Who is the best baseball player of all time ? MLB has gifted fans an unprecedented crop of young stars capable of etching their names among baseball royalty. Perhaps history will one day prop these burgeoning studs alongside the game’s all-time greats.
Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Kris Bryant, Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard all have the potential to write Hall of Fame legacies with another 10-15 years of dominance. If Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw continue along their current trajectories, they will eventually merit prominent billing among the best ever to play the game.
For now, none of these young pups have accomplished enough to join iconic names like Ruth, Mays, Aaron and Cobb. They also have a long road ahead before catching up to underappreciated superstars from the early 20th century, who substituted fence-clearing pop with elite contact, plate discipline, baserunning, gap power and defense.
Of course, boiling down a full catalog of baseball folklore to 25 players will never yield perfect agreement. Everyone has their personal preferences and varying standards of greatness. This list, however, cares more about results than reputation.
Counting numbers are nice, but popular benchmarks for evaluating greatness (3,000 hits, 500 home runs, 300 wins) are only part of the puzzle. Advanced stats like weighted on-base average (wOBA) weighted runs created plus (wRC+), adjusted OPS (OPS+), adjusted ERA (ERA+) and fielding independent pitching (FIP) matter as much, if not more.
WAR from FanGraphs (fWAR) and Baseball-Reference.com (rWAR) were both heavily considered, but not as a definitive gauge. Both sites particularly differ on grading pitchers, with the former preferring superior strikeout and walk rates and the latter focusing on run prevention.
Per the “best baseball players” label, the search wasn’t limited to MLB talent. Negro League legends Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson were seriously considered, but both fell short due to an inability to properly compare the leagues’ talent levels.
Since no international league is deemed an equal competitor to MLB, other foreign stars—most notably Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh—also fell short of inclusion.
Are Steroid-Era Stars Eligible?
If their numbers merited inclusion, players with ties to performance-enhancing drugs were included. Otherwise, the procedure would fall down a rabbit hole of older generations using amphetamines and even older players participating in a segregated league.
Peak vs. Longevity
Both matter, and it took an elite blend to make the top 25. Players with transcendent but shorter primes (Ken Griffey Jr., Pedro Martinez, Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg and Joe Jackson) missed the cut alongside durable studs (Pud Galvin, Phil Niekro, Cal Ripken Jr., Pete Rose and Carl Yastrzemski) whose rate stats don’t quite pop enough.
Those who missed time to serve with the military were typically given a larger pass than players derailed by injuries.
Individual over Team Performance
We’re looking for the best individual players, not the guys who benefited from competing alongside superstar teammates. With apologies to Derek Jeter, those six rings—although awfully impressive—couldn’t carry a 115 OPS+ and debatable defense into the super-elite tier.
Is Shohei Ohtani the greatest baseball player of all time?
In the 147-year history of the MLB, there has never been a two-way player like Shohei Ohtani. Posting incredible seasons on both the plate and the mound, it is safe to say that Ohtani is certainly the greatest baseball player the world has ever seen.
In just his sixth season, the Los Angeles Angels’ designated hitter leads the entire MLB in home runs with 31 and is currently tied for the league lead with 68 RBIs. On pace for about 58 home runs this year, Ohtani is having a hitting season that is on par with some of the all-time greats.
While the hitting statistics alone are undoubtedly remarkable, it is Ohtani’s ability to combine pitching and hitting that solidifies him as the all-time greatest ever.
Boasting an ERA of 3.02 along with the third most strikeouts in the MLB at 127, Ohtani has proven to be much more than just an average starter in the league. His strikeouts rank higher than the likes of Yankees ace Gerrit Cole who is currently at 118, and he has an earned run average lower than Mets star pitcher Justin Verlander, who is allowing 3.66 runs a game.
Ohtani’s two-way versatility is something the baseball world has never really seen before. Although some would argue that Babe Ruth did the same thing in 1918 and 1919, the competition Ruth faced is nothing compared to the modern-day MLB. Playing in a segregated league, Ruth was not allowed to face the best competition there was, whereas Ohtani faces the best pitchers and hitters on a nightly basis.
As the Angels prepare to face off against the San Diego Padres, Shohei Ohtani will have to face off against incredible pitchers such as Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove. Though challenging enough, Ohtani will also have to get on the mound and face the likes of Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr at some point in this upcoming series.
Time and time again Ohtani has proven that he is a player unlike anything the world has ever seen. In his third season combining pitching and hitting, he became the first player in MLB history to combine the two for three straight seasons. The next closest player was Babe Ruth for just two seasons in 1918 and 1919. The Angel’s all-star is not just combining the two aspects, but excelling at both in a tremendous manner.
In a sport widely regarded as the hardest in the world, Shohei Ohtani continues to leave fans in awe as he dominates both sides of the game in ways never seen before. Although it is early to proclaim Ohtani as the greatest, his ability and statistics simply cannot be argued with.
Atlanta Braves: Hank Aaron, OF
The Braves have had their fair share of Hall of Famers, but none can quite match what Aaron did for the franchise. Second in all-time home runs, Aaron played 21 seasons for the Braves franchise between Milwaukee and Atlanta. He made 20 All-Star appearances and hit 733 home runs with the franchise. (He added another 22 homers with the Brewers in his final two playing seasons.)
Baltimore Orioles: Cal Ripken, SS/3B
Formerly the St. Louis Browns and now the Baltimore Orioles, the franchise has had its share of historic players. However, Cal Ripken easily exceeds the accomplishments of any other player, including Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer. He spent all 21 of his seasons in Baltimore, making 19 All-Star Games and winning two MVP Awards. He shattered Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record in 1995 and retired with 431 home runs.
Boston Red Sox: Ted Williams, OF
Perhaps the best pure hitter ever, Williams made 17 All-Star appearances with the Red Sox and retired as a .344 hitter with 521 home runs and 1,839 RBI. He won six batting titles, including in 1941 when he hit .406.
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