Baseball’s 4-Dimensional Players

This article was written by George W. Towers

This article was published in Fall 2023 Baseball Research Journal

Defining baseball’s best all-around players begins with Branch Rickey. The maverick executive instrumental in integrating baseball, Rickey was also a pioneering sabermetrician. He invented the category “five-tool players” for the rare talents who excelled at hitting for average, hitting for power, running, fielding, and throwing.1 Since Rickey tagged Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle as the archetypal all-around players, many others have compiled their own lists. Sportswriters mix their informed perceptions of players’ ability with accomplishment of career milestones.2 Scouts and Statcasters narrow the focus to ability alone. Scouting grades lend themselves to rankings and Statcast supplements the sifting of athletic gifting with high-tech precision.3 And armchair sabermetricians like me can rely upon data from FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.4

Instead of Rickey’s five tools, I analyze four dimensions of performance. With historical quantification of the separate tools of catching and throwing unavailable, I condense fielding, catching, and throwing into player defense.5 Following the foundational sabermetric insight that getting on base matters more than hitting for average, I rate players by their on-base percentages (OBP) rather than their batting averages. Therefore, my final four are getting on base, hitting for power, speed, and defense. Finally, I identify 4-Dimensional (4D) Seasons, which reflect above average performance in each area. This approach rewards longevity and durability by recognizing the players who posted the most 4D Seasons while celebrating their best seasons. With respect to Rickey and Jackie Robinson for redressing the wrong of segregated baseball, my study covers only the post-integration era.


The following four criteria are the 4 Dimensions:

1. Getting on Base. I use On-Base Plus (OBP+) to gauge getting on base. “Plus” statistics like OBP+ standardize rates for comparison between and within seasons by expressing them as the percentage of the league average score adjusted for park and league effects. Therefore, my criterion for an above average season of getting on base is an OBP+ score over 100.

2. Hitting for Power. I use Isolated Power Plus (ISO+), which, by calculating slugging without singles, separates the power hitters from the singles hitters. Above average power displays are distinguished by ISO+ scores over 100.

3. Speed.Meeting either of two criteria qualifies as above average speed. Seasons that meet the first criterion score above average on both FanGraphs’ Base Running (BsR) and the FanGraphs version of Bill James’ Speed Score (Spd). BsR converts base-running events into runs above or below average.6 Like the Plus statistics, BsR is calibrated to annual league averages, with league average BsR set to zero. Spd is based on stolen base percentage, frequency of stolen base attempts, triples, and runs. This metric is scored on a 0 to 10 scale with an average of 4.5. The second criterion supplements these equations with their fundamental variable, stolen bases. I consider ten or more stolen bases to be indicative of above average speed regardless of the metrics.7

4. Defense.I use FanGraphs’ Fielding Runs Above Average (Fielding) and Defensive Runs Above Average (Def) to measure defense. Def adjusts Fielding to account for the relative importance of each position.8 By using both, players at all positions receive consideration. Fielding gives good defenders at the hitters’ positions a chance; Def gives credit for capable play at the key defensive positions. I consider positive scores on either measure to be indicative of above average defense.

Additionally, while I am unwilling to abandon defensive metrics and agree with Rickey that “There is nothing on earth anybody can do with fielding,” I have added Gold Glove awards as a qualitative qualification.9 This is a significant concession, as 145 (14%) of the 1,037 Gold Glove winners who met my plate appearance threshold had negative Fielding and Def scores. While voters might occasionally extrapolate a great bat or a great reputation into an undeserved “Fool’s-Gold Glove,” I won’t assume that one out of every seven Gold Gloves went to below-average fielders.10 Therefore, these 145 statistically challenged Gold Glove seasons count as above average.

My method defines a 4D Season as one that meets each of these four criteria while making at least 400 plate appearances.11 Even though a 4D Season only requires a player to be above average in each dimension, merely above-average seasons are not likely to be 4D Seasons. FanGraphs lists 12,306 seasons with at least 154 games played. In these full seasons, players averaged 2.5 fWAR. There were 5,637 (46%) seasons with above-average fWAR, but only 1,037 (8%) 4D Seasons.12


Table 1: Most 4D Seasons, 1947-2022



Qualifying stats and statements dispensed with, the results are ready to be revealed. The record holder with 14 4D Seasons is, fittingly, an original five-tool icon, Willie Mays. Table 1 shows that Mays’ protégé, Barry Bonds, comes in second with 12, and Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Jeff Bagwell, Ken Griffey Jr., Joe Morgan, and Larry Walker are tied for third with 10 4D Seasons.13 Frank Robinson is next with nine, followed by seven players who have achieved eight elite seasons: Carlos Beltran, Mookie Betts, Bobby Bonds, George Brett, Rickey Henderson, Mike Schmidt, and Chase Utley. While 491 other players have had at least one shining season, these top 15 soak up the spotlight by combining for 13% of all 4D Seasons.

Seven players have recorded seven 4D Seasons: Mike Cameron, Roberto Clemente, Bryce Harper, Al Kaline, Minnie Miñoso, Alex Rodriguez, and Andy Van Slyke. Eight players have six: Bobby Abreu, Cesar Cedeno, Barry Larkin, Tony Oliva, Jackie Robinson, Scott Rolen, Ryne Sandberg, and Alan Trammell. Together, the 30 players named in these two paragraphs posted 22% of all 4D Seasons. Their dominance reinforces a truism of baseball’s talent distribution: the outliers are more valuable by orders of magnitude.

