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Figuring Out MLB G.O.A.T.

Michael Jordan VS LeBron James, Peyton Manning VS Tom Brady, and Jack Nicklaus VS Tiger Woods. These debates rage on and on over who the greatest player of all time is. Finding out who the greatest of all time is easier in those sports, as the QB runs every offensive play, you can run your team through one superstar, and golf is not a team sport. With baseball, it’s a little different though. Not only can they not be involved in every offensive play due to lineups, but they also can’t pitch at the same time. This makes using winning or accomplishments less accurate because it’s way more of a team sport. Despite all of this, using metrics and total value, we can figure out who is the MLB G.O.A.T.

Picking Candidates for the MLB G.O.A.T.

I want to break this down from eras. I’ll pick a few players from different key eras in baseball and try to use that to figure out who the MLB G.O.A.T. is.

In the dead-ball era, the three best choices have to be Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Honus Wagner. Cy Young had a shot, he really compiled a lot of his stats over 7,000+ innings. I don’t think he was as dominant as people think he was, so I left him off of the list. The three I named will get an analysis later, but these three are head and shoulders above the rest.

In the era of baseball from 1920-1946 have the obvious Babe Ruth, but I also have two others. Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby are both in this race as some of the best players in that era and will be considered.

In the era of integration and expansion from 1947-1976, I have Hank Aaron Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle who are easy picks as absolute legends. These three definitely have a serious case for that top spot.

In the era of baseball from 1977-2005 with the free agency and steroid era, I have Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Pedro Martinez, who are some of the most dominant players in that era.

Now lets slim it down.

Picking From the Pitching

I named only Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Pedro Martinez on that list for pitching, and statistically speaking let’s see who holds up best:

Player ERA FIP ERA- FIP- fWAR/150 SO/9
Randy Johnson 3.29 3.19 75 73 4.0 10.61
Pedro Martinez 2.93 2.91 66 68 4.5 10.04
Roger Clemens 3.12 3.09 70 71 4.1 8.55

When it comes to dominance Pedro Martinez is easily number-one, but the volume of innings pitched does play a factor, and Pedro has by far the least innings pitched out of all three. I think it’s fair to say Clemens is the one to drop due to using PEDs and still being only slightly better than Randy Johnson. I will however drop Randy Johnson, as Pedro simply was way more dominant. This leaves us with Pedro Martinez, who will now go head to head with the best of the position players.

The G.O.A.T. of the Dead Ball Era

The dead-ball era has Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Honus Wagener, and we’re going to pick the best one from this field of players.

Player wRC+ wOBA OBP fWAR/150 TZ
Ty Cobb 165 .445 .433 7.4 0
Tris Speaker 157 .436 .428 7.0 92
Honus Wagner 147 .408 .391 7.4 83

This was a close one, but I give the edge to Tris Speaker who was the best defender AND close to Cobb in offense. While there is an fWAR gap, it’s due to speed, which isn’t as important as offense and defense, so I went with Tris Speaker (who was still fast).

The G.O.A.T. of the Live Ball Era

This race comes down to Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, and Babe Ruth. I don’t expect this to be close but who knows!

Players wRC+ wOBA OBP fWAR/150 TZ
Babe Ruth 197 .513 .474 10.1 80
Ted Williams 188 .493 .482 8.5 -29
Rogers Hornsby 173 .459 .434 8.7 54

Well, it looked close between Williams and Ruth at first but then defense kicked in and Ruth’s insane fWAR gap. I didn’t even account for pitching, and so this race is as clear as can be. Babe Ruth is the G.O.A.T. of this era.

The G.O.A.T. of the Integration/Expansion Era

The three candidates were Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Mantle, which should make for a much closer race.

Player wRC+ wOBA OBP fWAR/150 TZ
Willie Mays 154 .409 .384 7.5 185
Hank Aaron 153 .403 .374 6.2 95
Mickey Mantle 170 .428 .421 7.0 -28

I think this is similar to the dead-ball era comparison where we have the clearcut best hitter who’s also the worst defender, a middle player who isn’t 1st in either defense or offense, and the best defender being 2nd in offense. I’m going to give this one to Willie Mays for the same reason as Tris Speaker, but it was a little closer as Mantle was an absurdly great hitter.

What About Barry Bonds?

I’ll say this about Bonds: he’s definitely top-5 all time. I don’t think with steroids he’s as great, but he showed in Pittsburgh that he was elite without PEDs. They were abused, misused, and they were mishandled by the MLB (what a shocker), but Bonds was still great. He’s also the only hitter I selected from the timespan of 1977-2005, and so I’ll have to automatically pass him through this round, but I will only use his pre-1998 numbers to compare him to his peers to be fair to those who didn’t take steroids. The only reason I didn’t do that for Clemens is that he wasn’t going to beat Johnson or Pedro even with PEDs, so he doesn’t warrant a heavier analysis, unlike Barry Bonds.

The Best of the Best: Who’s the MLB G.O.A.T.?

Tris Speaker, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds; these four represent the best of their eras. Pedro Martinez isn’t a position player so he won’t be compared to them. These four will be compared and we will crown the best player of all time to match with the best pitcher of all time in Pedro Martinez.

Player wRC+ wOBA OBP fWAR/150 TZ
Tris Speaker 157 .436 .428 7.0 92
Babe Ruth 197 .513 .474 10.1 80
Willie Mays 154 .409 .384 7.5 185
Barry Bonds 157 .408 .408 7.8 179

The answer on who’s the G.O.A.T is complicated, as people will say Ruth never played people of color so he has an asterisk, but I’ll say this:

Pre-Integration the G.O.A.T is easily Ruth, and post-integration I think the G.O.A.T is Barry Bonds, who even pre-1998 (when he reportedly began using PEDs) he had excelled in everything, as despite TZ being a counting stat that becomes larger with more games, Bonds in half of his career was 2nd in TZ and barely behind Mays. He was also tied for 2nd in wRC+ and so I have to give it to him over Mays.

Overall? That depends on your stance on integration’s effect on baseball, but here’s all the data for you to decide on who’s your MLB G.O.A.T.


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