This Could Be Your Ad! Sponsor . . .
Top 100 Player Commentary!
Advertise your business, or pay tribute to your favorite team!
Ah, the one consistency between between most knowledgeable baseball fans' lists. People have different opinions regarding whom the best football, basketball, and hockey players of all time were, but rarely is Ruth’s supremacy put into question. Among these four major sports, baseball is most accurately evaluated through statistics. You would have to really misinterpret the statistics to come up with anyone other than Ruth at #1.
Cobb was one of the five best hitters ever and one of the top 10 defensive outfielders of all time. What’s difficult to analyze with Cobb is his baserunning, since we only have Caught Stealing data for half of his years, and only three of those were during his prime. We do know that he has the fourth most stolen bases in history, the most steals of home plate in history, one of the best SB% of his era, and scores 40% of his times on base, one of the best ever. Certainly, Ty was one of the most complete players of all time.
Unlike Scott and Asher, I do not believe that the starting pitcher has a much greater impact on team wins than position players do. Nevertheless, it is a valuable role, and the fact that Walter is as obvious a choice as best pitcher of all time as Honus Wagner is for the best shortstop of all time. In fact, here’s a difficult question: What is the most egregious effrontery, ranking a pitcher ahead of Walter, a shortstop ahead of Honus, or any player ahead of Babe? I don’t have a good answer.
I can’t figure how there can be people out there who aren’t impressed that the greatest right-handed hitter of all time was a second baseman! While Hornsby-haters are quick to claim that he wasn’t good enough defensively to play second base, I counter that he was apparently good enough to play shortstop, where he played about 20% of his career. Whether you look at Fielding Percentage, Fielding Runs, or Fielding Win Shares, Rogers doesn’t look that good on defense, but he certainly doesn’t look like enough of a liability to justify ranking another second baseman ahead of him.
Ted Williams is the Bob Barker of baseball players. He's not at all versatile, but he's the best around at what he does. We've seen Jim Thome, Jason Giambi, Adam Dunn, et al. beat defensive shifts, but given the numbers, we have to believe that Teddy B beat his shift much more often than anybody else (nice try, Lou Boudreau!).
It isn’t as difficult to rank Ted as one might expect given how much time he missed due to wars. But it’s actually pretty clear that his hitting, fielding, and baserunning are all not quite at Ruth’s level. All in all, he’s just too one-dimensional of a player to rate much higher, and too incredible of a hitter to rate much lower.
Not only is his superiority over all other shortstops impressive, but Honus’ ability to play any other position on the field if needed is pretty breathtaking as well. I tend to favor offense over defense when ranking position players, but right now it’s hard to say that I’d rather have a team of nine Ted Williams than nine Honus Wagners. Would Williams’ offensive advantage counteract Wagner’s defensive dominance? I realize that this is not the only way to look at the issue of who is the more valuable player, but it is an interesting one.
Bonds gets ranked conservatively just in case he spends a couple of unproductive years as a DH in an attempt to catch Aaron. Note: Bonds’ 2006 season is NOT unproductive. His OPS has hovered around 1.000 and he’s played often enough to lead the Giants in homers and rank third in RBI. When his career ends, I’ll almost certainly call him the fourth best player of all time. For now, let’s allow Honest H, Teddy Ballgame, and the Rajah their time in the sun.
People often remember Mickey as a slugger, and nothing more. Perhaps what he ought to be known for is grounding into fewer double plays per plate appearance than any hall of famer who we have significant GIDP stats for, with the notable exceptions of Chuck Klein and Joe Morgan. He also had an astounding 80.1 SB%, and was no slouch in center field.
Where you rank Lou Gehrig ultimately comes down to two things. One is how much you penalize him for being a first baseman, and one is how much you penalize him for being the second-best player on his team. I rank him below Mantle because I think that if you were starting a team from scratch, it would be easier to find a good-hitting first baseman to go with Mantle than a decent hitting center fielder to go along with Gehrig. I deal with the second issue in Bill James Comment #14.
Musial was very likely intentionally walked more than anyone in history other than Barry Bonds. This shows that Stan probably wasn’t as overlooked when he was playing as he is now. It also makes his being fourth all time in RBIs even more impressive. Musial did play in both the offense-friendly Sportsman’s Park and a great offensive era, but his overall numbers are staggering even when you take those factors into account.
Bucky Dent, Ron Swoboda: these are mediocre players who are remembered for single plays in their careers. Willie Mays, certainly one of the best players of all time, is also known for a single play: an overrated catch. Willie was one of the best defensive center fielders ever, but the hype of that catch misleads people into thinking that he was the best ever. Although Mays has impressive career numbers, his offensive career value is just lower than Mantle. Plus, none of his individual seasons rank near the top 50 for position players, making his offensive peak value astonishingly low for someone who is often considered as Ruth’s main challenger for the #1 spot.
