15 Best Outfielders All-Time

Rather than rank the outfielder positions separately, I decided to group the 3 positions together and do a top 15 for the entire outfield. This one’s a little lengthy:

1. Babe Ruth

BOS 1914-1919  NYY 20-34  BOS 35

162-game average during prime:

.370/.511/.777  54HR  151RBI  158BB  95K

Babe Ruth is the best position player in baseball history. I find saying anything else to just be redundant, yet here I go. In 1925, injuries kept him hobbled and under 100 games, but excluding that year, from 1918-1931 (13 seasons): he led the league in slugging all 13 times, home runs 12 times, and led the league in at-bat per home run each time. He put up 5 of the 19 seasons with an OBP above .500 in MLB history. He also has 7 of the top 20 single-seasons in SLG, has the single-season record for extra-base hits with 119, and the same record for total bases with 457. The fun goes on and on, yet one of the best stats: his 1.75 ERA in 1916 was the league’s best.

2. Barry Bonds

PIT 1986-1992  SF 93-07

162-game average during prime:

.339/.535/.781  59HR  123RBI  198BB  72BB

Having Barry Bonds second is almost physically painful. He is the greatest player that anyone currently in baseball has ever seen. The argument for him being number one is incredibly compelling. He is statistically Babe Ruth’s equal in many ways. However, the final decision came down to one thing: Babe Ruth was dominating more compared to his peers than Bonds was compared to his. Bonds, quite simply, toyed with everyone else when he was on the field. He could do anything he decided to. He is the only player in the 500/500 club (homers and steals); actually, no one else even belongs to the 400/400 club. He accounts for 4 more of the 19 seasons with an OBP above .500, and 4 more of the top 20 single-seasons in SLG. Single-season stats he holds the record in: home runs (73), walks (232), OBP (.609), SLG (.863), IBB (120), OPS (1.422), and AB/HR (6.52). Think about that last one: every other game, a home run. No home run today? Then he’ll hit one tomorrow. For a full 162-game season.

3. Ted Williams

BOS 1939-1942 46-60

162-game average during prime:

.359/.505/.657  39HR  142RBI  164BB  47K

Ted Williams is 3rd on the outfielder list, and I am pretty sure he would be 3rd on the list of best hitters at any position, too. His mere two MVP trophies is a travesty for which the award will never redeem itself, in my mind. In 1941, he became the only person after 1930 to hit above .400 (at .406), yet he finished second in the voting to Joe DiMaggio.

Joe DiMaggio’s 1941:  .357/.440/.643  30HR  125RBI

Ted Williams’ 1941:  .406/.553/.735  37HR  120RBI

Then in 1942, Williams won the Triple Crown, but finished second to Joe Gordon (NYY)

Joe Gordon’s 1942:  .322/.409/.491  18HR  103RBI  (but he played second base!)

Ted Williams’ 1942:  .356/.499/.648  36HR  137RBI

Yes, Teddy Ballgame’s OBP was higher than Gordon’s SLG. Williams didn’t play again for 3 full seasons. In his first season back, he won the MVP. Then, more robbery in 1947:

Joe DiMaggio’s 1947: .315/.391/.522  20HR  97RBI (1st in MVP voting)

Ted Williams’ 1947:  .343/.499/.634  32HR  114RBI (2nd in MVP voting)

Starting to sense a trend? Here’s the next season’s MVP compared to Ted:

Lou Boudreau’s 1948:  .355/.453/.534  18HR  106RBI

Ted Williams’ 1948:  .369/.497/.615  25HR  127RBI

In 1957, at age 38, he led the league by hitting .388. As if the numbers he actually did put up aren’t enough, I’ll leave you with one of the most tantalizing things about Ted Williams’ career: in the seasons before and after missing 3 years for World War II, he finished either 1st or 2nd in AVG, OBP, SLG, HR, RBI, R, and BB. In the season before and after missing 2 years for the Korean War, he finished 1st or 2nd in OBP, SLG, and HR, finishing in the top 5 in the others. So, for fun, I averaged his last season before going to each war and his first season coming back, and assumed that the seasons he missed would resemble the average of those two. With that assumption, here are his career numbers without missing his age 24-26 and 33-34 seasons:

710 HR (4th most), 2495 RBI (1st), 2789 BB (1st), 2458 R (1st), 3559 H (5th), .345 AVG (5th, but the highest after 1930), .484 OBP (his actual career .481 IS 1st)

