The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Each Team’s Single-Season WAR Leader

Measured by WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which player has had the best individual season for each team in Major League history? Listed alphabetically, here are the single-season WAR leaders for each baseball team (since 1900), and the year during which they produced the team record:

1)  A’s – Eddie Collins – 10.5, 1910

2)  Angels – Mike Trout – 10.9, 2012

3)  Astros – Craig Biggio – 9.4, 1997

4)  Blue Jays – Roger Clemens – 11.9, 1997

5)  Braves – Greg Maddux – 9.7, 1995

6)  Brewers – Robin Yount – 10.5, 1982

7)  Cardinals – Rogers Hornsby – 12.1, 1924

8)  Cubs – Rogers Hornsby – 10.4, 1929

9)  Diamondbacks – Randy Johnson – 10.9, 2002

10) Dodgers – Sandy Koufax – 10.7, 1963

11)  Expos / Nats – Pedro Martinez – 9.0, 1997

12)  Giants – Barry Bonds – 11.9, 2001

13)  Indians – Gaylord Perry – 11.0, 1972

14)  Mariners – Alex Rodriguez – 10.3, 2000

15)  Marlins – Kevin Brown – 8.0, 1996

16)  Mets – Dwight Gooden – 12.1, 1985

17)  Orioles – Cal Ripkin, Jr. – 11.5, 1991

18)  Padres – Kevin Brown – 8.6, 1998

19)  Phillies – Steve Carlton – 12.1, 1972

20)  Pirates – Honus Wagner – 11.5, 1908

21)  Rangers / Senators – Josh Hamilton – 8.9, 2010

22)  Rays – Ben Zobrist – 8.8, 2011

23)  Reds – Joe Morgan – 11.0, 1975

24)  Red Sox – Cy Young – 12.6, 1901

25)  Rockies – Larry Walker – 9.8, 1997

26)  Royals – Zach Greinke – 10.4, 2009

27)  Tigers – Hal Newhouser – 12.0, 1945

28)  Twins / Senators – Walter Johnson – 16.0, 1913

29)  White Sox – Wilbur Wood – 11.7, 1971

30)  Yankees – Babe Ruth – 14.0, 1923

As you may have noticed, a pair of players each appear twice on this list.  Rogers Hornsby holds the single-season WAR mark for both the Cardinals and the Cubs.  Kevin Brown, and under-appreciated pitcher if there ever was one, compiled the greatest single-season WAR for both the Marlins and the Padres.  A pair of men named Johnson, Randy and Walter, also appear on this list.

What do you make of the fact that four of the six highest WAR’s on this list occurred before 1925?  Could it be that the level of talent between the very best players and the average players was much greater then than it has been since?

The 1930’s and the 1950’s are, perhaps oddly, the only two decades since 1900 not represented at least once on this list.

Four players, Larry Walker, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, each set their respective team records in a single season, 1997.  Three other players, Cal Ripkin, Kevin Brown (twice), and Greg Maddux, also set their team’s record during that same decade, the 1990’s.

Fourteen different pitchers are represented on this list, including five lefties:  Koufax, Carlton, Newhouser, W. Wood and R. Johnson.

Given how much offense has historically been expected from first basemen, it is surprising that not one single first baseman is represented on this list.  Nor are any third basemen or catchers to be found here.  But eight players who were primarily middle-infielders during their careers are on this list.

Chronologically, the list spans from Cy Young’s 1901 season with the Red Sox to Mike Trout’s 2012 with the Angels.  Five of these players are still active:  Trout, Josh Hamilton, Ben Zobrist, Zach Greinke, and (technically) A-Rod.  Trout and Hamilton are currently teammates on the Angels.

All but seven of these players are still alive.  Only Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Hal Newhouser have passed away.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has identified the period 1947-72 as the “Golden Era” of baseball.  Interestingly, however, only four of the single-season WAR records on this list occurred during that era, and three of them (Carlton and Perry in ’72 and Wood in ’71) barely qualify.  Only Koufax’s 1963 season fits squarely in that arbitrary time-frame.

