The Best Players of the Last 50 Years - Part IX - Right Fielders

June 26, 2020
This is part IX of my series on the greatest players of the last 50 years, which I have dubbed the "Dan Marks Era", as it aligns with the 50 years that I have been following baseball. The general idea is to have a little fun and reminisce, and perhaps find out a thing or two that maybe you didn't know before about some of these players.
 
Here are the prior entries in the series:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Greatest Right Fielders of the Last 50 Years
 
 
Did anyone just miss getting included due to the timeline cutoff? 
 
Yeah....a bunch.
 
More so than any position I've reviewed so far, the right fielders are affected by the 1970 timeline cutoff. All-time, I would say that you would find a consensus of 6 right fielders that stand above the crowd by most opinions - Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Mel Ott, Roberto Clemente, and Al Kaline. Of those 6, 4 (Aaron, Robinson, Clemente, and Kaline) debuted in the mid-1950's and played into the 1970's, so I got the chance to see all of them play for at least a little bit. When I started following baseball in 1970, they were all still good, but they were also all in their mid-to-upper 30's by then.   They were iconic, they were legends, and they still had a little bit left....but their best days were largely behind them.   I decided to leave all of them out of this review, which obviously impacts the rankings tremendously by their absence.
 
Even aside from those 4 titans of the position, there are other good ones who miss the cutoff. One of my all-time favorites is Tony Oliva, and I did catch a couple of really good seasons of his, but his career midpoint is 1969, and most of his better seasons were in the 1960's. I thought long and hard about whether to include him. Ultimately, I left him out.
 
And it doesn't stop there. Felipe Alou. Johnny CallisonTony Conigliaro. I caught part of all of their careers, but they were mostly before my time as well.
 
Anyway, what all of this really means is that right field, with no Aaron, no Robinson, no Clemente, and no Kaline, more than any other position I've reviewed to date, is gonna be a dogfight for the top spot.
 
Any active players outside of the top 25 worth noting?
 
I have 2 active players in my top 25, and we'll cover them later. In the 26-50 range, I have 8 active players, and several of them could move up.
 
I don't have Bryce Harper in my top 25 just yet, but he's still just 27 years old and he seems like an inevitable top 25 player, maybe top 15, maybe even top 10. I currently have him at #27.
 
I have Nelson Cruz at #29. He's not much of a right fielder, and has only a little more time there than at DH, and most of his better seasons have come over the past several years when he's been more DH than anything. I still have him included among the right fielders, but may have to reclassify him down the road.
 
Shin-Soo Choo, Nick Markakis, and Hunter Pence are at #36, #40, and #45, respectively. They're all still hanging in there and performing generally well, but they're also all 35 or older, and probably won't move much more at this point.
 
Jason Heyward is at #43, and a lot of his performance is tied to his defensive value. He's only 30, so he could still have a lot of time ahead of him to potentially move up, but I'd feel better about his chances if he could display a little more consistency offensively.
 
George Springer is at #46. Like Heyward, he's also 30 years old, but I like Springer's chances to move up a whole lot more than I like Heyward's, even with the unknown of how the Astros players will respond on the heels of their scandal.
 
Finally, J.D. Martinez is at #50. He's classified as a right fielder for now, but has fewer than 500 games played there, and he appears to be morphing into more of a DH-type. In another 2-3 years, he might have more time at DH than any other position, and will probably have to reclassify him.
 
Any surprise omissions from the top 25? 
Before I started the process, I thought Paul O'Neill, Shawn Green, and Tim Salmon all felt like top-25 contenders, but they came up a little short (29, 33, and 34, respectively)
 
Other Administrative Notes
 
I ended up with 157 players in the right fielder data set.
 
#25-Jesse Barfield
Best category: dWAR (1st)
Worst category: Games (64th)
 
Barfield was one of the keys to the first successful Blue Jays squads starting in the early-to-mid 1980's. Their rise coincided with Barfield's emergence as an everyday player. He wasn't alone, of course....they also had Dave Stieb, Willie Upshaw, and Lloyd Moseby, followed by the emergence of Tony Fernandez, George Bell, and Jimmy Key, but Barfield was one of the keys.
 
I like the fact that Barfield does well by dWAR. He strikes me as one of the best defensive right fielders I've personally seen, although, again, I only caught the tail end of Roberto Clemente's and Al Kaline's careers. 
 
When we think of great defensive outfielders, I think we tend to think of either a) center fielders who display great range or b) right fielders who display strong throwing arms. That's an oversimplification, of course, but I think those are the attributes we tend to associate with greatness at those 2 positions (left fielders, with occasional exceptions like Yaz or Bonds or Gordon, tend to be left out of the discussion). We like our center fielders to track down long fly balls, and we like our right fielders to make jaw-dropping throws, especially from right field to third base.
 
Barfield certainly had one of the better right field arms in my memory. Who else comes to mind? Clemente and Kaline for sure, but I only caught the tail end of their careers. Rocky Colavito and Carl Furillo were both legendary arms who played before my time. You could include Bob Meusel too, although he played a little more left field than right field. From my personal observation, the right fielders with the greatest right field throwing arms (aside from Barfield) would include Dave Parker, Dave Winfield, Mark Whiten, Ellis Valentine, Dwight Evans, Vlad Guerrero, Raul Mondesi, Larry Walker, Ichiro Suzuki, and the legendary "Downtown" Ollie Brown.
 
#24-Magglio Ordonez
Best category: All Star Games (11th)
Worst category: WAR/162 (36th)
 
Do you ever look at the stat line for one player and it reminds you of another? Ordonez's greatest season was 2007, when he posted a .363/.434/.595 line with the Tigers and placed 2nd in the MVP voting. Whenever I look at his stats for that year, it reminds me of Joe Torre's 1971, in part because of that coincidental .363 batting average that they each achieved.
 
Let's look at them together. I can't fit all the baseball-reference.com columns across the page, so I'll break each into 2 chunks:
 
Player
Year
Age
G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
CS
BB
SO
Torre
1971
30
161
707
634
97
230
34
8
24
137
4
1
63
70
Ordonez
2007
33
157
679
595
117
216
54
0
28
139
4
1
76
79
 
Player
Year
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS+
TB
GDP
HBP
SF
Pos
Awards
Torre
1971
.363
.421
.555
171
352
18
4
5
*5
AS,MVP-1
Ordonez
2007
.363
.434
.595
166
354
20
2
5
*9D
AS,MVP-2,SS
 
They're not identical, of course. Ordonez has a little higher OBP and slugging, but Torre's OPS+ actually gives him the edge due to context. Ordonez has significantly more doubles, but Torre offset some of that by out-tripling Ordonez 8-0.  And rWAR has Ordonez's season higher at 7.3 vs. 5.9, but mostly that's because Torre got docked quite a bit for his defense at third that year. Torre's offensive WAR (oWAR) comes in at 8.6 vs. 7.2 for Ordonez. 
 
But there's a lot of similarity there, both in the stat lines as well as other factors. Both Torre and Ordonez were 5-time All Stars heading into their big seasons - they were both established, valuable players, and each one put together a season that a) occurred after age 30 and b) was with a new team other than the one he started with (Torre with the Cardinals rather than the Braves, Ordonez with the Tigers rather than the White Sox). Torre won the MVP for a second-place St. Louis team, while Ordonez was runner-up for a second-place Detroit team. 
 
#23-David Justice
Best category: Win Shares/162 (15th)
Worst category: Games (45th)
 
If it seemed like you saw Justice a lot on your TV each October....well, you weren't imagining it. Justice rarely missed out on the postseason, especially after his first couple of seasons.
 
Justice debuted in May 1989, went 1 for 20 during the month, was sent back to the minors, and then came back during September and did much better (11 for 31). The next year, he split time between 1B and RF and won the NL Rookie of the Year award. In both seasons, the Braves finished in 6th place.
 
After that, Justice was on TV in the 1990's more than anyone this side of Seinfeld. From 1991-1995, he appeared in the postseason with the Braves every year except for 1994, which was cancelled due to the strike. In 1996, the Braves made the playoffs, but Justice was hurt mid-season and didn't get to play in the postseason. 
 
After that, Justice was included in a big trade to Cleveland (with Marquis Grissom) in exchange for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree. Justice was part of 3 straight division winning teams for the Indians (1997-1999).  
 
From there, it was on to the Yankees for 2 more division titles (2000, 2001), and then in December 2001 he was traded twice in a week - first to the Mets (for Robin Ventura) and then to the A's (for Mark Guthrie and Tyler Yates). The 2002 A's, of course, are the famous "Moneyball" version of the team that was featured in the movie, of which Justice has a prominent role (not him personally, of course, but the portrayal of him). Those A's, of course, also finished first.  
 
So, from 1990 until the end of his career, Justice finished on 11 first place teams over 12 seasons (for 4 different franchises), with the only misstep occurring in 1994 (when he only played 40 games). All great teams, to be sure, and I think it's safe to say that Justice was never the best player on any of those teams. But he was consistently a key contributor on all of those teams, and ended up playing in 6 World Series (3 for Atlanta, 2 for the Yankees, and 1 for Cleveland).
 
#22-Jose Bautista
Best category: WAR7 and All Star Games (11th in each)
Worst category: WAR/162 (38th)
 
A very odd career. Bautista's path to stardom got off to a very slow start, as he experienced 5 organizational changes before finally getting some solid playing time. Drafted by Pittsburgh in 2000, Bautista went on a circuitous journey that took him through Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, New York (Mets), and finally back to Pittsburgh again, with the last 4 of those stops occurring in a dizzying 2-month period in mid-2004. From 2006-2008, he got some fairly consistent playing time with the Pirates, mostly as a 3B/OF type, and was traded to Toronto in late 2008. After a 2009 season with the Blue Jays that was pretty similar to his prior 3 with the Pirates, Bautista began a 6-year period where he transformed into one of the game's top sluggers, shocking the baseball world by improving from 13 home runs to a league-leading 54 in 2010. He was the leading home run hitter over that 6 year span, by a pretty healthy margin:
 
Major League Home Run Leaders, 2010-2015:
 
Rk
Player
HR
G
PA
1
Jose Bautista
227
828
3,604
2
Miguel Cabrera
199
898
3,881
3
Albert Pujols
194
875
3,820
4
Edwin Encarnacion
189
797
3,328
5
Nelson Cruz
186
811
3,389
6
David Ortiz
186
806
3,410
7
Giancarlo Stanton
181
708
2,958
8
Jay Bruce
165
914
3,761
9
Chris Davis
165
690
2,776
10
Adam Jones
165
918
3,888
 
Outside of a season or two, Bautista never really hit for much of an average, and ended his career under .250 (.247), but drew a large number of walks, especially during his Toronto years, and ended up with a pretty decent .361 OBP. He was a legitimate MVP contender during his better years, and ended up with 4 top-10 MVP finishes, including twice in the top 4.
 
#21-Rusty Staub
Best category: Games (2nd)
Worst category: WAR/162 (61st)
 
Longevity was Staub's calling card, breaking into the Majors as a 19-year old first baseman early in the history of the Houston franchise (back when they were still the Colt .45's), and then playing through age 41, a 23-year journey in total. Staub is still quite high on the all-time games played list (13th with 2,951). The only non-Hall of Famers ahead of him are Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, and Omar Vizquel.
 
Although Staub is certainly well remembered for his time in Houston, Detroit, and New York (Mets) Staub's peak years were clearly the three he spent as the regular right fielder for the Expos in their first 3 years of existence, 1969-1971 (he later returned briefly in 1979). Over that 3 year span, Staub slashed a healthy .296/.404/.501 with a 151 OPS+, making the All-Star team all 3 seasons. There was a real love affair between the Montreal fans and "Le Grand Orange".
 
