By: David Arkow, Abe Atwood, Cael Berg, Noah Chung, Josephine Elting, Josh Rosenblum, Zach Stack, Kira Gabriel, Matthew Gross, Stephanie Yoshida, Victor Zeidenfeld
Every year, MLB fans vote on their favorite players to make the All-Star game. The Midsummer Classic always features the best talent in the league but there are always debates about players who were snubbed or shouldn’t have made the squad. As we have done in the NFL and in the NBA, HSAC set out to create our own All-Star teams but instead of choosing just the best players in a single year, we looked at four different decades from the 1980s. Using a holistic range of statistical criteria, we make our own All-Star teams recalling some of the all-time greats from America’s pastime sport.
With the availability of many statistics, we tried to create a “catch-all” metric showing how good each player was. Using standardized scores on a 0-100 scale, we compared where each player ranks in different widely available and important statistics separating by decade. Standardization allows us to compare players within a decade. For example, in the 1980s, the most home runs ever hit in a season was 49 (Mark McGwire and Andre Dawson) while in the 1990s (steroid era) the most home runs was 70 (also Mark McGwire). It would not be fair to compare a player’s stats who played in the 80’s to one that played in a different era. As the MLB has changed over time (more Moneyball analytics today), using standardized stats allows us to compare within and across decades who were the best players.
We selected our teams similar to All-Star team selections drafting a player at each position. This means that some players might have been left off the roster even though they ranked higher than another hitter in our sample due to the positional nature of baseball. For hitters, we computed a standardized score from 0-100 for five statistics from Baseball Reference: 1) OPS, 2) WAR, 3) SO/BB, 4) HR Rate, 5) Fielding Runs (defensive value). For pitchers, we used 1) W/L %, 2) ERA, 3) WHIP, 4) WAR, 5) K-BB, 6%) Opponent OPS+.
From these standardized scores, we computed a weighted average putting more stock in the primary analytical stats (e.g. WAR, OPS, ERA) than the secondary stats (e.g. W/L %, HR Rate, Fielding Runs). We then ranked the players based on their weighted average scores to select the best player at each position in their respective decade.
Caveats: While we took a holistic approach to selecting our teams, there are other methods that would result in a different list. The statistics we chose are widely understood, recognized, and available metrics. Today, there are more advanced analytical ones but might be harder to interpret or understand for casual fans (e.g. spin rate or Stuff+ for pitchers, exit velocity or barrel rate for hitters). Additionally, we did have a weighted criteria but one might choose different weights believing for example a player’s defensive value (Fielding Runs) should be worth more. Facing a similar problem as modern day analytics, it is hard to quantify a player’s defensive value and our statistical criteria focuses more on offensive than defensive production. Because we are using concrete statistical criteria, there will inevitably be players that rise higher on the list than expected due to putting up gaudy numbers in one area. This is not a “be-all and end-all” list for the best baseball players of all-time but an approach that uses a holistic and objective criteria to analyze and recognize the accomplishments of the best baseball players of all-time. We hope you enjoy reading through our All-Star teams and enjoy constructing your own based on our analysis.
C – Ivan Rodriguez TEX (1x MVP, 8x All-Star, 8x Gold Gloves, 4x Silver Slugger)
Nicknamed “pudge” for his short and stocky stature, Rodriguez made eight straight All-Star games and racked up 37.6 total WAR throughout the decade. Additionally, Rodriguez won AL MVP in 1999 and only two catchers (Joe Mauer 2009 and Buster Posey 2012) have won the award since. While not as known for his offensive output, Pudge is considered one of the best defensive catchers ever as he had the highest fielding runs score (100) in our analysis and ranks third all-time in catcher WAR.
1B – Frank Thomas CHW (2x MVP, 5x All-Star, 3x SS)
Thomas earned his nickname “The Big Hurt” for the damage he did to opposing pitchers achieving an OPS of over 1.000 three times and amassing 52 WAR during the decade (second all-time for White Sox), propelling him to two MVP awards. He ranks first in our analysis for OPS but also has good plate discipline (SO/BB ratio score of 87). Thomas is the only player in major league history to have seven consecutive seasons of a .300 average and at least 100 walks, 100 runs, 100 runs batted in, and 20 home runs.
