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MLB EloRater: Who Are the Best Players in MLB History?

Posted by Sean Forman on March 11, 2011

MLB EloRater / Live Ratings

Over at, the Player Elo Rater has been up and running for several weeks, and I'm now pleased that we have it up and running on as well.

Justin Kubatko put together the guts for the system and I don't have much to add beyond his introduction to the method. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.

I have also just added the player's current rank to their player pages where they appear just below the player newsfeed. I'll be rolling out rankings to franchise, year and the front page, next week probably.

50 Responses to “MLB EloRater: Who Are the Best Players in MLB History?”

  1. Dr. Doom Says:

    I figured it was a matter of time before it worked its way over here. Should be a fun experiment, if nothing else.

  2. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    Mr. Forman, I hope that you can live with decreasing worker productivity all across the USA. Seriously, I tried this yesterday, and it can be _quite_ addictive. Many of the comparisons, between players of different eras, or different ends of the defensive spectrum, are very difficult to resolve.

    Willie Mays at #15? I have yet to find a single baseball fan who would not rank him Top-10 all time.

  3. John Autin Says:

    This is squeezing all the fun out of baseball! 🙂

    Kidding. It's actually not my bag, but I don't have to rain on anyone's parade.

  4. BunnyWrangler Says:

    "Willie Mays at #15? I have yet to find a single baseball fan who would not rank him Top-10 all time."

    Well, Mays is one of the few players who still hasn't suffered a loss yet. He just hasn't drawn any good opponents.

  5. fredsbank Says:

    hi lawrence, my name is allen, and i would not rank willie mays top 10 all time, it's nice to meet you

  6. John Autin Says:

    @5, Allen -- Which 10 (or more) players do you rank ahead of Willie Mays? I don't mean to start anything personal here -- just curious.

  7. fredsbank Says:


  8. fredsbank Says:

    enter key fail...

    bonds, ba
    robinson, f

  9. fredsbank Says:

    in no particular order among them, though, just how they came to mind

  10. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    #4/BunnyWrangler... Thanks, I should've considered that it was a quirk in the system, as opposed to people preferring other players over Willie Mays.

    #5, #6/... Hello Allen, nice to meet you, and I would also be curious to see the ten non-pitchers you rank ahead of Willie Mays. Serves me right for making an absolute pronouncement...

  11. fredsbank Says:

    hit f5...

  12. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    #7-#9: better than Willie Mays?

    Ok, Ruth I'll give you. You can make very good arguments for Bonds and Wagner. You can make an argument (that I disagree with) for Cobb on the basis of peak offense and dominance of his era, though you'd have to drastically reduce the defensive difference betweeen him and Mays.

    Williams you could argue purely on offense, ignoring defense. Mantle you could argue as an extreme offensive peak, ignoring defense and longevity.

    The rest (Gehrig, Hornsby, F. Robinson, Musial), I don't see what possible adjustments you could make to rate them ahead of Mays.

  13. fredsbank Says:

    i like them better. i find the pop culture obsession with mays a little annoying.
    when evaluation him and other players i have always found him to be lacking; in my mind it's really cliche to like willie mays and think he's THAT much better than everyone else.
    here's some more people i would rate above mays:

    ott, morgan, rodriguez a, pujols, griffey jr

    top 20 i'll give you, but not top 10, no sirree

    i think his defense is vastly over played, and probably wasnt that good; i also feel that cobb and mantle are called poor defenders literally for no reason. based on their offensive games, certainly on par with mays (better, in my eyes) it's quite reasonable to think they would be very good defenders.

  14. Al Dimond Says:

    I looked over the docs and didn't see any info on how the initial "simulated" matchups were judged. Based on what I saw yesterday I'm guessing it was by career WAR?

    I actually think it would have been way cooler to just start everyone at 1500. Yeah, it would take longer to get decent results, but there would be no initial computer bias, and the uncertainty in how people would vote would be clearly reflected by all the bunching around the middle of the range (a score of 1500 says almost nothing about a player).