Like Mays, Aaron had incredible longevity, but not the ultra-dominant individual seasons that one expects from the game’s best players. Unlike Mays, Hank has been underrated as a fielder, having logged 84 more assists than errors in the outfield during his career. Aaron’s speed also tends to go under-appreciated, as he was one of the NL’s better basestealers in the 60’s. The startling fact about Aaron is that despite being the all-time home runs leader, he’s only 20th all-time in slugging percentage.
Clearly the best defensive outfielder of all-time, Speaker leads all outfielders in double plays, assists, assists minus errors, fielding runs, fielding win shares, and fielding win shares per season. His fielding percentage was 10 points higher than the league average over the course of his career. In terms of pure hitting, he doesn’t rank far behind Mantle and Mays. What hurts Speaker is his abysmal 56% stolen base rate during the years in which that statistic was kept for him.
Denton True Young had two Younger brothers who combined for a 63-98 Major League record (.391 Win %). That means that they were almost as unproductive (.109 % points below .500) as Denton was stellar (.118 % points above .500).
How many Cy Young Awards would Cy Young have won if the Cy Young Award had been around during Cy Young’s time? Impossible to say, given the alarming rate at which the best pitcher in the league does not win the Cy Young Award. But it is interesting to note that Cy was only clearly the best pitcher in his league on three occasions (1892, 1901, and 1902). Since the award began in 1956, it could have just as easily been named the Dazzy Vance Award (1924, 1928, and 1930). More on Denton True Young’s ranking.
Eddie is credited with 512 sacrifice hits in his career, the most all-time by a wide margin. You have to wonder whether this contributed to Collins’ teams having such great records, and wonder what his other numbers might have looked like had he swung away in those opportunities. Regardless, Collins is the second best hitting second baseman ever, and one of the best fielders to ever man that base also.
When I evaluate pitchers, the first thing I look at is their IP*ERA+. The biggest problem with this statistic is that it doest not era-adjust innings pitched. So while Clemens’ IP*ERA+ isn’t even 75% as high as a Walter Johnson or a Cy Young, that’s partly because modern pitchers are babied, throw more pitches, and exist in five-man rotations. If we say that league leaders in IP averaged about 400 IP/season during Young’s time, 350 IP/S during Johnson’s time, and 250 IP/S for Clemens’ era, then we can era-neutralize these players by decreasing Young’s career IP by 37.5% and Johnson’s by 28.6%. Here, then, are their inning-adjusted IP*ERA+’s:
Hence, the argument that Clemens is the best pitcher of all time. I’m not prepared to go that far, as guys like Young and Johnson deserve credit for pitching more than 20 seasons each when their contemporaries who pitched a similar number of IP/S struggled to last for a decade.
Ostensibly, Ott has similar offensive value to Frank Robinson. That is, before you look at double plays. Ott has one of the best DP% of all time, getting into twin killings almost half as often as Robinson.
Ott also has the third most effective outfield arm of all time (to Speaker and Harry Hooper) as he’s thrown out 158 more runners than he has allowed to take an extra base via the error. Speaker finished at 227 in the A-E category, while Hooper, the only outfielder elected to Cooperstown predominantly for his defensive contributions, logged 193.
Double Standard Alert: People often claim that Willie Mays would have hit between 800-900 home runs had he not played at the Polo Grounds, and later, Candlestick Park. Mel Ott played at the Polo Grounds his entire career and hit 63% of his home runs there, causing many people to believe that he’s overrated. To me, this shows Ott to be a more intelligent hitter, being able to take advantage of the short fence distances at the foul lines. I cannot concoct a logical argument as to why people consider Mays to have been robbed by his home park while considering Ott to have been lucky to play there.
One of the few problems with batting runs is that in using the average run values for each play, leadoff hitters are slightly undervalued. In my Offensive Runs (KOR), a double is worth .78 runs and a walk plus a stolen base is worth .63 runs. Obviously, both events actually have the same value when leading off an inning. So if we assume, conservatively, that out of Rickey’s 2,190 career walks and 1,406 stolen bases he has led off an inning with a walk and stolen base 300 times, we could award him an extra 45 KOR (300*.15), bumping him up from 784 to 829. If we instead credit his leadoff walks as singles, the number approaches 900 (Willie Mays is at 893).
Had Alexander not missed all but three starts in the 1918 season due to WWI, he would be fourth all-time in innings pitched. Pete is already second on the shutouts list with 90, tied for third on the wins list with 373, and third in Wins Above Team with 81.6. His 1915 season is quite probably the fourth best pitching season of all-time. For an in-depth comparison between Alexander and Lefty Grove, click here.
Everyone wants to give Lefty Grove extra merit for his dominant minor league seasons. The theory is that had Jack Dunn of the International League not held Grove for ransom, Lefty would have had between 2-4 more dominant major league seasons. Problematically, Grove’s first ML season was subpar. He went 10-12 with 15 more walks than strikeouts, and his 4.75 ERA was worse than the league average. If anything, allowing him more time to develop aided his career, because he didn’t struggle too mightily in the bigs and lose his confidence.
