I recently published a post that discussed the Boston Red Sox franchise leaders for WAR and different WAR components (based, of course, on Rally's WAR). I started with the Red Sox because they are my hometown team, but also invited readers to make requests for certain teams to follow up with. Reader Kanonen80 requested the Minnesota Twins (and even requested I include the Washington Senators in the totals). Since I aim to please, today I'm covering the Twinkies.
I'll do my best to provide the commentary with the lists, but I'll admit that I'm far more familiar with Red Sox history than Senators/Twins history. That doesn't mean I have no attachment to the Twins. As a kid, after all, my mom did let me stay up to watch THE GAME. About a year later, my dad took me trick-or-treating at the house of a Minnesota Twin who lived in town. My brother also happens to look like a white version of Kirby Puckett. But enough of that—let's look at some numbers:
By total WAR:
I expected to see guys like Carew, Killebrew, and Puckett near the top of the list. However, my knowledge of old time Senators (outside of Walter Johnson) is surprisingly limited. Hall of Fame Senators Sam Rice, Goose Goslin, and Joe Cronin appear near the top while Joe Judge is impressively ranked (as a lifelong and longtime Senator, he also had more plate appearances than others below him). You almost forget how good Chuck Knoblauch was for a while there. In fact, his 41.1 career WAR puts him just below the famed "Jim Rice Line" of 41.5. I was pleased to see a couple greats from those World Series teams ranking well—Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti. Joe Mauer is already ranked 14th and by the end of this season he could be knockin' on Goslin's door at #7. Joe Mauer is good.
I anticipated Walter Johnson would rank first. I also anticipated that the world would make an entire revolution yesterday and that my kids would collectively soil about a dozen diapers, so that doesn't make me a genius. Seeing Bert Blyleven at #2 was hardly a surprise either. Rally's WAR loves Bert perhaps more than anyone who didn't give birth to the guy (he ranks 13th all time among pitchers at 90.1 WAR). Brad Radke was a bit of a surprise, though he probably shouldn't have been. Radke never put up gaudy numbers, but his high number of innings combined with consistent solid performance helped him climb up the charts. Johan Santana ranks 4th, but he'll obviously do better when we break down WAR as a rate stat. Joe Nathan, he of 418 career innings, ranks 12th. That guy packs a lot of value into a small number of innings.
By WAR used as a rate stat
As impressive as Joe Mauer's 7.8 WAR/700 in just under 3000 PAs is, I'm very impressed by Rod Carew averaging 6.4 WAR/700 in just under 7000 PAs. Cronin and Knoblauch leap up this list cimpared with their overall WAR rankings. So does Shane Mack—remember him? Mack spent five seasons with Minnesota. Three of them were worth 4+ WAR (4.0, 4.9, and 6.0). The man has a career slash line of .299/.364/.456. That's good enough for a 120 OPS+. I had no idea.
Kirby Puckett plunges to 15th. I'm not sure what to say about that. Kirby was a very good ballplayer. Kirby was easily voted into the Hall of Fame. Should Kirby be a Hall of Famer? Sure. Should he have been quite as much of a slam dunk as everyone made him out to be? Probably not. I'm pretty sure that if you swapped Kirby's personality with Albert Belle's, Kirby would not be a Hall of Famer and Belle would be.
Also, would you have guessed Corey Koskie would be a Top 10 guy on this list? I wouldn't. I also wouldn't have guessed Larry "In The" Hisle.
Remember, relievers often pitch in higher leverage situations which will help them build up a lot of pitching WAR in fewer innings. That explains Nathan at #1 (though damn that's a lot of value!), Marshall at #3, Aguilera at #4, Reardon at #7, and Tom Ferrick rounding out the Top 10. Change the limit to 1000 innings and you get a Top 4 that you'd expect—Santana, Johnson, Blyleven, and Radke. Mike Marshall ranks third for his age 35–37 seasons. That made me curious about what his value was during that famous (to me, at least) 1974 campaign where he worked 106 games and 208 innings (both relief records). Much to my surprise, he was worth just 3.1 WAR. Might be a post for antoher time to figure out why that is while some of my other favorite single relief seasons (like Mark Eichhorn's 6.4 1986 season and John Hiller's 6.9 WAR 1973 season) were worth more. I'll admit, I'm still trying to wrap my head around pitcher WAR.
