Building The Greatest Fantasy Baseball Team Of All Time – Hitters Edition

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With the Super Bowl in the books and about two weeks until pitchers and catchers report, unless you’re mesmerized by the soap opera that is NBA off-court nonsense or stoked about early-season golf, then likely you’ve begun to think about prepping for fantasy baseball.

If you’ve come for fantasy advice, this isn’t the column for you. That’s coming later. But for now, let’s just dream about the Greatest All-Time Fantasy Baseball Team.

Two Catchers

If you play in a “Real” league, you need two catchers. In this fantasy exercise, we’re going for production, not cheap throwaways at a generally unproductive position. But, never fear. This position is going to include at least one unconventional choice.

Catcher is not generally considered a source of stolen base production on a fantasy team. That’s why the first catcher on this all-time team is going to be Buck Ewing. Ewing is a Hall-of-Fame catcher who played with teams from New York and Ohio from 1880 to 1897. Over the course of his career, Ewing stole 354 bases. But, to be fair, the stolen base wasn’t officially placed in the box score until 1887.

Ewing is credited with 18 SBs in 1886, but there is no record of his thievery in the preceding years. At his peak in 1888 with the New York Giants, Ewing swiped 53 bags while also hitting .306. The downside for fantasy purposes is that he hit only 6 HRs. But that statistic will be more than made up for with catcher number two.

Yes, Johnny Bench is the greatest catcher ever and, no, it wouldn’t be a problem for your all-time fantasy team to pick Bench. But, to balance out the SB contribution from Ewing and the lack of HR contribution that goes with it, Mike Piazza is our second catcher.

Piazza hit 427 HR in his career, largely with the LA Dodgers and NY Mets, and that ranks first among catchers all-time. A lifetime .308 average won’t hurt the fantasy bottom line either. The 62nd-round draft choice hit 40 HRs in a season twice—in 1997 with the Dodgers and in 1999 with the Mets.

How many of you out there wouldn’t kill for 50 SBs (Ewing) and 40 HRs (Piazza) at the catcher position?

First Base

If we’re talking real baseball, the answer here is Lou Gehrig with 112.4 WAR in 17 years in Yankee pinstripes from 1923 to 1939. And, no other baseball player in history has had Gary Cooper play them in a movie. So there.

But we are talking fantasy baseball. And in fantasy baseball, the selection goes to Albert Pujols.

Although Pujols has been a shell of his former self the past few seasons, we should not forget that at his peak he was truly remarkable. In a stretch from 2006 to 2009, he led the league three times in both slugging and OPS. In perhaps his best season, 2009, Pujols hit .327/.443/.658 with 47 HRs, 135 RBIs, and 124 runs. To date he has 633 HRs, a career .302 average, and he’s just 18 short of 2,000 RBIs.

Five years after he hangs up his cleats, Pujols will be in Cooperstown. For now, he’s our all-time fantasy 1B.

Second Base

It’s always been a bit ironic that when HOF 2B Joe Morgan was in the booth that he railed against sabermetrics because aside from perhaps Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, or Nap Lajoie, Morgan is the sabermetrician’s dream at second. His 100.6 WAR, 59.3 WAR7, and 79.9 JAWS trail only the aforementioned threesome all-time.

Over the course of his career, Morgan hit .271/.392/.427 with 689 SBs. The 268 HRs weren’t shabby either in an era when there wasn’t all that much power in the middle infield. In the better fantasy season of his back-to-back MVP campaigns of 1975 and 1976, Morgan hit .320, with 67 SBs, 26 HRs, 82 RBIs, and a league-leading 122 runs. Today, Jose Altuve is great, but he isn’t going to give you those kind of numbers.

Joe Morgan is the all-time fantasy 2B.

Shortstop

Okay. This is going to be controversial. It shouldn’t be, but it will be. A-Rod.

Alex Rodriguez has the second most WAR, WAR7, and JAWS of any shortstop in history, behind only Honus Wagner. His career line is .295/.380/.550 with 696 HRs, 2,063 RBIs, 2,021 Rs, and 329 SBs. His career OPS,+ which measures OPS against the league—even if that league was partaking in PEDs—is 140, or 40 percent better than everyone else.

Yes, he took performance enhancing drugs. A lot of players did. But I don’t remember anyone who won a league championship on the backs of Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds or Rodriguez grumbling at the time. This is fantasy baseball, not the morality court, and the numbers don’t lie.

In his best fantasy season while still playing short, A-Rod hit .300 with 57 HRs, 142 RBI, 125 runs, and even managed to steal 9 bases. If you like to get SBs from your middle infield, Rodriguez did have a 40/40 season in 1998, with 42 HRs and 46 SBs.

By virtually any measure, Alex Rodriguez is your all-time fantasy shortstop.

Third Base

At third base, a position where most fantasy players look to secure power numbers, there are two men who hit over 500 HRs: Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews. There are also three more who hit over 400 HRs: Adrian Beltre, Chipper Jones, and Darrell Evans.

