Major League Baseball's Top 10 Outfielders of All Time
Barry Bonds is Major League Baseball's all-time home run leader and the only player to win more than three MVP awards—he ended up with seven—but is that enough to declare the infamous, non-Hall of Famer as the greatest outfielder in the sport's history?
A total of 71 outfielders have been inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame, but how does one pick the best of the best? And are there any current players who stack up well against the retired greats?
To answer those questions, we ranked dozens of outfielders in five categories:
- Career WAR*
- Postseason success
- Dominance during five-year peak
*WAR gives a snapshot of how great a player was compared to the rest of the league during his era. WAR is calculated differently on various sites. We used Baseball Reference's version.
Scores in those five categories were summed to create one cumulative ranking.
Not surprisingly, most of the top candidates also rank in the top 10 in career WAR. However, postseason success was also a huge factor and the main reason Hank Aaron finished so far ahead of Ted Williams.
Major League Baseball's all-time leader in both runs and stolen bases played for 25 seasons, but he was only an All-Star for 10 of them. Henderson was named the AL MVP in 1990 and probably should have won that award in the strike-shortened 1981 season, but there were only a couple of years in which he was regarded as anything close to the best in the business.
MLB's hit king isn't in the Hall of Fame because of a gambling scandal, but that has nothing to do with why Rose falls short of our top 10. He simply wasn't that much better than his peers, accumulating just 79.7 WAR despite playing in more games (3,562) than any other player ever. For the sake of comparison, Barry Bonds had more than twice as many wins above replacement (162.8) while playing in 576 fewer games. Also, Rose spent less than 40 percent of his career in the outfield, as he also played first, second and third base.
Ken Griffey Jr.
For those whose formative years of baseball fandom came during the 1990s, Junior will forever be No. 1 in our hearts. Griffey had limitless range in center field and the prettiest swing in the game. But frequent injuries derailed his career by the age of 30. He hung around for another decade and managed to reach 630 career home runs, but 2000s Griffey barely even resembled 1990s Griffey.
Clemente batted .312 or better in 12 of his final 13 seasons, reaching 3,000 career hits before dying in a plane crash at the age of 38. He won 12 Gold Gloves and finished no lower than 17th in the NL MVP vote in each of his seasons in which his average was at least .312, including when he won the award in 1966. With the exception of Willie Mays, Clemente was arguably the best combination of offense and defense in an outfielder.
Had he spent his entire career in MLB, Ichiro probably would have bypassed Rose on the all-time hits list. He averaged 224 hits per year for his first 10 seasons and had a cumulative batting average of .331 for that decade. However, he played his first nine seasons in Japan and didn't even make his MLB debut until the age of 27. Still, he got to 3,000 hits in his MLB career and had one of the best cannons ever witnessed in right field.
Now that Ichiro has retired, Trout is the only active player even remotely worth considering for this list. But even though he has already won two AL MVPs and finished top-four in the vote in each of his other full seasons, six-plus years aren't anywhere near enough to compare Trout with the likes of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Ty Cobb. At his current pace of 9.0 WAR per season, though, he'll comfortably land in the top five one day if he's able to stay relatively healthy into his mid-30s.
The Most Honorable Mention: Joe DiMaggio
Career Stats: .325 BA, .398 OBP, .579 SLG, 361 HR, 1,537 RBI, 78.1 WAR
Five-Year Peak: 1937-41
As far as career WAR goes, Joe DiMaggio doesn't even hold a candle to the guys in our top 10. Heck, with the exception of Ichiro and Mike Trout, Joltin' Joe amassed fewer career wins above replacement than each of the honorable mentions, too.
But DiMaggio's WAR was impacted by World War II, as he lost three years of his prime to military service. Between those missing seasons and only playing until the age of 36, DiMaggio played in at least 556 fewer games than anyone in the top 10. In fact, seven of the legends who follow played at least 1,000 more games and had at least 4,000 more plate appearances than DiMaggio.
In his 13-season career, though, DiMaggio played a part in nine World Series titles and won three American League MVPs. During this five-year peak before the war, he had a cumulative triple-slash line of .350/.420/.638 and at least 30 home runs and 125 RBI in each season. What he lacked in longevity, he made up for by dominating when he was on the field. He was an All-Star in all 13 seasons.