4. Ty Cobb

DET 1905-1926  PHA 27-28

162-game average during prime:

.396/.455/.564  9HR  110RBI  60BB  8K  78SB

Ty Cobb was an absolute wizard with the bat. From 1907-1922 (16 seasons), he led the league in hitting 11 times and finished second 4 times. He hit above .380 9 times, above .400 3 times, and his career .366 average is the best ever. He wasn’t just a singles hitter, though. In three different seasons, he led the league in both doubles and triples, led the league in homers once, and 4 times was tops in RBIs. He also excelled as a baserunner, and while caught stealing wasn’t consistently measured until after his time, his 96 steals in 1915 is impressive regardless. No matter his flaws as a human being, his baseball prowess cannot be argued.

5. Stan Musial

STL 1941-1944 46-63

162-game average during prime:

.350/.441/.616  34HR  120RBI  100BB  38K

Stan Musial was a tremendous hitter, and often thought of as the National League’s counterpart of his AL contemporary, Ted Williams. In his first 7 seasons, he led the league in hits (5 times), doubles (5 times), triples (4 times), and average (3 times). Then, he turned his 16 HR per season for those 7 years into 34 HR per season over the next 10 years, without detracting from any of his other categories. He never hit below .310 until age 38, 18 seasons. At age 22, in his sophomore season, he was the best player in the league, winning the MVP with a league-best .357 average, 48 doubles, and 20 triples. He struck out a measly 18 times in a league-most 701 plate appearances, demonstrating the ability to make contact that he is most known for.

6. Hank Aaron

MIL 1954-1965  ATL 66-74  MIL 41-42

162-game average during prime:

.323/.383/.600  43HR  131RBI  65BB  73K

Hank Aaron had a remarkably consistent career, with his inputs being similar on a yearly basis. His status among the league leaders seems mostly based on his peers’ performance. For example, he led the league with 39 home runs in 1967, but bested that 5 times without leading the league in those seasons. Never hitting 50 home runs in a season, he managed to get to 755 in his career thanks to consistency. He drove in fewer than 100 runs in more seasons than he drove in 100+ runs, yet his 2297 career are the most in history. He has the most total bases in history, despite owning just two of the top 100 single-seasons in that stat (29th and 96th). Likewise, he is first in career extra-base hits despite owning just one of the top 150 single seasons in that stat (46th). Despite not being the most dominant player around for an extended period, his prime was still impressive.

7. Mickey Mantle

NYY 1951-1968

162-game average during prime:

.325/.451/.618  43HR  115RBI  133BB  110K

Mickey Mantle’s on-base skills alone would have made him an elite hitter. He walked 110+ times in 7 of 8 seasons from 1955-1962, also hitting above .300 in 6 of those. In addition to his eye, he had tremendous power. He hit 50+ homers twice, and led the league 4 times. His 1956 season marked his absolute peak, when he won the Triple Crown with .353/52/130 numbers. A statistical oddity about his career: he averaged just 19 doubles per season for his career, despite calling spacious Yankee Stadium his home. His speed wasn’t to blame, as he stole double-digit bases in 6 seasons, and even led the league in triples once. Nevertheless, Mantle was a force in pinstripes without a doubt.

8. Ken Griffey, Jr.

SEA 1989-1999  CIN 00-08  CHW 08  SEA 09-10

162-game average during prime:

.304/.394/.622  53HR  135RBI  92BB  113K

Ken Griffey’s career began with a bang, and the start he got off to was reminiscent of the all-time greats. He had 398 homers before his age 30 season, second only to Alex Rodriguez. However, injuries derailed what could’ve been one of the best careers ever, and left us with a merely incredible one. His 1997-98 seasons were two unbelievable years, but their similarity is the most remarkable part. Here is how they stack up:

1997: 125R  185H  34 2B  56HR  147RBI  76K  121BB  .304AVG

1998: 120R  180H  33 2B  56HR  146RBI  76K  121BB  .284AVG

Those seasons helped him join an elite crew as the only players to hit 50+ homers in consecutive seasons: Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, and Babe Ruth. Known for his pretty swing, it’s fun to imagine what could’ve been. What we actually have to look at is not too bad, though.