2B – Chuck Knoblauch MIN/NYY (3x World Series Champ, ROY, 4x AS, 2x SS, 1x GG)
Knoblauch started off his twelve year career winning Rookie of the Year and a World Series title with the Twins. He also ended his career on a high note winning two more titles with the Yankees. Between championships, Knoblauch provided his team with a consistent, All-Star level output, never finishing with an OBP below .360 and finishing with an OPS over .800 five times throughout the decade.
SS – Cal Ripken Jr. BAL (19x AS, 1x WS Champ, 2x MVP, 2x GG, 8x SS)
It’s no surprise that Ripken makes both the 80’s and 90’s AL squads as he was known for longevity playing 2,632 consecutive games during his 21 year career. That streak came to an end on September 20th, 1998. Despite Ripken’s individual success, the Orioles struggled throughout the decade only making the playoffs twice since their last WS title in 1983. Ripken’s consistent availability and talent allowed the Orioles slugger to produce nearly 45 WAR over the decade.
3B – Robin Ventura CHW (2x AS, 6x GG)
Ventura spent almost the entire decade covering the hot corner for the White Sox, producing nearly 40 WAR and collecting six Gold Glove awards in this time span. He was the second best defensive player of all positions in that decade with a fielding runs score of 96. Ventura’s best year came with the Mets in 1999, where he finished sixth in the MVP race, slugging .301/.379/.529. Ventura actually managed the White Sox from 2012-2016 but only produced one winning season in his time there.
RF – Manny Ramirez CLE (2x WS Champ, 12x AS, 2x SS)
Ramirez established himself as one of the top right fielders in the league during the 90s, achieving an OPS of over .900 five times. In 2001 he was rewarded with a $160 million contract from the Red Sox, who he would go on to win two World Series Championships helping break the Curse of the Bambino. Ramirez’s Hall of Fame case is clouded by his use of PEDs and sometimes selfish attitude.
CF – Ken Griffey Jr. SEA (1x MVP, 10x AS, 10x GG, 7x SS)
Griffey was selected first overall by the Seattle Mariners in 1987 and is without a doubt their best player of all-time. Not only does Griffey have one of the smoothest swings of all time, he had a swing that produced offense like no other. Griffey is considered one of the ultimate five-tool (average, power, speed, throwing, defense) players of all-time which bears out in our analysis as he scores 75 or above in OPS+, WAR, HR Rate, and Fielding Runs. Griffey returned to spend his last two years of his career in Seattle after a nine-year stint with the Reds before retiring in 2010.
LF – Rickey Henderson OAK/TOR/SDP/ANA/NYM (10x AS, 2x WS Champ, 1x MVP, 1x GG, 3x SS)
The second player to make both the 80s and 90s team (also Cal Ripken Jr.), Henderson started off the decade with his lone career MVP season slashing .325/.439/.577 and followed it up with breaking the all-time stolen base record in 1991. Even as Henderson neared the end of his career, he still produced an OPS of over .850 five times during the decade and provided teams a threat on the base path as he managed to swipe over 30 bases in nine seasons.
DH – Edgar Martinez SEA (7x AS, 5x SS)
The second Seattle Mariner on the list, Martinez, was the perfect sidekick for Griffey who he checks in only 2 WAR behind on the Mariners all-time list (although he played all 18 years for Seattle while Griffey played 13). Martinez was nothing like a one-dimensional DH showing power and consistency, collecting three silver slugger awards and producing 51.7 WAR while finishing with an OPS of over 1.000 four times during the decade. He had a career year in 1995 where he finished 3rd in the MVP voting race after slugging a .356/.479.628 slash line.
Utility – Tony Phillips (DET, CHW, ANA, TOR) (1x WS Champ).
Phillips, who in 1992 played seven different positions, is the ultimate utility man and earns a spot due to his versatility. Additionally, Phillips was reliable, appearing in over 130 games seven times during the decade. As a true utility man, Phillips ability to get on base is exhibited by his .390 OBP helped him amass 37.3 WAR during the decade.