Since 19 of the top 30 players are outfielders, constructing teams of the players with the most 4D Seasons at each position highlights a few more complete ballplayers.14 For example, this data expedition captures the leading specimens of a rare breed, the 4D catchers Ivan Rodriguez and Carlton Fisk. First basemen, who earn their keep for what they do at bat, are also underrepresented. Paul Goldschmidt, the 2022 NL MVP, backs up Bagwell at first. Shortstop is a likely spot to find 4D players. Only one 4D Season short of A-Rod’s seven, Alan Trammell noses out Barry Larkin for the second team based on a higher average fWAR. Active players Francisco Lindor and Trevor Story are on their heels with five 4D Seasons at shortstop.


  • CF – Willie Mays (14 4D Seasons, average fWAR of 4D Seasons = 8.3)
  • LF – Barry Bonds (12, 8.2)
  • RF – Hank Aaron (10, 7.4)
  • 2B – Joe Morgan (10, 7.1)
  • 1B – Jeff Bagwell (10, 6.1)
  • 3B – Mike Schmidt (8, 8.0)
  • SS – Alex Rodriguez (7, 7.3)
  • C – Ivan Rodriguez (5, 5.8)


  • CF – Ken Griffey, Jr. (10, 6.5)
  • RF – Larry Walker (10, 5.2)
  • LF – Frank Robinson (9, 6.3)
  • 3B – George Brett (8, 7.0)
  • 2B – Chase Utley (8, 6.4)
  • SS – Alan Trammell (6, 6.0)
  • 1B – Paul Goldschmidt (5, 5.7)
  • C – Carlton Fisk (4, 5.1)


Table 2: 4D and 5-Tool Lists



Table 2 compares my leaderboard with four lists of the greatest five-tool players in baseball history, supporting their consensus that Willie Mays is the greatest all-around player of all time. The unanimity of appreciation in these lists extends to Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, and Ken Griffey Jr. Beyond that, comparison invites us to reconsider some under the radar all-around players and others whose toolsy reputations may have stretched a little too far.

First, only two players made a five-tool list without posting a 4D Season: Ichiro Suzuki and Bo Jackson. A perennial Gold Glover who excelled at getting on first and stealing second, Ichiro did not hit for power.15 In 2005, when he hit a career-high 15 homers, his ISO+ was 84. In the three seasons preceding his catastrophic 1991 football injury, Bo Jackson’s superhuman plays made him a baseball legend.16 His defensive finesse and on-base percentage would have surely improved had his career continued.

Second, I’ve assembled an All Under the Radar Team of the players with the most 4D Seasons at each position who were left off all four five-tool lists. The most notable name missing is Joe Morgan. Evidently, as Mike Petriello titled his excellent eulogy, “Morgan was better than you remember.”17 It’s not a coincidence that first baseman Jeff Bagwell is the only other member of the All Under the Radar Team with double-digit 4D Seasons. The logic for leaving first and second basemen out of the five-tool player conversation is compelling: if a player had a strong arm, he would be positioned where it would make a bigger difference. In the case of first basemen, this argument extends to speed as well. Indeed, not a single first baseman makes any of the four historical lists.18 With reference to Bagwell, Jeff Peterson considers him the first baseman closest to being a five-tool player but disqualified by his lack of arm strength.19 Since I subsume throwing within my defense criteria, we can accept the apparently incompatible positions that Bagwell is tied for third in 4D Seasons and not a five-tool player.


  • 2B – Joe Morgan (10 4D Seasons, average fWAR of 4D Seasons = 7.1)
  • 1B – Jeff Bagwell (10, 6.1)
  • CF – Carlos Beltran (8, 6.0)
  • RF – Bobby Bonds (8, 4.9)
  • LF – Minnie Miñoso (7, 5.1)
  • SS – Alan Trammell (6, 6.0)
  • 3B – Eddie Mathews (4, 7.0)
  • C – Ivan Rodriguez (5, 5.8)


Table 3 Super Seasons



In keeping with my seasonal emphasis, I searched for Super Seasons amongst the 4D Seasons. In a Super Season, the given player is above-average in each statistic compared to all 4D Seasons. Therefore, the Super Season on-base criterion is an OBP+ of 112; the power threshold is an ISO+ of 136; the baseline for speed is a BsR score of 1.4, a Spd score of 5.7, and 17 stolen bases.20 The cutoff for defense is a Fielding score above 5 and a Def score over 3 or a Gold Glove.

Of the 1,104 4D Seasons, only 43 (4%) are Super Seasons. Table 3 lists them chronologically. The list reinforces the greatness of Mays and Barry Bonds. With six Super Seasons each, together they own 28% of the total. Indeed, Mays was the only player to post a Super Season from the start of the post-integration era until 1973.

Six others appear twice on the Super Season list: Mookie Betts, Eric Davis, Carlos Gonzalez, Rickey Henderson, Dave Parker, and Larry Walker. Betts, Henderson, and Walker are among the leaders in 4D Seasons. Henderson and Walker are Hall of Famers, and Betts is well on his way to joining them. Both Parker and Davis dominated the National League with back-to-back Super Seasons. Parker was a tall, graceful outfielder who fit “The Natural” mold. Tragically, cocaine truncated his career trajectory.21 He went from averaging almost seven fWAR from 1977 to 1979 to less than one fWAR over the next four years. Much like Jackson, Davis’s exceptional athleticism inspired hyperbole: he was the “perfect baseball player.”22 But also like Bo, Davis came to know injuries that prematurely ended his prime years. Gonzalez’s two Super Seasons are less dominant. To be sure, CarGo established himself as a power-speed star with four consecutive 20–20 seasons from 2010 to 2013. However, in the Super Seasons that bookended his peak, he barely reached the OBP+ threshold, and relied on Gold Gloves because his defensive metrics would not have qualified.

