Taking A Look At Mickey Mantle’s 1956

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, 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.

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70 Comments on "Taking A Look At Mickey Mantle’s 1956"

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Josh
Guest

Setting aside issues such as injuries and off-field problem (i.e., alcoholism), I think one could make a strong argument that Mickey Mantle was the most skilled baseball player ever. His offensive prowess wasn’t quite that of Ruth or Williams, but it was close. He was a phenomenal center fielder, and before the injuries, he would run, too. In terms of all-around position-player skills, Mantle and Mays are in a class by themselves.

Hartvig
Guest
The only time I saw Mantle play in person I was six years old. I have the vaguest of memories of him at the plate but that’s all. What I do remember was watching him on the Saturday game of the week a few years later (the Yankees were on a lot, especially in the first half of the 60’s. By that time, injuries had taken their toll so I don’t remember anything remarkable about him in the field. Certainly nothing like Willie could still do, anyways. But with the bat in his hands it was a different story. Even… Read more »
KalineCountry Ron
Guest

The Mick was the greatest and my second favorite player.
Kaline finished second in rbi hi high water mark of 128. and one time said “no player is half the player or as good as Mickey Mantle”.
I remember reading, though can’t remember the player saying it, that the players in the American League looked up to Mantle. Probably for his greatness, and how he played at the level he did with the chronic pain.

Ed
Guest

“Next up: Mantle’s 12.6 WAR

This is another stat that according to some, has seen it’s day come and go.”

Wait, what???? Whose saying that? You can’t just throw that out there without providing a reference or two. 🙂

Phil
Guest

Yes, please no. It took me a while to, um, “transition” from RC/27-outs to WAR as a handy summary of a player’s effectiveness. (The former, of course, only looks at offense—but I still like that I can calculate it myself.) Now you’re going to tell me that WAR’s on the way out? Slow down, everybody.

Ed
Guest

That was my reaction as well Phil! It’s taken so long for people to learn about WAR and it’s starting to gain mainstream acceptance. Why get rid of it and have to start the process over again? And why would anyone trust the SABR community again if that happened?

Chuck
Guest

“And why would anyone trust the SABR community again if that happened?”

You’re not a SABR member, are you, Ed?

The vast majority of the membership does not care about WAR or advanced statistics.

The “R” in SABR stands for research, and the “S” stands for society, not stats.

I would like to think, as a long time member, that we as a group have done more good for the game then come up with some new acronyms.

PP
Guest

What’s even crazier than Williams’ .479 OBP that year was that his career OBP was .482.

Luis Gomez
Guest

I found crazier-er that 44 voters did not put Mantle on their Hall of Fame ballot.

mosc
Guest

I agree. My conclusion at the end of this post was that 44 people should have had their voting rights taken away in 1974.

Lawrence Azrin
Guest

Are you getting WAR from somewhere else besides B-R? It is listed there for 1957 as:
Mantle – 11.0, not 12.6
Wynn – 8.0, not 8.5

Useless factoid: Mantle is the only triple crown winner to hit 50 or more HR (Gehrig and F.Robinson had 49).

Doug
Editor

Mantle had 55 multi-hit games for the season, including 9 games of 3+ hits before the end of May. Crazy-hot start – was hitting .400 as late as June 8th, and had not been lower than .378 at any time prior to that. His average dropped below .350 only once all season (.349 on Sep 14).

topper009
Guest

I noticed the Mick only had 13 in his whole career. I wonder if being a switch hitter has something to do with that? You dont have to “hang in there” on insode pitcjes that may be curving into the zone (or just coming right at you).

Rose 15890 PA/107 HBP including a league lead
Mantle 9907/13
Chipper 10614/18
Murray 12817/18
Vizquel 12013/49
O Smith 10778/33

Besides Rose who was both “scrappy” and “gritty” these rates seem low although Ozzie and Omar may be a little higher due to some scrappiness, just not Rosian levels. No time now to confirm this suspicion now.

mosc
Guest

I think some of that is where you pitched those guys. Rose was not a HR threat, particularly late in his career. You pitched inside a lot to jam him and to keep him from reaching out over the plate. Power hitters, especially in earlier eras before better analysis, you pitched low and away. Stay the hell away from that power. I also feel like the armor guys wear in recent years has raised the number of hit batsmen as well. Chase Utley simply does not move if you throw below the ribs at him.

