Pitchers are obviously a huge part of baseball and its lore — but it’s the hitters that most often capture our attention and put butts in the seats. Professional baseball has been a part of American culture for 150 years and Major League Baseball has been around since 1903, with thousands of talented sluggers putting on a uniform over the years.
But out of those thousands of players, only a handful can be counted among the greatest to ever swing a bat. There are many ways to measure a hitter’s greatness, with the most accepted metrics changing vastly in recent decades. Whether you prefer traditional stats like career batting average and slugging percentage, you prefer advanced stats like wins above replacement and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), or you like to measure someone’s greatness in more intangible metrics like clutch performances in the playoffs, we’ve got you covered here.
Take a look back at our picks for the greatest hitters in MLB history and see if your favorite slugger made the cut.
25. Derek Jeter (1995-2014)
While his career totals aren’t as flashy as other historic hitters, New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter deserves a place on the list for his consistency, especially in the playoffs. He’s the all-time king of playoff hitting, holding the career records for not only total hits in the playoffs, but also for singles, doubles and triples — while also ranking third in postseason home runs.
The Yankees teams he led in the late ’90s were some of the best in MLB history, adding to his five career World Series titles. In addition to his playoff greatness, Jeter ranks sixth all-time in total hits and was the fastest player to ever reach 3,400 hits, a total that puts him in extremely rarified air. His high number of strikeouts (15th all-time) and career on-base percentage of .377 hurt his standing a bit.
24. Joe DiMaggio (1936-1951)
Among baseball’s most legendary records, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is one of the most elusive. “The Yankee Clipper” was locked into a zone during the summer of 1941 that no other player has found since then and nobody likely ever will.
Outside of that streak, DiMaggio was an outstanding career hitter, holding down the ninth-best career slugging percentage and the 12th-best mark for OPS at .9771. DiMaggio’s career was short but extremely productive, with him winning nine World Series titles in 13 total seasons, only losing once in the Fall Classic.
23. Honus Wagner (1897-1917)
One of baseball’s original star sluggers, Honus Wagner dominated the league so much in his era that he won eight batting titles, which ties him for the second most in history. He also held down a career average of .328, which is the 35th-best mark ever. Wagner was about as valuable to his teams as any player ever, as he has the seventh-best mark in wins above replacement (WAR) among all position players in MLB history. Other impressive stats include that he ranks 25th all-time in total bases and eighth in total hits.
Of course, the pitching he faced back then is nothing compared to the type today’s hitters are seeing.
22. Tony Gwynn (1982-2001)
In the history of baseball since the MLB Expansion Era (post-1961), nobody has a better career batting average than “Mr. Padre” Tony Gwynn. His career average of .3382 is the 19th-best in MLB history and it’s even more impressive when you realize he sustained it for 20 seasons and in an era when pitching was reaching new heights of difficulty. Gwynn’s consistency led him to win eight batting titles, which is second most of any player ever. With an average that high comes a lot of hits and Gwynn ranks 20th all-time in that stat category.
21. Mel Ott (1926-1947)
Despite only standing at 5 feet 9 inches tall, New York Giants legend Mel Ott swung the bat with a ton of power, becoming the first National League player to ever hit 500 career home runs. He currently stands at 25th all-time in that stat category, finishing his career with 511 homers. His career batting average of .304 isn’t going to blow anyone away but his career on-base percentage of .414 is sure to thrill analytics geeks. Ott ranks 21st all-time in total bases and career OPS.
20. Pete Rose (1963-1986)
When it comes to advanced metrics, “Charlie Hustle” isn’t going to impress you much, but when it comes to pure numbers at the plate, it’s hard to argue with him. Pete Rose holds the MLB’s all-time mark for hits and is still the only player since the Expansion Era to collect more than 4,000 knocks. Analytics watchers will be quick to remind you that Rose’s career OPS isn’t even in the top 500 and his career .375 on-base percentage would be at the bottom of this list, but it takes some serious skill in the batter’s box to rack up 4,256 hits in any era.
19. Miguel Cabrera (2003-2018)
In 2012, Miguel Cabrera did something many baseball fans thought was impossible by becoming the first player since 1967 to win the Triple Crown, which is to lead the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs for a single season.
But Cabrera was no one-season wonder, he’s sustained greatness at the plate over his entire career, netting four batting titles and a career on-base percentage of .395. Cabrera also ranks among the all-time greats in terms of OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and slugging percentage, ranking in the top 25 for both of those stats. His career .3165 batting average is also the best mark among all active players.
18. Eddie Collins (1906-1930)
Over the course of 24 seasons, Eddie Collins maintained an on-base percentage of .424, which ranks him at 13th-best in MLB history. Collins’ career .333 batting average also puts him in the top 30 all-time. He also ranks 11th in career hits, collecting 3,315 in his Hall-of-Fame tenure at the plate.
One final stat that will impress analytics fans is the fact that Collins ranks 10th all-time in wins above replacement, showing how truly irreplaceable he was to the Philadelphia Athletics and Chicago White Sox teams for which he starred.
