San Francisco Giants superstars Barry Bonds and Willie Mays had some of the longest peaks of all time.
We already knew that San Francisco Giants greats Barry Bonds and Willie Mays were among the best baseball players of all time.
(We even made an argument for Mays being the GOAT earlier today.)
FanGraphs author Craig Edwards took an interesting look recently at the best decades of all time, finding that when you shift from a traditional way of looking at a “decade” to a more fluid one you find that Bonds was the best player of the decade on 13 occasions and Mays nine.
Edwards found, “Since World War II, only Willie Mays and Barry Bonds have averaged nine wins per season for an entire decade.”
First, a bit of background information.
We traditionally think of a decade as a set of 10 years that all start with the same number. 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2010s, etc. But if you think about it, that’s pretty arbitrary. It might not seem so because all the years start with the same number, but some people out there would actually argue the decade as we think of it should run from 1 to 10 rather than 0 to 9.
In any case, it’s not a really great way of looking at things from a sports standpoint because most athletes are going to spend parts of their careers on both sides of the dividing line, Edwards noted. So he decided to look at every 10-year period. Say, 2006-2015, 2007-2016, etc.
Using WAR as his statistic, Edwards found that there were 13 “decades” during his career that Bonds had the highest WAR. Babe Ruth had the second-most seasons with 10, and Mays followed with nine.
Ruth had some of the best years overall — the top six, in fact — led by 109.6 WAR from 1919-28. Rogers Hornsby, who played for the New York Giants in 1927, finished seventh with 97, followed by a few more seasons of Ruth.
During his best 10-year period (1995-2004), Bonds accumulated 92.5 WAR. That was the 10th best decade. Mays (1957-66) earned 92.2 WAR during his peak.
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How great could Willie Mays have been?
It’s worth wondering if Mays would have been on the list a couple of more times if not for his service during the Korean War, so I took a closer look.
He was drafted in 1952, playing in just 34 games that year, then missed the entire 1953 season.
Mays was worth 1.0 WAR during those 34 games in ’52, so extrapolating across an entire 152-game season puts him at about 4.45 WAR. When Mays returned to the game in ’54, he racked up 10.3 WAR, one of the best seasons of his career.
So a good guess is he may have missed out on 8-15 or so WAR during that period, depending how fast he developed.
Before Mays took over as best in the decade ending in 1963, Mickey Mantle topped the ’52-’61 decade with 84 WAR and ’53-’62 with 83 WAR. Mays finished second in both periods, with 70 (14 behind) in the decade ending in ’61 and 79 (four behind) in the decade ending in ’62.
So it’s pretty clear Mays would have been tied with Ruth on the list for certain and possibly surpassed him.
In any case, this was another fun way to see just how great the two Giants really were.
If you’re wondering, the current leader today is, not surprisingly, Mike Trout. His best 10-year period right now is 73.4. But he hadn’t played a full season for all 10 years yet (and, thanks to COVID-19, won’t this year either.) He didn’t play in 2010 and played in just 40 games in 2011 — as a 19-year-old.
Trout has still earned the honor three times.
If you’re wondering, Buster Posey finished in the top three in two of them.