The HyperTexts

Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR per Season (WAR per 162 Games, or WAR/162)
with consideration of WAR7, WAR5, cWAR5, wRC+5 and WAR per Plate Appearance


by Michael R. Burch

The WAR Hall of Fame below is based on WAR per season (that is, WAR per 162 games). I also have a team based on WAR per plate appearance. I will also consider peak WAR in the form of WAR7, WAR5 and cWAR5 (five consecutive seasons). Anyone appearing on these lists is a superstar. I have rankings of WAR per 100 innings pitched and WAR per 200 innings for pitchers. Every player below played at a composite all-star level (five WAR) for his entire career. Those who averaged six WAR or higher were transcendent. For pitchers, anything over four WAR per 200 innings is transcendent. Eight WAR is MVP level for an entire career.

The Best Players by Position, according to WAR per Season and WAR per 200 Innings (with starters underlined and active/recent players bolded)

• Catcher: +Johnny Bench (+7.03/5.62), Mickey Cochrane (5.50), Buster Posey (5.31), Thurman Munson (5.25), Roy Campanella (5.11), Bill Dickey (5.10), Mike Piazza (5.00)

• First Base: Lou Gehrig (8.50), Dan Brouthers (7.70), Roger Connor (6.84), Jimmie Foxx (6.50), Hank Greenberg (6.50), Cap Anson (6.10), Johnny Mize (6.10), Jeff Bagwell (6.04), Albert Pujols (5.31), Joey Votto (5.30)

•
Second Base: Rogers Hornsby (9.10), ++Jackie Robinson (7.30), Eddie Collins (7.10), Nap Lajoie (7.00), Joe Morgan (6.10), Charlie Gehringer (5.90), Joe Gordon (5.80), Bobby Grich (5.74), Dustin Pedroia (5.60), Chase Utley (5.39)

•
Shortstop: Honus Wagner (7.58), Arky Vaughan (7.0), -Alex Rodriguez (6.80), Lou Boudreau (6.34), George Davis (5.76), Jack Glasscock (5.75), Francisco Lindor (5.60), Cal Ripken Jr. (5.20), Andrelton Simmons (5.10)

•
Third Base: Mike Schmidt (7.18), John McGraw (6.70), Eddie Matthews (6.52), Home Run Baker (6.51), *Matt Chapman (6.1), *Alex Bregman (6.1), Josh Donaldson (5.9), Wade Boggs (5.87), Scott Rolen (5.58), Chipper Jones (5.48), *Kris Bryant (5.1)

•
Right Field: +++Babe Ruth (10.48), Mookie Betts (8.2), *Aaron Judge (7.5), Hank Aaron (6.70), Mel Ott (6.56), Roberto Clemente (6.31), Frank Robinson (6.00), Larry Walker (5.92), Elmer Flick (5.81), Reggie Smith (5.27)

•
Center Field: Mike Trout (9.57), Willie Mays (8.47), Ty Cobb (8.06), Tris Speaker (7.79), ++++Joe DiMaggio (7.75), Mickey Mantle (7.58), Billy Hamilton (6.44)

•
Left Field: ++++Ted Williams (9.22), --Barry Bonds (8.83), "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (7.36), Stan Musial (6.89), Ed Delahanty (6.14), Charlie Keller (6.10), Rickey Henderson (5.80)

•
Designated Hitter: Dick Allen (5.44), Mark McGwire (5.38), Rod Carew (5.33), Ralph Kiner (5.24), Al Simmons (5.07)

•
Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw (5.94), Smoky Joe Wood (5.57), Pedro Martinez (5.37), Roger Clemens (5.22), Lefty Grove (4.99), Johan Santana (4.92), Sandy Koufax (4.69), Roy Halladay (4.63), Randy Johnson (4.44)

•
Relief Pitcher: Mariano Rivera (9.16), Trevor Hoffman (6.05), Bruce Sutter (4.80), Lee Smith (4.70), Dan Quisenberry (4.66), John Hiller (4.54), Rich Gossage (4.42), John Franco (4.14)

•
Utility: Pete Rose (an all-star at five different positions, playing more than 500 games at each, while averaging 6.4 WAR in his seven best years and 5.6 WAR for twelve consecutive years), Buck Ewing (played catcher, first, second, short, outfield, and even pitched a few games, averaging 5.9 WAR/162)

+ I believe WAR fails to reflect the overall contributions of catchers and would add at least 25% to each catcher's WAR, giving Johnny Bench an adjusted seasonal WAR of 7.03 and making him comparable to Mike Schmidt and Hank Greenberg, which I think are fair comparisons. In a draft of all-time players, I would take Bench over Greenberg because there are more great-hitting first basemen than there are great-hitting catchers with ten consecutive gold gloves who shut down other teams' running games with cannon arms. And Bench was a very efficient base stealer in his prime, going 24-2 in two seasons before mounting injuries took their toll. Hell, he even played all three outfield positions, including centerfield. Hopefully some day soon the creators of the WAR algorithms will figure out how to be fair to catchers.

++ Jackie Robinson was robbed of nearly half a decade by racism. He didn't play in the majors until he was 28. If I take the average of his four best years, I get a WAR7 of 60.9, which would rank him 15th all-time. But even that may be low, because if J-Rob had started playing sooner, I would expect him to do better in the prime years of his mid and late twenties. So I will estimate three additional years at J-Rob's peak of 9.7, which would give him a 63.9 WAR7 that would be 13th all-time and better than the adjusted WAR7 of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez below.

+++ Babe Ruth's WAR has been adjusted to not reflect years when he was primarily a pitcher. If his pitching WAR were included, his WAR/162 would be 10.90.

++++ Adjusted for military service

* These are players off to great starts, but with too few games played to really warrant the comparisons at this point. They are included only as current references.

- Alex Rodriguez may have juiced with PEDs his entire career, leaving us no way to estimate A-Rod's "real WAR" and "real WAR7" except to say both are obviously inflated.

-- Barry Bonds "juiced" with PEDs including steroids and HGH (Human Growth Hormone) to such an extent that his cap size increased in his late thirties! Thus Bonds' "real WAR" and "real WAR7" and "real WAR5" should be recomputed from his pre-PED days. We can tell when Bonds started using PEDs because his WAR had been sliding for years, when it suddenly skyrocketed to 11.9 at age 36 in 2001. Before juicing Bonds had never had a 10 WAR season and he had produced just one 9-WAR season from age 29 to 35. Then his WAR exploded and we know why. These are Bonds' seven best WAR seasons prior to 2001: 9.9 in 1993, 9.7 in 1990, 9.7 in 1996, 9.0 in 1992, 8.2 in 1997, 8.1 in 1998, and 8.0 in 1989 and 1991. Thus Barry Bond's recomputed "real WAR7" is 62.6. Thus Barry Bond's "real WAR5" is 46.5. And thus Barry Bond's "real cWAR5" from 1989-1993 is 44.6. Barry Bonds' recomputed WAR7 would put him in 14th place all-time, far behind Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, et al.

You can find my WAR7 ranking later on this page, with notes about recomputations and adjustments.

My research on pitchers convinced me that one of the most dynamic pitchers of all time, Smoky Joe Wood, has been unfairly snubbed by the Baseball Hall of Fame and should be inducted forthwith. I will explain why in my expanded pitcher rankings at the bottom of this page.

Biggest Hall of Fame Snubs without "issues": Smoky Joe Wood, Charlie Keller, Jack Glasscock, Bobby Grich, Scott Rolen, Dick Allen, Reggie Smith, Thurman Munson, Lou Whitaker, "Bad" Bill Dahlen, Ken Boyer, Johan Santana, Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown

WAR/162 helps us see why Reggie Smith has a good case for the Hall of Fame. His 64.6 career WAR puts him in the top 15 all-time in right field, with about an equal number of Hall of Fame right fielders below him. But Smith did a lot more with less. He only had five seasons with 145 games played, due to injuries. But when he did play, Smith was top 10 at his position. And the great Roberto Clemente once said that Smith had the strongest arm in baseball. Opposing players would assemble around the dugout during pre-game warm-ups to watch Smith's howitzer in action. Smith's glittering 137 OPS+ makes him comparable to Reggie Jackson, Vladimir Guerroro and Chuck Klein, but he was a better runner, a better defender and had one of the best outfield arms baseball has seen. Let him in!

When thinking about the Baseball Hall of Fame, this list reminds me how historically good Buster Posey, Joey Votto, Chase Utley and the other bolded names have been. It also reminds me that Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw and Mookie Betts are transcendent players. It reminds me how spectacular players like Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Joe Gordon were, despite shorter careers. And it makes me question why Smoky Joe Wood, Bobby Grich, Scott Rolen, Reggie Smith and Dick Allen (with that 156 OPS+) are not in the HOF.

