The best hitters in MLB from 2000-2020 have been extremely fun to watch. While only a few of these players are still active, they all have impressive resumes that could land them in Cooperstown. There are a few different categories, however, that they need to be placed in, as some of these players took different paths to greatness.
Best Hitters In MLB From 2000-2020: Accused Steroid Users
The players in this category were some of the best hitters in MLB from 2000-2020, but they have a checkered history. Some of these players actually tested positive for using PEDs, while others were named in reports that linked them to PED usage.
Knock on Barry Bonds all you want for his alleged steroid usage, but what he did in the 2000s was simply amazing. His greatness is best exemplified by his monstrous four-year stretch from 2001-2004. During this timeframe, Bonds hit a ridiculous .349/.559/.809 (256 OPS+) with 209 homers, 438 RBIs, and 755 walks against just 239 strikeouts. Furthermore, Bonds put up an eye-popping 43.4 rWAR and as a result, he won NL MVP all four seasons.
All of this insane production was done by a player in his late 30s, and while his health began to decline in the following seasons, Bonds’ playing ability was still magnificent. In fact, Bonds made the All-Star Game in his final big league season, a year in which he still managed to hit .276/.480/.565 (169 OPS+) with 28 homers and an MLB-best 132 walks. In the summer of 2007, I remember watching ESPN almost every day to see if Bonds had broken Hank Aaron‘s all-time home run record. Steroids or not, what Bonds did was amazing, and we may never see anyone come close to these numbers.
A-Rod may have been the most hated athlete in the United States at one point. Regardless, his numbers earned him not one, but two record-setting contracts in the 2000s. He was regularly one of the best hitters in MLB, going from 1996-2010 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs per season. Perhaps the best stretch Rodriguez had was when from 2000-2007 when he hit .305/.402/.593 (155 OPS+) with 370 homers, 235 doubles, 147 steals, and 1,040 RBIs. He also put up a whopping 66.7 rWAR during that stretch and won three MVPs. Whether or not he was juicing, A-Rod was one of the best hitters in MLB before and after the turn of the millennium.
Not only was Manny Ramirez one of the best hitters in MLB, but he also had a lot of fun while staying productive. The phrase “Manny being Manny” was born, and he was fun to watch for his playing abilities and his quirkiness. From 2000-2006, Manny hit a scalding .320/.421/.620 (165 OPS+) with 272 homers, 834 RBIs, and 34.4 rWAR. He had a down year in 2007, but just when it looked like Manny was on the decline, he was traded to the Dodgers in July of 2008.
This led to one of the craziest stretches in baseball history when Manny hit a mind-blowing .396/.489/.743 (221 OPS+) with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in just 53 games after joining the Dodgers. Furthermore, Ramirez put up 3.5 rWAR during that stretch and despite playing only about a third of the season in the NL, he finished fourth in NL MVP voting. While this may have been when he was taking steroids, Manny was definitely one of the best hitters in MLB during the 2000s.
Big Papi was almost entirely a designated hitter, and he mashed after getting picked up by the Red Sox. During his time in Boston, Ortiz hit .290/.386/.570 (148 OPS+) with 483 homers, 524 doubles, 52.7 rWAR, and 1,768 RBIs. Ortiz was a 10-time All-Star, seven-time Silver Slugger, a three-time World Series champion, and won 2013 World Series MVP. Similar to Bonds, Ortiz continued to rake as he got older, and he ended his career with a bang. In his final season, Ortiz hit .315/.401/.620 (164 OPS+) with 38 homers, 48 doubles, and 127 RBIs. He also was an All-Star and finished sixth in MVP voting.
Best Hitters In MLB: Underrated Players
The players in this category regularly put up great numbers but didn’t always get recognized as much as some of the other great hitters on this list.
Joey Votto is the king of plate discipline. Even as he continues to age, Votto still has a great approach at the plate and draws walks at a strong rate. For his career, Votto has hit .304/.419/.517 (149 OPS+) with 295 homers, 412 doubles, 62.1 rWAR, and 966 RBIs. He is a six-time All-Star and won the 2010 NL MVP award. Votto has never won a Silver Slugger though and doesn’t always get mentioned in Hall of Fame talks for active players. If he has a few more solid seasons, Votto could secure himself a spot in Cooperstown.
When I played baseball, I was told to model my swing and hitting approach after Joe Mauer. Sure, Mauer’s production tailed off a bit as he aged, but during his peak, he was one of the best hitters in MLB. From 2006-2013, Mauer hit .327/.410/.473 (139 OPS+) with 90 homers, 248 doubles, 40.4 rWAR, and 562 RBIs. Furthermore, Mauer was a six-time All-Star and won three batting titles, five Silver Sluggers, and 2009 AL MVP. Especially among catchers, Mauer was one of the best hitters in MLB during his career.
