The Best Players of the Last 50 Years - Part VIII - Left Fielders

May 23, 2020
This is part VIII 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 Left Fielders of the Last 50 Years
 
 
Did anyone just miss getting included due to the timeline cutoff? 
 
There are two worth noting - Frank Howard and Billy Williams.
 
Howard was one of the great power hitters and most intimidating hitters when I started following baseball in 1970. At that time, players like Howard, Williams, Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, and Hank Aaron were all still among the top home run hitters, but they were all getting pretty close to the end of their careers by then. Howard was 5th in the AL MVP voting in 1970, and Williams was 2nd in the NL in 1970 (and 2nd again in 1972). Howard's career midpoint was 1965.5, and Williams' was 1967.5. I decided to leave them both out of this review.
 
Any active players outside of the top 25 worth noting?
 
I have 3 active players in my top 25, and we'll cover them later. Several active players are in the 26-50 range, and any of them could still move up - Alex Gordon, Brett Gardner, Michael Brantley, and Starling Marte #34, 35, 42 and 44, respectively. Yoenis Cespedes, who I guess is still active too, is at #45.
 
Two of the brightest young stars in the game today are Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna, but it's way too early to try and rank them. Acuna has more total games in LF so far, but his near-term future seems to be more in center field. Both Soto and Acuna seem headed for stellar careers, but you never know, so I'll have to pass on them for now.
 
Any surprise omissions? 
Gary Matthews and Garret Anderson are a couple of players who I thought might crack the top 25, but they finished at #28 and #32, respectively.
 
Other Administrative Notes
I didn't know what to do with Pedro Guerrero. He was listed in my data pull as a left fielder, but he really only played a couple of hundred games there.   His highest number of games at any position was first base, but he didn't even reach 600 games there. He basically didn't have a regular position. His position was "hitter". He would have made the top 25 in LF, but I ended up leaving him out. 
 
Also, similar to first basemen (which is the only position to the left of left fielders on the "defensive spectrum") , I'm going to avoid calling out dWAR rankings in the best/worst category recaps for each left fielder, mostly because a lot of the top players rank pretty poorly by pure dWAR, and it's kind of uninteresting to call out. It's much more interesting to cite how they rank in the other categories.
 
I ended up with 173 players in the left fielder data set.
 
#25-Dusty Baker
Best category: Games (16th)
Worst category: WAR/162 (43rd)
 
Going down memory lane....the very first article I ever wrote for Bill James Online was about players who combined success both as a player and success as a manager. I came up with something called a "Manager-Player Number" (MPN) which is similar to the concept of a Power-Speed number in that it combines 2 different metrics into one, and an individual has to do well on both in order to rank high overall. 
 
I combined a player's rWAR with something called a "Manager Score" from Baseball Gauge (which awarded points based on a manager's record, including postseason success) to come up with the blended Manager-Player Number metric. The top MPN's are listed below (note that this was done almost 5 years ago, so there might need to be some updates or adjustments, but I think the top 15 would still be pretty much the same folks). Note that you didn't have to be a "player-manager", which would imply doing both at the same time, although several of the top individuals did do exactly that.
 
*=Hall of Famers
 
Rank
Name
Manager Score
Player rWAR
Manager-Player Number (MPN)
1
*Cap Anson
74.7
93.9
83.2
2
*Joe Torre
142.4
57.6
82.0
3
*Fred Clarke
77.9
67.8
72.5
4
*John McGraw
149.6
45.6
69.9
5
*Clark Griffith
45.7
61.8
52.6
6
*Frank Chance
59.6
45.6
51.7
7
*Joe Cronin
42.2
66.4
51.6
8
*Frankie Frisch
39.1
70.4
50.3
9
*Miller Huggins
84.4
35.4
49.9
10
*Bill Terry
42.3
54.2
47.5
11
Dusty Baker
65.8
36.9
47.3
12
*Lou Boudreau
36.2
63.0
46.0
13
*Tris Speaker
27.7
133.7
45.9
14
*Hughie Jennings
45.9
42.3
44.0
 
Of that list, Dusty is the only one not in the Hall, and I think he has a tough road to try and get there. Most of the other individuals are not in the Hall because they were good at both jobs - mostly they were voted in primarily because of excellence as either a player or a manager (and that includes Joe Torre, who was a very good player but probably not quite Hall of Fame good). Dusty is a "baseball lifer", and he was pretty good in both roles (a 2-time All Star as a player, a 3-time Manager of the Year winner), but I don't think he'll make it in unless he can win a title or 2 as a manager. 
 
Baker is 70 years old now, and is the new manager of the Astros, and I think it was actually a pretty good hire coming on the heels of the scandal, because I do think Baker is pretty well respected within the game. Talented though the Astros may be, there will be so much negative focus on the team once they start playing, and though I'm sure it will be challenging, I think Baker will probably deal with it about as well as could be hoped for. 
 
#24-Lonnie Smith
Best category: WAA (16th)
Worst category: All Star Games (51st)
 
"Skates" was a fun player, probably remembered more for his misfortunes and adventures on defense and on the base paths (case in point, game 7 of the 1991 World Series), but he was a quality ball player, especially on offense. He ended up with only about one-third of his games hitting out of the leadoff slot (he frequently was used in the #2 and #3 slots) but he was outstanding when hitting leadoff, batting .305 with a near-.380 OBP in that role. Smith led the NL in runs one year (1982 with the Cardinals with 120) and in OBP another year (1989 with the Braves with a .415 mark)
 
One of the more notable things that I think a lot of people miss when remembering Smith's career was that he was a key contributor to a lot of successful teams. Smith owns 3 different World Series championship rings with 3 different franchises - 1980 with the Phillies, 1982 with the Cardinals, and 1985 with the Royals - and he went to 2 more World Series with the Braves ('91 and '92).   As mentioned before, he's probably more famous for his lapses than his successes, but he was a big part of some very good teams. 
 
Random wondering.....I wonder how many people remember that Smith was once an MVP runner-up? Smith finished 2nd (and it was a pretty strong 2nd) to Dale Murphy in 1982.
 
#23-Ron Gant
Best category: MVP Points (22nd)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (50th)
 
We're only three deep into the countdown, and Gant is the third consecutive player in the rankings with significant ties to the Braves. Baker played 8 seasons with Atlanta (4 as a starting center fielder and/or right fielder) and Smith played 5 seasons with the Braves, although Gant is probably the only one of the 3 who is primarily associated with that franchise.
 
Gant was one of the most exciting young stars of the early 1990's, a 2-time member of the 30-30 HR/SB club, before missing the entire 1994 season due to a broken leg suffered in an ATV accident. He had a strong comeback season after signing as a free agent with the Reds in 1995, but soon after that he started to decline.  
 
Gant is one of only 23 players who exceeded 300 home runs and 200 steals in his career. So is the next guy on the list.....
 
#22-Alfonso Soriano
Best category: All Star Games (7th)
Worst category: WAA (65th)
 
As mentioned in the Gant profile, Soriano had an impressive power-speed combination with 412 career home runs and 289 career stolen bases. He's ranked as a left fielder, but also played over 700 games at second base, most of which were played during his years with the Yankees and the Rangers.
 
Soriano doesn't rank higher mostly because his performance in categories like WAR and WAA aren't very good, but he does do better in Win Shares, and his 7 All Star teams ranks him pretty high in that area. A good player, but his career .319 OBP holds him back.
 
Soriano was a star, and I thought he had a chance to be a superstar after his impressive 2002 season, when he hit .300 and led the AL in runs, hits, and stolen bases, finishing 3rd in the MVP voting that year behind Miguel Tejada and Alex Rodriguez. Soriano was 26 and playing for the marquee franchise in baseball. Within a couple of year, though, he was traded to the Rangers in exchange for Rodriguez, and although he had some notable seasons, he just wasn't quite the same after that.
 