Richard Chester
Guest

For players with more than 9000 PA Mantle is tied for the third lowest HBP total behind only Garret Anderson and Luke Appling. Also Mantle is one of 7 players with at least 3 seasons of an OPS+ equal to or greater than 200.

Bryan O'Connor
Editor

I’m with Ed on missing the memo about the end of WAR, but I like the links to primers on more advanced metrics you use in the piece. Mantle was a beast in the mid-to-late ’50s.

On a lighter, more self-promoting note, Mantle’s ’56 will be matched up with Liz Phair’s “Exile in Guyville” in Part V of my 250 albums, 250 seasons project. I don’t rank the player-seasons, but Mantle matches up with four of the top 53 albums on the list.

John Autin
Editor

Bryan O’C: “Mantle makes the list more times than the Rolling Stones, so I had to match him up with Phair’s Stones homage/critique/adaptation in Guyville.”

It was a relief to read your rationale. For a minute, I thought the connection was going to be “F*** and Run.” 🙂

mosc
Guest
It’s important to look around the league too during those years. You won’t find many productive centerfielders. Part of the dominance is in comparing Mantle to your average contemporary. We may not want to look back and Talk about Mantle vs Bill Tuttle (sorry Tigers fans) but for many of the games during those two years, that was the type of matchup you saw. Bill Tuttle 1956: .253/.301/.357/.658 1957: .251/.316/.328/.644 Center fielders just aren’t supposed to hit like that. Switch hitters just aren’t supposed to have power from both sides of the plate. During those two years, despite strong showings… Read more »
Brent
Guest

I guess maybe the AL was weak in CF talent in the 50s, but the NL was actually quite strong. Nearly half the teams had a HOFer manning the position (Mays, Snider, Ashburn) and the Reds (Gus Bell), Cardinals (Curt Flood), Pirates (Bill Virdon) and Braves (Bill Bruton) all had pretty solid players in that position as well. I can’t say much good about Cubs CFers in the 50s, but then again, you can’t find much to brag about ever with regard to NorthSide Centerfielders.

Doug
Editor
To your point, Brent, here are the career WAR leaders since 1901 in seasons playing CF for the Cubs. Rk Player WAR/pos From To Age 1 Hack Wilson 30.2 1926 1931 26-31 2 Andy Pafko 25.5 1943 1951 22-30 3 Solly Hofman 14.9 1904 1916 21-33 4 Jimmy Slagle 13.3 1902 1908 28-34 5 Adolfo Phillips 11.8 1966 1969 24-27 6 Rick Monday 10.4 1972 1976 26-30 7 Brian McRae 8.9 1995 1997 27-29 8 Tommy Leach 8.5 1912 1914 34-36 9 Hank Leiber 6.2 1939 1941 28-30 10 Cy Williams 6.1 1912 1917 24-29 11 Jigger Statz 4.9 1922… Read more »
topper009
Guest

This list actually misses the all-time Cub CF WAR leader (assuming he played mostly CF)
Jimmy Ryan, 36.7 WAR for the Cubbies from 1885-1900.

Also I wonder if Andy considered naming the site JiggerStatz.com before he settled on highheatstats.com?

Doug
Editor
Apparently Ryan was not in CF. Here are the 19th century leaders. Player WAR/pos From To Age George Gore 27.8 1879 1886 25-32 Bill Lange 21.4 1893 1899 22-28 Paul Hines 2.4 1876 1877 21-22 Elmer Foster 0.8 1890 1891 28-29 Dad Clarke 0.2 1888 1888 23-23 Charley Jones 0.1 1877 1877 25-25 Henry Clarke 0.0 1898 1898 22-22 Bob Caruthers 0.0 1893 1893 29-29 Jack Remsen -0.1 1878 1879 27-28 Dave Eggler -0.3 1877 1877 28-28 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool UsedGenerated 1/23/2013.
birtelcom
Editor
You can find at b-ref a breakdown for OFers among right, center and left even in the nineteenth century. Go to Jimmy Ryan’s b-ref page, scroll down to his Standard Fielding table, and look at the second to last column. In each OF row, there is a set of three numbers that represent the breakdown of games in left-center-right. There you can see that Ryan was almost entirely a center fielder 1887 through 1889 and then, after spending 1890 in the Players League, in 1891 and 1892. His other years with the Cubs he was almost entirely a corner outfielder.… Read more »
Doug
Editor

Thanks Birtelcom,

Any idea why he doesn’t show up in the P-I search, at all, as a CFer? That’s the complete list above for all players that P-I thinks played 50% of their games in any season as a Cubs CFer.

kds
Guest

Doug #60, the P-I searches only go back to 1916, don’t they?