One of my favorite articles that I've written during my time at Bill James Online was one I did a couple of years ago called The Harold Baines Hall of Fame Wing for Long and Meritorious Service. It was basically a fun little exercise, neither to endorse nor criticize Baines' Hall of Fame selection, but merely to ask who would be the most "Harold Baines-like" selections if we were to build a wing in Cooperstown to honor candidates similar to Baines. My main criteria for strong candidates included:
 
·         Played for a lot of years
·         Had a high number of games played
·         Accumulated a large number of hits (or wins for starting pitchers)
·         Had rWAR in the 30 to mid-50’s range (I didn’t want it to be too high)
·         Was named to a few All-Star games (but not "too many")
·         Preferably had a Hall of Fame Monitor score below 100, or at least not too far above
·         Had moderate-to-low "black ink" (league leadership in certain categories)
·         Didn’t get much support in annual awards (MVP or Cy Young)
·         Received little BBWAA support while on the writers’ ballot
·         Has notable or unique "positives" that would look good on a résumé
 
The best "match" for Harold Baines that I found in my review was Staub. Here's how they compared across several of those criteria:
 
Player
Years
G
Hits
rWAR
All Star
HOF Monitor
Black Ink
Award Shares
BBWAA %
Rusty Staub
23
2,951
2,716
45.8
6
59
4
0.37
7.9%
Harold Baines
22
2,830
2,866
38.7
6
66
3
0.31
6.1%
 
 As luck would have it, Baines also happens to be the #3 comp for Staub according to Bill's Similarity Score calculation, and Staub is Baines' #6, so they have a high degree of carrer statistical similarity as well. Staub was more RF than DH, and Baines was more DH than RF, but they did have similar careers in a lot of ways.
 
#20-Ken Singleton
Best category: Win Shares 7 (4th)
Worst category: WAR/162 (39th)
 
Singleton has a connection to the prior player on the list (Rusty Staub), as they were the 2 main figures in an April 1972 trade between the Mets and the Expos (with Tim Foli and Mike Jorgenson also going to Montreal along with Singleton). Singleton was included in another major swap a couple of years later, when the Orioles absolutely stole Singleton and Mike Torrez in exchange for Rich Coggins and Dave McNally. I'm sure the Expos thought they were getting vintage McNally, but he flopped and was out of baseball after a half season with the Expos, although he dig go on to play a key role in the ending of the reserve clause in baseball contracts.
 
I tend to think of Singleton as the quintessential Earl Weaver offensive player - high walks, good power, not much speed. An oversimplification, of course, but Singleton was one of the real strengths of the mid-70's to mid-80's Orioles teams, teams that weren't quite as successful as their predecessors from the mid-60's to early 70's, but were still a consistently competitive squad (only 2 postseason appearances, but finished second 6 times in Singleton's 10 year span). They did go to 2 World Series, winning one.
 
I suspect the Orioles had a pretty good idea of what they were getting when they traded for Singleton. His 1973 season for the Expos was vintage Singleton - .302 average, .425 OBP, 23 HR's, 103 RBI....and 2 stolen bases.   His rate stats as an Oriole are essentially the same that they were when he was an Expo.
 
#19-Juan Gonzalez
Best category: MVP Points (1st)
Worst category: Games (38th)
 
In doing these rankings, the leader in MVP Points had been, in every case, also the #1 overall ranked player at each position. Bench, Pujols, Morgan, A-Rod, Schmidt, Bonds, Trout....they all led in MVP Points at their respective positions, and they all ended up with the #1 ranking as well. It's not that MVP Points are more important or carried more weight than anything else....it's just that the #1 overall candidate at each position also, quite naturally, did well in that specific category.
 
Until right field, that is. 
 
Gonzlaez won 2 MVP awards, and also had a 4th, a 5th, and a 9th place finish. So why does he rank so low overall? In short, because you have to do well across a spectrum of categories to rank well by this methodology, and Gonzalez didn't rank even in the top 20 in anything else. His average rank in the other categories was only 28, and as a result he only ranks 19th overall at the position. 
 
He presumably did so well in MVP voting during his career because his home run totals and, in particular, his RBI totals were impressive. In his 1996 MVP season, he drove in 144, and in his other MVP season (1998), he drove in 157, and impressive RBI totals have traditionally carried a lot of weight in MVP voting. In both seasons, the Rangers won the division, which always helps as well.  
 
It's speculation, but it's my opinion that, if current voting standards were applied to those seasons, it's highly doubtful Gonzalez would have won either award. I'm not making a case to take them away, because there's no sense in doing that, and I do think great weight has to be given to the voters who made  these decisions at the time....but I think current voters wouldn't come to the same decision in either instance.
 
In terms of RBI generated, Gonzalez does stand in pretty good company:
 
Career Leaders in RBI per 600 Plate Appearances, minimum 5,000 PA's:
 
Player
RBI
PA
RBI / 600 PA
Hank Greenberg
1,274
6,098
125.4
Babe Ruth
2,214
10,626
125.0
Lou Gehrig
1,995
9,665
123.8
Sam Thompson
1,308
6,526
120.3
Joe DiMaggio
1,537
7,672
120.2
Jimmie Foxx
1,922
9,677
119.2
Juan Gonzalez
1,404
7,155
117.7
Al Simmons
1,828
9,520
115.2
Hack Wilson
1,063
5,557
114.8
Ted Williams
1,839
9,792
112.7
 
Gonzalez did not do well in Hall of Fame voting, debuting with only 5.2% of the vote, and then dropping off after his second year. I suspect the main reasons he did not do well are:
 
1)      His career went downhill quickly after age 31, and his career totals are short of what they could have been.

2)      I think voters came around to the realization that he may have been in the "good but not great" category.

3)      As with many from his era, fair or unfair, there were steroid allegations.
 
#18-Brian Giles
Best category: Win Shares 7 (9th)
Worst category: MVP Points (41st)
 
From Gonzalez, who did so well in MVP voting, we go to Giles, who did not do well at all in that category, only finishing with one top-10 result (9th in 2005).
 
I think of Giles as Lance Berkman "light" (and I don't mean that as a reference to Berkman's physique). He basically had the same type of offensive makeup as Berkman, and his slash line (.291/.400/.502) is similar to Berkman's.   Their career numbers in seasonal notation (per 162 games):
 
Player
PA
R
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
CS
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS+
Giles
687
98
36
5
25
95
10
4
104
73
.291
.400
.502
136
Berkman
674
99
36
3
32
106
7
4
104
112
.293
.406
.537
144
 
Berkman had more consistent home run pop and also struck out a lot more often, but otherwise they're very similar across the board offensively.   They're also very close in career rWAR (52.0 for Berkman, 51.1 for Giles).
 
Giles was part of what had to be one of the most talented 5-man outfields ever on the 1996 Cleveland Indians, not necessarily for what they did in a particular year (although that was impressive enough in its own right), but more for what the players ultimately did in their careers. The starting outfield was Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, and Manny Ramirez, which is a pretty good starting point. Giles was an up-and-coming young outfielder, as was Jeromy Burnitz. Belle, Lofton, and Ramirez dominated the playing time, but Giles and Burnitz were effective in their backup/part-time roles, and eventually they went on to star elsewhere (Giles with the Pirates and then the Padres, Burnitz primarily with the Brewers).   Burnitz was probably the "worst" of the 5, yet he was good enough to tally 315 career home runs, including 6 seasons of 30 or more. 
 
The quintet combined for nearly 250 rWAR in their collective careers, or about 50 per player, which is pretty impressive. It's not an all-time record, because you can find outfields like the late 1920's A's that had Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Al Simmons all on the same team, although Cobb and Speaker were both well past their prime by that point. I think you might be hard pressed to find another group like the '96 Indians, where all 5 were really good and still all under age 30.   A deep, talented outfield quintet.
 
#17-Jack Clark
Best category: WAR and WAA (13th in each)
Worst category: WAR7 (27th)
 
It may feel a little odd to some to rank Clark among the right fielders, because I think a lot of people may remember him more for his years at first base, particularly with the Cardinals ,but he did end up with about 1000 games in RF and about 600 at 1B. It's funny, it sure felt to me like he spent more than 3 seasons with the Cardinals.
 
The 1987 Cardinals were an interesting team. They went to the World Series (losing in 7 games to the Twins), but were dead last in the NL in home runs with 94. They had a good offense (2nd in the NL in runs), but it was built more around getting players on base (league leading .340 team OBP) and, of course, they had tremendous team speed, leading the league with 240 stolen bases and stealing at a 78% success rate. But they're definitely one of the more notable cases, especially in the last half century or so, of a team succeeding without much power. And, really, outside of Clark, they didn't have any major HR threats. Clark was responsible for 37% of the team's home runs (35 of 94). The next highest total on the team was Terry Pendleton's 12, followed by Willie McGee's 11, with no one else reaching double-digits. It makes me wonder which player in history might have had the highest % of his team's home run total, and I wonder where how Clark's figure might compare.
 
Clark has some similarity to one of the earlier right fielders reviewed (Jose Bautista) in that he had a notable spike in walks mid-career. Clark always drew a decent number of walks, but beginning with that 1987 season (when he walked 136 times), he started posting a string of extremely high walk totals, including 4 straight seasons of more than 100, and 3 times leading the league.
 
#16-Giancarlo Stanton
Best category: WAR/162 (3rd)
Worst category: Games (85th)
 
The first of 2 active players in my top 25, Stanton in a lot of ways reminds me a lot of the next player up on the list (Darryl Strawberry).   There are differences, of course. Stanton bats right handed while Strawberry was a left handed hitter. They're both 6'6", but Stanton's quite a bit heavier (listed at 245 lbs. vs. Strawberry's 190), and Strawberry has a distinct edge in speed. But most of the rest of the batting line is pretty similar. Comparing them through age 29, seasonal notation:
 
Player
PA
R
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
CS
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
OPS+
Strawberry
667
97
27
4
36
108
26
11
85
141
.263
.359
.516
.875
144
Stanton
683
96
33
2
43
109
6
2
79
192
.268
.358
.547
.905
144
 
Stanton's K's are significantly higher, some of which is attributable to the context of today's games with record strikeout rates. And, as noted, Strawberry has a big edge in speed. But it's a pretty good match.   And, I hope for Stanton's sake, that the similarity doesn't continue, because age 30 is when Strawberry's career began to fall apart. 
 
Is Stanton the greatest Marlin of all time? I think you'd have to go with him. Not sure who would be next.....maybe Gary Sheffield or Hanley Ramirez. But I'd have to go with Stanton.
 
#15-Darryl Strawberry
Best category: All Star Games (7th)
Worst category: Games (48th)
 
I 've previously posted this fictional All Star team made up of the most successful #1 overall draft picks of all time, and this seems like a good place to repeat it, as Strawberry has been one of the better overall #1 selections in the history of the draft. The most productive #1 overall draft picks of all time have been Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Chipper Jones, clearly the cream of the crop. I would put Strawberry in the next tier, along with the likes of Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez, Harold Baines, David Price, Justin Upton, and Stephen Strasburg.
 