#21-Justin Upton
Best category: All Star Games (18th)
Worst category: Games (38th)
 
Upton is the first of 3 active players in my top 25, and Melvin's brother is only 32 years old, so he could still move up some. Upton's best season to date is probably his 2011 campaign - 31 HR, 88 RBI, .289/.369/.529, a 141 OPS+, and 4th in the NL MVP voting. He was only 23 at the time, and he's been a quality player since then, but I think based on his performance that year, a lot of people would have expected him to keep growing and improving. Again, he's been very good, but seemed to plateau after that performance. After that promising start to his career with the Diamondbacks, he'd been bouncing around among several franchises (Braves, Padres, Tigers, Angels).
 
Justin's career HR/SB totals are basically the reverse of his brother's - Justin has 298/147 HR's and steals so far, and Melvin (formerly B.J.) had 164/300 before playing his last game in 2016.
 
The Upton brothers would be 2 of the better players on the all-time "U" surname team. Justin would play LF, Melvin would be the center fielder. The best player would be Chase Utley, and would be supported by the likes of Juan Uribe, Dan Uggla, Del Unser, and Willie Upshaw. The pitching staff would include George Uhle with a decent bullpen of Ugueth Urbina, Koji Uehara, and Cecil Upshaw.
 
#20-Carl Crawford
Best category: WAR7 (17th)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (47th)
 
Whenever I think of Crawford, he tends to remind me of Lou Brock. How's this for a comparison.....seasonal notation (averages per 162 games) through age 28 for both players?
 
Name
PA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
CS
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS+
Crawford
708
100
194
28
14
14
78
54
12
38
101
.296
.337
.444
107
Brock
697
104
185
30
11
15
58
49
18
37
127
.286
.329
.436
110
 
Pretty close, and if either has an advantage, I'd say it's Crawford, who was not only stealing a little more, but also quite a bit more successfully (82% vs. 73% for Brock). But they're pretty similar across the board.
 
The kicker, of course, is that Brock was just getting started, and continued playing well throughout the rest of his 20's and most of his 30's, whereas Crawford didn't have much left after that. But, through age 28, there was a lot of similarity in their games.
 
I would put Crawford as the second best player in Tampa Bay's history, behind Evan Longoria and slightly ahead of Ben Zobrist.
 
#19-Roy White
Best category: WAR7 (10th)
Worst category: MVP Points (48th)
 
As a Bill James reader, when you hear the name "Roy White", how many nanoseconds does it take for you to think of "Jim Rice"? Probably about as long as it took the boys from "City Slickers" after hearing "third baseman for Pittsburgh in 1960" to blurt out "Don Hoak". To me, White and Rice have been inexorably linked ever since Bill had White listed above Rice in his left fielder rankings in his New Historical Abstract about 20 years ago, which included a pretty comprehensive comparison of the two.
 
I don't have White above Rice in my rankings (mostly because I do give weight to things like MVP results and All Star Games, both of which tilt the scales to Rice) , but I do have White in the top 20. He remains one of the prime examples of an underrated player, despite the fact that he played for one of the sport's glamour franchises, because, despite playing for the Yankees, he played most of his career during one of the few prolonged down periods in franchise history.   From 1949 to 1964, the Yankees represented the American League in every World Series except for two (1954, 1959). White had the rather unfortunate timing of debuting in 1965, and the Yankees didn't make it back to the postseason until 1976, when White's career was starting to wind down (although they did make 3 straight World Series at that point with White as the primary left fielder on the first two of those three). 
 
White has a lot of the same attributes as another underrated player coming up in a few slots, Jose Cruz Sr. He had good but not great power, he was able to steal some bases, he was a good fielder (though not quite Gold Glove level), hit for a good but not elite average, was able to get on base, and generally played in an environment and context not real favorable to posting huge offensive numbers. A quick comparison of their career numbers in seasonal (per 162 game) notation:
 
Player
PA
R
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
CS
BB
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS+
Cruz
615
71
27
6
11
74
22
9
62
.284
.354
.420
120
White
666
83
26
4
14
65
20
10
80
.271
.360
.404
121
 
Cruz averaged about 3.8 rWAR per 162 games and White was around 4.0, which is virtually no difference, especially since Cruz had the longer career, and that tends to have a downward effect on such an average. They also were only named to 2 All Star teams each. Cruz hit for a little higher average but White drew a few more walks, which evened things out, but they're pretty close. Cruz ended up with about 20% more plate appearances than White and is a little higher on this list because of his longer career, but they were similar types of players.
 
#18-Matt Holliday
Best category: All Star Games (7th)
Worst category: MVP Points (26)
 
I think one of the real challenges for anyone who likes to try to analyze baseball players is how you approach evaluating hitters who play for the Rockies. I think the gut reaction, in so many cases, is to dismiss any hitter who displays any sort of success for the Rockies as being unfairly advantaged by playing half of his games at Coors Field, and it can be tough to properly assess performance. It was hard for Hall of Fame voters to properly evaluate Larry Walker - were his stats real, or artificially inflated? He eventually gained enough support to be elected in this past year, but it was a climb. Todd Helton is on the current Hall of Fame ballot. Is he Hall of Fame worthy, or just another lucky recipient of the Coors Field advantage? Nolan Arenado has been a great player in his career to date, but you hear the questions surrounding him as well. And Coors Field made stars out of players like Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla, who, in my opinion, were pretty ordinary players who owed almost all of their success to calling Colorado home. 
 
That's why I like to see players like Holliday. Holliday played well for Colorado from the start, and by his 4th year (2007) he was leading the league in hits, doubles, RBI, and batting average, ending up 2nd in the MVP voting in a close race to Jimmy Rollins. In that 2007 season, he hit .375 at home with 25 of his 36 RBI and 82 of his 137 RBI occurring at Coors. It was easy to write him off as just another product of Coors. And when he was traded to Oakland, I remember thinking to myself, "Well, that's it for him then".
 
Except that....it wasn't. Oh sure, he got some advantage by playing at Coors (as just about anyone would), but Holliday continued playing at an All Star level over his 8 years in St. Louis. His stats weren't quite as eye-catching with the Cardinals as they were with Colorado, but they were still very good. He serves as a reminder to avoid knee-jerk reactions when someone produces eye-catching numbers while playing for the Rockies, because that player just might be a legitimately good player.
 
#17-Christian Yelich
Best category: WAR/162 and Win Shares/162 (3rd in each)
Worst category: Games (117th)
 
How many better players are there in the game today? Trout? Betts, maybe? I would put Yelich as definitely one of the top 5 players in the game today.   Currently listed among the left fielders, but could end up more as a right fielder before his career is in the books.
 
Yelich will likely slide down in the per-162 game category rankings over the course of his career, but he will gain in the others. 17th is kind of a compromise slot for him right now, as he just completed his age 27 season. He could be top 10 by the time he's done, or he could plateau.  Ya never know.
 
Yelich was the NL MVP in 2018, and if anything, he played even better in 2019, although his season ended about 3 weeks early due to injury. He already has an MVP, an MVP runner-up, and 2 batting titles in hand. In addition, he's a tremendous base stealer, going 30 for 32 last year and stealing at an 84% success rate in his career to date. In his 7 years so far, he's never hit lower than .282 or had an OBP less than .362 in any season. After coming within 2 home runs and 1 RBI of taking home a traditional triple crown in 2018, in 2019 he won the "slash line" triple crown, leading the NL in batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage. 
 
How many times has a player won the "slash line" triple crown? It's happened fairly often, 21 times in each league since 1901, which means it has happened about once every 6 years on average in each league, although it's getting more rare in recent decades. Rogers Hornsby did it 7 times, Ted Williams did it 5 times, Honus Wagner 4 times, and Ty Cobb 3 times. Since 1970, it has only happened 5 times in the NL and 4 times in the AL, so now it's only happening about once every 10-12 years on average. The players who have accomplished it since 1970, in addition to Yelich, are Fred Lynn (1979), George Brett (1980), Larry Walker (1999), Todd Helton (2000), Barry Bonds (2002, 2004), Joe Mauer (2009), and Miguel Cabrera (2013).
 
