Wednesday, June 01, 2005

MLB Top 50 List

My interest in sports goes back a long way. I remember being 10 years old putting together lists of the best players from each sport. Back then, it never crossed my mind to catalog those lists. In the summer after my sophomore year in college, I decided I wanted to put together a list of the best players in MLB history organized by first, second, and third team. I wrote out by hand every statistic of every player that I took into consideration. The process was long and pointless as most of my endeavors are. I came up with my teams and felt pretty good about the whole thing. In fact, I still have those lists. My current knowledge of baseball history is probably double what it was during my sophomore year. I have a better understanding of how to interpret stats compared to the league average which is a crucial factor to consider when comparing players.

As a result, I once again embarked on a quest to put together a list of the best players in MLB history. Per usual, this list is based purely on subjectivity but I would like to mention a few things on how I came to my conclusions. First, I did the best I could to compare statistics to league averages and not simply on the raw stats. Second, my criterion was simply a combination of brilliance over time. This is not a list of the single best four-year stretch of all-time. If it were, the results would differ greatly. My goal was to identify the top 50 careers based on a variety of factors. Third, not only did I not penalize a player for missing time due to service in the armed forces, I rewarded the player for the time missed. For instance, Ted Williams missed five years in his prime serving in two wars. Each time he returned to the sport, he dominated. I made educated guesses on missed seasons to get an idea of what that player would have accomplished had he not missed that time.

1) Babe Ruth
2) Ted Williams
3) Ty Cobb
4) Willie Mays
5) Barry Bonds *
6) Roger Clemens
7) Walter Johnson
8) Lou Gehrig
9) Lefty Grove
10) Stan Musial
11) Joe DiMaggio
12) Christy Mathewson
13) Rogers Hornsby
14) Cy Young
15) Jimmie Foxx
16) Mickey Mantle
17) Tris Speaker
18) Randy Johnson
19) Honus Wagner
20) Pete Alexander
21) Albert Pujols
22) Hank Aaron
23) Mel Ott
24) Hank Greenberg
25) Greg Maddux
26) Warren Spahn
27) Tom Seaver
28) Frank Robinson
29) Bob Feller
30) Joe Jackson
31) Pedro Martinez
32) Ed Walsh
33) Mordecai Brown
34) Manny Ramirez
35) Nap Lajoie
36) Mike Schmidt
37) Jim Palmer
38) Alex Rodriguez
39) Vladimir Guerrero
40) Ken Griffey Jr.
41) Eddie Collins
42) Carl Yastrzemski
43) Yogi Berra
44) Johnny Bench
45) Eddie Plank
46) Steve Carlton
47) Bob Gibson
48) Frank Thomas
49) Joe Morgan
50) Mariano Rivera

Instead of listing the next ten or twenty players on the list which would essentially create a Top 60 or 70 list, I would like to identify the players that I had the hardest time keeping off. There were about 50 players that received serious consideration that didn't end up making the list. These are in no particular order; Eddie Mathews, Jackie Robinson, Al Simmons, Nolan Ryan, Charlie Gehringer, Ernie Banks, Derek Jeter, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Addie Joss, Mark McGwire* and Nolan Ryan.

One player that I considered early that didn't make the list is someone who I think will be in the top 50 of all-time by the time he retires. That person is Andruw Jones. His power/defense combination puts him on pace to be one of the best all-around players to every play the game.


Charles T Heckler said...

Rickey Henderson is missing. Glaring. He holds the all-time record for RUNS SCORED. Kind of an important stat in baseball, no? I say he's top 5-10

Anonymous said...

Did you leave Pete Rose off this list because he's banned from the game or because he didn't meet your criteria?

Jake said...

Thanks for the comments/questions. Rose and Henderson have almost identical cases so I’ll address them together…

Rose was left off because he didn’t meet the criteria. Both Rose and Henderson just missed the list but they both missed the list for the same reasons. As I mentioned in my criterion, my goal was to equally weigh overall career stats with yearly averages etc. Rose and Henderson played 24 and 25 seasons respectively. Comparing their career stats to someone who played 18 seasons is futile for the most part. For instance, Henderson only had more than 150 hits in a season five times in 25 years. That is unbelievable. Granted he walked a lot but he still only hit .279. Also, to say Henderson should be in the top 50 because he has the most runs in MLB history ignores the fact that he played 25 years!!! This list isn’t about mass statistics. If you want a list like that, then feel free to make your own.

According to, here are the ten most similar players to Pete Rose (this is based on a formula; not opinion):

1. Paul Molitor (674) *
2. Tris Speaker (633) *
3. Ty Cobb (618) *
4. Robin Yount (602) *
5. Paul Waner (590) *
6. George Brett (587) *
7. Cap Anson (572) *
8. Lou Brock (569) *
9. Rickey Henderson (554)
10. Wade Boggs (550)
Only two of those players are in my top 50. Every other player on that list would likely be somewhere between 51-100 on a top 100 list. Rose has more in common with players 51-100 than he does with players 1-50.