Here's the full fictional roster. I had to cheat a little to put King at second base because there were limited options there, but he did play over 100 games at second:
 
Position
Name
Career WAR
C
Joe Mauer 
55.3
1B
Adrian Gonzalez 
43.6
2B
Jeff King 
16.8
3B
Chipper Jones 
85.3
SS
Alex Rodriguez 
117.5
LF
Justin Upton 
34.4
CF
Ken Griffey Jr. 
83.8
RF
Darryl Strawberry 
42.2
DH
Harold Baines 
38.7
P
David Price 
39.4
P
Stephen Strasburg 
33.5
P
Andy Benes 
31.5
P
Mike Moore 
27.9
P
Floyd Bannister 
26.4
P
Tim Belcher 
26.0
P
Gerrit Cole 
23.9
P
Ben McDonald 
20.8
P
Kris Benson 
12.9
P
Luke Hochevar 
3.7
Res
B.J. Surhoff 
34.4
Res
Darin Erstad 
32.3
Res
Carlos Correa 
24.5
Res
Rick Monday 
33.1
Res
Bryce Harper 
31.8
Res
Josh Hamilton 
28.2
 
 
If you were to split players' careers by what % of their total was achieved before age 30 vs. after age 30, Strawberry would have one of the highest pre-30 figures. 40.3 (95.5%) of Strawberry's 42.2 career rWAR occurred in his age 29 season or before.  
 
Below are the highest pre-30 figures I'm could find among players with career rWARs of 30.0 or higher, using players with careers from  1901 or later. There are certainly several names (Garciaparra, Cedeno, Jones) that you probably would have anticipated seeing. Good players all, but it's also not difficult to imagine several of these players rising to the level of Hall of Fame status had they been able to sustain their value through their 30's. As it stands, none of them are likely to ever be elected, although Jones is still on the BBWAA ballot, so we'll see if he can continue to pick up support.
 
Player
Career rWAR
rWAR Prior to Age 30 Season
% Of Career Total Achieved Prior to Age 30
Johnny Callison
38.4
36.9
96.1%
Darryl Strawberry
42.2
40.3
95.5%
Donie Bush
39.3
37.2
94.7%
Jim Fregosi
48.7
45.9
94.3%
Harlond Clift
41.5
38.7
93.3%
Nomar Garciaparra
44.3
41.3
93.2%
Cesar Cedeno
52.8
49.2
93.2%
Eric Chavez
38.3
35.5
92.7%
Andruw Jones
62.7
58.0
92.5%
Paul Blair
37.7
34.6
91.8%
 
#14-Bobby Abreu
Best category: Win Shares and WAR7 (6th)
Worst category: MVP Points (51st)
 
The low performance in MVP Points just serves to emphasize that Abreu is the Rodney Dangerfield of right fielders...."no respect, no respect at all".
 
You probably are familiar with the nickname of Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer, who was known as "The Mechanical Man". The observation about Gehringer was that "you wind him up Opening Day and forget him." If I had a vote, I think I would support Abreu as the modern day embodiment of that sentiment. 
 
Abreu had amazing consistency. From 1988-2004, which represents his first 7 seasons as a regular for the Phillies, he played 150 or more games each year, and his seasonal rWAR figures were 6.4, 6.1, 6.2, 5.2, 5.8, 5.4, and 6.6. He hit .300+ every year in that span except for one, when he hit a "mere" .289. He reached a .400 OBP every year in that span except for one, and that one was .393.  He basically hit 20 to 30 home runs every year, give or take a homer here or there. He stole 20 to 40 bases a year. With a couple of exceptions, he consistently reached the century mark annually in runs, RBI, and walks. I'm not sure I've ever seen a hitter perform so consistently over a broad range of categories for such an extended period of time. Maybe Eddie Murray, but I'm not sure that even he was this consistent.
 
So, why didn't Abreu do better in award voting, and why didn't he generate much support in his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot last year (when he only got 5.5% of the vote)? Some of it may be poor timing. Abreu's best years with the Phillies came just before they had their great run of dominance in the NL East. In Abreu's 9 seasons with the Phillies, they, like him, were consistently good, but not good enough. They were generally in the 80's in wins, but not quite good enough to make the postseason. They finished 2nd four times and 3rd four times. They never made the playoffs. Then, the season after they traded him to the Yankees, the Phillies got really good, reeling off 5 straight division titles, going to 2 World Series and winning one.   Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, Cole Hamels, and Roy Halladay were the big names people associated with those clubs, and Abreu was long forgotten. Abreu only ended up making 3 postseason teams as a regular player (he also made one with the Astros when he was still up and coming as a youngster), and he never reached the World Series.
 
In addition, Abreu, I think suffered from an image of being "boring", which I know is subjective and seems like a strange tag to hang on someone who was so good in so many aspects of the game, but there was something coldly efficient about Abreu's game. On his Wikipedia page, it actually makes a couple of references as to his extreme patience at the plate, citing his high % of pitches taken and his low % of swinging at the first pitch. I've heard people describe watching Abreu's approach to hitting as "excruciating". That seems a little over the top, but I do think a lot of fans reacted that way to his style. He was very effective and very productive, but I think he lacked a certain "sizzle", for lack of a better word. Not my impression, mind you....that's just my impression of how he was perceived.
 
He was a helluva player. I just don't expect to see him elected to the Hall of Fame.
 
#13-Mookie Betts
Best category: WAR/162 and Win Shares/162 (1st in each)
Worst category: Games (121st)
 
A classic example of what often occurs in this methodology. Betts is basically off the charts on the "per 162" categories (in part because he's in his prime and still quite a bit away from experiencing his decline phase) and low in some of the categories that reward accumulation (such as games) because he's only 6 seasons into his career. As such, he ends up somewhere in the middle of the top 25, but his ranking is subject to a great deal of potential volatility in the coming years. He could fall back....or he could legitimately zoom to the top, and that's not an exaggeration.   Outside of someone like a Mike Trout (who I already have at the top of the 50-year center field rankings) or Albert Pujols, who is active but getting near the end of his career, Betts is the one active position player who I think has a real shot at finishing atop his position. That's not a prediction that he will.....only that he has established a bona fide chance to do it.
 
To get an idea of how Betts' career is shaping up, here's a list of all position players who had generated rWARs of 35.0 or higher through their age 26 season (since 1901). There are 34 players on the list (Betts has the 22nd highest figure of the 34):
 
Player
rWAR
Mike Trout*
64.6
Ty Cobb
63.3
Mickey Mantle
61.3
Rogers Hornsby
56.9
Alex Rodriguez
55.2
Jimmie Foxx
53.5
Mel Ott
52.2
Arky Vaughan
50.3
Ken Griffey Jr.
50.0
Tris Speaker
48.7
Hank Aaron
46.8
Albert Pujols*
46.1
Frank Robinson
46.1
Eddie Collins
45.9
Eddie Mathews
45.1
Al Kaline
44.6
Rickey Henderson
44.1
Babe Ruth
43.9
Joe DiMaggio
43.7
Johnny Bench
43.3
Andruw Jones
42.4
Mookie Betts*
41.8
Barry Bonds
41.3
Willie Mays
40.6
Vada Pinson
40.2
Cesar Cedeno
40.0
Lou Gehrig
39.2
Stan Musial
38.6
Cal Ripken Jr.
37.8
Sherry Magee
37.6
Robin Yount
37.5
Manny Machado*
36.7
George Brett
36.2
Ron Santo
35.9
 
* = Active player
 
Of the 34, 4 are still active (Trout, Betts, Machado, Pujols).   One is retired and not eligible yet for the Hall of Fame (A-Rod). Of the other 29, 2 are still on the ballot (Jones, Bonds), and 3 were not elected by the writers (Pinson, Cedeno, Magee). The other 24 are in the Hall. So, you could conclude that players reaching this threshold by age 26 have an 80% or better shot of reaching the Hall.
 
Although, when you look at it more closely.....the level that Betts is at (41.8) is right about the same mark as Pinson, Jones, and Cedeno, all of whom fell off dramatically after their quick starts. So, Betts is in some lofty company, and I think he's still shaping up for a really strong career, but it's no guarantee.
 
How about if you look at WAR rate? Here are the highest rWAR per 162 game figures through age 26 (again, 1901 or later). I'm including everyone at 8.0 or higher. Betts is 12th on this list:
 
Player
G
rWAR
WAR/162 Games
Babe Ruth
685
43.9
10.4
Mike Trout
1,065
64.6
9.8
Ted Williams
586
34.1
9.4
Rogers Hornsby
1,012
56.9
9.1
Mickey Mantle
1,102
61.3
9.0
Ty Cobb
1,143
63.3
9.0
Eddie Collins
861
45.9
8.6
Willie Mays
762
40.6
8.6
Tris Speaker
915
48.7
8.6
Joe DiMaggio
825
43.7
8.6
Shoeless Joe Jackson
601
31.7
8.5
Mookie Betts
794
41.8
8.5
Lou Gehrig
767
39.2
8.3
Stan Musial
760
38.6
8.2
Arky Vaughan
997
50.3
8.2
Alex Rodriguez
1,114
55.2
8.0
Albert Pujols
933
46.1
8.0
 
As always, there are some nuances to the numbers, as Ruth only had about 3 seasons as a regular position player through age 26, having spent much of his earlier years as a pitcher, and Williams only had 4 full seasons through age 26 having missed 3 seasons due to military service.
 
The Hall of Fame success rate is even higher among this group than it was in the earlier list. The only non-active player above Betts who isn't in the Hall is Shoeless Joe, and the ones right below him are either in or locks to be in (with the exception of A-Rod, who is certainly qualified but we don't know how the voters will handle him yet).
 
So, what Betts is doing at an early age is phenomenal. Will he continue? Or will he follow the Pinson/Cedeno/Jones path? 
 
If you go back to the first table, the 31 non-active players, on average, were only about 44% of the way towards their eventual career rWARs. If you apply that to Betts, it would imply that he would be headed to an eventual career rWAR of around 95, which would be an impressive figure.   That would put him in the Yastrzemski/Clemente/Kaline neighborhood.   I wouldn't project him quite that high.
 
Now, 44% was the average, but the range of that group was from a low of about 25% of eventual career value (Willie Mays & Barry Bonds) to a high of about 75% (Pinson & Cedeno). The Bonds/Mays path would project him to a career rWAR of over 160, which no reasonable person would expect. The Pinson/Cedeno route would project him to around 56 or so, and even that would be a very nice career total.   I think those are the boundaries.
 
Where do I expect him to land? I'm thinking in the 70-80 range, and that would be a helluva career. That feels about right to me.    That's not exactly a lock for the Hall of Fame even at the level, but it's a very valuable career. And if he keeps on like he's been going, he could eventually challenge for the top of these rankings.   Guess we won't know for another decade or so, when I do my 60-year review (be sure to pencil that in your planner).
 
#12-Sammy Sosa
Best category: WAR7 and Win Shares 7 (3rd in each)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (25th)
 
I've always felt that Sosa is a challenging player to evaluate, quite possibly the hardest one among those who are commonly associated with the "steroid era". I mean, even those who are most vocal that Clemens and Bonds should not be enshrined in the Hall of Fame will acknowledge that they were great players. Their dispute with those two is often along the lines of feeling that they violated the so-called "character clause", thus disrespecting the game, and therefore do not deserve to be honored. 
 
People who oppose Rafael Palmeiro's induction tend to do so on the fact that he was "caught" and that he wasn't forthright about it, but his stats, at least in seasonal form, don't really look unbelievable. Mark McGwire has many detractors, but I think most people will admit that he was a legitimate power hitter from the moment he entered the league, and that taking steroids probably helped provide him the opportunity to stay healthier. But the capability to hit 50+ homers was there, and so no one found it all that unbelievable, at least in the moment, that he could hit 60 or more.
 
Sosa's case and public perception, I think, are a little different, especially in hindsight.   I'm sure many associate Sosa with steroids, although, as far as I know, nothing's ever been substantiated. Yet, Sosa's Hall of Fame voting results have mostly hovered in the single-digits. Why? I think Sosa's stats probably more than any of the big names associated with that era, took on a aura of un-believability. Something doesn't look right, something doesn't smell right. The stats don't quite seem credible.
 