Richard Chester
Guest

Reply to #60: If you run PI with 37% in CF Ryan’s name shows up.

birtelcom
Editor
kds: The different forms of PI search all have diferent trade-offs when doing position-related searches. –The Season Finder can go all the way back to 1871 if you want, but the results won’t give you a breakdown of stats by specific position. You will get guys who meet a position criteria that you set (for example, “played at least 500 career games in center field”, or “played 75% of his games at third base”, etc), but the resulting data will cover each guy’s whole season or career not just the games he played at the position you requested. –The Game… Read more »
no statistician but
Guest
Stacey: In May of 1956 Mantle hit the two longest home runs—at least up to that time, and I think probably ever—in Old Yankee Stadium. Both missed going out of the park by less than two feet and one was still rising when it hit the upper facade of the third deck. LIFE Magazine ran a big feature on them with pictures and diagrams. They were the closest anyone ever came to knocking a fair ball out of the old park. Also, a point you passed on: In 1956 Mantle’s 52 home runs were 20 more than the second place… Read more »
Richard Chester
Guest
Ruth won the HR titles in 1920 and 1921 by 35 homers, in 1926 by 28 and in 1928 by 27. No one else had a greater differential than Mantle in 1956. I do have to question the mentioned dates of Mantle two longest homers at the Stadium. The first one was on May 30, 1956 off Pete Ramos. I saw that on TV and it was definitely on the way down when it hit the facade. The second one was on May 22, 1963 off Bill Fischer. I did not see that one but I doubt that it was… Read more »
no statistician but
Guest

RC:

themick.com/10 homers

describes the one you’re missing briefly, although it isn’t among the ones feature because it hasn’t been as well documented. It came May 5, 1956, against KC.

Richard Chester
Guest
I went to that Mantle web-site. They listed the Ramos HR at 734 feet. It looks like they took the number I mentioned (367 feet), assumed it was the peak of the flight, and doubled it. That calculation is incorrect because due to the cumulative effects of aerodynamic drag the distance traveled by the ball while descending is less than that traveled while ascending. What the reduction in distance is I don’t know. The #2 homer on that list is the one at USC, 660 feet, I would believe that because the point of contact of the ball with the… Read more »
no statistician but
Guest

As I recall, could be wrong, re: the documented Griffith Stadium 565 HR in 1953, it was claimed that the ball clipped a signboard which kept it from going farther.

Richard Chester
Guest

That ball glanced off the side edge of a scoreboard located on the back wall of the bleachers. The direction of the ball was deflected slightly, I don’t know if the distance was affected much. I have a photo showing the trajectory of the ball.

Lawrence Azrin
Guest

I’d take that 565-feet measurement with a truckload of salt – Red Patterson, the Yankees traveling secretary, measured the distance from where a kid said he picked up the ball after it stopped rolling, NOT where it actually hit the ground.

Still, it probably traveled 500+ feet. Incidentally, this is the origin of the phrase “tape-measure home run”, as Patterson literally used a tape measure to determine the distance from the back wall of Griffith stadium.

The USC HR would have more credibility with me, as several people actually saw where the ball hit the ground.