5 Reserves – Kenny Lofton, Roberto Alomar, Bernie Williams, Mark McGwire*, Rafael Palermo
SP 1 – Roger Clemens BOS/TOR/NYY (1x MVP, 7x Cy Young, 2x WS Champ, 11x AS)
While Clemens’ legacy is tainted by his alleged PED usage, the 1990s was a dominant decade for Rocket. Clemens accrued 68.1 WAR in the decade and was an all-around dominant starter posting scores above 60 in all of our metrics. He was one of two pitchers to reach the 2,000 strikeout mark solely within the 1990s. Having won two triple crowns (wins, Ks, ERA) in 1997 and 1998, Clemens’ spectacular decade was truly one for the record books as he is our ace in two separate decades.
SP2 – Mike Mussina BAL (5x AS, 7x GG)
Mussina’s illustrious career culminated in a Hall of Fame induction in 2019. Musina was known as a pitch-to-contact hitter as he only ranked below average in his K/BB% and K/9 throughout his career. No player might have had worse luck changing teams as he joined the Yankees in 2001 a year after they won the World Series and retired in 2008 a year before they won their next.
SP3 – David Cone KCR, NYY, TOR (1x Cy Young, 5x WS Champ, 5x AS)
Younger baseball fans might know Cone as a broadcaster, but his playing career deserves a spotlight as well. Cone’s best year was in 1994 when he won the Cy Young and finished 9th in MVP voting. Cone maintained excellent control over his pitches and was a pitch-to-contact hitter. Similar to Mussina, Cone’s only below average score was his K/BB ratio (2.24). Who knows if these pitchers would have been as successful in today’s pitching climate where velocity trumps all but there is no doubt they deserve a spot on the 90s roster.
SP4 – Randy Johnson SEA (5x Cy Young, 1x WS Champ, 10x AS)
In contrast to the last two selections, Johnson was known for his heater fastball. The Big Unit is certainly one of the most unique pitchers in baseball history with his 6’10” stature and trademark mustache. Coming off of a shaky 1980s decade, Johnson’s age 26 season in 1990 represented a turning point as he posted a 3.65 ERA, received an All Star appearance, and racked up 2.2 WAR. Johnson was the other pitcher (besides Clemens) to reach the 2,000 strikeouts mark in the 1990s.
SP5 – Kevin Appier KCR, OAK (1x WS Champ, 1x AS)
Appier is one of the lesser-known names on this team, but statistics vindicate him as a pitcher worthy of recognition. In the 1993 season, Appier posted a league-leading 2.56 ERA and finished 3rd in Cy Young voting. Appier accrued the 2nd-highest WAR among AL pitchers in the decade (47.6) trailing only Clemens. He would be an integral part of the only Angels World Series team in 2002. With 8 seasons with a sub-3 ERA, Appier’s was a consistent and reliable option which is why he slots in as our fifth-starter.
RP1 – Dennis Eckersley BOS, OAK (1x MVP, 1x Cy Young, 1x WS Champ, 6x AS)
Eckersley actually started out as a starter before moving to the bullpen and gaining his fame as a closer. Eckersley won league MVP as a reliever in 1992 with a 1.91 ERA and 51 saves. Eckersley then had 5 more seasons in the 90s with at least 30 saves playing until his age 43 season. Eckersley is the only pitcher to have a 20-win and a 50-save season in his career (not the same year).
RP2 – Mariano Rivera NYY (5x WS Champ, 13x AS)
While Eckersley was a legendary closer in the twilight career years in the late 90s, Rivera was a young superstar in the making. In spite of only pitching five seasons in the decade, Rivera’s incredible performance gained him his spot on this team. Rivera had 3 seasons with an ERA under 2 and a 4th season with an ERA just over 2 (2.09). Additionally, he helped his team maintain close leads with three seasons with at least 43 saves. He has the most saves of all-time with 652 and helped lead the Yankees to five World Series appearances in six years.
