The Baseball Fan’s Guide to Baby Naming

I’ve often wondered if some sort of bizarre connection exists between names and athletic ability, specifically when it comes to the sport of baseball. Considering I grew up in the 90’s, I will always associate certain names with possessing a supreme baseball talent. Names like Ken (Griffey Jr.), Mike (Piazza), Randy (Johnson), Greg (Maddux) and Frank (Thomas) are just a few examples. With a wealth of statistical information available, I thought I’d investigate into the possibility of an abnormal association between names and baseball skill.

I began digging up the most popular given names, by decade, using the 1970’s, 80’s & 90’s as focal points. This information was easily accessible on the official website of the U.S. Social Security Administration, as they provide the 200 most popular given names for male and female babies born during each decade. After scouring through all of the names listed, the records revealed there were 278 unique names appearing during that timespan.

Having narrowed down the most popular names for the timeframe, I wandered over to FanGraphs.com, to begin compiling the “skill” data. I will be using the statistic known as WAR (Wins Above Replacement) as my objective guide for evaluating talent. Sorting through all qualified players from 1970-1999, the data revealed 2,554 players eligible for inclusion. After combining all full names with their corresponding nicknames (i.e.: Michael & Mike), the list was condensed down to 507 unique names.

By comparing the 278 unique names identified via the Social Security Administration’s most popular names data, with the 507 qualified ballplayer names collected through FanGraphs, it was discovered that 193 of the names were present on both lists. The following tables point out some of the more intriguing findings the research was able to provide.

The first table[Table 1], below, is comprised of the 25 most frequent birth names from 1970-1999. The second table[Table 2] consists of the 25 WAR leaders by name, meaning the highest aggregate WAR totals collected by all players with that name. Naturally, many of the names that appear in the 25 most common names list, reappear here as well. Ken, Gary, Ron, Greg, Frank, Don, Chuck, George and Pete are the exceptions. It’s interesting to see that these names seem to have a higher AVG WAR per 1,000 births(as seen on the final table), perhaps indicative of those names’ supremacy as better baseball names? The last table[Table 3] contains the top 25 names by AVG WAR per 1,000 births; here we see some less common names finally begin to appear. These names provide the most proverbial bang (WAR) for your buck (name). Yes, some names, like Barry and Reggie, are inflated in the rankings — probably due to the dominant play of Barry Bonds and Reggie Jackson, but could it not also mean these players were just byproducts of their birth names?!? Probably not, but it’s interesting, nonetheless.

So if you’re looking to increase the chances your child will make it professionally as a baseball player, then you might want to take a look at the names toward the top of the AVG WAR per 1,000 births table, choose your favorite, and hope for the best…OR, you could always just have a daughter.

Please post comments with your thoughts or questions. Charts can be found below.

25 Most Common Birth Names 1970-1999

Rank

Name

Total Births

Total WAR

WAR per 1,000 Births

1

Michael/Mike

2,203,167

1,138

0.516529

2

Christopher/Chris

1,555,705

184

0.11821

3

John

1,374,102

799

0.581252

4

James/Jim

1,319,849

678

0.513316

5

David/Dave

1,275,295

859

0.673491

6

Robert/Rob/Bob

1,244,602

873

0.70175

7

Jason

1,217,737

77

0.062904

8

Joseph/Joe

1,074,683

616

0.573006

9

Matthew/Matt

1,033,326

95

0.091646

10

William/Will/Bill

967,204

838

0.866415

11

Steve(Steven/Stephen)

916,304

535

0.583649

12

Daniel/Dane

912,098

233

0.255674

13

Brian

879,592

154

0.174967

14

Anthony/Tony

765,460

314

0.409819

15

Jeffrey/Jeff

693,934

298

0.430012

16

Richard/Rich/Rick/Dick

683,124

888

1.29991

17

Joshua

677,224

0

0

18

Eric

627,323

122

0.194637

19

Kevin

613,357

305

0.497426

20

Thomas/Tom

583,811

505

0.86552

21

Andrew/Andy

566,653

184

0.325243

22

Ryan

558,252

17

0.030094

23

Jon/Jonathan

540,500

61

0.112118

24

Timothy/Tim

535,434

253

0.473074

25

Mark

518,108

397

0.765477

 

