The best of the best: Looking at the best 5-year runs of baseball’s greatest

Just for fun, I decided to look at some of the best players of all time and their best five-year runs.

The number of years is arbitrary, admittedly. I honestly could have picked six. Or four. But five seemed like a good round number.

The players I looked at were Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and Ted Williams.
That’s basically the shortlist of the greatest all around players of all time. Now, a player like Frank Robinson, who had a long run of dominance, but no short burst of excellence, isn’t on the list. Meanwhile Wade Boggs, who had a short burst of excellence, but isn’t considered by anyone to be one of the 10s best players of all time, isn’t on the list either.

Here’s how they break down.

Hank Aaron
AaronRF, Milwaukee Braves 1959-1963.
MVPs: 0; MVP top 5: 2
WAR: 43.6
The raw numbers: 779 games, 984 hits, 202 home runs, 162 doubles, 38 triples, 627 runs batted in, 581 runs, 91 stolen bases, 311 walks, 348 strikeouts, .323/.383/.600/.984. 170 OPS+
Averages per 162 games: 121 R, 125 RBI, 40 home runs, 18 stolen bases, 34 doubles, 8 triples, 205 hits.
Analysis: The Hammer won an MVP two years before this run started. However, during this stretch, he finished second, second, first, third and fourth in WAR. He also collected 400 total bases in 1959, a particularly rare achievement.

Barry Bonds


LF, San Francisco Giants 2000-2004
MVPS: 4; MVP top 5: 5
WAR: 51.1
The raw numbers: 716 games, 720 hits, 258 home runs, 140 doubles, 12 triples, 615 runs, 544 runs batted in, 46 stolen bases, 872 walks, 316 strikeouts, .339/.535/.781/1.316, 241 OPS+
Averages per 162 games: 123 runs, 109 RBI, 52 home runs, 9 stolen bases, 28 doubles, 2 triples, 144 hits
Analysis: As good as this is, it might not be as impressive as his 1990-1994 run, when he had 44.5 WAR, could play defense, steal bases and didn’t have any chemical enhancements. His on-base percentage is rather insane, however.

Ty Cobb
CF, Detroit Tigers 1909-1913Cobb
MVPS: 1; MVP top 5: 2
WAR: 47.6
The raw numbers: 704 games, 1,051 hits, 36 home runs, 163 doubles, 86 triples, 559 runs, 475 runs batted in, 295 stolen bases, 336 walks, 195 strikeouts, .396/.455/.564/1.030, 198 OPS+
Averages per 162 games: 129 runs, 107 runs batted in, 9 home runs, 78 stolen bases, 38 doubles, 20 triples, 242 hits
Analysis: The eras really show when you compare Bonds and Cobb. The Georgia Peach drove in 127 runs on just eight home runs in 1911. Bonds hit 73 round-trippers in 2003, but drove in 137 runs. Cobb’s 5-year run came in a nine-year span in which he led the junior circuit in hitting every year – and OPS eight times. Oh, and Cobb won the triple crown the year before this stretch started.

Joe DiMaggio
joeCF, New York Yankees 1937-1941
MVPS: 2; MVP Top 5: 4
WAR: 38
The raw numbers: 687 games, 957 hits, 169 home runs, 170 doubles, 54 triples, 603 runs, 691 runs batted in, 17 stolen bases, 312 walks, 121 strikeouts, .350/.420/.638/.1.058, 168 OPS
Averages per 162 games: 143 runs, 164 runs batted in, 40 home runs, five stolen bases, 41 doubles, 13 triples, 226 hits
Analysis: Who thought Joe DiMaggio was going to be a harder whiff than Ty Cobb? Joltin’ Joe had 50 fewer strikeouts, but clubbed 140 more homers. DiMaggio was quite a talent, but playing in one of the best offensive eras cut into his WAR and OPS+. DiMaggio won four World Series rings during this stretch.

Lou Gehrig


1B, New York Yankees 1927-1931
MVPS: 1; MVP top 5: 2
WAR: 47.2
The raw numbers: 772 games, 1,025 hits, 196 home runs, 204 doubles, 73 triples, 721 runs, 803 runs batted in, 47 stolen bases, 544 walks, 340 strikeouts, .354/.458/.677/1.135, 195 OPS+
Averages per 162 games: 144 runs, 161 runs batted in, 39 home runs, 9 stolen bases, 41 doubles, 15 triples, 205 hits
Analysis: Gehrig’s 1927 season has my favorite baseball stat. Consider his league-leading 173 runs-batted in. Ponder for a moment that he batted behind Babe Ruth that year. Ruth hit 60 home runs. So that means there were at least 60 at-bats in which Gehrig came to bat with no one on base. While we now know that RBIs can be an overrated stat, they can still tell a story. As for the MVPs, rules kept him from being considered from 28-30.

