Picking Each MLB Franchise's GOAT Hitter
Who doesn't love a good deep dive into the darkest corners of MLB history?
The easy approach to selecting each MLB franchise's greatest hitter would have been to reference some old-school stats like batting average, hits and home runs while sprinkling in a bit of new-school flare with mentions of OPS+ or wRC+.
The easy approach is boring. The easy approach has been done before. I wanted to do something different.
So with a slightly different spin on a rarely referenced offensive metric from FanGraphs, I took a more analytical approach to the task at hand.
Before diving in, I implore you to read the breakdown on the next slide to fully understand what's to come.
What Were the Requirements for Inclusion?
The first step to putting this project together was deciding where to draw the line for inclusion. After all, it wouldn't be fair to call a player who only spent one or two seasons with a team the best hitter in that franchise's history.
So I asked myself a simple question: Which all-time great hitter spent the shortest amount of time with a team but still played there long enough to be historically associated with that team?
My immediate answer: Frank Robinson with the Baltimore Orioles.
Robinson spent six seasons and tallied 3,492 plate appearances with Baltimore. So there's our requirement for inclusion: 3,492 plate appearances.
What is Off162?
This is important, so pay attention.
Rather than taking a subjective approach to this list, I decided to attack it from a statistical standpoint. But what statistic best tells the story of a player's isolated offensive contributions in his era and deals with different sample sizes?
The answer proved to be a spin on the "Offense" value metric at FanGraphs, which is defined as follows:
"Offense (Off) is a statistic that combines a position player's total context-neutral value at the plate and on the bases. Off is a combination of our park adjusted batting runs above average and our base running runs above average and credits a player for the quality and quantity of their total offensive performance during a given period of time."
It's a great gauge of overall offensive value, but since it's a cumulative stat, the next item on the to-do list was to find a way to break it down further to allow for comparing players who spent different lengths of time with a team.
That part was pretty easy. We simply divided a player's Off by the number of games he played with the team to give us his Off per game and then multiplied that by 162 to put it into a full-season context.
- Formula: (Off/G)x162=Off162
The resulting number divided by 10 is roughly how many wins that player's offensive production was worth per season during his time with the team.
FanGraphs provided the following range breakdown for further context:
- 45: Excellent
- 30: Great
- 15: Above average
- 0: Average
The results were as expected in most cases. Guys like Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron are right where you would expect them to be. However, there were a few surprises.
Got all that? Good. Let's get started.
Arizona Diamondbacks: 1B Paul Goldschmidt
Paul Goldschmidt wrapped up an eight-year run with the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this offseason when he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.
During his six seasons as an everyday player, he hit .299/.400/.534 for a 146 OPS+ while averaging 37 doubles, 29 home runs and 17 steals per season. Those counting numbers would look even better if not for an injury-shortened 2014, when he played just 109 games.
He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting four times, including a pair of second-place nods. Not bad for an eighth-round pick who never appeared on a Baseball America top 100 prospect list.
The only real competition was Luis Gonzalez (27.1).
Atlanta Braves: RF Hank Aaron
No big surprise.
Hank Aaron is one of the greatest hitters in MLB history, and even with some less-than-stellar seasons in his 40s, he still finished with a .305/.374/.555 career batting line.
The 25-time All-Star won four home run titles and retired as the all-time leader with 755, but he was more than just a slugger. He also won a pair of batting titles and swiped 240 bases in his career.
While his home run mark has since been surpassed, Aaron is still the all-time leader in RBI (2,297), total bases (6,856) and extra-base hits (1,477).
Hall of Fame third basemen Eddie Mathews (38.5) and Chipper Jones (36.2) were relatively close behind.
Baltimore Orioles: RF Frank Robinson
Few people in history have made a better first impression at their new jobs than Frank Robinson.
After 10 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Robinson was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1966.
He promptly won the American League Triple Crown, hitting .316/.410/.637 with 49 home runs and 122 RBI. That earned him AL MVP honors, and he helped lead the O's to the World Series title as well.
Robinson spent just six seasons with the team, but that was more than enough time to make his mark. All told, he posted a 169 OPS+ with 179 home runs, leading the team to three more AL pennants and another World Series title.
Hall of Fame first baseman Eddie Murray (30.5) was a distant second.
Boston Red Sox: LF Ted Williams
A strong case can be made that Ted Williams is the greatest hitter to ever play the game.
Even after missing three prime seasons while serving in World War II, Williams still finished his career with 521 home runs and 1,839 RBI.
