At the end of the last few franchises in this series, I expressed excitement about getting to the Tigers. Well, I'm finally here. Why the interest in the Tigers? I've always been interested in players who sit on the Hall of Fame bubble—from the guys who are constantly debated (say, Jack Morris) to the guys who are not inducted and so clearly should be (say, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker), to the guys who may not be slam dunk Hall of Famers, but are much better than they are given credit for (say, Bill Freehan and John Hiller). The history of the Detroit Tigers gives us plenty of all of these.
The Tigers also have their share of Hall of Famers, with guys like Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Charlie Gehringer, Harry Heilmann, Sam Crawford, and Hal Newhouser spending the majority of their careers in Detroit.
Previously, this series featured the Red Sox, Twins, White Sox, Rangers, Mets, and Cubs. As usual, all numbers are from Rally's WAR database (through the end of 2009).
This will also be the last post in this series done in this exact format. The data is pretty time-consuming to merge and crunch. Since Baseball-Reference added rWAR to the Play Index, I can build a similar structured post much more quickly. Future posts likely will not have all the same tables, but I'll do my best to keep making these a compelling read.
And away we go…
By total WAR:
One thing that jumps out at me is that there are a lot of really good players who spent a long time in Detroit. The Top 7 all finished with over 60 WAR in over 8000 plate appearances with the Tigers. Beyond those seven are two damn good first basemen in Hank Greenberg and Norm Cash. Greenberg's WAR may look a little low for a Hall of Famer. But look at the plate appearances—he lost a lot of time to the war. We'll see him rank more favorably when using WAR as a rate stat. I think Norm Cash gets passed off as a one-year wonder. Yes, his unbelievable year in 1961 was worth nearly 20% of his entire career value. But we're talking a 10 WAR season as part of a 52.9 WAR career. Once again, he's way past the Jim Rice yardstick (and garnered just 1.6% of the Hall of Fame vote in his only shot). After Cash, we have a personal favorite of mine—vastly underrated longtime backstop Bill Freehan.
Lots of other names of interest here. Chet Lemon picked up a bit over half his career value with Detroit while 1984 teammates Lance Parrish and Kirk Gibson both had very respectable Tiger tenures. Travis Fryman jumped out at me a bit, but he was consistent for longer than I remembered. His numbers aren't boosted by surprising defensive metrics either (he was +11 runs in the field). Then there's Bobby Higginson. I'll be honest—I had forgotten that name. But he did have four seasons where he was worth over 20 runs at the plate (two of them over 30).
One final tidbit—when I saw on the Baseball-Reference play index page that the Detroit Tigers are the only team for which two players collected 3000 hits, I wondered what team had the most high WAR players. The Tigers are indeed the only franchise with nine position players with 50+ WAR. The Pirates are second with eight while the Cubs and Yankees have seven each.
Wait, Jack Morris is fifth?!? Sure, that's not news to this audience. It's pretty impressive when you consider that the Tigers haven't had a ton of well-known starting pitchers over the years. Newhouser and Bridges take the first and second spots relatively easily (and put up pretty good rate stats, too). Newhouser was a Veteran's Committee Hall selection (peaking at 42.8% from the BBWAA), thanks in part to his back-to-back MVP campaigns in 1944 and 1945. Bridges didn't have the same accolades, but had very similar numbers in WAR, ERA+, and even winning percentage. Bridges maxed out at 7.5% of the Hall of Fame vote—still nothing to simply dismiss.
Like Jack Morris, Mickey Lolich and Dizzy Trout were excellent pitchers for quite a while. Trout's best season came in 1944 when he finished second to Newhouser in the MVP voting. Imagine that—two pitchers from the same staff going 1-2 in the MVP voting (of course, there was no Cy Young Award yet). One more tidbit about that 1944 MVP vote—another Tiger, outfielder Dick Wakefield, finished fifth in the vote despite just 332 plate appearances (he left for the war in July). Lolich was a big part of the 1968 Tigers club that won the World Series. Fellow hurler Denny McLain stole the show that year by winning 30 games, but Lolich had the vastly superior career. Lolich topped off at about 25% of the Hall of Fame vote.
If you're wondering where the Tigers rank among most pitchers with 50+ WAR (I was), they have two, which is tied for sixth. The Braves are first with six while the Giants are second with five. Dropping the requirement to 40+ WAR, the Tigers are tied for 7th with four. The Braves and White Sox are first with seven.
