In MLB history, few have been as dominant as Juan Soto has been in his first three seasons. Through three seasons, Soto has a career OPS+ of 151 and OPS of .972. In 2020, Soto cobbled together the best season by a hitter since Barry Bonds, slashing .351/.490/.695 to post a 1.185 OPS and 212 OPS+ (all of which led Major League Baseball). That means he was 112% better than the average hitter.
Soto has a pair of top-10 MVP finishes to his name, and he was second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2018 (to someone on this list, ironically enough).
One way to analyze those that have been as good as Soto is similarity scores, a statistic developed by Bill James in the 1980s. It comes players from across MLB history to other players, and it works for both position players and pitchers.
Similarity scores are purely statistical analyses. To see the comprehensive formula for similarity scores, go to Baseball-Reference.
MLB History No.1: Frank Robinson
Frank Robinson makes his second appearance in this series. Robinson began his career with the Cincinnati Reds, winning the Rookie of the Year in 1956. In his Reds tenure, he led the NL in OPS and OPS+ three teams, securing eight All-Star nods and the 1961 NL MVP. In 1966, he went to Baltimore and dominated for the World Series-winning Orioles. Robinson won the AL Triple Crown, posted a menacing 198 OPS+, and wrapped up both AL MVP and World Series MVP honors.
In his six years in Baltimore, Robinson upheld an absurd 169 OPS+. After his Oriole days, Robinson played with the Cleveland Indians, California Angels, and Los Angeles Dodgers. He received AL MVP votes in 1973 with the Angels and was an All-Star in 1974.
For Robinson’s career, he slashed .294/.389/.537, slugging 586 home runs and a 154 OPS+. He was even a Gold Glover as a left fielder early in his career before spending time at first base and in right field.
No.2: Ronald Acuna Jr.
Ronald Acuna Jr. beat out Soto to the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year Award, and the players will likely be linked for the rest of their respective careers. In his first 313 MLB games, Acuna has mashed 81 home runs and stolen 61 bases. He has a career slash line of .281/.371/.538 with an OPS of .909 and OPS+ of 133. He has never finished lower than 12th in NL MVP voting, and he has a pair of Silver Sluggers to his name. Acuna has spent time in all three outfield spots, but right field is his likely home for the next decade. In 2020, no NLer homered as often as Acuna.
No.3: Mike Trout
Mike Trout has been a common answer to “who is the best player in baseball?” since 2012, and he has not shown any signs of stopping. Trout has three MVPs, four more runner-up finishes, and a pair of top-five finishes. He has eight Silver Sluggers, 302 home runs, and a career 1.000 OPS before turning 30. He has led the AL in on-base percentage four times, slugging thrice, OPS four times, and OPS+ a ridiculous six times. His worst OPS+ since his rookie season is 168. Only 20 other active players have hit that mark in any season, and it represents Trout’s worst. Trout’s worst season ranks 27th in OPS+ since 2012.
If Soto produces in the same stratosphere as Trout, he will be a no-doubt Hall of Famer.
No.4: Mickey Mantle
Mickey Mantle was a three-time MVP, 20-time All-Star, and seven-time World Series winner. He retired with 536 home runs, 2,415 hits, and a stellar 172 OPS+. In his 18 seasons, all with the Yankees, Mantle led the AL in OPS+ in eight different seasons. He is one of six players to post a season with an OPS+ above 220 in MLB history.
Primarily a centerfielder, Mantle led the Yankees to 12 AL pennants. In the World Series, Mantle had a career .908 OPS. He is the all-time leader in World Series home runs, runs, walks, total bases, and RBI. Mantle ranks in the top-20 of position player WAR, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, home runs, and walks in MLB history.
No.5: Henry Aaron
Henry Aaron played 23 seasons of Major League Baseball with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves (21 seasons) and Milwaukee Brewers (two seasons). He is baseball’s leader in runs batted in and total bases and held the home run record for 37 years. As a right fielder for the majority of his career, Aaron earned the 1957 NL MVP, 25 All-Star game nods (most in MLB history), and a trio of Gold Gloves. He received MVP votes in 19 different seasons, finishing third on six separate occasions.
He had an OPS over 1.000 five times and had an OPS+ of 128 or better in 20 of his 21 seasons with the Braves. Aaron had eight seasons with a bWAR of 8.0 or better.
No.6: Tony Conigliaro
Tony Conigliaro makes his second appearance in the series. Conigliaro made the 1967 AL All-Star roster and led the league in home runs in 1965. His prime was cut short after he was hit with a pitch in 1967. In his four healthy seasons with the Boston Red Sox, he had an OPS+ of 132, and he paced for 35 home runs per 162 games. Conigliaro only played 876 games in his career, and he had an average OPS+ of 102 after his injury. He received MVP votes twice and was one of the up-and-coming stars of the late 1960s before his untimely injury.
No.7: Bob Horner
Bob Horner has appeared in all three installments to this point. After skipping the minor leagues entirely, Horner raced to the 1978 NL Rookie of the Year award. He began his career with six seasons of an OPS+ of at least 124, peaking with an OPS+ of 143 in 1983. He was a 1982 All-Star, and he finished ninth in NL MVP voting in 1980. Despite never having an OPS+ below 111, Horner played just 60 games after his age-28 season. He sat out for the 1987 season and did not return to MLB after 1988 because of baseball owner collusion.
No.8: Orlando Cepeda
Orlando Cepeda played 17 seasons for six different franchises, but he was mainly known as a San Francisco Giant. With the Giants, Cepeda primarily played first base, posting an OPS+ of 140 to go with the 1958 NL Rookie of the Year Award and 10 All-Star appearances. In 1961, he led the NL in home runs and RBI, ultimately finishing second to the aforementioned Robinson. Cepeda won the 1967 NL MVP with the Cardinals, boasting a 164 OPS+ and a 6.8 bWAR. Cepeda capped the season off with a World Series ring.
After falling 1.5% short on his final BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, the Veteran’s Committee selected Cepeda in 1999.
No.9: Eddie Mathews
Eddie Mathews played 17 seasons in MLB, spending 15 for the Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves. By his second year in Major League Baseball, Mathews had established himself as a premier power hitter. In 1953, he mashed 47 home runs for the newly-minted Milwaukee Braves. He had an OPS+ of 171, leading the NL. Mathews’ 1953-1955 is one of the most dominant all-around stretches in MLB history as he had an OBP no worse than .406, slugging percentage no worse than .601, and OPS+ no worse than 170.
Mathews wrapped up his career with a second World Series win with the 1968 Detroit Tigers.
No.10: Ken Griffey Jr.
Ken Griffey Jr. clubbed 630 home runs across 22 seasons, mainly with the Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds. He had four home run crowns, the 1997 AL MVP, seven Silver Sluggers, and 13 All-Star nods. He was named a Gold Glover each season in the 1990s, and he had three seasons with at least an 8.8 bWAR.
Despite his bevy of on-field accomplishments, Griffey is likely better remembered for being an icon off the field. With his glowing personality and tradition-breaking style, Griffey ranks as one of the biggest stars in MLB history. His on-field accomplishments warranted a 99.3% Hall of Fame ballot rate in 2016, the record at the time.
So far, Soto’s career falls among the legends of MLB history. Even the “worst” of the 10 comparisons were players that could have been Hall of Famers had extenuating circumstances not trimmed off sections of their careers (injuries to Conigliaro, collusion to Horner). If Soto replicates his 2020 season across a full 162-game season, he might even ascend past the peaks of these 10 legends.
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