Off the bat, let’s disclose that the most noticeable omissions may be Ichiro Suzuki, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Ichiro, a freak of nature who continues to turn in productive at-bats at age 45. Ichiro is a masterful hitter, but has always been mostly a singles hitter.
The players below have wreaked quite a bit more havoc, launching baseballs out of the yard and deep into the gaps. Indeed, “fearsome” connotes a bit more -- a guy who will make you pay for any mistake and torment you, often in big moments. It feels a bit too soon to put the uber-talented Trout and Harper in the same class, although they’re on their way. Incredibly they’re both still just 25 years old and 24, respectively. It would help Trout if the Angels were more competitive and gave him a chance to shine in October. Without further ado, here’s the 8 most fearsome since ‘00.
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He’s one of the greatest right handed hitters of all time, a natural born hitting machine known for his quirkiness and at times indifference to cashing his paychecks. But there was nary a batter that a pitcher would least rather eyeball entering the box than Manny during his prime, which lasted… a while. From 1998 to 2008 in Cleveland, Boston and Los Angeles, Ramirez averaged 35 home runs, 119 RBI and 83 walks per season, with an absurd .317/.414/.598 slash line. He had excellent pitch recognition and plate coverage and could sent one out of of the yard quickly, which he did 29 times in 111 career postseason games.
Getty ImagesStephen Dunn
Bonds built much of his ridiculous resume in Pittsburgh (three NL MVP Awards) before turning into a mind-shattering spectacle in San Francisco from 2000-2004, beginning with the famed 73 home run season. We’re setting aside Bonds’ alleged and probably steroid use and looking at what a terror he was in the batter’s box.
It’s probably best exemplified by this: During that five-season streak in which he won four MVP Awards, it became a viable and perfectly defensive strategy for opposing managers to intentionally walk Bonds with the bases empty. From 2004-2005, Bonds walked 872 times -- 306 times intentionally. Just think of how many minutes those 306 free passes would have saved if the current rules applied.
MCT via Getty ImagesPaul Kitagaki Jr.
Pujols may have broken Statcast’s speed meter if it existed in ‘05 when he sent a Brad Lidge breaking ball into orbit at Minute Maid Park, giving the Cardinals a 5-4 lead on the 3-run blast in Game 5 of the NLCS. That was vintage Pujols, powering quickly out of his squatty dance, end the life of baseball.
From his first season in St. Louis (2001, NL Rookie of the Year) to his last in 2011, the might first baseman slashed an absurd .328./420./.617, averaging 40 home runs per season, never fewer than 32. He won the NL MVP in 2005, 2007 and 2008 and may have shattered Lidge’s confidence for the ‘06 season, although Lidge later rebounded nicely.
Some statheads and sabermetricians don’t believe there’s any such thing as clutch, arguing that some batters simply have experienced better luck and had better opportunities to perform in high-pressure situations. I think the truth is somewhere in between. Players are human, and Big Papi produced some seemingly inhuman amount of walkoff hits and baseball jubilation.
None bigger than in 2004 when Ortiz clobbered a Jarrod Washburn offering to seal the ALDS over the Angels. Then of course in the ALCS after the Red Sox fell into a 3-0 series hole against the Yankees, Papi delivered a walkoff, 12th inning homer in Game 4 and then another walkoff, a single, in the 14th inning of Game 5. Three World Series titles and many more big hits followed.
What made Vlad the Impaler so entertaining to watch and impossible to oppose was his willingness to swing at ANYTHING -- no matter if the pitch hit the dirt or missed the strike zone by a foot.
Sure, he missed a lot, but Vlad’s heat map looked like a thunderstorm covering half of the United States. The 2004 AL MVP took mammoth cuts and despite his appetite to attack some garbage pitches, he hit .318 on his career and jacked 449 homers.
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The three-time AL MVP was an incredibly gifted hitter, a consummate worker and student of the game and a force of power who cracked 696 home runs over 22 MLB seasons. He also admitted to using steroids but he was nevertheless an incredible baseball talent who hit longballs to all fields off lefties or rights, no matter.
The knock on A-Rod for a long time was that he disappeared during the postseason (career .259 batting average) and repeatedly failed to connect with runners in scoring position. Then in the 2009 playoffs, Rodriguez delivered bigly. He carried the Yankees in the ALDS, ALCS and came up big in the Yanks’ World Series title run as well. For the ‘09 postseason he batted .365 with 6 homers and 18 RBI, earning the Babe Ruth Award as the top postseason player.
Getty ImagesBrian Blanco
Recently I undertook the task of trying to identify Cabrera’s “worst” MLB season. This proved to be a comical and impossible mission. Cabrera is a slump-proof model of consistency and who has terrorized pitchers. He’s a career .320 hitter, a four-time batting champ and in 2012, won the first triple crown since Carl Yastrzemski accomplished the feat in 1967.
He earned jewelry in his first season when the Marlins won the World Series in his rookie season, and in 55 career postseason games he’s jacked 13 home runs.
Getty ImagesJesse Johnson
Not all heroes wear capes and not all fearsome hitters are home run kings. Wearer of the most recently retired New York Yankees jersey, Jeter possessed the same debatable “clutch” gene as Ortiz. He was more powerful than your average shortstop but most importantly had a knack for being a very challenging out and coming up huge in the postseason.
His powers were in full bloom in the 2000 postseason when he ripped four home runs combined in the ALCS and World Series, earning the World Series MVP Award after collecting five extra base hits and three walks, batting .409 in the 5-game Subway Series title over the Mets. And then he hit a walk-off single in his very last game at Yankee Stadium in ‘14. What a career.