9. Ralph Kiner

PIT 1946-1953  CHC 53-54  CLE 55

162-game average during prime:

.294/.420/.609  50HR  129RBI  125BB  73K

I know I don’t have many supporters in my ranking of Ralph Kiner, but I stand by it. He played just 10 seasons, including his abbreviated final one. He led the league in home runs for the first 7 years of his professional career, walking 98+ times in 7 consecutive years overlapping those. He also finished first in at-bats per home run in his first 7 seasons. This all means that starting from his rookie season, he was the most dominant power hitter in the game. He doesn’t have the career numbers of some of the other players on this list, but his period of dominance is just as impressive as anyone’s.

10. Sammy Sosa

TEX 1989  CHW 89-91  CHC 92-04  BAL 05  TEX 07

162-game average during prime:

.306/.397/.649  61HR  146RBI  95BB  167K

Sammy Sosa’s statistics will always be greeted with a skeptic’s smirk, but there is no grain of salt to be taken in this case. Offense was up all over the majors, but that doesn’t change the fact that nobody was doing what Slammin’ Sammy was doing. He hit 50+ homers in 4 consecutive seasons, and is the only player in history to have 60+ homers in 3 different seasons. He had 100+ RBI in 9 straight seasons, twice reaching at least 158. A man known for his free-swinging, he climbed the century mark in walks twice. Also frequently overlooked is his speed; he stole 30+ 3 times, and double digits in his first 9 years. Sammy’s intensity was contagious, and his talent has rarely been seen in anyone else.

11. Willie Mays

NYG 1951-1957  SFG 58-72  NYM 72-73

162-game average during prime:

.328/.401/.618  41HR  110RBI  79BB  64K  31/10  SB/CS

Willie Mays topped the league in home runs 4 times and steals 4 times, showing a rare combination of power and speed. He is one of just seven members of the 300/300 club. He hit 47+ homers 4 times, 100+ RBIs 10 times, hit .300+ 10 times, and 23+ SB 7 times. Without a flaw in his game, he is a legendary Giant and a giant legend. His 660 career home runs places him 4th all-time, and his 1954 World Series catch will never stop playing on an endless loop in every highlight reel.

12. Joe DiMaggio

NYY 1936-1942 46-51

162-game average during prime:

.350/.420/.638  40HR  164RBI  74BB  29K

Joe DiMaggio started his career on an incredible tear, yet his was derailed unfortunately, much like Griffey’s. World War II stole 3 full seasons from the Yankee Clipper. For 3 straight years, he hit above .350 with at least 30 homers and 125 RBIs. His .579 career SLG is the 5th highest among outfielders, and the 10th highest overall. Joltin’ Joe never played a poor season. His average season for his career, lows included: 34HR  143RBI  .325/.398/.579 with 82 extra-base hits.

13. Tris Speaker

BOS 1907-1915  CLE 16-26  WSH 27  PHA 28

162-game average during prime:

.371/.460/.565  12HR  104RBI  95BB  15K  57 2B

Tris Speaker played a majority of his career in the dead-ball era, but that didn’t seem to stop him. He was an absolute slugger, despite only getting to double digit home runs 4 times. His extra-base hits came in the form of two- and three- baggers. He hit 40+ doubles 10 times with 5 of those being 50+. He also hit at least 10 triples 13 times. Not only a total-base juggernaut, he stole 25+ bases in 10 straight seasons, peaking at 52. His career 792 doubles is the most in history, his .345 average is 6th, and his .428 on-base is 11th. Remarkably, a man with a mere 117 career home runs is 15th all-time in total bases.

14. Mel Ott

NYG 1926-1947

162-game average during prime:

.322/.426/.580  35HR  133RBI  102BB  44K

Mel Ott’s one of the premier power hitters ever, without a doubt. He led the league in at-bats per home run a startling 10 times, home runs 6 times, and walks 6 times. He launched at least 30 home runs in 8 seasons, 100 RBIs in 9 seasons, and 100 walks in 10. Interestingly, he walked exactly 100 times in 3 straight years, and a 4th time a few years prior.

15. Frank Robinson

CIN 1956-1965  BAL 66-71  LAD 72  CAL 73-74  CLE 74-76

162-game average during prime:

.309/.395/.584  38HR  120RBI  79BB  80K

Frank Robinson consistently slugged with the best throughout his career, ending with 586 homers (9th all-time). He also finished with impressive rankings in total bases (11th), runs (14th), RBIs (20th), and walks (23rd). He is the only player to win an MVP in both the AL and the NL, as well as the second African-American to manage in the Majors.*

*Technically, 2 years before Robinson became manager, Ernie Banks was a bench coach for the Cub and he took over for ejected manager Whitey Lockman in a game on May 8, 1973.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: