The 20 Smartest Hitters in MLB History
What makes a smart hitter? Well, it's a combination of things, to say the least. Power, contact, patience, batting eye, ability to hit with two strikes, ability to hit in the clutch, ability to draw a walk, longevity and consistency all play a role.
We've taken just about every aspect of hitting into account to come up with the 20 smartest hitters in MLB history!
20. Jim Thome
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Thome is likely just one season away from becoming only the eighth member of the 600 home run club. His thunderous swing combined with an exceptional batting eye have made him one of the most feared and respected hitters in the game for the last two decades. Thome also ranks ninth all time with 1,679 walks.
19. Mike Schmidt
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A cerebral hitter, Schmidt knew what he was looking for when he stepped to the plate: A ball to drive over the fence. Though he only hit .267 for his career, Schmidt more than made up for it in the power department by slugging 548 home runs. Schmidt also amassed over 1,500 career walks.
18. Manny Ramirez
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For all the oddball antics and all-around goofiness, it’s easy to forget that Ramirez is one of the smartest hitters of his day. He seems to goad the pitcher into putting the pitch where Ramirez wants it, and then he unloads. As they say, there’s a method to his madness.
Very few hitters have ever looked as relaxed as Ramirez when hitting with two strikes.
17. Alex Rodriguez
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Though often a lightning rod for controversy, A-Rod knows what he’s doing on the baseball field. With all the raw power that he possesses, it’s sometimes easy to overlook his exceptional baseball instincts. Rodriguez has power to all fields, and uses a patient approach to wait for his pitch.
He’s won the silver slugger 10 times and has collected three MVP awards while slugging 612 home runs. It may only be a matter of time before he catches Bonds.
16. Derek Jeter
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Just one healthy season away from joining the 3,000-hit club, Jeter could easily be considered one of the top modern-day opposite field hitters. Jeter seems to simplify hitting in a way that few others can with an opposite field stroke that’s done nearly to perfection.
Jeter allows himself that extra fraction of a second to get as good of a look as possible at the pitch, starts his swing a bit later than most players, and shoots the ball into right field time after time.
15. George Brett
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Brett used his head to become one of only four players (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Stan Musial) to rack up 3,000 hits, 300 home runs and a career .300 batting average. Brett was one of the most well-rounded players and was as competitive and dialed-in as hitters can be.
14. Ken Griffey Jr.
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Griffey electrified baseball fans in the '90s with a seemingly effortless swing that had many touting him as the future “Greatest Baseball Player of All-Time.”
Unfortunately, injuries derailed his chances to be considered the greatest ever, but Griffey remained a dangerous hitter up until his last season. Griffey’s eyesight, patience and relaxed presence at the plate allowed him to slug 630 career home runs.
13. Ichiro Suzuki
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There’s an old saying that says you should “take what the pitcher gives you” and no one does it better than Ichiro. Pitch him outside, he shoots the ball to left field. Try to jam him inside, he jumps on the pitch and pulls it down the right field line for a triple.
Ichiro stays right on the ball and seemingly never finds himself in any kind of an offensive slump. Ichiro is simply a hitting machine, and he’s led the league in base hits in seven of his 10 seasons.
12. Rickey Henderson
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Henderson is widely regarded as the best leadoff hitter of all time and for good reason. In addition to speed and the ability to steal bases, there are several other key elements you’ve got to bring to the table in order to be a consistently effective leadoff man order to be a consistently effective leadoff man: Good bat control, patience, the ability to spoil tough two-strike pitches and a keen eye.
Sounds like a description of Rickey Henderson.
11. Honus Wagner
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Wagner boasts a career batting average of .327 to go along with 3,415 base hits. Wagner’s consistent approach allowed him to win eight batting titles over the course of just 12 seasons.
10. Mickey Mantle
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Mantle would probably be ranked higher if not for his knack of routinely showing up for day games while still feeling the effects of last night. Even in such a condition, Mantle was often still the best hitter at the park.
