30 greatest offensive players of the modern era, part one


Babe Ruth (right) and Ted Williams top the list of greatest offensive players.

One of the great things about baseball is you can use statistics to judge players you’ve never seen play. Baseball has some variables, but for the most part, you are what your numbers say you are. In producing this list, I focused primarily on Slugging %, OPS, OBS, AVG, HR, RBI and WAR. Longevity was also a factor taken into account. Speed was looked at but did not count for much. There was no weight given to position played or defensive ability. This was strictly about offense in the modern era. I also left out confirmed PED users, some of which would have been obvious locks.

Unlike the NFL, where there are many opinions who should top the list, there is no mystery in baseball who tops it. It is also very hard to argue against the top three, therefore I’m going to go down the list starting from number one. This is the first of a three-part series.

1. Babe Ruth —  No mystery or debate here, Ruth was the greatest offensive player of all time. I can’t conceive, in any way, how someone would argue that position. He’s the all-time leader in Slugging % at a ridiculous .690, OPS at 1.164 and Offensive WAR at 164.6. No issue with the longevity compiling 714 HR and 2,213 RBI.

2. Ted Williams — I don’t expect a lot of debate here, although an argument could be made for someone else. Williams is the all-time leader in OBP at .482 and the only other player with a career OPS of over 1.1. Even missing three seasons to serve in the military during WWII, he managed to compile 521 HR and 1,839 RBI.

3. Lou Gehrig — I can see an argument for Gehrig ahead of Williams but I think he gets beaten by a nose. Gehrig falls right in line behind Ruth and Williams in both OPS and Slugging %. He did play with Ruth, but there’s no downplaying the ridiculous RBI numbers, including seasons of 184, 175, 174, 165, 159, 152 and 151.

4. Ty Cobb — Some might take issue with his Slugging % at .512, but Cobb was the greatest compiler of all time, and that’s what lands him in this spot. He also played at a time when the HR was a rarity. He compiled 4,189 H, 724 2B, 295 3B and 1,938 RBI. He also has the best all-time AVG at .366.

5. Rogers Hornsby — He didn’t have the power of some of the other greats, but his AVGs are eye-popping, including seasons of .403, .401, .397, .387, .384, .380, 370 and a modern-era record of .424 in 1924. On top of that, he’s one of eight players with a lifetime OPS over 1.0.

6. Jimmie Foxx — Foxx had great across-the-board numbers for a significant period of time. For his career, he had an OPS over 1.0, he slugged over .600, had an OBP of .428, an AVG of .325, had 534 HR and 1,922 RBI.

7. Joe Dimaggio — Like Williams, he missed three seasons while serving in the military, so the longevity is down a little. The mind-blowing stat for Dimaggio is 361 career HR and 369 career SO, an almost incomprehensible one-to-one ratio. The .398 career OBP is a slight blemish. Everything else checks out for Joltin’ Joe with a lifetime .325 AVG and a .579 Slugging %.

8. Hank Greenberg — I expect some significant disagreement with this one. Greenberg did not play very long, but during the middle part of his career, he was as productive as anyone as far as driving in runs. For his career, he averaged a phenomenal .915 RBI/game, which is a notch lower than Gehrig. He was also consistent across the board with his AVG, OBP and Slugging %, and he finished his career with an OPS over 1.0.

9. Albert Pujols — We are just coming out of a hitter’s era, but Pujols stands out above the rest. There’s a good chance he moves up from this spot, possibly even as high as four or five. He’s currently sixth all-time in OPS at 1.037 and fourth in Slugging % at .616. Albert does it all. He gets on base, hits for average, hits for power and strikes out at a very low rate.

10. Stan Musial — He had tremendous consistency for the better part of his career and compiled excellent lifetime stats: .331 AVG, 475 HR, 1,951 RBI, .417 OBP and a .559 Slugging %.

9 Comments

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  1. Mantle actually has a slightly better OPS than Dimaggio but Dimaggio’s HR to SO rate is ridiculous. Mays and Aaron aren’t close. I gave an edge to shorter term dominance over excellent longevity numbers.

    1. Short term dominance? DiMaggio’s best offensive season (by oWAR) is roughly equal to Mantle’s 5th best offensive system.

      Mantle’s career OPS+ was 14% higher than DiMaggio’s. His oWAR was a game higher than DiMaggio’s per 162 games.

      So what if DiMaggio didn’t strike out a lot? He still made outs at a higher rate than Mantle and hit into 10 double plays per season vs. Mantle’s 6.3.

      I’m also baffled by the logic that eliminates PED users (although you apparently don’t consider greenies PEDs), but includes Joe Jackson.

      1.  Not sure how you equate use of PEDs to Shoeless Joe, who was guilty by association. My father did a ton of research back in the ’80s about Shoeless Joe, and the guy was an illiterate country bumpkin who was a heckuva player. Look at his stats from the 1919 World Series — .375, 12 hits, three doubles and six RBI — he wasn’t playing like someone trying to throw the series. Still scratching my head how you equate the two.

        As for the rest of the post, it’s someone’s opinion vs. yours, so lighten up man!

        1.  Jackson may have been illiterate, but he was not stupid. He ran a business employing a couple dozen people. He wasn’t guilty by association, he was guilty because he took the money.

          My assumption was that he eliminated PED users because he considered them cheaters. Jackson’s cheating was a far greater crime against baseball than any PED user, hence the comparison.

          As far as the rest, if Mr. Zyskind wasn’t interested in responses to his piece, why would he post to a public forum with comments enabled? I simply pointed out that he ratings couldn’t be justified by the criteria he claimed to use. If he’d said that it was just his opinion, there would have been no reason to comment.

          1. The PED issue is more about the complication in evaluating their numbers rather than them being cheats. As far as debate goes, that’s what I’m looking for. I expect people to disagree.

  2. I don’t see how you can be using the stats you claim to be using and have DiMaggio, Greenberg, and Pujois in the top 10 ahead of Mays, Mantle, and Aaron.

  3. so no Mays, McCovey, Clemente, Aaron, Griffey, Bonds, Henderson, AROD. I mean the babe played on one coast and against only a few different teams who throw out the same pitchers every day yet he’s your number one? Do you think he can hit 715 today?

    1. I didn’t count Bonds or Arod because I eliminated PED users otherwise Bonds is probably top 5 and A-rod top 10. I don’t have Mays too much further so he could be argued top 10. Griffey was hurt by the second half of his career and the other guys are not even close to top 10.

    2. I’d bet he’d drool over the pitching in this era, smaller ballparks, better field conditions, travel by plane instead of long train trips. But, if he played today he would probably have to be paid about $30 to $40 million per year.

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