In this series, I've covered teams with long histories, such as theand . But I've also covered some young(er) franchises, such as the and . Today I'm going all the way back to the 1870s to cover the long history of the .
By total WAR:
Last time, with the Mets, we had three pitchers at the top of the career WAR list before we got to our first hitter. The Cubs are very much the opposite with seven hitters ahead of the top pitcher. Cap Anson, who happened to be featured in my first post ever at Beyond the Box Score, takes the top spot by over twenty wins. Who's second? Not Ernie Banks (3rd). Not Ryne Sandberg (4th). Not Billy Williams (6th). It's Ron Santo and his 68.5 WAR as a Cubbie. Along with many, many other writers, I've beaten this drum before. It is a travesty that this man is not in the Hall of Fame. Banks is behind Santo, with nearly 1400 more plate appearances and four fewer WAR. Sandberg and Sosa aren't far behind. Sosa has surprising (to me, anyway) fielding numbers that we'll get to a bit later, adding to his value. Billy Williams and Stan Hack, a guy some stat geeks strongly support for the Hall, are the last two who finish ahead of the pitching staff. I find it interesting that Tinker (11th) to Evers (12th) to Chance (8th) always finish close together, statistically. Another player that catches my eye is Bill Dahlen at #15. He, of course, is the eligible non-Hall of Famer with the highest career WAR.
With all those years to choose from, I find it interesting that a relatively modern pitcher—Fergie Jenkins—is the leader. He has a pretty sizable lead over Rally WAR darling Rick Reuschel. Right behind him is the early 20th century great (and one of my favorite players as a kid, thanks to Earl Weaver Baseball) Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown. Next is Root—a name I've seen but wasn't that familiar with. He won a club record 201 games for Chicago (pitching all but 60 innings of his career in the windy city). He is followed by three 19th century stars: Bill Hutchison (averaged 595 IP and 40 victories per year from 1890 to 1892), Clark Griffith (a Hall of Famer who garnered 75% of his career WAR with the Cubs), and John Clarkson (a Hall of Famer and 300-game winner who won 53 games over 623 innings for Chicago in 1885). Those seasons will be fun to look at when we get to single season WAR! Among modern guys, we see Maddux at #11 (I'm guessing he ranks higher with Atlanta), Carlos Zambrano at #15 (how the mighty fall), and Kerry Wood at #19 (still my all time favorite Cub). We see relievers Lee Smith (#26) and Bruce Sutter (#28) make the list despite just about 700 and 500 innings, respectively. I see Hippo Vaughn at #10, which makes me wonder… how did we not repurpose that nickname for Mo? Talk about a missed opportunity.
By WAR used as a rate stat
I always like seeing how many guys averaged 6.0 wins per 700 PA (Wins Above MVP Level). The Cubs had a half dozen. George Gore, who ranked 18th in total WAR, jumps to #1 on this list. What's the most popular trait of underrated players? Walks. And Gore was the first player ever to walk 100 times (in 1886). Just five years before that, he led the league with just 29 walks in 84 games. Frank Chance (at #2) separates himself from Evers (#10) and Tinker (#11) here, averaging just under 7 wins per 700 PA. With a name like King Kelly, you have to produce a ton of WAR. He ranks third ahead of Anson and Dahlen. Finally, Hack Wilson makes an appearance at #6. He just made the top 20 in total WAR but once normalized, he jumps up the list. Must be all those RBI!
The list starts with three relievers (Sutter, Smith, and Henry) and a guy that pitched just one season—in his entire career! That's right, in 1886 Jocko Flynn was 23-6 with a 2.24 ERA (160 ERA+) and 5.5 WAR, then appeared in just one more game (and that was in the outfield). Chicago's 3-man rotation all complained of sore elbows at the end of the season and Flynn never recovered. Clarkson, unsurprisingly, rates at the top starter. Among guys with 1000+ innings, he is followed by Reuschel, Jenkins, and Brown, who happen to be the top three in total pitcher WAR. Despite their issues, seeing Mark Prior at #10 and Kerry Wood at #16 has got to make a Cub fan cringe (not to mention Rich Harden at #17). What could have been…?
By WAR components (for position players)
Anson's lead is so ridiculously huge. The Cubs have had a good number of two-way stars, with Anson, Sosa, and Mark Grace appearing in the top ten for both batting runs and range runs. Wait, what about Ernie Banks and Ryne Sandberg? Believe it or not, those two actually rank on the range list, but not on the batting runs list (though Banks missed by just two runs). Mark Grace is on both lists—interesting. For those obsessed with Ron Santo (me!), he missed the range list by 27 runs.
Glenn Beckert stole just 49 bases in his entire career (vs. 25 caught). Apparently he was really good at going first to third! Lange, on the other hand, stole 400 bases in seven 19th century seasons. Chance also cleared 400 steals. Chance, Williams and Hack all also appeared on the batting runs list.
I'm sure many of you knew Sammy Sosa was this good of a defender, but I sure didn't. This wasn't just an early career thing, either. In his last season in Chicago (2004), his range (10 runs) was worth more than his batting (8 runs). The fact that in the 133 years of this franchise he ranks #2 in both batting and range, to me, is unbelievable. I can't imagine another player for another franchise ranking so highly on both lists. Tinker is the only guy who rated ahead of him, though, and his sidekick Evers ranks at #4. Chance was also an adept fielder, just missing this list (he had 47 runs).