At #17, there's Jack Morris' one year in a Twins uniform.
By WAR components (for position players)
Killebrew finally makes the leap over Carew, who gained a lot of value with his baserunning (and some with his range). Hrbek moves all the way up to #5, which I love to see. Puckett is right behind him (and this isn't even the list Puck ranks best on). I've often heard Tony Oliva's name bounced around in Hall of Fame debates. His 42.4 career WAR does pass the Jim Rice test, but the same can be said for 256 other hitters. After his age 32 season, Oliva was worth a total of 0.2 WAR over five seasons. Had he kept the pace of his previous eight seasons, he would most certainly be a Hall of Famer. However, his Hall case is similar to that of Nomar Garciaparra (who happens to be right near him in career WAR with 42.6.
Who is George Case? Case was a Senator from 1937 to 1945, then again in 1947. He was worth –34 runs at the plate for his career (though –25 of that came in his only season in Cleveland in 1946), but he made up for it on the bases (+52 for his career) and with the glove (+21 Total Zone). Due to his time spent in low-value outfield positions, his career WAR is just 12.8. After Case, however, we have Rice, Carew, and Knoblauch who combined their speed with excellent hitting.
George McBride played shortstop for the Senators from 1908 to 1920. He was a fanstastic fielder who managed to play a long time despite a .218/.281/.264 slash line (–244 batting runs). According to the Baseball-Reference Bullpen, McBride's batting average is the lowest of all players with 5,000 or more at bats. Gary Gaetti is next (on my list, not the lowest average one!). Gaetti was worth –21 runs at the plate with Minnesota (–64 for his career). I remember him as a better hitter than that. But as is often the case, if a player is better or worse than you expected, look at the OBP. Yes, Gaetti hit 360 homers and collected over 1300 RBI. But he only had a .308 career OBP and his OPS+ was 97. Ranking 5th is the man who played to Gaetti's left, Greg Gagne. I also happen to know for a fact that Gagne gave out "fun-sized" (read: small) Snickers bars for Halloween in 1992. I may have been young, but I did know he just signed an $11 million contract with the Royals. Shoulda gone full-size, G2.
I had a Twins fan I know guess who would be at the top of these lists before I started writing. He guessed Kirby at the top in outfield arm. He was right! Kirby was ahead of Tom Brunansky, Michael Cuddyer, and Tony Oliva by a considerable amount. Hey, there's Torii Hunter! Wait, where was he on the Total Zone list? Well, Total Zone really doesn't like Hunter. I feel quite a few Twins fans might be surprised by that. At the very least, Gold Glove voters would be.
Joe Mauer is the best Twins catcher ever. He's also going to be the best catcher in the history of the game when it's all said and done. That said, his name isn't nearly as cool as Boileryard Clarke. Or even Muddy Ruel. Heck, even Butch Wynegar has a nice ring to it (and he was an excellent catcher!).
By WAR in a single season
I was surprised to see that Puckett doesn't appear until a tie for #10. In fact, that's the only time he appears in the Top 20. That's probably more of a testament to Puckett's consistency than anything else. Three of Joe Mauer's last four seasons appear in the Top 16. I also thought it was interesting to see Zoilo Versalles place that highly. While he was +18 at the plate that year (his only year above average in his career), he clearly won the MVP award in part for his defense. You just don't see that too often. In Versalles' case, the numbers back it up. His Total Zone was +15 (with +2 turning the double play). And how about Chuck Knoblauch at #2? That's one heck of a season.
