The following is the first part of an 11-part series chronicling the Top-50 hitters of all-time.
T-50. Lance Berkman, 1B/OF, Houston Astros (1999-present) & Chipper Jones, 3B, Atlanta Braves (1993-present)
Both of these players currently hold a career weighted on-base average (wOBA) higher than that of baseball greats such as Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron (Berkman’s wOBA is .410, while Jones’ is .408).
The 32-year-old Berkman is currently in his 10th season for the Houston Astros, and he's had a stellar career so far.
Throughout his entire career, he has amassed 1,422 hits, including 320 doubles and 284 home runs. His career OPS stands at .977, a full .193 more than the league average of .784 and his career OBP is .414, .069 ahead of the league average.
If he keeps up his torrid pace this season, he will have his fourth season with an OPS above 1.000
So far, his numbers are comparable to the all-time greats, but the one thing that is currently holding him back is the fact that he has yet to complete his career.
Later in his career, he is due to go through a phase of regression that faced all players who did not retire early.
Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Jones is further on in his career, yet has been recently having some of the best seasons of his career, with an OPS above 1.000 in each of his last three seasons.
The long-time Braves’ third baseman has 2246 career hits with 441 doubles and 405 home runs among them. He also has a career OBP of .406 (.062 above the league average), a career OPS of .954 (.177 above the league average).
Both of these switch hitters have established themselves as potential Hall of Famers, even if they have steady regressions ahead of them.
49. Willie Stargell, LF/1B, Pittsburgh Pirates (1962-1982)
During his 21 MLB seasons, Willie Stargell was one of the most feared power hitters in the game.
During his long career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Stargell had an OPS that was 176 points above the league average. He led the league in OPS+ during the 1973 and 1974 with marks of 186 and 167.
Stargell is also 44th all-time in OPS+ (147) and 28th all-time in home runs (475), despite playing the early part of his career during the pitcher-dominated 1960’s.
His major knock was his inability to get on base at a premium rate, which knocks him down on the list despite his impressive power numbers. His career on-base percentage was .360, just 32 points above the league average.
Also, his wOBA (.369) is impressive for his era, but not comparable to the all-time greats.
48. Tony Gwynn, RF, San Diego Padres (1982-2001)
Tony Gwynn was perhaps the greatest contact hitter of his generation.
His .338 batting average, as well as his 434 career strikeouts showed his great ability to make contact with the baseball, which was enough to put him on the list of the 50 best hitters ever.
Gwynn made up for his lack of power with an array of singles (2,378, ninth most all-time) and doubles (543, 23rd most all-time)
However, his other abilities leave much to be desired, which is why he is lower on my list than on others.
Despite his batting average, Gwynn’s career on-base percentage was .388, which, while impressive, is lower than it should be for a player with a .338 batting average. His career wOBA (.369) is not as high as other hitters on the list, but still is adequate when compared to some sluggers who failed to make the top 50.
He also lacked power (135 career home runs), but still managed to have an OPS that was 118 points above the league average during his career while the league’s power numbers were on the rise—just enough to put him as the 48th best hitter of all-time.
47. Joe Morgan, 2B, Houston Astros/Cincinnati Reds/San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies/Oakland A’s (1963-1984)
Though Joe Morgan is not a supporter of Moneyball (I doubt he even is aware of what the premise of it is, but that’s a completely different story), he was the type of player that is coveted by this method of thinking.
Morgan had a career OBP of .392, 66 points above the league average, while leading the league in that category four times in his career.
The second baseman is also fifth on the all-time walks list, with 1,865 bases on balls during his career.
The only reason why this on-base machine is not higher on the list is his lack of power. He had 449 doubles and 268 home runs during his long career, and had a SLG of .427, which was 44 points above the league average.
His wOBA comes in at .370, which—much like that of Gwynn--is decent, but not overly impressive.
Still, Morgan’s great ability to get on base compensated for his lack of power, making him one of the great hitters of his generation.
46. Rickey Henderson, OF, Oakland A’s/New York Yankees/Toronto Blue Jays/San Diego Padres/Anahiem Angels/New York Mets/Boston Red Sox/Los Angeles Dodgers (1979-2003)
Rickey Henderson continues the trend of players who lacked power, yet still managed to get on base at a premium rate.
Throughout 25 seasons and 13,346 plate appearances, the speedy outfielder managed to have an OBP of .401, 74 points above the league average during his career.
Henderson had a career wOBA of .377, better than those of Morgan and Gwynn, while hitting 297 home runs and 510 doubles during his long career.
He is also second all-time in career bases on balls (2,190), and led the league four times in that category.
Henderson’s power numbers weren’t that impressive (.419 SLG, just 18 points above the league average), but during his best season, 1990, he led the league in OPS+ with a mark of 188.