topper009
Guest

The only players to lead the majors in HRs with more than double the next guy are…
1919 Ruth 29 HR/12 next guy
1920 Ruth 54/19
1921 Ruth 59/24
1926 Ruth 47/21

and of course

1899 Buck Freeman 25/12
1872 Lip Pike 7/3

Doug
Editor
In years when he led the AL in HR, Ruth hit double or more than the NL leader 5 times (1919-21, 26-27). Only twice did an NL HR leader match or better Ruth when Ruth led the AL (Wilson 1930, Williams 1923). Other than Ruth, the only times one league leader had 20+ HR more, or double the HR total, of the other league leader (excl. Federal League). 2001 – Bonds (73), Rodriguez (52) 1965 – Mays (52), Conigliaro (32) 1936 – Greenberg (58), Ott (36) 1933 – Foxx(48), Klein (28) 1932 – Foxx(58), Ott/Klein (38) 1915 – Cravath (24),… Read more »
BryanM
Guest
Wow, Wonderful memories – I had a paper route that year, and although I did not live in a major league city , I would always open up one of the papers and read the Yankees Box score and calculate Mantle’s new batting average. (I always had his previous hit total and AB total memorized) — in those days papers published data on the leading hitters only on weekends (no computers, somebody had to mash a calculator).. and only then if if they subscibed to a service –Sporting news , I think, anyway, knowing Mantles BA on Wednesday gave me… Read more »
Doug
Guest

Mantle’s homer in Griffith Stadium in 1953 is the one that Guiness recignized as the longest when their World Records Book was first published.565 feet.

bstar
Guest
Sorry if anyone has heard this before from me. Stacey, I think it’s important to understand that the definition Fangraphs uses for OPS+ is not an accurate assessment of B-Ref’s OPS+. For B-Ref, OPS+ is: 100 + (% OBP is better than lgavg) + (% SLG is better than lgavg) or 100 + (OBP component) + (SLG component) They are the sum of two different calculations, plus 100. It is not correct to say that a person with an OPS+ of 90 has an OPS 10% worse than league average. In fact, raw OPS doesn’t factor into B-Ref’s OPS+ at… Read more »
David Horwich
Guest

Thanks for the explanation, bstar; I didn’t realize B-Ref’s OPS+ was calculated the way you describe, and thus was misunderstanding it. I appreciate the clarification.

kds
Guest
Good explanation. If OPS+ was simply a % you would not have negative OPS+, as pitchers batting often do. I don’t know exactly how wRC+ is calculated, but it too can be negative, and turns out to be quite close to OPS+. It is to be preferred because it is based on wOBA, which correctly weighs the inputs, (walks, singles, HR, etc.), as ops does not. To put OPS+ in english; it is the 100 + sum of the percentages by which the player is better (or worse) than league average in OBA and SLG. You showed that Mantle was… Read more »
bstar
Guest

Worst all-time OPS+ for pitchers, minimum 500 PA:

1. Ben Sheets -47
2. Dean Chance -46
3. Aaron Harang -45
4. Al Benton -41
5. Ron Kline -39

birtelcom
Editor

The highest WAR over two consecutive years for non-pitchers:
Ruth 25.2 1923-24 (ages 28-29)
Ruth 24.2 1920-21 (ages 25-26)
Ruth 23.2 1926-27 (ages 31-32)
Bonds 23.2 2001-02 (ages 36-37)
Mantle 22.1 1956-1957 ((ages 24-25)
Hornsby 22.1 1924-25 (ages 28-29)
Yastrzemski 22.0 1967-68 (ages 27-28)

At least those are the highest I found (using the Play Index, going through the age groups in two-year sequences)

PP
Guest

I continue to find it interesting Ruth’s ’23 season was, sabermetrically, seen as his best when ’27, ’20 and ’21 are his most well-known. He had a few other good ones, I know. (A 9.7 WAR in a 130 games and the Sox sell him! Is there a way to figure out of that’s the highest WAR for someone dumped off to another team?)

Lawrence Azrin
Guest

Rogers Hornsby had a 9.9 WAR in 1927, when he was traded from the Giants to the Braves. A-Rod had a 10.1 WAR in 2000 when he declared free agency and went to the Rangers, but I don’t think that’s what you mean.

Richard Chester
Guest

Hornsby was traded after the 1927 season for Frankie Frisch whose WAR was 9.1. The trade was made because the Cards owner was fed up with Hornsby, and Frisch and John McGraw were at each others’ throats

kds
Guest

Hornsby was traded for Frisch after the 1926 season, not ’27. His WAR in ’26 was 4.3. With the Giants in ’27 it was 9.9. He was then traded to the Braves where he put up 8.7. in ’29 he went to the Cubs, his 4th team in 4 years where he put up a MVP winning 10.3 WAR.

