Looking Back on 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.