AL Manager – Joe Torre NYY
C – Mike Piazza LAD/NYM (12x AS, Rookie of the Year, 10x SS)
Despite never winning an MVP or a World Series ring, Piazza is recognized as one of the best hitting catchers of all time. Spending his career between five teams (most notably with the Dodgers and Mets), Piazza’s 427 home runs lead all catchers. Moreover, in 1997, the best season of his career, he led the league with an impressive 185 OPS+. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016, Piazza now serves as the manager of the Italian national baseball team.
1B – Jeff Bagwell HOU (1x MVP, 4x AS, Rookie of the Year, 1x GG, 3x SS)
Playing his entire 15-year career for the Astros, Jeff Bagwell is a Houston icon and leads the franchise with 80 WAR. Perhaps his most impressive feat is being the only player with six consecutive seasons of 100 RBIs, 100 runs scored, and 100 walks. Bagwell combined power and plate discipline exemplified in his 1994 season in which he led the league with a .750 SLG with a .451 OBP, good for a whopping 213 OPS+. And even though that season was shortened by a player strike, Bagwell mashed 39 home runs in 110 games. As with a few others on this list, he was speculated of PED usage, but with no concrete evidence, he was admitted to the Hall in 2017. FiveThirtyEight’s MLB WAR metric is named after Bagwell.
2B – Craig Biggio HOU (7x AS, 4x GG 5x SS)
Another Houston icon, Biggio has the second most WAR in Astros history (66). The trio comprised of Biggio, Bagwell and Lance Berkman was dubbed the “Killer B’s”. Biggio holds the Astros franchise records for hits (3060), runs scored (1844), and extra base hits (1,014), and ranks second in RBIs (1,175), walks (1,160) and stolen bases (414). His son, Cavan, is currently a utility player for the Toronto Blue Jays.
SS – Barry Larkin CIN (1x MVP, 1x WS Champ, 12x AS, 3x GG, 9x SS)
Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Larkin was drafted by the Reds in 1982 and played his entire 19 year career with the franchise. Larkin separates himself from the pack with his offensive consistency, posting above a .290 batting average in all but one season This consistency earned him the title of Reds captain in 1997 which he kept until retirement in 2004. No Reds captain has been named since.
3B – Chipper Jones ATL (1x MVP, 1x WS Champ, 8x AS, 2x SS)
Jones is the only switch hitter in history to end his career with above a .300 batting average and more than 400 home runs. He is one of only 18 hitters to accumulate 5,000 plate appearances and finish his career with at least a .300/.400/.500 triple slash line. With that kind of offensive prowess, it’s no wonder that Jones was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2018 garnering 97.2% of the vote, second most for a third baseman behind only George Brett (on our 80s All-Star team).
RF – Larry Walker COL (1x MVP, 5x AS, 7x GG, 3x SS)
Walker is a rare combination of power and speed, as he is the only player to register a .700 SLG and 30 stolen bases in a season. The only knock on Walker was that he played the bulk of his career for the Rockies in the most hitter friendly ballpark at Coors Field. This is evidenced by his dramatic splits with a .348 home batting average and a .274 away batting average. Walker was also a phenomenal defender, possibly a skillset coming from his natural athletic ability that developed in his childhood as a hockey player.
CF – Tony Gwynn SDP (15x AS, 5x GG, 7x SS)
While Gwynn is normally listed as a right fielder, his 20 year career is too illustrious for him not to make our ‘90s team. An All-Star every year in the decade, Gwynn is the Padres all-time WAR leader (69). His eight NL batting titles are tied for the most all-time (Honus Wagner), and remarkably, he never hit below .300 in any full season. Lovingly referred to as Mr. Padre, Gwynn played in the only two Padres World Series appearances in franchise history.
LF – Barry Bonds SFG (7x MVP, 14x AS, 8x GG, 12x SS)
Bonds is one of the most divisive figures in baseball history, but his numbers still sit atop the record books. Bonds is the all-time leader in home runs and walks. Fans also forget that early in his career Bonds was a great defender, winning 8 Gold Gloves over the course of 9 years. Bonds is actually the second leading Giant in terms of WAR (112) behind Willie Mays. While he may never find his name in Cooperstown as he just fell off the regular ballot, Bonds will likely forever be the king of multiple major league leaderboards.
