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DiMaggio's Ability to Combine Power and Contact is Unmatched

Updated on May 8, 2017
Joe DiMaggio in 1939, a year when he struck out only 20 times.
Joe DiMaggio in 1939, a year when he struck out only 20 times. | Source

It’s only May 8 and already Joey Gallo, Trevor Story, Jonathan Villar, Chris Davis, Jose Bautista, Jake Lamb, Miguel Sano, Kyle Schwarber and Mike Napoli have done something the legendary Yankee Joe DiMaggio did – not even once in his storied career.

Before you start thinking the nine current players might be in line for Hall of Fame status, what they’ve done that the great DiMaggio never did isn’t a good thing. All nine of those players have already, through games of May 7, struck out 40 or more times.

An Amazing Record of Contact

In his 13-year career, DiMaggio never once reached that total. The closest was in his rookie season when, as a mere 21-year-old, he struck out 39 times. The next year he fanned 37 times. These were full seasons, too, with 668 plate appearances the first year and 692 the second. After that, he never fanned more than 36 times. In fact, he had five seasons when he didn’t even reach 25 strikeouts.

For his career he struck out just 369 times while hitting 361 homers – and the reason he had more K’s than homers was only because of his final season when he hit 12 homers while striking out 36 times.

Joe DiMaggio's Career

XB Hits
*Served 3 years in Military
**Injured first half of season

No One Even Close in 2016

In today’s baseball world, this kind of contact is almost unheard of. In 2016, Chris Davis struck out 219 times – DiMaggio had 220 in his first eight years. Last season, of the players who struck out fewer than 40 times, none had enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title. Andrelton Simmons came the closest. He fanned 38 times in 476 plate appearances. He was the only one with more than 400 plate appearances and fewer than 40 K’s.

Of those with fewer than 30 strikeouts, A.J. Pierzynski was the only one with more than 250 plate appearances, striking out 29 times in 253 appearances.

Obviously, none of those players came even close to posting any big numbers. Simmons hit four homers with 44 RBIs; Pierzynski managed two homers and 23 RBIs.

A Long Run of Not Striking Out

Some more perspective – all nine players mentioned in the first paragraph have already struck out 41 or more times. In 1938 and ‘39, DiMaggio had 41 total strikeouts, a span that covered 1,184 plate appearances, or one strikeout every 29 plate appearances! During those two years he clubbed 62 homers, had 370 hits – 145 for extra bases – and walked 111 times.

DiMaggio had seven years when he hit more homers than he struck out. In 1941, the year he had his famous 56-game hitting streak, Joltin’ Joe came to the plate 622 times, belted 193 hits that included 43 doubles, 11 triples, 30 homers and 76 walks – all while striking out just 13 times. That’s once every 47.8 plate appearances!

Think about that – 13 times is a weekend series for many of today’s sluggers.

The Year of 13 Strikeouts

In 1941, between Opening Day on April 14 and May 28, DiMaggio struck out twice – both in the same game. Later, he went from June 10 to July 25 without striking out, an incredible stretch of 193 plate appearances without a strikeout. He belted 12 homers in that stretch. Ironically, he struck out in his final at bat of the 1941 season.

Hurt by Playing in a Big Park

And here’s another astounding thing – had DiMaggio not played half his games every year in Yankee Stadium, there’s a great chance that he would have topped 400 homers for his career. Centerfield in those days was 457 feet, and 461 just to the left of center. Drives in the power alley in left needed in excess of 440 feet just to clear the fence. It’s no wonder DiMaggio had double digits in triples eight times – it would be fascinating to see how many of his triples, and even doubles, would have been long gone in today’s parks.

For his career, DiMaggio fanned just once every 20.8 plate appearances. The only other power hitter to come close to that is Yogi Berra at 20.2 (414 K’s, 358 homers). Ted Williams is the only player with more than 500 homers to be within shouting distance, at 13.8 (709 strikeouts, 521 HR).

Maybe his intimate relationship with his bat helps explain DiMaggio's hitting ability.
Maybe his intimate relationship with his bat helps explain DiMaggio's hitting ability. | Source

Not a Brotherly Trait

The ability to put the bat on the ball didn’t run through the family, though. DiMaggio’s older brother Vince, who played with Pittsburgh, led the National League in strikeouts six times! To be fair, though, his highest total was 134, and he topped 100 K’s only four times, which would be a pretty fair contact hitter by today’s standards – 134 wouldn’t have cracked the top 50 a year ago.

With today’s pitching and harder swings, it’s hard to imagine anyone will ever approach what DiMaggio did in terms of making contact. The closest anyone came in 2016 was Adrian Beltre who hit 32 homers while striking out 66 times.


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