    I also think it would have been cool to *not* show WAR on the pages. I like WAR, and I think the WAR framework can be adapted into a pretty decent way to automatically sort a group of players with very different skill sets. But for something like this it's a crutch, it makes the problem deceptively easy. These results will surely ultimately reflect systematic biases of WAR, where they exist. A good WAR is more "accurate" for this sort of thing and has fewer biases than a lot of other measures, of course... Maybe it would be better if the WAR components were shown? Especially the defensive ones.

    In fact, there's no mention of a player's defense anywhere on the voting page except what positions they played. I think that might cause bias against good defensive players. I'd also list Gold Gloves. Clearly historical defensive metrics and awards have their problems, but I think they're very relevant here, when you're looking at players within a few career WAR of eachother -- it's like the Alomar HOF thing. If you agree with the defensive metrics on Alomar, he is what WAR says he is. But if you agree with the GG voters he's a lot better than that. For players I'm not familiar with I would really like to see more defensive info.

  15. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    #13/fredsbank - I do not think Willie Mays is overrated. Babe Ruth probably had more total value because of how totally he dominated the game offensively, but Mays is the greatest ALL-AROUND player (Wagner, Speaker, and Bonds get honorable mention).

    Cobb and Mantle are considered, by consensus, good to excellent defensive CFers for much of their careers, not "poor". They're still miles away from Mays, who is in a class with Speaker and a few others as the greatest ever.

    I don't see how you could compare Mays and Griffey and rate Griffey Jr. higher - they are fairly comparable as to position and career length (Mays has about two seasons more of games and PA), but however you compare them, Mays is better.

  16. Doug Says:

    Hey first time poster here-

    I'm gonna say the greatness in Willie Mays is his domination and incredible stats from the 1960's. To me I always upgrade hitters from the 60's and lower pitchers from the 60's because it was such a pitchers era during that time period.

  17. John Autin Says:

    Welcome, Doug!

    And I suspect that the poster Fredsbank is not making an appropriate contextual adjustment for Mays, who lost a lot of numbers to the '60s and to Candlestick Park.

  18. John Autin Says:

    (followup to mine @17) And despite spending at least half his career in a tough era and tough park, Mays retired 3rd in Runs and HRs, 8th in Hits and RBI -- and was widely acclaimed as the greatest defensive CF of all time.

    But we all get to have our opinions.

  19. kenh Says:

    The greatness in a player is not always about the stats he compiled. There have been many short careers for great players or players that appeared to be the best of their generation. Bo Jackson is a perfect example.

  20. Brian Wells Says:

    Where have you gone,Joe Dimaggio?I guess to the bottom of the heap-that`s what you get for missing three prime years to World War II and being a right handed hitter in a home park where 430ft. plus drives to left-center and center field are merely fly outs.

  21. Dark Leviathan Says:

    As much as I love Mike Schmidt, his ranking as #12 ahead of Willie Mays at #14 is just wrong. Mike was dominant, but Willie is still Willie.

  22. Adam Darowski Says:

    I find the inclusion of WAE and WAM to be awesome. 🙂

  23. Fantusta Says:

    What were the initial requirements for inclusion? The basketball one had point cutoffs, etc., I assume you had hit cutoffs or such to go along with a top-WAR of some kind?

  24. fredsbank Says:

    i would put griffey higher because he got hurt, there was hardly anyone who thought he wouldnt become the greatest ever by the time his career was over, and it's a testament to him that he still accomplished all he managed to despite everything that happened pretty much since he went to cincinatti.

    and i find it quite a stretch to call him the greatest all around player of all time, that is one case where we should follow WAR and go with ruth, not only for all his stats, which you could certainly do so by, but simply for his pure impact on the game, far more than any one other person has had in the history of the game. i would say that cobb was an even better player than mays, because cobb dominated his era even more than mays did. despite not putting up the homers, he still put up very good power numbers.

    cobb mays
    OPS .945 .941
    OPS+ 168 155

    cobb literally dominated his era, from a pure hitting standpoint, 13% more than mays did his. that's an outstanding difference.

    a lot of my opinion of mays vs cobb, as he's primarily the person taking his spot of awesome in my mind, is that a) cobb scored a ton more runs and stole a ton more bases and b) did it without homers... mays highest RBI year was 141 in 1962 (.304, 18 SB, 189H, 130 R), but he also hit 49 homers that year, making an OBI of 92; cobb's highest RBI year was 127 in 1911 (.420(!), 83 SB, 147 R 248 H) with 8 homers, OBI 119. a similar differential is present in the runs scored numbers. yeah i know a lot of that is the teams they played on, but i there's more value i would say in cobb's performances than mays's.

    no one's ever really presented me with a legitimate reason mays is the best ever, even though that's the company line of baseball fans ever; if you can name something he did well, there's always someone who did it better.

  25. thomas Says:

    This needs to be an app so i can rate players non-stop.

  26. Artie Z Says:

    Is there some systematic bias towards active players being rated? I ask because just about all of the active position players have matchup totals in the 70s-90s, while most everyone else has them in the 30s-50s. Or are people just skipping the old-timers?

  27. Dr. Doom Says:


    You should read the "introduction" link in the section above. It explains how players were chosen.

  28. Jamie Wilking Says:


    My guess would just be people skipping old timers to rate players they know. I'm definitely not seeing any more of one particular group as I go through it.

  29. DavidRF Says:

    Its going to take a while to shake the randomness out of some of the rankings. Mays was mentioned above (he's just not popping up enough). Gehrig is another... everyone ranks him ahead of Foxx but Gehrig hasn't popped up enough. It'll probably take a few weeks.

    A lot of fun though. "Best Ever" and "HOF or Not" debates are common but its quite a hoot comparing two "near all star" type players from long ago. Guys I didn't even know existed yet they played for 10+ years and had some decent seasons.

  30. David Bilodeau Says:

    Willie Mays, was...well... Willie Mays. No rehashing of stats or playing conditions are needed, we all know what they are.

    Ken Griffey Jr. had a fine HOF career, but after he was hurt playing several years in a hitters ballpark, he came to the Reds and became for all intents and purposes, Dave Kingman. Add his entire line together and it is still HOF deserving, but it had two distinct components.

  31. chicago76 Says:

    Mays was overrated. Mantle was better. If you don't believe it, look at the rings. Cobb was better than both, by far. Cobb was scary good. Just read his contemporaries. He was smarter, braver, a quicker thinker than anyone else on the field and he was faster than anyone else. The other players looked like they were playing in slow motion compared to Cobb. The Babe was the best power hitter of all time, at least before the steroid era. Take out the steroids and he still is. Per at bat he drove in the most runs, scored the most runs and hit the most home runs of anyone who has played the game. Aaron played five years longer than he should have. The owners hated the Babe and wanted anyone to get the record besides the Babe. Mantle would have hit 700 home runs if he hadn't been injured so much, that tells alot about his playing style. He was a fine outfielder with an excellent glove and a good arm. He could catch anything Mays could catch and more. Mays liked to show off with basket catches and tried to make everything look harder than it was. I saw both. Mantle was better in every way. There is a prejudice towards the American league. In TV everything is National League. The American League is better but all the National League players and teams get all the national air time. The 1949-1953 Yankees were the greatest team of all time, five consecutive world series titles, but everyone tries to proclaim the 76 reds as the greatest because they won two championships. Give me a break. I hated the Yankees but from 1948 till 1962 they won ten world championships out of how many, 15 years, but all we hear about is the one the pirates won or the one brooklyn or the one san francisco won. That says it all.

  32. Matt Says:

    Barry needs some serious up-voting. There's no way he's not top-10 all time.

  33. Thomas Says:

    Well the mayor of baseball has spoken... you can shut the player rater down now!

