A big part of baseball and sports in general is playing the “what if” game. What if Babe Ruth was never traded to the Yankees? What if Pete Rose never bet on baseball? What if Bill Buckner had fielded that ground ball cleanly? As a proponent of sabermetrics, I am fascinated by numbers and what they say about each individual player’s performance. One of my most interesting projects has focused on assembling the greatest lineup of hitters to ever play the game. To do this, I found the players with the highest all-time on base percentage (OBP) at each position, and structured them accordingly to create a run-producing powerhouse. The reason behind choosing OBP over popular statistics such as batting average and home runs is because on-base percentage is one of the most accurate indicators of run value. If a batter gets on base, the team has a higher chance to score more runs, and more runs means a greater chance of winning. Each of these players has a particular set of skills (just like the Avengers, and Liam Neeson), that could be utilized to create the most successful lineup. Here is the order I came up with:
Billy Hamilton CF (Line: .344/.455/.432)- No, I do not mean the speedy sensation for the Cincinnati Reds. I’m talking about the turn-of-the-century, Hall-of-Fame outfielder who had one of the greatest seasons in the history of Major League Baseball. In 1894, Hamilton posted an unbelievable stat line, hitting .403 with a .521 on base. He cashed out 225 hits to go along with 128 base on balls, and swiped 100 bases. Oh and did I mention that Hamilton scored 198 runs? One. Nine. Eight. That record has yet to be broken.
Babe Ruth RF (Line: .342/.474/.690)- There’s no question that the Sultan of Swat would be in this elite assembly, but I want to make a case for the great slugger batting second. With Hamilton’s hefty OBP and base path presence, Ruth would see an increase in fastballs per plate appearance in the number two spot. The reasoning behind this is that because a fastball will reach the plate faster, there is a higher likelihood that the catcher will be able to release the ball quickly when trying to catch the lead off hitter stealing second.
Ted Williams LF (Line: .344/.482/.634)- If the number three batter is often described as the best hitter on the team, then this lineup will have the greatest hitter who ever lived in that spot as well. Ted Williams was just that. With the highest on base percentage of all time, Ted Williams was a master of plate discipline. He could analyze a pitch like no other, and capitalize on even the smallest mistake made by a pitcher.
Lou Gehrig 1B (Line: .340/.447/.632)- Gehrig was an artist of driving in runs, shown by his astounding 7 seasons of 150+ runs batted in. He is the perfect all-time cleanup hitter, and a dangerous force behind Ruth and Williams.What’s scary is that Gehrig and Ruth had the chance to play on the same team, a fierce combination that was dubbed “Murderer’s Row.”
Rogers Hornsby 2B (Line: .358/.434/.577)- There are few second basemen in the history of the game that have shown as much offensive prowess as Hornsby. The Cardinal slugger won 7 batting titles to go along with 2 triple crowns during a time where his production was overshadowed by the likes of Ruth and Gehrig. His 1922 season was one for the books: 42 big flies, 152 RBIs, 250 hits, and a line of .401/.459/.722. That’s about as good as it gets ladies and gentlemen.
Mickey Cochrane C (Line: .320/.419/.478)- Despite only playing 13 years in the majors, the Hall-of-Fame catcher won 2 MVP awards and posted a .419 lifetime on base percentage. Names like Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, and Mike Piazza are labeled as having the better offensive force, but none was more consistent than Cochrane in getting on base and into scoring position.Yes I am still bitter about Cochrane defeating Gehrig in the 1934 MVP race, but as a phenomenal catcher for a playoff bound Tigers squad, he definitely had the credentials.
Arky Vaughan SS (Line: .318/.406/.453)- Vaughan’s reign in the big leagues came over a decade after his predecessor, Pirate short stop Honus Wagner, ended his career ranked third all time in hits. Although Wagner received greater attention and ranks significantly higher in several offensive categories, Vaughan wins the spot in this lineup based purely on his OBP. He was also a triples machine, averaging 12 per year in his first 9 seasons.
John McGraw 3B (Line: .334/.466/.410)- McGraw follows the same pattern as the men at the bottom of this lineup: not a big name and no popular accomplishments. However, this third baseman could beat you every which way on the base path. A lifetime .466 on base and 436 stolen bases, it pains me to put McGraw in the 8 spot, but someone had to be there. His power numbers aren’t as good as Vaughan or Cochrane’s, but that was mainly due to a different ball era and McGraw could do well at any of the 6-8 positions.
Les Sweetland P (Line: .272/.341/.338)- Who??? Yeah, I don’t blame you. Lester Leo Sweetland pitched 5 years in the majors, going 33-58 with a whopping 6.10 ERA. This guy’s only black ink was the 15 batters he hit during the 1928 season. Despite the terrible pitching campaign, Sweetland hit .272 with a .341 on base in 325 career plate appearances, making him one of the greatest hitting pitchers of all time (THE greatest in terms of on base).