By WAR used as a rate stat
The Top 10 here is very interesting. We get the elite Top 7 8000 PA/60 WAR guys mentioned at the top of the article. Plus we get Greenberg (who moves way up to #2) and Cash (who settles in at the bottom of the Top 10). The only other entry? One Tony Phillips.
Before I talk more about Tony Phillips, the rest of the Top 20 is mostly occupied by 2000 or 3000 plate appearance guys, with the exception of Bobby Veach (an excellent player I simply don't know enough about), Bill Freehan (who doesn't even get a ton of defensive value from WAR, despite five Gold Gloves), and the aforementioned Chet Lemon (who was worth 93 runs in the field in addition to a rather surprising OBP-powered 190 runs at the plate). I also love seeing Mickey Tettleton here, who I'm sure would be a much bigger star today than he was during his career.
Back to Phillips. Let me start with a basic assumption we all (likely) have and then see how that is (not) reflected in WAR. This basic assumption is: a versatile player is worth more than a single position guy.
Phillips' primary position was second base (777 games), but he also played 566 games in left field, 428 at third base, 294 at shortstop, 169 at right field, 97 at center field, and 5 at first base. Phillips rode an incredible OBP and his ability to play the infield to a great career worth 48.2 WAR. There are a lot of Hall of Famers with fewer career WAR than Phillips.
Phillips was an above average fielder at his primary positions (+37 at 2B, +24 at LF) as well as right around average at a couple others (+1 at RF, -4 at 3B). He rated at -8 at SS and -9 in his 97 games in CF. There's a huge difference in positional adjustment between 2B (+2.5 runs per 162 games) and LF (-7.5 runs per 162 games). Playing in left field instead of second base (or third base or center field, which are equal) cost Phiilips 26 runs (or 2.6 wins). One has to wonder—shouldn't Phillips' versatility be worth something, rather than detracting from his value?
Of course, I'm not sure how to solve this problem. Instead, I'll move on.
Well—I didn't expect to see you there, Mr. Brocail. Doug Brocail spent four seasons in Detroit. He didn't close (five saves in four years), didn't pitch in particularly high leverage situations (1.3 LI), and didn't post that overwhelming an ERA (3.06), but that was good enough to earn 6.8 WAR in 273.1 innings. Fidrych, of course, had that incredible 8.5 WAR rookie season (in a hair over 250 innings). He dealt with injuries after that, limited to 27 more career starts. He was still extremely effective in 1977 (11 starts) and 1978 (3 starts), but was weak in his final two seasons (13 starts). It all adds up to 9.8 WAR in 412.1 innings. Had he given up after 1978, his WAR/200 would have instead been 6.51. Third is John Hiller. I've written a lot about Hiller before (here and here, for starters). I think he's the most underrated reliever in history and probably should be in the Hall of Fame.
Hiller also is the only guy with a substantial number of innings until we get to Newhouser and Bridges. Trout makes an appearance shortly thereafter. The trio placed #1, #2, and #4 in raw WAR and also do the best when looking at WAR/200 with 2000+ innings. The #3 starter in raw WAR, Mickey Lolich, has a significantly lower WAR/200 (2.63) becuase it took him many more innings to get there. Jack Morris (#5 in raw WAR) owns a WAR/200 of 2.27.
By WAR components (for position players)
This list is totally unsurprising. It's pretty much the same Top 10 as the WAR/700 PA, except that Norm Cash and Tony Phillips are replaced by Vobby Veach and Willie Horton. Damn, look at Ty Cobb, all 1000+ and everything. And yet…
Cobb even leads in baserunning. The guy was just unreal. Seeing Kaline, Gehringer, Whitaker, Trammell, and Crawford here just reaffirms that the Tigers had some great all around players in their history.
We've got some more big time hitters that appear on the range list, too. Kaline's defense was legendary. Whitaker and Trammell, of course, rate highly. Interesting to see Cash down there rounding out the Top 10, too.
As good as Kaline's range was, it's ridiculous how huge his lead is in arm rating. His arm is worth more than the #2 through #5 guys combined.
The Tigers even had quite a few good catchers. Parrish (3 Gold Gloves) and Freehan (5 Gold Gloves) are multiple Gold Glove winners. Ausmus is known more for his time in Houston, but he still piled up value behind the plate in Detroit. Ivan Rodriguez wasn't in town long, but he also left a mark.
By WAR in a single season
Cobb takes 9 spots, accounting for almost half the list (including each of the Top 6 spots!). Considering how many excellent hitters the Tigers have had, that's simply incredible. Gehringer appears three times while Hank Greenberg and Al Kaline crack the list twice. That leaves just Norm Cash (at 10.0, the highest non-Cobb season), Heilmann, Trammell (that 1987 season was nuts), and Rocky Colavito (in the same year as Cash) with one each.
