Albert Pujols and the 20 Greatest Right-Handed Hitters of All Time
When we think of the greatest hitters in the history of Major League Baseball, we usually think of a rather rote group of players:
Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb, Barry Bonds.
When we think of great "pure" hitters, we also look to a rather well established group:
Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, George Sisler, Tony Gwynn, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Ichiro Suzuki.
These truly great players brought a common strength, common determination, and common skill to the plate with them every time they came to bat. Of course, those aren't the only things they all had in common.
They were also all left-handed.
Truth be told, Major League Baseball is a left-handed hitter's world. Simply put, left-handed hitters have the advantage against a right-handed pitcher and a disadvantage against a left-handed pitcher. The vast majority of the pitchers in baseball are right-handed, so you do the math.
As a result of this natural advantage, it is no surprise that the greatest hitters of all time happen to have been lefties.
Nevertheless, this phenomenon means that, every now and then, we need to give a little extra love to the right-handed batters.
Here is a look at the top 20 right-handed batters of all time, including a current player who is steadily moving up the ranks.
Honorable Mention: Manny Ramirez
I have no idea what to do with Manny Ramirez. Being busted in 2009 for using a female fertility drug and being revealed to be one of the players who tested positive in the 2003 steroid testing paints, to me, a picture whose dots need filling in.
Meaning, if he tested positive in 2003 and in 2009, then aren't we required to assume he was using every year in between as well?
And what do we do about the years before 2003?
Taken at face value, Manny's stats make him one of the top 10 right-handed hitters of all time, but I just don't know what to make of his steroid record.
So I'll mention him here. Perhaps this should be called the "Dis-Honorable Mention."
20. Mike Schmidt
By no stretch of the imagination could Mike Schmidt, a career .267 hitter, be considered a "pure hitter."
Nevertheless, in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no more valuable hitter overall in the National League than Schmidt, who led the NL in home runs eight times, RBI and walks four times each, and OPS five times.
19. Al Simmons
Before we had the Steroid Era, during which all baseball statistics seemed suspect and we all wondered if we could trust what we were seeing, there were the 1920s and 1930s.
Simmons won back-to-back batting titles in 1930 and 1931, during which he hit a combined .385 with 257 runs scored and 293 RBI.
Simmons finished his career with a .334 average, 1,500 runs, 1,800 RBI, and 2,927 hits. Gotta think that in the modern era he sticks around long enough to get those last 73 hits.
18. Jeff Bagwell
Jeff Bagwell very quietly put together one of the most valuable careers as a hitter in baseball history. Though his career was cut short by injuries, his combination of power, average, and on-base ability has rarely been matched.
To say nothing of the fact that this seemingly stocky first baseman went 30-30 twice and finished his career with over 200 stolen bases.
17. Rickey Henderson
Like Schmidt, Rickey was no pure hitter.
But Rickey had one of the greatest batting eyes of all time. Ever wonder why Henderson has so many more stolen bases than anyone else in baseball history? It is because he had what so few great modern speedsters have had: an ability to get on base.
His through-the-roof value is demonstrated by his 2,200 career runs scored, 3,000 career hits, 500 career doubles, 1,400 career stolen bases, and .401 career on-base percentage.
Not bad for a guy who batted righty despite being left-handed.
16. Roberto Clemente
Roberto Clemente finished his career with four batting titles, a .317 lifetime average, and exactly 3,000 hits.
And he wasn't done yet.
When he died in that plane crash at the age of 37, he still had at least two or three productive years left at the end of his career. Who knows what he had left in him?
15. Alex Rodriguez
Yeah, he used steroids. His record will always be tainted by that revelation, and we'll always wonder to what degree steroids are responsible for his career numbers.
But A-Rod was also an awesome hitter before the steroids.
Remember when he won the batting title in 1996 by batting .358? In his first full season? At the age of 20?
He has done things that have been rivaled by very few of his right-handed brethren, including those on steroids.
14. Hank Greenberg
No player was robbed of more by World War II.
While the standard time lost by WWII players was two years, and several players lost three years, Greenberg lost four-and-a-half years to the war. Greenberg played 19 games in 1941 and then didn't play again until the last 78 games of 1945.
World War II and injuries limited Hank to only 11 seasons, but in those seasons he led the league in home runs and RBI four times each, bases on balls twice, and total bases twice. He also topped 200 hits three times, once hit 63 doubles, and batted .313 for his career.
He is also one of eight right-handed hitters in baseball history in the "3-4-5 Club," meaning batting average over .300, on-base percentage over .400, and slugging percentage over .500. The other seven are Rogers Hornsby, Edgar Martinez, Harry Heilmann, Albert Pujols, Jimmie Foxx, Manny Ramirez, and Frank Thomas.
Had he not missed so much time, he would have almost certainly been the fourth player with 500 career home runs, considering he had 331 in just 6,096 plate appearances.
13. Edgar Martinez
Edgar Martinez is the right-handed hitter whose hitting—meaning his physical swing—most reminds me of a left-hander. Watching Edgar swing the bat was like watching a left-handed hitter in a mirror.
Since 1939, three right-handed hitters have won two American League batting titles: Joe DiMaggio, Nomar Garciaparra, and Edgar Martinez.
Edgar is also one of eight right-handed members of the 3-4-5 Club.
12. Harry Heilmann
Heilmann won four batting titles in 15 seasons with single-season batting averages of .394, .403, .393, and .398.
I'm not sure why Heilmann played his last full season at the age of 35, but if he could have played a couple more years, he would have easily gotten to 3,000 hits.
One of the more heartwarming moments in Ted Williams' autobiography (and there ain't that many) is Ted's anecdote about being on the road in Detroit towards the end of his run at hitting .400 in 1941 and having Harry Heilmann, then a Tigers announcer, come out and give him advice about how to hit at Tiger Stadium.
Williams discovered that Heilmann was actually rooting for him, even as he was playing against the team that was giving Heilmann his paycheck.
11. Mike Piazza
Mike Piazza's placement on this list may be surprising. That's fine; Piazza is one of the most underrated hitters in baseball history.
In addition to being a righty, Piazza also spent his career playing the most taxing position on the field in some of the most hitting-averse parks in baseball, Dodger Stadium and Shea Stadium.
Piazza hit 232 home runs on the road and only 195 at home.
He also had 212 doubles on the road and a shocking 132 at home.
Piazza's astonishing .320 career batting average on the road is higher than that of Wade Boggs (.302), George Brett (.290), and Todd Helton (.292).
If Piazza had come up as a first baseman or outfielder in a hitter-neutral park, he would have been Albert Pujols.
10. Frank Robinson
Two MVPs, a Triple Crown, 1,800 runs, 1,800 RBI, and 586 home runs.
If not for those Mays and Aaron guys, Robinson would be more of a household name.
9. Nap LaJoie
Five batting titles and a .338 career batting average for a guy who hit right-handed and played second base. In 1901, LaJoie hit .426 with 232 hits, 14 home runs, 125 RBI, and 143 runs—all of which led the league—in 131 games.
It would be tempting to consider LaJoie a right-handed Tony Gwynn because of his average, his 3,242 hits, and his meager 82 home runs, but this was the deadball era. LaJoie's OPS+ was actually a sluggerific 150, and he led the league in OPS three different times.
8. Albert Pujols
We all know the stats, so I won't go through them all here.
Let's just look at a few choice ones.
Career rank amongst right-handers:
Batting Runs: Eighth
Batting Average: Sixth
On-Base Percentage: Third
I have Pujols ranked conservatively here because when you are sure that a guy will one day be the best of all time, you should take all precaution to make sure you don't jump the gun.
But at this point, Pujols looks like the right-handed Lou Gehrig.
7. Joe DiMaggio
A truly wonderful athlete and a tremendous athlete whose importance to our national identity Americans have an annoying habit of overstating.
What he did as a right-hander, though, was incredible: .325 average, twice as many walks as strikeouts, and that 56-game hitting streak.
If not for World War II, we're talking 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, and a spot in the top five.
6. Willie Mays
There's probably nothing I can say about Willie Mays that hasn't been said before.
In his second full season, after two years in the Korean War, Mays won the NL batting title.
He led the NL in home runs and stolen bases four times each, but never in the same year.
His .302 career batting average understates his abilities as a hitter, which is pretty incredible; it is pretty incredible when you can say that a career .300 batting average understates your abilities.
Mays was that kind of player.
5. Hank Aaron
Sometimes I think it is a shame that Hank Aaron set the home run record, because sometimes that is all people seem to remember about him.
Hammerin' Hank was a tremendous hitter, home runs aside. He won two batting titles, had 200 hits three times, and over 190 four other times. He scored over 100 runs 15 times, led the league in total bases eight times, and had a .313 career batting average at the age of 37 before he began his march towards Babe Ruth and his average went down, ultimately, to .305.
To think that Hank Aaron was just a home run hitter the way Mark McGwire or Jose Canseco were just misses the mark so badly. Aaron was a right-handed Stan Musial.
Or maybe we should say Musial was a left-handed Hank Aaron.
4. Frank Thomas
Frank Thomas was every bit the hitter that Albert Pujols is, if not better, before injuries began to take their toll on him.
Through age 29, Thomas was a .330 hitter with a 1.053 OPS and 257 home runs. The second half of his career was marred by injuries.
3. Honus Wagner
The first great hitter in baseball history.
A right-handed Ty Cobb, Wagner won eight career batting titles and retired with lots of everything.
2. Jimmie Foxx
A right-handed, and self-destructive, version of Lou Gehrig.
For those enamored with everything Albert Pujols has done at his young age, know that Foxx hit his 500th home run the year he turned 32 years old. At that point in his career, he had nearly 1,500 runs scored, over 1,700 RBI, and a .334 batting average.
He played one more full season after that. Talk about "what coulda been."
1. Rogers Hornsby
From 1920 to 1925, Rogers Hornsby had possibly the greatest six-year stretch in baseball history.
For six straight years, Hornsby led the National League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+.
He led the league in hits four times, runs three times, doubles four times, triples once, home runs twice, RBI four times, and total bases five times.
He had 200 hits five out of the six years, including seasons with 227, 235, and 250.
In 1922, he had 450 total bases in 154 games, a number exceeded only by Babe Ruth.
From 1922 to 1925, he hit .400 combined, finishing with batting averages of .401, .384, .424, and .403.
In an offense-oriented league and an offense-oriented era, he was the best power hitter, the best average hitter, and the best at getting on base in the league. He was the best run scorer and the best run producer, and he was the best doubles hitter.
In short, Rogers Hornsby was the right-handed Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, rolled into one.