He also racked up six batting titles while posting a .344 career average, and he remains the all-time leader in career on-base percentage (.482).
The fact that he finished his career with nearly three times as many walks (2,021) as strikeouts (709) speaks to his legendary hitting skills.
Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx (51.2) and Tris Speaker (49.6) checked in well ahead of modern-day standouts Manny Ramirez (43.7), Wade Boggs (35.3), Nomar Garciaparra (33.8) and David Ortiz (33.0).
Chicago Cubs: CF Hack Wilson
Hack Wilson is best known as the single-season RBI record holder.
He hit an absurd .356/.454/.723 with 56 home runs and 191 RBI during the 1930 season—the fourth time in five seasons he paced the National League in long balls.
During his first five seasons with the Cubs, Wilson hit .331/.419/.612 and averaged 33 doubles, 35 home runs and 142 RBI per year.
Dead-ball era stars Cap Anson (34.7) and Frank Chance (32.2) finished a distant second and third, just ahead of slugger Sammy Sosa (31.3).
"Mr. Cub," Ernie Banks (14.2), was hurt by a career .330 on-base percentage and some middling seasons at the end of his career.
Chicago White Sox: DH/1B Frank Thomas
A lack of defensive value often impacts how Frank Thomas is viewed among all-time greats.
However, under the focused lens of isolated offensive production, he was an absolute force.
During a seven-year span from 1991 to 1997, he hit .330/.452/.604 and averaged 36 home runs, 118 RBI and far more walks (119) than strikeouts (75).
He won AL MVP honors in 1993 and 1994, and even when his batting average dipped later in his career, he was still a feared slugger with elite on-base skills.
In all, Thomas hit .307/.427/.568 with 448 of his 521 career home runs during his 16 seasons in a Chicago White Sox uniform.
Hall of Fame second baseman Eddie Collins (33.3) earned runner-up honors.
Cincinnati Reds: 2B Joe Morgan
While Pete Rose (20.8) and Johnny Bench (18.9) were arguably bigger stars at the height of the Big Red Machine, Joe Morgan was the catalyst.
With a patient approach at the plate and rare power for a second baseman, he posted a .400 on-base percentage in each of his first six seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, leading the NL in that category four times while winning NL MVP honors in 1975 and 1976.
Morgan actually spent more time with the Houston Astros (10 years) than he did with the Reds (eight), but he'll forever be remembered as a Red.
He also added 152 home runs and 406 steals to go along with his excellent on-base numbers.
Fellow OBP machine Joey Votto (43.3) edged Hall of Famer Frank Robinson (41.6) for second, while Eric Davis (33.4) was a surprise in fourth.
Cleveland Indians: CF Tris Speaker
Tris Speaker spent the first nine season of his career with the Boston Americans and Red Sox and won the AL MVP Award in 1912.
He still had plenty left in the tank when he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1916. In fact, he led the AL in batting average (.386), on-base percentage (.470), slugging percentage (.502), OPS+ (186), hits (211) and doubles (41) in his first season in Cleveland.
The Hall of Famer spent 11 seasons with the Tribe, hitting .354/.444/.520 for a 158 OPS+, and he still stands as MLB's all-time leader in doubles (792).
Teammates Manny Ramirez (44.7), Jim Thome (43.8) and Albert Belle (40.7) were next on the list. If only those 1990s teams had some pitching.
Colorado Rockies: RF Larry Walker
The more you look at Larry Walker's numbers, the more egregious it becomes that he's not already enshrined in Cooperstown.
He spent nine-and-a-half of his 17 seasons with the Colorado Rockies, hitting .334/.426/.618 with 258 home runs, 848 RBI and 126 steals.
That included a brilliant 1997 season in which he batted .366/.452/.720 with 49 home runs and 130 RBI to win NL MVP honors. He then won three batting titles over the next four years.
For those of you still lazily pointing to his playing at Coors Field as the reason for his impressive production, take a look at the home/road splits from his MVP season:
- Home: 1.169 OPS, 20 HR, 68 RBI
- Road: 1.176 OPS, 29 HR, 62 RBI
Time for a new argument.
Todd Helton (25.5) was a distant second.
Detroit Tigers: CF Ty Cobb
The all-time leader in career batting average (.366) on a list of the greatest hitters in MLB history?
Ty Cobb spent 22 seasons in a Detroit Tigers uniform, batting .368/.434/.516 with 3,900 hits and 12 batting titles—including nine in a row. He also recorded three seasons with an average over .400.