A-Rod also led the league in WAR and won the MVP in TX in 2003 before being traded to the Red Sox…I mean Yanks. He did it again in his opt out year in 2007.

PP
Guest

I was thinking traded or sold for whatever reason. Never thought of ARod. And from what I’ve read the Rajah must have been one tough cookie to deal with. But the thing about Ruth was his age, 24, the fact he led the league in 8 offensive categories, was 9-5 as a pitcher, though I see he only had 30Ks in a 133 innings. The Curse was on…

Doug
Editor

Couple of others of note.

Pete Alexander had 9.0 WAR for the Phillies in 1917 before going to the Cubs for Pickles Dillhoefer, Mike Prendergast and cash

Randy Johnson has 8.1 WAR for the Snakes in 2004, before being traded to the Yankees.

bstar
Guest

If we’re talking about free agents also, Greg Maddux had 9.1 WAR in ’92, his last season with the Cubs before going to Atlanta.

Doug
Editor

Actually, I specifically mentioned Randy Johnson because he was traded. I assumed it was a free agent move, but not so.

bstar
Guest

Right, I put out Maddux’s name because someone mentioned A-Rod’s prior year before signing with the Rangers. I was trying to show Maddux might have the most yearly WAR pitching-wise before signing with another team as a free agent.

birtelcom
Editor

Top 5 single-season WAR for season age 25 or younger:
Ruth 11.6 1920 (age 25)
Gehrig 11.5 1927 (age 24)
Mantle 11.1 1957 (age 25)
Mantle 11.0 1956 (age 24)
Trout 10.7 2012 (age 20)

Bryan O'Connor
Editor

There was no MVP in 1920.
Gehrig got 7 of 8 first place votes in 1927.
Mantle got 24 of 24 first place votes in 1956.
Mantle won, but with just 6 of 24 first place votes in 1957.
I assume Trout won unanimously in 2012, but I haven’t looked it up.

birtelcom
Editor

Mantle in ’57 was second in the AL in BA, third in HRs, 6th in RBIs. Given the love of the writers for the Triple Crown stats, it’s not surprising the BBWAA spread the first place votes around among Mantle, Ted Williams (league BA champ), Roy Sievers (league HR and RBI champ) and Nellie Fox (who did have a superb, MVP-quality year — probably better than his actual MVP-winning season in 1959).

mosc
Guest

So something I should probably know but don’t… seasons are longer now and that should lead to higher WAR numbers. Are shorter season historic WAR numbers corrected for in WAR?

kds
Guest

Not as listed at B-Ref. Adam at the HoS takes the average of the actual WAR and what the WAR would have been at the rate/game over a 162 game season.

David
Guest

I saw Musial get 4 hits off the wall in the Collisuem in LA. Ted Williams homer in Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. McLain grooving one for the Mick in 68 and Cabrera winning the triple crown in 12. Baseball just keeps getting better

Doug
Guest

Thanks, Richard @62,

That explains it. Probably something to bear in mind for outfielder searches particularly.

Steven Page
Guest

Another great post, Stacey! I grew up listening to the Yankees on their radio network, which was heard all over the south in the late fifties and early sixties. Mick and Yogi were always bigger than life to me. You brought back some wonderful memories with this effort.

Jeremy
Guest
Read the superb Leavy biogaphy: “The Last Boy”. Forget every well-worn Mantle story you’ve read over the years. This is one scrupulously researched book, and he was one complicated guy. After reading it, I was left with a couple of impressions, one of which was this: He was probably the most physically gifted man to ever play the sport–and no one ever had such gifts taken from them at such a young age. He also had a higher threshold for pain–and greater sense of self-loathing–than you would believe. Every knows about Mantle’s bad knees and drinking and whoring–or at least… Read more »
Jason Z
Guest
The injuries started in high school. When he came up to the Yankees in spring training 1951 he was a revelation. The fastest runner in the game. Amazing power. Trying to describe Mantle is just to difficult, especially at this hour. Therefore I offer the opinions of those who saw… “On two legs, Mickey Mantle would have been the greatest ball player who ever lived” –On Mantle’s retirement, Nellie Fox “Until I saw Mantle peel down for his shower in the clubhouse at Comiskey Park one afternoon, I never knew how he developed his brutal power, but his bare back… Read more »
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