Baseball’s Greatest Hitters of the ‘90’s

Keith R. Thompson,

May 4, 1999

Few sports have experienced more pendulum-like swings than Baseball in the 1990’s. First there was the strike of 1994, that ate away the World Series for the first time ever (not even World Wars I & II could have done that). Then there was the resurrection, so artfully spearheaded by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, that once again transfixed the sport among the upper echelons of America’s favorite pastimes. The pendulum has swung yet again. As the decade and the millennium come to a close it is once again a poignant time to stop and reflect on the game’s greats. Just who were the great players of the past decade.

To start the analysis I consider the active career batting average leader Tony Gwynn. He batted an incredible .344 in the decade of the 90’s (thus far) and needs just 72 more hits to become only the 21st player in major league history with 3,000 base hits. Along-side him I include Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas who is the active leader in On Base and Slugging Percentage, and the only player in major league history to have amassed 100 RBIs, 100 Runs, 100 Walks, and a 300+ average for seven consecutive
seasons. Then there is the indomitable Barry Bonds, the three-time MVP of the National League who also has driven in more runs than any other player this decade. Following him I considered Ken Griffey Jr., the man most consider the best possible bet to eventually unseat Hank Aaron for the all-time home run crown. To complete the analysis I also included Albert Belle and Juan Gonzalez, two of the most feared hitters in baseball the past few years, and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who provided so much thrill for us last season, when baseball was experiencing it’s rejuvenation.

Below is a look at their decade-long statistical performances, and how they compare against each other:

Player               Ave.     OBP       SLG      G         AB       R       H       2B      3B     HR
T. Gwynn         0.344    0.388     0.476    1162   4570    685   1574    303     33       78
F. Thomas       0.321    0.443     0.584    1236   4406    894   1416    281     10      286
B. Bonds         0.305     0.438     0.600    1332   4539  1000   1385    279     40     327
K. Griffey Jr.    0.304     0.383     0.582    1248   4771    879   1449    271     27     334
A. Belle           0.300     0.373     0.586    1175   4466    773   1339    308     15     314
J. Gonzalez     0.292     0.340     0.572    1080   4209    671   1229    243     18     300
M. McGwire     0.266     0.408     0.602    1068   3481    673     926    150       0     340
S. Sosa           0.265     0.318     0.498    1189   4481    700   1186    174     33     269

Player          RBI        TB        BB        K        HBP     SH       SF       SB      CS      SB%
T. Gwynn       626      2177     360     174       10        11       56       90       38       70.3
F. Thomas     963       2575     989     675        32         0        74       25       15       62.5
B. Bonds        993      2725   1073     685        42         1        57     328       92       78.1
K. Griffey Jr.   957      2776     612     793        38         5        50     127       46       73.4
A. Belle          982      2619     518     756        42         4        65       69       31        69.0
J. Gonzalez    940      2408     287     825        44         0        46       18       12        60.0
M. McGwire    809      2097     818     899        50         2        42         9         5        64.3
S. Sosa          787      2233     339   1151        31       12        30     210       86       70.9

Gwynn lead the group in Hits and Batting Average, but his anemic .476 Slugging Percentage indicated that he was more of a singles hitter which certainly didn’t help his team’s cause, considering that they compiled only a 49% winning record over the decade. In fact, three of the players played on teams which had a sub-500, including McGwire and Griffey. McGwire himself lead the group in Home Runs and Slugging percentage, but considering that those leads came from only one season’s performance (1998) then McGwire’s performance must be put into its proper context, a fantastic season, but not much else. Sosa’s performance can also be placed into a similar light. His 1998 performance was a career year in almost every statistical category (except of course strike outs, he just missed that record by three). But that performance of his would have been a career year for almost any other player in history, so Sosa’s ’98 performance cannot therefore be considered when assessing the player of the decade. He also had a woeful 48.5% winning percentage with his Cubbies team over the decade. Gonzalez also had a very productive decade, driving in more runs per game than any other player during that stretch.  However his on base
percentage was not very encouraging, and proved that he was a very one dimensional player. That therefore leaves four players: Albert Belle, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Frank Thomas for serious player of the decade considerations.

Player        Team Win %
B. Bonds         54.59%
F. Thomas       53.31%
A. Belle           51.19%
J. Gonzalez     51.15%
S. Sosa           50.22%
M. McGwire     49.42%
K. Griffey Jr.    49.32%
T. Gwynn        49.03%