Several seasons into his career, Sosa was a good player, but I suspect very few thought of him as a great player.  Here's what Sosa looked like through age 28, basically 7 full seasons:
 
Year
G
PA
R
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS+
Total
1,088
4,374
593
162
33
207
642
199
277
1,027
.257
.308
.469
107
Per 162
162
651
88
24
5
31
96
30
41
153
.257
.308
.469
107
 
He had a career rWAR of just over 22, or about 3.0 per full season. He was a good player, an exciting player, a 30-30 type of player. But very flawed. He had a 4:1 K/BB ratio. He had a poor OBP.   His OPS+ of 107 was decent, but far from elite. 
 
And then he changed. He exploded. He transformed. Sure, that can happen to a player, but I think the perception of many, especially in hindsight, fairly or unfairly, was that something just wasn't right.   
 
One other interesting I noticed about Sosa was his relative lack of doubles, especially for someone who hit a lot of home runs.    I pulled a list of players with 300 or more career home runs. There are 148 such players, and, within that group, the ratio of doubles to homers averages right about 1:1, with just slightly more doubles than homers. Some, like George Brett, Rogers Hornsby, and Al Simmons, hit roughly 2 doubles for every homer. On the flip side, some homer a lot more than they double. Here are the hitters with 300+ career homers, but a double-to-homer ratio of less than .70:
 
Player
HR
2B
2B/HR
SB
Mark McGwire
583
252
.432
12
Harmon Killebrew
573
290
.506
19
Dave Kingman
442
240
.543
85
Ralph Kiner
369
216
.585
22
Sammy Sosa
609
379
.622
234
Cecil Fielder
319
200
.627
2
Norm Cash
377
241
.639
43
Frank Howard
382
245
.641
8
Mickey Mantle
536
344
.642
153
Willie McCovey
521
353
.678
26
Eddie Mathews
512
354
.691
68
 
McGwire and Killebrew kind of dominate this group in terms of how extremely low their ratios were, but Sosa's pretty high (low?) on the list as well. But what makes Sosa's presence in this group especially interesting to me is that, aside from Mantle, one of the notable characteristics of this group is that it is not just sluggers, but "sluggish" sluggers.   Hulking first base/left field types except for Mantle and Sosa (well, Mathews isn't a first base/left field type, but he's definitely a slugger).    Sosa and Mantle are the only ones on the list who I would consider to have really good speed, and Sosa's way out in front of everyone in terms of stolen bases. But for whatever reason, Sosa's game just didn't translate to a lot of doubles.
 
#11-Gary Sheffield
Best category: Win Shares & Win Shares 7 (2nd)
Worst category: WAR/162 (23rd)
 
Do you remember the old adage about how you had to be a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games in a season? You don't hear it quite as much anymore because losing 20 has become pretty uncommon (Mike Maroth in 2003 is the most recent occurrence, and prior to him you have to go back to Brian Kingman in 1980), but it was still pretty common as recently as the 1970's - Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Wilbur Wood, Jerry Koosman, Mickey Lolich, Steve Rogers all had seasons with 20 or more losses. 
 
I suppose an updated version of that observation could be applied to defensive WAR (dWAR). It takes a pretty good player (and in particular, and pretty good hitter) to "compile" a dWAR of negative 20 or less. There are only 12 players who have "achieved" that level, and it's a pretty good group of players, mostly of the first base, left field, and DH variety:
 
Player
dWAR
HR
BA
OBP
SLG
Adam Dunn
-28.4
462
.237
.364
.490
Gary Sheffield
-27.7
509
.292
.393
.514
Frank Howard
-24.0
382
.273
.352
.499
Dave Winfield
-22.7
465
.283
.353
.475
Frank Thomas
-22.5
521
.301
.419
.555
Don Baylor
-22.5
338
.260
.342
.436
Manny Ramirez
-21.7
555
.312
.411
.585
Willie McCovey
-21.6
521
.270
.374
.515
Rusty Staub
-21.0
292
.279
.362
.431
David Ortiz
-20.9
541
.286
.380
.552
Prince Fielder
-20.5
319
.283
.382
.506
Greg Luzinski
-20.4
307
.276
.363
.478
 
Winfield is a bit of the odd man out here, as he actually had a very good defensive reputation and won several Gold Gloves, but the others are pretty much cut from the same cloth. Sheffield's also a little different from the others as he's they only one among that group who spent any time at third base (he had 468 games there, not to mention 94 at shortstop early in his career).   Anyway, it demonstrates how sometimes a number that is negative on the surface may imply other strengths. After all, Albert Pujols is the all time leader in double plays hit into and Reggie Jackson is the all-time strikeout leader among batters.
 
Sheffield has a nice increase in support in last year's BBWAA Hall of Fame vote, jumping from 13.6% to just over 30% in his 6th year on the ballot. He still has his work cut out for him, but he's actually ahead of where Larry Walker was a few years back, and Walker didn't reach 30% until his 8th year on the ballot. As I'm sure you know, the 2021 ballot will have a soft class of new candidates (Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, and Torii Hunter are probably the strongest ones to debut), so Sheffield is a good bet to continue to pick up support. As with many from his era, there are steroid suspicions and allegations, but I'm not sure how strong that particular sentiment is at this point towards Sheffield. In contrast to someone like Sosa, Sheffield's season results don't look highly suspicious in and of themselves, and maybe that's part of why he seems to be gaining some momentum while Sosa is still basically treading water.
 
Sheffield has one of my favorite baseball-reference.com page bio entries on his profile page. Under "Agents", it  lists "Himself". My favorite actually belongs to Pete Gray, the one-armed outfielder who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1945. It lists him as "Bats: Left    Throws: Left    Fields Left as well ".
 
Actually, I take that back....my very favorite belongs to Paul O'Neill. They list him as "Bats: Left  Throws: Left  Kicks: Left ",and they provide the link to the corresponding Youtube video.
 
#10-Bobby Bonds
Best category: Win Shares/162 (4th)
Worst category: All Star Games (26th)
 
Anyone who primarily thinks of Bonds as just "Barry's dad" is missing the boat.  I consider Bonds to be an terribly underrated player in the context of baseball history. He didn't hit for a great average and he struck out a lot, but he offset those by exhibiting strengths in several other areas - he was a good defensive player, drew a high number of walks, stole a lot of bases, and had excellent power. I do think one thing that has hurt his image was his lack of postseason appearances (only made the postseason once, in 1971 at age 25).
 
Bonds had a particular knack for scoring runs. He was an unusual leadoff hitter (about 50% of his games played were out of the leadoff slot) in that he had tremendous power, power that you would normally associate with someone lower in the batting order. I think the combination of hitting out of the leadoff slot, showing great power, getting on base at a good rate, and exhibiting good speed (during his prime, was stealing around 40 bases a year with close to an 80% success rate) contributed to his consistently high runs scored totals. 
 
During his best 5-year period (1969-1973), Bonds had a runs scored rate of nearly 0.8 per game, which is exceptional (it translates to about 127 runs score per 162 games played). Bonds led the league twice in runs scored, and exceeded 130 runs twice.   That last accomplishment is pretty rare - since 1970, the only other players who have reached 130 runs in a season multiple times are Alex Rodriguez (4 times), Todd Helton (3), and Rickey Henderson, Albert Pujols, Sammy Sosa, Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, and Jeff Bagwell all with 2 times each. 
 
Bonds is also one of the great power-speed players of all time. His son is the leader in power-speed number for a career, but Bobby holds the record for the most times leading the league in that metric:
 
Player
# Times Led League in Power-Speed Number
Bobby Bonds
9
Willie Mays
8
Barry Bonds
6
Mickey Mantle
5
Harry Davis
4
Rickey Henderson
4
Jackie Robinson
4
Alex Rodriguez
4
Alfonso Soriano
4
 
#9-Dwight Evans            
Best category: WAR (4th)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (32nd)
 
Like many other players that have been reviewed in this series, Evans' story is a tale of 2 careers, although if you simply looked at his overall career rWAR pattern, you might not suspect anything. Evans' career rWAR is 67.1. Prior to his age 30 season, he played 10 seasons and accumulated 33.0 of that WAR. From age 30 and after, he played another 10 seasons and generated the other 34.1. Nothing real earth-shattering about that split.  You do tend to see players, on average, realize about 60% or so of their career value prior to age 30, but a 50/50 split is really nothing noteworthy.
 
However, the manner in which Evans accumulated those figures tells a deeper story. Here's how his career looks when summarized by offensive and defensive WAR figures (remembering that you can't just simply add oWAR and dWAR together to get total rWAR because of how the positional adjustments are accounted for):
 
Age
oWAR
dWAR
rWAR
20-29
22.0
6.9
33.0
30-39
38.5
-10.7
34.1
 
Now, did Evans really get that much worse defensively as he aged? I don't know. But I don't think anyone would question that, at least offensively, Evans was a much better player in his 30's vs. his 20's. 
 
Evans dropped off the BBWAA ballot after his 3rd attempt in 1999, having peaked at around 10% on his second year. Even though he's been a popular candidate in certain circles, he never appeared on another ballot until this past year, when he was one of the candidates on the 2020 Modern Era ballot. He did pretty well, getting 50% of the votes (8 out of 16), which was the highest total aside from the 2 individuals (Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons) who were elected. This certainly bodes well for Evans to return to the ballot the next time the Modern Era group comes up, and you have to like his chances to get elected at some point.
 
#8-Dave Parker
Best category: MVP Points (3rd)
Worst category: WAR/162 (55th)
 
Parker occupies the #8 slot in my right field listing, which is the same one Jim Rice fell into among the left fielders, and there are a lot of similarities between the two. One in particular is that, it seems to me, both of them have lost some luster since their peak playing periods, as I think both were considered, at least at the time, to be among baseball's elite players in the late 1970's. I say this even in the case of Rice who, after all, is in the Hall of Fame.   However, it took him 15 tries, and you can find many opinions that he is not considered to be a particularly worthy Hall of Fame (I don't agree with those, but there's no shortage of those opinions).
 
As to the parallels - Parker played from 1973 to 1991, Rice from 1974 to 1989. Parker's strongest category in my system was MVP points. So was Rice's. They each won 1 MVP award, and they were in the same year (1978). Both of them had multiple other top-5 MVP finishes. Parker's weakest category was WAR/162. So was Rice's. Parker was named to 7 All Star teams, Rice was named to 8. 
 
Admittedly, this is a fairly narrow time slice, but if you isolate 1977 to 1979, which places their MVP seasons right in the center, Rice and Parker were certainly among the elite players in the game during that span. By rWAR, they were right behind Schmidt and Brett:
 
WAR leaders 1977-1979:
 
Player
r WAR
Mike Schmidt
           23.0
George Brett
           21.6
Dave Parker
           21.1
Jim Rice
           19.1
George Foster
           18.4
Dave Winfield
           18.0
Rod Carew
           17.3
Gary Carter
           17.1

 
Parker certainly qualifies as a "power" hitter, but he wasn't really a big home run type of hitter. He was more of a doubles kind of guy. In the Sammy Sosa profile, I listed hitters who had 300 or more home runs but had a low ratio of doubles to home runs. This is the flip side of that list - 300+ home run hitters who had a high ratio of doubles to homers. 
 
Player
HR
2B
2B/HR
George Brett
317
665
2.10
Ivan Rodriguez
311
572
1.84
Rogers Hornsby
301
541
1.80
Al Simmons
307
539
1.76
Robinson Cano
324
562
1.73
Luis Gonzalez
354
596
1.68
Edgar Martinez
309
514
1.66
Scott Rolen
316
517
1.64
Todd Helton
369
592
1.60
Dave Parker
339
526
1.55
 
I've made my case for Parker's inclusion in the Hall of Fame many times before, so I won't belabor the point. I think he's a deserving candidate. I think the main things keeping him out now are that a) his early 1980's foray into drugs and b) his career rWAR of around 40 is generally not a level that you see in Hall of Famers.
 
You don't see Bill's Keltner List approach deployed quite as much as you used to in Hall of Fame evaluations, but I think it's still a valuable exercise to go through when asking yourself whether someone is a good Hall of Fame candidate. If you do that exercise honestly for Parker, you get a pretty high number of "yes" answers, including the very first question, which is "Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody suggest, while he was active, that he was the best player in baseball?". In most evaluations, this answer tends to be a "no", because that's a pretty high standard to meet. In Parker's case, though, I think it's a "yes". At the very least, even if you don't think he was ever the very best, he was certainly and legitimately in the conversation in the late 1970's.
 
I do have a soft spot in my heart for Parker. He was born in Mississippi, but his family moved to Cincinnati when he was 5 and graduated high school from here. As someone who grew up and lives in the area, the folks around here definitely think of him as a hometown guy, and he remains popular in these parts. He signed with the Reds prior to the 1984 season and played 4 seasons for the team, and was a big part of their return to respectability after some dreadful seasons in the early 1980's. In particular, his 1985 season was one of the more memorable individual Reds seasons for me, as he absolutely carried the offense. I mean, in baseball, it's really hard for a single player to truly "carry" an offense, because there's only so much one player in a 9-player batting order can do, but Parker was truly a standout in that particular year. There was virtually no help for him, particularly in the area of other power threats.
 
Per baseball-reference.com, these were the "regulars" for the 1985 Reds:
 
Pos
Name
Age
G
PA
R
2B
HR
RBI
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS+
C
Dave Van Gorder
28
73
166
12
7
2
24
0
0.238
.280
.325
67
1B
Pete Rose
44
119
501
60
12
2
46
8
0.264
.395
.319
99
2B
Ron Oester
29
152
584
59
26
1
34
5
0.295
.354
.361
98
SS
Dave Concepcion
37
155
620
59
19
7
48
16
0.252
.314
.330
78
3B
Buddy Bell
33
67
284
28
15
6
36
0
0.219
.311
.368
87
LF
Nick Esasky
25
125
464
61
21
21
66
3
0.262
.332
.465
118
CF
Eddie Milner
30
145
520
82
19
3
33
35
0.254
.342
.347
90
RF
Dave Parker
34
160
694
88
42
34
125
5
0.312
.365
.551
149
 
Some good "names" there, but Rose was well past his prime at age 44, Concepcion was 37 and getting near the end, and Bell, who came over from the Rangers mid-season, was having a horrible year. Aside from Parker, the only halfway decent threat in the lineup was Esasky, who was the only other regular besides Parker to even drive in 50 runs that year, and was the only one above the 100 mark in OPS+. Parker by himself was responsible for 30% of the team's total home runs that year (34 of 114) and 20% of the team's RBI total. Those aren't anywhere near records, but they're impressive nonetheless. My memory, flawed though it may be, was that Parker got an awful lot of big hits that season.
 
The Reds were about league average in both runs scored and runs allowed that season, and had an expected W-L record of 82-79, but they beat that by a full 7 games to go 89-72. It wasn't enough to make the playoffs (they finished 2nd to the Dodgers), but Parker did finish a strong 2nd place in the MVP voting to Willie McGee. 
 
#7-Reggie Smith
Best category: WAA(2nd)
Worst category: MVP Points (22nd)
 
I believe Smith is one of the more underrated players ever. He was well-rounded and consistent, but didn't have a lot of eye-catching, big years. His best season was probably 1977, and he did finish 4th in the MVP balloting that year. I remember him mostly as a right fielder, but he played almost as many games in center field (808 vs. 879 in right), with most of his time in CF occurring with the Red Sox.
 
Smith only lasted one year on the BBWAA ballot, and only received 3 votes.   I have to wonder if he will ever come up on another Hall of Fame ballot. I think he's essentially as good a candidate as Dwight Evans, who got 50% of the Modern Era Ballot vote last year.   I think Smith's chances of ever making it are slim. But he was a very good, consistent, well-rounded ballplayer, and I have him at #7.
 
Smith reminds me a lot of Eddie Murray. Both were switch hitters, and I would characterize both as very quiet, effective ball players.   Their career rWARs are similar, and their seasonal rWARs are pretty similar as well.   Here are their seasonal figures side by side, arranged from high to low:
 
Murray Year
Murray rWAR
Smith
Year
Smith rWAR
1984
7.1
1970
6.7
1983
6.7
1977
6.1
1985
5.6
1971
5.6
1982
5.2
1974
5.5
1990
5.2
1973
5.1
1979
4.9
1969
4.9
1980
4.5
1968
4.8
1978
4.3
1978
4.5
1986
4.1
1980
4.3
1987
3.9
1972
4.0
1981
3.7
1967
3.4
1977
3.2
1982
2.8
1988
3.2
1975
2.6
1995
2.4
1976
2.6
1989
2.0
1979
1.9
1992
1.6
1976
0.2
1991
1.3
1981
(0.1)
1993
1.1
1966
(0.3)
1994
(0.1)
n/a
n/a
1996
(0.3)
n/a
n/a
1997
(1.0)
n/a
n/a
Total
68.7
Total
64.6
 
 
#6-Larry Walker
Best category: WAA (1st)
Worst category: Games (19th)
 
Walker is also 2nd in all of the WAR categories (WAR, WAR7, WAR/162).
 
Walker had one of the great BBWAA Hall of Fame voting surges of all time. After debuting in the low 20's, he dropped to as low as 10% when the ballot started getting crowded with big names. Beginning in 2014 and over the next several years, names like Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Randy Johnson, Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Rodriguez, and Piazza tended to dominate the ballot, and Walker had to compete for attention. Walker was sitting at 22% after his 7th attempt, and was a real long shot.   But, he received 34%, 55%, and 76% over his last 3 tries to squeak in on his 10th and final attempt
 
I think Walker is one of the great conundrums of our time. How do you properly evaluate him? Do the stats that adjust for context (WAR, OPS+, etc.) do an adequate job? Or is Walker primarily a by-product of his surroundings? I still wrestle with it, although I do think Walker, taking everything into account, probably deserves his Hall of Fame status. 
 
In his early years, Walker was clearly a talented player, although nothing really screamed Hall of Famer. Over his 6 seasons with the Expos, Walker slashed .281/.357/.483 with a 128 OPS+. Good, but not really elite. So did he get better after he went to the Rockies, or did just his stats get better? Or was it some combination of both?
 
Walker was having one of the all time great "double" seasons in 1994 when the strike hit. Here are the only players (since 1901) who had a double-to-games played ratio of 0.40 or higher (Chuck Knoblauch, in the same season, was right there with him).   The list is sorted by doubles per game:
 
Player
2B
G
Year
2B/G
Tm
Lg
Earl Webb
67
151
1931
0.444
BOS
AL
Larry Walker
44
103
1994
0.427
MON
NL
George Burns
64
151
1926
0.424
CLE
AL
Joe Medwick
64
155
1936
0.413
STL
NL
Chuck Knoblauch
45
109
1994
0.413
MIN
AL
Hank Greenberg
63
153
1934
0.412
DET
AL
Gee Walker
55
134
1936
0.410
DET
AL
Paul Waner
62
154
1932
0.403
PIT
NL
 
As the presence of Knoblauch and Walker implies, it's an entirely different thing to achieve this kind of rate over a full season, but it would have been interesting to see if either of them would have been able to make a run at Webb's record of 67.
 
#5-Dave Winfield
Best category: Games (1st)
Worst category: WAR/162 (33rd)
 
Long, consistent career. For the most part, didn't have big, eye-catching type of seasons. His Black Ink Score for leading the league in various categories was a very low figure of 4. He led the NL in RBI, Total Bases, OPS+, and intentional walks in 1979, which was by far his best offensive season.  
 
I hate to keep using Eddie Murray as a benchmark (like I just did in the Reggie Smith comment), but Winfield also had a lot of similarity in his seasonal performances to Murray (who also happens to be Winfield's #1 Similarity Score comp). Similarity Scores focus on similarity of career totals, but the 2 players also had similar patterns of individual seasons and some other key metrics. Below is a little comparison of Murray vs. Winfield across the 4 metrics that baseball-reference.com lists in its "Hall of Fame Statistics" section, as well as how many seasons each had at various levels of rWAR:
 
 
 
 
Name
 
 
Black Ink
 
 
Gray Ink
 
 
HOF Monitor
 
 
HOF Std
 
 
Total WAR
Yrs WAR >= 7.0
Yrs WAR 6.0-6.99
Yrs WAR 5.0-5.99
Yrs WAR 4.0-4.99
Yrs WAR 3.0-3.99
Yrs WAR 2.00-2.99
Murray
11
181
154
56
68.7
1
1
3
4
4
2
Winfield
4
152
148
56
64.2
1
0
4
2
4
4
HOF Avg /Level
27
144
100
50
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
 
To recap the above....neither Murray nor Winfield led the league in much of anything (low black ink scores), but they were pretty good at placing in the top 10 (gray ink). They both accumulated plenty of Hall of Fame credentials, and were better than average at reaching Hall of Fame standards. Their WAR distributions were pretty similar as well.....they didn't have a lot of high-end WAR seasons, but each accumulated 10 or more seasons in the still-valuable range of between 3.0-6.0. Neither one won an MVP award, but each had several in which they were solid candidates.
 
Winfield, for such a good player who played such a long time, didn't make the postseason very often. Believe it or not, he only appeared in the postseason twice - in his first season with the Yankees in 1981 (the split season), and then as a 40-year old DH in 1992 for the Blue Jays, where he won his lone World Series championship. Like Don Mattingly, Winfield had the misfortune of spending most of his years with the Yankees during one of their rare extended down periods.
 
#4-Vladimir Guerrero
Best category: MVP Points (4th)
Worst category: Games (13th)
 
When I think of Guerrero these days, what comes to mind for me is not so much his Hall of Fame career, but that he is the most prominent member of one of the most prolific families in baseball. They're not quite on the level of the Bells or the Boones or the Alou/Rojas family in terms of accumulated Major League value, but they're definitely one to keep an eye on.
 
Vlad, of course, you know. And you probably know Vlad's brother Wilton (more on him later). And, Vlad's son, Vladimir Jr., is already making a name for himself after an excellent rookie season in 2019. 
 
Branching out further on the Guerrero family tree, though, you discover that there were 3 other brothers that were either in organized baseball themselves and/or are connected to a new generation of Guerreros:
 
Eleazar Guerrero signed with the Dodgers but never reached the Majors. He has 2 sons currently playing - Gabriel, age 26, who debuted in the Majors with the Reds in 2018 and is currently an outfielder in the Toronto organization, and Josue, age 20, currently an outfielder in the White Sox organization.
 
Aurelia Guerrero didn't play organized ball, but he has had 2 sons in the Mets organization - second baseman Gregory, age21, and Jose age 24, a pitcher (although I don't believe Jose is currently affiliated with an organization).
 
The last brother is Julio Cesar Guerrero, who signed with Boston, and reached class A in 2001, but never advanced beyond that. 
 
In all, that's 9 Guerreros with at least some organized baseball experience.
 
Vlad and Wilton had to be one of the most "mis-matched" brother combinations to ever appear in the Majors. Let's define that a little better, because that could mean different things to different people. When I think of mismatches, I'm thinking of 3 primary things:
 
1) Quality of play
2) Positions played
3) Physical characteristics
 
An example of a "quality of play" mismatch would be Hank and Tommie Aaron. Others would include the likes of Honus & Butts Wagner, and Josse & Ozzie Canseco. However, these brother pairs weren't all that dissimilar in terms of where they played on the diamond
 
In the "positions played" mismatch area, some examples would be the Alomars (Roberto & Sandy Jr.), the Hoffmans (Trevor & Glenn), and the Ferrells (Wes & Rick). 
 
