Which birth year produced the most WAR?

December 27th, 2022

2022 is almost over, and nobody knows how many future MLB superstars have been or will be born worldwide this year. But we can take this time to look back at all birth years in the sport’s history to see what the ‘22 babies will be up against. If you’ve ever wondered which birth year in baseball history has produced the most WAR, per Baseball Reference, you’re in luck. And the top year may not be the one you expect.

A note to keep in mind: this research was done on total WAR for all MLB players born that year, which means that more modern years end up closer towards the top of the list because there are more teams and therefore more players in the game overall by the time they reach the Majors. If we did this as WAR per player for each birth year, the list would likely differ, but the large total WAR figures here are part of the fun. 

Without further ado, here are the 10 birth years since 1875 to produce the most career WAR, entering ‘23. Thanks to Baseball Reference’s Kenny Jackelen for his research assistance. 

1. 1983: 1,377.1 WAR
Top 5 players by WAR: Justin Verlander (77.6), Zack Greinke (76.5), Miguel Cabrera (67.7), Joey Votto (64.3), Cole Hamels (59.0)

It wasn’t just a banner year for baseball births -- 1983 outpaces the next year on the list by more than 130 WAR, which is more than one Honus Wagner (130.8 WAR). The top four by WAR from this year are four active players with well above 50 WAR, and there are plenty of others with at least 35 WAR worth noting. The 1983 birthdays also include Joe Mauer (55.2), Dustin Pedroia (51.9) and Ryan Braun (47.1). And given that Greinke, Verlander, Cabrera and Votto are active, this year’s total will continue to grow.

2. 1964: 1,238.3 WAR
Top 5: Barry Bonds (162.7), Rafael Palmeiro (71.9), Barry Larkin (70.5), Bret Saberhagen (58.9), Will Clark (56.5)

This is the year we figure many readers might have expected, since Bonds’ 162.7 WAR ranks fourth all-time behind Babe Ruth (183.1), Walter Johnson (164.8) and Cy Young (163.6), all of whom were born in years that produced far fewer MLB players as a result of the era. Instead, this year comes in second, carried by a strong top five that doesn’t even include Dwight Gooden (52.9), Kenny Rogers (50.5) or Ellis Burks (49.8), but does have one Hall of Famer -- as of now -- in Larkin, with Bonds still on the ballot.

3. 1968: 1,221.8 WAR
Top 5: Mike Mussina (82.8), Jeff Bagwell (79.9), Frank Thomas (73.8), Roberto Alomar (67.0), Gary Sheffield (60.5)

The 1968 calendar year produced five players that are in the Hall of Fame: Mussina, Bagwell, Thomas, Alomar and Mike Piazza (59.5 WAR). Also born that year were Sammy Sosa (58.6), John Olerud (58.2), Jeff Kent (55.5) and Bernie Williams (49.6).

4. 1967: 1,170.3 WAR
Top 5: John Smoltz (69.0), Kenny Lofton (68.4), Robin Ventura (56.1), Kevin Appier (54.5), Luis Gonzalez (51.6)

Smoltz is one of two Hall of Famers born in 1967, along with closer Trevor Hoffman (who produced a 28.0 WAR). Other notables from that year with at least 35 WAR include Reggie Sanders (39.8), Ray Lankford (38.2) and Tom Gordon (35.0).

5. 1960: 1,150.1 WAR
Top 5: Cal Ripken Jr. (95.9), Tony Gwynn (69.2), Kirby Puckett (51.2), Mark Langston (50.1), Frank Viola (47.0)

The top three on this list are all Hall of Famers, with Ripken certainly steadying this group to make the top five birth years. Other players born in 1960 just outside the top five include Fernando Valenzuela (41.4), Andy Van Slyke (41.3), Kent Hrbek (38.6) and Chili Davis (38.3).

6. 1975: 1,086.6 WAR
Top 5: Alex Rodriguez (117.5), Scott Rolen (70.1), Vladimir Guerrero (59.5), Tim Hudson (57.9), David Ortiz (55.3)

Currently 1975 produced two Hall of Famers in Guerrero and Ortiz, but with multiple others on the ballot that total may change at some point in the next few years. Just outside the top five there was Torii Hunter (50.7).

7. 1962: 1,083.1 WAR
Top 5: Roger Clemens (139.2), Chuck Finley (57.9), Jamie Moyer (49.8), Devon White (47.3), Tony Fernández (45.3)

This year produced 529.5 pitching WAR, which ranks second behind only 1966 (630.5), which is next on the overall list. A few players that fell just outside the top five are Darryl Strawberry (42.2), Mark Gubicza (37.4), Eric Davis (36.1) and Wally Joyner (35.8).

8. 1966: 1,057.8 WAR
Top 5: Greg Maddux (106.6), Tom Glavine (80.7), Curt Schilling (79.5), Larry Walker (72.7), David Justice (40.6)

Here’s that pitching-heavy WAR year noted above, with Maddux, Glavine and Schilling leading the way. This year has three Hall of Famers, with Schilling still on the ballot. Those players just outside the top five include Albert Belle (40.1), Moises Alou (39.9) and Tim Wakefield (34.4).

9. 1963: 1,043.3 WAR
Top 5: Randy Johnson (101.1), Edgar Martinez (68.4), David Cone (62.3), Mark McGwire (62.2), David Wells (53.4)

There were two Hall of Famers born in 1963: Johnson and Martinez. Those outside the top five born this year include Fred McGriff (52.6), Lenny Dykstra (42.4) and Paul O’Neill (38.8).

10. 1949: 1,035.2 WAR
Top 5: Mike Schmidt (106.9), Bobby Grich (71.0), Rick Reuschel (69.5), Ted Simmons (50.3), Vida Blue (45.1)

The 1949 birth year produced two Hall of Famers in Schmidt and Simmons. Those just outside the top five include Steve Rogers (44.7), Dusty Baker (37.0), Garry Maddox (36.8) and Cecil Cooper (36.0).

The next 10 years, and the top player in each year … in case you were curious:

11. 1987: 1,024.6 WAR -- Paul Goldschmidt (58.5)
12. 1984: 1,024.3 WAR -- Max Scherzer (71.7)
13. 1887: 1,004.5 WAR -- Walter Johnson (164.8)
14. 1944: 1,003.6 WAR -- Tom Seaver (109.9)
15. 1956: 994.6 WAR -- Paul Molitor (75.7)
16. 1977: 988.8 WAR -- Carlos Beltrán (70.1)
17. 1965: 945.5 WAR -- Kevin Brown (67.8)
18. 1947: 938.7 WAR -- Nolan Ryan (81.3)
19. 1974: 927.4 WAR -- Derek Jeter (71.3)
20. 1972: 915.2 WAR -- Chipper Jones (85.3)