I could understand baseball it was already 66, 67, 68 and Mickey was a shadow of the greatest player of his generation. my grandpa took me to a lot of games and I got to see him play several dozen times, but he was broken up. Lol…of course now I’m glad I was born later than earlier. And my grandpa was the best, he taught me how to buy the cheap tickets and move down a little at a time. Plenty of empty seats as I remember.

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