For the Alomars, Roberto was a second baseman and Sandy Jr. was a catcher. Sandy Jr. was also 5 inches taller, and Roberto was a much better player, so they are definitely in the running for the biggest mismatch. However, they were both quality players. Roberto's a Hall of Famer and Sandy Jr. isn't, so they're not terribly close by that evaluation, but Sandy Jr. had a 20 year career and was a 6 time All Star. He wasn't a dud. He was a good, quality player. 
 
The Hoffmans are mismatched in terms of both quality of play and position (Trevor a pitcher, Glenn an infielder) but they aren't that dissimilar physically. And the Ferrells - well, Wes (pitcher) was bigger than Rick (catcher), so they hit on 2 of the checkmarks, and you can argue that Wes was a much better player, but Rick was an 8-time All Star and is in the Hall of Fame. You can say he's not deserving and that if one Ferrell should be in, then it should be Wes, but they were both good players, so they don't quite check the last box.
 
In the "physical characteristics"' area, one example could be Felipe, Jesus, and Matty Alou. Felipe was 6'0", 195, Jesus was 6'2", 190, while Matty was 5'9", 160. It's kind of funny in one way, because Felipe and Jesus were fairly similar physically, but Jesus and Matty were more similar in terms of playing style (Felipe had a lot more power than the other two). But, all of the Alous were primarily outfielders. So, they don't really check all 3 boxes either.
 
Venturing into other combinations - you have the Waners, where Paul had a lot more pop that brother Lloyd, but they were both good players and, despite the "Big Poison"/"Little Poison" nicknames that were hung on them as Brooklyn-ese for "Big Person"/"Little Person", they were actually listed as very similar physically - about 1" and about 3 pounds difference.
 
The DiMaggio brothers (Joe, Dom, Vince) represent a pretty good range of height/weight figures, and Joe was obviously the best of the 3, but they were all quality players, and they all played the same position.
 
Bill and George Dickey? Again, big differences in quality, but they were similar physically and they both were catchers.
 
How about the Delahanty brothers? There's a great range of quality (Ed was great, Jim was good, the others didn't amount to much), and they ranged from about 5'8" to 6'1", but they were all in the 160-175 pound range, and there's a pretty good range of positions. Bottom line is that 5 is getting to be more than I can handle, so I'd rather just move on.....
 
And on it goes....Dizzy and Paul Dean had a difference in quality but were both starting pitchers. Mort and Walker Cooper were pitcher and catcher, but both were quality players and similar physically. Bob and Irish Meusel had some physical differences, but both were quality players and they were both outfielders. George and Ken Brett had a big difference in quality, but were similar physically.   Barry Larkin, Johnny Evers, Buck Ewing, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Eddie Murray, George Kell, John Clarkson, Stan Coveleski, Roger Connor, Fred Clarke, Christy Mathewson..... these were all Hall of Famers with brothers who didn't amount to much in the Majors, but they generally had at least some physical similarity or position similarity, or both.  
 
And that's generally the challenge....you can find many cases of mismatches on 1 or 2 of the characteristics, but finding mismatches on all 3 is difficult.   I did find Tom & Mike Glavine - Tom being a 6'0", 175 pound Hall of Fame pitcher, while Mike was a 6'3", 210 pound first baseman with 7 career plate appearances. You'd have to say they were pretty dissimilar. 
 
All of which brings us back to Vlad and Wilton Guerrero, who I think are the greatest brotherly mismatch of all time. The real question with them is, is there anything even remotely similar about them?
 
As to quality of play - obviously a huge difference, as Vlad is a Hall of Famer while Wilton was no more than a part-time player. Wilton hit 11 home runs in his career - Vlad once hit 12 home runs in a month. And even looking at something like walks, Vlad, who was known as someone who would swing at anything, still had a reasonably decent walk rate of about 8% of his plate appearances, and was generally good for 50-60 walks a year. Not a lot, but not too bad. Wilton, however, had one of the lowest walk rates of the past 50 years - he only walked in about 3.5% of his plate appearances, and only accumulated 64 walks in his entire career.
 
Position-wise, outside of the games where he was a DH, Vlad was a right fielder 99.8% of the time when he played the field, where as Wilton only had 27 career games in right field, and only played right field in 2 different seasons. Wilton was much more of a utility type, never playing more than 100 games in a season at any single position, and he ended up playing every field position except for catcher.
 
And physically - well, I think that's the kicker. Vlad was 6'3", 235 pounds, while Wilton was 5'11", 145 pounds. The 90 pound difference is the largest weight discrepancy between 2 brothers that I could find. In addition, Vlad was strictly a right handed hitter, while Wilton switch hit.
 
So, I say the Guerrero brothers win the prize for the biggest brotherly mismatch ever. Any others that I'm missing? Probably so, and I'm sure you'll let me know.....
 
#3-Ichiro Suzuki
Best category: WAR7, All Star Games, Games (4th in each)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (46th)
 
It seems like every couple of years or so a thread pops up on the Reader Posts section of Bill James Online that explores Suzuki's career, and it's usually related to one of a couple of different themes:
 
1) The question of whether or not Suzuki should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer
2) The question of whether he was really all that great of a hitter.
 
As to the first one, all I can say is that, regardless of whether anyone thinks he deserves it or not, my expectation is that Suzuki will sail into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, probably with a vote total well above 90%, maybe even over 95%. And, in my opinion, deservedly so. He is overwhelmingly qualified by the standards of the Hall of Fame. Some people will point out that his career rWAR is "only" 59.7, which to some people is kind of a borderline Hall of Fame level, and therefore he wasn't all that great. More on that later.
 
Suzuki's detractors will also reference his career totals in areas such as OBP (.355) and OPS+ (107) and point out that those are OK, but not great, and that the OBP in particular is nothing to get excited about for someone whose primary role was as a leadoff hitter. However, I think in Ichiro's case, looking simply at his literal MLB career totals fails to capture just how good he really was.
 
In my opinion, the underlying problem in Ichiro's literal career totals is that they really don't reflect his true value since his career path was such an unusual one on both ends. That is, he not only debuted in the Majors relatively late, much later than a player of his ability would typically debut, but he also hung around an exceedingly long time on the back end, and the combination of those 2 facts had a significant negative impact on what his MLB career numbers look like. 
 
Everyone knows that Suzuki was a star for several years in Japan prior to beginning his Major League career, but I don't think most people adequately account for that. In fact, he wasn't just a star....he won 3 straight MVP's (in his first 3 full seasons, at ages 20-22), was a 7-time batting champ, and shattered several records, including the records for hits and batting average in a season. I have no doubt that, if he had played Major League baseball from the beginning, his career totals, stellar as they already are, would be vastly better.
 
So, what I'm going to take a stab at is to try and estimate what Suzuki's MLB numbers might look like if he had an opportunity to play in MLB from the beginning of his career. We do have access to Suzuki's Japanese league stats, and even though we can't take them at face value, they do provide some framework for this exercise
 
Below are Suzuki's stats from his years in Japan, which represent his age 18-26 seasons:
 
Year
Age
G
PA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
CS
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
1992
18
40
99
9
24
5
0
0
5
3
2
3
11
.253
.276
.305
1993
19
43
67
4
12
2
0
1
3
0
2
2
7
.188
.212
.266
1994
20
130
616
111
210
41
5
13
54
29
7
51
53
.385
.445
.549
1995
21
130
613
104
179
23
4
25
80
49
9
68
52
.342
.432
.544
1996
22
130
611
104
193
24
4
16
84
35
3
56
57
.356
.422
.504
1997
23
135
607
94
185
31
4
17
91
39
4
62
36
.345
.414
.513
1998
24
135
558
79
181
36
3
13
71
11
4
43
35
.358
.414
.518
1999
25
103
468
80
141
27
2
21
68
12
1
45
46
.343
.412
.572
2000
26
105
459
73
153
22
1
12
73
21
1
54
36
.387
.460
.539
Total
-
951
4,098
658
1,278
211
23
118
529
199
33
384
333
.353
.427
.522
 
Impressive, to be sure, but we can't just take those stats as is and plug them in. There are necessary adjustments for differences in quality and type of play, there are adjustments that need to be made for season length (the standard length of the season in Japan was around 130 games during Ichiro's time, and I believe it's more like 140 now), and we have to make some other assumptions that will impact individual categories. Sounds like good, clean fun.....
 
As a starting point, I think it would be reasonable to presume Suzuki would have played 5 years through age 26 in the Majors. I could have presumed 7 or more, as he played 7 full seasons in Japan, but I'd rather err on the conservative side. Let's assume Ichiro would have been a regular by age 22, and that he would have still been in the minor leagues during his age 20 and 21 seasons (which were excellent seasons for him in Japan). That may be unfair to Ichrio, but it seems like a good compromise because I don't want to overstate his case. I'm also going to assume that he would have averaged 155 games played per season during that time frame.
 
In adjusting stats, I think it's reasonable for most of his stats to come down some on a per game or per plate appearance basis to reflect a more difficult level of competition. In particular, I think Ichiro's home runs and walk rates would both have been significantly less if he played in MLB during this time. He homered in about 3% of his plate appearances and walked in about 9% of his plate appearances in Japan. Those need to come down some to be realistic. I came up with rates of around 1.4% and 6.3%, a little bit above his MLB career rates from age 27 and older but consistent with what he was doing in his first several MLB seasons. I think those are reasonable estimates of what he might have done in MLB during his early years.
 
I also think he would lose some points off his batting average, but I'm not going to take him down too far. After all, he did hit .350 in his first MLB season, and .339 over his first 4 MLB seasons (ages 27-30). He probably wouldn't have hit .353 over his early seasons like he did in Japan, but I suspect he could have managed .330 or better.
 
Sparing you all of the other in-between math steps, which include adjustments to make the games and plate appearances make sense, below is my estimate for what a young Ichiro Suzuki would have done in the Majors through age 26. 
 
·         The first line recaps his actual stats from 7 full time and 2 part-time seasons in Japan through age 26

·         The second line is my estimate for what he would have done over 5 MLB seasons by the same age (again, I'm presuming that he would not have started his MLB career until age 22). 
 
Line
G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
CS
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
Actual
951
4,098
3,619
658
1,278
211
23
118
529
199
33
384
333
.353
.427
.522
Estimated
775
3,401
3,147
544
1,056
142
18
49
329
165
41
214
332
.335
.384
.439
 
The totals are lower on the second line because, even though I have him playing more games per season since he would be playing an MLB schedule, I only have him playing 5 seasons instead of the 7 full seasons plus 2 partial ones that he played in Japan.
 
Here's what those 2 sets figures would look like translated to a seasonal notation (per 162 games) so that they are easier to compare the impact.
 
Line
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
CS
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
 Actual
698
616
112
218
36
4
20
90
34
6
65
57
.353
.427
.522
Estimated
711
658
114
221
30
4
10
69
35
9
45
69
.335
.384
.439
 
Why did the plate appearances go and at bats go up? It was another subtle adjustment because Ichiro, to my understanding, tended to hit second or lower in Japan, where as I am assuming he would have been leading off in MLB during that same time, and he would have picked up some additional plate appearances. And the at bats are up even more because I'm presuming he would have walked less often, and thus realized a few more official at bats. 
 
The hits actually went up a little (by product of walking less), but the batting average is about 18 points down, and the OBP is about 40 points down, mostly because I took the walks way down. The strikeouts went up. The home runs and RBI are way down.
 
Does that seem reasonable? I think it does. In fact, I think it's actually pretty conservative.
 
What does an adjusted, blended Ichiro look like, if I add the estimated 22-26 age season to his actual 27-45 age seasons?
 