Two seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics to close out his career lowered his career average to .366, but no harm was done, as he's still well ahead of Rogers Hornsby (.358) for a record that should stand the test of time.
Hall of Fame slugger Hank Greenberg (54.0) was much closer than expected to the top spot.
Houston Astros: 1B Jeff Bagwell
Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman (38.8) had remarkably similar offensive numbers during their times with the Astros:
The defining difference was base-running ability.
Bagwell spent all 15 seasons of his career with the Astros, tallying 449 home runs and 1,529 RBI and winning 1994 NL MVP honors.
Jose Altuve (23.3) was fifth on the list and also trails Cesar Cedeno (26.1) and Jimmy Wynn (24.5).
Kansas City Royals: 3B George Brett
The gap between George Brett and the rest of the field for the Kansas City Royals was much smaller than expected.
Credit that to his longevity, as compilers were dinged a bit in the Off162 formula when late-career performance sapped some of the life from their prime production.
In Brett's case, that was a three-year stretch at the end of his career in which he hit .270/.323/.411.
Not bad by any means but a far cry from the .311/.378/.502 line he boasted entering those final three seasons.
First baseman John Mayberry (24.2) finished a close second with a 132 OPS+ and 143 home runs in six seasons.
Los Angeles Angels: CF Mike Trout
Mike Trout is already well on his way to being one of the greatest players in baseball history.
He's also far and away the best player in the history of the Los Angeles Angels franchise, which stretches back to the 1961 season.
Trout has eight MLB seasons under his belt and is a seven-time All-Star, two-time AL MVP and career .307/.416/.573 hitter with 240 home runs and 189 steals—and he's not yet 28 years old.
The scary thing for the rest of the league is that he's still getting better.
Last season, Trout set career-highs in walks (122), on-base percentage (.460), OPS (1.088) and OPS+ (199) while logging his third straight 20-20 season. What's next?
Vladimir Guerrero (28.9), who won 2004 AL MVP honors in the first season of a five-year, $70 million deal with the Anaheim Angels, ranked second. We'll hear from him again later.
Los Angeles Dodgers: RF Babe Herman
We've come to our first big surprise.
Hall of Famer Duke Snider (34.1) was the obvious candidate for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Jackie Robinson (33.5), Roy Campanella (19.3) and Steve Garvey (16.5) would all have been reasonable guesses. Mike Piazza (48.2) didn't qualify with just 3,017 plate appearances in a Dodgers uniform or he would have been the guy.
Instead, it was Babe Herman.
Debuting in 1926, he spent the first six seasons of his career with the Brooklyn Robins, hitting .340/.397/.559 for a 145 OPS+. That included a monster 1930 season in which he hit .393/.455/.678 with 48 doubles, 11 triples, 35 home runs and 130 RBI.
Hard to argue with those numbers.
Equally surprising was Dolph Camilli (38.3) at No. 2 on the list and Pedro Guerrero (36.5) at No. 3.
Miami Marlins: RF Giancarlo Stanton
Giancarlo Stanton left the Miami Marlins with a bang, winning NL MVP in 2017 by posting a 169 OPS+ and leading the NL in home runs (59) and RBI (132).
That offseason, he was traded to the New York Yankees, kicking off a full-scale rebuild by the Marlins.
In eight seasons with the team after he was picked in the second round of the 2007 draft, he hit 267 home runs and had a 147 OPS+.
Miguel Cabrera (31.6) would have landed the No. 2 spot, but he had just 3,072 plate appearances in his five seasons with the team.
Instead, the smaller, faster version of Hanley Ramirez (31.3) was the runner-up.
Milwaukee Brewers: LF Ryan Braun
At his peak, Ryan Braun posted back-to-back 30-30 seasons with a batting average of .326, an on-base percentage of .394 and an OPS+ of 162.
So while he's no longer the impact player he once was, it's not surprising he was atop the list for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Hall of Famers Paul Molitor (23.4) and Robin Yount (11.7) were never quite that impactful on the offensive side of things, while 1980s star Cecil Cooper (17.5) came up short as well.
Braun's former teammate, Prince Fielder (28.6), finished in the No. 2 spot, as he slugged 230 home runs with a 143 OPS+ in his seven seasons with the team.
Minnesota Twins: 1B/3B/LF Harmon Killebrew
Even as a Hall of Famer and member of the 500 home run club, Harmon Killebrew is often overlooked in the conversation of the greatest sluggers in MLB history.
He was just a .256 career hitter, but he made up for that with a .376 on-base percentage. He led the AL in walks four times and finished with nearly as many walks (1,559) as strikeouts (1,699).