Another problem with Lefty Grove is that Connie Mack wouldn’t start him against the Yankees. The idea was to use him as a closer should the A’s have managed to keep it close against their most feared rivals. While this was a shrewd move by Mack, we have to believe that Grove’s ERA+ would not be quite as high as 148 had he logged a significant number of innings against those Yankees.
Ranks ahead of Lajoie because:
1) He has the third-lowest DP% that I’ve ever been able to find (just a hair higher than Rose’s)
2) He had an incredible SB% (just a hair better than Rickey Henderson’s)
3) He didn’t have his best season pre-foul/strike rule
Basically, we know what Morgan brought to the table offensively, while with Lajoie we’re just not completely sure.
Fox + an x was a surprisingly competent defensive catcher, and an amusingly ineffective third baseman. Scott likes to give him credit on these points. Whatever. He still played over 87% of his career at 1B, and his offensive numbers would have dropped had he played too many games at backstop. Still, he is the second-best offensive first baseman ever, unless you don’t like to consider Musial an outfielder.
May deserve to rate higher than this. While many analysts like to use the Timeline-Adjustment theory to knock down players from Nap’s era, I use the “we don’t have complete statistics from this era, or even real good anecdotal accounts” theory, and rank them conservatively because of it. Obviously, the fact that his team got named after him suggests that he was pretty well-respected during his era.
How valuable is a good third baseman? Total Baseball calculates that third baseman have generally hit better than second baseman, yet much worse than center fielders. However, an everyday center fielder will have more total chances than a third baseman. He needs more speed, an equally good arm, but not necessarily the same reflexes. A second baseman will have more total chances than either position, needs more range and agility than the man at the hot corner, but not as good of an arm. The point being, third basemen as a whole do not have the same offensive plus defensive value as those other positions. So where should we rank the best third baseman of all-time, when he’s less valuable on offense than four second basemen and five center fielders?
Mathews suffers from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, that is, being the second-best hitter on his team even though he is one of the best hitters of all-time. Mathews’ numbers weren’t aided much by the arrival of Aaron, however, as arguably his three best season’s (‘53-’55) came before Hank was even an established slugger in the league.
Note from the KOR and DPOR statistics that Matthews was actually the best hitting third baseman ever, just ahead of Schmidt. It’s Schmidt’s defense that causes him to be ranked higher.
FRob stole 161 bases in his ten years with Cincinnati, the just 35 in six seasons under Earl Weaver, notorious for not playing for one run. He might have become the second member of the 500-300 club had he never gone to Baltimore. Of course, he might have also jammed a finger during an attempt and missed more games in his career. You always have to be careful in these “what if” scenarios and make sure that you see both sides of the hypothetical outcomes.
Remember how just three years ago, it was a toss-up to decide who should rank higher, Clemens or Maddux? We gave Clemens credit for succeeding with worse defenses behind him, and Gave Maddux credit for helping himself with the bat and with the glove. Now, it’s ludicrous to even suggest that Maddux is Clemens’ equal, as he has proven to be just an average pitcher once robbed of Furcal, Jones, and Turner Field.
Is DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak the most overrated sports feat of all time? I think so. During this streak, DiMaggio went 91 for 223, walked 21 times and was hit by two pitches. That comes to a .408 batting average and a .463 on-base percentage. Impressive numbers, but there have been four players who hit for as high of a batting average over the course of an entire season (plus Ty Cobb did it twice) since 1900. More importantly, there have been over 100 seasons of players reaching base more than 46.3% of the time. In fact, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth had entire careers where they got on base more often than DiMaggio did during his hit streak. The streak was nice, but the hype surrounding it reminds me of those people who value hitting for the cycle over hitting two doubles and two homers in a game.
Among shortstops, only H-Wag and A-Rod have more career batting runs than Arky (361). Next on the list are Banks (262), who spent more than half of his career at first base, and Cronin (239). Despite essentially being passed by Rodriguez, what Vaughan did with the bat is something not even dreamt about by 99.99% of shortstops. If you rank him lower than 50th on your list, then there should only be three shortstops in your Top 100, because he’s just that much better than the rest of the pack.
Explain this: Christy’s postseason record is just 5-5 despite a 0.97 ERA in World Series play. His regular season win % was a robust .665. Or try this one: while most star players enjoyed superlative seasons in 1914 due to the Federal League’s dilution of the talent pool, the 33-year old Matthewson allowed twice as many homers as he’d ever allowed before (16) en route to an ERA 12% below the league average. Of course, he still finished with a 24-13 record that year. Those ten previous 300+ IP seasons must have finally and suddenly caught up to him.
He didn’t miss quite as much time due to the war as Greenberg, but his numbers that we do have for him far surpass Hank’s. Greenberg’s three-year head start on Mize weighs heavily on the era adjustment here. Mize also had that elusive few strikeouts/few double plays combination that I love so well.
