All-time best Reds starting lineup based on WAR

Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin
Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin / Ron Vesely/GettyImages
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Few franchises throughout baseball rival that of the Cincinnati Reds. Widely regarded as the birthplace of professional baseball, the Reds fanbase has seen some of the best players of all-time pass through the Queen City.

You'll hear talk all the time about the Mount Rushmore of this team or that team, or who was the greatest to ever play this position. But what about the best starting lineup to ever be assembled by joining all the great players from the past.

Obviously, opinions can be subjective, and very few Reds fans were alive back in the 1930s. So in order to be a bit more objective, let's use WAR as provided by Baseball Reference as a measuring stick for some of the best players to ever suit up for the Cincinnati Reds.

1. All-time best Reds starting lineup: Pete Rose, LF

Leading off for the greatest Cincinnati Reds team of all-time is no other than Peter Edward Rose. While Rose may never find a spot in Cooperstown, he's still mostly beloved throughout his hometown of Cincinnati.

And his record over his 24-year career tells you why Rose is one of the greatest players to ever do it. Rose longevity led him to be the all-time leader in games played, at-bats, and of course base hits (4,256).

Finding a defensive home for Rose isn't the most difficult thing to do, as he played all over the diamond throughout his major league career. But, in order to piece together the best group of talented Reds players, left field is probably well suited for Rose. It was, after all, the position he played during his MVP season in 1973.

Rose has all the accolades including 17 trips to the All-Star Game, two Gold Gloves, and won the batting title on three separate occasions. Pete Rose is the all-time leader in bWAR (78.0) in Cincinnati Reds history and has to be included in the greatest all-time lineup.

2. All-time best Reds starting lineup: Joe Morgan, 2B

Batting second and playing second base will be the Little General, Joe Morgan. Believe it or not, another player from way back in Reds history gave Morgan a run for his money.

Morgan finished his Reds career with 57.9 bWAR, which is just outside the Top 5 in team history. But just behind Morgan is fellow second baseman Bid McPhee. With all due respect to Morgan, McPhee fielded his position without the aid of a baseball mitt.

McPhee (52.3 bWAR), suited up in Cincinnati for 18 years, and outside of a brief stint at third base in 1889, played his entire career at the keystone. McPhee completed his career with a .272 batting average and 1,072 runs batted in.

Great as McPhee was, no one is taking second base away from arguably the best to do ever do it. Joe Morgan played eight of his 22 major league seasons in the Queen City and has been honored with his number hanging high above Great Amereican Ball Park and a statue out in front of the stadium.

Joe Morgan finished his major league career with 100.4 bWAR, two MVPs, two World Championships, five Gold Gloves, and 10 All-Star appearances. Morgan was one of the best to ever do it and is unquestionably the starting second baseman on this all-time Reds team.

3. All-time best Reds starting lineup: Johnny Bench, C

The catcher position belongs to none other than the greatest to ever don the mask, Hall of Famer Johnny Bench. Bench spent his entire career in Cincinnati, and is widely regarded as the best catcher in the history of the game.

Bench trails only the aforementioned Pete Rose in bWAR (75.1), but is the Cincinnati Reds all-time leads in home runs with 389. Bench was not only great with the bat, but great with the glove as well.

During his illustrious career, Bench accumulated 10 Gold Gloves and 14 All-Star appearances while also being part of the greatest team ever assembled. The starting backstop for the Big Red Machine, Bench was part of two World Series Championships and won the World Series MVP in 1976.

Johnny Bench also won two NL MVPs during his career and was named Rookie of the Year in 1968. It's possible that Bench's 10 Gold Glove Awards as a catcher in the National League is a record that may never be broken. Ivan Rodriguez holds the major league record with 13.

Ernie Lombardi was another Hall of Fame catcher who suited up for the Cincinnati Reds. However, Lombardi's 26.0 bWAR isn't in the same ballpark as the legendary Johnny Bench.

4. All-time best Reds starting lineup: Frank Robinson, RF

Whoa, baby! How about this for a cleanup hitter, huh? Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who ranks fifth in team history with 63.8 bWAR, will be stepping into the No. 4 spot in the Reds all-time best starting lineup.

Of all the players that you'll find in this all-time lineup, Robinson leads the way with a career-bWAR of 107.3. While Robinson won an MVP and Rookie of the Year while a member of the Cincinnati Reds, his best year was following one of the worst trades in Major League Baseball history.

Robinson was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles following the 1965 season. In 1966, Robinson led the O's to a World Series Championship and won the Triple Crown by leading the American League in batting average (.316), home runs (49), and RBIs (122).

Robinson was with the Reds from 1956-1965 and went to six All-Star Games during that span and took home a Gold Glove in 1958. Not only would you be hard-pressed to find a better right fielder in Reds history than Frank Robinson, but it's difficult to name any players in the history of Major League Baseball who'd surpass the Hall of Famer.

For his career, Robinson slugged 586 home runs, 1,812 RBIs, and posted a career-OPS+ of 154. Of his 586 homers, 324 came as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.

5. All-time best Reds starting lineup: Tony Perez, DH

Okay, we now arrive at one of those points where the discussion ensues. Obviously, both Tony Perez and Joey Votto played first base. Votto's 64.5 bWAR rates higher than Perez's 45.6 bWAR, so one could easily surmise that the position goes to the player with the higher bWAR. Well, that's just part of the equation.

While Votto has won just one Gold Glove during his Reds career, Perez didn't take home single one. Votto's career-fielding percentage of .994 is just slightly higher than Perez's .992. So, for those reasons, Perez is moved from first base to the DH.

