Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn both debuted in 1982, won multiple batting titles, and joined the 3,000 hit club in 1999. They were perennial All-Stars, multi-Gold Glove winners, and first-ballot Hall of Famers. They played 2,440 games in careers that perfectly paralleled each other. But was Boggs better than Gwynn?
By looking at the numbers it’s almost impossible to tell. See below:
Boggs 1,513 R 3,010 H 578 2B 118 HR 1,014 RBI .328/.415/.443 (132 wRC+) 1,412 BB 745 K
Gwynn 1,383 R 3,141 H 543 2B 135 HR 1,138 RBI .338/.388/.459 (132 wRC+) 790 BB 434 K
As you can see, it’s a virtual wash. Boggs scored more runs, but Gwynn knocked in more. Boggs stroked a few more doubles, while Gwynn socked a few more homers. Boggs walked twice as often, but also struck out twice as much. Boggs got on base more, but Gwynn had more hits and greater power.
Was Boggs better than Gwynn by advanced metrics? Once again it’s really close:
Boggs: .302 true AVG .381 wOBA 1,750 runs created 479.7 batting runs
Gwynn: .300 true AVG .370 wOBA 1,636 runs created 437.7 batting runs
Boggs comes out on top, barely. His edge in adjusted batting runs is roughly two per season, while his advantage in runs created is about four per year. You’re splitting hairs at that point, albeit in Boggs’s favor.
But then, Boggs spent much of his playing days in hitter’s parks—nobody took greater advantage of Fenway—whereas Gwynn spent his entire career in Qualcomm Stadium—the Petco Park of its time. Accordingly, when you neutralize their numbers, Gwynn’s get better while Boggs’s get worse:
Boggs .321/.407/.435 (.842 OPS) 1,664 runs created
Gwynn .340/.391/.461 (.852 OPS) 1,735 runs created
Now it’s flipped, as it’s Gwynn who holds the slight edge. Had Gwynn played in Fenway, he probably hits .350 for his career. Meanwhile, had Boggs spent his whole career in San Diego, he wouldn’t have come close to batting .328.
Boggs could hit anywhere—he batted .302/.387/.395 on the road—but that would have been a bad season for him. It also pales in comparison to what he did at home (.354/.443/.495). Most hitters benefit from their home parks, but not to the same degree that Boggs did (unless they play in Coors Field).
Gwynn, on the other hand, hit nearly as well on the road as he did at home. His .334/.384/.451 road averages are nearly identical to his .343/.393/.466 home record. Gwynn would have been a .330 hitter no matter which team he played for, but Boggs might have batted closer to .300.
Was Boggs better than Gwynn? After taking their environments into account, it appears Gwynn was the superior batsman.