  34. DavidRF Says:

    I like those comparison charts. Could there be a way to input two players and get those tables to pop up for that pair? I'd like to see Gehrig vs Foxx (or vs. Pujols).

  35. Doug Says:

    Sandy Koufax at #45 ??? Behind #43 Frank Tanana ????????

    I guess it will take a while before the kinks are worked.

    BTW, as I write this, Willie Mays has cracked the top 10, now at #9.

  36. Mike Felber Says:

    There are a lot of factual mistakes above. many are just exaggeration or outright mistakes about what most or all people BELIEVE.

    1) I do not think we could find anyone outside of a mental institution who would rate Cobb & Mantle "poor" fielders. 🙂 Joking, but I mean it. As was pointed out, most found Cobb & Mantle good fielders. Though Mantle not so much in his later, injury limited years. And offensive game might suggest skills like speed that might well correlate with good fielding, but some stuff like fielding judgment, "jump," route efficiency & positioning cannot be known from offense.

    2) SOME folks thought Griffey had a shot at being the "best ever" before being injured. That is entirely distinct from everyone believed this.

    3) Nobody ever said Cobb was the fastest player even for his time. He was fast for his time, not blazing at all. Players who are not very fast have had the skills to steal bases well. We have very incomplete records for Cobb on CS, & he might well have been better earlier, but I recall his SB % we have as 58%: not very god at all.

    4) Rings have nothing at all to do with who is better, that is an utterly absurd statement. Mantle was on much better teams. It is commonly acknowledged that Mantle was better at his PEAK, 1, 3 or 5 years selected. But Mays was much more consistent, & did it somewhat longer despite missing years to war early.

    5) Who even argues that the AL was better in the '50's & '60's? It is commonly understood that due to greater resistance to integration, the NL was stronger. That the Yanks dominated the league does not show how good the league was, & it is easier to dominate a weaker league. Not that they were not easily the best team in MLB over the years '23-'64.

    6) That earlier players were so dominant at least in small part due to the average player not being as skilled & athletic. A few hard core cranks think otherwise, but almost all sensible fans acknowledge how training, nutrition, athleticism has improved significantly: just not having black & Latino players there makes a big difference. Take out just the best 1/2 of them after significant integration appeared, & would logically be replaced by inferior white players.

    7) Aaron did not have anywhere near 5 bad years at the end. Check his record, like OPS +.

    8) The owners hated the Babe & wanted or conspired for someone else to break his record?! In what parallel universe is this true? For decades Ruth was beloved, many decent folks were sad to have his HR record fall, & there were many racists who despised the thought of a black HR king. Aaron received many death threats.

    9) How many runs & RBIs someone scored: almost all informed baseball fans know this is an incredibly sloppy & inaccurate way to rate poer, or to judge efficiency with men on base or scoring yourself. Those who produce totals significantly higher than OPS + or its components suggest overwhelmingly due so NOT due to anything like "clutch hitting" which rarely exists at all in any meaningful sense, not even as much due to speed for run scoring: but due to line up, era, & park factors. This is true even for Ruth.

    10) Most do NOT say Mays is the best ever, though a significant minority have.

  37. Mike Felber Says:

    I agree with most others above. You could make a good case for a few above being better than Mays. Also, he likely was not the very best modern fielder, there were a few specialists who likely were better, Dom DiMaggio, Persial had an extraordinary range, & a few around as good. But he was near the best, & his range factor & speed show easily he was a better fielder than Mantle, who had more pure speed & power, but not as good judgment, 7 declined earlier due to injury.

    You cannot rate a player higher because he may well have been better without injury. Ott, F. Robinson, Morgan, Musial...I do not see how you can make any good argument that these guys were as good, let alone better, than Mays when considering peak & career value. IF you do not give any or much era adjustment, & value defense little, & give minimal position adjustment, you could maybe pick Hornsby, Gehrig, & Williams.