Another player whose superiority was brief but spectacular is Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is the only player whose sole 4D Season, 2011, was also a Super Season. He led MLB in fWAR, became the first Red Sox to join the 30–30 club, won a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger, and made the American League All-Star team. As Boston sportswriter John Tomase put it, “He was Mookie before Mookie.”23 But these were all one-time accomplishments for Ellsbury, whose career was plagued by injury before and after his Super Season.

The most decorated Super Season is Alex Rod-riguez’s 2003 campaign. Like Murphy in 1983, Barry Bonds in 1990 and 1992, Walker in 1997, and Betts in 2018, A-Rod won an MVP, a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger in 2003. His was, however, the only Super Season to receive the Hank Aaron Award, given to the best hitter in each league.24 The most fWAR among Super Seasons is 10.5, a level reached by Mays in 1962 and Betts in 2018.

The least respected Super Season is Bobby Abreu’s 2000 campaign. It is the only Super Season that wears a Golden Sombrero. That is, Abreu’s Super Season struck out four times: he didn’t make the All-Star game, get any MVP votes, win a Gold Glove Award, or win a Silver Slugger Award. The Rodney Dangerfield treatment isn’t limited to his Super Season, as his long career of excellent all-around play has also gone underappreciated by Hall of Fame voters.25


Table 4 4D Eras



Based on this inventory of the greatest 4D players since integration, I’ve divided the 1947–2022 period into 10 eras, each defined by the dominance of its namesake.


Fittingly, the first era is named for Jackie Robinson. During those seven seasons, he was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1947, the MVP in 1949, the league-leader in steals in both of those years, and the league-leader in OBP in 1952. His consistency was equally impressive. He earned MVP votes every year and met the 4D criteria in each of his era’s last six seasons. During his era, Robinson’s six 4D Seasons were nearly one-sixth of the 38 recorded. Given his dominance on the field and his prominence in not only baseball but American history, it is surprising that Robinson does not appear on any of the four historical lists of five-tool players. As discussed above, this is probably due in part to the lack of arm strength associated with second basemen. Specific to Robinson, power might also be an issue. While his ISO+ score was at least 113 during his era, he never hit more than 19 home runs. On the other hand, his 19 were good enough for 11th in the NL in 1952, and he placed in the top 10 in slugging in 1949, 1951, and 1952. In the Robinson Era, Enos Slaughter trailed him with four 4D Seasons followed by Duke Snider and Earl Torgeson with three. With 55 fWAR, Stan Musial was the only player to generate more fWAR than Robinson’s 48. Unlike Snider and Torgeson, Jackie’s fellow rookies in 1947, Cardinals Musial and Slaughter were established 4D stars whose careers were bifurcated by integration. Musial achieved three 4D Seasons in his four full pre-integration seasons, and Slaughter in achieved two in his six pre-integration seasons.

THE MAYS ERA, 1954–64

Rickey was right: Willie Mays set the standard for all-around excellence. During the Mays Era of 1954–64, he rated a 4D Season and an All-Star selection every year. Reviewing his performance dimension by dimension, his defense defined the Gold Glove Award. He won one in the award’s inaugural year, 1957, and annually thereafter for the next 12 seasons. He was a premier power hitter by any measure, leading the majors in slugging in 1954 and homers in 1963. His average ISO+ of 197 was nearly double the MLB mean. Same goes for speed: he led the majors in steals three times and triples twice during these 11 years. He got on base at a .392 clip during his era, broke .400 four times and placed in the NL’s top 10 every year. Even with elite metrics in all four dimensions, Mays’ six Super Seasons are a startling stat. To elaborate on a previous observation, his half-dozen were the only Super Seasons among the 3,164 individual full-time seasons between 1947 and 1972.

Respecting Rickey, discussion of Mays’ peer group begins with Mantle. To be sure, Mantle was a 4D contemporary, recording his five career 4D Seasons between 1956 and 1961. Mantle was not, however, Mays’ leading 4D rival. Instead, Frank Robinson split the difference between Mays and Mantle with eight 4D Seasons in the Mays Era. Beginning with his first full season in 1956, Frank went on a 4D tear over the rest of the Mays Era, only missing the 4D list in 1959 due to defensive metrics. Three other stars squeezed between Robinson and Mantle on the Mays Era 4D leaderboard. First, Minnie Miñoso matched Mays with a string of five 4D Seasons from 1954 to 1958. Miñoso bounced back for his final 4D Season in 1960. Like Robinson and Mantle, when Miñoso missed a 4D Season it was due to defense. Al Kaline and Hank Aaron tied Miñoso with six 4D Seasons between 1954 and 1964. Both became full-time players in 1954, and they mirrored each other’s strengths of hitting and defense. During the Mays Era, they stitched together four-season 4D stretches, Kaline from 1956 to 1959 and Aaron from 1959 to 1962.


