Who had the more valuable career, Ryne Sandberg or Lou Whitaker? Each was an All-Star many times while winning Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers, but they never faced each other because they were in opposite leagues. Sandberg did more eye-popping things: he won an MVP Award, he hit 40 homers and led the league in that category, he stoled as many as 54 bases in a season. He also won nine straight Gold Gloves. Whitaker never had a monster season like Ryno, but he had several seasons (nine to be exact) where he posted an OPS+ of at least 120. He led his league in games played, and that’s it. He did win the Rookie of the Year Award and he collected 206 hits and batted .320 one season. But mostly, Whitaker plugged along hitting .275 or so with 165 hits, 80 walks, and 15-20 homers per season. Here are the 162 game averages for the two players:
Sandberg produced eight more extra-base hits and swiped 16 more bases. Whitaker walked 24 more times per year. hence the advantage each shared in slugging percentage and on-base percentage, respectively. When we adjust the OPS for ballpark effect, era, etc., Whitaker comes out ahead: 116 to 114. That’s an indication of how much Wrigley Field helped Sandberg’s numbers, which they certainly did. In their road games, Whitaker was the better hitter: .762 OPS to Sandberg’s .738. There are those stolen bases, though, about 200 more for Ryno than Sweet Lou. But Whitaker accumulated his stats over 700 more plate appearances, so he has that. In the end, the formula rates Sandberg ahead of Whitaker, because of his greater peak value.