Ostensibly on the decline (though he had a component ERA of 2.03 in 2005), yet it’s hard to imagine how he could possibly retire without the best ERA+ ever for a starter. Or not among the top three in career win %. Or not having reached the 250-win plateau. But that’s all conservative thinking. In actuality, he’s on pace to challenge Walter Johnson for title of Best Pitcher Ever.
Lots of people have him lumped together with Bench, Berra, Cochrane and Hartnett. Among those five, Dickey ranks first in OR, DPOR , DP%, 3B%, OPS+, Assists/Passed Balls, PB/G, and FA+. He’s second in BR, OR/PA, RC, RC/G, and FWS/S. He taught Berra how to play defense, and never played a game at a position besides catcher. To me, Dickey is head and shoulders above all of theses guys.
Here’s a quandary: the Big Hurt will finish his career with more games played at DH than at first base. Normally, we consider DH’s to be baaaad. But isn’t it better to have Thomas DH than in the field? We count Willie Stargell’s defense against him… but what if he were a full-time DH instead? Would he rank higher or lower? And what do we do with the fact that first basemen in general (and Thomas in particular) hit better than DH’s do?
I’ve decided to settle on discrediting DH’s the same amount as really bad fielders, meaning that Thomas’ 1B/DH games played splits mean nothing to me. I’d love to hear some other ideas, though.
It’s looking less and less likely that Piazza is going to spend 3-4 years at the end of his career as a mediocre 1B/DH-type. Good for him, literally. At his career’s end it may be hard not to rank him as the best catcher of all-time despite his defensive shortcomings. Obviously, we look at his 1350+ stolen bases allowed and 23% CS rate and recoil in horror. But since we have no idea exactly how bad Torre, Tenace, Lombardi, or even Berra were in that regard, we wind up with more questions than answers.
Arguably the best left handed pitcher of all time. It’s sad to think about how most analysts think the battle is between Koufax and Spahn, when clearly it’s Johnson and Grove. The Big Unit has the best strikeout rate ever, meaning that he could have succeeded in any ballpark or any era, and with just about any defense behind him.
Hank ranks sixth post-1900 in RC/G, which is why some guys develop erections when they consider what might have been. On one hand, he was coming off one of his best years in 1940 (his only full year in the outfield) before being drafted to war. On the other, he went to war from ages 30-34, and returned slightly worse for wear. He probably would not have continued on quite his torrid ‘37-’40 pace.
Ultra-conservative at this point, I know. But I have been burned by ranking active players too aggressively before (Kevin Brown). When it’s all said and done, Alex will be considered the second-best shortstop of all time, and might be considered the greatest third baseman of all time as well. I think that he could have matched Wagner offensively had he spent his entire career at shortstop. Unfortunately, Derek Jeter’s ego has prevented us from ever knowing for certain; middle infielders tend to drop off at an earlier age than third baseman do.
Bagwell would have begun his career as a third baseman was it not for Ken Caminiti and/or Wade Boggs, and he is ending his career due to an inability to throw. His defensive career might have followed a George Brett type path, but his offense has been far superior to Brett’s. In general, his career path has been eerily similar to the Big Hurt’s, except that Bagwell’s always been well-liked.
A much better hitter than Boggs, but also a much worse fielder, Brett spent the final three years of his career padding his counting stats as an unproductive DH. In my mind, he has a cheap 3,000 hits and a cheap 300 HR because of that. He was a very well-rounded offensive player, though. He could run a bit, as evidenced by his 665 doubles and 137 triples. You can also gauge his speed by his dash any time he’s called out for using too much pine tar.
41. Mark McGwire
When is Mark McGwire supposed to have taken steroids? His slugging average was .618 in 1987, .585 in 1992, .726 in 1993 (in just 107 PA), .730 in 1996, and .752 in 1998. If you want to say that he used steroids during his “down” years between ’87 and ’92, then you have to say that steroids might have contributed to his playing in only 178 games between 1993 and 1995. If you want to say that his alleged doping took place during that injury-plagued span instead, then you can’t say that his performance was all that inflated from his 1992-1993 numbers. For those of you keeping track, his OBP numbers did inflate drastically between 1992 and 1993. Does this indicate the use of HGH to improve eyesight, or simply a better approach at the plate?
42. Tom Seaver
It’s amazing that the Mets haven’t pitched a no-hitter given that they had guys like Seaver, Ryan, and Gooden pitch for them over the years. However, the notion that Seaver may have been the greatest pitcher ever is absurd. Maybe I’m biased because I remember him in a White Sox uniform, but I don’t think that’s it. He led his league in wins and ERA three times each, but never in innings pitched. That’s good, but it certainly doesn’t compare to the black ink on the pages of guys like Clemens, Matthewson, and Alexander.
43. Wade Boggs
Wade had more at bats in the leadoff spot than any other (3714 total), yet still managed to ground into 236 career double plays (83 batting leadoff). Other than deriding his wheels, you can mock his numbers away from Fenway (.302/.387/.395), although you could do the same for Yaz, Lynn, Rice, and Evans (and I do). However, Boggs’ superb defensive stats surprise me. He ranks ahead of Ron Santo in FWS, FWS/S, and FA+.