Mays was too tough of an act to follow, and no one came close to dominating the late 1960s as he had the preceding 11 years. Instead, there were four comparably accomplished 4D stars between 1965 and 1970: Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Tony Oliva, and Carl Yastrzemski. Oliva led the way with five 4D Seasons, the others followed with four. However, Yaz emerges as the era’s emblematic 4D figure based on both peak and sustained performance. He began his run of four 4D Seasons with his historic triple crown in 1967. Not only did Yaz post the highest single season fWAR of his era (11.1 in 1967), he also had the most fWAR overall (45) and in sub-totaled 4D Seasons (35). Indeed, each of Yaz’s top three 4D Seasons, 1967 (11.1 fWAR), 1968 (9.3), and 1970 (8.9) were better than Aaron’s best season (7.6, 1965), Clemente’s (7.7, 1967), and Oliva’s (5.8, 1966). Yaz’s 4D Seasons were recognized with annual All-Star selections and MVP votes, an MVP Award, and three Gold Gloves. In his historic season of 1967, he was the best hitter in baseball by far, leading MLB in home runs, slugging, total bases, OBP, and times on base. He followed it up by leading the majors in OBP in 1968, hitting 40 homers in both 1969 and ’70, and leading the AL in OBP in 1970. Speed was his short suit, but he added base stealing to his repertoire in mid-career, cracking double digits in 1967 and increasing his annual total through his career high of 23 in 1970.

The Yastrzemski Era is also defined by the competition. Aaron and Clemente, of course, are remembered as superstars whose heroic legacies transcend sport. Oliva, on the other hand, played an underrated 4D game alongside the face of the Twins’ franchise, six-time AL home run champ and 1969 MVP Harmon Killebrew. A perennial All-Star and MVP candidate, Oliva has lived to see his overdue HOF induction.26


Naming the next era is a no-brainer. A review of Joe Morgan’s all-around game supports Petriello’s case that “[Morgan was] likely the single greatest position player of the 1970s, the best player on what might have been baseball’s best team.”27 Every season of the 1971–77 Morgan Era was a 4D Season for him, and 1973 and 1976 were Super Seasons. Along the way, he picked up back-to-back MVPs and World Series championships in 1975 and 1976. His outspoken criticism of statistical analysis cost him sabermetricians’ admiration as an announcer, but appreciation for Morgan as a player has been enhanced by sabermetricians’ success in demonstrating the value of OBP. From 1972 through 1977, he walked at least 111 times a year and never posted an OBP below .406. Consequently, he led the NL in OBP in four of those seasons and the majors in two. Morgan complemented getting on base with baserunning, and, in this same time frame, he set the live-ball era record with six consecutive seasons with 40 stolen bases and a .400 OBP.28 That he also dominated on defense was recognized with annual Gold Glove Awards from 1973 to 1977.

The careers of a dozen other Hall of Famers spanned the Morgan Era, but none were among Joe’s closest 4D competitors.29 Instead, my 4D database retrieves a trio of less famous, yet familiar names to Baby Boomer baseball fans: Bobby Bonds, Cesar Cedeño, and Bobby Grich. Bonds’s combination of power and speed was historic. His family has presided over the 30–30 Club since 1975, when Bobby became the first player to record three 30–30 seasons. He would finish with five, a record matched only by his son Barry. Less well-known but even more impressive is his dominance of Bill James’s “Power-Speed” index, which merges home runs with stolen bases. Bonds’s nine Power-Speed league titles, five of which came during the Morgan Era, are an MLB record. Bonds was also a top defender, earning Gold Gloves in 1971, 1973, and 1974.

Swift center fielder Cesar Cedeño and standout second baseman Bobby Grich were 4D contemporaries. They both debuted in 1970 and last played in 1986, posting the only 4D Seasons of their careers in concurrent streaks during the Morgan Era. Cedeño’s six 4D Seasons were from 1972 through 1977, Grich’s five from 1972 through 1976. In their shared prime, they were regular All-Stars, MVP candidates, and Gold Glovers. In each category, Cedeño stayed one step ahead, with five Gold Gloves to Grich’s four, four All-Star Games to Grich’s three, and four seasons with MVP votes to Grich’s three.


The next six seasons were cornered by two of history’s greatest third basemen, Mike Schmidt and George Brett. During this stretch, they each posted four 4D Seasons and earned MVP votes five times. Schmidt’s dominance in three dimensions, defense, power, and on base percentage, earns him top billing. In his 4D Seasons of 1978, 1980, 1981, and 1982, he won four Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, and two MVPs, and led the majors in homers twice and OBP twice. The fourth criterion, speed, held Schmidt back from tying Mays and Bonds with 11 straight 4D Seasons. Beginning with his breakout 1974 season, he missed a 4D 1979 by one stolen base. While he kept on winning Gold Gloves, leading the league in homers, and sustaining his elite OBP through 1984, he slowed down for good in 1983. Brett started his own run of 4D Seasons a year after Schmidt, with six in a row from 1975 through his historic flirtation with .400 in 1980. Brett won the AL MVP that year and led the majors not only in batting average, but also in OBP and slugging percentage.

Of the other two players with four 4D Seasons between 1978 and 1983, one fits James’s bill as a five-tool star, but the other may be a surprise. The 4D Andre Dawson was a young power-speed center fielder leading the great Expos teams of the Schmidt Era. In his run of 4D Seasons from 1980 to 1983, he earned MVP votes and a Gold Glove every year. He was also a three-time member of the 20–20 club. Less obvious is the 4D game of Keith Hernandez. Unlike the Hawk, however, Hernandez is not remembered for home runs or stolen bases. Indeed, he cleared the ISO+ bar by hitting doubles, most notably an MLB-best 48 in his co-MVP 1979 season, and never had a 4D Season of more than 14 stolen bases. Instead, he is “widely regarded as the best defensive first baseman in MLB history,” and was in the NL’s top three in OBP every year from 1979 through 1984, leading the league in 1980 at .408.30


In the mid-1980s calm before Barry Bonds stormed MLB’s 4D landscape in 1988, a one-of-a-kind superstar walked alone on his way to four consecutive 4D Seasons. Rickey Henderson was in his prime from 1984 to 1987, averaging 68 stolen bases, 21 home runs and a .397 OBP. In his 1985 Super Season, his SB/HR/OBP slash line was 80/24/.419, and he led the majors by amassing 9.7 fWAR.

