Rating the Greatest Baseball Players of All Time

My rankings of the greatest baseball players ever, starting with number 1, in order.

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Sunday, August 08, 2004
 
After reaching a large number ending in zero, it's time to review what is going on here. This is a large (obviously) project with the intent of ranking every player in major league history, using a method as objective as possible. That means going with the numbers, rather than subjective opinion. The numbers used to reach these rankings are the WARP3 calculations, prepared by Clay Davenport and posted online at www.baseballprospectus.com. The method is somewhat similar to the one used by Bill James for the New Historical Baseball Abstract, with some tweaks. The total rating is calculated by adding Career WARP3, the top single-season WARP3, the top four consecutive seasons, the top 7 seasons, and the WARP3 per 162 games (100 for starting pitchers). To avoid letting my stinking opinions get in the way, I have stayed with the numbers with just certain exceptions. Extra credit is added to the amount of 1 point per 100 games catching (catcher credit), credit for extrapolated value of seasons lost to military service, and estimated value for those players who played before the start of organized leagues in 1871, and for those whose careers started late due to segregation. Points are also added for good postseason performance.

The rationale for the points I add is to give players credit for circumstances completely out of their control. I avoided adding points for injured players, regarding health as a skill. I did not rank Negro League players, because of a lack of reliable data. This project was meant to rely on the data.

I won't pretend that these rankings are perfect, because no set of data is without error. But I think these are the best, most objective rankings available. At least, that's the plan. WARP has some flaws, like overvaluing second base defense, and undervaluing catchers (the reason for the catcher credit). But I like it better than Win Shares, which tends to overvalue 19th century pitchers and does not include an automatic adjustment for era as WARP does. Looking at James' rankings by position in the NHBA, some rankings cannot be supported by the numbers reported. Take for example catcher Ivey Wingo. Wingo ranks much higher than he can be placed given the numbers for Win Shares in the catchers' table. If you look at his numbers, Wingo shouldn't even be in the Top 100. Why is he there? There is apparently something in the number adjustment that James did not share with us, which flips Wingo onto the list. On my list of catchers, he is #119th. Should he be higher? I don't see why.

How's the list? Well, it's my list. I don't expect you to agree with every ranking, and in fact I would be surprised if you did. But the listings are objective, and fit with the data we have now. In the 100s where the roll call currently stands, I can't tell you with any precision that Edgar Martinez is exactly #130. Given the precision of the data, he could belong five spots lower or higher. I am reporting these rankings with far more assurance than the data system would truly support, if this were a scholarly journal. But this is for fun. Look the list over, share them with your friends, argue about them on your favorite discussion board, but above all have a good time. It's baseball, it's a game, it's supposed to be fun. If you'd like, drop me an e-mail. I might even send you some of my Excel charts if you ask. I have over 1300 players ranked, and I am pretty confident I have the top 400 listed. Beyond that, I'm sure I've missed some people, especially pitchers. I just added a dozen a couple months back. But this is an ongoing project. As long as baseball is played, it will really never be finished.

Enjoy!