Top baseball players of past 72 years

I have been a baseball fan since the 1952 season, when I was 7 years old. The 2023 season was the 72nd 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 53 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 71-year period. My criterion for inclusion is that the player must have had several good seasons after 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 twelfth of the batters, between Frank Robinson and Joe Morgan. 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 Above 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 111 batters and 39 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, 19 firstbasemen, 12 secondbasemen, 8 shortstops, 14 thirdbasemen, 9 catchers, 44 outfielders, and 5 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, 268.7Tom Seaver, 190.3Bob Gibson, 153.1 Clayton Kershaw, 147.8Juan Marichal, 119.7
P,2Randy Johnson, 216.4Warren Spahn, 177.4Sandy Koufax, 152.9 Robin Roberts, 145.9Gaylord Perry, 104.9
P,3Greg Maddux, 210.0Justin Verlander, 163.4Steve Carlton, 152.7 Roy Halladay, 125.2Tom Glavine, 102.7
P,4Pedro Martinez, 201.7Bob Feller,161.5Jim Palmer, 148.7 Max Scherzer, 120.0Curt Schilling, 100.9
CJohnny Bench, 124.0Yogi Berra, 102.4Mike Piazza, 85.5 Gary Carter, 83.9Ivan Rodriguez, 81.0
1B Albert Pujols, 185Miguel Cabrera, 109.0Jeff Bagwell, 105.0 Eddie Murray, 95.6Willie McCovey, 94.2
2BJoe Morgan, 145.5Ryne Sandberg, 104.3Rod Carew, 101.1 Jackie Robinson, 97.1Roberto Alomar, 94.2
3BMike Schmidt, 189.9George Brett, 131Eddie Mathews, 116.3 Brooks Robinson, 116.1Wade Boggs, 113.6
SSAlex Rodriguez, 161.4 Cal Ripken, 130.3Derek Jeter, 105.6 Ernie Banks, 98.6Robin Yount, 93.5
OF,1Barry Bonds, 272.9 Mickey Mantle, 215.3Mike Trout, 161.8 Carl Yazstremski, 139.9Roberto Clemente, 122.6
OF,2Willie Mays, 248.6 Stan Musial, 214.6 Frank Robinson, 148.9 Ken Griffey, 132.9Reggie Jackson, 119.2
OF,3Ted Williams, 220.2 Hank Aaron, 211.4Rickie Henderson, 145 Al Kaline, 125.8 Pete Rose, 109.5
DHFrank Thomas, 111.6David Ortiz, 75.6Paul Molitor, 72.9Edgar Martinez, 64.6Shohei Ohtani, 59.3

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)