And his home run power made him a star.
Killebrew led the AL in homers six times and notched an impressive eight 40-homer seasons during his 22-year career.
Hall of Famer Rod Carew (30.0) was a close second, as all seven of his batting titles came when he was in a Twins uniform. He recorded a .334 average over 12 seasons.
New York Mets: RF Darryl Strawberry
At his peak, Darryl Strawberry was one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 1980 draft won NL Rookie of the Year honors in 1983 when he posted a 134 OPS+ and slugged 26 home runs, and he was just getting started.
In his first eight MLB seasons, Strawberry averaged 32 home runs and 92 RBI with a 145 OPS+, including an NL-leading 39 long balls in 1988.
He signed with the Dodgers prior to the 1991 season and what looked like a Hall of Fame-bound career quickly went off the rails, but his eight seasons in a Mets uniform were truly something special.
Carlos Beltran (30.9) and David Wright (30.4) were close behind.
New York Yankees: RF/LF Babe Ruth
The question wasn't who was going to claim the top spot for the Yankees.
It was how far Babe Ruth would be ahead of the rest of the legendary names who have worn pinstripes.
So let's just keep it simple and list them:
- Lou Gehrig: 71.4
- Mickey Mantle: 56.9
- Joe DiMaggio: 49.4
- Alex Rodriguez: 34.2
- Don Mattingly: 27.6
- Bill Dickey: 22.4
- Bernie Williams: 22.3
- Derek Jeter: 19.6
- Yogi Berra: 18.8
Quite a group.
Oakland Athletics: 1B Jimmie Foxx
Jimmie Foxx won back-to-back AL MVP Awards in 1932 and 1933 when he authored two of the best offensive seasons in MLB history.
- 1932: 207 OPS+, .364/.469/.749, 58 HR, 169 RBI, 151 R
- 1933: 201 OPS+, .356/.449/.703, 48 HR, 163 RBI, 125 R, Triple Crown
In his 11 seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics, he hit .339/.440/.640 with 302 home runs and 1,075 RBI. Those are career numbers that few players have achieved. Foxx did so before his age-28 season, when he joined the Boston Red Sox.
Rickey Henderson (45.0) was second on the list. He stole 867 bases and scored 1,270 runs while hitting .288/.409/.430 for a 137 OPS+ in 14 seasons with the Athletics.
Philadelphia Phillies: OF Billy Hamilton
That's a higher number than everyone on this list besides Babe Ruth.
So, who the heck is this turn-of-the-century player, pictured in black and white, who has the same name as a light-hitting present-day speedster?
We'll let his 1891 season tell the story.
Hamilton won the NL batting title (.340) and also paced the league in on-base percentage (.453), hits (179), runs (141), steals (111) and walks (102).
Even accumulated in a different era, those numbers are ridiculous.
In his six seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, Hamilton hit .360/.468/.459 with 510 steals and 553 walks in 732 games.
Fellow old-time player and Hamilton teammate Ed Delahanty (53.6) was second on the list thanks to a .348/.415/.508 line that included a pair of home run titles and three RBI titles.
For reference, guys like Dick Allen (40.5), Bobby Abreu (39.4) and Mike Schmidt (36.3) were well off their pace.
Pittsburgh Pirates: LF Ralph Kiner
If not for a back injury, Ralph Kiner might be talked about with the all-time great sluggers.
He led the NL in home runs each of his first seven seasons in the majors, posting a 159 OPS+ and averaging 42 long balls and 110 RBI during that span.
Alas, he was traded to the Cubs midway through his age-30 season, and his career was over two-and-a-half years later.
Still, his impressive time with the Pittsburgh Pirates was enough to slot him ahead of legends like Honus Wagner (43.2), Barry Bonds (37.5), Willie Stargell (31.4) and Roberto Clemente (22.5).
Interesting note: Brian Giles (52.6) was short of the requisite number of plate appearances (with just 3,114) or he would have been the No. 1 guy. Take a look at the numbers he put up during his brief time in Pittsburgh.
San Diego Padres: RF Tony Gwynn
When it comes to the greatest hitters in San Diego Padres history, the conversation generally begins and ends with Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield (24.1).
As expected, they occupy the top two spots on the franchise list.
The fact that Gwynn scored 100 runs just twice in a career in which he tallied 3,141 hits and won eight batting titles speaks to his lack of a supporting cast.
It also brings into question the value of a station-to-station singles hitter, which is what Gwynn was during the second half of his career.