17. Joey Votto (2007-2018)
As quiet a superstar as baseball has ever had, Joey Votto has been called “the most underappreciated great hitter of his era” by experts. Votto won the National League MVP award in 2010 but has remained mostly out of the national conversation of all-time legends because he’s spent his career playing for the small-market Cincinnati Reds.
Since debuting in 2007, the Canadian slugger has maintained a .427 on-base percentage, which is the 12th-best mark in MLB history. He’s also among the legends of the game in terms of OPS, where he has the 17th-best line ever. Undoubtedly one of the best hitters in the game today, his .311 career batting average is fourth-best among all active players.
16. Frank Thomas (1990-2008)
They didn’t call him “The Big Hurt” for nothing. Chicago White Sox icon Frank Thomas was one of baseball’s most feared hitters ever, crushing 521 home runs en route to becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer. That high total ranks him 20th all-time and ties him with Ted Williams.
But Thomas was also a gifted hitter for average, winning a batting title and managing to rack up a career .419 on-base percentage, which is 20th all time and ranks him ahead of every modern power hitter not named Barry Bonds. And if you ever needed a sacrifice fly, Thomas would be among the first people to call, as he ranks fourth all-time in that stat category, tied with another legend named Hank Aaron.
15. Tris Speaker (1907-1928)
One of the greatest hitters of MLB’s early years, Tris Speaker hasn’t stepped to the plate in more than 90 years, but he still ranks among the game’s all-time leaders in several major hitting stats. For example, Speaker collected enough hits to rank fifth all-time and his 792 career doubles is still the most ever, nearly 50 ahead of second place. He was an incredibly reliable hitter, racking up a career .345 batting average, which is sixth all-time, and a .428 on-base percentage, which is 11th all-time. When your career numbers hold up for a century, you know you were a giant in the batter’s box.
14. Hank Greenberg (1930-1947)
The “Hebrew Hammer” earned his nickname by being one of the most feared sluggers of his — or any — era. Greenberg still has the sixth-best slugging percentage and OPS in MLB history, showing he was as consistent at the plate as he was powerful. Greenberg was basically a run-scoring machine, driving in a ridiculous 183 RBIs in a single 154-game season once. For as gifted as he was, Greenberg’s career totals take a significant hit because he served in the U.S. military for nearly four years in the middle of his playing career. If not for that service during World War II, his stats would likely be even more incredible.
13. Rogers Hornsby (1915-1937)
Baseball fans love to talk about Ted Williams’ .406 average in 1941, but Rogers Hornsby batted a mind-boggling .424 in 1924, a single-season average that will likely never be touched. Hornsby was a legend in the batter’s box, racking up the second-best career batting average in MLB history, with a .3585 mark over the span of 23 seasons. He played for several teams during his career but was his best with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he became the first player — and one of only two in history — to earn the Triple Crown twice. If you want more crazy numbers, Hornsby also holds the seventh-best OPS and 10th-best slugging percentage in history.
12. Jimmie Foxx (1925-1945)
In his era of the game, “Double X” was arguably the most feared power hitter behind a guy named Babe Ruth. Foxx became the second player ever, behind Ruth, to hit 500 career home runs, and he reached that milestone at the age of 32. His career total of 534 home runs is still good enough for 19th all-time and his 1,922 RBIs are good enough for 10th-best. Foxx also maintained a career .325 batting average and earned a Triple Crown, which is something Ruth never accomplished. Among all MLB players in history, Foxx has the fifth-best OPS and fourth-best slugging percentage.
11. Mike Trout (2011-2018)
It might sound like hyperbole to put a current player who hasn’t yet turned 28 years old among the best hitters in baseball history, but Mike Trout has earned his place there. The Angels’ slugger is already ranked among the league’s all-time legends in several stat categories, including OPS and OPS+, both of which see him in the top nine in history. Trout also has the 11th-best slugging percentage in MLB history and just continues to add to his already ridiculous numbers.
Another stat that makes baseball experts consider him among the best players of all time is the fact that he’s led the American League in wins above replacement every season he’s been in the league so far. If he’s able to have more success in the playoffs, you can expect Trout’s legend to grow even more in the years to come.
10. Mickey Mantle (1951-1968)
As big a New York baseball legend as there’s ever been, “The Mick” is the kind of player any fan of the game would love to have on their team in any era. Arguably the best switch hitter in history, Mantle has the 11th-best OPS in history and the seventh-best OPS+ in history, which is the stat when adjusted to account for various playing conditions.
Mantle’s 536 home runs are still 18th-best and he’s tied atop the list of most walk-off home runs. But it’s in October that Mantle truly separates himself from the pack, as this Yankee icon holds the all-time records for home runs, RBIs, total bases and walks in World Series history.
9. Manny Ramirez (1993-2011)
There have been few right-handed batters that were ever as good as Manny Ramirez. Since the MLB Expansion Era, Ramirez is second only to Barry Bonds in terms of career OPS and his career slugging percentage is eighth-best all-time. He’s also in the top 20 in terms of home runs and RBIs. Fans could pretty much always count on him for a home run, as his rate of at-bats per home run is the 11th-best ever and even ranks ahead of Mickey Mantle’s.
