Nap Lajoie vs. Rogers Hornsby

That’s a pretty big difference.

This was sparked by a conversation comparing the two second basemen I had with cyber-friend and fellow baseball history enthusiast Ron Rollins at Baseball Over Here. So, I figured it would be interesting to take a look at the two and compare them. Both are Hall of Fame players, so there’s no reason to argue over that. This is simply a look at seeing which second baseman was better. Now that we’ve looked at both Nap Lajoie and Rogers Hornsby, we can take a look. I’ll compare their career stats (unless otherwise noted) and try to help put them in perspective.

Batting Average –> Lajoie .338; Hornsby .358
Hornsby has the edge here by a fairly good margin. One thing to note, however, is that Lajoie played regularly through his age 41 season whereas Hornsby stopped playing regularly after his age 33 season. Playing those seasons could have dropped Hornsby’s average back down. Another note for the rest of the offensive numbers, Lajoie played in the “Dead Ball” Era (which supressed offensive numbers) and Hornsby played his best seasons in the “Live Ball” Era. As for batting average, it would have helped Hornsby.

On-Base Percentage –> Lajoie .380; Hornsby .434
Hornsby wins by a lot here. Some of which is helped by his higher batting average, but the difference between his BA and OBP is greater (.076) than Lajoie’s (.042), suggesting Hornsby had a better eye and plate discipline. How much the difference in eras tweaked the numbers is difficult to measure. On one hand, he didn’t hit the ball (no difference therefore), but pitchers may have been more reluctant to pitch to Hornsby knowing it could go out of the park more often (advantage to Hornsby).

Slugging Percentage –> Lajoie .467; Hornsby .577
Hornsby wins by a healthy bit here, but again, how much did the “Live Ball” era help?

OPS+ –> Lajoie 150; Hornsby 175
Again to Hornsby, and you can assume that OPS also favors Hornsby.

Hits –> Lajoie 3242; Hornsby 2930
Edge this time to Lajoie, but he did have 1400 more at bats. Then again, longevity should count for something.

Runs –> Lajoie 1504; Hornsby 1579
Hornsby wins, but runs were more plentiful when he racked up a large number of those.

RBI’s –> Lajoie 1599; Hornsby 1584
Lajoie wins this time, but again, he did have more at-bats, thous Hornsby played in a better offensive era.

Doubles –> Lajoie 657; Hornsby 541
Lajoie wins pretty handily.

Triples –> Lajoie 163; Hornsby 169
Pretty even.

Home Runs –> Lajoie 83; Hornsby 301
Hornsby by a long shot.

Stolen Bases –> Lajoie 380; Hornsby 135
Lajoie was well-known for his stolen bases and speed, but one wonders how much the slight change in philosophy affected Hornsby’s running game (he wasn’t a sloth by any stretch of the imagination).

Range Factor/Games Played –> Lajoie 5.78 (5.09); Hornsby 5.36 (5.51)
In parentheses are the average major-league numbers for the position — both at second base only. Lajoie seems to have been a superior defender. His factor is higher, and it is higher than the average for his counterparts. Hornsby’s is lower than league average. Again, when looking at defense, there are fewer metrics, but defense is still a large part of the evaluation. If one or the other is a better defender, then it counts for a lot. Another thing to remember is that Lajoie played about 500 more games at second than did Hornsby and at an advanced age. Lajoie’s range factor took a hit in those final years, and Hornsby couldn’t play it at all in those years (granted, that was because of a severe ankle injury).

Fielding Percentage –> Lajoie .963 (.954); Hornsby .958 (.958)
Pretty much the same indication as above — Lajoie was a better defender –, though not by much here. Fielding percentage isn’t a great tool, but it can be useful. Lajoie’s fielding percentage didn’t decline too much in the last years, so age seems to have no bearing (I didn’t think it would considering you can still catch, but range is more age affected).

Well, when we look strictly at the numbers, Hornsby was a much better hitter but a worse fielder, though not by a whole lot. However, we have to take into account the eras in which they played (though Hornsby played just at the beginning of the “Live Ball” Era, his numbers jumped like Bonds on steroids — too far? too soon?). The defensive numbers really don’t make much of a difference, but the offensive numbers do. When you look at Lajoie pre-age 25, he actually compares favorably to Hornsby until 1920 (the year before the “Live Ball” Era started — I need to do a post on that). Then again, Lajoie did play in fewer games, thus having a smaller sample size. Hmm …

Overall, both were excellent second basemen. In the end, however, I’d probably go with Lajoie. Hornsby’s numbers, especially power, really spiked after 1921, and he didn’t have to suffer the decline that Lajoie did. Lajoie was still pretty useful through age 41, but Hornsby was done after 35 (really more like 33, but I’ll cut him some slack). Though, I can’t say I wouldn’t take Hornsby. The two are really close.

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3 Responses to “Nap Lajoie vs. Rogers Hornsby”

  1. Ron Rollins Says:

    Just to continue the argument (and i guess there really isn’t one), Lajoie did win a Triple Crown, so he could hit for power also. If he had hit more HR, then he would have probably lost doubles, so that skews the numbers a little.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Either in Win Shares or in the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James argues (convincingly IMO) that Lajoie’s ranges factors much higher than the league average for a 2B are not evidence of defensive prowess. He seems to have been a bit of a ball hog perhaps. In any case, his team totals looking beyond just 2B don’t seem to show the same positive impact.

  3. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    “Ball hog”? I’m not sure how that works, but considering it’s Bill James, I’ll give him (and you) the benefit of the doubt.Can you explain a little more or lead me toward the information so I can look at it myself?

    As for the other spots on the field, they are different positions. It’s not uncommon for people to have problems with other positions. He could be a great second baseman and only average third baseman. They require different skills.

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