It will be interesting to see if any of these records fall this season, or over the next several years, as today’s talented young ballplayers leave their mark on the game.




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28 thoughts on “Each Team’s Single-Season WAR Leader

  1. I was surprised Pedro didn’t also make it on the Red Sox list, but I have heard that Cy Young guy was pretty good.

    • Pedro’s 11.7 WAR in 2000 is actually the 3rd best in Red Sox history. Carl Yaz’s 12.4 in ’67 is actually second best. Interesting that Ted Williams doesn’t break the top three in any season.
      Also wanted to let you know that you and James are doing a great job over on your site. Required reading for Mets fans.

  2. Reblogged this on .

  3. Thanks, very fascinating list. I wouldn’t have guessed Kevin Brown…ever…let alone for two teams. Just looked up some stats and you are right — under appreciated indeed! Interesting some of the names that didn’t make the list. Thanks for posting this.

    • And thank you, sir, for reading. Much appreciated. Kevin Brown appearing twice was a surprise to me, too.
      Take care,

      • Jonathan Merkel on said:

        Bill, I was surprised to see Kevin Brown twice as well. However, I have to disagree with you when you say he is under appreciated because while his best years were with Florida and San Diego, Brown signed with the Dodgers in 1999 for $120 Million. After that, he was ‘appreciated’ to the tune of nearly $67,000/IP.

      • Hi Johathan, Well, I guess that’s one way to judge whether someone is under-appreciated or not. I should have made it clearer that I was referring to baseball fans in general, and Hall of Fame voters in particular, who dropped Brown off the HOF ballot after just one year when he got about 2% of the ballot. For a man who enjoyed around a half-dozen Cy Young caliber seasons, and who was clearly better than several pitchers already in the HOF, I don’t think he’s been given half the credit he deserves for his excellent career.
        Thanks very much for stopping by, and for the comment.

  4. I’m still trying to grasp WAR, especially that there are a number of different ways in determining the total, but the point you mention about no corner infielders being on the list is a surprise and kinda turns a team’s traditional needs upside down. Maybe a Loogy can rotate between the mound and first base, but then we’d have to come up with a new name for him.

    • If not for the strike in ’94, first baseman Jeff Bagwell would probably hold the Astros single-season record. He was at 8.2 WAR through 110 games. Biggio’s 9.4 in a full season would have probably paled in comparison to whatever Bagwell would have finished with in his MVP season. As for crossing a pitcher with a first baseman, let the naming begin!
      Thanks for reading,

  5. A few players on this list, you would not associate with these teams. Gaylord Perry an Indian?

  6. So a guy has 10 wins above replacement level offense as a 21 year old, and it’s a bit of a down year by comparison to the season before? Shouldn’t we insist that Trout is pre-emptively named the AL MVP before the baseball gods get mad and take him away from us?

    • Certainly not a lot of guys who have compiled a 20.8 career WAR before their age-22 season even occurs. Here’s something else to ponder. Even if Trout is only about half as good (around 5.0 per year) over the next ten seasons as he’s been up to this point, his career WAR will still be about the same as those of Frank Thomas, Johnny Mize, Ed Delahanty, Paul Waner and Larry Walker. And that would be a significant step down from the player he currently is. Yikes.

  7. For the older players, ie before free agency and hired guns, their contributions came as rookies most often, although Rogers Hornsby must have been a good addition too.

  8. So what we’re saying here is that Clint Barmes is not “the poor man’s Honus Wagner” as he is “the truly wretched homeless person sleeping under a piece of cardboard next to his collection of urine jars’ Honus Wagner.”

  9. I suppose intuitively I knew Gooden would lead the Mets, but I’m still a little surprised that Tom Seaver wasn’t #1 for them.
    I presume this is Baseball’s version of WAR.

    • Seaver, of course, had more overall high WAR seasons than Gooden, but Gooden’s 1985 season was one of the best all-time by any pitcher in history. And right you are. The numbers are from
      Thanks, V

  10. That’s crazy that the Cubs go way back to Hornsby.

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