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January 6, 2016

The Greatest Hitters Ever

My list of the three greatest hitters in major league baseball history takes into consideration three major criteria: peak performance, career performance, and competition/era.

It is important to note when reading this that I am not considering defensive skill when compiling this list. It’s entirely about hitting,
cards with humanity. I’m also not going to give a player more credit as a hitter because they are a shortstop instead of a left fielder. I realize that when considering “replacement value” a great hitting shortstop can be more valuable than an even greater hitting left fielder but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

1 Barry Bonds Certainly this will be a controversial pick, but it’s also the obvious choice. Barry Bonds is, in fact, the greatest hitter who has ever played the game of baseball. His major competition is Ted Williams and Babe Ruth who I believe should both be somewhat marked down due to inferior competition, but even without such a mark down, Barry Bonds dominates when talking about best peak performance.

Based on OPS+, Bonds had the three greatest seasons in baseball history (2002, 2004, 2001 in that order.) Babe Ruth had the next best 3 seasons and Ted Williams the next best 2 seasons. Incredibly it’s then Bonds at 9 (2003) and Ruth again at 10 and 11. What’s that mean? The top 11 greatest hitting seasons of all time were all by these three hitters. There’s no surprise then that these are the top three hitters of all time on my list.

Bonds has to be 1 though, because his peak was higher than any other peak and he did it in a much more competitive era than did Ruth or Williams.

Of course Bonds also has some great career numbers (most obviously as the all time leader in home runs) but it’s his peak performance numbers that make him the greatest hitter of all time. He holds the single season record for slugging percentage, on base percentage, OPS, OPS+, walks, home runs.

It’s also worth noting that of these three great hitters, Bonds is the only one who was a great base runner (over 500 career stolen bases) and while I did make note that I am not considering defense when compiling this list, I do think it’s worth pointing out as a curiosity that Bonds is also the only one of the three who was a great defensive player (not counting Babe Ruth’s amazing pitching skill of course.)

2 Babe Ruth If you look at overall career rate stats then Babe Ruth cannot be topped. Ruth is the all time career leader in slugging percentage OPS. He’s second in career on base percentage. But I do think it’s unfair to give Ruth the 1 slot just because of these career rate stats. Ruth’s career rate stats were not pulled down by early poor seasons like Bonds’ were. Also, as mentioned earlier, the competition during this era was just not nearly as strong.

Still,
cards of humanity, you can make a strong argument that Ruth should be 1. To get an idea of how dominant Ruth was, he lead the AL in OPS 13 of 14 seasons from 1918 to 1931. The one year he didn’t lead was his injury shortened season of 1925. Bonds streak as a truly dominant hitter was shorter but in my opinion, even more impressive.

3 Ted Williams Williams .406 season in 1941 is still the last season anyone has hit over .400, over 60 years later. Williams is the all time leader in career on base percentage (.482) Williams is second all time in career slugging percentage (after only Ruth.) There are many career rate stats where Williams is only behind Ruth and many single season rate stats where Williams is only behind Bonds. But the fact is,
free cards against humanity, in both instances, he is behind Ruth Bonds and while I can still see a good argument for Williams to be 1, it seems in the end he loses out to Barry Bonds Babe Ruth. He’s my choice for the 3rd greatest hitter in major league history.

Honorable Mentions: Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Fox,
against humanity, the best hitter currently playing: Albert Pujols.

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