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Inspired by Ross Barnes: Best WAR per 700 PA in a Career

In last week's post about high-WAR part-time players, I feel I glossed over the name that came up the most often: Ross Barnes. I cast Barnes aside because he wasn't actually a part timer—he simply had so few plate appearances because he played in the 1870s when seasons were shorter.

After seeing how well he rated in terms of short-season WAR, I decided to grab the list of the best WAR per 700 PA in an entire career. My goal was to use 2000 plate appearances as a minimum, but this list holds true all the way down to just a few hundred PA. (This table, of course, was constructed with Rally's WAR database. I've never been so in love with a spreadsheet.)

Rank Name PlApp WAR WAR/700
1 Babe Ruth 10503 172.0 11.46
2 Rogers Hornsby 9259 127.8 9.66
3 Barry Bonds 12511 171.8 9.61
4 Ross Barnes 2506 33.1 9.25
5 Ted Williams 9766 125.3 8.98
6 Albert Pujols 6026 76.6 8.90
7 Willie Mays 12389 154.7 8.74
8 Ty Cobb 12777 159.4 8.73
9 Lou Gehrig 9554 118.4 8.67
10 Mickey Mantle 9848 120.2 8.54
11 Honus Wagner 11518 134.5 8.17
12 Tris Speaker 11679 133.0 7.97
13 Joe Jackson 5559 62.9 7.92
14 Joe Mauer 2959 33.1 7.83
15 Jackie Robinson 5689 63.2 7.78
16 Eddie Collins 11525 126.7 7.70
17 Dan Brouthers 7656 83.7 7.65
18 Joe DiMaggio 7657 83.6 7.64
19 Mike Schmidt 9938 108.3 7.63
20 Alex Rodriguez 9513 99.0 7.28
21 Hank Aaron 13798 141.6 7.18
22 Nap Lajoie 10239 104.2 7.12
23 Stan Musial 12624 127.8 7.09
24 John McGraw 4894 49.3 7.05
25 Arky Vaughan 7605 75.6 6.96

What am I looking for here? I'm mostly interested in lower (but still substantial) plate appearance guys who move up this list compared with the raw WAR totals. The ones who jump out at me are:

  • Ross Barnes (#4 all time), of course. Fourth all time is pretty serious. How were his traditional stats? In nine seasons, he played in just 499 games (again, because of short schedules). His slash line was .360/.389/.468 for an .857 OPS. Of course, in that time period that comes out to an OPS+ of 168. He was worth 252 batting runs in just 2506 plate appearances. Add in the fact that he was worth 57 in range and another 15 on the bases while playing a premium position (shortstop) and you have a WAR monster.
  • Albert Pujols (#6). We had to assume he'd rank highly. The five names he appears directly in front of are Mays, Cobb, Gehrig, Mantle, and Wagner. Wow. I understand he's legendary. But sometimes it takes a table like this to hammer that home. Of course, he hasn't had a career decline yet. That's bound to mess with your rate stats.
  • Joe Jackson (#13). Yes, he was as good as Hollywood would have us believe. He was banned from the game, coming off a 7.4 WAR season at age 30. He still managed 62.9 WAR for his career. Generally remembered with the White Sox, it was with Cleveland that he had a three-year stretch of 9.0, 9.5, and 8.4 WAR. An above average fielder with 11 total zone runs, the vast, vast majority of his value came from the bat (444 runs).
  • Joe Mauer (#14). As the only catcher on this list, Mauer does have a great chance of going down as the best catcher ever. His combination of offense (162 runs) and defense (41 runs) so far is exceeding two-way greats like Johnny Bench and Ivan Rodriguez. The caveat here as well—he hasn't had a decline. Then again, he also hasn't had his entire prime.
  • Jackie Robinson (#15). You see Ted Williams and you wonder what he might have done had he not lost all those years to the War. You see Jackie Robinson and you wonder what was possible if the entire country didn't have their heads up their asses. Jackie was a monster, especially when you consider his late start and what he had to go through in his career. He earned his reputation of great defense (51 runs range, 28 double play) and baserunning (39 runs), but again it was the bat that proved most valuable (276 runs).
  • John McGraw (#24). This man has the 24th-greatest rate of production over his career of all time. Yet, he is in the Hall of Fame as a manager. McGraw was pretty much an average defender (+3 runs), so it was his offense that made him worth so much (337 batting runs). Why is he underrated as a hitter? Well, except for the fact that he played in the 1800s, I'd point to his walks. He hit .334 in his career, but only had 1309 hits. But he also had 836 walks, giving him an OBP of .466. Yes, .466. From 1899 to 1901, he posted three OBPs above .500 (peaking at .547). Because he's in the Hall of Fame as a manager, there is no outrage over him not being in as a player. And despite the fact that he had less than 5000 plate appearances, perhaps he should be.

Anything in this table jump out at you?

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