Think Andre Dawson should be going into the Hall of Fame as a Cub? This is his only appearance in this entire article. In fact, his 1987 MVP season (2.4 WAR) rates as his 11th best season.
What's a Silver Flint? It's apparently a 19th century catcher who was the best receiver in club history. He picked up all that value behind the plate despite just playing 680 games for the Cubs. Like many of the Anson-era Cubs (well, White Stockings at the time), bios of Flint cite heavy drinking (and in Flint's case, early death at age 36). Randy Hundley ranks #2 on this list, and he's always been a bit of a hero to me because of one fact—he caught a record 160 games in a season (1968). You don't see that… ever. What stands out to me about Jody Davis and Rick Wilkins is that they each had one unreal season behind the plate. Davis had a 21-run season behind the plate while Wilkins had a 14-run year. Wilkins' season also happened to be his 28-batting run season (which led to 6.5 WAR).
By WAR in a single season
While Rogers Hornsby and Sammy Sosa top the list, those are their only appearances here (yet again, we see Sammy at #2). Ron Santo and Ernie Banks appear the most often at four times apiece. Cap Anson appears twice, though he didn't crack the top twelve with either season. All other players appear once apiece. Knowing that Banks played so many seasons and happens to have four seasons in the top eleven, I'm surprised that his career total isn't higher than 64.4. Alas, it's amazing what a switch from a high-value position (like shortstop) to one on the other side of the spectrum (first base) can do to your WAR.
What's most impressive about Harris' season is the fact that it took him just 62 games to reach that level of horrible. His .195/.294/.255 slash line (.549 OPS, 53 OPS+) led to -14 batting runs. But he was a slick-fielding second baseman, right? Wrong. He was -16 runs in the field. This is a guy who finished his career with -7.7 WAR. Jiggs Parrott is an awesome name, so I had to look him up. His 42 OPS+ in 1894 led to a staggering -55 runs on offense. He was also -3 runs in the field. Ouch.
John Clarkson makes this list three times, including the top two seasons in franchise history. Ah, those crazy 1880s. Bill Hutchison also makes this list three times, at #6, #9, and #14. Larry Cocoran also appears multiple times (twice), and he's also an 1800s guy. The last pitcher to appear twice is Mordecai Brown, who did so in 1908 and 1909. It's crazy to not see 1906 on that list, with his 253 ERA+ and all. So, no pitcher after 1910—not even Greg Maddux or Fergie Jenkins—can crack this list more than once.
Martin's 4.83 ERA doesn't look horrible, but his ERA+ was 66. His 4-15 record left him with a .211 winning percentage. It's always interesting to see a modern guy like Farnsworth. In 46.2 innings, his ERA was 7.33. Brutal. What's interesting about Hippo Vaughn is that he's #10 on franchise pitcher WAR list. His -2.7 WAR season came in his final year (3-11, 6.01, 64 ERA+) and followed a string of excellent seasons (by WAR): 2.9, 2.8, 5.4, 5.7, 6.8, 6.1, and 4.6.
And his name is Hippo.
All Time Team
- Catcher: Gabby Hartnett (49.3 WAR, 4.9 WAR/700)
- First Base: Cap Anson (89.1 WAR, 6.2 WAR/700)
- Second Base: Ryne Sandberg (62.1 WAR, 4.7 WAR/700)
- Third Base: Ron Santo (68.5 WAR, 5.4 WAR/700)
- Shortstop: Ernie Banks (64.4 WAR, 4.4 WAR/700)
- Outfield: Sammy Sosa (60.0 WAR, 5.4 WAR/700)
- Outfield: Billy Williams (55.2 WAR, 4.1 WAR/700)
- Outfield: George Gore (33.9 WAR, 7.2 WAR/700)
- Starting Pitcher: Fergie Jenkins (53.5 WAR, 4.0 WAR/700)
- Starting Pitcher: Rick Reuschel (46.8 WAR, 4.1 WAR/700)
- Starting Pitcher: Mordecai Brown (45.7 WAR, 3.9 WAR/700)
- Starting Pitcher: John Clarkson (36.8 WAR, 4.3 WAR/700)
- Relief Pitcher: Bruce Sutter (17.7 WAR, 7.2 WAR/700)
- Relief Pitcher: Lee Smith (18.7 WAR, 5.5 WAR/700)
This squad came together rather easily. It was easy enough to take the top three pitchers by total WAR and then the #1 guy by WAR/200 IP (since he also happened to have the two best pitcher WAR seasons in team history). The relievers were even easier. There were some excellent hitters I had to leave off the list, but there was generally no contest with who to pick for the starting lineup. Banks makes it here as a shortstop even though he played at first a bit more, but he was so close to 50/50 that I didn't feel guilty about it.
This team racks up a total of 71.3 WAR, which surprisingly event trailed the Twins. Still, the Cubs rank as our #3 team we've covered so far:
- Red Sox (88.9 WAR)
- Twins (71.6 WAR)
- Cubs (71.3 WAR)
- White Sox (68.5 WAR)
- Mets (65.3 WAR)
- (63.7 WAR)
It occurred to me that I might want to tweak these totals a bit though. I'm using WAR/700 and WAR/200 to mimic full-season production. But that doesn't really work for the relievers. Perhaps I should rate the relievers (just when adding up the total team WAR) on something more like a WAR/100 scale. Thoughts?
And who's next?
Finally I get to cover the Tigers. I've really been looking forward to them because the franchise is chock full of underrated players (Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Bill Freehan, etc.). Looking forward to it!