If Hall of Fame discussions interest you, I invite you to see why my current favorites include "Bad" Bill Dahlen, Reggie Smith, Albert Pujols and Buster Posey by clicking here: The Best Baseball Hall of Fame Candidates.

There are cases in which WAR/162 can require further analysis. For instance players with extremely long careers like Pete Rose and Albert Pujols can look less-good than they actually were. I often hear would-be baseball experts opine that Rose was "not dynamic" and was "not really that good." But if we look at Rose's prime years, a 12-year period from 1965 to 1976, he averaged 5.6 bWAR per season and was third in fWAR with 65.7 behind only Joe Morgan and Carl Yastrzemski. Furthermore, Rose was nearly tied with Yaz and both Yaz and Morgan had insane two-year peaks, so the case can be made that for a 12-year period of time, Rose was MLB's most consistent superstar. Also, Rose was a great defensive left-fielder who won two Gold Gloves and had some of the best defensive metrics of all time for left fielders, but he often played out of position to help his teams, and that cost him substantial WAR. Even so, Rose was well ahead of every other player who played extensively during the same time period. Rose was 35 in 1976 and even Mr. Indestructible started to show the effects of time and slow down, but he remained in the top two to four players for fWAR in every screen starting in 1965 through 1984. In some screens the top three players were Rose and his teammates Morgan and Johnny Bench. In other screens Yaz pops up either ahead of Rose, or tied with him, or a notch below. As I played with the Fangraphs screens, one thing became obvious to me: For a 20-year period of time starting in 1965 and ending in 1976 or later, the most dominant player was always Joe Morgan, followed by Rose, Yaz and Bench as they jockeyed for order. Only Mike Schmidt would really challenge the ruling hierarchy. Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew and the vastly underrated Reggie Smith were other notable contenders. (In a side note: if Morgan or Carew could play short, we have a pretty damn good team for that era.) But in any case, I advise considering WAR7 along with WAR/162 to get a more complete picture. Rose's 44.9 WAR7 puts him seventh all-time at left field, ahead of legends like Goose Goslin, Ralph Kiner, Joe Medwick and Manny Ramirez. If they were dynamic players, as they obviously were, then obviously so was Pete Rose. One can also easily compute a player's WAR/162 for his prime years using a Fangraphs screen. Just take the total fWAR for the seasons in question, divide by the number of games played, then multiply by 162. Anything over 5 is all-star level, while 7-8 is MVP level and anything higher for an extended period of time is reserved for the elite of the elite.

Positive Surprises: Mike Trout (9.57), Dan Brouthers (7.60), Roger Connor (6.84), Arky Vaughan (6.47), Billy Hamilton (6.44), Lou Boudreau (6.35), Joe Gordon (6.27), Ed Delahanty (6.15), Josh Donaldson (6.10), Larry Walker (5.92), Elmer Flick (5.81), George Davis (5.76), Jack Glasscock (5.75), Bobby Grich (5.74),Scott Rolen (5.58), Al Rosen (5.46), Dick Allen (5.44), Chase Utley (5.39), Lenny Dykstra (5.39), Adrian Beltre (5.32), Buster Posey (5.31), Andrelton Simmons (5.30), Reggie Smith (5.27), Kenny Lofton (5.26), Wally Berger (5.12), Lou Whitaker (5.09), "Bad" Bill Dahlen (5.00), Ken Boyer (5.00), Joe Mauer (4.80)

The New York Gothams became known as the New York Giants because their six-foot-three first baseman, Roger Connor, was considered a giant in the late 1800s. Connor retired in 1897 and was MLB's all-time home run hitter for 23 years, until some guy named Babe Ruth showed up. Connor was a good base runner for his size, with 233 triples and 244 stolen bases. He also invented the pop-up slide, which must have scared the infield munchkins of his day! So it's no mistake that Connor ranks as high as he does.

And it's really no surprise that Mike Trout, the best player of his generation by a wide margin, is on this list. What is surprising and a bit breath-taking is that he has already eclipsed the immortal centerfielders and is now now second only to Babe Ruth in WAR per season! If he can stay healthy long enough, Trout has a chance to be the GOAT (greatest of all time), or at least finish in the top ten. Trout's teammate, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, did catch me by surprise, as did Josh Donaldson. They have a chance to join the all-time greats if they can stay healthy. Bobby Grich, Chase Utley and Scott Rolen clearly belong in the Hall of Fame, according to WAR per season. But all the players in "Positive Surprises" deserve careful consideration for inclusion if they're not already members. Lenny Dykstra only had 500 at-bats three times, due to injuries and a wild lifestyle, so he may be an exception.

Negative Surprises: Leo Durocher (0.51), Connie Mack (1.25), Harold Baines (2.27), "Little Poison" Lloyd Waner (2.27), Casey Stengel (2.55), High Pockets Kelly (2.55), Rick Ferrell (2.56), Ray Schalk (2.63), Bill Mazeroski (2.73), Jim Bottomley (2.87)

There are some questionable low-WAR players in the HOF, although Durocher, Mack and Stengel are better known as managers. While he batted .316 with 2,459 hits, Lloyd Waner was an average player according to WAR and OPS+. Harold Baines had a good career but he never had a five-WAR season. Rick Ferrell wasn't even the best hitter in his own family; his brother Wes, a pitcher, was! Mazeroski also never had a five-WAR season and his OPS+ was well below average at 84, although he may have been the best defensive second baseman of all time. Even the highly popular Derek Jeter begins to look questionable, when 18 shortstops bettered his 4.27 WAR per 162 games. Jeter had the second-highest plate appearances at short, which helped his counting stats, but he had five years below replacement and eleven seasons below 4.0 WAR, not counting his abbreviated first year. WAR per season suggests that Jeter was top 20 shortstop, not a top 5 or top 10 shortstop.

Other Negative Surprises: Dave Parker (2.63), Steve Garvey (2.65), Elston Howard (2.72)

I was surprised that Steve "my hair is always perfect" Garvey made this list. Ditto for the fearsome Cobra.

These are the players who should be considered for the Baseball Hall of Fame based on their Peak WAR and total WAR, with the players with the highest peaks underlined: Pete Rose (44.9/79.7), Shoeless Joe Jackson (52.5/62.2), Bill Dahlen (40.2/75.4), *Larry Walker (44.7/72.7), *Derek Jeter (41.8/72.4), Bobby Grich (46.4/71.1), Scott Rolen (43.7/70.2), Carlos Beltran (44.4/69.8), *Edgar Martinez (43.7/68.4), Kenny Lofton (43.4/68.3), Graig Nettles (42.4/68.0), Ken Boyer (46.3/62.8), Andruw Jones (46.5/62.8), Sal Bando (44.4/61.5), Todd Helton (46.5/61.2), Jim Edmonds (42.6/60.4), Jim Wynn (43.4/55.9), Dick Allen (45.9/55.1), Nomar Garciaparra (43.1/44.2)

* Elected to the HOF since my initial recommendation.

Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson are head and shoulders above the pack, so LET THEM IN! But really, all the underlined names deserve to be in the HOF, if my "negative surprises" are going to be included. I left out the "steroid monsters" because that debate is above my pay grade. But it makes absolutely no sense to ban Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson for gambling, when hall-of-famers like Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Rogers Hornsby were caught gambling, as explained here: Why Pete Rose Should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Players with a ton of WAR who may have fallen a bit short of the HOF due to lower peaks may include Johnny Damon (33.0/56.4), **Ted Simmons (34.8/50.3), Willie Randolph (36.3/65.9), Bert Campaneris (36.7/53.1), Thurman Munson (37.0/46.1), Ron Cey (37.1/53.8), Dwight Evans (37.3/67.1), Darrell Evans (37.3/58.8), Gary Sheffield (38.0/60.5), Fred Lynn (38.4/50.2), Robin Ventura (38.7/56.1), Sherry Magee (38.7/59.3), Willie Davis (38.9/60.7), John Olerud (39.0/58.2), Minnie Minoso (39.9/50.5), Vada Pinson (40.0/54.3), Buddy Bell (40.5/66.3), Bobby Bonds (41.1/57.9), Keith Hernandez (41.3/60.4), Cesar Cedeno (41.4/52.8), Bobby Abreu (41.6/60.0)

** While Ted Simmons averaged 3.32 WAR per 162 games, I supported his election to the Hall of Fame because I think WAR clearly undervalues catchers and because I have Simmons number ten in my rankings of all-time catchers: Johnny Bench #1, Roy Campanella #2, Mickey Cochrane #3, Bill Dickey #4, Mike Piazza #5, Yogi Berra #6, Carlton Fisk #7, Ivan Rodriguez #8, Gary Carter #9, Ted Simmons #10, Thurman Munson #11, Gabby Hartnett #12, Buster Posey #13, Ernie Lombardi #14, Joe Mauer #15, Buck Ewing #16, Yadier Molina #17, Lance Parrish #18, Jorge Posada #19, Joe Torre #20

While this page is primarily about position players, there are stats similar to WAR-per-162-games that can be used to evaluate pitchers: WAR-per-100-innings and WAR-per-200-innings. I think such stats should be used when considering pitchers for the Hall of Fame. I have posted tables at the bottom of this page that rank the top pitchers of all time by these measures. You will find the expected names: Pedro Martinez, Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Walter Johnson, et al. But you will also find some REAL surprises! These tables tell us that top contenders for the Hall of Fame include Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Greg Kimbrel, Corey Kluber, Zack Greinke, Curt Schilling and Max Scherzer.

