The Greatest Players in MLB History: Stats Version Two

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The Greatest Players in MLB History: Stats Version Two
Nick Laham/Getty Images

This is a response to a very interesting article by Jordan Scwartz; The 50 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time .

In his article Jordan ranked all MLB players (not all players; neither players from the Japanese leagues nor the Negro League were included) based soley on statistics, mixing pitchers and hitters. The idea was good, but I, like others, thinks the method needs to be refined a little. I have made an attempt.

Jordan ranked the players based on rank in several categories. A spot among the 50 best in any of the categories gave points, from 50 for first place to one for 50th. 

 

I Have Used a Slightly Different Approach

I've ranked pitchers and hitters separately, but with the same type of approach so that at the end I will make a list of both pitchers and hitters. 

I have used eight categories for hitters, and six for pitchers. I have given the categories different weights, according to the importance I give to the category in defining “greatness”. Just like Jordan, I have not included defense stats, as are not as well developed and accessible.

I have emphasized relative position rather than just rank. In other words: Cy Young’s 511 wins are valued for how many they are, not only for being the most wins.

Here is the method. I have chosen the 200 best hitters and pitchers (based on rank in the eight/six categories). 

For each category I have found the average for the 200, and the average deviation. For instance, for BA the average is .305, and the average deviation is .018.

For each player and category I have looked how far they are from the average of the 200 best and how many average deviations they are above/below.

Ty Cobb’s BA is .366. That is .061 above the average of the 200 best, and that equals 3.35 average deviations (.061/.018). So Ty Cobb gets a score of 3.35 for his BA, that is how much better he was. 

Pete Rose gets 3.85 for his hits (4256-2255)/520. Babe Ruth gets 5.21 for his OBP+.

 

Categories and Weights for Hitters

Batting Average…...100 %

Hits.....................100 %

Home Runs............100 %

OPS +..................100 %

On-Base%..............50 %

Slugging %.............50 %

Runs Scored...........50 %

Stolen Bases..........25 %

Triples and doubles are left out, as they are included in OPS+ and slugging.

On base and slugging are reduced because they are part of OPS+, runs scored because they are in a large part dependent on the rest of the team. Stolen bases are reduced as I believe they are just less important. 

Ricky Henderson’s score for stolen bases is 6.66 but is reduced to 1.67 because of the low weight given to stolen bases.

 

Categories and Weights for Pitchers

Wins.......................75 %

Win-Loss %..............50 %

ERA+.....................100 %

ERA........................50 %

Walks & Hits per IP.….50 %

SO.........................25 %

Complete games and shut-outs are left out as I feel they will skew the results to heavily in favor of the earlier years. Innings pitched, I feel, is a product of the other categories, or at least so closely correlated that including them would be “doubling”.

Wins and win/loss percentages are reduced as they are dependent on the offense as well. ERA and WHIP are reduced as they are included in the ERA+ (directly and indirectly), strikeouts are reduced because I think they really are of less importance (other than what they do for ERA—at their best when they reduce ERA).

Nolan Ryan’s score for strikeouts is 5.44, but it is reduced to 1.36 because of the reduced weight.

 

The Final Score

To get the final score I take the weighted average of the score by category.

For example, Walter Johnson’s line is W 2.48 / W-L % 0.15 / ERA+ 2.86 / ERA 0.97 / WHIP 1.02 / SO 0.63, which gives him a weighted average total of 2.32. He is 2.32 average deviations better than the 200 best pitchers in history.

Is 2.32 a good number? Yes, it is very good, the best for any pitcher, and better than any hitter not named Babe Ruth (2.95).

 

The average for the 200 best and the average deviation is as follows for the hitting categories

Batting Average - 0.305 - 0.018

Hits - 2258 - 517

Home Runs - 245 - 152

OPS+ - 132 - 14

On-Base% - 0.382 - 0.023

Runs Scored - 1292 - 304

Slugging % - 0.48 - 0.049

Stolen Bases - 254 – 171

In other words, if a hitter has 397 home runs he scores a 1.00 in that category ((397-245)/124), because he has is one “average deviation of home runs” (152) better than the average (245) for the 200 best.

 

The numbers for the pitching categories are:

Wins - 191 - 69

Win-Loss % - 58.6 % - 4.5 %

ERA - 3.01 - 0.43

ERA+ - 120 - 9

WHIP - 1.21 - 0.07

SO - 1615 - 757

In other words, if a pitcher has 260 wins he scores a 1.00 in that category ((260-191)/69), because he has is one “average deviation of wins” (69) better than the average (191) for the 200 best.

 

The Results

So, enough(or maybe way too much) of the explanations, what are the results?

 

10 best hitters...

  1         Babe Ruth

  2         Ted Williams

  3         Ty Cobb

  4         Barry Bonds

  5         Lou Gehrig

  6         Rogers Hornsby

  7         Hank Aaron

  8         Stan Musial

  9         Jimmie Foxx

  10       Will Mays

 

The 10 best pitchers...

  1         Walter Johnson

  2         Cy Young

  3         Pedro Martinez

  4         Christy Mathewson

  5         Roger Clemens

  6         Ed Walsh

  7         Al Spalding

  8         Pete Alexander

  9         Addie Joss

  10       Mordecai Brown

 

The 10 best, mixed (score included – Babe Ruth stands out, “three times as good as the average”)...

1          Babe Ruth 2.95

2          Walter Johnson 2.38

3          Ted Williams 2.29

4          Ty Cobb 2.21

5          Barry Bonds  2.15

6          Cy Young   2.09

7          Lou Gehrig   2.00

8          Pedro Martinez  1.99

9          Christy Mathewson 1.99

10        Roger Clemens 1.82

At the end of the article I have the list of 50 best hitters and 50 best pitchers, including score, and a list for active players.

 

Some Comments

I tried including Mariano Rivera, but his ERA+ puts him higher than I think is really correct, relievers have, in general, a much higher ERA+ than starters.

Alex Rodriguez is the only hitter that is not below the average in any of the eight hitter categories (which maybe should be called offense categories since stolen bases are included). His BA is 0.3048, exactly at the average.

Ricky Henderson is top in two categories, stolen bases and runs scored, but only makes it to number 38. Pete Rose is of course tops in hits, but only at number 46 total. His power numbers keep him back.

The hitters list is a pure offense list, and values neither general defense, nor position. This obviously hurts the catchers, shortstops, and second basemen. They are not well represented on the list.

Steroid users are on the list. I use the official stats, and they have no asterixes or comments.

I have looked at some of the criticism Jordan received for his very good article, and have checked if some of the points have been taken care of in my revision of the “stats-only-ranking-of-players”.

  1. Absence of Albert Pujols and A-Rod—check—No. 16 and 17
  2. Inclusion of Phil Niekro—check—not on the list
  3. Micky Mantle too low—check—No. 12
  4. Palmeiro too high—check—No. 39 (on hitters, not on total 50 at all)
  5. Lack of catchers—not addressed
  6. Ken Griffey not top 50—sorry—he is only 33 on the hitters list
  7. Gibson—sorry—no 30 on pitchers list
  8. Brock and Ozzie Smith—sorry—not high
  9. Spalding should not be here—sorry—with his win percentage and ERA, ERA+ he is high on the list
  10. Kid Nichols, John Clarkson, Tim Keefe, or Charlie Radbourn—check for the three first—Radbourn at No. 28 of pitchers, the others 13, 16, and 17.
  11. Sutton too high—check—No. 67
  12. Schmidt or Robinson. Or Bench, Berra... Morgan....Banks.... not on the list—sorry again—pure hitting stats does not do well for these excellent players.
  13. Nolan Ryan, too high—check—only makes it to No. 64 on the pitchers list.

And to my friend Michael W, Smokey Joe Wood is of course on the list, at No. 12!

And to all other Yankee fans, Jeter does not make it yet, a proof of how unbiased I have been in the making of the list.

And to the ones saying you cannot compare Ruth with todays' players, he could not have hit Randy Johnson. I believe a man of Ruth's talents, born in 1970, would have developed into a player well capable of hitting any pitcher.

And as to the pticher versus hitter comments, a pitcher is included in about eight to 10 percent of the teams action (half the game every fifth game). A hitter is included in about eight to 12 percent of the offense (one of nine if he plays every game). But of course, a hitter particpates on defense, so in total a position players' has a large part of the game.

And to the ones saying this is a pointless exercise—too each his own. A baseball-numbers-geek like myself has his pleasures.  

 

Fifty Best Lists

Here are the lists of the 50 best, with score: (+ after name means Hall of Fame, active players have their age after their name)

HITTERS:

1  Babe Ruth+      2,95

2  Ted Williams+      2,29

3  Ty Cobb+      2,21

4  Barry Bonds      2,15

5  Lou Gehrig+      2,00

6  Rogers Hornsby+      1,74

7  Hank Aaron+      1,73

8  Stan Musial+      1,71

9  Jimmie Foxx+      1,53

10  Willie Mays+      1,47

11  Tris Speaker+      1,38

12  Mickey Mantle+      1,17

13  Mel Ott+      1,12

14  Manny Ramirez (37)    1,10

15  Frank Robinson+      1,05

16  Albert Pujols (29)    1,04

17  Alex Rodriguez (33)    0,98

18  Dan Brouthers+      0,96

19  Frank Thomas      0,92

20  Honus Wagner+      0,91

21  Eddie Collins+      0,89

22  Ed Delahanty+      0,88

23  Joe DiMaggio+      0,80

24  Cap Anson+      0,78

25  Harry Heilmann+      0,75

26  Nap Lajoie+      0,74

27  Billy Hamilton+      0,73

28  Al Simmons+      0,68

29  Joe Jackson      0,67

30  Jesse Burkett+      0,64

31  Jeff Bagwell      0,64

32  Chipper Jones (37)    0,63

33  Ken Griffey (39)    0,62

34  Todd Helton (35)    0,62

35  Gary Sheffield (40)    0,62

36  Vladimir Guerrero (34)    0,62

37  Paul Waner+      0,57

38  Rickey Henderson+      0,56

39  Rafael Palmeiro      0,55

40  Johnny Mize+      0,53

41  Larry Walker      0,53

42  Tony Gwynn+      0,51

43  Hank Greenberg+      0,50

44  Carl Yastrzemski+      0,49

45  Roger Connor+      0,47

46  Pete Rose      0,47

47  Jim Thome (38)    0,46

48  George Brett+      0,45

49  Edgar Martinez      0,44

50  Al Kaline+      0,42

 

PITCHERS:

1  Walter Johnson+      2,38

2  Cy Young+      2,09

3  Pedro Martinez (37)    1,99

4  Christy Mathewson+      1,99

5  Roger Clemens      1,82

6  Ed Walsh+      1,75

7  Al Spalding+      1,75

8  Pete Alexander+      1,62

9  Addie Joss+      1,52

10  Mordecai Brown+      1,52

11  Lefty Grove+      1,47

12  Joe Wood      1,40

13  Kid Nichols+      1,36

14  Randy Johnson (45)    1,36

15   Greg Maddux      1,24

16  John Clarkson+      1,16

17  Tim Keefe+      1,16

18  Eddie Plank+      1,09

19  Tom Seaver+      1,09

20  Rube Waddell+      1,03

21  Whitey Ford+      1,02

22  Johan Santana (30)    0,97

23  Hoyt Wilhelm+      0,89

24  Sandy Koufax+      0,87

25  Jim Palmer+      0,78

26  Carl Hubbell+      0,75

27  Juan Marichal+      0,74

28  Charley Radbourn+      0,72

29  Larry Corcoran      0,70

30  Bob Gibson+      0,66

31  Warren Spahn+      0,62

32  Bob Caruthers      0,61

33  Sam Leever      0,60

34  Ed Reulbach      0,56

35  John Ward+      0,56

36  Spud Chandler      0,53

37  Roy Oswalt (31)    0,50

38  Will White      0,50

39  Curt Schilling      0,49

40  Jim Devlin      0,47

41  Mike Mussina      0,46

42  Joe McGinnity+      0,45

43  Eddie Cicotte      0,45

44  Deacon Phillippe      0,45

45  Noodles Hahn      0,44

46  Jim McCormick      0,44

47  Roy Halladay (32)    0,41

48  Dave Foutz      0,38

49  Gaylord Perry+      0,38

50  Dizzy Dean+      0,36

 

Active Players Only

A list of only active players (as of last I checked, maybe Alou has retired), mixing pitches and hitters: Pedro stands out

1  Pedro Martinez (37)    1,99

2  Manny Ramirez (37)    1,10

3  Albert Pujols (29)    1,04

4  Alex Rodriguez (33)    0,98

5  Johan Santana (30)    0,97

6  Chipper Jones (37)    0,63

7  Ken Griffey (39)    0,62

8  Todd Helton (35)    0,62

9  Gary Sheffield (40)    0,62

10  Vladimir Guerrero (34)    0,62

11  Roy Oswalt (31)    0,50

12  Jim Thome (38)    0,46

13  Roy Halladay (32)    0,41

14  John Smoltz (42)    0,33

15  Brandon Webb (30)    0,20

16  Derek Jeter (35)    0,20

17  Lance Berkman (33)    0,09

18  Carlos Delgado (37)    0,08

19  Tom Glavine (43)    0,07

20  Jason Giambi (38)    0,06

21  Bobby Abreu (35)    0,03

22  Tim Hudson (33)    0,03

23  Moises Alou (42)    (0,08)

24  Magglio Ordonez (35)    (0,16)

25  Jim Edmonds (39)    (0,17)

26  C.C. Sabathia (28)    (0,24)

27  Carlos Zambrano (28)    (0,32)

28  Ichiro Suzuki (35)    (0,34)

29  Ivan Rodriguez (37)    (0,35)

30  Miguel Cabrera (26)    (0,36)

31  Nomar Garciaparra (35)    (0,36)

32  Andy Pettitte (37)    (0,39)

33  David Ortiz (33)    (0,45)

34  Matt Holliday (29)    (0,46)

35  Danny Haren (28)    (0,50)

36  Mark Teixeira (29)    (0,59)

37  Cliff Lee (30)    (1,06)

38  Javier Vazquez (32)    (1,20)

39  Juan Pierre (31)    (1,21)

40  Mark Mulder (31)    (1,28)

Hope the other number-geeks enjoyed this.

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