Age
G
PA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
CS
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
22-26
775
3,401
544
1,056
142
18
49
329
165
41
214
332
.335
.384
.439
27-45
2,653
10,734
1,420
3,089
362
96
117
780
509
117
647
1,080
.311
.355
.402
Total
3,428
14,135
1,964
4,145
504
114
166
1,109
674
158
861
1,412
.317
.365
.411
 
So, this exercise resulted in rasing Ichiro's MLB career batting average by 6 points and adding around 10 points to his OBP. And it would put him at over 4,100 career MLB hits, just a few shy of Ty Cobb and about 100 short of Rose's record. And he would climb to 12th on the stolen base list (ahead of Willie Wilson, just a little shy of Joe Morgan).
 
And what if Suzuki had decide to retire a little earlier, say after age 40, as opposed to stringing it out like he did? At that point, I still have him with a whopping 3,900 hits, and his estimated career average would be a little higher (.322) and his OBP would be around .369. Would that change some of the doubters? That OBP would put him a little more solidly in the vicinity of some of the other elite leadoff hitters like Pete Rose (.375) and Paul Molitor (.369) rather than hanging out in the mid .350's. For a leadoff hitter, that's a big difference.
 
How about WAR? I figure that another 5 years at the beginning of Ichiro's career would have conservatively added 20-25 WAR to his career total. That would put him in the 80-85 range, a neighborhood where the likes of Rod Carew, Charlie Gehringer, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones and Jeff Bagwell reside. And even if we shaved off some of the back end (post age 40), it's not like that would have hurt him in this regard, as his post-40 rWAR was a negative 0.5. And surely his career OPS+ of 107 would have climbed with 5 more good years at the beginning of his career, probably somewhere around 115 or so.
 
A lot of speculation? For sure. But it reminds me a little of an observation Bill once made about Joe DiMaggio and how you try to account for a gap in a player's career due to "circumstances beyond his control". And that is, you don't give credit for what a player might have been - but it is entirely reasonable to give a player credit for what he was. Suzuki was a great player and was a great player at an early age. The fact that he wasn't playing in the Majors is something to take into consideration, but it doesn't change who Suzuki was. It's somewhat analogous to Lefty Grove missing some years in the Majors because he was tearing it up in Baltimore and Jack Dunn was in no rush to sell him to the Majors. Ichiro was a great player, and deserves whatever accolades he gets.
 
#2-Tony Gwynn
Best category:  All Star Games (1st)
Worst category: MVP Points (22nd)
 
Gwynn is one of the true "bat artists" of any generation. If you look at strikeouts per plate appearances, the really low %'s are from long ago and far away, as strikeouts have continued their upward ascent over time, especially in recent years. Major League strikeouts per team per game didn't hit 4.0 until 1952. It took another 40 years to go up to 6.0 (1994), and since then it's increased to 7.0 by 2010, 8.0 by 2016, and was nearly at 9.0 last year (8.8). Willie Keeler, Joe Sewell, Lloyd Waner have the lowest individual career rates. Nellie Fox is right up there (or is it down there?) too.
 
Keeping with the overall theme of the series, these are the lowest rates of strikeouts per plate appearance for batters since 1970 (minimum 3,000 plate appearances). Clearly, it helps to be a low-power middle-infielder, and you get bonus points if your first name is "Felix".
 
Player
PA
SO
SO % of PA
Felix Millan
4,765
165
3.46%
Tony Gwynn
10,232
434
4.24%
Bill Buckner
10,036
453
4.51%
Felix Fermin
3,072
147
4.79%
Dave Cash
5,983
300
5.01%
Bob Bailor
3,206
164
5.12%
Tommy Helms
3,147
161
5.12%
Rich Dauer
4,218
219
5.19%
Marty Barrett
3,833
209
5.45%
Ozzie Smith
10,778
589
5.46%
 
The 2 other big-time batting average kings from Gwynn's general era, Rod Carew (who was about 15 years earlier) and Wade Boggs (who was pretty much an exact contemporary of Gwynn's), struck out quite a bit more frequently than Gwynn did - Carew was around 10%, and Boggs was around 7%.
 
Gwynn hit over .300 in every single season of his career except his very first one (in 1982, when he only appeared in 54 games). Whether he was injured, or the season was interrupted by a strike, or even when he was a 40-year old part-time player over the last couple of seasons, he always managed to hit over .300. And if he managed to get just 2 more hits in that first season, he'd have hit .300 in that one as well.
 
#1-Reggie Jackson
Best category: WAR, WAR7, Win Shares, Win Shares 7 (1st in each)
Worst category: WAR/162 (16th)
 
 Jackson gets the #1 ranking in a tough battle for the top spot. Out of the 8 positions reviewed so far, I'd say he's the "weakest" #1 player, with "weakest" being a relative term. 
 
All these years later, is Jackson's 1977 World Series performance, and in particular, his performance in game 6 of that series, the greatest ever by a hitter? That's actually 2 separate questions - greatest ever in a total World Series, and greatest ever in a single World Series game, so let's look at both.
 
In game 6 of the 1977 World Series, Jackson had 4 plate appearances, going 3-for-3 with a walk, with all 3 hits being home runs. He scored 4 runs and drove in 5.
 
His batting average, OBP, and slugging percentages all maxed out - 1.000 batting average, 1.000 OBP, 4.000 slugging, and 5.000 OPS. You can't get any higher.
 
Has anyone else done that? Yes, it's been done 4 times (minimum 3 plate appearances in a game), all by Yankee legends, including two by Babe Ruth in the same year:
 
Player
Team
Series
Gm#
PA
AB
R
H
HR
RBI
BB
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
Babe Ruth
NYY
1926
4
5
3
4
3
3
4
2
1.000
1.000
4.000
5.000
Reggie Jackson
NYY
1977
6
4
3
4
3
3
5
1
1.000
1.000
4.000
5.000
Lou Gehrig
NYY
1928
3
4
2
2
2
2
3
2
1.000
1.000
4.000
5.000
Babe Ruth
NYY
1926
7
5
1
1
1
1
1
4
1.000
1.000
4.000
5.000
 
Of those 4, Ruth '26-game 4 and Jackson are clearly more impressive than the other 2. Gehrig had 2 homers and 2 walks, while Ruth '26-game 7 had 1 homer and 4 walks. The first Ruth instance and Jackson '77 were both 3-homer games. Ruth had an additional walk, but Jackson had an additional RBI.
 
Another angle - how many 3-home run games  have there been in the World Series? Again, a pretty short list. In addition to the 2 already referenced above, Albert Pujols, Pablo Sandoval, and a different Babe Ruth entry appear:
 
Player
Team
Series
Gm#
PA
AB
R
H
HR
RBI
BB
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
Reggie Jackson
NYY
1977
6
4
3
4
3
3
5
1
1.000
1.000
4.000
5.000
Albert Pujols
STL
2011
3
6
6
4
5
3
6
0
.833
.833
2.333
3.167
Babe Ruth
NYY
1926
4
5
3
4
3
3
4
2
1.000
1.000
4.000
5.000
Babe Ruth
NYY
1928
4
5
5
3
3
3
3
0
.600
.600
2.400
3.000
Pablo Sandoval
SFG
2012
1
4
4
3
4
3
4
0
1.000
1.000
3.250
4.250
 
Pujols' 2011 game 3 performance is striking in its own right, as he had 5 hits in total and 6 RBI. However, he did also make an out.   Babe Ruth '28 made 2 outs, including hitting into a double play. Sandoval '12 went 4 for 4, with one of the hits being a single.
 
Any other angles? Most hits in a World Series game is 5 - the Pujols game listed above, and Paul Molitor (game 1, 1982, 5-for-6, all singles).
 
Most doubles in a game is 4, from a player on a team who very few would guess - Frank Isbell, in game 5 of the 1906 World Series for the Chicago White Sox. Yes, the "Hitless Wonders" White Sox.   Go figure.
 
Most triples? 6 players have hit two triples in a World Series game, most recently Mark Lemke of Atlanta in game 5 of 1991.
 
So, the greatest single-game World Series performance ever by a hitter probably comes down to Ruth (game 4, 1926), Pujols (game 3, 2011), and Jackson (game 6, 1977). I think, taking everything into consideration, I'd go with Jackson.
 
How about hitting performance over a total World Series? Here are a few angles:
 
The 2 greatest batting averages and OBP's for a player in 10 or more plate belong to Billy Hatcher and David Ortiz. Hatcher hit .750 (9 for 12) and achieved an .800 OBP in Cincinnati's 1990 sweep of the A's. Ortiz was a one-man wrecking crew in Boston's 2013 4-2 Series win over St. Louis, hitting .688 ( 11 for 16) with 8 walks, as well as 2 HRs' and 6 RBI. His OBP was .760. Ortiz was named MVP for his performance, but Hatcher did not (Jose Rijo took home the award in 1990). Between the 2, I consider Ortiz's to be the better overall hitting performance.
 
From a slugging standpoint, it's hard to beat Lou Gehrig's 1928 performance in the Yankees' sweep of the Cardinals. Gehrig was 6 for 11 with 4 home runs and a double, driving in 9 runs and compiling a cool 1.727 slugging percentage, by far the highest figure a player has posted. Hideki Matsui (2009) is next with 1.385, Babe Ruth (1928) with 1.375, and Barry Bonds (2002) with 1.294. Jackson (1977) and Hatcher (1990) are next with 1.250 each.
 
Jackson's 5 home runs are tied for the most ever along with Chase Utley (2009) and George Springer (2017).   I think Utley's gets a little overshadowed due to the fact that the Phillies lost to the Yankees, and I suspect Springer's has lost some of its appeal for many in the wake of the Astros' scandal. There have been 9 instances of players with 4 home runs. Those are listed below, sorted by fewest plate appearances:
 
Player
Team
Year
G
PA
HR
Lou Gehrig
NYY
1928
4
17
4
Gene Tenace
OAK
1972
7
25
4
Willie Aikens
KCR
1980
6
26
4
Duke Snider
BRO
1955
7
28
4
Barry Bonds
SFG
2002
7
30
4
Lenny Dykstra
PHI
1993
6
30
4
Duke Snider
BRO
1952
7
31
4
Babe Ruth
NYY
1926
7
31
4
Hank Bauer
NYY
1958
7
31
4
 
How about RBI? 6 players have had 10 or more RBi in a single World Series. Interestingly enough 6 of those came in losing efforts: Bobby Richarson (1960, 12 RBI), Mickey Mantle (also 1960, 11), Mike Napoli (2011, 10), Sandy Alomar Jr. (1997, 10), and Ted Kluszewski (1959, 10). Yogi Berra (1956, 10) is the only one who played on a winning team, and he did not get the MVP (it went to some guy named Larsen). Jackson had 8 RBI in the 1977 Series, tied for 16th all time (at the time he did it, he was tied for 8th).
 
Runs scored? Jackson actually broke the record in 1977 with 10 runs scored, which Paul Molitor later tied in 1993. 
 
I decided to do a simple indexing calculation based on runs, HR, RBI, SB, BA, OBP, and Slugging to identify the best all-around offensive performances in World Series history, and then averaging the indexed results (kind of similar to the method I've been using in the position rankings, but with not quite so many categories). It rewards doing well both within and across several different categories (I weighted stolen bases less than the others).
 
