Looking Back on John Kruk

I was browsing the Phillies Reddit last night when I clicked a link through to this video of former Phillies first baseman John Kruk:

Of course, that led to some late-night Baseball Reference and FanGraphs surfing, and a much-needed reminder that Kruk was a pretty good hitter whose career was unfortunately cut short. At times, he displayed the power you’d expect of someone at the position: he hit 20 home runs and slugged .488 with the San Diego Padres in 1987, and 21 homers with a .483 slugging percentage with the Phillies in 1991. What was more surprising was his ability to get on base, bolstered by a high batting average. Having played most of his career before the age of inflated offense, the average National League first baseman posted an average between .262 and .279 with an on-base percentage between .332 and .356 from 1986 to 1992. Offense began to spike in 1993.

Kruk finished his career standing on first base after reaching first base on a single with the Chicago White Sox on July 30, 1995. He had a career batting average at exactly .300, finishing a season with a .300 or better average (min. 300 PA) six times. He also retired with a career .397 on-base percentage, finishing at .400 or better four times. From 1986-1993, he was one of 12 first basemen to post a .300+ batting average and .400+ on-base percentage in the same season.

Player Year BA OBP Tm
Keith Hernandez 1986 .310 .413 NYM
John Kruk 1987 .313 .406 SDP
Will Clark 1989 .333 .407 SFG
Mark Grace 1989 .314 .405 CHC
Alvin Davis 1989 .305 .424 SEA
Fred McGriff 1990 .300 .400 TOR
Eddie Murray 1990 .330 .414 LAD
Dave Magadan 1990 .328 .417 NYM
John Kruk 1992 .323 .423 PHI
Frank Thomas 1992 .323 .439 CHW
John Olerud 1993 .363 .473 TOR
John Kruk 1993 .316 .430 PHI
Gregg Jefferies 1993 .342 .408 STL
Frank Thomas 1993 .317 .426 CHW
Andres Galarraga 1993 .370 .403 COL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/4/2013.

Kruk is also one of only 20 first basemen in baseball history (min. 4,500 PA) to finish his career with at least a .300 batting average. He was one of 15 at the time he retired and was one of two (the other being Don Mattingly) dating back to 1954.

Player Year BA PA From To Age
Todd Helton 2012 .320 9011 1997 2012 23-38
Albert Pujols 2012 .325 8103 2001 2012 21-32
Sean Casey 2008 .302 5644 1997 2008 22-33
Mark Grace 2003 .303 9290 1988 2003 24-39
Will Clark 2000 .303 8283 1986 2000 22-36
John Kruk 1995 .300 4603 1986 1995 25-34
Don Mattingly 1995 .307 7722 1982 1995 21-34
Johnny Mize 1953 .312 7370 1936 1953 23-40
Hank Greenberg 1947 .313 6097 1930 1947 19-36
Hal Trosky 1946 .302 5749 1933 1946 20-33
Jimmie Foxx 1945 .325 9676 1925 1945 17-37
Lou Gehrig 1939 .340 9663 1923 1939 20-36
Jim Bottomley 1937 .310 8354 1922 1937 22-37
Bill Terry 1936 .341 7108 1923 1936 24-37
Earl Sheely 1931 .300 5268 1921 1931 28-38
George Sisler 1930 .340 9013 1915 1930 22-37
George Burns 1929 .307 7237 1914 1929 21-36
Jack Fournier 1927 .313 6033 1912 1927 22-37
Stuffy McInnis 1927 .307 8634 1909 1927 18-36
Jake Daubert 1924 .303 8744 1910 1924 26-40
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/4/2013.

Using the same criteria as above for on-base percentage, he is one of 14 first basemen all time with a .395 or better career OBP (min. 4,500 PA). He was one of nine at the time he retired, and one of only two (the other being Mike Hargrove) dating back to 1956.

Player Year OBP PA From To Age
Jason Giambi 2012 .403 8622 1995 2012 24-41
Todd Helton 2012 .419 9011 1997 2012 23-38
Albert Pujols 2012 .414 8103 2001 2012 21-32
Jeff Bagwell 2005 .408 9431 1991 2005 23-37
John Olerud 2005 .398 9063 1989 2005 20-36
John Kruk 1995 .397 4603 1986 1995 25-34
Mike Hargrove 1985 .396 6694 1974 1985 24-35
Ferris Fain 1955 .424 4904 1947 1955 26-34
Johnny Mize 1953 .397 7370 1936 1953 23-40
Hank Greenberg 1947 .412 6097 1930 1947 19-36
Jimmie Foxx 1945 .428 9676 1925 1945 17-37
Lou Gehrig 1939 .447 9663 1923 1939 20-36
Lu Blue 1933 .402 7223 1921 1933 24-36
Frank Chance 1914 .397 4541 1901 1914 24-37
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/4/2013.