Guerrero is in the Hall of Fame, but he often flies under the radar when talking about the best hitters in MLB from the 21st Century. From 2000-2007, Guerrero hit .328/.399/.584 (151 OPS+) with 273 homers, 277 doubles, 140 steals, 40.8 rWAR, and 896 RBIs. During this stretch, Guerrero made six All-Star Games, won six Silver Sluggers, and won 2004 AL MVP. Guerrero actually made one more All-Star Game when he was 35 as a member of the Rangers.
Best Hitters in MLB: Cooperstown Locks
These players are destined to make the Hall of Fame. Most of these players are active, and at one point or another, they were all one of the best hitters in MLB. One of these players is actually already enshrined in Cooperstown.
Larry Wayne Jones is one of the greatest switch-hitters of all-time. During the 1990s and 2000s, Jones was consistently one of the best hitters in MLB. He had a particularly strong stretch from 2000-2008, in which he hit .316/.416/.560 (150 OPS+) with 255 homers, 283 doubles, 850 RBIs, and 48.3 rWAR. Jones also made three All-Star Games and won a Silver Slugger and a batting title in that timeframe. He remained productive right up until he retired, making the All-Star Game in both of the final two seasons of his career.
As a Japanese-American, Ichiro will always be a hero to me and everyone else in my family. He began his career by collecting 200 or more hits in each of his first 10 seasons, a feat that no one else has accomplished. While he began to decline rapidly after the 2010 season, his numbers are still crazy to think about. From 2001-2010, Ichiro hit .331/.376/.430 (117 OPS+) with 90 homers, 258 doubles, 71 triples, 383 steals, and 54.8 rWAR. He was an All-Star every season during that time and won both AL MVP and Rookie of the Year honors in 2001. In 2004, Ichiro set the single-season hit record with 262 hits.
What some people may not realize about Ichiro is that he could have been a power hitter if he wanted to. In fact, the only situation in which Ichiro slugged above .500 was with the bases loaded, where he slugged .523 in 170 plate appearances. I got a chance to watch Ichiro take batting practice in 2013 at Citi Field when he was a member of the Yankees. He stepped into the batter’s box and promptly smacked three straight missiles deep into the Coca Cola Corner. He may have only finished with 117 career homers, but Ichiro could have hit many more if he tried to.
Somehow, a player under the age of 30 is already a lock for Cooperstown. Mike Trout’s career has been simply amazing to watch. He has a career batting line of .304/.418/.582 (176 OPS+) with 302 homers, 260 doubles, 48 triples, 201 steals, 798 RBIs, and 74.6 rWAR. He is an eight-time All-Star, an eight-time Silver Slugger, the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year, and a three-time AL MVP. Trout has finished in the top-five in MVP voting in every full season he’s played in.
The craziest part about Trout’s career is that he is only 29 years old, which means that he may have not even peaked yet. The only part missing from Trout’s career is some postseason success, as the Angels have only made the playoffs once during Trout’s career, and they were swept by the Royals in the ALDS. Here’s to hoping that eventually, Trout will at least return to the postseason.
Cabrera is a shell of his former self currently, however, in his prime, he was one of the best hitters in MLB. From 2004-2016, Cabrera hit .323/.402/.566 (157 OPS+) with 434 homers, 502 doubles, 69.3 rWAR, and 1,491 RBIs. Cabrera made 11 All-Star Games and won seven Silver Sluggers, four batting titles, a Triple Crown, and two MVPs. Entering the 2021 season, Cabrera sits just 134 hits from the 3,000 hit club, and 13 homers from the 500 home run club. When all is said and done, Cabrera will go down as one of the best hitters in MLB history.
Albert Pujols’ decline has been painful to watch. He hasn’t come to close to the expectations the Angels had when they signed him to his massive contract in 2011. When he was in St. Louis, however, Pujols was one of the best hitters in MLB, and many considered him to be the best hitter in the game. In his 11 years with the Cardinals, Pujols hit .320/.420/.617 (170 OPS+) with 445 homers, 455 doubles, 1,329 RBIs, and 86.6 rWAR. He made nine All-Star Games and won 2001 NL Rookie of the Year, six Silver Sluggers, one batting title, and three MVPs. Similar to Cabrera, Pujols will go down as one of the best hitters in MLB history.
Best Hitters in MLB From 2000-2020: Closing Thoughts
Since the turn of the century, many different hitters have dominated baseball at one point or another. Some of them were aided by steroids, while some did it clean and are now locks to make it to the Hall of Fame. These are players that I consider myself fortunate to have been able to witness their greatness.
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