When looking at Don Mattingly’s Hall of Fame case many journalists mention how Mattingly was the best player in baseball during his peak and before his back was a problem. So that got me thinking- was Don Mattingly truly the best player in baseball during his peak?
Mattingly’s peak was four years- 1984 to 1987. He accumulated a 24.7 fWAR which was good for 6.2 WAR per season or 5.8 WAR/650 PA. So Mattingly was an MVP level player for four seasons- pretty dang good. Mattingly played another eight seasons after 1987 but only had a 3+ WAR season twice and only had 600+ PA a season four times in that span. His average wRC+ was 152 so the man could hit. This was achieved with a high .300′s OBP and mid .500′s SLG.
As the numbers show Mattingly does have a good case for the being the best player in baseball during his peak. But was he really “the best”?
Rickey Henderson- 2392 PA, .289/.397/.484/.391/145+; 274 SB, 26.7 fWAR, 7.3 WAR/650PA
Tim Raines- 2674 PA, .323/.409/.477/.388/146+; 265 SB, 26.6 fWAR, 6.5 WAR/650PA
Wade Boggs- 2844 PA, .353/.442/.489/.411/152+; 31.4 fWAR, 7.2 WAR/650PA
Cal Ripken- 2858 PA, .280/.352/.469/.362/124+; 25.6 fWAR, 5.8 WAR/650PA
Mike Schmidt- 2547 PA, .284/.384/.541/.395/148+; 24.3 fWAR, 6.2 WAR/650PA
Tony Gwynn- 2727 PA, .341/.400/.457/.376/139+; 24.2 fWAR, 5.8 WAR/650PA
After looking at it, I do not think Mattingly was the best player in baseball during his peak. Of the candidates, I would take Henderson, Raines, Boggs, Ripken, and Schmidt over him. Why? When it comes to Henderson and Raines I think both were simply better players. Mattingly certainly had more power, but Rickey and Raines were better OBP who could field, hit, and run. Mattingly was simply a hitter who played first base. That is partly why I would also take Mike Schmidt and Cal Ripken as well. Third and short are more valuable positions- and both Schmidt and Ripken were exceptional fielders who are also all-time hitters at their respective positions. As for Boggs, I think he may be the best player between 1984 and 1987, if not Rickey or Raines.
In the end though, it’s super close and still being a top five player at your peak is still impressive.