His ability to hit for power from both sides of the plate made it impossible for a pitcher to gain the upper hand. Mantle’s prowess at the plate allowed him to hit 536 home runs as well as win three MVP awards and seven World Series trophies.
9. Albert Pujols
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Pujols has used all of his incredible skill set, not the least of which is his smarts, to become perhaps the greatest hitter currently playing the game. It’s nearly impossible to get Pujols to swing at a bad pitch, and if you’re an opposing pitcher, that’s really a problem when you’re pitching to a guy with a .331 average, 408 home runs, 1,230 RBI’s and over 250 more walks than strikeouts in 10 seasons.
Pujols is a hop, step and a leap in front of the competition, both physically and mentally.
8. Barry Bonds
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Amidst all the controversy, Bonds never could have become the home run king had it not been for the methodical approach he brought to the plate for every at bat. Bonds knew to wait for the pitch that he could drive and would often take early-count strikes, as if to say to the pitcher, “you can’t get three of those by me.”
Bonds’ patience combined with his power to all fields put his intimidation factor of the charts, so much so that he was walked 2,558 times in his career (688 intentionally). Baseball may never seen another player combine so much raw power with so much plate discipline.
7. Stan Musial
Musial’s remarkable consistency allowed him to slug 475 home runs while batting .331 over a 22-year career. In 1952, Ty Cobb referred to Musial as the “closest to being perfect in the game today.” Musial is one of the most well-rounded players on the countdown.
6. Ted Williams
In 1941, Williams was the first hitter to hit over .400 since 1930, and no player has done it since. Williams used his exceptional batting eye and penchant for making contact to bat .344 while hitting 521 home runs. “Teddy Ballgame” is still considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time thanks in large part to his unflappable passion for hitting.
5. Willie Mays
The Say Hey Kid did it all in his brilliant career which included 24 All-Star selections. As far as his smarts at the plate, the numbers speak for themselves: 660 home runs, 3,283 base hits, 1,903 RBI and a .303 average. Mays was a feared hitter until the day he retired.
4. Babe Ruth
The Great Bambino would have to be included on just about any baseball countdown list imaginable. Ruth’s unprecedented power always gave his team a decided edge, and his 714 long balls are still good for third all time.
His powerful swing helped baseball to evolve from a low-scoring, speed-dominated game into a high-scoring, power-driven game. Unlike other accomplished power hitters, Ruth also used his keen batting eye to end his career with a .342 batting average.
3. Ty Cobb
Cobb was probably the best contact hitter of his or perhaps any era, winning 11 undisputed batting titles (hit over .400 in two seasons) over the course of 13 seasons. Though stat-keeping wasn’t as regulated in Cobb’s era, it is estimated that he finished his career with 4,182-4,189 base hits.
Cobb’s batting eye was unprecedented as he amassed nearly 900 more walks than strikeouts over his career. He still ranks second to Pete Rose as baseball’s all-time hits leader.
2. Hank Aaron
Up until Barry Bonds took the title, Hammerin’ Hank was baseball’s home run king with 755 career long balls. In order to send that many balls over the wall, you’ve got to come up to the plate with a consistent approach ever single time, and Aaron was no exception.
In fact, Aaron could be considered the most consistent hitter in MLB history: 17 consecutive seasons with 150 or more hits, 6,856 total bases 2,297 RBI (all Major League records).
1. Pete Rose
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When you're Major League Baseball’s all-time leader in base hits, you’re spot at the top of this countdown is all but guaranteed.
Rose piled up 4,256 career hits and maintained a career batting average of .303 spanning 24 seasons and 14,053 at-bats, an incredible feat by any measure. Doing so would have been impossible had Rose not been dialed in for every single at bat, every single game. Pesky, tenacious, and completely unwilling to give away an at-bat, Rose is the smartest hitter of all time.