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.
RF – Vladimir Guerrero LAA (1x MVP, 9x AS, 8x SS)
“Vlad the Impaler” was known for his “bad-ball hitter” skill of hitting balls outside of the strike zone. After being selected as the 2004 AL MVP, Guerrero helped to lead the Anaheim Angels to five AL West championships. His eight 30 plus home runs and ten 100 plus RBI seasons garnered him eight silver Slugger awards. Guerrero eventually went on to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018. His son, Vladimir Jr., is one of the sports best young players (23) for the Toronto Blue Jays and will likely win an MVP like his father someday.
CF – Grady Sizemore CLE (3x AS, 2x GG, 1x SS)
Sizemore was an all-around talent evidenced by his 2006 season where he batted 0.290 while being the second in MLB history to hit at least 50 doubles, 10 triples, 25 home runs, and 20 stolen bases in one season. He won his first Gold Glove award in 2007 with a fielding percentage of 0.995 as he was known for his range and acrobatic catches. Sizemore was unfortunately extremely injury prone only playing more than 100 games once after his age 27 season and retiring at the early age of 32.
LF – Manny Ramirez BOS (2x WS Champ, 12x AS, 9x SS)
Ramirez’s career 0.312 batting average, 555 home-runs (one of 28 players to reach the 500 club), and 1,831 RBIs speak for his “complete hitter” label. What made Ramirez special was his ability to perform in the postseason helping the Red Sox break the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004 earning World Series MVP. In his 111 postseason appearances (fifth all-time), he has the most home runs in October with 29.
DH – David Ortiz MIN/BOS (3x WS, 10x AS, 7x SS)
After being brought to the Red Sox from the Twins in 2003 by fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez, “Big Papi” became the face of the franchise as one of the most beloved figures in Boston sports history. Ortiz was the Red Sox DH for 14 seasons where he averaged 40 home runs and 130 RBIs for his first five years. Big Papi had a reputation of being a clutch-hitter where he came through in high pressure situations with 11 career walk-off home runs during the regular season and two in the postseason, including a clinch in the 2004 ALDS. Despite controversy surrounding a positive performance-enhancing drug test, Big Papi was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2022. Joining his 2000s teammate and former Yankee rival Alex Rodriguez, Ortiz is now a broadcaster.
Utility – Gary Sheffield NYY/DET (1x WS Champ, 9x AS, 5x Silver Slugger)
Although Sheffield primarily played in right field, he also made starts at left field, first base, third base, and shortstop, demonstrating his ability to be a utility player. Sheffield’s bat swing was notable due to its mix of savage spin and pinpoint control which enabled his low walk rate and low strikeout rate. He is also a member of the 500+ home run club and is the only player in MLB history to have 100+ RBI seasons with five different teams.
5 Reserves – Jim Thorne, Ichiro Suzuki, Miguel Tejada, Jorge Posada, Edgar Martinez
SP 1 – Pedro Martinez BOS (3x Cy Young, 1x WS Champ, 8x AS)
Arguably the best Dominican player of all-time, Martinez used his remarkable fastball to win three Cy Young Awards, pitch a triple crown season (led the league in ERA, wins, and strikeouts), and ended the Red Sox 86-year World Series drought. There is an argument that Martinez had one of the most dominant stretches in the early 2000s born out in our analysis as he scored nearly 80 or above in all five of our metrics. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015, Martinez made a difference both on the field and off – pitching phenomenally but also starting the Pedro Martinez Foundation to create better opportunities for Dominican youth.
SP 2 – Johan Santana MIN (2x Cy Young, 4x AS, 1x GG)
Discovered in 1994 by an Astros scout, little did fans know that Johan Santana would go down in baseball history. While originally a center fielder, Santana contributed enormously to the Minnesota Twins and New York Mets during his career – giving the Mets their only no-hitter in franchise history. Santana was an all-around reliable ace posting scores above 55 in all five of our metrics.