Not only did DiMaggio play for nine world champions, but he played a significant role in each of his 10 trips to the Fall Classic. He hit eight home runs in 51 games and had a career postseason batting average of .271. He hit better than .260 in eight of the 10 World Series, and he swatted a pair of home runs while batting .231 in one of the other two.
Only Yogi Berra (10) won more titles than DiMaggio. He's the only outfielder in MLB history who won more than seven.
10. Frank Robinson
Career Stats: .294 BA, .389 OBP, .537 SLG, 586 HR, 1,812 RBI, 107.3 WAR
Five-Year Peak: 1958-62
Frank Robinson was one of the greatest sluggers to ever play the game. He is No. 10 on the all-time home runs list, sandwiched in between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. But because just about his entire career overlapped with those of both Hank Aaron (755 HR) and Willie Mays (660), Robinson only led his league in home runs, RBI and batting average once each.
Those all came in the same season, though, as he captured the Triple Crown (.316 BA, 49 HR, 122 RBI) while winning the American League MVP with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966. That was the only time in Robinson's career that he hit 40 or more home runs, but he hit at least 30 in a season 11 times and had more than 20 homers in 17 years.
Pick just about any five-year stretch from 1956-73 and you'll find impressive numbers, but he was particularly special early in his career. Then with the Cincinnati Reds, Robinson hit at least 31 home runs in five straight years, batting .309 and averaging 110 RBI per season. He won the NL MVP in 1961 and probably should have won it in 1962, too, considering his numbers that year (.342, 39 HR, 136 RBI, 51 doubles) were even better than his first MVP year (.323, 37 HR, 124 RBI, 32 doubles).
In addition to the Triple Crown in 1966, Robinson was named the World Series MVP that year, batting .286 with two home runs as the Orioles swept the Dodgers. He also hit two home runs when the Orioles won it all in 1970 and hit two more when they fell short in seven games to the Pirates in 1971.
In 35 career playoff games, Robinson went yard 10 times. Extrapolated to a 162-game season, that's a pace of 46 home runs. Though he only batted .238, he was quite productive.
9. Ted Williams
Career Stats: .344 BA, .482 OBP, .634 SLG, 521 HR, 1,839 RBI, 123.1 WAR
Five-Year Peak: 1946-50
Like Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams lost three of his best baseball seasons because of World War II. He finished second in the AL MVP vote in both 1941 and 1942, hitting a cumulative .379 with 73 home runs and 257 RBI. Then, he was gone for three years and somehow came back and looked like he didn't miss a single day.
From 1946-49, Williams batted at least .342 and had an OPS greater than 1.110 each year. He averaged 34 home runs and 131 RBI despite drawing more than 150 walks per season. He was named the American League MVP in both 1946 and 1949 and finished in second and third in 1947 and 1948, respectively.
Over the course of his 19-season career, Williams placed top-seven in the MVP vote 12 times, including four second-place finishes. 1947 was the most painful silver medal, as he led the AL in average, home runs and RBI that year, only to fall one vote behind Joe DiMaggio (202 to 201). Though the vote wasn't quite as close, getting snubbed in 1942 was even more unforgivable, because Williams led the major leagues (by a wide margin, no less) in all three categories that year.
So, to recap, he won the Triple Crown in both 1942 and 1947 yet somehow wasn't named MVP either year.
Had Williams played from 1943-45 and had the voters done the right thing in 1941 (Williams batted .406 with an MLB-best 37 HR), 1942 and 1947, he might have won half a dozen or more MVPs in his career.
If it weren't for the postseason, you could make a strong case for Major League Baseball's all-time leader in on-base percentage to rank No. 2 on this list.
However, the Splendid Splinter only played in the postseason once in his career, and he did next to nothing that year. Williams went 5-for-25 (.200 BA) with no extra-base hits and only one RBI in the 1946 World Series.
It's hard to hold that lack of postseason experience against Williams, though.
It's unfortunate that his career fell entirely during the 29-year window (1936-64) in which the Yankees won the American League pennant 22 times. At any rate, Boston's combined record of 216-244-8 while he was serving in the war proves that this team wasn't the same without him. Still, postseason success was a major factor considered, and Williams simply didn't have any.
8. Mickey Mantle
Career Stats: .298 BA, .421 OBP, .557 SLG, 536 HR, 1,509 RBI, 110.3 WAR
Five-Year Peak: 1955-59
Mickey Mantle had a career plagued by injuries, causing him to wear down earlier than most. Nevertheless, he hit at least 13 home runs in every season of his career from age 19 to 36, and he was one of the best players in the history of the sport's most successful franchise.
