In yesterday’s post, some moved away from Best in the Game to best hitter. Dionysus brought up George Brett in the non-Ted Williams era as the best hitter he ever saw. Badger opined that Tony Gwynn was the best hitter he ever saw. I agreed with Badger, but also brought up a couple of other names of great hitting players that I actually saw play…Wade Boggs and Rod Carew.
One name that I forgot, because when I became enamored with the game, Stan Musial was at the end of his career. But I did see him play. Musial became the first MLB player to have 3,000+ hits, 300+ HRs, and a .300+ career batting average.
I am still one of those who revere batting average as a one of the most important metrics measured, and that .300 is the standard bearer. Throughout MLB history, there have 182 batters with career .300+ batting averages. When looking at .325 BA, there have been 35 players who have reached or passed that level. The top three:
- Ty Cobb – .366
- Rogers Hornsby – .358
- Joe Jackson – .356
Of the post-50’s era, the first player to break the career .300 mark was Tony Gwynn at .338 (#16 on All-Time list). That was followed by Rod Carew and Wade Boggs at .328.
Many fans have turned to OPS to determine the best batter. I say batter because part of OPS includes walks as part of OBP. It also gives the advantage to the power hitter as SLG is based on total bases. As we all know, OBP and SLG total in make OPS.
Overall, there have been 11 who have achieved at least a 1.000 OPS. The top three career OPS leaders are:
- Babe Ruth – 1.1636
- Ted Williams – 1.1155
- Lou Gehrig – 1.0798
Two post-50’s players have achieved that level including 1 player still playing. Barry Bonds 1.0512 and Mike Trout 1.0019. Now the question will be, how long can Trout continue at that pace?
As current baseball fans, we have been blessed to have witnessed two of the greatest hitters of all time end their careers last year…Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. Both are can’t miss first ballot HOF players. Any voter who does not vote for both should have their credentials pulled.
Miguel Cabrera became the 5th player to reach 3,000+ hits, 300+ HRs, and a career .300+ batting average. Albert Pujols just missed that distinction due to a “mere” .298 batting average.
So who are the five players to reach 3,000+ hits, 300+ HRs, and .300+ career batting average:
- Stan Musial – 3,630 hits, 475 HRs, .331 BA
- Willie Mays – 3,293 hits, 660 HRs, .301 BA
- Henry Aaron – 3,771 hits, 755 HRs, .305 BA
- George Brett – 3,154 hits, 317 HRs, .305 BA
- Miguel Cabrera – 3,088 hits, 507 HRs, .308 BA
Each one of those players need to be considered amongst the most elite hitters of all time.
For me, the following should be considered amongst the best hitters in the post-50’s era, players I watched.
- Tony Gwynn – .338/.388/.459/.847 – 132 OPS+, 3,141 hits, 135 HRs – 20 years
- Stan Musial – .331/.417/.559/.976 – 159 OPS+, 3,630 hits, 475 HRs – 22 years
- Rod Carew – .328/.393/.429/.822 – 131 OPS+, 3,053 hits, 92 HRs – 19 years
- Wade Boggs – .328/.415/.443/.858 – 131 OPS+, 3,010 hits, 118 HRs – 18 years
- Miggy Cabrera – .308/.384/.524/.908 – 142 OPS+, 3,088 hits, 507 HRs – 20 years
- George Brett – .305/.369/.487/.857 – 135 OPS+, 3,154 hits, 317 HRs – 21 years
- Henry Aaron – .305/.374/.555/.940 – 155 OPS+, 3,771 hits, 755 HRs – 23 years
- Willie Mays – .301/.384/.557/.940 – 155 OPS+, 3,293 hits, 660 HRs – 23 years
- Albert Pujols – .298/.374/.544/.918 – 145 OPS+, 3,384 hits, 703 HRs – 22 years
Others I would consider the elite of the elite hitters:
- Mickey Mantle – .298/.421/.557/.977 – 172 OPS+, 2,415 hits, 536 HRs, 18 years
- Paul Molitor – .306/.369/.448/.817 – 122 OPS+, 3,319 hits, 234 HRs – 21 years
- Roberto Clemente – .317/.389/.475/.834 – 130 OPS+, 3,000 hits, 240 HRs – 18 years
- Frank Thomas – .301/.419/.555/.974 – 156 OPS+, 2,468 hits, 521 HRs
- Carl Yastrzemski – .285/.379/.462/.841 – 130 OPS+, 3,419 hits, 452 HRs
- Derek Jeter – .310/.377/.440/.817 – 115 OPS+, 3,465 hits, 260 HRs – 20 years
- Mike Piazza – .308/.377/.545/.922 – 143 OPS+, 2,427 hits, 427 HRs – 16 years
- Ichiro Suzuki – .311/.355/.402/.757 – 107 OPS+, 3,089 hits, 117 HRs – 19 years
Great hitters but questionable due to PED usage (and did not need to):
- Barry Bonds – .298/.444/.607/1.051 – 182 OPS+, 2,935 hits, 762 HRs – 22 years
- Alex Rodriguez – .295/.380/.550/.930 – 140 OPS+, 3,115 hits, 696 HRs – 22 years
Who might join the group?
- Joey Votto – .297/.412/.513/.926 – 145 OPS+, 2,093 hits, 342 HRs – 16 years and going.
Of course, I cannot miss the career hits leader…Pete Rose.
- Pete Rose – .303/.375/.409/.784 – 118 OPS+, 4,256 hits, 160 HRs, 24 years
I know many of you were fans during the 50’s and may have others that you consider the best of the best. Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle are the two that had the bulk of their career in the 40’s and 50’s that I have considered.