44. Johnny Bench
Bench called a disproportionately large number of fastballs with runners on base late in his career because his arm was no longer strong enough to control the running game on its own. But in his prime, Bench’s reputation was so great that few tried to steal off of him during one of the heaviest running eras of all time. Probably a better hitting catcher than Cochrane and Hartnett, but catchers in general hit better in the 1970’s because managers became smart enough to use them at corner IF/OF spots occasionally to rest their knees. Also, catching equipment has improved markedly and allows for more games per season and longer careers in general for backstops.
See also: Hall of Fame Defense
45. Shoeless Joe Jackson
This is not a similar situation to the steroid scandal, despite what you might hear. Jackson admitted to intentionally sloppy play in the 1919 World Series. He tried to cause his team to fail. He’s been treated exactly the same as the other fixers of games throughout baseball history.
Many alleged steroid users fear punishment despite not testing positive for usage. Anyone who did use steroids used them in an effort to make themselves and their teams better. There is a widespread call to treat some steroids users differently than others, certainly differently than bat-corkers and illegal spitballers of the past.
Joe Jackson’s lifetime ban was justified, and I cannot give him any credit beyond his actual numbers for the purposes of this list.
46. Mickey Cochrane
Leads all catchers in runs scored per time on base by a wide margin: Cochrane 38.6%, I-Rod 35.1%, Bresnahan 33.8%, Berra 32.7%, Fisk 31.8%. Sure, he had an outstanding offense around him, but so did Berra, Dickey (29.8%), and Bench (27.5%), so it does mean something. His career ended prematurely with a near-fatal beaning at the age of 34. Contemporaries Hartnett, Lombardi, and Dickey would each play past 39.
47. Gabby Hartnett
A Hartnett-hater, Asher likes to say that Hartnett was only good in 1930, and that everyone was good in 1930. The problem with penalizing a hitter for playing in 1930 (beyond the usual normalizations for batting runs and OPS+) is that if we’re going to penalize the batters who took advantage of the 1930 phenomenon, then don’t we also need to penalize those who didn’t (Gehringer, Bottomley, Lazzeri) even more? Now we’re penalizing all hitters for being better as a whole than all of the pitchers in 1930, and that’s ridiculous. You need to adjust for timeline differences, but you also need to give some credit where credit is due. I do believe that if all conditions were neutralized that the batters of 1930 would still outhit the batters of 1968; it’s silly to think that hitters and pitchers have been balanced equally across 130 years of baseball.
As for Hartnett, his 1928, 1935, and 1937 seasons are just as good as Berra’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best seasons, and Gabby was better behind the plate.
48. Charlie Gehringer
Why does Gehringer have so many runs scored and RBI? My theory is that he hit second in an era when hitters of his caliber usually hit third. While most managers put out #2 hitters who could just get on base or bunt in that great offensive era, the Mechanical Man probably hit second due to Ryne Sanberg Syndrome (Oh, he plays second, he should hit second). Of course, Gehringer played in a much better hitter’s era, had a better ability to get on base, and had Hank Greenberg hitting behind him. But you can’t pin it all on Greenberg, either, because Gehringer’s finest run scoring season (144 in ’36) was one in which Greenberg only played 12 games (though Walker, Simmons, and Goslin made for a pretty nifty outfield).
49. Yogi Berra
Casey Stengel may have been the first manager to use a great hitting catcher at other positions to get his bat in the lineup on days he could not catch. As a result, Berra’s offensive totals look comparable to the catching greats that came before him, but they’re really not. Yogi did eventually develop into an excellent defender, which keeps him in the same vicinity as the rest of the catcher’s pack.
50. Big Ed Walsh
Walsh pitched over 25% of his team’s innings in five separate seasons; over 30% twice. For comparison, Maddux led the NL in innings five straight seasons, but never pitched in as much as 20% of his team’s innings. The game has changed, and you can certainly take this line of logic too far, but surely Walsh should receive some extra credit for having a much larger impact on his team’s won-loss record than any modern pitcher. On the other hand, Ed relied on the spitball, and may not have been great had he been born 50 years later.
51. Hoyt Wilhelm
Even though Wlihelm did not debut until age 28, he’s still easily the best reliever of all time, pending Mariano Rivera’s final years. Generally speaking, Wilhelm was used in more important situations than Rivera, often appearing in tie games or with his team down by one rather than when his team is up by three. This is partly why he holds a record that will never be broken in his 124 wins in relief.
He compares favorably to starters as well. He’s 4th all time in ERA+ among pitchers with over 1500 IP plus 9th in opponent’s batting average. In 1959, he dispelled the myth that great relievers cannot also be great starters by going 15-11 with a league leading 2.19 ERA in 27 starts.
52. Jackie Robinson
Not only do you need to adjust for the fact that Jackie lost several years due to segregation, but also for the fact that he clearly had the skills to play more demanding of a position than first base, third base, and left field. Rate wise, Bill James puts him level with Mazeroski at second, and torso above everybody at third. Could he also have played shortstop if not for Pee Wee Reese? I don’t see why not. He’d probably also steal 50-60 bases per year if he had played in the 70’s or 80’s. If we’re going to era-adjust homers and singles, we also have to era-adjust stolen bases, don’t we?
One thing I will not give Jackie extra recognition for is the mental anguish of playing amidst racists. That sort of thing is just as likely to have motivated him to excel as it was to have depressed his stats.
53. Gary Sheffield
5 Reasons that Sheffield tends to be underrated:
1) People forget that he played 468 games at third base and 94 at shortstop.
2) He walks a ton; over 300 more walks than strikeouts, and only as many as 80 strikeouts once.
3) He played in extreme pitcher’s parks, and now plays in a tough park for righties.
4) He’s stolen over 200 bases at a 70% clip, but few people give his speed any credit.
5) He never had that one career season where he made everyone’s eyes bulge (although 1996 was mighty fine-lookin’ to me)
54. Harry Heilmann
Scott has often claimed that Heilmann was a contact hitter and nothing else. Clearly, hitting for average was his strong suit, as he holds the 12th highest career batting average ever. But to label him a one-tool player is quite erroneous. Heilmann ranks 22nd on the doubles leaderboard, 49th in triples, 65th in total bases, but just 82nd in singles. Only Ruth and Hornsby collected more extra base hits in the 1920’s. He finished his career with 306 more walks than strikeouts. His .930 career OPS ranks 39th all time. Heilmann may not have been a good fielder or baseruner, but he was the total package as a hitter.
55. Willie McCovey
In contrast to Heilmann, McCovey was known mostly for his power. Yet the two are very similar in their overall offensive value. It came down to wanting either a poor-fielding outfielder or a below-average-fielding first baseman. And when I see that McCovey made 23 errors in 275 career OF games (FA+ = -28), I realize that he would have made a much worse outfielder than the Mayo Man. Also, while their adjusted numbers are similar, I always like to give the edge to the guy with the better raw numbers, and Heilmann actually had a better career SLG than McCovey did.
56. Tim Raines
The second-best leadoff hitter ever (Joe Morgan was a fantastic leadoff hitter, but only spent 14% of his career there), Raines does manage to beat out Rickey in one category: defense. He’s so good in the outfield that many people mistakenly consider him a center fielder even though he only played one season there. Actually, Raines also beats Rickey in SB% by a healthy margin (84.7 to 80.8). He’s just a damn fine player.
57. Ken Griffey Jr.
We call him Ken Griffey Overrated mostly because of his defense, but his lack of plate patience hurts him, too. He has nearly twice as many strikeouts as unintentional walks and a .377 career OBP. Most people would assume that Junior has more career steals than Sheffield, more doubles than Larry Walker, and a better batting average than Jose Vidro. Those people would be dead wrong. Griffey’s great, just not as great as everyone thinks he is.
58. Whitey Ford
Just based on the numbers, The Chairman of the Board was easily the best pitcher of the 1950’s. Then we add the fact that he missed a season and a half to the Korean War. Next, we examine how manager Casey Stengal moved him up/held him back in the rotation in order to play him against tougher opponents. He’s the anti-Grove in that regard. So you say that his .690 winning percentage was due to his playing for the Yankees, and I say that it would have been better had he been used in a normal 4-man rotation. As it is, the innings he pitched were extra valuable.
59. Sam Crawford
It’s rare to see an overrated offensive player from the dead ball era, but that’s what we’ve got in Sam Crawford. Wahoo’s best two seasons were the biggest expansion year ever (1901) and the first year of the cork-centered ball (1911). He didn’t walk enough for any era. His large RBI totals can be attributed to the lack of walks (a la Joe Carter) and having the best run scorer in Major League Baseball’s first 100 years hitting in front of him. Before Cobb established himself, Crawford never finished higher than third in RBI.
What he does have going for him is defense. From 1907-1909, manager Hughie Jennings put Crawford in center and Cobb in right. Ultimately, that was a mistake, but it’s still a pretty high compliment to pay an outfielder. Cobb had the better arm, but Sam just performed better in right, and was technically sound enough to throw guys out. His A-E is essentially even with Roberto Clemente’s, both solidly in the top 10 in that stat.
60. Paul Waner
Waner never had those couple of super duper seasons that Scott and Asher like to see, but he was very good for about a dozen years. I would argue that, if anything, being consistently good is better than being briefly great, then blah for the rest of your career. You rarely see teams with one or two superstars (Cubs 60’s and 70’s) dominate the way that teams with solid lineups 1-9 do (1998 Yankees, 2001 Mariners). In other words, a team full of Paul Waners and Al Kalines is going to outperform a lineup with Gentile 1961, FRob 1967, Yaz 1968, and a bunch of mediocre bats. But you can’t fault an individual player for the composition of the tem, so I try to base my rankings on career numbers more than a player’s peaks and valleys.
61. Bob Feller
He’s perhaps the hardest pitcher of all to rate, since no other pitcher lost so many prime seasons to WWII. Feller served from ages 23-26, and had his very best seasons immediately before and after the war. He might have thrown 5,000 innings if not for that dratted war. Feller began succeeding in the bigs at 17, and we saw him still bringing it at age 86 in a Legends softball game in Florida last year. As the most successful pitcher of the 1940’s, the hardest thrower of his time, and one of the most durable arms ever, Bob Feller deserves some props.
62. Reggie Jackson
As fantastic as Mr. October was in World Series play, he hit .227 and reached base less than 30% of the time in League Championship Series. As embarrassing as it is to hold the record for most career strikeouts (a record that Adam Dunn will obliterate), they prevented him from grounding into too many double plays. As embarrassingly poor as his defense was, his bat enabled both dominance and longevity. I rank him here as the 62nd-best baseball player of all time, but he’s clearly higher than that on the greatest actors of all time list.
63. Rod Carew
The first of the hard-to-rate Halfners (guys like Yount, Banks, and Tenace who played half of their career at a defensive position and half at an offensive position). I used Total Baseball’s positional adjustments to estimate the defensive values for these players by multiplying the adjustments by each player’s percentage of games played at that position. By this method, Carew should be ranked somewhere in between where a third baseman would be and where a center fielder would.
Although Carew was one of the worse Halfners defensively, he rates so much higher than the others due mostly to his .393 OBP, which stood a whopping 20% above the league average. That’s a fantastic figure for a #2 hitter. His DP rate was much less impressive, but I do give him special bonus points for stealing home more than any other player since WWII (17 times). You can debate the value of a steal of second base all day long, but there’s no question that stealing home is super-valuable. Plus, as he became reknown for doing it, you can bet that he distracted the heck out of right handed pitchers every time he was on third base.
64. Carl Hubbell
If you add King Carl’s 1933 and 1936 seasons, you get 612.2 innings pitched and 13 home runs allowed. If you combine his World Series performances in those years, you get 36 innings pitched over four games, with four runs allowed, 25 strikeouts, and eight walks issued. 1933 wasn’t a great offensive year for that decade, but you still have to look at those two seasons, as well as 1934, as among the very best of all time. Unlike many pitchers with a season or two on that list, Hubbell never had a bad year until the very end of his career.
65. Barry Larkin
I don’t like Barry Larkin, mostly by virtue of his having been a member of the 1990 Reds. I also tired of the I-hate-the-Reds/Fine-we’re-going-to-trade-you routine that he and Reds management pulled every offseason. So I am as shocked as anybody that he wound up as the third best shortstop on my list. The man did everything well, including stealing bases at a ridiculous 83% clip. He seemed to hit rock bottom in 2002, but rebounded with two solid years when playing less frequently. The one knock on him was the 485 days that he spent on the Disabled List in his career. But honestly, I’d take 130 games from Barry and 32 games from Pokey Reese over 162 games from Ripken any day.
66. Chipper Jones
Another surprise, because I’m irked by his explanation for his nickname, Larry Jones is the only third baseman besides Edgar Martinez who is a member of the 3-4-5 Club. His defense is lacking to say the least, but he had eight straight seasons of 100 or more RBI, plus six straight hitting .300 and getting on base over 40% of the time. His MVP 1999 season was the best offensively by any third baseman, edging out Al Rosen in 1953.
67. Bob Gibson
In 1963, the strike zone was expanded to cover the shoulders to the bottom of the knees. Bob Gibson was not immediately able to take advantage of this rule, posting the worst full season ERA of his career in 1963. Of course, this is ironic because Bob also benefited more from these conditions in 1968 than any other pitcher.
68. Craig Biggio
Even though his defense has declined, Biggio has not seen nearly the offensive dropoff that we usually see from second basemen in their late 30’s (eh, Robbie Alomar?).
You often see mediocre starters converted into relievers in the hopes of inducing a Dennis Eckersley-type phenomenon. With the incredible success that the move from catcher to second base had for Biggio’s career, isn’t it strange that no one has tried to repeat the experiment? Could Jason Kendall have been the next Craig Biggio? I guess we’ll never know.
69. Luke Appling
Luscious Luke posted a .423 OBP as a full time shortstop at age 41, and then followed that with a .439 mark at age 42. Cal Ripken Jr., the supposed “Iron Man,” posted an OPS+ over 107 just once after the age of 30, and became a full time 3B by age 36. Appling missed two years to WWII that cost him reaching 3,000 hits and perhaps a .400 career OBP.
70. Edgar Martinez
Everybody wants to write of Edgar as a DH and ignore the 563 games that he played at third base. Well, if you’re going to do that, then give him a career OBP of .428 ans SLG of .532, because that’s what he achieved as a DH. Also increase all of his counting stats by about 10% due to the increased production and increased playing time he would have gotten as a full time DH. If you don’t make any adjustments, he’s about as valuable offensively as Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews are.