Since we are considering an all-time fantasy team, Evans, a lifetime .248 hitter, can be dropped from consideration. The counting numbers are admittedly skewed as Mathews played 17 seasons, Schmidt 18 seasons, Jones 19 seasons, and Beltre 21 seasons.

Looking at individual seasons, Schmidt led the league in HRs eight times, in RBIs four times—and in both in the same season four times. Mathews wasn’t called Steady Eddie for nothing. While he only led the league in HRs twice, he could be counted on to give you 35 HRs and 100 RBIs per season. Surprisingly, the most recent HOFer, Jones, never led the league in any counting numbers but did win the “batting title” in 2008 when he hit .364.

Finally, most Mariners fans will remember the .334/.388/.639, 48-HR, 121-RBI, 104-run season Adrian Beltre had BEFORE he signed in Seattle out of free agency. Other than that season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Beltre only led the league in doubles in 2010 (49), and hits in 2013 (199).

So, it looks like the best bet is the man Bill James has called the greatest third baseman of all-time.

Mike Schmidt is the all-time fantasy player at the hot corner.

Corner Infield

At corner infield, the gaudy numbers are situated in more abundance historically at first. This team is already pretty loaded with power, so let’s plug in slightly less power (but power nonetheless) and go with the .340 lifetime batting average of the Luckiest Man On The Face Of The Earth.

In a career that was shortened by the disease that bears his name, Lou Gehrig not only hit .340 but smashed 493 HRs, 1,995 RBIs, scored 1,888 runs, and collected 2,721 hits. If you play in a league that uses more advanced statistics, Gehrig’s lifetime 1,089 OPS and 179 OPS+ are ridiculous.

In 1931, perhaps his greatest season, Gehrig hit .341/.446/.662 with 46 HR, 185 RBI, 163 runs, and even managed to steal 17 bases.. That year, he led the league in plate appearances, runs, hits, HRs, RBIs, and total bases.

Since Gehrig and Pujols are one and two, respectively, on the WAR leaderboard at 1B, you could swap them if you wanted to.

For this all-time fantasy team, Lou Gehrig slots in at corner infield.

Middle Infield

The middle infield position today is usually a throwaway in some categories, usually HRs and RBIs, in order to stock up on some other categories, like SBs and runs. This all-time fantasy team, however, will have none of those shortcomings.

There are two middle infielders, one a shortstop, one a second baseman, with over 700 career SBs. Honus Wagner swiped 723 bags while only being caught 26 times and Eddie Collins stole 741 bases with a more human 195 CS. All things being relatively equal on the base paths, this team has the luxury of jettisoning Collins with his 47 career HRs and going with Wagner, who hit 101.

An average season for Wagner in fantasy numbers was a .328 BA, 42 SBs, and 101 runs, but also 6 HRs and 100 RBIs.

Pencil in The Flying Dutchman for all-time fantasy middle infielder. And you can play him in the outfield or at first too, in a pinch.

Five Outfielders

While some fantasy sites, most notably ESPN, offer “light” lineups with three outfielders, traditionalists play with five. The good thing for all-time fantasy purposes is that arguably the greatest players in the history of baseball roamed the outfield. To simplify the process a bit, let’s just plug in the only three players in MLB history to hit 700 HRs: Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds.

Along with his 714 HRs, Ruth has a .342 lifetime BA along with 2,214 RBIs and a surprising 123 SBs. Babe had so many great seasons, it’s hard to pick “the best.” He led the league in HRs 12 times and in RBIs five times. While it isn’t a traditional fantasy category, it’s worth noting that Ruth led the league in walks 11 times. An average season for the original Bronx Bomber consisted of him hitting .342 with 46 HRs, 143 RBIs, and 141 runs. Just for good measure, throw in around 8 SBs. Eighty-four years after Ruth played his last game, he is still widely considered to be the greatest player of all-time.

Now, slot him in to the first outfield position on the all-time fantasy team.

The man who broke Ruth’s career HR record in 1974 was none other than Hammerin Hank Aaron. He finished his career two years later with 755. Aaron was incredibly steady, with only a handful of seasons under 30 HRs until age caught up with him in his final two seasons.

In addition to the 755 HRs, Aaron was a career .305 hitter, collecting 3,771 hits, 2,297 RBIs, 2,174 runs, and 240 SBs. An average season for Aaron would include the fantasy numbers .305 BA, 37 HRs, 113 RBIs, 107 runs, and 12 SBs. Hammerin Hank slots into the second all-time fantasy outfield position.

Currently sitting atop the HR leaderboard is Barry Bonds with 762.  And the good thing about fantasy baseball? There’s no reason to adjudicate how he got there.

Bonds is a player some readers may have actually had on a team, since he’s only been out of the game for 12 years. Anyone having Bonds on his or her team in 2001 likely won the league. That was the year he hit 73 HRs.

The rest of his stat line, for fantasy purposes, was .328 BA, 137 RBIs, 129 runs, and 3 SBs.