During the Henderson Era, Dale Murphy, Alan Trammell, and Andy Van Slyke trailed Rickey with three 4D Seasons each. Murphy’s six-season peak from 1982 to 1987 included five 4D Seasons, one Super Season, and two MVPs, home run titles, and NL RBI crowns. Foreshowing the path of fellow Atlanta center fielder Andruw Jones (whose offensive career happens to be the most similar to Murphy’s in MLB history according to Baseball Reference), Murphy’s lofty performance plateau does not yet sufficiently overshadow its abrupt terminus to gain his election to the Hall of Fame. Conversely, Hall of Famer Alan Trammell never won an MVP or led the league in a triple crown stat, but did sustain a level of excellence that extended before and after his mid-1980s peak. He made the All-Star team and/or received MVP votes eight times from 1980 to 1990, and qualified for his sixth and final 4D Season in 1993 at age 35. Finally, Van Slyke offers a segue to the Bonds Era. Before joining Bonds in Pittsburgh in 1987, Van Slyke was an underutilized all-around talent in St. Louis, coming off back-to-back 4D Seasons while platooning in the outfield and at first base. As the Pirates’ full-time center fielder, Van Slyke’s slick play resulted in five 4D Seasons supporting Pittsburgh’s ascendance to divisional dominance from 1987 to 1992.

THE BONDS ERA, 1988–98

Bonds’s 4D greatness preceded his steroid use. The Steroid Era, however, began during this time and the intersection between steroids and my 4D criteria merits discussion.31 Steroids were and are widely seen to be responsible for the era’s inflated batting statistics, home runs in particular.32 The criteria I used to measure getting on base and hitting for power, OBP+ and ISO+ respectively, are relative measures that are normalized seasonally. I do not consider raw home run totals. Accordingly, the share of full-time seasons that were above average in these dimensions was consistent before, during, and after the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.33

Returning to Barry Bonds, my 4D analysis is a statement of the obvious: he and Mays are the greatest all-around players in baseball history. But with memories of Bonds’s 11 straight 4D Seasons from 1988 to 1998 clouded by his alleged subsequent PED use and colored by his off-the-field issues, his across-the-board highlights bear recounting. During the Bonds Era, Barry was a power-speed phenom, leading the league in Power/Speed six times and finishing in the top 10 the other five years. He averaged 34 homers and 34 steals, posting the second of only four 40–40 seasons in baseball history in 1996 and matching his dad’s record of five 30–30 seasons. On defense, his speed helped garner eight Gold Gloves in the 1990s. Years before opposing managers shamelessly escorted him to the three highest single season walk totals in history, he first set the NL single season record in 1996 with 151 bases on balls. Between 1988 and 1998, his OBP was .423 and he led the league four times. These years saw Bonds win his first three MVPs and rack up 91 fWAR, 27 more than anyone else.

The Bonds Era was a golden age of 4D stars, featuring four of the seven players who have totaled 10 or more 4D Seasons. Besides Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Larry Walker, and Jeff Bagwell played their best baseball between 1988 and 1998. If not for Bonds, the ’90s would be the Griffey Era. Second in fWAR with 64 in the Bonds Era, Griffey recorded a 4D Season as a 19-year-old rookie in 1989 and repeated the feat in every year of the 1990s except 1995. In that year, a broken left wrist suffered while making an iconic catch prevented him from reaching the plate appearance threshold. A dominant hitter and defender, Griffey was an annual Gold Glover, seven-time Silver Slugger, and four-time AL home run champ in the ’90s.

While 1990s fans debated whether Griffey or Bonds was the best player in baseball, Walker and Bagwell weren’t far behind.34 Walker’s 4D game was sustained—beginning in 1991 he went 4D in eight of the next nine years—and superlative—he posted Super Seasons in 1995 and 1997. As noted above, Walker’s MVP year of 1997 is among the greatest all-time all-around seasons. He fired on all four cylinders, leading the league in OBP, home runs, and slugging while stealing 33 bases and winning the third of his seven Gold Gloves. Bagwell, previously presented as the prime example of underappreciated all-around first basemen, started an eight-year streak of 4D Seasons in 1992. During that streak he won an MVP and led MLB position players in fWAR twice. In the 4D categories, his highlights include two 40-30 seasons, three NL times-on-base titles, and a Gold Glove.


Just as the Mays Era gave way to a six-year interregnum featuring competing cases for 4D dominance, so did the Bonds Era. Between 1999 and 2004, Mike Cameron led the way with a fistful of 4D Seasons. He was followed by a foursome with four: Bobby Abreu, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, and Scott Rolen. I’ve designated it the Rodriguez Era based on A-Rod’s peak performances in 2000 and 2003. These were the only two 4D Seasons above 9.0 fWAR between 1999 and 2004, giving A-Rod a substantial overall fWAR lead.35 2003 was A-Rod’s Super Season, an MVP year in which he led MLB with 47 homers, stole 17 bases, got on base nearly 40 percent of the time, and won a Gold Glove.