WAR per 700 Plate Appearances

                                                         WAR/
       Name                     PA   WAR     700

1     Babe Ruth         10503   172.0   11.46
2     Mike Trout       5184     71.7     9.80
3     Rogers Hornsby  9259   127.8     9.66
4     Barry Bonds      12511  171.8      9.61
5     Ross Barnes        2506    33.1      9.25
6     Ted Williams       9766  125.3      8.98
7     Willie Mays       12389  154.7      8.74
8     Ty Cobb           12777  159.4      8.73
9     Lou Gehrig         9554   118.4      8.67
10   Mickey Mantle   9848   120.2      8.54
11   Honus Wagner 11518   134.5      8.17
12   Tris Speaker     11679  133.0      7.97
13   Joe Jackson       5559     62.9      7.92
14   Jackie Robinson 5689     63.2      7.78
16   Eddie Collins   11525    126.7     7.70
17   Dan Brouthers   7656      83.7     7.65
18   Joe DiMaggio    7657     83.6      7.64
19   Mike Schmidt    9938   108.3      7.63
20   Alex Rodriguez  9513     99.0      7.28
21   Hank Aaron    13798   141.6      7.18
22   Nap Lajoie     10239    104.2      7.12
23   Stan Musial     12624   127.8      7.09
24   John McGraw   4894     49.3      7.05
25   Arky Vaughan   7605     75.6      6.96
 
Ross Barnes played in just 499 games (because of short seasons in baseball's early years). His slash line was .360/.389/.468/.857 with an OPS+ of 168.
Jackie Robinson, Shoeless Joe Jackson and John McGraw also had shorter careers.

WAR per 162 Games for Position Players [with peak WAR aka WAR7]

Because the Hall of Fame requires ten years and an all-star season is five WAR, my total WAR requirement for the HOF is 50 or higher. The peak WAR requirement of 40 was chosen because it's around the average for HOF members. If only total WAR is considered, a player may have just played a lot more games than the average HOFer. If just peak WAR is considered, the player may have been a "flash in the pan." But if we consider both, we know that a player accumulated enough total WAR for at least ten all-star seasons, and that he played above an all-star level for at least seven years. Because WAR seems to discriminate against catchers, I have reduced the peak WAR requirement for catchers. Otherwise, only Johnny Bench would be eligible! I have also made exceptions and adjustments for players who lost prime seasons due to military service.

In the table below, the all-time leaders for each position are starred with asterisks. Active players are bolded and their rankings can go up or down. Please note that a WAR7 of 56 or higher means that the player in question performed at an MVP level or higher, on average, for at least seven years. Players with high peak WAR but insufficient career WAR are listed in a following section, with notes about some players. This is where you will find most younger active players.

To see this list sorted by peak WAR, please click here: Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR7.

10.48 (RF)     (#1) Babe Ruth* (New York Yankees) not including pitching WAR [84.7]
9.57 (CF)      (#2) Mike Trout* (Los Angeles Angels) [65.1]

-------------- Mike Trout is more than just a generational player. Around 20,000 men have played major league baseball and Trout's had the highest career WAR for every age he reached, until being recently derailed by injuries.

9.22 (LF)        (#3) Ted Williams* (Boston Red Sox) adjusted for five years lost to military service (est. 170 WAR, 2986 games) [69.2]
9.10 (2B)        (#4) Rogers Hornsby* (St. Louis Cardinals) [73.5]
8.92 (LF)        (#5) Barry Bonds (San Francisco Giants) obviously inflated by PEDs [72.7]
8.50 (1B)        (#6) Lou Gehrig* (New York Yankees) [67.7]
8.25 (RF)       (#7) Mookie Betts (Boston Red Sox) [47.7]
8.12 (CF)       (#8) Willie Mays (New York/San Francisco Giants) [73.7]
8.06 (CF)       (#9) Ty Cobb (Detroit Tigers) [69.2]
8.01 (SS)        (#10) Honus Wagner* (Pittsburgh Pirates) [65.4]
7.79 (CF)       (#11) Tris Speaker (Cleveland Indians) [62.4]
7.79 (CF)       (#11) Joe DiMaggio (New York Yankees) adjusted for three years lost to military service (est. 101 WAR, 2100 games) [51.2]

--------------- Joe DiMaggio lost playing time to military service, then retired early. This list reminds us how spectacular he was when he did play.

7.70 (1B)        (#13) Dan Brouthers (Many) [47.2]
7.58 (CF)       (#14) Mickey Mantle (New York Yankees) [64.8]
7.36 (RF/LF)  (#15) Shoeless Joe Jackson (Chicago White Sox) [52.5]
7.30 (2B)        (#16) Jackie Robinson (Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers) [52.0]
7.18 (3B)        (#17) Mike Schmidt* (Philadelphia Phillies) [58.7]
7.10 (2B)        (#18) Eddie Collins (Chicago White Sox) [64.2]
7.00 (SS)        (#18) Arky Vaughan (Pittsburgh Pirates) [53.2]
7.00 (2B)        (#19) Nap Lajoie (Cleveland Indians) [60.3]
6.89 (RF/1B)   (#19) Stan Musial (St. Louis Cardinals) [64.7]
6.84 (1B/3B)   (#20) Roger Connor (New York Giants) [47.0]
6.80 (SS)        (#21) Alex Rodriguez (New York Yankees) inflated by PEDs [64.3]
6.70 (RF)        (#22) Hank Aaron (Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves) [60.3]
6.56 (RF)        (#23) Mel Ott (New York Giants) [52.9]
6.51 (3B)        (#24) Eddie Mathews (Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves) [54.3]
6.50 (1B/3B)   (#25) Jimmie Foxx (Philadelphia Athletics) [59.5]
6.50 (1B)        (#25) Hank Greenberg (Detroit Tigers) [47.7]

-------------- The players above so far are the top 25 of all time. We are reminded how very good Jackie Robinson was, breaking the color barrier aside. Needless to say, he was the perfect choice.

6.46 (3B)        Frank Baker (Philadelphia Athletics) [46.8]
6.44 (CF)       Billy Hamilton (Philadelphia Phillies) [42.7]
6.35 (SS)        Lou Boudreau (Cleveland Indians) [58.7]
6.31 (RF)       Roberto Clemente (Pittsburgh Pirates) [54.4]
6.27 (2B)        Joe Gordon (New York Yankees) [45.8]
6.15 (LF)        Ed Delahanty (Philadelphia Phillies) [48.6]
6.10 (2B)        Joe Morgan (Cincinnati Reds) [59.3]
6.10 (1B)        Johnny Mize (St. Louis Cardinals) [48.8]
6.10 (LF)        Charlie Keller (New York Yankees) [39.4] exception for military service
6.10 (1B)        Cap Anson (Chicago Cubs) [41.8]
6.04 (1B)        Jeff Bagwell (Houston Astros) [48.3]
6.00 (RF)        Frank Robinson (Cincinnati Reds) [52.9]
6.00 (3B)        Josh Donaldson (Atlanta Braves) [41.7] the lower WAR7 is due to injuries, not lack of performance

-------------- It's easy to forget how good Joe Gordon was in his prime.

5.92 (RF)        Larry Walker (Colorado Rockies) [44.7]
5.90 (2B)        Charlie Gehringer (Detroit Tigers) [50.5]
5.90 (C/UT)    Buck Ewing (New York Giants) [30.7]
5.87 (3B)        Wade Boggs (Boston Red Sox) [56.4]
5.81 (RF)        Elmer Flick (Cleveland Indians) [41.3]
5.80 (LF)       Rickey Henderson (Oakland Athletics) [57.6]
5.76 (SS)        George Davis (New York Giants) [44.4]
5.75 (SS)        Jack Glasscock (Cleveland Blues) [41.0]
5.74 (2B)        Bobby Grich (California Angels) [46.4]
5.62 (C)         Johnny Bench* (Cincinnati Reds) [47.1]
5.60 (2B)       Dustin Pedroia (Boston Red Sox) [41.0]
5.58 (3B)       Scott Rolen (Philadelphia Phillies) [43.7]
5.58 (SS)       Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies) [40.3]
5.57 (1B)       Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona Diamondbacks) [39.9]
5.50 (C)         Mickey Cochrane (Philadelphia Athletics) [36.9]

--------------- (*) I believe WAR undervalues catchers and in my opinion Johnny Bench is a top 25 player.