#16-Luis Gonzalez
Best category: Games (6th)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (37th)
 
Gonzalez is part of a rich tradition of baseball players and managers born in Tampa, Florida, a list that includes Gary Sheffield, Dwight Gooden, Fred McGriff, Steve Garvey, Tino Martinez, Al Lopez, Lou Piniella, Denard Span, Dave Magadan, Carl Everett, Jody Reed, Matthew Joyce, Mike Heath, Derek Bell, Gene Nelson, Matt Mantei, and Floyd Youmans, not to mention current Mets star Pete Alonso.   It makes for a pretty good start on a "town team", although they're a little heavy on first basemen and pretty short on starting pitching after Gooden. Must be something in the water....
 
Gonzalez had an unusual career arc. Prior to his Arizona years, Gonzalez was pretty much a 10-15 HR, 70 RBI, .270-type hitter. In his first 5 seasons in Arizona, starting with his age 31 seasons, he morphed into a .314 hitter averaging about 35 homers and 115 RBI a year, including his monster 2001 season with 57 HR and 142 RBI. 
 
Gonzalez's post-30 career performance has raised a lot of eyebrows and a lot of people, fairly or not, suspected steroids. I imagine there are 3 main things that feed into the suspicion that surrounds Gonzalez:
 
1) His established level of play (nearly a decade) prior to Arizona
2) The spike in home runs in 2001.
3) The era he played in
 
As in so many cases, I don't know what to think. For many, they look at his unusual spike and conclude he must have done something. For many others, they believe him when he denies the rumors, and conclude he ended up in the right spot and found himself late in his career. I really don't know, so I didn't adjust him at all. This is where he ranks.
 
I have Gonzalez as the second best position player in Diamondbacks history, behind only first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
 
#15-Ryan Braun
Best category: WAR7 and Win Shares/162 (8th)
Worst category: Games (34th)
 
There were whispers about Gonzalez, but there's no doubt about Braun, who admitted to using steroids, and was suspended for the last couple of months of the 2013 season.   Braun returned for 2014 and has been a quality player, though certainly not as good as he was prior to the suspension.
 
The question in the context of a ranking then, is, how much, if any, was Braun helped, and how much should it affect his ranking, if at all? In cases like this, my answer generally is....I don't have the foggiest idea. Braun was a high draft choice (5th player selected in 2005) after a very good college stint at Miami.   I think he was a very talented hitter. 
 
In fact, Braun's stats don't really look very unusual at all to me at all - his early years were good, but I wouldn't call them crazy good. He hit like you would expect a talented, high draft pick might hit. And, after he returned from his suspension, his numbers were definitely not as good, but they weren't all that bad either, and probably not out of line for a good player entering his 30's. He was an All Star in 2015, and had a 30-homer year in 2016. He was definitely guilty of a banned substance, but I'm also not sure that you can summarily dismiss his early career performance as artificial. I essentially have him where he ranked by the formula, but subjectively adjusted a couple of other players upward.
 
#14-Moises Alou
Best category: All Star Games (11th)
Worst category: WAR/162 (31st)
 
When I think of Alou, 3 things come to mind:
 
1) Alou is a member of one of the most prominent baseball families in history. You have the Boones, Bells, Hairstons, and Colemans (and maybe some others that I'm not thinking of) each with 3 generations.   You have your father-son duos (many examples, with the Bonds and Griffeys being the most prominent), and you have your brother combinations like the Waners, the DiMaggios, the Boyers, the Niekros, the Perrys, and the 5 Delahanty brothers. The Alous count 6 members if you allow cousins - Matty, Felipe, and Jesus are brothers, Moises is Felipe's son, and then there are 2 cousins as part of the family - Mel Rojas, who had a pretty good run as a reliever (mostly for Montreal) and Jose Sosa, who had a brief stint as a reliever with the Astros in the '70's. And please, no smart aleck remarks about the other less famous Alou brother, "Boog" Alou...
 
2) Although he had a fine career, Alou's career was undermined by injuries. He missed 2 full seasons (1991 and 1999) due to major injuries and parts of several others due to lesser ones.   When healthy, though, he was a good one, and posted several impressive batting averages throughout his career, and not just barely over .300 either - he exceeded .330 four times in seasons in which he exceeded 300 at bats, including a .355 mark in 2000. He had good power, twice coming close to 40 home runs (he had a 39 and a 38). He was a key part of the 1997 Florida Marlins World Champions.
 
3) Alou played a key role in the controversial Bartman incident in the 2003 NLCS. Alou was in left field and crossed paths with Bartman while trying to catch a foul fly, and Alou had a strong reaction to what he perceived as fan interference. This incident has been analyzed to death, and my take on it is that Bartman didn't do anything wrong, and Alou's frustration and subsequent reaction, while understandable to some degree, played a part in how everything unfolded from there.   I'm sure I'd be frustrated too, but I think if Alou doesn't react as strongly as he did, then I don't think that the resulting ugliness would have unfolded the way it did either. 
 
#13-Jose Cruz
Best category: WAR (8th)
Worst category: All Star Games (32)
 
Speaking of notable baseball families, the Cruz family is well represented with 4 members, although the bulk of the value has been generated by the 2 Jose's, Sr. & Jr., while Jose Sr.'s two brothers, Hector and Tommy, didn't contribute much. As you may recall, Hector was the Cruz brother who everyone was truly excited about, especially coming off a 1975 season where he was the Minor League Player of the Year in the Cardinals system, but his career turned out to be a big disappointment.
 
Right about that same time, Jose Sr. was purchased by the Astros from the Cardinals, and he embarked on a strong 13-year run with Houston.   The best/worst category recap for Cruz pretty much tells it all - he's one of the top left fielders in my dataset in terms of WAR, but was only recognized as an All Star twice. 
 
Cruz's career home/road split, given that he spent most of years calling the Astrodome home, is not as huge as you might think, except in a couple of key categories:
 
Split
G
PA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
Home
1,166
4,316
497
1,094
189
61
59
528
163
479
488
.289
.366
.418
Away
1,187
4,615
539
1,157
202
33
106
549
154
419
543
.280
.344
.422
 
It's actually pretty even, except that he hit twice as many home runs on the road as he did at home, and conversely hit about twice as many triples at home vs. on the road. On balance, though, it's not too dramatic.
 
The story of Cruz is consistent, steady, durable play over more than a decade. He wasn't spectacular - but he was very good.
 
#12-Albert Belle
Best category: Win Shares/162 (6th)
Worst category: Games (45th)
 
A short career, but a good one. Judging just on ability to hit the ball, Belle would have to rank as one of the best I've ever seen, and was one of the best RBI men I've witnessed.
 
Only 11 players have averaged more than .8 RBI per games played:
 
Rank
Player
RBI
G
RBI/G
1
Sam Thompson
1,308
1,410
.928
2
Lou Gehrig
1,995
2,164
.922
3
Hank Greenberg
1,274
1,394
.914
4
Joe DiMaggio
1,537
1,736
.885
5
Babe Ruth
2,214
2,503
.885
6
Juan Gonzalez
1,404
1,689
.831
7
Jimmie Foxx
1,922
2,317
.830
8
Al Simmons
1,828
2,215
.825
9
Cap Anson
2,075
2,524
.822
10
Albert Belle
1,239
1,539
.805
11
Ted Williams
1,839
2,292
.802
 
Belle likely would have slid below that threshold had he continued playing. Belle was basically good for 100 or more RBI each year that he played regularly, coming up short only in his first full season (1991) when he drove in 95 in only 123 games. He finished his career with 9 consecutive 100 RBI seasons before retiring after his age 33 season due to his hip condition. I'm sure general consensus was that he wasn't missed. It's hard to tell the story of Belle without the numerous incidents of, how shall we say, jerky behavior. That was certainly part of the equation with Belle. But he sure could hit.
 