In the playoffs, Ramirez’s production was nearly unmatched, as he has the most career playoff home runs and the third most career hits in the playoffs. Ramirez’s accomplishments are overshadowed a bit by his various violations of baseball’s performance-enhancing drug policies, but his versatility as a hitter can’t be argued with.
8. Stan Musial (1941-1963)
In his legendary career with the St. Louis Cardinals, Stan “The Man” Musial racked up incredible numbers and was as consistent a hitter as there’s ever been. Musial’s career mark for wins above replacement is eighth-best in history and his career OPS is 13th-best.
Musial also ranks in the top four all-time for hits and total bases and is eighth-best in terms of career RBIs. He held virtually every hitting record in National League history at the time of his retirement and he won seven batting titles.
7. Willie Mays (1951-1973)
Giants icon Willie Mays is one of the great legends of baseball’s modern era. Everyone knows he was extremely gifted in the field but that talent was matched by what he could do in the batter’s box. Mays is one of the most irreplaceable players in baseball history, holding the third-best mark in wins above replacement among all position players.
He was extremely prolific during his career, racking up 660 home runs, which is fifth-best in history, and he’s one of only three players to ever collect at least 6,000 total bases. Mays’ career batting average and OPS look a little pedestrian compared with others on this list but his other career statistics — and legendary legacy — speak for themselves.
6. Barry Bonds (1986-2007)
If the shadow of performance-enhancing drugs didn’t hang so heavily over Barry Bonds’ MLB career, he’d likely be considered the only hitter who could be compared to Babe Ruth. Instead, he’s still waiting to be granted entry in the Hall of Fame despite a mind-blowing career resume.
Bonds has, by far, the best OPS of any player since the Expansion Era, and the fourth-best overall. He’s also got the best mark in wins above replacement among all pure position players. Bonds also has the all-time mark for career home runs, with a ridiculous 762, and he also ranks in the top five for slugging percentage, total bases and RBIs.
5. Hank Aaron (1954-1976)
Perhaps the best power hitter in baseball history, “Hammerin’ Hank” was the guy who finally broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record, and held it himself for more than 30 years. Every season from 1955 to 1973, Aaron hit at least 24 homers, which is an amazing achievement on its own.
In addition to crushing baseballs, he still holds the mark for the most RBIs and collected the third-most total hits ever. The total number of bases Aaron collected in his career is 722 more than Stan Musial, who is in second place. Aaron was also clutch in the playoffs, earning a .710 career slugging percentage in the postseason, which is ninth-best ever.
4. Ty Cobb (1905-1928)
The legendary Ty Cobb was about as dominant in his own era as any player has ever been. He set a ton of offensive records during his career, mostly spent with the Detroit Tigers, and will likely forever hold the mark for career batting average, at .3662 over a span of 24 seasons.
In addition to that ridiculous stat, Cobb also has the second most total hits, fifth most total bases, ninth most RBIs and most career batting titles, with a mind-boggling 12. His career OPS of .9446 is good enough for 25th-best but the sheer power of his career hitting numbers will always keep Cobb in the conversation of the game’s best sluggers.
3. Ted Williams (1939-1960)
“The Splendid Splinter” put together a long list of amazing stats but the one that’s perhaps most legendary was his .406 batting average in 1941, which still marks the last time a player has topped a .400 batting average in a single season. Unquestionably the best hitter to never win a World Series, Williams has the best career on-base percentage in MLB history at .4817. Williams also has the second-best career OPS and slugging percentage in history and his career batting average of .3444 is good enough for seventh all-time. He’s also one of only two men to ever achieve the Triple Crown twice. When you consider that he took three prime years out of his career to serve in the military during World War II, it puts his insane totals in an even more amazing light.
2. Lou Gehrig (1923-1939)
Perhaps the all-time icon of Yankees baseball, “The Iron Horse” had his career cut short because of the terrible disease that would be named for him, but he cemented one hell of a legacy before that. Gehrig ranks in the top three all-time in OPS and slugging percentage and his career RBI total is still the sixth-best. What makes that last stat even more notable is that he collected his 1,995 RBIs in just 17 seasons, which is the shortest tenure of any player in the top 30 of that category.
But Gehrig was at his best when it counted most and was arguably the best postseason hitter in baseball history. He proved that when he posted an unimaginable .706 on-base percentage in the 1928 playoffs and a 1.727 slugging percentage in that same postseason, the latter of which is the best mark ever for a single playoff run and it’s not even close.
1. Babe Ruth (1914-1935)
In other sports, there will always be arguments over who was the G.O.A.T. — but in baseball, that will never be up for debate. In addition to being a lights-out pitcher, Babe Ruth was the best hitter to ever step into a batter’s box. It’s easy to get swallowed up by his godlike legend but when you look at the numbers, you realize how truly talented he was. Among the stat categories that he still tops are wins above replacement, OPS and slugging percentage. He also posted a career batting average of .3421, which is 10th-best, and currently sits at second in RBIs and third in home runs.
Of course, Ruth was no slouch in the playoffs, putting together a career on-base percentage of .470 in the postseason and batting a ridiculous .625 in the 1928 playoffs, which led to one of his seven World Series titles.