But that doesn't take away anything form the prestigious career that the Hall of Famer had during his run with the Cincinnati Reds. Perez was a seven-time All-Star and two-time World Champion and is often heralded as the heart and soul of the Big Red Machine.

Many Reds fans from years past will tell you that once Perez was traded, the Big Red Machine lost all it's momentum. While that may be a bit subjective, the numbers and win-loss records don't lie.

There are those that will look at Perez's career and see only one Top 3 MVP finish. Perez also never led the league at any point in his career in a meaningful category (batting average, home runs, RBIs, etc.). But Perez is a Hall of Famer, has his jersey number retired by the Reds, and should be considered among the best all-time to ever play in a Cincinnati uniform.

6. All-time best Reds starting lineup: Barry Larkin, SS

It seems odd that Barry Larkin, the starting shortstop for the all-time best lineup in Cincinnati Reds history, would be batting sixth. But, that just shows you how much talent is sitting atop this group of all-time greats.

Under normal circumstances, you might expect to se Larkin hitting second or perhaps even lead off. But, with the likes fo Peter Rose and Joe Morgan batting No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, Larkin's lack of power lands him down at No. 6.

That's not to say that Larkin's bat didn't have pop. In 1996, Larkin became the first-ever shortstop to hit 30 home runs and record 30 stolen bases. That was the lone season, however, in which the Hall of Famer would eclipse 30 dingers. Only once more (1991) in Larkin's career would he hit at least 20 round trippers.

But no one is going to take anything away from the defensive wizardry that Larkin put on display nearly every night. Larkin took home three Gold Gloves and went to a dozen All-Star Games while also leading the way in the Reds wire-to-wire World Championship in 1990.

Barry Larkin's 70.5 bWAR during his 19 seasons in the Queen City rank him behind only Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. It's hard to talk about the Mount Rushmore of Reds greats and not mention Larkin.

7. Reds greatest starting lineup of all-time: Joey Votto, 1B

Fun fact - Joey Votto has played 67 games, including 64 starts while occupying the No. 7 spot in the batting order. Much as the case is with the aforementioned Barry Larkin, there's just too many all-time greats to find a spot higher in the lineup for Votto.

Votto's career is not yet over, though with the way things are rolling in 2023, this might be the last season in which Reds fans see the former MVP wearing a wishbone "C" on his ball cap. Votto has yet to debut in 2023, and it's the final guaranteed year of his contract.

But if this is Votto's last year in a Reds uniform, what a career it's been. A former catcher, Votto won the 2010 MVP, was robbed of the award in 2017, and has been to six All-Star Games. The biggest thing lacking from Votto's resumé is a deep run in the postseason.

Currently sitting at 64.5 bWAR, Votto ranks behind Larkin, but above the Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. As was discusses earlier, his better defensive statistics give Votto the nod over Tony Perez when it comes to playing first base versus acting as the all-time lineup's designated hitter.

The way Joey Votto played the game has changed many ideas of how baseball will be played going forward. His knowledge of the strike zone and ability to "take" pitches, has become more sought after by front offices as they evaluate talent. While some within the Reds fanbase would prefer to see Votto swing away, his approach will likely lead to a spot in Cooperstown.

8. All-time best Reds starting lineup: Vada Pinson, CF

Perhaps the most under-rated player in Cincinnati Reds history, Vada Pinson deserves a spot among the all-time best starting lineup in team history. Pinson ranks eighth-best in Reds history with 47.7 bWAR, which is actually higher than Hall of Famer Tony Perez.

Much like Perez, Pinson received a Top 3 finish in the NL MVP vote back in 1961. That year, Pinson led the league in hits while slashing .343/.379/.504 and racking up 58 extra-base hits.

During Pinson's 18 years in the majors, he led the league more than once in hits, doubles, and triples. Pinson also played above-average defense and took home one Gold Glove Award, though he probably should have won more.

Pinson was an iron man, and excluding his rookie season in which he played in just 27 games, the outfielder never once played fewer than 100 games. In fact, in 14 of his 18 seasons, Pinson played more than 130 games.

Vada Pinson is one of the most under-appreciated players in the history of the Cincinnati Reds franchise. His No. 28, much like 10 other numbers, should be hanging above the playing surface at Great American Ball Park. It's time to give Pinson his just due, and a spot among the all-time greats in Reds history is certainly warranted.

9. All-time best Reds starting lineup: Heinie Groh, 3B

Third base was a tough one. When you think of Cincinnati Reds third basemen of year's past, names like Chris Sabo, Scott Rolen, and Todd Frazier come to mind. But you'll have to harken all the way back to the early-1900s in order to find the best third baseman in club history.

A man by the name of Heinie Groh, who actually spent time with the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates as well, is the all-time leader in bWAR (40.7) among third basemen in Reds history.

Groh played second base and shortstop early in career, but eventually made the move to the hot corner, seeing the majority of his playing time there from 1915-1921 with the Reds. In 1917, Groh led the league in hits (182), doubles (39), and on-base percentage (.385).

While not as highly-sought after during his era, Groh's career-OBP was .373. He actually was the throwback version of Joey Votto, leading the league in walks (81) back in 1916. Of course that's a joke, though Groh does rank 12th all-time in team history with 513 career walks.

Heinie Groh isn't a household name among most Reds fans, but that may reveal more about the history of the position itself. The names of other third baseman through the years include the likes of Bobby Adams and Hick Carpenter. Not exactly an All-Star lineup.

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