Rogers Hornsby
Rogers_Hornsby2B, St. Louis Cardinals 1921-1925
MVPS: 1; MVP top 5: 2
WAR: 49.9
The raw numbers: 696 games, 1,078 hits, 144 home runs, 206 doubles, 66 triples, 615 runs, 598 runs batted in, 43 stolen bases, 352 walks, 198 strikeouts, .402/.474/.690/1.164, 204 OPS+
Averages per 162 games: 144 runs, 140 runs batted in, 34 home runs, 11 stolen bases, 48 doubles, 16 triples, 252 hits.
Analysis: He had a .402 batting average over five years. FIVE YEARS. Oh, and he led the league in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS every year.

Mickey Mantle
Mickey_Mantle_1951CF, New York Yankees 1954 – 1958
MVPS: 2; MFP Top 5 finishes: 4
WAR: 47.7
The raw numbers: 737 games, 830 hits, 192 home runs, 113 doubles, 35 triples, 630 runs, 522 runs batted in, 57 stolen bases, 602 walks, 498 strikeouts, .325/.451/.618/1.070, 191 OPS+
Averages per 162 games: 139 runs, 115 runs batted in, 43 home runs, 13 stolen bases, 25 doubles, 8 triples, 185 hits
Analysis: Mantle’s stats have always fascinated me. As powerful a hitter as he was, he drove in 100 runs – on a winning team no less – just four times. Boy, could he get on base. You have to wonder how amazing he would have been had he not been injured.

Willie Mays


CF, San Francisco Giants 1962 – 1966
MVPS: 1; MVP Top 5: 4
WAR: 52.3
The raw numbers: 785 games, 883 hits, 223 home runs, 139 doubles, 28 triples, 59 stolen bases, 583 runs, 560 runs batted in, 372 walks, 392 strikeouts, .304/.382/.601/.984, 169 OPS+
Averages per 162 games: 121 runs, 109 runs batted in, 46 home runs, 12 stolen bases, 29 doubles, 6 triples, 182 hits.
Analysis: Mays 1954-1958 seasons actually were better than several players on this lists top 5-year runs, with a 45.7 WAR, an MVP and four top five finishes. He might have been a better all-around player then, with an average of 28 stolen bases and a .328 batting average, but the 1950s were an easier era for hitters than the 1960s were. So we went with the 1960s run.

Joe Morgan


2B, Cincinnati Reds 1972 – 1976
MVPS: 2; MVP Top 5: 4
WAR: 47.7
The raw numbers: 742 games, 792 hits, 108 home runs, 146 doubles, 20 triples, 310 stolen bases, 565 runs, 427 runs batted in, 592 walks, 267 strikeouts, .303/.431/.499/930 163 OPS+
Averages per 162 games: 124 runs, 94 runs batted in, 24 home runs, 68 stolen bases, 32 doubles, 5 triples, 173 hits
Analysis: People forget how amazing Joe Morgan was during the 1970s. A fantastic defender, he got on base at an insane clip, hit for a lot more power than a vast majority of All-Star second baseman of that half of the century, and swiped a ton of bases.

Babe Ruth
RuthRF, New York Yankees 1920 – 1924
MVPS: 1; MVP Top 5: 2
WAR: 56.9
The raw numbers: 709 games, 909 hits, 235 home runs, 188 doubles, 53 triples, 59 stolen bases, 723 runs, 653 runs batted in, 691 walks, 415 strikeouts, .370/.511/.777/1.288, 229 OPS+
Averages per 162 games: 165 runs, 149 runs batted in, 54 home runs, 14 stolen bases, 43 doubles, 13 triples, 165 hits.
Analysis: So yeah, the second best WAR on this list is Mays’ 52.3. Babe Ruth’s second best 5-year run is 52.3. Let that sink in. Now that you’ve looked back over those numbers, something else must be pointed out. Ruth missed 40 games in the middle of this run because of a suspension.