71. Tony Gwynn
Gwynn led the NL in hits seven times, BA eight times, and K/AB ten times, but only led once in OBP and never finished better than ninth in SLG. It’s much easier to forgive an empty batting average when it’s at .338 and accompanied by 3,141 hits, 319 stolen bases, and five gold gloves. Asher points to Gwynn’s increased power output in 1997 by citing his 17 homers and 199 RBI, but how about his 12 sacrifice flies, almost double his previous high?.
72. Mordecai Brown
If you think his 2.06 career ERA is good, then check out his 1.90 career mark when you exclude his Federal League statistics. He’d rank higher had he not benefited from the greatest defense of all time. The two best BIP% all time came from the 1906 and 1907 Cubs. The ‘08-’09 Cubs rank 7th and 8th, while the ’05 Cubs rank 15th. Remember, these rankings are out of over 2000 team seasons, and they help explain why pitchers like Ed Reulbach, Orvie Overall, and Jack Pfeister were so successful with those clubs. Tinker, Evers, and Chance (and perhaps Jimmy Slagle, Solly Hoffman, and Harry Steinfeldt) were even better defenders than most people realize.
73. Al Kaline
Tony believes that Al Kaline and Dave Winfield should be ranked similarly because they’re both right fielders who were each very good for a long time, but never outstanding. However, Kaline is considered one of the best defensive RF ever, while Winfield is generally considered below average, though with a good arm in his prime. And Winfield had a lower career BA, OBP, and SLG than Kaline. Winfield's also 4th all time in GIDP (Kaline’s not that much better at #15).
74. Dick Allen
Underrated both because he played in a pitcher’s era and because he lived up to his first name, Dick Allen nevertheless had one incredible peak value. He absolutely murdered southpaws and led his league in OPS four times. He was an atrocious fielder, though. He made 41 errors his rookie season and finished with a fielding percentage 21 points lower than the league average at the hot corner.
75. Harmon Killebrew
A very similar player to Allen, Harmon wasn’t as ridiculous at third, but still bad enough to play just one third of his games there. Harmon had a worse BA, but walked more and hit more homers. Actually, Killebrew is 7th all-time in home runs per at bat. He had a worse peak value, but a significantly longer career than Allen. The silhouette on the official Major League Baseball logo is none other than Killer.
83. Roger Bresnahan
Here are the 17 catchers on my top 200 list ranked by OBP+:
Gene Tenace - 121
Roger Bresnahan - 117
Mickey Cochrane - 115
Mike Piazza - 114
Wally Schang - 113
Joe Torre - 112
Bill Dickey- 108
Gabby Hartnett- 106
Ted Simmons- 106
Ernie Lombardi - 106
Roy Campanella- 104
Carlton Fisk - 103
Johnny Bench - 103
Yogi Berra - 102
Gary Carter - 102
Ivan Rodriguez - 101
Ray Schalk – 98
So shame on anyone who thinks that Berra or Bench is the greatest catcher of all time, and shame on anyone who doesn’t see that Gene Tenace belongs in the Hall of Fame.
But let’s dig a little deeper for our analysis of Bresnahan. Bresnahan’s hitting career essentially ranged from 1901-1915. According to Curve Ball authors Jim Albert and Jay Bennett, OBP had a better correlation with runs scored than did AVG or SLG in 12 out of those 15 seasons. Therefore, when we compare hitters from Bresnahan’s era, OBP is even more important than in the post-dead ball era, when OBP and SLG essentially predicted runs scored equally well.
Why would OBP perform so well in the dead ball era? Mostly due to one-run strategies. When a player got on base back then, the idea was to either have him steal a base or sacrifice him into scoring position. And once a runner is in scoring position (particularly with an out or two having been recorded from the sacrifice), an extra base hit for the batter isn’t worth that much more than a single.
Bresnahan finished among the top six in his league in OBP in every year that he qualified except 1902, and he would have qualified more often had he not played catcher in an era without adequate catcher’s equipment (equipment that Bresnahan himself introduced to the game). We all know that Bresnahan was far and away the best offensive catcher of his era, but he may have simply been one of the best offensive players of his era as well.
92. Jim Palmer
I think that if we're looking at 3,000+ innings we need to look at results more than components. Jim Palmer and Nolan Ryan each played in pitcher's parks with good defenses behind them. Ryan's approach would have produced similar results in a hitter's park with a poor defense behind him since he allowed so few balls in play. Palmer might have gotten hit hard on another ballclub. But Palmer deserves credit for playing to his team's strengths and needs, whereas Ryan's career ERA and W% penalizes him enough for his oblivious crazed pitching.
But if you’re hung up on peripheral stats, don’t make the same mistake that Scott and Asher do by completely forgetting about home run rate. Jim Palmer may not have the K:BB ratio that contemporary Ferguson Jenkins had, but he allowed 181 fewer homers!