Still, with just 434 strikeouts in 10,232 plate appearances and a .338 career average, no list of the greatest hitters of all time is complete without Gwynn.
San Francisco Giants: LF Barry Bonds
We're not here to sort the cheaters from the guys who did it the right way. The goal was simply to identify the best hitter in the history of each MLB franchise.
Barry Bonds is undeniably that guy for the San Francisco Giants.
Forget the 73-homer season. Forget the 762 career home runs. His 2004 season was his most impressive feat.
En route to his fourth straight NL MVP Award, he hit .362 with 45 home runs and 101 RBI in just 373 at-bats while recording 232 walks—120 of which were intentional—for a .609 on-base percentage. That's something we'll never see again.
First baseman Roger Connor (52.3) was a big surprise in the No. 2 spot.
That put him ahead of Mel Ott (48.1), Willie Mays (47.1) and Willie McCovey (32.9), among others.
Seatte Mariners: DH Edgar Martinez
Edgar Martinez over Ken Griffey Jr. (34.8)?!
Indeed, and since this is based 100 percent on offensive production, it shouldn't be all that big of a surprise.
Let's look at the basics:
The advantage Griffey held in the power department couldn't cancel out Martinez's leg up in on-base percentage.
Griffey also watered down his Mariners numbers a bit with 562 plate appearances worth of .208/.310/.369 hitting over the final two years of his career.
For the record, a young Alex Rodriguez (37.7) also ranked ahead of Griffey.
St. Louis Cardinals: 2B Rogers Hornsby
Simply put, Rogers Hornsby is the greatest second baseman in MLB history and one of the best hitters ever.
So for those of you up in arms about not seeing Stan Musial (48.2) as the representative for the St. Louis Cardinals, relax.
In fact, Albert Pujols (60.0) came closest to knocking Hornsby out of the top spot.
A .359/.427/.568 hitter in 13 seasons with the Cardinals, Hornsby hit over .400 three times, including a ridiculous .424/.507/.696 line in 1924.
On top of his elite batting average, he was also a dangerous power hitter, leading the NL in home runs and RBI in 1922 (42 HR, 152 RBI) and 1925 (39 HR, 143 RBI) to win the Triple Crown.
Tampa Bay Rays: 3B Evan Longoria
Only four hitters in Tampa Bay Rays history have reached the requisite number of plate appearances for inclusion in this article:
- Evan Longoria: 19.4
- Ben Zobrist: 16.9
- Carl Crawford: 15.2
- B.J. Upton: 11.0
Longoria is the franchise leader in doubles (338), home runs (261), RBI (892), runs (780), total bases (2,630) and extra-base hits (618), among other categories.
Texas Rangers: LF Frank Howard
For those of you who are not familiar with Frank Howard, the 6'7", 255-pound slugger was the star of the Washington Senators before they became the Texas Rangers.
During a four-year stretch from 1967 to 1970, he hit .278/.376/.547 for a 169 OPS+, averaging 43 home runs and 108 RBI and leading the AL in long balls twice.
He spent seven-and-a-half seasons with the franchise, posting a 153 OPS+ with 246 home runs and 701 RBI.
That pushed him ahead of Rafael Palmeiro (29.0), Juan Gonzalez (25.5), Adrian Beltre (21.7) and Rusty Greer (18.6).
Toronto Blue Jays: 1B Carlos Delgado
Since Carlos Delgado played in an era overflowing with prolific sluggers, it's easy to forget how good he was for the Toronto Blue Jays.
From 1997 to 2004, he had at least 30 home runs and 90 RBI each season, posting a 149 OPS+ while averaging 37 home runs and 116 RBI.
His peak came in 2000, when he hit .344/.470/.664 with 57 doubles, 41 home runs and 137 RBI to finish fourth in AL MVP voting.
A bigger window of peak-level production put him ahead of Jose Bautista (29.6), Edwin Encarnacion (28.2), John Olerud (23.3) and George Bell (14.0).
Washington Nationals: RF Vladimir Guerrero
Vladimir Guerrero was a dynamic player when he broke into the majors with the Montreal Expos.
From 1998 to 2002, he hit .325/.391/.602 and averaged 39 home runs and 22 steals.
He was a 30-30 player twice, including a 39-homer, 40-steal season in 2002, when he finished fourth in NL MVP voting.
His free-swinging approach never led to a high strikeout total, and a lack of protection in the lineup never negatively impacted his production.
Hall of Famer Tim Raines (35.5) was a close second, while Bryce Harper (34.9) closed the door on his time with the Washington Nationals in third.