Here is the same thing for Ricky Henderson:
1. Craig Biggio (694)
2. Paul Molitor (686) *
3. Joe Morgan (679) *
4. Lou Brock (675) *
5. Rusty Staub (672)
6. Steve Finley (651)
7. Al Kaline (649) *
8. Robin Yount (649) *
9. Tim Raines (646)
10. Vada Pinson (646)
Only one player on this list is in my top 50. Henderson also has more in common with players outside of the top 50 than he does 1-50.
There is no question that both players were great. You have to remember just how many players have actually played MLB. I don’t view it as an insult to either Rose or Henderson that they didn’t make it. I wish I could fit 75 guys in the top 50 but that just doesn’t work. As good as these two were, what kept them out was their underwhelming (I say underwhelming only in comparison to the guys I have in the top 50) yearly averages. A typical Henderson or Pete Rose season is not among the best 50 typical seasons in MLB history. That’s what it came down to.
Thanks for the comments.

Take care!

Anonymous said...

no nolan ryan.....and yet randy johnson and roger clemens are both near the top? do you watch baseball?

Jake said...

This might be the dumbest comment that I have ever recieved. I don’t mind people disagreeing but when people attempt to insult me while at the same time proving they know nothing about what they’re talking about, it becomes incredibly dumb.

Cy Youngs

Roger Clemens 7
Randy Johnson 5
Nolan Ryan 0 (yes, that is a zero)


Roger Clemens 143
Randy Johnson 137
Nolan Ryan 112

I could go on but I don’t think I really need to say anymore.

Now, I have a question for you. Are you Nolan Ryan?

Anonymous said...

Hey, I was just wondering what your full take is on Carl Yastrzemski. Personally, I believe the only reason people 'belive' he was in fact great, was because of his popularity. I'm a huge baseball fan and understand things like how Yaz played in the 'years of the pitcher' but still, his OPS+ is a mere 130 which barely makes the top 150. he was very inconsistent(spelling) and other than his triple crown year, nothing sticks out in the way of RBI HR or anything. i'm a reds fan so if Pete doesnt make it (and I understand and agree completely)then i dont think Yaz should. His Defense was the only thing that remained top notch for a long time. his quote saying he's a chevrolet when Joe D, Ted and Stan are Cadillac's really makes sense

Jake said...

Great points. Judging their resumes only, you could ask 100 people to pick the better player and you’d probably get 50 for Rose and 50 for Yaz. I have Yaz rated just ahead of Rose among outfielders. If Rose were a power hitter, he probably would have been Yaz and vice versa. I think the fact that Yaz did win the Triple Crown counts for quite a bit. Nobody has done it since. Being the best in baseball in those three categories is a phenomenal feat. Rose obviously has the “hits” title which is nothing to scoff at. Although, I prefer average statistics combined with longevity rather than simply comparing statistics in bulk. Otherwise, Rickey Henderson would be one of the ten best players ever. The goal for any hitter is to produce runs (RBIs or Runs). Power-hitters have an inherent advantage because they produce more runs. Yaz produced about 200 more RBIs and Runs than Rose in 2,000 fewer at-bats. His OPS+ was quite a bit higher as well. Both had amazing BB:K ratios. Yaz had 100 more extra-base hits. Yaz had a better On-Base Percentage and a better Slugging Percentage. Both won an MVP. Both players played so long that their seasonal averages aren’t that impressive. I guess what it comes down to for me is that Yaz did everything Rose did and more. He just had 2,000 fewer at-bats to pad his statistics. As a result, I have Yaz ahead of Rose and just good enough to be in my top 50. While Yaz didn’t have an unbelievable career OPS+ (130), it’s important to remember that he didn’t have an OPS+ higher than 126 in any of his last nine seasons. That means his first 14 seasons were pretty awesome in that department. In fact, he led the majors in OPS+ four times. DiMaggio did it once. You probably won’t find any player outside of my top 50 who has done it more. I’m not going to argue with Yaz on his Chevrolet/Cadillac quote. In fact, he’s dead on. He doesn’t compare to Ted, Musial, or DiMaggio. That’s also why I have them rated #2, #10, and #11 respectively on my all-time list. The difference between those numbers and #42 is huge.

Anyhow, I hope this explains a little more about my rationale for ranking Yaz. I think his overall resume puts him among the 50 best ever. I’ll certainly take a closer look the next time around (assuming I take on the endeavor of updating the list at some point) to make sure I didn’t put Yaz in ahead of someone with a better resume. I just think Yaz beats out Rose and every other OF who I don’t have listed when everything I used to rate a player is taken into consideration.

Take care!



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