Utility – Gary Sheffield MIL/SDP/FLA/LAD (1x WS Champ, 9x AS, 5x SS)
Sheffield was more of an outfielder than anything, but with 94 games at shortstop and 468 at third base, Sheffield played all over the diamond. Sheffield learned to hit off his uncle Dwight “Doc” Gooden from our 80’s team who is only four years his senior. Sheffield is the only player to represent five teams at the All-Star game and has played in 51 MLB ballparks, more than any other player.
5 Reserves – Mark McGwire*, Lay Lankford, Mark Grace, John Olerud, Sammy Sosa
SP1 – Greg Maddux CHC, ATL (4x Cy Young, 1x WS Champ, 8x AS, 18x GG)
Maddux was the ace of the formidable Braves pitching staff that won 14 out of 15 NL East titles starting from 1991 but only got one World Series ring to show for it despite making five. Throughout his career, Maddux was known for his long pitching performances with few strikeouts and getting the win for his team. In the 90’s, he had a K/9 of 6.6, a W-L % of 66.7%, and a decade-leading 2,394.2 innings pitched. Maddux is also considered one of the best fielding pitchers of all-time winning 18 Gold Gloves more than any other position player in history.
SP2 – John Smoltz ATL (1x Cy Young, 1x WS Champ, 8x AS, 1x SS)
The No. 2 pitcher for the Braves is our No. 2 on the All-decade team. Smoltz’s Cy-Young season (1996) saw him record a league-best 2.94 ERA, 9.8 K/9, and 7.4 WAR. Smoltz also pitched deep into games having pitched the most innings in the league in 1996 and 1997 (with 253 innings and 256 innings pitched respectively). Beyond Smoltz’s incredible pitching, his Silver Slugger in 1997 showed that he could contribute at the plate as well when pitchers still hit.
SP3 – Curt Schilling HOU, PHI (3x WS Champ, 6x AS)
Schilling’s 1990s was a tale of two extremes: the first half included two seasons with an ERA over 4 while the second half was marked by three All-Star appearances and a top-5 Cy Young finish. Schilling topped the 300 strikeout mark in both the 1997 and the 1998 season leading the league. Similar to a few other stars who have made this list, Schilling has a controversial HoF case missing the 2022 ballot due to his public image rather than PEDs.
SP4 -Tom Glavine ATL (2x Cy Young, 1x WS Champ, 10x AS, 4x SS)
Joining his Atlanta teammates Maddux and Smoltz on this list, Glavine was the other critical piece in the most dominant rotation of the decade. Glavine’s two Cy Youngs in the decade means that Atlanta combined for 7 of the 10 available. Additionally, Glavine racked up 6 All Star appearances in the decade and posted 5 seasons with an ERA under 3.
SP5 – José Rijo CIN (1x WS, 1x AS)
The 1990 World Series MVP (last in Reds history) propelled Cincinnati to a 4-0 sweep of the A’s. His 1994 season stands out due to his All-Star appearance and his 8.9 K/9. Unfortunately, Rijo’s decade was derailed as he missed four consecutive seasons with an elbow injury. While Rijo would eventually pitch again briefly in 2001 and 2002, his once-promising career would not recover to the same heights.
RP1 – Trevor Hoffman MIA, SDP (7x AS)
At the time of his retirement, Hoffman was the leader in saves (601, but he would eventually be passed by Mariano Rivera). His 228 saves in the 90’s show how great Hoffman was in closing games. His 1998 season is particularly notable as he led the league with 53 saves and finished 2nd in Cy Young voting. Hoffman also had one of the most iconic entrance songs to Hell’s Bells by AC/DC.
RP2 – Billy Wagner HOU (7x All Star)
As a young flamethrower in the 1990s, Wagner’s best season (1999) in which he accrued 39 saves, a 1.59 ERA, a 4th place Cy Young finish, and an All-Star appearance. His 422 saves rank sixth all-time.
NL Manager – Bobby Cox (ATL)
Check out our 1980s, 2000s, and 2010s All-Star teams.