Some of you have memories of great hitters that you followed, and have carved out your own criteria. Who else might you consider elite of the elite hitters.
I have tried to advise many LAD fans out there that Hunter Feduccia should be considered a ML caliber backup catcher. Admittedly one game (3 ABs) does not put the catcher at the top of the prospect list. But he barreled up all three ABs. I hope he gets the bulk of the catching responsibilities at AAA, and becomes the go-to emergency catcher for LAD if a vacancy occurs at the ML level.
Bottom line, I hope he gets a legit shot for a ML job. It does not always work out that deserving MiLB players get that opportunity.
Great post Jeff.
I completely forgot about Musial. He was an All Star for what seemed like every year until he was 42. He was an All Star 4 times before I was born. I think I saw him in person twice and he didn’t do much, but he was great for a very long time. His OPS+ stands above.
I first saw Mantle in person when I was 9. He hit two towering home runs in Kansas City. I can still hear the sound of his bat striking the ball. It was different. It was loud. He was also clearly faster than any player on the field. He was different and he knew it. Everybody knew it.
Mays, Aaron, Musial. Yes. Of course.
I don’t recall seeing Boggs or Carew in person but their numbers speak for themselves. I think I remember Joe Garagiola saying about Brett “he could hit BB’s with barbed wire”. So could Gwynn and Carew. There are no hitters like those guys anymore.
Mays, Mantle, Musial = 3M
Maybe not elite but underrated, Vada Pinson.
Frank Robinson and Ernie Banks certainly merit a mention.
Also, Duke Snider. He got overshadowed by Mays and Mantle but his numbers stand up well in comparison.
Tommy Davis gave me one year of awesomeness and I truly enjoyed it.
Duke for 5 years like Koufax was super fun to root for.
Davis had two great years, 62-63 winning the NL batting title and in so doing was the last Dodger to win a batting title. Turner in 21 did not count since he did most of his damage with DC.
Frank Robinson was definitely a great hitter and often overlooked since he played in both leagues. His best years were in the 1960’s when pitchers started to dominate. His slash line of 294/389/537/926 with 586 HRs and 154 OPS+ puts him close to the Mays/Aaron/Mantle/Musial group.
I agree with your assessment of Duke. If he had not been relegated to playing in the LA Coliseum his statistics would look much better.
As far as modern day players, Ichiro was a fun hitter to watch:
Great post Jeff!
Even though Ted Williams’ best years were in the 1940’s, he was amazing after 1950 as well. In 1957 at age 38, he hit 388 with OPS of 1257 and OPS+ of 233.
And his last year in 1960 he had OPS of 1096 and OPS+ of 190 at age 41. He had Barry Bonds numbers without the steroids.
My addition to the list would be Rickey Henderson. When he retired, he was the all time MLB leader in runs, walks, and stolen bases. His career slash line was 279/401/419/820 with OPS+ of 127 over 25 years. But if you look at 16 years from 1980-1995 he was 291/409/445/854 with 140 OPS+. His Batting average was not comparable to the great hitters like Carew and Gwynn, but his career OBP was better than both. And he hit 297 HR to go along with 1406 stolen bases. With all of the data and stats available, sometimes we forget that we keep score by runs, and Rickey scored more than anyone in MLB history.
I was initially talking about hitters I actually saw in person. I made a point of arriving early enough to see batting practice and infield being taken.
Watching what the great hitters work on in batting practice was both fun and educational for me. What guys like Gwynn could do with their bats was amazing. I watched him aim at each base, third second first, first second third. He could hit ‘em now and then. He hit nothing but line drives all over the park. I watched Mattingly aim at the right field foul pole and just miss it time after time. I saw Piazza hit shot after shot trying to hit it out of Dodger Stadium. I never saw Mantle take batting practice but heard stories about it. The whole park would stop what they were doing to watch him hit. My grandfather told me stories about what Babe Ruth could do in batting practice.
No doubt every player mentioned here is worthy of that list. Many I only saw on tv.
Mattingly had great BPs. Would hook line drive after drive into the RF corner.
Fine article by the great Zach Crizer on the Padres and their ownership’s philosophy:
The Manny Machado extension is going to be expensive for SD. The extension starts in 2023 and his AAV has increased Machado’s AAV from $30MM to $31.82MM and moving the team past the second tier of $40MM in excess. Not only has the tax increased, but the Padres will have their 1st pick drop 10 spots next year. It is clear the Padres are going for it this year and worry about next year, next year.
Their projected AAV salary for the 11 Padres under contract next year total $297.2MM before arbitration and pre-arbitration salaries. Juan Soto by himself should jump to $30MM or very near. Jake Cronenworth, Trent Grisham, Austin Nola, Tim Hill, and five more should exceed the CBT threshold. They will still need to replace or extend Brett Snell and Josh Hader.
Musial was a great hitter. He got his Stan the Man monicker from Brooklyn fans after a double header at Ebbets Field where he hit 5 homers in the two games. Also one of the real gentlemen of the game.
spring training giveth and spring training taketh away
Spring injuries can ruin a plan very quickly. Remember Pedro Guerrero.
Miguel Rojas and CT3???
Rojas full-time SS. Maybe Yonny makes team.
Lots of people anxiously waiting for MRI/x ray results.
Watched a little of the Red Sox game. Old favorite, snicker snicker, Tyler White was playing first for the Twins, who like the Sox, had three exe Dodgers in their starting lineup. Farmer, Gallo and White. Sox started JT, Verdugo and Kike.