5.48 (3B)        Chipper Jones (Atlanta Braves) [46.8]
5.44 (3B)        Dick Allen (Philadelphia Phillies) [45.9]
5.40 (CF)       Larry Doby (Cleveland Indians) exception for racial discrimination [39.6]
5.39 (2B)       Chase Utley (Philadelphia Phillies) [49.3]
5.38 (1B)       Mark McGwire (Oakland Athletics) [41.9]
5.37 (1B)       Bill Terry (New York Giants) [41.2]
5.33 (2B)       Rod Carew (Minnesota Twins) [49.8]
5.32 (3B)       Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers) [49.3]
5.31 (C)         Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants) [44.9]
5.31 (1B)       Albert Pujols (St. Louis Cardinals) [61.7]
5.30 (1B)       Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds) [46.9]

5.28 (3B)       Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay Rays) [40.9]
5.27 (2B)       Ian Kinsler (Texas Rangers) [40.4]
5.27 (RF)       Reggie Smith (Boston Red Sox) [38.7] -------- WAR7 allowance for injuries; had only 5 seasons with 145 games or more
5.26 (CF)       Kenny Lofton (Cleveland Indians) [43.4]
5.25 (C)         Thurman Munson (New York Yankees) [37.0]
5.24 (2B)       Frankie Frisch (St. Louis Cardinals) [44.4]
5.24 (LF)       Ralph Kiner (Pittsburgh Pirates) [43.7]
5.23 (SS)       Barry Larkin (Cincinnati Reds) [43.1]
5.20 (CF)       Jim Edmonds (St. Louis Cardinals) [42.6]
5.20 (RF)       Harry Heilmann (Detroit Tigers) [47.2]
5.19 (SS)       Bobby Wallace (St. Louis Browns) [41.8]
5.18 (SS)       Cal Ripken Jr. (Baltimore Orioles) [56.3]
5.16 (2B)       Robinson Cano (Seattle Mariners) [50.5]
5.16 (3B/DH) Edgar Martinez (Seattle Mariners) [43.7]
5.16 (3B)       David Wright (New York Mets) [40.2]
5.12 (3B)       Ron Santo (Chicago Cubs) [53.8]
5.09 (2B)       Ryne Sandburg (Chicago Cubs) [57.5]
5.09 (C)        Roy Campanella (Brooklyn Dodgers) [32.8] one of the great catchers was a victim of racial discrimination and injuries
5.08 (CF)      Ken Griffey Jr. (Cincinnati Reds) [54.0]
5.08 (RF)      Al Kaline (Detroit Tigers) [48.9]
5.07 (LF)      Al Simmons (Philadelphia Athletics) [45.8]
5.06 (3B)      George Brett (Kansas City Royals) [53.2]
5.06 (SS)      Joe Cronin (Boston Red Sox) [43.9]
5.03 (1B/DH) Frank Thomas (Chicago White Sox) [45.2]
5.01 (CF)      Duke Snider (Brooklyn Dodgers) [49.9]
5.00 (3B)      Ken Boyer (St. Louis Cardinals) [46.3]
5.00 (SS)      Allen Trammell (Detroit Tigers) [44.8]
5.00 (RF)      Bobby Bonds (San Francisco Giants) [41.1]
5.00 (SS)      Nomar Garciaparra (Boston Red Sox) [43.1]
5.00 (C)       Mike Piazza (New York Mets) [43.1]

Players whose WAR7 suggests they belong on the list above:

4.99 (SS)      Bill Dahlen (Chicago Cubs) [40.2]
4.98 (SS)      Luke Appling (Chicago White Sox) [43.8]
4.94 (C)        Gary Carter (Montreal Expos) [48.2]
4.94 (3B)      Sal Bando (Oakland Athletics) [44.4]
4.88 (LF)      Manny Ramirez (Boston Red Sox) [40.0]
4.84 (SS)      Ozzie Smith (St. Louis Cardinals) [42.5]
4.84 (RF)      Sam Crawford (Detroit Tigers) [39.7]
4.80 (C)        Joe Mauer (Minnesota Twins) [39.0]
4.73 (CF)      Richie Ashburn (Philadelphia Phillies) [44.5]
4.72 (CF)     Jim Wynn (Houston Astros) [43.4]
4.72 (LF)      Carl Yastrzemski (Boston Red Sox) [55.5] his peak was ultra-high, but longevity hurt some of his stats
4.68 (LF)      Goose Goslin (Washington Senators) [43.2]
4.68 (1B)      Keith Hernandez (New York Mets) [41.3]
4.64 (1B)      Jim Thome (Cleveland Indians) [41.5]
4.63 (CF)     Andruw Jones (Atlanta Braves) [46.5]
4.63 (RF)     Paul Waner (Pittsburg Pirates) [42.2]
4.59 (RF)     Tony Gwynn (San Diego Padres) [41.3]
4.57 (2B)      Roberto Alomar (Toronto Blue Jays) [42.9]
4.57 (3B)      Paul Molitor (Milwaukee Brewers) [39.7]
4.54 (LF)      Joe Medwick (St. Louis Cardinals) [39.7]
4.54 (C)        Yogi Berra (New York Yankees) [37.0]
4.49 (LF)      Tim Raines (Montreal Expos) [42.4]
4.46 (LF/3B) Minnie Minoso (Chicago White Sox) [40.0]
4.44 (2B)      Ben Zobrist (Tampa Bay Rays) [40.4]
4.39 (SS)      Robin Yount (Milwaukee Brewers) [47.3]
4.39 (3B)      Brooks Robinson (Baltimore Orioles) [45.7]
4.37 (1B)      Todd Helton (Colorado Rockies) [46.5]
4.32 (SS/1B) Ernie Banks (Chicago Cubs) [51.9] in his prime he was elite, the first of the major home-run crushers at shortstop
4.30 (1B)      Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers) [44.7]
4.25 (1B)      George Sisler (St. Louis Browns) [47.0]
4.25 (RF)      Reggie Jackson (Oakland Athletics] [46.8]
4.04 (1B)      Willie McCovey (San Francisco Giants) [44.9]
4.00 (1B)     Harmon Killebrew (Minnesota Twins) [38.1]
3.63 (*)        Pete Rose (Cincinnati Reds) [44.9] extreme longevity hurt some of his stats but WAR7 confirms that in his prime Rose was comparable to Paul Waner, Al Simmons, Goose Goslin, Miguel Cabrera, Willie McCovey, Frank Thomas

Players with high WAR averages who fell short on WAR7, meaning they haven't played seven full seasons, or didn't sustain the highest level of play for at least seven years, using a cut-off of ~ 40 WAR7 except for catchers. Players with a WAR7 below 35 failed to play at an all-star level for seven years and are questionable for the Hall of Fame if they made it (13 such players are tagged with HOF??? toward the bottom of this section).

7.50 (RF)      Aaron Judge (New York Yankees) [30.7]
7.03 (3B)      Matt Chapman (Oakland Athletics) [21.4] another small sample size, with only two full seasons played
6.68 (3B)      Alex Bregman (Houston Astros) [25.5]
6.70 (3B)      John McGraw (New York Giants) [39.1]
5.96 (3B)       Nolan Arenado (Colorado Rockies) [36.3]
5.91 (OF)      Christian Yelich (Milwaukee Brewers) [32.6]