    Since they were clearly better hitters, at least for their eras, & Williams for sure. But it is a hard case to make: Mays beats them in longevity, despite missing war years, & was much better as a fielder & runner. And this is assuming also that Hornsby & Gehrig would be every bit as dominant in May's era. I think that their OPS + would be maybe 10 points lower. Hornsby maybe a little better at his peak, but was done earlier.

  38. Andy Says:

    Great job screwing over everybody here. I logged on to write my own post for tomorrow and instead spent a ton of time playing with this new tool. Seriously...I love it. The comparison charts you designed are particularly cool. I agree that a mobile app for rating matchups would be sweet...nice to have something interesting to do during a few minutes of downtime..

  39. David Bilodeau Says:

    Sandy Koufax: Great pitcher, slam dunk Hall of Famer.

    That said, he benefited from a higher mound, and a great home field ballpark. IMO, Pedro Martinez is a better pitcher.

    Can someone explain to me why Catfish Hunter is rated higher and is in the HOF ahead of Luis Tiant? Tiant in my opinion is the worst omission by voters in the last 25 years.

    Great site, and very much enjoy all of you and your comments. I'm a babe in the woods compared to the knowledge on this thread.

  40. DavidRF Says:

    Its easy to guess an explanation for Koufax. I would guess that his initial seeding was low because the preliminary computations used his career numbers and his career was very short. It'll take a while for human votes that incorporate his massive peak value to correct for the original seeding. I've seen similar things happening with relief aces because their IP totals are much smaller than a starting pitcher.

    I'm more perplexed at the huge numbers of votes that all the active players are getting. Pujols has a lower win rate than 9 of the next ten guys below him... so its not like he's beating those guys head to head... he's just coming up *twice* as often. Is the algorithm rigged to display active players more often? I don't think its an issue with "next"-ing unfamiliar players. I can see "next"-ing Charlie Gelbert vs Mule Hass, but who's going to "next" when Babe Ruth or Willie Mays is one of the choices?

  41. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    Is this "MLB EloRater" going to appear anywhere on the home page besides the Baseball Reference Blog? I checked "Frivolities", but I did not see it there. Now that this blog entry isn't listed on the home page, it's more difficult to access.

    I have found when I do these ratings, when I know both players fairly well, I rely on my gut instinct, and vote on my immediate reaction. I know that sounds counter-intuitive to the purpose of this blog site, but otherwise, I'd waste even MORE time researching players (which I've done plenty for those I was not familiar with).

  42. Andy Says:

    #41 It's on every player page just above their main stats.

  43. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    #42 - THANKS! Andy - I'd read that last Friday, but promptly forgot about it...

  44. Damian H Says:

    First of all, fantastic tool.

    Anyway, can we please give Barry Bonds some more love? 🙂

  45. Sean Forman Says:

    The first matchup when you use the tool will always have active players, and if you skip a matchup, the next matchup is with active players. I wanted to make it a bit less daunting for users who aren't as schooled in baseball history and draw them in a bit.

  46. ML Stille Says:

    Love this site! It's totally amazing that people forget just how good Hank Greenberg was. Nobody had more than Hank's 162 game average of total x-tra basehits. But...if you're looking at "total" packages,Speaker,Cobb,Wagner,Mays,and Dawson come to mind...YES Dawson. Dawson had a better arm than either Mays or Mantle and he had more speed than Mantle. Just 1 mans opinion tis all.

  47. Damian H Says:

    Ruth is down to 5th right now.
    Gaylord Perry still #10.

  48. John Says:

    You should have the option to be able to vote on just batters or just pitchers and not have them all clumped together.

  49. otf Says:

    I'd love to do ELO rankings of not players, but teams! I don't know what you'd put on the dashboard for us to compare, but it'd be interesting to see if we could crowdsource up a moderately reasonable all-time team ranking.

  50. otf Says:

    By the way, I think this community is making a serious mistake by rating Barry Bonds outside the top 2 or 3 all-time batters.