The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Rogers Hornsby”

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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Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Craig Biggio

It won’t be long before Craig Biggio comes up for Hall of Fame voting.  The former second baseman / outfielder (he caught a little, too) of the Houston Astros was one of the finest infielders of his era.  Though this post is not specifically meant to be an argument in favor of his HOF induction, the stats we will be looking at today certainly do nothing to diminish his case.

Acknowledging the appreciation of the fans aft...

Acknowledging the appreciation of the fans after a double against the Reds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to middle infielders like Biggio (and he was primarily a second baseman), the usual expectation as far as offense is concerned is a player with around a .300 batting average, good bat control (meaning few strikeouts and a reasonable ability to bunt), and decent, if not spectacular, speed.  Durability and solid defense are obvious pluses as well.

What we don’t necessarily expect from a middle infielder, (though there have been some notable exceptions) is solid power.  Most middle infielders survive with the occasional homer, breaking into double digits in the odd season.  Some push a bit further than that, into the 10-20 home run range.

When I was first studying Craig Biggio’s stats, there were several that impressed me a great deal.  First of all, in his amazing 1997 season, he grounded into exactly zero double plays in 744 plate appearances.  That same year he led the N.L. by being hit by 34 pitches, one of five seasons in which he led the N.L. in that statistic.

I was also impressed that when he led the N.L. in stolen bases in the strike-shortened 1994 season with 39, he was also caught just four times.

Perhaps most impressively, Biggio’s 4,711 career total bases are just one short of Rogers Hornsby’s record of 4,712 among players who primarily played second base in their careers.

And how about those 668 doubles, fifth most in baseball history?

English: Jeff Bagwell (left) and Craig Biggio ...

English: Jeff Bagwell (left) and Craig Biggio (Right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It occurred to me, then, almost as an afterthought to take a closer look at his home run numbers.

So here’s an exercise for you.  (In the spirit of the upcoming school year), take out a piece of paper and a #2 lead pencil.

Now write down the following players’ names in the order you believe they had the most to least 20 homer seasons.

Bobby Grich, Alan Trammell, Joe Morgan, Joe Gordon, Tony Lazzeri, Derek Jeter, Barry Larkin, Ryne Sandberg, Frankie Frisch, Bobby Doerr, Jeff Kent, Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer, Lou Whitaker, Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio.

I know that you know where this is going, but hell, play along anyway.

Finished yet?

The now obvious question for this post is, then, “How Many 20+ Home Run Seasons Did Craig Biggio Accumulate in His Career?”

Here is the list of players in order from most 20+ homer seasons to fewest:

1)  Jeff Kent – 12

2)  Craig Biggio – 8

3)  Joe Gordon – 7

3)  Rogers Hornsby – 7

5)  Ryne Sandberg – 5

6)  Joe Morgan – 4

6)  Lou Whitaker – 4

8)  Roberto Alomar – 3

8)  Bobby Doerr – 3

8)) Derek Jeter – 3

11) Bobby Grich – 2

11) Barry Larkin – 2

11) Alan Trammell – 2

14) Charlie Gehringer – 1

15) Frankie Frisch – 0

15) Tony Lazzeri – 0

As you can see, few middle infielders in baseball history consistently hit as many home runs as Craig Biggio.  Yet ten of the players on this list are already in the HOF, and Derek Jeter will surely follow them in when the time comes.

Biggio retired after the 2007 season at age 41.  He hit 291 home runs in his career, the same number as “Toy Cannon” Jimmy Wynn, and just ten fewer than Rogers Hornsby.  He hit more homers than did first basemen Will Clark, Steve Garvey and Ted Kluszewski.

Craig Biggio’s eight 20+ home run seasons are also as many as Don Mattingly and Roberto Clemente  accomplished, if you put them together.

The point here is that if you are looking for a hole in Craig Biggio’s potential Hall of Fame resume, you’ll have to look elsewhere, for hitting for power was a relative strength of his.

All statistics, of course, are, to a certain extent, arbitrary.  I am not arguing that Craig Biggio was the best player on this list  (though few on this list were clearly better.)

There is no doubt, however, that Craig Biggio’s power was an underrated, and perhaps surprising, facet of his game.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Ty Cobb

In my last post in this series, I wrote about Pete Rose.

Rose has often been compared to Ty Cobb, both for his intense personality as well as for his take-no-prisoners style of play.  He’s also been compared to Cobb for the obvious reason that he broke what was once considered Cobb’s unbreakable career hits record of 4,189 (according to Baseball-Reference.com.)  Rose, of course, broke Cobb’s record, and finished his career with 4,256 hits.

But Rose topped a .500 slugging percentage in just one season, and finished in the top ten in his league in slugging percentage just twice (1968-69.)  His career slugging percentage of  just .409 is the same as Rafael Furcal.

In other words, Rose, like Ty Cobb, was a consummate contact hitter who sacrificed power in favor of batting average.

But is that who Ty Cobb really was, or has this become an easy, though ultimately false, comparison?

Ty Cobb holds the Major League Baseball record...

Ty Cobb holds the Major League Baseball record for highest career batting average, at .366. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the question of the day is, “Did Ty Cobb ever lead his league in slugging percentage?

Now, I was already aware from prior research that Cobb won 11 batting titles, drove in over a hundred runs in a season several times, topped 200 hits in a season 9 or 10 times, and stole nearly 900 bases.

But I never paid much attention to his slugging percentages because, well, I don’t think most of us associate Ty Cobb with having been a “slugger.”

So what I discovered truly surprised me.

Ty Cobb led his league in slugging eight times in an eleven year span.  In other words, from 1907 to 1917, Cobb was not merely the greatest hitter for average in his league, he was also the greatest slugger in his league.

How does Cobb’s eight slugging titles compare with other great players in history?  Here’s a list of several players (not meant to be comprehensive) and the number of times they led their league in slugging percentage:

Babe Ruth:  13

Rogers Hornsby:  9

Ted Williams:  9

Ty Cobb:  8

Barry Bonds:  7

Stan Musial:  6

Honus Wagner:  6

Jimmie Foxx:  5

Willie Mays:  5

Hank Aaron:  4

Mickey Mantle:  4

Mark McGwire:  4

Alex Rodriguez:  4

Albert Pujols:  3

Joe DiMaggio:  2

Lou Gehrig:  2

Ken Griffey, Jr.:  1

Frank Thomas:  1

I don’t know about you, but if I was asked to rate these players beforehand from top to bottom regarding career slugging titles, I’m pretty sure this would not have been the order in which I would have listed them.  Nor would I have come close to the number of slugging titles each of these players won.

Gehrig, of course, had Ruth as a teammate, thus his low total.  DiMaggio played his home games in a park that absolutely killed right-handed power hitters.

English: Ty Cobb batting in 1908 at Chicago.

English: Ty Cobb batting in 1908 at Chicago. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still, based on this list, it is beyond dispute that Ty Cobb was not merely one of the very best hitters for average in baseball history, he belongs on the short list of greatest sluggers in the history of the game, despite his modest total of 117 career home runs.

Different parks and different eras both serve to either inflate or suppress a players apparent power. Because Cobb played in what’s commonly referred to as the Deadball Era, his reputation as a hitter has been unfairly limited to one aspect of the game, batting average.

But there can be little doubt that if Cobb had played in favorable hitter’s decades like the 1920’s and ’30’s, he would be remembered today in much the same way that Rogers Hornsby or Ted Williams are recalled.

All of which also points to the conclusion that any comparisons between Cobb and Rose as actual hitters needs to be reconsidered by most of us lest we make easy, though demonstrably inaccurate,  comparisons.

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