At his peak, Mantle was leaving 13 in the dust long before the All-Star break. From 1955-62, the Mick hit at least 30 home runs in each season, including four years with at least 40. Mantle played 1,164 games during this eight-year stretch while Willie Mays and Hank Aaron each played 1,228, but Mantle clubbed more home runs (320) than both Mays (303) and Aaron (285).
Without question, 1956 was his magnum opus, as he secured a Triple Crown by hitting .353 with 52 home runs and 130 runs batted in. Even though that was more than six decades ago, he is the most recent player to lead the majors in all three of those categories.
Mantle was named the AL MVP in 1956, 1957 and 1962. He also placed second in the vote in 1960, 1961 and 1964, third in 1952 and fifth in 1955 and 1958. He earned All-Star status in all but two of his 18 seasons played.
Reggie Jackson was given the nickname of Mr. October, but Mantle was even more of a postseason phenom. Both Jackson and Mantle hit 18 career home runs in the playoffs. However, Mantle did so in 51 fewer at-bats and did all of his damage in the World Series. (Eight of Jackson's dingers came in either the ALDS or ALCS.)
Mantle won seven World Series with the Yankees, but his two best years came in losing efforts. Though the Yankees fell to the Pirates in seven games in 1960 and to the Cardinals in seven games in 1964, Mantle batted a combined 18-for-49 (.367) with six home runs and 19 RBI in those 14 contests.
7. Tris Speaker
Career Stats: .345 BA, .428 OBP, .500 SLG, 117 HR, 1,531 RBI, 436 SB, 134.1 WAR
Five-Year Peak: 1912-16
With the exception of Babe Ruth, people didn't really hit home runs during Tris Speaker's era. Per FanGraphs, Speaker was tied for 16th on the all-time home runs leaderboard when he retired in 1928, even though he only hit 117 of them.
And yet, Speaker managed to finish his career with a .500 slugging percentage thanks to more than 1,000 combined doubles and triples. He is still the all-time leader in doubles with 792 of them, and he is sixth in triples with 222 three-baggers.
In winning the 1912 MVP, Speaker batted .383 with 53 doubles and 52 stolen bases for the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. It was one of five seasons in which he hit at least .380, as well as one of five seasons with at least 50 doubles. Speaker also stole at least 25 bases in every season from 1909-18.
Speaker played in three World Series, all for the winning team. He got two rings with Boston and one with Cleveland, batting .306 in 20 games played. He tripled in the second at-bat of his postseason career and ended up hitting four of them.
He only had three RBI in the postseason, but two of them were critical. In the 10th inning of Game 8 of the 1912 World Series—yes, Game 8, because Game 2 ended in a tie, if you can imagine that—Speaker drove in the game-tying run, setting up the series-winning sacrifice fly. And in Game 7 of the 1920 World Series, he had an RBI triple in the fifth inning of Cleveland's 3-0 victory.
6. Ty Cobb
Career Stats: .366 BA, .433 OBP, .512 SLG, 117 HR, 1,944 RBI, 897 SB, 151.0 WAR
Five-Year Peak: 1909-13
Another legend from a bygone era, Ty Cobb is the player Tris Speaker was tied with on the aforementioned home runs leaderboard. Like Speaker, Cobb also racked up quite a few doubles, triples and stolen bases in his career. He is fourth in doubles (724), fourth in stolen bases (897) and second in triples (295). He is also Major League Baseball's all-time leader in batting average at .366 and is second to Pete Rose in career hits.
From 1909-19, Cobb batted at least .368 in every single season, leading the majors in batting average in 10 of those 11 years. The lone exception was 1916, when Cobb batted .371 while Speaker hit .386.
Cobb batted over .400 three times, the first of which came in 1911. He hit .420 that year with 127 RBI, 83 stolen bases and 47 doubles, winning American League MVP for a Detroit Tigers team that finished 13.5 games out of first place. He hit .409 the following season and checked in at .401 a decade later in 1922.
The Georgia Peach never played for a champion and only made three trips to the World Series: 1907, 1908 and 1909. In only one of those three years (1908) did Cobb perform up to his usual standards. He hit .368 while the rest of the Tigers batted .187, losing to the Chicago Cubs in five games.
He hit just .200 in 1907 and was only marginally better than that (.231) in 1909. All told, Cobb's postseason batting average (.262) was more than 100 points worse than his regular-season average.
