Duke Snider’s Peak

When you sort the Career WAR leaderboards here on FanGraphs, you won’t find Duke Snider on the first page. You won’t even find him on the second page. Instead, you have to click all the way to Page 3, where he’s sandwiched right between Graig Nettles and Ed Delahanty, two guys who were never immortalized in song. For a more contemporary example, Snider has essentially the same career WAR as Scott Rolen, who is not held in nearly the same regard by his peers The Duke is.

Snider is one of the guys whose greatness can’t be summed up by looking at his career numbers. To some degree, he is the classic example of why guys with a lot of value at their peak are often remembered more fondly than their career WAR would have you suggest. And rightfully so.

Snider’s career WAR of +71.7 is good, and certainly Hall-Of-Fame worthy, but it’s not the kind of mark you see from other inner-circle type guys. However, he did almost all of his damage in a very short period of time. From 1949 to 1957, he accumulated +62.1 of his +71.7 WAR. That nine year stretch accounts for only half of his career, but 87% of his WAR total was accumulated during that time frame. We can actually drill down even further and pinpoint Snider’s real peak, which was from 1953 to 1956 – in those four years, he accumulated a ridiculous +35.8 WAR, or almost exactly half his career total. In four years.

When you start to look at the other names of players who have had similar four year stretches of extreme greatness, it becomes easy to see why Snider is held in such high regard.

Willie Mays had a stretch like this. So did Mickey Mantle. Babe Ruth. Hank Aaron. Honus Wagner. Barry Bonds. Stan Musial. Ted Williams. Jackie Robinson. Joe Morgan. Jimmie Foxx. Alex Rodriguez. Ken Griffey Jr. Joe DiMaggio. Carl Yastrzemski. Eddie Collins. Lou Gehrig. Eddie Matthews. Tris Speaker. Mike Schmidt. Rogers Hornsby. Ernie Banks. Ron Santo. Ty Cobb. Wade Boggs. Albert Pujols.

After that, it gets tough to find other guys who were as good as Snider over a four year stretch. Other guys had longer sustained greatness, or put together a bunch of great years with some less impressive ones in between, but the list of guys who had a four year peak at the same level of Snider’s prime is essentially a who’s-who of the greatest players of all time. There’s a reason that guys like Sandy Koufax and Pedro Martinez come up in the discussion of the best pitchers ever, but Nolan Ryan does not. Longevity is neat, but what we really remember are those special runs when one player is just better than everyone else at playing the game for a few years.

Snider had one of those runs. And that’s why he’s rightfully considered one of the greatest to ever play the game.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

24 Responses to “Duke Snider’s Peak”

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  1. AaronJ says:

    The scary part? He might have been the third best CF in town at the time (although don’t tell my grandparents that).

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  2. jessef says:

    good post, except Ed Delahanty was immortalized in song . . .


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  3. The_Beard says:

    There was no might, he was the 3rd best CF in NY in the 50’s, but that’s no knock on him because those other 2 guys might have been the best 2 in history.

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  4. MrKnowNothing says:

    Did Snyder get injured or something? Because he seems to have just dropped off a cliff after being incredible.

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    • uh, yeah says:

      He wrecked his knee, and had an enormously primitive (by today’s standards) surgery that didn’t do much to fix it. He said that the last six years of his career he was pretty much holding on for the money.

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  5. Austin says:

    The quibble I have is that your list of players seems to be “people whose best four-year stretch was comparable or superior to Snider’s,” not strictly “people whose best four-year stretch was comparable to Snider’s.” You know better than to bias the reader’s impression by including players like Ruth to whom Duke at his peak was clearly not comparable.

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  6. coloblue says:

    Duke led Baseball in HRs, RBIs and slugging % for the 1950s….think Pujols..!

    Not Mantle or Mays can equal his stats for those 10 yrs…then his knee went…

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    • James says:

      Mays missed about 3 seasons of his prime serving in the Korean War.

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      • James says:

        My bad… about 2 seasons (1952 and 1953)…

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      • David Carter says:

        To say that Mays was “serving in the Korean War” is a mis-statement. He happened to serve while the Korean War was going on, but Mays spent most of his time in the army playing baseball at Fort Eustis, Va. Mays missed about 266 games due to military service.

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      • darryl0 says:

        You were wrong about Mays’s length of army service, but right to focus on 3 years. Mays came up to the majors after the beginning of the 1951 season and missed the first 29 games of the season, then he was drafted in 1952 and missed the last 117 games of the 1952 season. He also missed the entire 1950 season, while playing in the minors. When added up, the entire time that Mays missed from 1950 to the end of 1953 was equal to 3 seasons. In short, Snider played in 353 more games in the 1950s than Mays did, and 172 more games than Mantle. If you do the math, Mays hit a HR once every 4.26 games in the 50s, whlie Snider only hit a HR once every 4.35 games – advantage Mays. Although Snider did end up with a better RBI rate per game than Mays, one every 1.35 games vs. one every 1.5 games. Of course, championing the use of the RBI stat on FG is just not seemly.