How about the worst performances by a hitter?
David McCarty's career WAR as a hitter is –2.3. As a pitcher, he has 0.1 WAR. That's all I have to say about that. Cristian Guzman may have been brutal as a rookie in 1999, but since then he has turned in a pair of 4+ WAR seasons. He is worth 9.5 WAR for his career.
That's a lotta Walter Johnson seasons. Bert Blyleven sneaks in there with a 9.2 WAR season. Just to hang with Johnson is an accomplishment. Remember that awesome year Frank Viola had in 1988 where he won 24 games and won the Cy Young Award? Turns out that while that year was quite good (it ranks T-15th), his 1987 season was better. It's all about comparisons to league average. 1987's ERA was 2.90 (with an ERA+ of 159) while 1988's was 2.64 (but with a lower ERA+ of 154).
Yes, I know more than ERA goes into WAR, but Viola's 1987 and 1988 were remarkably similar besides the ERA (and win totals—he won 17 in 1987 but 24 in 1988). Viola's name showed up on the Red Sox list, too. That got me thinking… how good was he? His career WAR of 43.9 is very good. In fact, it is tied with Morris. No, not Jack Morris—Ed Morris, the 19th century workhorse. Want a more recent comparison? Think Ron Guidry or Vida Blue.
And the worst pitching seasons:
A couple pitchers, Gray and Wolff, had seasons even worse than McCarty's. Gray's was his rookie season in which he posted a 3.59 ERA in 218 innings. That doesn't sound bad, but his ERA+ was 68. Wolff's 1944 featured a 4.99 ERA (for an ERA+ of 65). Of course, the very next season he won 20 games and posted an ERA+ of 146. Soon after, the War ended and he was through.
For the Red Sox post, I constructed an All-Time team. This is a bit trickier to do for teams other than your home team, so please let me know if you have any feedback. Otherwise, here goes:
- Catcher: Joe Mauer (33.1 WAR, 7.8 WAR/700)
- First Base: Joe Judge (43.5 WAR, 3.5 WAR/700)
- Second Base: Rod Carew (62.7 WAR, 6.4 WAR/700)
- Third Base: Harmon Killebrew (61.4 WAR, 4.6 WAR/700)
- Shortstop: Joe Cronin (40.9 WAR, 6.1 WAR/700)
- Outfield: Kirby Puckett (44.8 WAR, 4.1 WAR/700)
- Outfield: Sam Rice (51.0 WAR, 3.7 WAR/700)
- Outfield: Goose Goslin (41.4 WAR, 5.1 WAR/700)
- Starting Pitcher: Walter Johnson (127.7 WAR, 4.3 WAR/200)
- Starting Pitcher: Johan Santana (32.1 WAR, 4.9 WAR/200)
- Starting Pitcher: Bert Blyleven (45.7 WAR, 3.6 WAR/200)
- Starting Pitcher: Brad Radke (41.4 WAR, 3.4 WAR/200)
- Relief Pitcher: Joe Nathan (19.8 WAR, 9.5 WAR/200)
- Relief Pitcher: Rick Aguilera (16.1 WAR, 4.6 WAR/200)
While Killebrew played more games at first than third, I felt he played third enough to justify putting him there and Judge at first (as opposed to Killebrew at first and someone like Koskie at third). Also, it was tough to leave Oliva off, but I had to go with Goslin's rate production over the 1 WAR of total difference. Knoblauch was also tough to omit.
How would this All-Time team stand up to Boston's? Simply adding up WAR/700 and WAR/200, the Twins are worth 71.6 WAR. The Red Sox squad clocks in at 88.9 WAR. I can already see that comparing these numbers for different franchises could be super fun. You know… if I could produce these things quicker!
On deck, I have requests to write posts on the Chicago White Sox and then the Texas Rangers (gosh, Harold Baines just popped into my head). If you have further requests, let's hear 'em!