Here are the best individual World Series performances that the approach identified:
 
Rank
1
6
24
10
9
5
8
0
3
.450
.542
1.250
2
4
17
5
6
4
9
0
6
.545
.706
1.727
3
7
30
8
8
4
6
0
13
.471
.700
1.294
4
4
17
9
10
3
4
0
1
.625
.647
1.375
5
6
30
9
8
4
8
4
7
.348
.500
.913
6
4
20
9
9
3
8
0
2
.529
.600
1.118
7
6
25
7
11
2
6
0
8
.688
.760
1.188
8
6
28
10
12
2
8
1
3
.500
.571
1.000
9
7
34
8
11
5
7
0
5
.379
.471
1.000
10
7
33
8
10
3
11
0
8
.400
.545
.800
11
6
14
3
8
3
8
0
1
.615
.643
1.385
12
6
26
5
8
4
8
0
6
.400
.538
1.100
13
4
17
8
7
3
6
0
1
.438
.471
1.188
14
7
31
6
13
2
5
7
3
.464
.516
.857
15
7
30
7
10
3
8
0
4
.385
.467
.846
16
7
30
8
8
3
8
0
6
.333
.467
.792
17
7
25
5
8
4
9
0
2
.348
.400
.913
18
5
16
5
4
3
8
0
4
.333
.500
1.167
19
6
25
5
12
2
8
1
1
.500
.520
.958
20
4
15
6
9
0
2
0
2
.750
.800
1.250
 
* indicates player was on the losing team in the series.
 
I suspect a lot of the performances that you would have expected to see included are indeed present on the list. A few famous ones that just missed the cut include Ted Kluszewski (1959), Duke Snider (1952), Bobby Richardson (1960), Willie Stargell (1979), Johnny Bench (1976), and Pepper Martin (1931). Brooks Robinson (1970) was further down the list, but then again it didn't factor in defensive brilliance. If I had tried to incorporate that somehow, Robinson would have finished much higher, and subjectively I would put him in the top 10 of all time individual memorable performances, taking everything into account. It's also noteworthy that 2 of the top 4 are by Yankees legends (Gehrig and Ruth) in the 1928 World Series. I guess the Yankees were taking it out on the Cardinals after the way the 1926 series between the same 2 teams had ended up.
 
In any case, by this approach, Jackson's 1977 comes out on top, although it's a razor-thin edge over Gehrig's 1928, and if I went to the lengths of making some adjustments to measure things more on a per-game basis across the board (Jackson played 2 more games than Gehrig did), Gehrig probably would have nosed ahead. In any case, I think Jackson's 1977 World Series holds up very well among the best offensive World Series performances ever, and even if you don't think it should be at the very top, I'd say it's definitely and legitimately in the running.
 
One last thing on Jackson '77 - one of the interesting things about his World Series performance was that it came on the heels of what was probably the worst postseason series of his career, the '77 ALCS against the Royals.  Jackson went just 2-for-16 (.125) with 1 RBI in the '77 ALCS. Then, he started off just 1-for-6 with no runs scored and no RBI in the first 2 games of the World Series against the Dodgers. After that, though, he couldn't be contained, going 8-for-14 over the final 4 games, scoring an incredible 10 runs scored over those 4 contests to go with the 5 home runs and 8 RBI. A legendary performance.
 
Top 25 Right Fielders of the Past 50 Years - Ranking/Points
 
Rank
Name
From
To
Points
1
Reggie Jackson
1967
1987
81.7
2
Tony Gwynn
1982
2001
74.9
3
Ichiro Suzuki
2001
2019
71.8
4
Vladimir Guerrero
1996
2011
70.3
5
Dave Winfield
1973
1995
70.1
6
Larry Walker
1989
2005
69.7
7
Reggie Smith
1966
1982
69.6
8
Dave Parker
1973
1991
64.1
9
Dwight Evans
1972
1991
64.1
10
Bobby Bonds
1968
1981
64.1
11
Gary Sheffield
1988
2009
64.0
12
Sammy Sosa
1989
2007
63.8
13
Mookie Betts
2014
2019
63.5
14
Bobby Abreu
1996
2014
58.1
15
Darryl Strawberry
1983
1999
57.3
16
Giancarlo Stanton
2010
2019
57.0
17
Jack Clark
1975
1992
56.6
18
Brian Giles
1995
2009
55.0
19
Juan Gonzalez
1989
2005
53.6
20
Ken Singleton
1970
1984
52.6
21
Rusty Staub
1963
1985
51.3
22
Jose Bautista
2004
2018
51.1
23
David Justice
1989
2002
50.7
24
Magglio Ordonez
1997
2011
50.7
25
Jesse Barfield
1981
1992
50.4
 
Distribution of the top 25 by decade (using career mid-point):
 
Decade
Total
1970s
5
1980s
5
1990s
7
2000s
4
2010s
4
Grand Total
25
 
In the first article (which also had the catcher rankings), a reader requested #26-50 as well (without commentary), so I've been including those as well, with the caveat that these are unadjusted rankings at this point, strictly based on how everyone outside of the top 25 did based on the raw methodology. So, no subjective adjustments on my part. Also note that any active players are very volatile and fluid in how they fare in the various categories, and the ones who are not at the ends of their careers will likely change considerably in the years ahead.
 
Rank
Name
From
To
 Points
26
Jose Canseco
1985
2001
        48.3
27
Bryce Harper
2012
2019
        47.5
28
Kirk Gibson
1979
1995
        47.5
29
Nelson Cruz
2005
2019
        47.1
30
Paul O'Neill
1985
2001
        47.0
31
J. D. Drew
1998
2011
        46.0
32
Reggie Sanders
1991
2007
        45.3
33
Shawn Green
1993
2007
        45.0
34
Tim Salmon
1992
2006
        44.9
35
Brian Jordan
1992
2006
        44.6
36
Shin-Soo Choo
2005
2019
        41.7
37
Joe Carter
1983
1998
        41.0
38
Ken Griffey
1973
1991
        40.8
39
Jayson Werth
2002
2017
        40.5
40
Nick Markakis
2006
2019
        40.0
41
Von Hayes
1981
1992
        39.8
42
Raul Mondesi
1993
2005
        39.7
43
Jason Heyward
2010
2019
        39.3
44
Terry Puhl
1977
1991
        38.9
45
Hunter Pence
2007
2019
        38.8
46
George Springer
2014
2019
        38.4
47
Danny Tartabull
1984
1997
        37.9
48
Sixto Lezcano
1974
1985
        37.5
49
Ruben Sierra
1986
2006
        37.1
50
J. D. Martinez
2011
2019
        35.7
 
Next up: Designated hitters, after which I'll switch gears to the pitchers.
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Dan
 
 
 
 

COMMENTS (17 Comments, most recent shown first)

MarisFan61
No, even though I was born in.... (I think you know) :-)
11:59 AM Jul 2nd
 
steve161
Cute, Maris. I particularly like number 6. Did you know Elster is German for magpie?
5:27 AM Jul 1st
 
MarisFan61
Top 10 by Jay's criterion

Let's start with his guy:
Sixto Lezcano

....which puts Babe Ruth in 2nd place :-) (easy to lose sight of it because the name is so familiar, but it is kinda odd)

3. let's go with Steve's guy, Shin-Soo Choo
4. too bad Choo Choo Coleman isn't available here
5. Gavvy Cravath
6. Oyster Burns (pretty good player from the 1st century; probably not related to Kevin Oyster who played SS on the Mets)
7. Yasiel Puig
8. Ed Smartwood
9. Lou Sockalexis
10. Harry Hooper
2:43 PM Jun 30th
 
steve161
Good one, Jay. I have a soft spot for Shin-soo Choo. Say it fast 10 times.
9:00 AM Jun 30th
 
Jaytaft
I tend to rate a player based on how cool his name sounds, so Sixto Lezcano is the greatest RF of the last 50 years.
3:15 AM Jun 30th
 
brewer09
You didn't write that much about Tony Gwynn.
3:58 AM Jun 29th
 
formersd
Years ago, I remember Bill commenting that he did a survey of knowledgeable fans asking them who had the best OF arm they ever saw. Everyone from Bill's generation answered Clemente, but since I never saw Clemente, I had to think about it and pick a more modern player.

In the end, my choice was Jesse Barfield. Other great arms include Glenn Wilson, Ellis Valentine, Dwight Evans, Raul Mondesi, Yasiel Puig and Larry Walker, but Barfield is the guy I setting up under a fly ball to right with a runner tagging up.


9:28 PM Jun 28th
 
DMBBHF
That prior comment should have said, "but even if a player did DH a fair amount, he may have already been covered at a different position."

Dan
10:59 AM Jun 28th
 
DMBBHF
Thanks for all the comments, guys....

Maris - Yes, good point on the DH time span. It will be a much shorter article.....I'll probably only profile about 10-15 players. Once you get beyond that, there just aren't that many "career DH" players to be found, or they did DH a fair amount, they may have already been covered at a different position.

On Ichiro....I do believe he's clearly in the over 90% category. I can't imagine many not voting for him. The 3,000 MLB hits was, I think, the final clincher for him.

Also, I wasn't personally aware of the Abreu/wall thing. I don't recall hearing it mentioned, but that doesn't mean much.

Bruce,

Yes, I think you're right that all of those Boston outfielders were in the organization at the same time, which is impressive in its own right. I also remember Bill pointing out once a long time ago about the early 1970's Giants having a bunch of young outfielders in the organization when Mays was getting old - Bonds, Maddox, Matthews, Foster. Kingman too, although not sure he could really be counted as an outfielder. It would be an interesting research project to see what other organizations might have challenged those groups.

Thanks,
Dan


10:57 AM Jun 28th
 
MarisFan61
BTW, for that next article you won't have much dilemma dealing with the "only in your lifetime" factor. :-)
12:15 AM Jun 28th
 
chuck
Yes, thank you, Dan, for this terrific series. So well written up and organized and enjoyable to read.​
2:24 PM Jun 27th
 
bearbyz
Thank you, I really enjoy these articles.
1:16 PM Jun 27th
 
tigerlily
Thanks Dan. I don't think there's any doubt that either all-time or over the span you're rating players that RF is the toughest position with the most really good players.
1:12 PM Jun 27th
 
MarisFan61
Great piece again -- much enjoyed and appreciated.

Two unrelated notes:

-- On Abreu, you didn't mention a thing that I think is a factor in how he's regarded although lesser than what you did mention (BTW the latter being a thing on which I think I've been the main proponent here, describing the 'boringness' of his home plate approach).
Despite his winning a Gold Glove, he had a terrible reputation for being shy of outfield walls and therefore letting a lot of catchable balls drop or hit the wall. From his years with the Yanks I didn't see him as being horribly deficient that way, but neither did I have any impression that he was anywhere near Gold Glove level.

-- I agree totally about Ichiro's Hall of Fame likelihood, but, granting that Bill has possibly changed his mind since this next thing, plus that sometimes it's hard to know exactly what he means, in a Hey Bill exchange several years ago he seemed to doubt greatly that Ichiro would be 1st-ballot, and when I replied that I thought that in fact he'd sail in with over 90%, Bill gave it an "OK........"
12:34 PM Jun 27th
 
steve161
Is this the 9th article already? Time sure flies when you're having fun.
9:23 AM Jun 27th
 
evanecurb
Great article, Dan. I love your digressions into categories related to specific players. The Evans and Smith comments remind me of one of my favorite categories: Young 1970s Red Sox outfielders who had good major league careers. Similar to your 1996 Indians of comment, albeit a range of seasons instead of a single season:
Smith
Evans
Rice
Lynn
Oglivie
Beniquez
Miller

In 1973, all of these guys were in the organization, I think. That’s why they traded Smith. They also eventually traded Cecil Cooper, who was pushed off of first base/DH in part because Yaz was playing a lot of first base at the time. Y’know who played a bunch of games in the outfield for Boston in the early seventies? Ex-Red Tommy Harper. Another digression: Reds’ outfielders of the mid 60s...


7:36 AM Jun 27th
 
DMBBHF
Sorry for the weird formatting under the Dave Parker comment. I'm working on fixing it.

Dan
8:50 PM Jun 26th
 
 
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