SP 3 – Roy Halladay TOR (2x Cy Young, 8x AS)
Halladay joins his 2000s teammate Martinez as one of only six pitchers to have won a Cy Young in both the AL and NL. Hallday recorded a perfect game for the Phillies, and a no-hitter during the 2010 playoffs. He amassed the most pitcher WAR in the decade (45.4) and is the second leading Blue Jays pitcher of all-time. Remembered for his strong arm and tireless spirit, Halladay was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019 following his tragic death in a plane accident.
SP 4 – Mike Mussina NYY (5x AS, 7x GG)
As fellow Hall of Famer Yogi Berra would say to describe Mussina – “consistently consistent” – Mussina made a name for himself as an influential Oriole and Yankees. As a 39-year old pitcher in 2008, he became the oldest 20-game winner in history – garnering a 20-9 record and a 3.37 ERA.
SP 5 – CC Sabathia CLE/NYY (6x AS, 1x Cy Young, 1x WS Champ)
As the all-time AL leader in strikeouts by a lefty, Sabathia is an all-around fan-favorite. In 2001 he was the youngest player in the major leagues at 21 years old, finishing second for Rookie of the Year. Nicknamed the “winningest pitcher in baseball”, from 2005-2012, he boasted a 3.24 ERA, threw 1788.3 innings, struck out 1614 batters, and started 257 games.
RP 1 – Mariano Rivera NYY(5x WS Champ, 13x AS)
Widely regarded as the greatest closer of all time, Rivera was nothing short of a baseball legend for the New York Yankees. Making his major league debut in 1995, Rivera’s cutter became nearly impossible to hit, striking out batter after batter and helping the Yankees win five world series titles. Mo also dominated when it mattered most with a .70 ERA in 96 postseason games. Aside from his astonishing performance on the mound, Rivera also won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2019.
RP 2 – Joe Nathan MIN (6x AS)
Currently eighth on the all-time saves list and having the highest save percentage in history, Nathan was ranked in the top three best relievers in baseball from 2003-2013, with the best ERA+, ERA, WAR, and WHIP. Sadly unlike elite closers who now get to play for multiple contenders nowadays, Nathan only won one playoff series in six total pitching only 10 postseason innings but struggled giving up nine runs.
AL Manager – Terry Francona BOS
RF – Vladimir Guerrero MON (9x AS, 1x MVP, 8x SS)
Guerrero checks in as the only player on all our teams to be selected for both the AL and NL teams as he played the first four years of the decade with the Montreal Expos before joining the Angels in free agency in 2004 (a year before Expos relocated to become Washington Nationals). Most younger fans remember Vlad as an Angel but he had a successful start to his career in Montreal amassing the sixth most WAR in franchise history (35) despite only playing 8 years for them. Vlad’s son, Vlad Jr. has also had a successful start to his career playing for a Canadian team (Toronto).
CF – Andruw Jones ATL (5x AS, 10x GG, 1x SS)
Jones is one of the best defensive center fielders in modern baseball totaling a 24.4 career dWAR and led the league in put-outs and total zone rating for five consecutive years. Jones saw a sharper decline towards the end of his career (especially once he left the Braves) as he never hit above .250 after turning 30. Nevertheless, he did reach the 400 home run club and is likely the best player from the island of Curacao to ever play.
CF – Barry Bonds SFG (7x MVP, 14x AS, 8x GG, 12x SS)
Bonds was the definition of a five-tool player scoring him a record seven MVP awards, eight Gold Gloves, and 12 Silver Sluggers. Bonds’ fantastic bat speed allowed him to post 73 home runs in a single season* (762 overall*) and garner a 0.609 OBP in one season. He is the first and only MLB player to achieve 500 home runs and 500 stolen bases. However, Bonds’ PED usage has unfortunately removed the possibility of himself being placed in the Hall of Fame.
Utility – Jeff Kent SFG/HOU/LAD (5x AS, 1x MVP, 4x SS)
After being selected in the 20th round of the draft out of UC Berkeley, Kent went on to become a primary second baseman but played all over the diamond throughout his career. In 2000, Kent beat out teammate and superstar Barry Bonds for MVP posting a 1.021 OPS. Kent is the all-time leader in home runs by a second baseman (377) and ended his career with a 0.290 batting average. Kent was also awarded the Willie Mac Award for spirit and leadership.