5.80 (CF)      Lorenzo Cain (Kansas City Royals) [32.8]
5.78 (3B)       Manny Machado (Baltimore Orioles) [35.3]
5.75 (1B)       Frank Chance (Chicago Cubs) [35.3]
5.60 (SS)       Francisco Lindor (Cleveland Indians) [31.1]
5.59 (RF)      Giancarlo Stanton (New York Yankees) [34.4]
5.51 (3B)       Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs) [27.4]
5.47 (CF)      Benny Kauff (New York Giants) [29.0] only played five full seasons
5.46 (3B)       Al Rosen (Cleveland Indians) [33.3]
5.39 (CF)      Lenny Dykstra (Philadelphia Phillies) [33.0] his playing time was limited by injuries and a wild lifestyle
5.34 (LF)       Fred Clarke (Pittsburgh Pirates) [36.2]
5.27 (RF)      Reggie Smith (Boston Red Sox) [38.7]
5.12 (CF)      Wally Berger (Boston Braves) [35.8]
5.30 (SS)       Andrelton Simmons (Los Angeles Angels) [33.9]
5.09 (2B)      Lou Whitaker (Detroit Tigers) [37.9]
5.06 (CF)      Hack Wilson (Chicago Cubs) [35.8]
5.06 (2B)      Eddie Stanky (Brooklyn Dodgers) [35.7]
5.05 (C)        Bill Dickey (New York Yankees) [34.2]
5.04 (SS)      Joe Tinker (Chicago Cubs) [32.9] --------HOF???
5.03 (2B)      Jose Altuve (Houston Astros) [35.5]
5.01 (3B)      Jimmy Collins (Boston Red Sox) [38.5]
5.01 (OF)     Bryce Harper (Washington Nationals) [35.7]
4.98 (LF)      "Indian" Bob Johnson (Philadelphia Athletics) [36.0]
4.85 (2B)      Willie Randolph (New York Yankees) [36.3]
4.78 (LF)      Ryan Braun (Milwaukee Brewers) [39.2]
4.64 (CF)     Kirby Puckett (Minnesota Twins) [37.6]
4.63 (1B)      Will Clark (San Francisco Giants) [36.1]
4.62 (2B)      Billy Herman (Chicago Cubs) [35.5]
4.57 (1B)      Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves) [32.9]
4.53 (CF)     Chet Lemon (Chicago White Sox) [37.2]
4.50 (CF)     Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburg Pirates) [37.4]
4.50 (OF/1B) Cody Bellinger (Los Angeles Dodgers) [16.7]

4.49 (LF)      Lance Berkman (Houston Astros) [39.3]
4.48 (RF)      Vladimir Guerrero (Montreal Expos) [41.2]
4.46 (3B)      Buddy Bell (Cleveland Indians) [40.5]
4.44 (C)        Carlton Fisk (Boston Red Sox) [37.6]
4.37 (CF)      Carlos Beltran (Kansas City Royals) [44.4]
4.37 (3B)      Robin Ventura (Chicago White Sox) [38.7]
4.37 (C)       Ivan Rodriguez (Texas Rangers) [39.8]
4.34 (RF)     Jason Heyward (Chicago Cubs) [36.9]
4.27 (SS)      Derek Jeter (New York Yankees) [41.8]
4.26 (CF)     Cesar Cedeno (Houston Astros) [41.4]
4.22 (1B)      John Olerud (Toronto Blue Jays) [39.0]
4.20 (3B)      Ron Cey (Los Angeles Dodgers) [37.1]
4.17 (RF)     Tony Oliva (Minnesota Twins) [38.6]
4.17 (RF)      Dwight Evans (Boston Red Sox) [37.3]
4.15 (LF)      Billy Williams (Chicago Cubs) [41.4]
4.13 (CF)     Fred Lynn (Boston Red Sox) [38.4]
4.11 (1B)      Rafael Palmeiro (Baltimore Orioles) [38.9]
4.08 (3B)      Graig Nettles (Cleveland Indians) [42.4]
4.05 (CF)     Willie Davis (Los Angeles Dodgers) [38.9]
4.03 (RF)      Sammy Sosa (Chicago Cubs) [43.8]
4.00 (CF)     Andre Dawson (Montreal Expos) [42.7]
4.00 (RF)      Bobby Abreu (Philadelphia Phillies) [41.6]
3.94 (LF)      Willie Stargell (Pittsburg Pirates) [38.0]
3.91 (2B)      Jeff Kent (San Francisco Giants) [35.7]
3.83 (1B)      Orlando Cepeda (San Francisco Giants) [34.6]
3.81 (RF)      Gary Sheffield (*) [38.0]
3.76 (RF)      Enos Slaughter (St. Louis Cardinals) [35.2]
3.75 (LF)      Jose Cruz (Houston Astros) [36.3]
3.72 (1B)      David Ortiz (Boston Red Sox) [35.2]
3.72 (2B)      Craig Biggio (Houston Astros) [41.8]
3.67 (CF)      Johnny Damon (Boston Red Sox) [33.0]
3.67 (1B/DH) Eddie Murray (Baltimore Orioles) [39.1]
3.62 (LF)      George Foster (Cincinnati Reds) [36.9]
3.62 (RF)      Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle Mariners) [43.7]
3.56 (CF)      Vada Pinson (Cincinnati Reds) [40.0]
3.55 (3B)       Darrell Evans (Atlanta Braves) [37.3]
3.50 (RF)      Dave Winfield (San Diego Padres) [37.9]
3.46 (CF)      Dale Murphy (Atlanta Braves) [41.2]
3.37 (3B)      George Kell (Detroit Tigers) [28.1] -------------HOF???
3.37 (SS)      Luis Aparicio (Chicago White Sox) [32.7] ------HOF???
3.35 (2B)      Nellie Fox (Chicago White Sox) [37.2] ---------With nearly 50 WAR, Fox squeaks in
3.19 (3B)      Freddie Lindstrom (New York Giants) [25.9]---HOF???
3.15 (1B)      Tony Perez (Cincinnati Reds) [36.5] ------------Perez had 1,652 RBI so I think he belongs
3.09 (1B)      Boog Powell (Baltimore Orioles) [30.9]
3.08 (C)        Manny Sanguillen (Pittsburg Pirates) [26.4]
3.05 (1B)      Ted Kluszewski (Cincinnati Reds) [29.2]
3.04 (SS)      George Wright (Boston Red Sox) [22.0]--------HOF???
3.04 (SS)      John Ward (*) [24.8]---------------------------HOF???
3.05 (C)        Ray Schalk (Chicago White Sox) [25.6]--------HOF???
3.02 (3B)      Pie Traynor (Pittsburg Pirates) [26.3]-----------Traynor hit .320 and averaged 106 RBI
2.99 (CF)      Al Oliver (Pittsburg Pirates) [28.1]
2.91 (1B)      George Scott (Boston Red Sox) [30.3]
2.90 (C)        Rick Ferrell (St. Louis Browns) [21.1]----------HOF???
2.89 (RF)      Billy Southworth (*) [20.1]---------------------HOF???
2.87 (1B)      Jim Bottomley (St. Louis Cardinals) [29.0]------HOF???
2.85 (1B)      Wally Joyner (California Angels) [23.6]
2.81 (LF)      Lou Brock (St. Louis Cardinals) [32.1]----------HOF???
2.75 (1B)      Joe Adcock (Milwaukee Braves) [23.7]
2.74 (2B)      Bill Mazeroski (Pittsburg Pirates) [26.0] --------HOF???
2.72 (C)        Elston Howard (New York Yankees) [26.4]
2.65 (1B)      Steve Garvey (Los Angeles Dodgers) [28.8]
2.63 (RF)      Dave Parker (Pittsburg Pirates) [37.4]
2.60 (SS)      Rabbit Maranville (Boston Braves) [30.4]-------HOF???
2.55 (RF)      Casey Stengel (*) [17.2]------------------------HOF???
2.53 (1B)      George "Highpockets" Kelly (*) [23.7]----------HOF???
2.52 (CF)      Willie McGee (St. Louis Cardinals) [28.7]
2.51 (RF)      Rusty Staub (Montreal Expos) [33.3]
2.30 (CF)     Ned Hanlon (*) [14.1]--------------------------HOF???
2.27 (OF)     Lloyd Waner (Pittsburg Pirates) [22.4]----------HOF???
2.22 (DH)     Harold Baines (Kansas City Royals) [21.4]-----HOF???
2.06 (RF)     Tommy McCarthy (*) [18.9]--------------------HOF???

NOTE: Anything below two WAR per season would be below average for a major league baseball starter.

WAR7

WAR7 is the sum of a player's seven highest WAR seasons. WAR7 is also sometimes called "peak WAR."