25 Highest Cumulative WAR, by Name, 1970-1999

Rank

Name

Total Births

Total WAR

WAR per 1,000 Births

1

Michael/Mike

2,203,167

1,138

0.516529

2

Richard/Rich/Rick/Dick

683,124

888

1.29991

3

Robert/Rob/Bob

1,244,602

873

0.70175

4

David/Dave

1,275,295

859

0.673491

5

William/Will/Bill

967,204

838

0.866415

6

John

1,374,102

799

0.581252

7

James/Jim

1,319,849

678

0.513316

8

Joseph/Joe

1,074,683

616

0.573006

9

Steve(Steven/Stephen)

916,304

535

0.583649

10

Thomas/Tom

583,811

505

0.86552

11

Kenneth/Ken

312,170

439

1.405644

12

Mark

518,108

397

0.765477

13

Gary

176,811

353

1.998179

14

Ronald/Ron

246,721

342

1.38456

15

Anthony/Tony

765,460

314

0.409819

16

Kevin

613,357

305

0.497426

17

Gregory/Greg

324,880

303

0.931729

18

Jeffrey/Jeff

693,934

298

0.430012

19

Donald

215,772

298

1.380161

20

Frank

176,720

298

1.687415

21

Charles/Chuck

458,032

262

0.571357

22

Timothy/Tim

535,434

253

0.473074

23

Lawrence

220,557

248

1.126239

24

George

226,108

246

1.090187

25

Peter

181,358

246

1.357536

 

25 Highest WAR per 1,000 Births, by Name, 1970-1999

Rank

Name

Total Births

Total WAR

WAR per 1,000 Births

1

Barry

34,534

175

5.079053

2

Leonard

31,626

123

3.895529

3

Omar

13,656

53

3.873755

4

Fernando

13,180

47

3.543247

5

Theodore/Ted

27,144

93

3.444592

6

Jack

53,079

176

3.323348

7

Reginald/Reggie

47,883

157

3.283002

8

Frederick/Fred

54,529

146

2.681142

9

Bruce

56,609

141

2.487237

10

Calvin

43,412

107

2.453239

11

Gary

176,811

353

1.998179

12

Roger

77,458

151

1.948153

13

Glenn

33,794

65

1.929337

14

Darrell

53,317

102

1.920588

15

Frank

176,720

298

1.687415

16

Dennis

131,577

218

1.653024

17

Jerry

122,465

201

1.638019

18

Dale

36,162

54

1.48775

19

Lee

62,922

89

1.406503

20

Kenneth/Ken

312,170

439

1.405644

21

Louis/Lou

142,969

200

1.400304

22

Ronald/Ron

246,721

342

1.38456

23

Roy

59,004

82

1.382957

24

Donald

215,772

298

1.380161

25

Jay

63,795

87

1.368446

 

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Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman

List of my thoughts, in order:

1. Oh my god. Oh my god. This is amazing.

2. Joshua – 0 WAR? Really, 0 WAR for Joshua? Joshua P. Beckett has 39 career WAR; Joshua D. Willingham has 17.6; Joshua D. Bard has 4.6. Are the other Joshes so bad they cancel them out? Or did you not include Josh? I notice the only Fangraphs hit for “Joshua” is Von Joshua, so there has never been an MLBer who went by Joshua. Which is pretty weird.

3. Leonard? Leonard produced 123 WAR? Who the hell is named Leonard?

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman

Oh, did this only include Joshua statistics from pre-1999?

Here’s another amusing fact.

Barry – 175 WAR before 1999
Barry Bonds – 102 WAR (58.3%)
Barry Larkin – 62 WAR (35.4%)
Everyone else named Barry – 11 WAR (6.3%)

tz
Guest
tz

Is this based on WAR over the history of baseball, or just a certain subset?

Menthol
Member
Member
Menthol

I had the same reaction re: Leonard. Only player of note I can think of is Dykstra.

tz
Guest
tz

Bip Roberts’ first name is Leon. Leon Durham, Len Barker…maybe enough 10-20 WAR guys to get the total there.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip

roberts shmoberts

Simon
Guest
Simon

Great stuff, but you should adjust for immigrant players. Names like Omar and Fernando are less popular here in the US, so that probably skews the numbers a little.

DavidKB
Guest
DavidKB

This is great work, but I think your method overlooks an obvious method for naming your child into the big leagues. Names like Osborne, Ryne, and Gaylord are clear baseball gold, but they won’t appear on any baby name lists. And then there’s the importance of the name you can’t choose: your last name. Unless you happen to be from the Boggs, Grich, or Blyleven families you’re SOL.

I, for one, will be naming my second child Napoleon Buford Britt. Boy or Girl.