#11-Lou Brock
Best category: Games (5th)
Worst category: WAR/162 (47th)
 
Brock was right on the cusp of not being included in this review, as his midpoint was exactly 1970. His World Series glory was all in the 1960's as he played on 3 Cardinals World Series teams, including 2 that won the title. He had basically lost the double-digit homer type of power that he once had. But he was still an iconic player, a .300-hitting leadoff hitter who was dynamic on the base paths. 5 of his 6 All Star appearances occurred in the '70's. He was a star and a legend in my formative years as a baseball fan, and a fun one to watch.
 
Brock was one of the all time great World Series performers.
 
All Time World Series Stolen Base Leaders:
Player
Series
G
SB
CS
Lou Brock
3
21
14
2
Eddie Collins
6
34
14
3
Frank Chance
4
20
10
1
Davey Lopes
4
23
10
2
Phil Rizzuto
9
52
10
3
 
All Time World Series Batting Average Leaders (minimum 60 PA's):
Player
Series
G
PA
BA
Paul Molitor
2
13
61
.418
Pepper Martin
3
15
60
.418
Lou Brock
3
21
92
.391
Marquis Grissom
3
19
84
.390
Thurman Munson
3
16
72
.373
Hank Aaron
2
14
60
.364
Home Run Baker
6
25
97
.363
Roberto Clemente
2
14
60
.362
Lou Gehrig
7
34
150
.361
Reggie Jackson
5
27
116
.357
 
 
#10-George Foster
Best category: MVP Points (6th)
Worst category: WAR/162 (26th)
 
There are two things they teach baby Reds fans in the crib as a way of indoctrinating them into the family:
 
1) The Joe Morgan trade was critical to the success of the Big Red Machine.
 
2) It still may not have happened if Pete Rose hadn't been moved to third base so that George Foster could replace John Vuckovich in the everyday lineup.
 
Foster was the final piece of the "Great Eight" ensemble. Oh, he had been part of the team for 4 years after being acquired from the Giants for Frank Duffy, but he had been on the periphery. When Rose moved to third base and Foster was installed as the everyday left fielder, the puzzle was complete.
 
From 1975 until his final season with the Reds in 1981, Foster was among the elite sluggers in the game. He wasn't the best overall player in baseball over that time frame - that would probably have to be either Mike Schmidt or George Brett - but as a power hitter, Foster was right up there with anyone.   A few, basic category leader boards:
 
Most Home Runs, 1975-1981
Rank
Player
HR
1
Mike Schmidt
259
2
George Foster
221
3
Dave Kingman
215
4
Jim Rice
212
5
Reggie Jackson
207
6
Greg Luzinski
187
7
Ron Cey
170
8
Graig Nettles
168
9
John Mayberry
160
10
Don Baylor
157
 
Most RBI, 1975-1981
Rank
Player
RBI
1
George Foster
749
2
Jim Rice
718
3
Mike Schmidt
707
4
Steve Garvey
683
5
Reggie Jackson
656
6
Greg Luzinski
645
7
Dave Parker
617
8
Dave Winfield
607
9
Ted Simmons
596
10
Tony Perez
586
 
Highest Slugging Percentage, 1975-1981
 
Rank
Player
SLG
1
Mike Schmidt
.551
2
George Foster
.543
3
Jim Rice
.536
4
Bob Horner
.525
5
Reggie Jackson
.520
6
Dave Parker
.517
7
Willie Stargell
.516
8
George Brett
.515
9
Dave Kingman
.514
10
Reggie Smith
.512
 
Highest OPS+, 1975-1981, Minimum 2000 Plate Appearances
 
Rank
Player
OPS+
PA
1
Mike Schmidt
154
4,423
2
George Foster
149
4,099
3
Ken Singleton
149
4,399
4
Reggie Jackson
147
3,934
5
George Brett
146
4,182
6
Rod Carew
145
4,175
7
Reggie Smith
145
2,790
8
Oscar Gamble
144
2,479
9
Greg Luzinski
140
4,014
10
Dave Parker
140
4,034
 
Foster's 1977 season was one of the great individual Reds seasons I have witnessed. I talked in the center field review about Eric Davis' great season 10 years later, but Foster's 1977 was special as well. It was the first time I had witnessed a 50+ homer season by anyone, and Foster was so locked in that season and it felt like every game I watched, he would absolutely hammer something. Obviously, not literally....but that's the way it felt.
 
The last player prior to Foster to hit 50 home runs was Willie Mays in 1965, and Foster's would be the last until Cecil Fielder reached it in 1990. From the moment that Babe Ruth first crashed the 50 homer barrier in 1920, the longest drought between 50 homer seasons had been a 9-year span from 1938 (Hank Greenberg) to 1947 Johnny Mize and Ralph Kiner).
 
50-homer seasons are still pretty commonplace now, as we rarely go more than 2 or 3 years without one. But Foster's was the only time over 24 seasons between Mays and Fielder where anyone had reached that level. It's not that it wasn't threatened - Frank Robinson hit 49 in 1965 and Harmon Killebrew hit 49 in 1969, and in between Foster and Fielder, we saw Mark McGwire and Andre Dawson each reach 49 in 1987.  But, we love our round numbers, and 49 is not 50. Foster's season will always have a special place in my memory.
 
#9-Lance Berkman
Best category: Win Shares / 162 (5th)
Worst category: Games (28th)
 
Berkman came up a little short of a "magical" slash line threshold - the .300/.400/.500 club. He managed 2 of the 3, but came up shy on batting average at .293. If you drop the batting average requirement to .290 and also require a 140 OPS+, Berkman is one of 26 players to achieve membership in that particular version of everyone's favorite "We can make a club" game. Players in the 1970-present era who have membership in that club (minimum 5,000 PA's) are:
 
Player
PA
OPS+
BA
OBP
SLG
Barry Bonds
12,606
182
.298
.444
.607
Chipper Jones
10,614
141
.303
.401
.529
Frank Thomas
10,075
156
.301
.419
.555
Manny Ramirez
9,774
154
.312
.411
.585
Jeff Bagwell
9,431
149
.297
.408
.540
Edgar Martinez
8,674
147
.312
.418
.515
Larry Walker
8,030
141
.313
.400
.565
Lance Berkman
7,814
144
.293
.406
.537
Joey Votto
7,372
150
.307
.421
.519
Mike Trout
5,273
176
.305
.419
.581
 
Votto and Trout are still active, of course. I know you have to be careful with these types of "groups", because the cutoffs are a little arbitrary (especially since I went with .290 vs. 300 to allow Berkman to be included), and several players could just miss inclusion on the low end, and there's no upper limit, so a lot of the players may be much better than the person being highlighted. But, even if you lower the threshold to something a little more generous on the low end, say .290/.390/.490/135, it's the same group as above, plus new members Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera, Brian Giles, and Paul Goldschmidt, although Goldschmidt is still active and will probably slide below the batting average and OBP thresholds by the time his career is done (he's already down to .292/.391). In any case, it's still a pretty select group, and even if you back up the timeline cutoff to 1950, the only additional names you'd bring in (who would still meet the 5,000 PA requirement) are Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle. It's a club that Willie Mays and Hank Aaron don't even make because they're short on the OBP cutoff.  
 
Note that I am not making an argument for Berkman for the Hall of Fame based on membership in this group, because it's not as simple as that. He's not the same level of player that the others on the initial list are. I think he's a notch or two below. Of all of the players mentioned so far, he's more similar overall to someone like a Brian Giles than he is to most of the others in terms of overall value. But he did have an impressive combination in several key, basic batting categories.
 
Berkman was a pretty good postseason performer as well, and his postseason line looks awfully similar to his regular season numbers. His postseason slash line is .317/.417/.532, and his HR's and RBI would prorate to about 28/127 over 162 games.
 
How about if we repeat that same exercise as above, but for postseason results only, and this time adhering to the .300/.400/.500 threshold (minimum 100 postseason PA's, and dropping the OPS+ category as it's not really available for postseason comparisons). That gives us this list, also known as "Gene Woodling's and Justin Turner's moment to shine".
 
Player
G
PA
BA
OBP
SLG
Albert Pujols
77
334
.323
.431
.599
Carlos Beltran
65
256
.307
.412
.609
Justin Turner
54
236
.310
.411
.520
Lance Berkman
52
223
.317
.417
.532
Babe Ruth
40
167
.326
.467
.744
Lou Gehrig
34
150
.361
.477
.731
Lenny Dykstra
32
136
.321
.433
.661
Paul Molitor
29
132
.368
.435
.615
Will Clark
31
132
.333
.409
.547
Gene Woodling
26
104
.318
.442
.529
Hank Greenberg
23
101
.318
.420
.624
 
Now that I've violated the "we can make a club" premise twice in one profile, I think it's time for me to move on......
 
#8-Jim Rice
Best category: MVP Points (2nd)
Worst category: WAR/162 (23rd)
 
I would say Rice is a fairly polarizing figure. There are many who think he's overrated, but it's almost like the reverse of the old Joe Rudi joke, where they used to say that Rudi was so consistently labeled as underrated that he was ultimately overrated. I wonder if it's gotten to the point with Rice that he's so often thought of as overrated that perhaps he isn't a little underrated.
 
In retrospect, Rice took a really long time to be elected to the Hall of Fame, finally making it in on his 15th attempt. It's not just that it took him so long in and of itself, because I think he's a less than obvious candidate, but it's that it took him so long in spite of the fact that, by his 6th year, he had more than 50% of the vote. Usually, once you've tipped the scales to more than half, it's just a matter of time. But it took Rice roughly another decade to make it in.
 
As you can see from his category rankings, Rice, although he may not have had a great relationship with the writers, certainly did well in MVP award balloting. In addition to his 1978 win, he also had two 3rd place finishes, two 4th place finishes, and a 5th. I do think his 1978 win was deserved, although you could certainly make a case for Ron Guidry's spectacular 25-3, 1.74 effort that same year. Rice did lead all position players in rWAR that year (not just AL, but NL too), and he was 5th in the AL the following season. He had several very good seasons.
 
Rice certainly benefits from the inclusion of such things as MVP points and All Star Games in this type of ranking. If I didn't include those 2 considerations in this approach and went purely by the other categories, Rice would be #15. But, they are part of it, and that gives him a boost.
 
#7-Willie Stargell
Best category: MVP Points(4th)
Worst category: WAR/162 (15th)
 
As you can see, Stargell did very well in MVP voting, and that doesn't even factor in that he had 2 additional post-season MVP's in the 1979 NLCS and the 1979 World Series. In fact, I think Stargell is still the only player to sweep all of the regular season and postseason MVP awards in a given year.
 
In addition to his 1979 regular season MVP (which he shared with Keith Hernandez), Stargell also had two 2nd place finishes, a 3rd place, a 7th, a 9th, a 10th, and four other down-ballot finishes. Similar to Andre Dawson, the year that Stargell actually won his MVP was not, at least according to WAR, one of his better statistical seasons. By rWAR, 1979 was merely Stargell's 11th best season. 
 
Of course, Stargell didn't win (share) the 1979 MVP based on numbers. He did hit 32 home runs (5th in the league) and he did so in only 126 games played, but Stargell won primarily based on the narrative. Stargell was the veteran leader on the "We Are Family" Pirates, a team with the best record in the league, who went on to win the World Series title that year. He was a calming influence. He was an emotional leader. He had some big hits. He was a feel-good story.
 
I know I've written this before, but I'm fascinated with that MVP vote. It's really hard to imagine, if that season happened now, that Stargell would get anything more than a fleeting consideration from the voters. For starters, his rWAR was only 2.5. Now, I'll be the first to admit that we don't want to consider something like WAR to be the be-all/end-all metric to settle all arguments. However, it's tough for an MVP candidate to be taken seriously in today's environment without at least a reasonably good WAR figure as a starting point. Not all voters look at it, but I suspect a large enough portion of the voters do at least factor it in that it would be very difficult for a candidate to win without at least a competitive WAR figure.
 
Do you know where Stargell ranked in 1979 in rWAR in the National League? 70th. And the fact of the matter is that Stargell's WAR from that year was no better than 9th on his own team.   That's right - 8 other Pirates had a higher figure. Now do I think Stargell was the 9th best or 9th most important player on his own team? No, I don't. But someone with that low of a WAR figure in today's structure would have a very time overcoming that, regardless of how many stars he handed out to his team mates.
 
Some other interesting notes about the 1979 NL MVP voting - Stargell had 10 first place votes, but 7 other players received at least one first place vote. Ray Knight of the Reds received a couple as he replaced the departed Pete Rose. Joe Niekro received a first-place vote. Gary Carter and Bill Madlock, who finished 17th and 18th in the voting, each received a first place vote. 
 
I figured that the 8 players with first place votes might have been a record, but it's not. I'm not sure what the record is, but just 2 years prior, the 1977 AL MVP voting saw 11(!) different players with at least one MVP vote. More recently, in 2003, 10 different players received first place votes in the AL MVP balloting.
 
In addition, while Stargell received 10 first place votes, there were also 4 voters who left him completely off the ballot, where as Hernandez was named on all 24 ballots. If Stargell had received even just a single 10th place vote from any of those 4 voters, he would have been the sole winner of the award.
 
In any case, I think that looking back, it was a weird MVP award all the way around. Now, I don't mean to downplay the importance of leadership. Leadership is a very real thing. Just because it's difficult to objectively measure doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Leaders, whether they're on the playing field or in government or in the office, are very important and can make a huge impact. 
 
However, the Pirates were a terrific, deep, talented team in 1979. Bill Madlock came over from the Giants during the year and played very well for the Pirates. Phil Garner split time between 3B and 2B and was very valuable. TIm Foli and Omar Moreno, neither of whom was a great player, had the best seasons of their careers in 1979. Bill Robinson and John Milner were a very effective right/left combination in left field. The pitching staff was very solid with Bert Blyleven, John Candelaria, and Bruce Kison heading up the rotation. Kent Tekulve, Grant Jackson, and Enrique Romo were tremendous out the pen, and Jim Bibby had an outstanding season as a swing man. It was a deep, outstanding squad. However, I'm of the opinion that the best, most important, and most valuable player on the Pirates that year was Dave Parker, and I don't think it's particularly close.
 
Now, there's no question that Stargell deserved the 2 postseason MVP awards. He was amazing in both of those series (as was Garner). And awards can't (and shouldn't be) undone. But the 1979 regular season award, in retrospect, always feels very odd to me. 
 
#6-Tim Raines
Best category: WAR, WAR7, Win Shares 7, WAA (5th in each)
Worst category: MVP Points (20th)
 
Rickey Henderson is clearly the consensus as the best leadoff hitter in history. I think if there's a consensus #2, it would be Tim Raines, although I'm sure old-timers would opt for Sliding Billy Hamilton of pre-1900 fame (as opposed to Billy Hamilton version 2.0 of more recent vintage, who was a huge disappointment as a leadoff man). The interesting contrast is that, where as Henderson led off in about 94% of his games, Raines was only around 56%, as he hit out of the #2 and #3 slot quite a bit as well.
 
As you probably know, it took Tim Raines a while to get elected into the Hall of Fame, starting at around 24% support in his first year and gradually working his way up, making it in on his 10th and final turn on the writers' ballot in 2017. 
 
According to my manual digging, here are the players (since 1970) who appeared on the most BBWAA ballots before getting elected by the writers:
 
*Includes "run-off" ballots
Player
Times on Ballot
Jim Rice
15
Ralph Kiner
15*
Bert Blyleven
14
Bob Lemon
14*
Bruce Sutter
13
Tim Raines
10
Larry Walker
10
Edgar Martinez
10
Don Drysdale
10
Andre Dawson
9
Rich Gossage
9
Tony Perez
9
Hoyt Wilhelm
8
 
I'm glad Raines is in, as I think he's a worthy Hall of Famer, but I do tend to get a little perturbed by people who actually get upset that sometimes it takes a while for a candidate to work through the process and be elected. You hear moans about how "his numbers haven't changed since he retired - why is he a Hall of Famer now but wasn't before?", and other such nonsense. Well, there is no exact definition or criteria that makes someone a Hall of Famer. It's only through a consensus of opinion, and even at that it needs to be at the 75% agreement level, which is a fairly demanding level of agreement. I think it's a feature rather than a bug that there is an opportunity for a candidate's case to be reviewed, even over a number of years, before deciding whether or not to induct someone. None of the players listed above is an "obvious" candidate. They're only Hall of Famers if enough voters think they are.
 
#5-Manny Ramirez
Best category: All Star Games, WAR/162, WAA, Win Shares/162 (4th in each)
Worst category: Games (11th)
 
Ranking Ramirez as a left fielder vs. a right fielder is basically a coin flip - he played about 100 more games in left field than he did in right.
 
I'm sure a lot of people would take issue with this ranking, especially given Manny's status as a known user of banned substances, having tested positive twice in 2009 and 2011. I struggle with it too, but I am still of the opinion that Ramirez is one of the greatest hitters that I have ever seen. 
 
Ramirez has been a key figure in some of the greatest offenses we've seen over the last 30 years.  Below is a table of the AL teams with the highest runs per game averages since 1990. Ramirez was on 7 of the top 14 (5 Cleveland, 2 Boston):
 
American League Teams - Most runs scored per game - 1990 to Present
 
Rank
Year
Team
Runs/Game
Wins
Losses
1
1999
CLE
6.23
97
65
2
1996
SEA
6.17
85
76
3
2000
CHW
6.04
95
67
4
1994
CLE
6.01
66
47
5
2007
NYY
5.98
94
68
6
1998
NYY
5.96
114
48
7
2003
BOS
5.93
95
67
8
1994
NYY
5.93
70
43
9
1996
CLE
5.91
99
62
10
2000
OAK
5.88
91
70
11
2004
BOS
5.86
98
64
12
2000
CLE
5.86
90
72
13
1999
TEX
5.83
95
67
14
1995
CLE
5.83
100
44
15
2019
NYY
5.82
103
59
 
Was some of that the era? Sure. But Manny was still a common denominator on several of the top scoring teams.
 
Here's a pretty select group of 10 hitters - 150 OPS+ with at least .300/.400/.550 BA/OBP/Slugging (sorted by OPS+):
 
Player
PA
HR
OPS+
BA
OBP
SLG
Babe Ruth
10,626
714
206
.342
.474
.690
Ted Williams
9,792
521
190
.344
.482
.634
Lou Gehrig
9,665
493
179
.340
.447
.632
Mike Trout
5,273
285
176
.305
.419
.581
Rogers Hornsby
9,481
301
175
.358
.434
.577
Jimmie Foxx
9,677
534
163
.325
.428
.609
Stan Musial
12,721
475
159
.331
.417
.559
Hank Greenberg
6,098
331
158
.313
.412
.605
Frank Thomas
10,075
521
156
.301
.419
.555
Manny Ramirez
9,774
555
154
.312
.411
.585
 
If you were to relax the threshold to .500 slugging, that would pull in Mel Ott, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Joe Jackson, Dan Brouthers, Ed Delahanty, and Joey Votto. Again, similar to the Lance Berkman profile, this doesn't imply that Manny was the equal of most of those above him, because he's not, but rather to convey that there aren't that many to reach those thresholds.
 
Manny was very flawed, of course, even setting aside the poor judgments. He was a terrible defensive player, and he wasn't much on the base paths. But he sure could hit. 
 
#4-Carl Yastrzemski
Best category: All Star Games (1st)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (13th)
 
Yaz was also 2nd in games and 3rd in WAR, WAR7, and WAA.
 
Yaz was actually on the borderline of whether or not I would include him in this review. His career mid-point was 1972, which was pretty close to my 1970 cutoff. In addition, most of his better seasons were in the 1960's, before I started following baseball, including his legendary triple-crown season of 1967. Nevertheless, I did get to witness him for more than a decade, and I decided to include him.
 
How many players who were primarily left fielders were known for outstanding glove work?   Since Gold Gloves do not issue separate awards for each of the 3 outfield positions, they have traditionally been dominated by center fielders and, to a lesser degree, right fielders. Below is a summary of the # of players who have won 4 or more Gold Gloves, grouped by the primary position at which they played:
 
Position
Players With 4 or More Gold Gloves
CF
26
RF
9
LF
3
 
The center fielders in that group include the likes of  Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter, Paul Blair, Jim Edmonds, Garry Maddox, and Curt Flood,  among others. In right field, you have Roberto Clemente, Ichiro Suzuki, Al Kaline, Dwight Evans, and Larry Walker, among others. Andre Dawson won 8 (4 in center, 4 in right). The only 3 left fielders with 4 or more Gold Gloves are Barry Bonds (8), Alex Gordon (7, so far), and Yastrzemski (7). Dave Winfield also won 7, but 5 of his were when he was playing primarily right field. Subjectively, I would go with Yaz as the best defensive left fielder of all time.
 
Have you ever looked at the all-time single-season leaders in rWAR? Among position players, there have only been 5 players who exceeded 12.0 in a single season. Yaz's legendary 1967 season is one of those 5:
 
Rank
Player
WAR
Year
G
PA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BA
OBP
SLG
1
Babe Ruth
14.1
1923
152
699
151
205
45
13
41
130
.393
.545
.764
2
Babe Ruth
12.8
1921
152
693
177
204
44
16
59
168
.378
.512
.846
3
Carl Yastrzemski
12.5
1967
161
680
112
189
31
4
44
121
.326
.418
.622
4
Babe Ruth
12.5
1927
151
691
158
192
29
8
60
165
.356
.486
.772
5
Rogers Hornsby
12.2
1924
143
642
121
227
43
14
25
94
.424
.507
.696
 
Yaz's stats don't look quite as impressive of the others on a superficial level, but most of that is due to the context. The runs per game in the American League in Ruth's 3 seasons of 1923, 1921, and 1927 were 4.78, 5.11, and 4.92, respectively. In the National League in 1924, the figure was 4.54. In 1967, the American League saw an average of only 3.70 runs per team per game, the 3rd lowest since the Dead Ball Era, about 25% lower than Ruth's environments, and about 19% less than Hornsby's. 
 
There's a fun little gadget on baseball-reference.com that takes a player's stats and adjusts them to different eras and context. If you took Yaz's 1967 stats and adjusted them to the American League in 1923 (neutral park), you'd get this line:
 
Year
G
PA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
BA
OBP
SLG
1967
153
676
126
201
33
4
47
137
10
96
.351
.445
.670
 
You may have noticed that the tool adjusts games played down to 1953 since it takes the player in the way-back machine to 1923 and its 1954 game context. If you take the adjusted figures and prorate those numbers back to Yaz's 161 games played in 1967, it would produce this line:
 
Year
G
PA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
BA
OBP
SLG
1967
161
711
133
212
35
4
49
144
11
101
.351
.445
.670
 
Some of Yaz's overall WAR total includes a pretty good defensive performance that year.   In any case, rWAR does recognize Yaz's legendary 1967 performance as one of the top overall position player performances of all time.
 
#3-Pete Rose
Best category: Games (1st)
Worst category: WAR/162 (25th)
 
Rose was also very highly ranked in Win Shares (2nd), All Star Games (2nd), Win Shares 7 (3rd), MVP Points (3rd), WAR (4th) and WAR7 (4th). It's a pretty close battle between Rose and Yaz for the #3 overall ranking, and I only put Rose above Yaz because this is my personal ranking based on what I witnessed, and I think Rose's career from 1970 on was a little better and a little more significant than Yaz's. It is only on that basis that I slid Rose ahead of Yaz. Had I witnessed a little more of Yaz's better years, I'd probably switch them.
 
Rose, as you probably know, is a bit of a challenge to rank at any one position. He played more games at first base than anywhere else, but most of that occurred over his final 8 seasons, when he wasn't the same quality of player that he had been before. His games played at 3B, 2B, LF, and RF are 634, 628, 673, and 590, respectively, and it's hard to get a much more even distribution than that. I had to pick one, and 3 of his 5 best rWAR seasons (including his MVP year) were as a left fielder, so I went with that. As a side note regarding positions, when Rose put in some time here in Dayton as an amateur player after exhausting his high school eligibility and before he turned pro, his primary positions, in addition to second base, were actually catcher and shortstop. If only the guy could pitch....
 
So much has been written about Rose, there's probably not much I can add. I can't ever envision him getting into the Hall during his lifetime. I think that ship has sailed. He was a great player, an iconic figure for the Reds, but very flawed. He ran hard, but not fast, wasn't much of a base stealer (57% success rate), he couldn't throw, and he didn't hit many home runs, especially once he got into his 30's. But he battled for every edge he could. He was about as consistent as you could hope for. I remember when he hit "only" .284 in 1974 after 9 straight seasons of .300+, it seemed to my teenage self that my world had been turned upside down. How could that have happened? Of course, he responded with 5 more .300 seasons in a row after that blip. 
 
Cal Ripken and Lou Gehrig have the two most famous consecutive game streaks in history, but Rose displayed an amazing kind of endurance as well. People mocked his insistence on putting himself in the lineup once he took over as player-manager, but that was literally just the last 2 and a quarter years of his career. Even if you eliminate the games where he put himself in the lineup, he's still the all-time games played leader. He never missed any significant time due to injury, and at least through his age 41 season (his final one as an All Star) he averaged 155 games a season. Woody Allen once was quoted as saying that 80% of success in life is just showing up. And if you thought it was impossible to work both Pete Rose and Woody Allen into the same excerpt, well....I guess you were wrong. Not that either one would necessarily want to be connected to the other......
 
People will remember Rose all kinds of different ways. Many fans loved him and many team mates spoke glowingly of how he helped them (especially the younger players), while at the same time many despised him, even long before he became a pariah. Flawed in so many ways, on and off the field, he was the player I most tried to emulate as a youngster, although, I'm happy to say, I didn't try to emulate his personal attributes.   It wasn't hard to emulate him as a player....you just had to hustle, run hard, back up everybody else, dive for everything, be willing to get your uniform dirty, and scrap for every inch. 
 
In the 1988 film "Stand and Deliver", which featured a memorable performance by Edward James Olmos as real-life Los Angeles high school teacher Jaime Escalante, who willed a group of working-class, under-achieving Latino students to excel at Calculus against all odds, I was introduced to a term called "ganas", which is a Spanish word that roughly translates to "motivation sufficient to act", but more generally is used to refer to a "desire to succeed". That's what Rose excelled at most on a baseball field, in my opinion. He displayed an amazing amount of "ganas". I'm not sure what the equivalent term would be that describes displaying a similar degree of self-destructiveness, but he surely had that as well.
 
#2-Rickey Henderson
Best category:  WAR, WAR/162, WAR7, Win Shares/162, Win Shares 7, WAA(2nd in each)
Worst category: MVP Points and All Star Games (5th in each)
 
Clearly the consensus best leadoff man in history. As is the case with most positions, I struggle when we get to the top of each list in trying to relay something new about the player that perhaps you don't know. What can I tell you about Henderson? Not much.
 
How about this one? A simple ratio, highest runs scored per game played. Here are the only players since 1970 to have ratios of better than 0.7 runs per game:
 
Player
G
R
R/G
Barry Bonds
2,986
2,227
0.746
Rickey Henderson
3,081
2,295
0.745
Kenny Lofton
2,103
1,528
0.727
Alex Rodriguez
2,784
2,021
0.726
Jeff Bagwell
2,150
1,517
0.706
Derek Jeter
2,747
1,923
0.700
 
OK, that one's kind of lame and uninteresting. You probably could have guessed that.
 
How about this one? What's the connection between Henderson and Bobo Newsom? They both had a rather fascinating pattern of returning to the same team (or in Newsom's case, teams). 
 
Henderson had 4 separate stints with the Oakland A's over the course of his career. He was drafted by the A's, traded away to the Yankees, traded back to Oakland, (with Eric Plunk going the opposite direction in both trades), then signed as a free agent with the A's, then traded away to the Blue Jays to pick up a quick championship ring, then returned to the A's as a free agent, then after trying a couple of the other California teams for variety (Padres and Angels), signed again as a free agent with the A's again. And then he played for 5 more franchises (another California team, the Dodgers, not to mention another stint with the Padres) even after that. I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted just walking through that.
 
Anyway, Newsom's career had a lot of those same elements, particularly involving the Washington Senators and the St. Louis Browns, who seemed to be playing a game of "it's your turn to take him". Newsom had 3 different tours of duty with the Browns and 5 with the Senators, not to mention multiple stops with the Athletics and the Dodgers. In all, Newsom played with 9 different franchises (the same as Henderson).  
 
Slightly off topic, since this is under Henderson's profile, but a certain part of me would love it if Newsom were to ever make the Hall of Fame. OK, maybe not Cooperstown....but he certainly needs to make some kind of "Hall of Something" for the fascinating career that he had. To paraphrase an old saying, it takes a pretty good pitcher to lead the league in losses, and Bobo did so 4 times (he also won 20 games three seasons in a row). I don't know whose "Transactions" section on baseball-reference.com is more interesting, Newsom's or Henderson's. I suggest you look over both of them sometime just for fun. But be sure you're in a comfortable chair when you do so.
 
#1-Barry Bonds
Best category: Pretty much all of 'em. He's first in everything except All Star Games and Games .
Worst category: Games (4th)
 
Love him or hate him, I don't see any other player who can reasonably be listed #1 at this position.
 
Again, what can I tell you about Bonds that you don't already know? Well, how about something I didn't know? 
 
I didn't know that Bonds and Bo Jackson, two of the most amazing athletes of the past half century (each in his own way), along with Barry Larkin, one of the greatest shortstops ever, all have something in common. They were all selected in the 2nd round of the 1982 amateur draft out of high school, but none of the 3 signed. Bonds was selected with the 11th pick of the 2nd round by the Giants, and then Jackson and Larkin went back to back with the 22nd and 23rd selections of the 2nd round by the Yankees and the Reds, respectively. 
 
They all went on to great success at college - Bonds at Arizona State, Jackson at Auburn (both baseball and football), and Larkin at Michigan, and then were all redrafted in 1985 - Larkin going 1st round/4th pick to the Reds, Bonds going 1st round/6th pick to the Pirates, and Jackson lasting until the 20th round when the Angels selected him (at that point, I believe the consensus was that Jackson's future was much more likely to be on the gridiron than the diamond). Bonds and Larkin signed, but Jackson didn't.   Jackson was then selected for a third time in the draft in 1986, this time going to the Royals in the 4th round.  
 
 
Top 25 Left Fielders of the Past 50 Years - Ranking/Points
 
Rank
Name
From
To
Points
1
Barry Bonds
1986
2007
95.1
2
Rickey Henderson
1979
2003
64.8
3
Pete Rose
1963
1986
57.9
4
Carl Yastrzemski
1961
1983
57.2
5
Manny Ramirez
1993
2011
47.7
6
Tim Raines
1979
2002
47.1
7
Willie Stargell
1962
1982
43.3
8
Jim Rice
1974
1989
43.2
9
Lance Berkman
1999
2013
43.1
10
George Foster
1969
1986
40.9
11
Lou Brock
1961
1979
40.9
12
Albert Belle
1989
2000
40.9
13
Jose Cruz
1970
1988
40.8
14
Moises Alou
1990
2008
40.8
15
Ryan Braun
2007
2019
40.8
16
Luis Gonzalez
1990
2008
40.6
17
Christian Yelich
2013
2019
37.2
18
Matt Holliday
2004
2018
37.0
19
Roy White
1965
1979
36.8
20
Carl Crawford
2002
2016
34.8
21
Justin Upton
2007
2019
32.7
22
Alfonso Soriano
1999
2014
32.5
23
Ron Gant
1987
2003
32.2
24
Lonnie Smith
1978
1994
32.1
25
Dusty Baker
1968
1986
31.9
 
Distribution of the top 25 by decade (using career mid-point):
 
Decade
Total
1970s
8
1980s
2
1990s
7
2000s
4
2010s
4
Grand Total
25
 
One of the issues with a simple summary table like the one above is that it uses the career mid-point of a player, but that can be misleading. The only 2 "1980s" left fielders according to this are Lonnie Smith and Jim Rice, but the 2 best left fielders of that decade were actually Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines. However, Henderson and Raines both had career mid-points in the early 1990's, and so they are classified in that decade, even though their best years were in the decade before. If they hadn't played quite so long, they would have been classified as 80's rather than 90's, and that would even those two decades out some. But, no summary table like this is perfect.
 
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
Kevin Mitchell
1984
1998
31.1
27
Greg Vaughn
1989
2003
30.8
28
Gary Matthews
1972
1987
30.5
29
Kevin McReynolds
1983
1994
30.0
30
Joe Rudi
1967
1982
29.9
31
Rico Carty
1963
1979
29.7
32
Garret Anderson
1994
2010
29.5
33
Carlos Lee
1999
2012
29.5
34
Alex Gordon
2007
2019
29.4
35
Brett Gardner
2008
2019
29.1
36
Mike Greenwell
1985
1996
28.5
37
George Bell
1981
1993
28.1
38
B. J. Surhoff
1987
2005
27.8
39
Jason Bay
2003
2013
27.8
40
Greg Luzinski
1970
1984
27.7
41
Larry Hisle
1968
1982
27.4
42
Michael Brantley
2009
2019
27.3
43
Ben Oglivie
1971
1986
27.3
44
Starling Marte
2012
2019
27.2
45
Yoenis Cespedes
2012
2018
27.1
46
Cliff Floyd
1993
2009
26.8
47
Willie Horton
1963
1980
26.2
48
Geoff Jenkins
1998
2008
26.0
49
Shannon Stewart
1995
2008
25.8
50
Bernard Gilkey
1990
2001
25.7
 
 
Next up, a few days down the road (hopefully) : right fielders
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Dan
 
    
 
 

COMMENTS (9 Comments, most recent shown first)

bhalbleib
The early 70s Reds had a number of young outfielders. In 1970 they had a 22 year old Bernie Carbo, a 24 year old Bobby Tolan and a 29 year old Pete Rose playing regularly in the outfield, plus a 24 year old Hal McRae on the bench. In 1972 they had added a 23 year old George Foster and a 24 year old Cesar Geronimo to the mix. By 1975, Carbo, Tolan and McRae were gone to other teams, and Rose moved to the infield, but now they had a 25 year old Ken Griffey Sr and a 23 year old Dan Driessen added to the mix. That is a lot of quality outfielders. In 1975, Foster, Geronimo, Griffey, Rose and Driessen were all at least semi regulars on the Reds, and Tolan had 560 PA for the Padres, McRae had 547 PAs for the Royals and Carbo had 407 PA for the BoSox.
10:26 AM Jun 29th
 
Manushfan
Write ups are great. Jose Sr and Roy White are similar. Of course-anyone who crunches Mr Manush's stats can tell you that. Along w Griffey Sr and Lansford and Oliver and Madlock-hitting wise. I liked Jose Sr.

Jim Rice is another guy who has been getting Garveyed, because he's seen by a certain school of thought as being overrated. I saw his whole career pretty much. He wasn't overrated. I like where he is put here too, it's fair.
6:32 PM May 25th
 
MarisFan61
typo in my last pgph:
Should be "Both hit about equally home and away," not "his"
2:14 PM May 24th
 
MarisFan61
(No, Dan and I are not identical twins.) :-)
2:11 PM May 24th
 
MarisFan61
Roy White - Jose Cruz is an interesting comp, which I'd never thought of.

It's not as simple as that, though.
First, perhaps surprisingly, it's probably not so that White's home park was that much more favorable than Cruz's. At least according to baseball-reference.com's Park Factors, it wasn't. Yankee Stadium during White's time, including after the renovation in 1974, was a pitcher's park too. I looked at several of the year-by-year comparisons between their parks, and the difference tended to be just small -- usually in the direction you said but not always!

Plus, on Win Shares, while it depends on how we look at a career, to me White's Win Share record is a bit better. Certainly it is on "peak"-type stuff (not much but clearly) and on a per-game basis; Cruz has it on career total, since his career was longer (which I wouldn't have suspected).

About home vs. road: That's not exactly what we'd suspect either. Both his about equally home and away. That surprised me especially on Cruz.
BTW Cruz's bare stats are better than White's (a little), both home and away, but for whatever reason White comes out as I said on the Win Shares (including on "offensive" alone; he's behind on defensive).
2:10 PM May 24th
 
DMBBHF
Maris & Bear,

Thanks for the comments.

jfenimore,

I did check out their stats on the road. Cruz and White are very similar. As I said in the article, Cruz was disadvantaged at home specifically in home runs, but in all other aspects, he really was't. If you put the road stats of White and Cruz in a per-162 game context, they're very similar - Cruz had a little more batting average & slugging, White had a little better OBP.

They're similar players, with similar value. Cruz rates ahead of White because his career's a little longer. That's about it.

Thanks,
Dan
1:59 PM May 24th
 
jfenimore
If you think Cruz and White are similar, check out their stats on the road.
Cruz was severely hurt by playing in the Astrodome. White played in a much better hitter's park.
12:29 PM May 24th
 
MarisFan61
Yes -- great job again! Great job on all of these. :-)

Again, as with all the others, as I went up the 'countdown' from #25 on up (or do we call it down? I call it "up"), my first thought on almost every player was "He's only # so-and-so?" There have been a lot of good players. But besides that, again there were some relative rankings that surprised my gut -- but I imagine there were some that surprised your gut too, Dan! :-)

Just for fun -- not as any criticism! just for fun -- here are my gut reactions on where I would have thought the guys would have been ranked.
And BTW, not only isn't it criticism, it's not even where I think they should be ranked, just where I would have thought they would be.
I'm leaving out (1) current players and (2) PED-suspect players, because I don't know what to do with them.
BTW, don't worry about who I'm including in #2. I'm very broad on that, and let's try to ignore it.
For all the other top-25 guys, here's where I would have thought they 'would' be:

Baker - about where he is
L. Smith - about where he is
Gant - about where he is
Soriano - higher
Crawford - - about where he is
Roy White - a little higher
Jose Cruz - a little higher
Foster - a little lower
Rice - a little lower
Stargell - about where he is
Raines - a little higher
Yastrzemski - a little higher
Rose - a little lower
Henderson - about where he is
4:48 PM May 23rd
 
bearbyz
Again, great job, enjoyed the writeups.
2:39 PM May 23rd
 
 
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