Also buoying his OBP was his great eye at the plate. Twice, in 1992 and ’93, Kruk finished with more walks than strikeouts: 92-88 in ’92, and 111-87 in ’93. The 111 walks in ’93 made Kruk one of ten first basemen between 1980-93 to post more walks than strikeouts with at least 100 walks.

Player Year BB SO Age Tm
Frank Thomas 1993 112 54 25 CHW
John Kruk 1993 111 87 32 PHI
John Olerud 1993 114 65 24 TOR
Frank Thomas 1992 122 88 24 CHW
Randy Milligan 1992 106 81 30 BAL
Alvin Davis 1989 101 49 28 SEA
Darrell Evans 1987 100 84 40 DET
Von Hayes 1987 121 77 28 PHI
Eddie Murray 1984 107 87 28 BAL
Keith Hernandez 1982 100 67 28 STL
Mike Hargrove 1982 101 58 32 CLE
Mike Hargrove 1980 111 36 30 CLE
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/4/2013.

Kruk finished his career with a .373 wOBA, the 11th-best mark in that span of time (min. 4,500 PA), sandwiched between Tony Gwynn and Kent Hrbek at .372 and Rafael Palmeiro at .374. Because he played a position where you expect such great offense, and because he both started his Major League career early and retired sooner than he would have liked (limiting his playing time), we don’t think of him as one of the generation’s most impressive hitters, but in looking back, it is evident that he was among the best.

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12 comments

  1. Phillie697

    February 04, 2013 11:28 AM

    .373 wOBA?!?!?!?! Jesus, I should have paid more attention to John Kruk >.< Unfortunately, back when he was playing, I knew as much about sabermetrics as I did about the meaning of life.

  2. Hellfish

    February 04, 2013 02:11 PM

    That one balled bastard could really stroke the rock.

  3. Ryan

    February 04, 2013 07:30 PM

    Bill, I think you once referred to that 93 team’s Baseball Reference page as “SABR-Porn,” and I agree. I constantly end up looking at that page over and over, again.

    Unfortunately, that team has the reputation as the scrappy underdog that figured how to put it together. That reputation was not undeserved as “scrap heap” guys like Pete Incaviglia managed to put together career years, and the team had some truly wild player personalities (Macho Row). They also had some wild, extra innings affairs.

    In reality, it was a team that was smartly assembled by Lee Thomas. Kruk himself, considered to be washed up midway through the 89 season, was acquired via trade for the overvalued Chris James. Jim Fregosi was able to work platoons effectively. The players worked at-bats and made the most of their abilities.

    Kruk was the perfect example of this seeming contradiction. A guy that looked and acted like a goofball but he could really play. The 93 team didn’t make it to the World Series because they were scrappy. They made it to the World Series because they maximized the advantages they had. When we reminisce about that team, we should keep this in mind.

  4. LTG

    February 04, 2013 09:40 PM

    It is so fascinating to look at that Kruk-James swap in light of the SABR revolution. Kruk, even when he was having terrible luck on balls in play, was still remarkably valuable thanks to his impeccable eye. James, in contrast, was only good when he hit for .200 ISO because he would never take a walk. Did Lee Thomas know this? Did he anticipate Billy Beane? Was it just a swap of prospects who “needed a change of scenery”?

  5. SJHaack

    February 04, 2013 11:09 PM

    The man could flat hit. Krukker earned those All Star appearances. He’s 6th all time in OBP for Phillies players, sandwiched right between Bobby Abreu and Ed Delahanty above and Whitey Ashburn and Lenny Dykstra below.

    Can you imagine the outrage of every self-righteous, entitled sportswriter and caster if John Kruk faced Randy Johnson in this year’s All Star game? Randy Johnson, having FUN? Having a good time playing an exhibition game of baseball? My god.

  6. Richard

    February 06, 2013 11:06 AM

    I’d grown up reading Bill James’ Baseball Abstracts, and if I took anything at all from those books it was the importance of OBP and value in particular of the walk (I used to follow the careers of guys like Ken Phelps). I was specially primed to love those early 90s Phillies, and in 1993 it just all came together in glorious fashion.

  7. LTG

    February 06, 2013 12:01 PM

    Hire Lee Thomas?

  8. Phillie697

    February 06, 2013 03:48 PM

    @Scott G,

    If you haven’t noticed, RAJ seems to be collecting players who can’t walk even if you tied their hands behind their backs and have the pitcher throw 2 feet outside of the plate.

  9. Scott G

    February 07, 2013 06:38 AM

    I’m a little upset that no one appreciated my jayson werth/j.g. Wentworth joke. At least not enough to comment. I thought it was a good one.

    Am I the only one who sings along with those 877-CASH-NOW commercials??

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