       Player                 WAR7

1     Babe Ruth              84.7
(a)  Ted Williams           74.9 adjusted for five years of military service
2     Willie Mays            73.7
3     Rogers Hornsby     73.5
(e)  Mike Trout             70.0 estimated by 2025 or later if he can play full seasons
4     Barry Bonds          72.7 but I have recalculated Bonds' "real WAR" as 62.6
5     Ted Williams          69.2
6     Ty Cobb                69.0
7     Lou Gehrig             67.7
       Mike Trout          65.1 likely to rise if healthy (see estimate)
8     Honus Wagner       65.4
9     Mickey Mantle       64.7
10   Stan Musial            64.2
11   Eddie Collins         64.2
(a)  Jackie Robinson     63.9 this adjusted WAR7 would be higher than Bonds or A-Rod
12   Alex Rodriguez      64.2 obviously inflated with an "educated guess" below
(a)   Barry Bonds          62.6 adjusted "real WAR" based on WAR prior to 2001
13   Tris Speaker          62.1
14   Albert Pujols          61.6
(a)  Joe DiMaggio         61.3 adjusted for three years of military service
15   Nap Lajoie            60.3
16   Hank Aaron           60.1
17   Jimmie Foxx           59.5
18   Joe Morgan            59.2
19   Mike Schmidt         58.5
20   Rickey Henderson  57.4
21   Cal Ripken             56.3
22   Wade Boggs          56.2
23   Carl Yastrzemski    55.5
24   Eddie Matthews     54.5
25   Roberto Clemente  54.2
(a)   Alex Rodriguez      54.0 estimated if he had never used PEDs but admittedly just a guess

cWAR5

WAR5 works like WAR7 and helps us find the very highest extended peaks. In this case we are looking at consecutive years, so let's use the term cWAR5. Who were the players who were consistently the greatest for five years running? Every player in my top 20 played at an MVP level of 8 WAR per season for five consecutive years.

1     Babe Ruth (1920-1924) 56.9 WAR
2     Willie Mays (1962-1966) 52.3 WAR
3     Barry Bonds (2000-2004) 51.1 WAR inflated by PEDs
4     Roger Hornsby (1921-1925) 49.9 WAR
5     Mike Trout (2012-2016) 47.8 WAR
6     Mickey Mantle (1954-1958) 47.7 WAR
7     Joe Morgan (1972-1976) 47.7 WAR
8     Lou Gehrig (1927-1931) 47.2 WAR
9     Stan Musial (1948-1952) 44.7 WAR
10   Albert Pujols (2005-2009) 44.5 WAR
11   Hank Aaron (1959-1963) 43.6 WAR
12   Carl Yastrzemski (1966-1970) 43.4 WAR
13   Alex Rodriguez (2000-2004) 43.4 WAR inflated by PEDs
14   Jimmie Foxx (1932-1936) 42.9 WAR
15   Ted Williams (1946-1950) 42.3 WAR
16   Jackie Robinson (1949-1953) 42.2 WAR
17   Wade Boggs (1985-1989) 42.0 WAR
18   Ron Santo (1963-1967) 41.9 WAR
19   Mike Schmidt (1974-1978) 40.3 WAR
20   Roberto Clemente (1965-1969) 39.8 WAR

According to cWAR5, Mike Trout has already had one of the five highest peaks in baseball history. But if he hadn't been injured in 2017, and had performed as consistently as he always does, he would be in third place, above a steroid-infused Bobby Bonds. This list also demonstrates how very good Joe Morgan, Jackie Robinson, Wade Boggs, Ron Santo and Roberto Clemente were. We don't always hear their names mentioned with the Musials and Aarons, but they deserve their day in the sun. According to cWAR5, they were top 20 players in their primes. And in his prime, Joe Morgan was comparable to Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig.

wRC+5

This is a ranking of  hitters by the wRC+ of their five best seasons, with "a very straightforward and conservative adjustment for era" by Eric M. Van. He comments that "Ruth, Williams, Hornsby, Mantle, and Gehrig really stand out from the pack; the gap between #5 and #6 is as large as the spread from #6 to #13." Here are the next 10 players:

+++ Babe Ruth
+++ Ted Williams
+++ Rogers Hornsby
+++ Mickey Mantle
+++ Lou Gehrig
181 Barry Bonds before steroids
179 Mike Trout
179 Frank Thomas
178 Jimmie Foxx
178 Stan Musial
178 Albert Pujols
178 Mark McGwire (*)
174 Miguel Cabrera
173 Frank Robinson
172 Hank Aaron
172 Manny Ramirez (*)
172 Jason Giambi (*)

(*) PED issues

As overall players, Trout climbs because of his superior efficiency as a base-stealer and base-runner and because he's a better defender at a premium defensive position, while Pujols and Cabrera drop. This is how I rank the players overall for Hall of Fame purposes, dropping Bonds because for HOF purposes we cannot separate him from his PED issues:

+++ Babe Ruth
+++ Ted Williams
+++ Rogers Hornsby
+++ Mickey Mantle
+++ Lou Gehrig
179 Mike Trout
178 Hank Aaron
177 Stan Musial (extra points for playing multiple positions)
177 Jimmie Foxx (extra points for playing multiple positions)
176 Albert Pujols
173 Frank Robinson
172 Frank Thomas
171 Miguel Cabrera
??? Barry Bonds (*)
??? Mark McGwire (*)
??? Manny Ramirez *)
??? Jason Giambi (*)

(*) PED issues

Pitcher WAR per 100 Innings Pitched

Mariano Rivera 4.49
Smoky Joe Wood 3.88 (*)
Craig Kimbrel 3.87
Billy Wagner 3.11
Clayton Kershaw 3.07
Tom Henke 2.98
Pedro Martinez 2.97
Roger Clemens 2.85
Chris Sale 2.81
Walter Johnson 2.80
Lefty Grove 2.63
Trevor Hoffman 2.61
Johan Santana 2.54
John Hiller 2.49
Randy Johnson 2.47
Zack Greinke 2.47
Corey Kluber 2.47
Curt Schilling 2.45
Dan Quisenberry 2.43
Jim Devlin 2.41
Max Scherzer 2.40
Brandon Webb 2.38
Bruce Sutter 2.36
Roy Halladay 2.35
Wes Ferrell 2.35
Mike Mussina 2.33
Rich Gossage 2.32
Bob Gibson 2.31
Pete Alexander 2.31
Tom Seaver 2.31
Bret Saberhagen 2.31
Kid Nichols 2.30
Lee Smith 2.30
Cole Hamels 2.29
Cy Young 2.29
Dizzy Dean 2.28
Stephen Strasburg 2.26
Roy Oswalt 2.24
Justin Verlander 2.22
Ed Walsh 2.21
Harry Brecheen 2,21
Noodles Hahn 2.20
Urban Shocker 2.19
David Cone 2.16
Madison Bumgarner 2.16
Bob Caruthers 2.14
Greg Maddux 2.13
Christy Mathewson 2.12
Kevin Appier 2.11
Sandy Koufax 2.11
Hal Newhouser 2.10
Hoyt Wilhelm 2.10
Kevin Brown 2.10
Felix Hernandez 2.09
Adam Wainwright 2.08
Al Spalding 2.04
Dazzy Vance 2.02
John Smoltz 2.00
Eddie Plank 2.00
Rube Waddell 1.98
Dave Stieb 1.98
Rick Reuschel 1.97
Don Drysdale 1.96
Eddie Rommel 1.96
Stan Coveleski 1.95
John Franco 1.94
David Price 1.93
Bert Blyleven 1.92
Dennis Eckersley 1.92
Jimmy Key 1.91
Luis Tiant 1.91
Warren Spahn 1.91
Dwight Gooden 1.90
Fergie Jenkins 1.89
Carl Hubbell 1.88
Addie Joss 1.88
Jon Lester 1.88
Tim Hudson 1.88
Dizzy Trout 1.86
C.C. Sabathia 1.85
John Clarkson 1.85
Tom Glavine 1.85
Robin Roberts 1.84
Andy Pettitte 1.83
Amos Rusie 1.83
Kent Tekulve 1.83
Clark Griffith 1.83
Chuck Finley 1.83
Charlie Buffinton 1.82
Orel Hershiser 1.81
Whitey Ford 1.81
Tommy Bridges 1.81
Juan Marichal 1.80
Eddie Cicotte 1.80
George Uhle 1.80
Phil Niekro 1.79
Three Finger Brown 1.78
Mark Buehrle 1.78
Jim McCormick 1.77
Roberto Hernandez 1.77
Jack Stivetts 1.76
Jim Palmer 1.76
Bucky Walters 1.75
Babe Adams 1.74
Steve Carlton 1.73
Ted Breitenstein 1.73
Ted Lyons 1.72
Tim Keefe 1.72
Bob Lemon 1.71
Sparky Lyle 1.71
Mark Langston 1.71
Gaylord Perry 1.70
Candy Cummings 1.69
Tommy Bond 1.68
Old Hoss Radbourn 1.68
Joe McGinnity 1.68
Carl Mays 1.66
Bob Feller 1.66
Spud Chandler 1.64
Chief Bender 1.64
Silver King 1.63
Red Ruffing 1.62
Billy Pierce 1.61
Larry Jackson 1.60
Jim Whitney 1.59
Red Faber 1.59
Vic Willis 1.59
Jim Bunning 1.58
Al Orth 1.57
David Wells 1.56
Kenny Rogers 1.56
Wilbur Cooper 1.55
Rollie Fingers 1.53
Lefty Gomez 1.53
Nolan Ryan 1.52
Tony Mullane 1.50
Jack Quinn 1.48
Jack Chesbro 1.43
Jerry Koosman 1.40
Frank Tanana 1.38
Waite Hoyt 1.38
Early Wynn 1.34
Tommy John 1.32
John Lackey 1.32
Mickey Welch 1.31
Jack Powell 1.29
Don Sutton 1.28
Burleigh Grimes 1.27
Herb Pennock 1.26
Jamie Moyer 1.24
Eppa Rixey 1.23
Pud Galvin 1.23
Catfish Hunter 1.20
Jack Morris 1.15
Jim Kaat 1.13
Bobby Mathews 1.11
Jesse Haines 1.02
Rube Marquard 0.96

NOTE: I did not create these rankings so I cannot explain some of the differences.