To better analyze which of these players deserves this very illustrious crown of player of the decade I utilized the Player Efficiency Rating Analysis (or PER for short) which I had created in 1996. This PER Baseball methodology attempts to measure a Baseball hitter's and pitcher's performance relative to plate appearances and innings pitched respectively. It is a very comprehensive analysis as it assesses a hitter's complete performance at the plate, on the bases, and in the field, and a pitcher's complete performance on the mound. To put the analysis in perspective, batting average does not currently measure the player with the most hits in the league, but rather the player with the most hits per at-bat. This because all players do not have equal plate appearances, nor equal opportunities to perform. Likewise, a pitcher’s ERA is not intended to measure the amount of earned runs he allows, but rather the number of earned runs per innings pitched, reflecting the fact that all pitchers do not have comparable innings pitched. However, when it comes to other aggregate statistics such as RBIs, Home Runs, Stolen Bases, etc. , we still measure player performances without regard to the number of plate appearances that those players have. The PER changes all that. Firstly, it considers all statistics relative to plate appearances or at-bats to determine the better performers, then it combines all of these statistics into one intuitive formula to determine who had a better overall performance. It does not isolate batting average from RBIs or Runs Scored, or any other relevant statistical category. Instead it combines them all to arrive at a figure that most truly reflects that player’s performance over the course of the season.

The concept of a
Batting Player Efficiency Rating (or Batting PER) is developed which comprises a player's Batting Average, Run Contribution Average, and Earned Bases Average.

Run Contribution Average (RCA ) comprises Total Runs Scored plus Runs Batted In, less total Home Runs, divided by Total Plate Appearances. This is an important statistic since the object of any game is to score runs and win. As such RBIs is not considered any more important than runs scored, neither is it considered any less. Any runner who is on base needs someone to drive him home (or in very rare instances he can steal home), and barring a home Run a hitter at the plate needs someone on base in order to register an RBI. So Runs scored and Runs Batted In are considered equal for purposes of the PER Analysis. An RCA of .250 or higher indicates a good run producer, while an average of at least .300 indicates a hitter is an efficient run producer.

Earned Bases Average (EBA) comprises Total Earned Bases (which is nothing more than Total Bases produced by the Hitter, plus total Bases on Balls, and total Stolen Bases) divided by total plate appearances plus total steal attempts. This is the single most important statistic of a hitter since it measures all facets of his performance: hits (measured by total bases), walks drawn, and stolen bases, and compares it against every time he is at the plate or attempts a steal. His overall baseball skills is therefore fully assessed, and a true measure of his greatness is established. An EBA of greater than .600 indicates a great batsman and base runner, while a .700 or higher EBA indicates a premier batsman and all-time great Hitter.

Batting Average is the standard construct analyzing Hits per At-bats. A higher average (generally over .300) indicates a very efficient hitter.

The three concepts of Batting Average, Run Contribution Average, and Earned Bases Average are then combined in a very intuitive formula (and adjusted for a hitter's total plate appearances) to determine his Batting PER. As such, this is the single best measure of a baseball hitter's overall performance since it measures his average, power, speed and run production, all combined in one statistic.

The following analysis provides an excellent vantage point to determine the best player of the ‘90’s.

PER Analysis
                                      Run          Earned    Total                 On           
      Batting Batting  Contribution  Bases    Earned  Total    Base     Slugging
Player          PER   Average   Average   Average   Bases   Bases    Ave.   Percentage
B. Bonds       92.89     0.305       0.295        0.679     4126    2725    0.438     0.600
F. Thomas     92.04     0.321       0.289        0.656     3589    2575    0.443     0.584
K. Griffey Jr.  87.54     0.304       0.277        0.628      3515    2776    0.383    0.582
A. Belle         86.01     0.300       0.286        0.625      3206    2619    0.373    0.586
J. Gonzalez   81.21     0.292       0.289        0.594      2713    2408    0.340    0.572
T. Gwynn      80.84     0.344       0.249        0.517      2627    2177    0.388    0.476
M. McGwire   79.17     0.266       0.262        0.670      2924    2096    0.408    0.602
S. Sosa         74.06     0.265       0.250        0.539      2782    2233    0.318    0.498

Despite Frank Thomas' unprecedented start to his baseball career and Tony Gwynn's voluminous batting titles, it is Barry Bonds, as determined by the PER who is the most dominant player in the decade of the ‘90’s. He leads all players in most RBIs, most Runs Scored, most Extra Base Hits, most walks and his teams in Pittsburg and San Francisco posted the highest winning percentage of any player in this select group. Barry Bonds, the player of the Decade of the 90s.


1999 PER Sports, Inc.

Have a comment on this article. Send an email to us via
Articles by Keith Thompson

Does the NFL's first-round playoff bye benefit the top teams?

The Limitations of the current  Quarterback rating System

What’s wrong with the OPS analysis in baseball

A Critique of the Amateur Player Draft in Professional Sports

Critiquing the Playoff Selection and seeding process in pro sports

Time for a new ‘Super’ League in European Soccer

Europe's best football teams

Which Soccer League is tops in the World

A Big East - Big Ten College Football Realignment Proposal

Time to Fix College Football's Flawed Championship Structure (Again)

The 2004 Baseball MVP Race

Baseball's Greatest Hitters of the 1990s

The 1998 Baseball MVP Race

Democracy for the Famous: Critiquing Baseball's '98 All-Star selection process

Will Wilt Chamberlain Be Denied Number 3, Again?