A-Rod’s 4D contemporaries are an intriguing group of relatively unsung stars. As Van Slyke is remembered as Bonds’s understudy, our memories of Mike Cameron are merged with Griffey. The central player in Cincinnati’s trade package for Griffey prior to the 2000 season, Cameron replaced The Kid as Seattle’s center fielder, flipping the script on the apparent “steal of the century.”36 He went four-for-four in 4D Seasons in his 2000–03 stint in Seattle, contributing mightily to the four winningest seasons in franchise history, including the 2001 team that tied the all-time record with 116 wins.

Abreu and Beltran achieved comparable Power/ Speed performances during the Rodriguez Era. Abreu averaged 24 home runs and 31 stolen bases, Beltran 24 and 32. Abreu was among the NL’s top 10 in Power/Speed in all six seasons, Beltran in five. Abreu joined the 30–30 club in 2001, Beltran in 2004. Their complementary strengths diverged, however. Abreu was an on-base machine, drawing over 100 walks and finishing in the NL’s top eight in times-on-base annually in the Rodriguez Era. Beltran built a reputation as one of the top defensive center fielders in baseball history, founded upon his three times leading the AL in assists and buttressed by his three Gold Gloves.37 Defense was newly-elected Hall of Famer Scott Rolen’s strongest suit. He was the NL’s Gold Glove third baseman in five of the six years of the Rodriguez Era, with the metrics to back it up. In these six seasons, he led NL third basemen in range factor three times, defensive runs above average twice, and assists twice. Rolen was also a great hitter, averaging 28 homers with a slash line of .287/.377/.533 in the Rodriguez Era.

THE UTLEY ERA, 2005–14

Chase Utley is the ultimate under-appreciated all-around player. Even though he achieved eight 4D Seasons, he isn’t on anyone’s list of five-tool players. Even though he led the majors in total fWAR between 2005 and 2014 and finished in the NL’s top three annually from 2005 to 2009, he never even received the most MVP votes on his own team. Even though he led NL second basemen in defensive runs saved in 2005, 2008, 2009, and 2010, he never won a Gold Glove. Utley was also among the best on the bases and at the plate: he was in the NL’s top 10 in stolen base percentage three times (going a perfect 23 for 23 in 2009 and 14 for 14 in 2011), OBP three times, slugging twice, and homers once.

In his era, no one came close to Utley’s eight 4D Seasons. Alex Rios trails him with five, followed by a pack of All-Stars with four, including Carlos Beltran, Carlos Gonzalez, Alex Gordon, Matt Holliday, Andrew McCutcheon, Grady Sizemore, and David Wright. Beltran and Rios stand out for their timing. Beltran’s run of eight 4D Seasons is bisected by the dividing line between the A-Rod and Utley Eras. Conversely, Rios’s lesser career happened to bookend the Utley Era by one year on either side. Rios’s speed made him a perennial threat on the bases and gave him elite range in right field. At the plate, however, his free-swinging approach resulted in a marginal OBP and a hit-and-miss 4D record.


Mookie Betts is the first player to achieve a 4D season in each of his first eight full seasons, surpassing Utley’s seven. A six-time Gold Glover and five-time Silver Slugger with five top-10 finishes in stolen bases, Betts’ all-around game is flawless. He has earned MVP votes in seven seasons and All-Star selections in six. His 2018 Super Season saw him join the 30-30 club, lead the majors in batting average and slugging percentage, and earn the AL MVP.

Four players follow Betts with five 4D Seasons in the last eight years: Bryce Harper, Francisco Lindor, José Ramírez, and Trevor Story. Harper is first among them, having begun his career with 4D Seasons in 2012 and 2013, and joining Betts as the only players to go 4D in each of the last four years. With a career slash line of .280/.390/.523, Harper has never had a subpar year at the plate. Instead, defense and/or speed have kept him off the 4D list in three of his 10 full seasons. Lindor is Harper’s reverse image: since he came up in 2015, speed and defense have been his strengths. His three 4D misses are due to his OBP dipping below average in 2021 and power outages in 2016 and 2020. Lindor’s 2017–19 run of 4D Seasons was matched by the emergence of his Cleveland teammate Ramírez. Since 2017, Ramírez has only once missed a top six finish in the AL MVP vote, and only once missed a 4D Season (in 2020, due to defense). Coming up in 2016, Trevor Story posted five 4D Seasons in his six-year Colorado career, peaking with a 2018–20 slash line of .292/.355/.554.

Three other active players have had four career 4D Seasons: Manny Machado, Starling Marte, and Mike Trout. That Trout only has four begs explanation. After all, his name is synonymous with all-around excellence and he held the unofficial title of best player in the game for a decade.38 The answer is singular: defense.39 Trout’s historic peak from 2012 to 2019 would have been a run of eight straight 4D Seasons if not for his defense metrics.40 Finally, while I’ve strictly adhered to my rules to this point, I must make an exception for the most exceptional player on the planet, Shohei Ohtani.41 While he has met all four dimensions for position players only in 2021, his other-dimensional pitching made him a 5D phenomenon that year and a 4D star ever since.