Starting Pitcher WAR per 200 Innings Pitched

NOTE: The WAR used below is from the BaseballProjection.com rankings of the top 500 pitchers.

1 Clayton Kershaw 5.94
2 Smoky Joe Wood 5.57 (*)
3 Pedro Martinez 5.37
4 Roger Clemens 5.22
5 Lefty Grove 4.99
6 Johan Santana 4.92
7 Sandy Koufax 4.69
8 Roy Halladay 4.63
7 Randy Johnson 4.44
9 Brandon Webb 4.43
10 Bob Gibson 4.41
10 Tom Seaver 4.41
11 Roy Oswalt 4.38
12 Walter Johnson 4.32
13 Curt Schilling 4.27
14 Bret Saberhagen 4.27
15 Mike Mussina 4.20
16 Teddy Higuera 4.10
17 Harry Brecheen 4.07
18 Kid Nichols 4.05
19 Pete Alexander 4.04
20 Dizzy Dean 4.03
21 Kevin Brown 3.98
22 Tim Hudson 3.97
23 Cy Young 3.97
24 David Cone 3.97
25 C.C. Sabathia 3.95

(*) Smoky Joe Wood is a special case, with 40.0 WAR in limited playing time due to crippling arm injuries that ended his career ... but didn't. Smoky Joe Wood is seventh all-time with an otherworldly 146 ERA+ and he had a staggering 117 wins by age 25 despite only reaching 200 innings twice. What on earth would he have done if he had been healthy? The mind boggles. Smoky Joe got his nickname because his fastball—said to have been faster then Walter Johnson's (including by the Big Train himself)—sizzled as though burning through the air and setting it on fire. The only starting pitchers with a better ERA+ than Smoky Joe are Clayton Kershaw, Pedro Martinez, Lefty Grove, and Walter Johnson. When the first all-star game was organized in 1912 to benefit the family of Adie Joss after Joss's untimely death, Smoky Joe started the game and Walter Johnson relieved him. Let's stick that in our pipes and smoke it. After serious injuries cost him two years in his prime and left him unable to pitch, Smoky Joe became an outfielder and hit .283 for the rest of his career. But it understandably took him some time to really excel as a batter. He hit .366 at age 31, drove in 92 runs at age 32, then retired. He could have been the greatest pitcher of all time, if he hadn't had such bad luck. But please consider what he did accomplish. How many pitchers could take two years off, then return to the majors to hit .366 and drive in 92 runs? Only a guy named Ruth did anything like that, and he was healthy. What Smoky accomplished was truly incredible. He has more WAR than hall-of-famers like Hack Wilson, Harold Baines, Lefty Gomez, George Kell, Roy Campanella, and quite a few others. And he did it in a LOT fewer games. He only played two full seasons at his best position. When he was able to pitch, he was a superstar for the ages. When he couldn't pitch, he became the best-hitting ex-pitcher of all time not named Babe Ruth. He belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame, so let him in!!!

Relief Pitcher WAR per 200 Innings Pitched

Mariano Rivera 9.16
Trevor Hoffman 6.05
Bruce Sutter 4.80
Lee Smith 4.70
Dan Quisenberry 4.66
John Hiller 4.54
Rich Gossage 4.42
John Franco 4.14

THE EVIDENCE

People who know baseball sometimes question me when I say the greatest players often have their best years in their thirties, and sometimes in their late thirties. Here is the evidence:

Babe Ruth had four 10-WAR seasons in his twenties, and six in his thirties
Willie Mays had his best six-year span, according to WAR, from age 30–36, with four consecutive seasons of 10.5 to 11.2 WAR; he had 5.2 to 6.3 WAR three times from age 37–40
Honus Wagner had his seven best WAR seasons from age 30–38
Lou Gehrig had his best four-year WAR span in terms of consistency from age 31–34, never falling below 8.2 WAR and maxing out at 10.1, his second-best career mark
Ted Williams had 9.7 WAR at age 38 in only 132 games, an 11.9 rate that would have been his career-best mark
Tris Speaker had 9.1 WAR in 150 games at age 35, a 9.8 rate that was close to his career best
Ty Cobb had his best WAR season (8.8) at age 30; he hit .364 from age 30 on, essentially the same as in his twenties
Pete Rose had his two best WAR seasons at age 32 and 35
Rogers Hornsby had one of his best three-year spans, according to WAR, from age 31 to 33
Hank Aaron had 7.4 WAR in only 139 games at age 37, an 8.4 rate that was close to his career best; he also had 8.1 WAR in only 147 games at age 35, an even better 8.9 rate
Nap Lajoie had his best WAR season at age 31 and his best WAR span from age 31–35
Barry Bonds* had his best WAR seasons, by far, at age 36–39
Sandy Koufax had his best or second-best season at age 30, despite terrible arthritis in his left arm
Rod Carew had his best season, by far, at age 31 when he hit .388 with 9.7 WAR
Bob Gibson had his best season, by far, at age 32 when he had that otherworldly 1.12 ERA; Gibby had his 4 highest WAR seasons from age 32–36
Chipper Jones had his two best WAR seasons at age 35–36
Randy Johnson had his two highest WAR seasons at age 37–38
Some great players had more wins and/or more WAR in their thirties than in their twenties, including Cy Young, Dazzy Vance, Randy Johnson and Phil Niekro

According to BEYOND THE BOX SCORE the average height of a major league player has increased since the 1870s from 68.9 inches (5'7") to 73.7 inches (6'1"). The average ballplayer is almost 14% heavier than the average player of the 1870s, increasing from 167.3 lbs to 190.6 lbs. The study "Historical trends in height, weight, and body mass Data from U.S. Major League Baseball players, 1869–1983" conducted using data from TOTAL BASEBALL shows average player height and weight steadily and dramatically increasing from 1869 to 1979. Thus, a game between the best modern teams and the best teams of yore would be like still-growing teenage boys playing against grown men. And hitters of yore were not facing a constant stream of fresh pitchers throwing 95 to 100 mph heat. In other words, it would be a slaughter. To pretend otherwise strikes me as silly. The Giants are called the Giants because they had a star player who was considered to be a giant among men. His name was Roger Connor and he was one of baseball's early legends. But he was around my height and weight—6'2" and 200 pounds—and no one has ever called me a giant! Nearly every stat in every sport that has been around for a hundred years or more confirms that modern athletes are bigger, faster and stronger than athletes of yore. To live in a fantasy world where baseball is the only exception to the rule seems silly to me, like believing the earth is flat when it is obviously a globe.

THE EVIDENCE OF K/9

The evidence of strikeouts per nine innings (abbreviated K/9 or SO/9) seems pretty clear to me and is confirmed by two tests done using military technology that was advanced for the times in question. I will begin with a simple premise, followed by a timeline as evidence.

Premise: The pitchers with the fastest fastballs strike out the most batters. The faster the fastball, the higher the K/9 rate. And the K/9 rate has been steadily increasing since the dawn of baseball statistics.

K/9 Timeline

1890-1911 - 3.4 - Cy Young (*)
1890-1911 - 7.0 - Rube Waddell
1907-1927 - 5.3 - Walter Johnson aka "The Big Train" - tested at 83.2 mph (**)
1908-1920 - 6.2 - "Smoky" Joe Wood
1915-1935 - 6.2 - "Dazzy" Vance (***)
1930-1947 - 5.3 - "Dizzy" Dean
1936-1956 - 6.1 - "Bullet" Bob Feller - tested at 98.6 mph (****)
1951-1963 - 6.6 - "Bullet" Bob Turley
1955-1971 - 6.8 - Jim Bunning
1955-1966 - 9.3 - Sandy Koufax aka "The Left Hand of God"
1961-1975 - 8.9 - "Sudden" Sam McDowelll
1962-1969 - 9.7 - Dick Radatz aka "The Monster" (*****)
1966-1993 - 9.5 - Nolan Ryan aka "The Ryan Express"
1988-2009 - 10.6 - Randy Johnson aka "The Big Unit"
1992-2009 - 10.0 - Pedro Martinez
2008-2021 - 10.7 - Max Scherzer
2010-2021 - 11.1 - Chris Sale
2012-2021 - 11.1 - Yu Darvish
2013-2021 - 10.4 - Gerrit Cole
2014-2021 - 10.7 - Jacob deGrom
2014-2021 - 11.2 - Robbie Ray
2018-2021 - 11.3 - Shane Bieber
2018-2021 - 12.3 - Corbin Burnes

(*) Cy Young was nicknamed Cy after a Cyclone, which is presumably due to the speed of his fastball, but he only struck out 3.4 batters per nine innings, so it seems cyclones were slower back then. His highest K/9 season was 5.9, at age 38, and the improvement may have been due to better control of his other pitches by that age. Like many old-timey pitchers, Cy Young pitched an incredible number of innings to get the strikeouts he got.