Honus Wagner
WagnerSS, Pittsburgh Pirates 1905 – 1909
MVPS: This was pre-MVP days.
WAR: 52.3
The raw numbers: 719 games, 923 hits, 29 home runs, 186 doubles, 66 triples, 259 stolen bases, 507 runs, 463 runs batted in, 278 walks, 170 strikeouts, .349/.417/.503/.920, 183 OPS+
Averages per 162 games: 115 runs, 105 runs batted in, 7 home runs, 59 stolen bases, 42 doubles, 15 triples, 208 hits
Analysis: These numbers really are astounding for a shortstop in any era. Wagner led his league in a diverse list of categories during this run. Twice in steals, three times each in slugging and on-base percentage, four times in doubles and total bases, twice in runs batted in.

Ted Williams


LF, Boston Red Sox 1941-42, – 1946-48
MVPS: 1; MVP Top 5s: 5
WAR: 50.4
The raw numbers: 736 games, 916 hits, 168 home runs, 188 doubles, 28 triples, 9 stolen bases, 667 runs scored, 621 runs batted in, 736 walks, 210 strikeouts, .362/.508/.658/1.166, 211 OPS+
Averages per 162 games: 147 runs, 137 runs batted in, 37 home runs, 1.8 stolen bases, 42 doubles, seven triples, 202 hits
Analysis: Williams missed three whole prime years – from 1943-1945 – to World War II. Yet he returned just as strongly as he left. He had a .499 on-base percentage when he left and a .497 one when he returned.

Ranks during their five-year runs
WAR
Ruth: 56.9
Mays: 52.3
Bonds: 51.1
Williams: 50.4
Hornsby: 49.9
Wagner: 49.1
Mantle: 47.7
Morgan: 47.7
Cobb: 47.6
Gehrig: 47.2
Aaron: 43.6
DiMaggio: 38.0

OBP
Bonds: .535
Ruth: .511
Williams: .508
Hornsby: .474
Gehrig: .458
Cobb: .455
Mantle: .451
Morgan: .431
DiMaggio: .420
Wagner: .417
Aaron: .383
Mays: .382

Average
Hornsby: 402
Cobb: .396
Ruth: .370
Williams: .362
Wagner: .359
Gehrig: .354
DiMaggio: .350
Bonds: .339
Mantle: .325
Aaron: .323
Mays: .394
Morgan: .303

Runs Batted In
Gehrig: 803
DiMaggio: 691
Ruth: 653
Aaron: 627
Williams: 621
Hornsby: 598
Mays: 560
Bonds: 544
Mantle: 522
Cobb: 475
Wagner: 463
Morgan: 427

Stolen Bases
Morgan: 310
Cobb: 295
Wagner: 259
Aaron: 91
Mays: 59
Ruth: 59
Mantle: 57
Gehrig: 47
Bonds: 46
Hornsby: 43
DiMaggio: 17
Williams: 9

Strikeouts
Mantle: 498
Ruth: 415
Mays: 392
Aaron: 348
Hornsby: 340
Bonds: 316
Morgan: 267
Williams: 210
Hornsby: 198
Cobb: 195
Wagner: 170
DiMaggio: 120

It’s worth noting:
Ty Cobb hit more triples in that five year span than Barry Bonds did in his entire career.
Bonds hit at least 16 more homers during each season of his five-year run than Cobb did during his total five-year run.
Despite having the lowest batting average of the group, Joe Morgan had a higher on-base percentage than four others: Wagner, DiMaggio, Aaron and Mays.
DiMaggio won the most rings (four) during his run. Williams, Bonds and Cobb never won a ring in their careers.
You can tell when a player played by their runs and runs batted in. The 1920s-1950s were such a big run-scoring era that those numbers dwarf the other times.
Mantle, Ruth and Mays struck out more times during their five-year run than Joe DiMaggio did in his entire career.

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The best of the best: Looking at the best 5-year runs of baseball’s greatest

One thought on “The best of the best: Looking at the best 5-year runs of baseball’s greatest

  1. Tom says:

    I just looked up Pujols and from 05-09, this is what he did:

    MVPs: 3 Top 5: 4

    WAR: 44.5

    Raw Numbers: 770 games, 930 hits, 206 home runs, 198 doubles, 5 triples, 608 runs batted in, 571 runs, 48 stolen bases, 507 walks, 291 strikeouts, .334/.439/.631/1.070, 176 OPS+

    Averages per 162 games: 120 runs, 128 RBI, 44 home runs, 11 stolen bases, 42 doubles, 2 triples, 196 hits

    Like

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