The 16 players who turned in 4D Seasons last year made my 2022 4D Team.42 Led by Aaron Judge, who won the AL MVP and broke the AL record with 62 home runs, the team features established 4D stars Betts, Harper, Lindor, and Ramirez. Among the other 4D veterans, J.T. Realmuto stands out for assembling three consecutive 4D Seasons as a catcher, a level of durable excellence demonstrated only by Ivan Rodriguez. In addition to Judge, breakout star Andrés Giménez and NL Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II were 4D first-timers.


  • C – J.T. Realmuto (3 4D Seasons, 6.5 fWAR in 2022)
  • 1B – Freddie Freeman (3, 7.1)
  • 2B – Jose Altuve (2, 6.6)
  • SS – Francisco Lindor (5, 6.8)
  • 3B – Jose Ramirez (5, 6.2)
  • OF – Aaron Judge (1, 11.4)
  • OF – Mookie Betts (8, 6.6)
  • OF – Michael Harris (1, 4.8)
  • DH/P – Shohei Ohtani (2, 9.4)


  • 2B – Andrés Giménez (1, 6.1)
  • SS – Dansby Swanson (2, 6.4)
  • OF – Kyle Tucker (2, 4.7)
  • OF – Randy Arozarena (2, 2.7)
  • OF – Bryce Harper (7, 2.4)
  • UT – Trea Turner (3, 6.3)
  • UT – Bo Bichette (2, 4.5)


By shifting the focus from five tools to four dimensions, and from entire careers to single seasons, my approach to identifying baseball’s all-around players is at once more restrictive and more inclusive than others. For example, the gifted Byron Buxton is on Jake Mintz’s short list of five-tool players, but with the realization of his immense potential postponed by injury, Buxton has never had a 4D Season.43 Conversely, my method brings to light the overlooked all-around games of greats like Jackie Robinson, Joe Morgan, and Jeff Bagwell.

The next steps in this research project are to mine the other 15 combinations of the four dimensions. That is, from the four types of 3D players who excel in three dimensions but fall short in one to the rare zero-D guys who managed to stay on the field without a redeeming performance in any area. In between are the four 1D profiles and the six types of 2D players. I look forward to tunneling into these data and unearthing nuggets along the way.

GEORGE W. TOWERS is a geography professor at a branch campus of Indiana University. Having spent his formative years in Providence, Rhode Island, he is a longtime Red Sox fan.



The author thanks two anonymous reviewers and the editors for their helpful comments. Thanks also to Arthur Towers and the members of the Richard Hayden Memorial RBI League for their love of the game.



1 Branch Rickey, The American Diamond (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965).

2 Bill James, “Five Tool Players,” Bill James Online, September 23, 2018, accessed February 26, 2023:

• Herm Krabbenhoft, “Honus Wagner: Baseball’s Prototypical Five-Tooler?,” in The National Pastime: Steel City Stories, ed. Cecilia M. Tan (Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research, 2018). Accessed February 26, 2023:

• Richard Langford, “Top 20 Best 5-Tool Players in Baseball History,” Bleacher Report, January 16, 2021:

• Randy Newsom, “How Many Five-Tool Players Are There in MLB?,” The Sporting News, December 31, 2014, accessed February 26, 2023:

• Chris Sbalcio, “Ranking the 5 Best 5-Tool Players in MLB History,” Bleacher Report, September 20, 2011, accessed February 26, 2023:

• Thomas Shefchik, “The Top Ten Five-Tool Players in MLB History,” Fueled by Sports, March 1, 2022, accessed February 26, 2023:

3 Jake Mintz, “Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Julio Rodriguez: Grading MLB’s Five-Tool Players,” FOX Sports, June 29, 2022, accessed February 26, 2023:

• David Adler, “Hot Stove Standouts: 5 Tools, 5 Free Agents,”, November 28, 2022.

• Anonymous, “5-tool Standout Statcast Players,”, 2022. Accessed February 26, 2023:


5 For a similar approach, see Newson, “How Many Five-Tool Players Are There in MLB?”

6 Neil Weinberg, “BsR,” FanGraphs, September 14, 2014, accessed February 26, 2023:

7 I prorated the stolen base threshold for seasons of less than 154 games as follows: 1995: 9 SB, 1981 and ’94: 7 SB, 2020: 5 SB.

8 Neil Weinberg, “Def,” FanGraphs, September 4, 2014, accessed February 26, 2023:

9 Branch Rickey, “Goodby to Some Old Baseball Ideas,” Life, August 2, 1954, accessed August 26, 2023:

10 Randy S. Robbins, “Thurman Munson’s 22 Errors Deserved a Fool’s-Gold Glove,” Bleacher Report, June 28, 2014, accessed February 26, 2023:

11 I defined seasons of at least 400 plate appearances as full-time. Rather than the 502 plate appearances required to qualify for league leadership in rate statistics, I chose 400 so that catchers would be better represented. I prorated the 400 PA threshold downward for the shortened seasons of 1981 (250 PA), 1994 (250 PA), 1995 (350 PA), and 2020 (150 PA).

12 The annual number of 4D Seasons ranged from 3 in 1947 to 24 in 1976, 1998, and 1999.

13 Listing Bonds as one of baseball’s best is sure to generate debate due to his alleged steroid use. But, Bonds’s all-time great 4D game wasn’t steroid-fueled. As documented by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports (New York: Avery, 2007), Bonds began using steroids in 1998. Before steroids, Bonds was a 4D player who posted 10 straight 4D Seasons from 1988 to 1997. Moreover, as described below in the “Super Seasons” section, all six of Bonds’s best 4D Seasons came prior to 1998. With steroids and age, Bonds’s speed and defense declined. He put up only two 4D years, 1998 and 2000, in his last 10 seasons.