Per FanGraphs, Cobb led all players in both RBI and stolen bases from 1907-09, and he was No. 2 in runs scored during those regular seasons. But he had just nine RBI, seven runs and four stolen bases in 17 postseason games during that span.
5. Stan Musial
Career Stats: .331 BA, .417 OBP, .559 SLG, 475 HR, 1,951 RBI, 128.2 WAR
Five-Year Peak: 1943-48
Technically, this is a six-year window. However, Stan Musial did not play in 1945 due to military service in World War II, so he only had five seasons in these six years. And the amazing thing is he came back from that year away from baseball and didn't miss a beat.
Musial was the National League MVP in 1943 in just his second full season. He only hit 13 home runs that year, but he led the majors in a bunch of other categories, including batting average, slugging percentage, hits, doubles and triples.
Then in 1946, he led the National League in all five of those categories once again, winning the second NL MVP of his career. Two years later in 1948, he did it again for his third MVP. And that year, he started hitting the ball over the fence on a more regular basis, slugging a career-best 39 home runs while also batting a career-best .376.
Musial batted at least .310 in every season from 1942-58, finishing in the top nine of the MVP vote a staggering 13 times. Stan the Man was also a 20-time All-Star.
Musial played for the World Series champs in 1942, 1944 and 1946, but he wasn't exactly the reason the St. Louis Cardinals won those titles. In 23 career postseason games, Musial batted .256 with just one home run and eight RBI—a far cry from his career averages during the regular season.
The strange thing is all of his appearances in the playoffs came during the peak of his career. Musial led the majors in total bases in 1943, but he didn't record any extra-base hits or RBI in that series. He batted .365 during the 1946 regular season, but he hit .222 without a single multihit game in the seven-game 1946 World Series.
This three-time MVP is still one of the best outfielders of all time, but he might have ranked ahead of everyone except for Babe Ruth if he had done a bit more in October.
4. Hank Aaron
Career Stats: .305 BA, .374 OBP, .555 SLG, 755 HR, 2,297 RBI, 240 SB, 143.0 WAR
Five-Year Peak: 1959-63
Hank Aaron was an All-Star in 21 consecutive seasons and hit at least 20 home runs every single year for two full decades. He also finished top-17 in the NL MVP vote for 19 straight years, including seven years in the top three.
Close your eyes and point to any half-decade between 1955-74, and you'll find that MLB's all-time leader in both RBI and total bases was one of the best in the business during that time. But for argument's sake, we're choosing 1959-63 as the peak among his many peaks.
Hammerin' Hank's lone MVP came outside of that window in 1957, but he had at least 34 home runs and 120 RBI in each of these five seasons. He also had a cumulative batting average of .323 and slugging percentage of .600. Had the rest of the Milwaukee Braves been good enough for that team to win any pennants during this time, Aaron certainly would have won at least one more MVP.
Aaron only played in 17 postseason games in his career, but he made the most of those limited opportunities.
As if he hadn't already done enough to win the 1957 NL MVP, Aaron hit .393 with three home runs in that World Series win over the Yankees. The following year, he was devoid of long balls but still batted .333 in the seven-game loss to the Yankees. And in the 1969 NLCS, Aaron was something of a one-man show, batting .357 and homering once in each contest while his Braves were swept in three games by the Mets.
Overall, he batted .362 in October and homered six times in 69 at-bats.
3. Willie Mays
Career Stats: .302 BA, .384 OBP, .557 SLG, 660 HR, 1,903 RBI, 338 SB, 156.4 WAR
Five-Year Peak: 1961-65
Most of the players on this list were sluggers who just so happened to hold a mitt in the outfield in between at-bats. There were some great defenders in the honorable mentions, but among players thus far in the top 10, Hank Aaron leads the way with just three Gold Gloves*.
Willie Mays, on the other hand, was arguably the best defensive outfielder ever. He won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1957-68, tying Roberto Clemente for the most by an outfielder. And Mays' most memorable defensive play was dubbed "The Catch" in the 1954 World Series, so he probably would have won a couple more Gold Gloves between 1954 and 1956 if there had been any awarded during that time.
He was also one of the greatest power hitters regardless of position. From 1954-66, Mays hit at least 29 home runs in 13 consecutive seasons and finished top-six in the NL MVP vote 12 times, winning in 1954 and 1965. At his five-season peak in the early 1960s, Mays batted .308 and slugged .606, averaging 45 home runs and 118 RBI per year.