This was Morales' only season in Detroit. He was an interesting combination of a weak-hitting outfielder (-61 runs) and a weak-fielding outfielder (-85 runs). He was worth -3.9 WAR for his career. In 1979, he posted an OPS+ of 65 and was -24 at the plate and -13 in the field. Santiago, a shortstop, was worth -18 runs in the field and -29 at the plate. He had a 59 OPS+. Gutierrez, another shortstop, played just one full season. He was worth -26 at the plate and -18 in the field. Coucher, yet another shortstop, was -30 at bat and -15 in the field while Stainback (an outfielder) was -16 at bat and -8 in the field—in just 211 plate appearances.
One would expect Hal Newhouser to take the top two spots, what with those back-to-back MVP years and all. Only thing is, his MVP years were 1944 (11th) and 1945 (2nd). In 1946, he posted his best season despite missing out on the MVP award (which would have been his third straight!) to Ted Williams, 224 points to 197. Newhouser's 1948 season sits at the bottom of the list, giving him four appearances.
Denny McLain won a pair of Cy Young Awards in 1968 and 1969, but interestingly his 30-win season doesn't even appear here (5.9 WAR). My pitching WAR knowledge is still a bit fuzzy, so I'm not exactly sure why McLain's 1969 season was more valuable. I'm thinking it's not because of the relative league performance, since his 1968 is even better by ERA+ (154 to 135).
After Newhouser, Mickey Lolich, Dizzy Trout, Frank Lary, and Bobo Newsom each appear twice. I love that John Hiller, a reliever, makes the list. That was a hell of a year.
|Five tied with||-2.1|
-4.0 WAR is pretty special. Stovall went 2-13 with a 4.42 ERA (58 ERA+) in 146.2 innings. That's pretty bad. Comstock managed to be -2.7 WAR while only throwing 60 innings. Narleski followed up five years in Cleveland that were worth over 10 WAR with this forgettable season. Finally, Herbert (later an All Star with the White Sox) rode a 64 ERA+ to his -2.2 WAR season in 84 innings.
All Time Team
The most painful thing about this all-time team was leaving Lou Whitaker off. But there's no way that I can justify putting him ahead of Charlie Gehringer. I thought briefly about putting him at third, but he never played there so I can't justify it. At third, Travis Fryman is actually the club leader at WAR. He was good, but it does seem a shame that he makes it and Sweet Lou (and Sam Crawford, Norm Cash, etc.) didn't.
- Catcher: Bill Freehan (43.3 WAR, 4.5 WAR/700)
- First Base: Hank Greenberg (53.7 WAR, 6.8 WAR/700)
- Second Base: Charlie Gehringer (80.9 WAR, 5.6 WAR/700)
- Third Base: Travis Fryman (26.5 WAR, 3.9 WAR/700)
- Shortstop: Alan Trammell (66.9 WAR, 5.1 WAR/700)
- Outfield: Ty Cobb (153.7 WAR, 9.1 WAR/700)
- Outfield: Al Kaline (91.0 WAR, 5.6 WAR/700)
- Outfield: Harry Heilmann (65.7 WAR, 5.7 WAR/700)
- Starting Pitcher: Hal Newhouser (55.3 WAR, 3.8 WAR/200)
- Starting Pitcher: Tommy Bridges (50.7 WAR, 3.6 WAR/200)
- Starting Pitcher: Dizzy Trout (42.2 WAR, 3.3 WAR/200)
- Starting Pitcher: Mickey Lolich (44.2 WAR, 2.6 WAR/200)
- Relief Pitcher: John Hiller (28.2 WAR, 4.5 WAR/200)
- Relief Pitcher: Mike Henneman (12.0 WAR, 3.6 WAR/200)
This squad totals 67.7 WAR, which places fifth among teams I've covered. What really hurts is the pitching. No Tom Seavers or Walter Johnsons on this staff. The hitting is top notch though.
Here are the rankings for the teams I've covered so far:
- Red Sox (88.9 WAR)
- Twins (71.6 WAR)
- Cubs (71.3 WAR)
- White Sox (68.5 WAR)
- Tigers (67.7 WAR)
- Mets (65.3 WAR)
- Rangers (63.7 WAR)
And lastly, here's my updated queue:
- Atlanta Braves
- New York Yankees
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Baltimore Orioles
- Houston Astros
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Milwaukee Brewers