14 To break ties between players with the same number of 4D Seasons, I referred to the average fWAR of their 4D Seasons.

15 Ichiro Suzuki led the AL in singles every year from 2001 to 2010.

16 Jeff Pearlman, The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson (Boston: Mariner Books, 2022).

17 Mike Petriello, “Morgan Was Even Better Than You Remember,”, October 12, 2020, accessed February 26, 2023:

18 Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, and Larry Doby are on James’s list, the only appearances of post-integration second basemen on the four lists. Each had multiple 4D Seasons: Alomar five, Biggio three, and Doby two.

19 Jeff Peterson, “Have There Been Any Great MLB First Basemen That You Consider as Being 5-Tool Players?: Comment,” Quora, no date, accessed February 26, 2023:

20 The median stolen base total among 4D Seasons in 154-game years was 16, 60% above the 4D threshold. Therefore, I increased this threshold by 60% for the short seasons. The stolen base thresholds are 12 in 1981 and 1994, 15 in 1995, and nine in 2020.

21 Michael Goodwin, “Parker Admits to Cocaine Use,” The New York Times, September 12, 1985, accessed February 26, 2023:

22 Jeremy Lehrmann, Baseball’s Most Baffling MVP Ballots (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2016).

23 John Tomase, “Yankees Cut Jacoby Ellsbury Proving Sometimes Stars Don’t Come Back to Haunt You,” NBC Sports, November 21, 2019. Accessed February 26, 2023:

24 The Hank Aaron Award was established in 1999, which compromises comparison with pre-1999 award totals.

25 Brian Murphy, “Here’s Why Bobby Abreu Has HOF Credentials,”, December 27, 2022, accessed February 26, 2023: Bill James included Abreu in his list of five-tool players.

26 Like Yaz, all three made the All-Star team and received MVP votes every year from 1965 to ’70, except for Clemente in 1968. Clemente, however, was the only one to win an MVP. While an MVP season, Clemente’s 1966 did not meet the speed criteria to be a 4D Season.

27 Petriello, “Morgan Was Even Better Than You Remember.”

28 In the pre-1920 dead-ball era, Billy Hamilton set the all-time record with 10 from 1889 to 1898. Honus Wagner is second with six from 1903 to 1908.

29 The 12 Hall of Famers whose careers included the years 1971 through 1977 are Johnny Bench, Lou Brock, Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Reggie Jackson, Willie McCovey, Tony Perez, Brooks Robinson, Ted Simmons, Willie Stargell, Joe Torre, and Carl Yastrzemski.

30 Ryan Finkelstein, “JB Hall of Fame Cases: Keith Hernandez,” Just Baseball, January 13, 2022, accessed February 26, 2023:

31 Anonymous, “The Steroids Era,”, December 5, 2012, Accessed August 26, 2023:

32 Recent research has raised doubts about the extent of the increase in offensive stats due to steroids. See Ben Lindbergh, “How Much of a Role Did Steroids Play in the Steroid Era?,” Bleacher Report, September 28, 2018, accessed August 26, 2023:

33 Percentage of full-time seasons above average, on-base dimension: 1970s: 58%, 1980s: 56%, 1990s: 56%, 2000s: 57%, 2010s: 58%. Percentage of full-time seasons above average, power dimension: 1970s: 53%, 1980s: 55%, 1990s: 54%, 2000s: 54%, 2010s: 56%.

34 Mike Anderson, “MLB’s Greatest Everyday Players of the 1990s: Nos. 25-1,” Bleacher Report, September 30, 2010, accessed February 26, 2023: Anderson ranks Griffey first, Bonds second, Bagwell fourth, and Walker sixth.

35 In their 4D Seasons between 1999 and 2004, Rodriguez compiled 30 fWAR, Cameron 25, Abreu 24, Beltran 24, and Rolen 21.

36 Manny Randhawa, “It Was Billed as an All-Time Heist: The Real Story of Griffey to the Reds,”, February 10, 2023, accessed February 26, 2023:; Dave Cameron, “Revisiting a Blockbuster That Was Actually a Heist,” FanGraphs, February 4, 2014, accessed February 26, 2023:

37 Michael W. Hamilton, “Best Ever Defensive Center Fielders: Unblurring History,” Bleacher Report, March 19, 2009, accessed February 26, 2023:; Matt Varvaro, “Mets Hall of Fame Case: Carlos Beltran,” SBNation: Amazin’ Avenue, December 24, 2015 February 26, 2023: Hamilton ranks Beltran eighth overall and Varvaro reports that Beltran recorded the 15th most total zone runs as a center fielder.

38 Mintz, “Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Julio Rodriguez.” Manny Randhawa, “Top 100 Players Right Now: No. 1 Revealed,”, February 23, 2023, accessed August 26, 2023:

39 It is perhaps surprising that Trout never won a Gold Glove award. For discussion, see Vincent Page, “Will Mike Trout Ever Win a Gold Glove Award?”, HaloHangout, November 4, 2019, accessed: August 29, 2023:

40 Craig Edwards, “Mike Trout and the Greatest Decades of All Time,” Fangraphs, May 1, 2020, accessed August 26, 2023:; Jay Jaffe, “We’ve Reached Peak Mike Trout, Again,” Fangraphs, August 16, 2019, accessed August 26, 2023:

41 Randhawa, “Top 100 Players Right Now.”

42 First teamers based on 2022 fWAR.

43 Mintz, “Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Julio Rodriguez.”