Top baseball players of past 66 years

I have been a baseball fan since the 1952 season, when I was 7 years old. The 2017 season was the 66th that I have followed.

As a boy, I had a reputation for knowing all the players' batting averages, etc. In high school, I was statistician for the school team in football, baseball, and basketball, and wrote articles about the games in the local weekly newspaper. With my brothers and friends, I played APBA baseball, a highly statistical baseball game with cards and dice, for many years, from boyhood through college. (Another ex-APBA player is former Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush.) For the past 47 years, I have been a professor of mathematics.

So it seems appropriate that I produce my own semi-scientific ratings of the best players during this 66-year period. My criterion for inclusion is that the player must have had several good seasons since 1952. This includes players such as Bob Feller, Ralph Kiner, Ted Williams, and Stan Musial, for whom their best years were prior to my awareness. For such players, their entire career is included. Some Hall of Famers who were not quite recent enough to be included were Joe DiMaggio (whose last year was '51), Johnny Mize, and Hal Newhouser, both of whom had several mediocre seasons after '52. I computed DiMaggio on my ratings and he ranked eleventh of the batters, between Frank Robinson and Rickey Henderson. I distinguish batters from pitchers, with separate rankings for each group. I hesitate to say "batters," because baserunning and fielding also are incorporated.

I rate the batters in 21 categories and the pitchers in 17. All but one of the categories are numerically valued. The highest player scores 10 in that category and the lowest player 0; others are scaled linearly between these two values. The one category which is not scored this way is Hall of Fame. This one was a tricky one for the current players and others who have not yet been considered by Hall voters. For a discussion of how this category was handled, and a detailed description of all categories, see Criteria. Some categories, like this one, depend on others' opinions. These include MVP voting, Cy Young voting, all star teams, and Golden Glove awards. Others are based on statistics. Some of these are career totals, while others are based on the player's best five years. Thus my rating is a combination of Bill James' Peak Value and Career Value, with career being somewhat more prominent than peak. Many of my criteria are based on hybrid statistics, such as Bill James' Win Shares and Baseball Reference's Wins Against Replacement. For several of the criteria, adjustment is made for seasonal averages in the whole league. More discussion of this appears in the Criteria section. I have added a "post-season" category, but given it a small weight. "Pitchers" means "Starting Pitchers"; I do not rate relievers.

A crucial factor in the final ratings is the weights attached to each criterion. The weights range from 0.5 to 4.0. For batters, the highest weighted criterion is MVP voting, and for pitchers, it is Cy Young voting. The specific way I handle these votes is described in Criteria. The placing of Sandy Koufax and many current players, players with several spectacular seasons but relatively short careers, is highly dependent on weights given to short-term effects compared to those for career effects.

I present the ratings of 107 batters and 37 pitchers. Other players' scores were estimated and found to be insufficient. It is possible that I have overlooked someone, but I believe that the players that I rated, 20 firstbasemen, 12 secondbasemen, 8 shortstops, 11 thirdbasemen, 9 catchers, 43 outfielders, and 4 designated hitters, have the highest scores of all eligible people. A player is considered for the position at which he played more games than any other. The three outfield positions are not distinguished.

The table below lists the top five all star teams, considering four pitchers per team. The detailed tabulation of scores for all players in all criteria appears in the Batters List and Pitchers List. Although there is a good bit of similarity in the numbers, no comparison of batters versus pitchers should be inferred. A detailed discussion of all criteria appears in Criteria. The number after a player's name is his total points in all weighted criteria.

Pos'nFirst teamSecond teamThird teamFourth teamFifth team
P,1Roger Clemens, 270.3Tom Seaver, 193.6Bob Gibson, 158.5 Clayton Kershaw, 134.6Curt Schilling, 104.5
P,2Randy Johnson, 219.7Warren Spahn, 176.8Steve Carlton, 153.8 Juan Marichal, 120.9Tom Glavine, 104.0
P,3Greg Maddux, 210.5Bob Feller, 162.1Jim Palmer, 150.7 Roy Halladay, 117.7Whitey Ford, 100.0
P,4Pedro Martinez, 206.2Sandy Koufax, 158.9Robin Roberts, 147.7 Gaylord Perry, 105.7Justin Verlander, 98.7
CJohnny Bench, 128.6Yogi Berra, 106.8Mike Piazza, 86.6 Gary Carter, 84.4Ivan Rodriguez, 83.2
1B Albert Pujols, 184.7Miguel Cabrera, 108.3Jeff Bagwell, 105.6 Willie McCovey, 99.1Eddie Murray, 98.5
2BJoe Morgan, 147.6Ryne Sandberg, 109.2Rod Carew, 101.3 Jackie Robinson, 99.2Roberto Alomar, 97.6
3BMike Schmidt, 192.7George Brett, 135.8Brooks Robinson, 120.6 Eddie Mathews, 118.4Wade Boggs, 114.6
SSAlex Rodriguez, 168.1 Cal Ripken, 133.4Derek Jeter, 108.3 Ernie Banks, 99.1Robin Yount, 95.8
OF,1Barry Bonds, 275.9 Mickey Mantle, 220.3Frank Robinson, 153.6 Ken Griffey, 136.8Reggie Jackson, 124.0
OF,2Willie Mays, 250.7 Stan Musial, 217.0 Rickey Henderson, 148.7 Al Kaline, 129.7Pete Rose, 113.9
OF,3Ted Williams, 220.4 Hank Aaron, 216.4Carl Yazstremski, 144.2 Roberto Clemente, 126.9 Mike Trout, 111.8
DHFrank Thomas, 113.2Paul Molitor, 77.9David Ortiz, 76.0Edgar Martinez, 62.9

I would appreciate your comments on this study at the e-mail address listed below.

Don Davis
Department of Mathematics
Lehigh University
Bethlehem, PA 18015
(610) 758-3756 (work)
(610) 865-9058 (home)