(**) Walter Johnson's fastball was tested using US military technology in 1912 at the Remington Armory Ballistic Rifle Range. Johnson's fastball was timed at 122 feet/second or 83.2 mph.
According to Walter Johnson's page on Wikipedia: “In 1917, a Bridgeport, Connecticut munitions laboratory recorded Johnson's fastball at 134 feet per second, which is equal to 91.36 miles per hour (147.03 km/h), a velocity which may have been unmatched in his day.” I am not sure of the methodology employed. But a fastball between 83.2 and 91.4 mph would explain why the great Walter Johnson was 493rd on the K/9 list the last time I checked. And because Johnson was so renowned for the speed of his fastball, this suggests that most pitchers of his era were probably throwing very slow "fastballs" compared to what hitters are seeing in the 21st century.

(***) Walter Johnson himself said that no one threw faster than Smoky Joe Wood, and their K/9 disparity seems to agree. How fast was Smoky Joe Wood throwing? Since his K/9 is around the same as Bob Feller's, perhaps around 98-99 mph. Ditto for Dazzy Vance. But it's important to note that Smoky Joe, Dazzy and Rube Waddell were outliers. It would be around half a century before any starting pitcher with comparable innings significantly bettered their K/9 stats. I believe this suggests that most pitchers of their era were throwing in the low eighties, or slower, based on Walter Johnson's fastball being timed at 83.2 mph by the US military. Dizzy Dean is the only other great strikeout artist that I have been able to find prior to the 1950s, but his K/9 is closer to Johnson's, suggesting that he may not have thrown with the extreme velocity of my "big three."

(****) Bob Feller's fastball was timed at 98.6 mph by advanced military technology (based on light beams) in 1946. The testing was carried out with equipment provided by the Army Ordnance Department. Bob Feller was an outlier, and his fastball was widely acknowledged to be, by far, the fastest of his era. Confirming this, Feller led the AL in strikeouts for seven consecutive seasons in which he pitched a full season, starting as a teenager at age 19. But he was a dominating strikeout pitcher at ages 17 and 18, and just didn't pitch enough innings to lead the league. For a period of 13 years, except for three years he didn't play while serving in the US military during WWII, Feller was baseball's unchallenged strikeout king. And that was primarily because of his dominating fastball. Ted Williams, the closest baseball has come to a hitting scientist, called Feller the toughest pitcher to hit that he'd ever seen. Around this time, Jesse Owens was a "quantum leap" forward in track, setting world records in his sport. Today high schoolers are besting his times. Ditto for baseball, because today high school pitchers are throwing 98 mph pitches, and faster. For instance,
Riley Pint, a senior at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Kansas, threw a fastball 102 mph at age 18. And while there was a "test" in which Feller’s fastball was allegedly timed at 104 mph, the testing device — a motorcycle — seems far from accurate to me. I think we can agree that Feller had a great fastball for his day, but having him throw against a speeding motorcycle does not persuade me that the measurement was meaningful.

(*****) I only found Dick Radatz because I remembered Mickey Mantle calling him a "monster" and complaining about how hard it was to hit him. Radatz contributes to my case because in his best seasons he threw one pitch, a blazing fastball, and his 9.7 K/9 was astronomical for his era. Why? My educated guess is that he was throwing extreme heat, perhaps 100 mph or faster. His 6.9 hits per nine innings is significantly lower than virtually all "pitchers of yore" and is only bettered by a handful of qualified pitchers of the modern era: Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Clayton Kershaw, Sid Fernandez and J. R. Richard.
Radatz still ranks first, third, and seventh for the most strikeouts in a single season by a relief pitcher.

My main points are these:

(1) For most of the history of baseball it was rare for any pitcher to strike out more than five batters per nine innings.
(2) The pitchers who did strike out a lot of batters were renowned for their velocity with nicknames like "Cy" and "Smoky Joe" and "The Big Train" and "Bullet Bob" and "The Monster" (coined by Mickey Mantle for Dick Radatz).
(3) Such nicknames tell us how the pitchers were striking out most of the batters they whiffed.
(4) I believe there is a clear correlation between fastball speed and strikeouts. All the greatest strikeout artists were renowned for their speed. There are no spitballers or screwballers or knuckleballers, as far as I can tell, in the highest ranks of the K/9 leaders of the past.
(5) So what conclusion can we reach? I think we can put to rest the silly idea that great modern hitters like Mike Trout have "forgotten how to hit" and "shouldn't be striking out so much," etc. The simple fact is that between modern pitching and modern defenses, it is much harder to get hits today. Thus, it makes perfect sense to maximize the results when contact is made, by trying to hit more doubles, triples and home runs.
(6) When comparing modern hitters to hitters of yore, we need to keep in mind that players with ultra-high batting averages like Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Babe Ruth were, for the most part, hitting against overworked starters who best "fastballs" were probably in the low eighties, if not lower. If the hitters saw anything faster, it was the rare Rube Waddell, or Smoky Joe Wood, or Dazzy Vance, and they were in awe of such speed. But today many high school pitchers are throwing  faster fastballs than the average pitcher of yore, just as many high schoolers are running faster sprints than the average sprinters of yore. This is no surprise because modern athletes are, on average, bigger, faster and stronger. A bigger, faster young man can generally throw a ball harder that a smaller, lighter young man.

The increase in strikeouts has not been a sudden thing, but a longtime trend. Like batting averages declining, this trend started long ago and the two are related. Pitchers of yore struck out comparatively few batters, across the board. Real fireballers were the rare exceptions. Fastball speed seems to clearly be the most critical factor in higher strikeout rates. Bob Feller was the Nolan Ryan of his day and he had a blazing fastball, although probably not as fast as Ryan's. But in any case, blazing fastballs were rare back then. Today blazing fastballs are no longer rare, but are par for the course, and strikeouts are much more common across the board. And even the great strikeout pitchers of yore do not compare to modern fireballers, based on the K/9 stat:

Rank — Player — K/9

#1 — Chris Sale — 11.1
#14 — Nolan Ryan — 9.5
#20 — Sandy Koufax — 9.3
#40 — Roger Clemens — 8.6
#140 — Bob Gibson — 7.2
#171 — Rube Waddell — 7.0 the highest-ranked pitcher of yore is only #166 and dropping
#295 — Smoky Joe Wood — 6.2 threw faster than Walter Johnson, per WJ
#297 — Dazzy Vance — 6.2 strikeout leader 7 consecutive seasons 1922–1928
#308 — Bob Feller — 6.0 strikeout leader 7 times
#493 — Walter Johnson — 5.34 strikeout leader 12 times
#498 — Dizzy Dean — 5.32 strikeout leader 4 consecutive seasons 1932–1935

The odd thing to me is that we all know that records in all sports are falling continually to modern athletes. Why would baseball hitters be the only exception? All the other records continue to be broken on a regular basis. Obviously, modern athletes are bigger, faster and stronger than in the past. It makes no sense that all other athletes would keep improving and only hitters would go in reverse. The more reasonable answer, in my opinion, is that modern pitching has gained an advantage over modern hitting with a combination of speed and spin that makes pitches extremely difficult to hit, no matter how much batters practice. Also, modern defenses are better, so when contact is made and the ball stays in the park there are fewer hits. Thus it makes sense to swing for the fences, to maximize what happens when contact is made.

Related Pages: The Greatest Baseball Team of All Time, The Greatest Baseball Infields of All Time, Is Mike Trout the GOAT?, Best Baseball Nicknames, Weird Baseball Facts and Trivia, All-Time Cincinnati Reds Baseball Team, Cincinnati Reds Trivia, Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR7, Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR5, Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR per Plate Appearance, Baseball's 100 WAR Leaders, Baseball Hall of Fame: The Best Candidates, Why Pete Rose Should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Baseball Timeline, Baseball's All-Time Leaders in Strikeouts per Nine Innings (SO/9)

The HyperTexts