        To say that Snider hit more HRs and RBI than Mays and Mantle (Mantle also missed the entire 1950 season and only got called up to the majors for the last 100 games of the 1951 season) is just a ridiculous comparison. It’s like saying that Snider could outrun Mays and Mantle in a 100 yard dash – as long as Snider was allowed to start 30 yards ahead of Mays and 15 yards ahead of Mantle.

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      • dnc says:

        darryl0, he didn’t say he led Mantle and Mays for HRs and RBIs in the 50’s. He said he led all of baseball. Did the war impact things for a lot of players? Of course it did. It doesn’t change that Snider led the majors in those counting stats for the decade.

        Your outrage might make some sense if he said Snider had more power than the other NY CF’s, or was a better player. But he didn’t. If you would have actually read what he wrote, you could have saved yourself that little diatribe. But I’m sure you feel good about yourself.

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  7. john says:

    Excellent perspective. I think longevity often dominates the HOF discussion when really it’s the peak performances that result in pennants and other franchise defining moments. Your mention of Koufax and Pedro vs. Nolan Ryan is right on point.

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  8. Daniel says:

    It might be a Texas thing, but Nolan Ryan’s name comes up an awful lot in greatest pitcher of all time discussions… Not the best of examples, IMHO.

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    • Ben says:

      Yeah, it’s a pretty terrible example, especially considering Ryan is the one of two post-Dead Ball Era pitchers with 3000+ IP and a sub-3.00 FIP (the other being Bob Gibson).

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      • Phils Goodman says:

        From 1972-1992 Nolan Ryan only once posted a FIP above 3.22 (a 3.67 in 1975). That time is a span of over 4,800 innings pitched by Ryan. He might get a lot of flak some places for 292 career losses, but FanGraphs shouldn’t be one of them.

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      • JayT says:

        Ryan was obviously a wonderful pitcher, and is an inner circle Hall of Famer, but I think the point in the article still stands. In Koufax and Martinez’s five year peaks they never had a FIP higher then Ryan’s career best (2.28). So while Ryan had longevity, and was an elite player for 20+ years, Martinez and Koufax and short spans of better then elite production.

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  9. darryl0 says:

    IMO, it was wholly disingenuous to write the sentence, “Willie Mays had a stretch like this.”

    You were referring to the fact that Snider had one 4 year stretch in his career where he “accumulated a ridiculous +35.8 WAR”.

    Look at Mays’s career stats. Beginning with the 1954 season (in which he turned 23 in May) Mays went on a 13 year run in which he accumulated more than, or equal to, Snider’s peak 35.8 WAR accumulation in every succeeding 4 year period. Here are Mays’s successive 4-year WAR numbers beginning with the 1954 season and ending after the 1963 season (the 4 year accumulation takes him through to the end of the 1966 season):


    So, you can see that you can pick any 4 year period over a 13 year stretch during Mays’s peak and he beats Snider’s single peak 4 year accumulation every time, except for one period where they tied at 35.8. To say that Mays had a stretch “like” Snider’s just doesn’t hold water. Not to mention that Mays put up a great 6.4 WAR season in 1971, at the age of 40.

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  10. boxx says:

    Ryan’s name comes up in G.O.A.T discussions…the problem is that he isn’t anywhere close to being the G.O.A.T and frankly doesn’t belong anywhere near the discussion. So yeah Daniel it must be a Texas thing. He’s not even in the same stratosphere as guys like Gibson, Seaver, Palmer, Pedro, Unit, Clemens, Maddux and many others. And that’s just covering the guys who pitched from 1970 going forward. Feller? Koufax? Dave’s comparison wasn’t good, it was perfect as John alluded to.

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  11. pft says:

    Sniders peak years were when the talent pool was relatively diluted due to WWII (many young men killed or crippled) and the Korean War, and while the color barrier had been broken, there were a number of teams that resisted and they had relatively few players of color.

    For example, in 1954/55 which were his best seasons, there were 7% African Americans and 5% Latinos, or about 12% players of African descent. This is only 1/3 of todays total (34%). The number jumped to 20% by 1959 which was the first year every team was integrated. Willy Mays for example only matched or exceeded his OPS+ in 1954/1955 ate age 23/24 one time, suggesting MLB’s talent pool was weaker than later years.

    Obviously, the park change hurt Sniders numbers starting from 1958, but even adjusted for park, the decline was significant.

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  12. Eric B says:

    Look at Pedro’s 99 season! Yes, I knew he had an insane year (12 war, 13 k/9. 1.5 bb/9, 0.4 hr/9, 23-4 W-L, 2.07 era, 243 era+ [and 290 the next year]). I did not realize how unlucky he was; his baip was .329, the highest of his career until that point. His FIP was 1.39. Good sweet lord. He should have won 30.


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  13. Kevin Ebert says:

    Sorry to use the comments section for an unrelated question – but when are the Zips projections going to be released for download on the site? Thanks.

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