People also tend to forget that Bonds stole a ton of bases when he was younger. A streak of 10 consecutive seasons stealing 28 or more bases came to an end in 1999 at age 34.

The career fantasy stat line is .298 BA, 762 HR, 1,996 RBI, 2,227 runs, and 514 SB.

Like him or don’t like him, Barry Bonds is the third outfielder on the all-time fantasy team.

Now it gets tricky. Continuing down the HR leaderboard yields some impressive outfielders, such as Willie Mays (660) or Ken Griffey, Jr. (630), but this is a fantasy team and every category counts, especially batting average and stolen bases. To shore up those categories, Rickey Henderson, the all-time stolen base leader, goes into the all-time fantasy outfield along with Ted Williams, the last player to hit .400.

Rickey Henderson finished his 25-year career at age 44 in 2003 wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform. Along the way, he had been an Oakland A, a New York Yankee, a San Diego Padre, an Anaheim Angel back when the Angels were from Anaheim, a Seattle Mariner, and a Boston Red Sock. But no matter what uniform he adorned, he was Rickey and he stole bases.

Henderson sits atop the stolen base leaderboard with 1,406 thefts. Next on the list is Lou Brock with 938 swipes. To put that into perspective, imagine that the HR leader is in the mid-700s and no one else in history had ever gotten to 500. That’s how dominant Rickey was on the base paths.

But Rickey Henderson wasn’t the equivalent of a Billy Hamilton, who incidentally is third on the all-time stolen base list with 914. For one thing, Henderson got on base over the course of his career at a .401 clip. He accumulated 3,055 hits, slugged 297 HRs, scored 2,295 runs, and knocked in 1,115 RBIs. On 12 occasions, Henderson led the league in stolen bases, including a run for the entirety of the 1980s when he led the league all but once.

Henderson’s greatest single season for thievery—and the reason he’s on this team—was 1982. That season, Rickey hit just .267 but stole 130 bases and also led the league in walks with 116 free passes. Throw in 119 runs and the mere 10 HRs and 51 RBIs are completely offset given the power elsewhere in this dream outfield.

Rickey Henderson joins the elite on this all-time fantasy baseball team.

Rounding out the all-time fantasy outfield is The Splendid Splinter himself—Ted Williams. When baseball historians think about the art of hitting, they think of Williams. When assessing his career numbers, it’s imperative to know that he missed all of 1943, 1944, and 1945 serving his country in World War II, and that he again barely played in 1952 and 1953 while serving in the Korean War. Just imagine how adding essentially five years would impact a career already including 521 HRs, 1,839 RBIs, and 1,798 runs. The only line that might have suffered would have been his career .344 batting average, but not likely.

Williams led the league in batting average six times, including twice in his late-30s. In the magical 1941 season, in which his rival Joe DiMaggio recorded hits in 56 consecutive games, Williams slashed .406/.553/755, leading the league in BA, OBP, and slugging.

At the time, no one added OBP and slugging together, but if they had, they would see that Williams also led the league in OPS with an astonishing 1,287. Compared to the rest of the league, his hitting display produced an OPS+ of 235, or 135% better than average.

The fantasy numbers for Ted Williams in 1941 would look like a .406 BA, 37 HRs, 120 RBIs, 135 runs, and a fun 2 SBs. Perhaps the best pure hitter of all-time rounds out an outfield of the all-time fantasy baseball team.

Utility

With on slot left for hitters, it only makes sense to go with the greatest living player not currently rostered. No, not Harold Baines. The Say Hey Kid—Willie Mays.

During his tenure he roamed centerfield in the Polo Grounds and Candlestick Park for the Giants, and in those two years in Shea with the Mets, Mays hit 660 HRs, drove in 1,903 baserunners and raced across home plate himself 2,062 times. In the lower stolen base atmosphere of the 1950s, Mays was a terror on the base paths, swiping 338 bags.

Like many of the players on this team, it’s difficult to find a singular “best” season for Mays. For the sake of nostalgia, let’s look at 1957, the last year the Giants were in New York. In ’57, Mays hit .333/.407/.626, with 33 HRs, 97 RBIs, 112 runs, and he led the league with 38 SBs. Good luck finding that kind of production for your utility position in a few weeks.

So, the Say Hey Kid rounds out the all-time fantasy baseball team.

Just Fun

No. You’d never be able to accumulate this much talent in a fantasy auction. You’d run out of money after Ruth. But as baseball is a game that is tied inexorably to numbers, it’s fun to look at the different eras, examine the record book, and have some fun.

After all, it’s not called fantasy baseball for nothing.

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About Author

Brian Hight

Brian Hight lives in Seattle and writes primarily about MLB and the local Seattle Mariners, with a focus on advanced analytics. Occasionally, he delves into the NFL and the NBA, also with an emphasis on advanced statistics. He’s currently pursuing a Certificate in Data Analysis online from Microsoft, where he hopes to create a prediction model for baseball outcomes for his capstone project.

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