5 Reserves – Todd Helton, Lance Berkman, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Sammy Sosa*
SP 1 – Randy Johnson ARI (5x Cy Young, 1x WS Champ, 10x AS)
His outstanding height of 6’10 made him the tallest pitcher in the major leagues at the time, intimidating his opponents with low-cutting fastballs and quick-breaking sliders. In the 2001 season, he helped lead the Diamondbacks to their only World Series in franchise history, beating the Yankees 4-3 breaking up their bid for a 4-peat. In 2004, he became the oldest pitcher to record a perfect game at age 40. After a brief stint with the Yankees, Johnson returned to the Diamondbacks recording his 300th career win in 2009. Johnson won the Cy Young award in both leagues and makes our AL team of the 90s (Mariners) and our NL team of the 2000s (Diamondbacks).
SP 2 – Curt Schilling PHI/ARI (5x AS, 3x WS Champ)
Schilling was an extremely clutch pitcher in the playoffs retiring with a postseason record of 11-2 and a postseason winning percentage of .846. As he is the No. 2 in our rotation, he was also the No. 2 for the Diamondbacks World Series team finishing second in Cy Young voting in 2001 and 2002 behind Johnson. Unlike Johnson though, Schilling would go on to get two more World Series with the Red Sox. As a member of the 3,000 strikeout club, there is still debate surrounding whether Schilling deserves a Hall of Fame induction due to his off the field persona.
SP 3 – Chris Carpenter STL (1x Cy Young, 2x WS Champ, 3x AS)
Nicknamed “the epitome of persistence”, Carpenter did not let three elbow surgeries, two shoulder surgeries, and having a rib removed derail his career. Through adversity, he proved to be one of the most accomplished Cardinals in the history of the team, signing with the Cardinals in 2002 and having a tremendous nine season run. Carpenter led the Cardinals to a World Series in 2006, with eight shutout innings in Game 3 against the Tigers.
SP 4 – Roy Oswalt HOU (3x AS)
As a back to back 20-game winner in 2004 and 2005, Oswalt led the Astros to their first World Series appearance in 2005. He left the Astros on a high note, leading the franchise in pitcher WAR and totaling 143 wins and 1,593 strikeouts ranking second in franchise history.
SP 5 – Brandon Webb ARI (3x All Star, 1x Cy Young)
With one of the best sinkers in baseball, Webb’s career with the Arizona Diamondbacks was a success story. Webb was just taking over the ace duties for the Diamondbacks as Johnson departed for the Yankees and Schilling for the Red Sox. In his 2006 Cy Young campaign, Webb had a perfect 8-0 record in his first 13 starts, including a 30-inning scoreless streak. His ERA+ of 142 remains the 18th highest of all-time. Webb had a very short career retiring after just seven seasons at age 30 leaving fans wondering what more he could have accomplished.
RP 1 – Billy Wagner HOU/PHI/NYM (7x AS)
Another Astro on the list, Wagner is one of six closers with at least 400 saves. His strikeout per nine innings ratio (K/9) is the highest of any major league pitcher at 11.9. Wagner enjoyed his best season in 2003, recording 44 saves, 86 innings pitched, and 105 strikeouts. He also was deemed the “hardest-throwing man in baseball”, leading the major leagues with 159 pitches thrown at 100 mph or above.
RP 2 – John Smoltz ATL (8x AS, 1x WS Champ, 1x Cy Young)
Though a starter for the beginning of his career, Smoltz moved to the bullpen for the Atlanta Braves in 2001. In the next year, he set a National League record with 55 saves – becoming the second pitcher in history to record both a 20-win season and a 50-save season. He is also the only pitcher to record both 200 wins and 150 saves. He has the fifth most wins (210) and second most saves (154) in Braves history so it’s no surprise he checks in as a starter on our 1990s NL team and a reliever on our 2000s NL team.
NL Manager – Tony La Russa STL
Check out our 1980s, 1990s, and 2010s All-Star teams!