Had the Giants gone to the World Series more than once between 1955 and 1970, there's no question Mays would have won a few more MVPs. As far as FanGraphs WAR is concerned, Mays produced 11 of the National League's 18 best individual seasons between 1954 and 1966, including each of the top six.
Aside from the aforementioned catch heard 'round the world, Mays' postseason career left much to be desired. He batted .247 and only homered once in 99 plate appearances.
Much of that can be attributed to age, though, as the Giants only went to the playoffs once during Mays' age-24 through age-39 seasons. He did play in the postseason at the ages of 20, 23, 40 and 42, but had there been a few more Octobers in his prime, we're probably telling a different story here.
*Granted, no such award existed until 1957, but defensive ratings on both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference suggest that guys like Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb wouldn't have been earning that honor had it been available.
2. Barry Bonds
Career Stats: .298 BA, .444 OBP, .607 SLG, 762 HR, 1,996 RBI, 514 SB, 162.8 WAR
Five-Year Peak: 2000-04
It's impossible to talk about what Barry Bonds accomplished during his career without recalling the steroid allegations and lawsuits that smeared his name forever. Here's the thing, though: Dozens upon dozens of other players partook in baseball's steroid era, and Bonds is the only one who set the career record for both home runs and walks while earning seven MVP awards.
There were two separate five-year peaks in Bonds' career. The first was 1990-94, when he won three MVPs and finished in second and fourth place in the other two votes. During this window, Bonds averaged 35 home runs and 38 stolen bases per season. He also won a Gold Glove in all five of those seasons, as he was one of the best defensive left fielders of all time early in his career.
And then there's the 2000-04 era, in which Bonds hit at least 45 home runs in each year, most notably setting the single-season record with 73 in 2001. Thanks to those 258 home runs and the 306 intentional walks, his OPS for this half-decade was an astronomical 1.316. His teammate, Jeff Kent, won the NL MVP in 2000, but Bonds finished second that year before winning the next four.
Bonds will probably never be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he was one of the best ever, no matter what those HOF voters want to stand for.
Bonds went to the postseason seven times in his career, and for the most part, both he and his team struggled. If we temporarily remove 2002 from his numbers, Bonds hit .198 with just one home run in 31 games. Three of those series were with the Pirates. Three were with the Giants. Regardless, they lost each series.
But 2002 was a completely different story. In 17 games that October, Bonds batted .356 with eight home runs, 16 RBI and 27 walks (13 intentional). The Giants couldn't quite win it all, but don't blame Bonds. In the World Series alone, he hit .471 with four homers.
Even with that big year, though, Bonds batted .245 in his postseason career and never played for a champion.
1. Babe Ruth
Career Stats: .342 BA, .474 OBP, .690 SLG, 714 HR, 2,214 RBI, 162.1 WAR
Five-Year Peak: 1926-30
What makes Babe Ruth the undeniable No. 1 player on this list is how much better he was than the other people who played in his era. Barry Bonds became the home run king at the height of baseball's steroid problem. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson all joined the 500-HR club between 1965 and 1971.
But from 1920-32, Ruth mashed more than twice as many home runs (603) as the next-closest player (Rogers Hornsby, 269). Ruth hit at least 41 home runs 11 times in the span of 13 years. At that point in MLB history, there were only 20 instances of a player hitting at least 41 in a season, and Ruth was responsible for more than half of them.
Ruth also batted at least .323 in each of those 41-HR seasons. At his apex from 1926-31, Ruth hit at least 46 home runs in six straight seasons, averaging 50 per year while batting .354 and slugging .725.
Ruth only won one MVP in his career because there was no MVP awarded in his first few seasons, and then there was a nonsensical rule prohibiting players from winning multiple times. But FanGraphs WAR shows that Ruth was the most irreplaceable player in the American League 10 times between 1919-31.
Not only was Ruth the best regular-season player in baseball history, but he was also one heck of a postseason performer.
He was primarily a pitcher in his first couple of trips to the World Series, going 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA with the Red Sox. Once he got traded to the Yankees and became a full-time outfielder, he started mashing the ball. From 1921-32, Ruth played in 36 World Series games, batting .347/.497/.788 with 15 home runs and 30 RBI. At a 162-game pace, that extrapolates to 68 home runs and 135 RBI. He had four multi-HR games in his postseason career.
Kerry Miller is a multisport writer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.