Change-UpJuly 22, 2010
Fun with Wins Above Replacement - National League Edition
By Patrick Sullivan

Yesterday I wrote about some of the surprises that a B-Ref Play Index search for individual teams’ all-time single season WAR leaders turns up, and limited it to the American League. Today, let’s look at the National League. Because I referenced some bad MVP decisions in yesterday’s piece, I want to make clear that I am not advocating that the MVP simply be handed to the player with the highest WAR (though you could come up with a worse system). It’s simply a solid representation of a player’s contribution and when you dig in, it can turn up some unexpected items.

As you might imagine, Hank Aaron is all over the top of the Braves list but the third best season in Braves history belongs to Darrell Evans. He hit .281/.403/.556 in 1973, good for a 9.0 WAR year, easily the very best year of his long career. The best position-player season of the last 20 years for the Braves was Marcus Giles’s 2003. I would have thought Chipper Jones.

Ron Santo Hall-of-Fame supporters looking to rile themselves up should check out the Cubs list. Santo is mixed right in there with Ernie Banks and a few others and in fact, from 1964 to 1969, no National Leaguer amassed a greater WAR total. Right behind Santo on THAT list are Willie Mays, Aaron and Roberto Clemente.

The first, second, third, fourth and fifth best seasons in Cincinnati Reds history belong to Joe Morgan. Do you get the sense that people don't quite appreciate what a great player he was? I know I expected him to be up there, but the five best seasons in the history of a franchise with no shortage of history and success like the Reds? It's incredible. Morgan bears some responsibility for a legacy that could be so much more due to his broadcasting style and occasional unfortunate commentary, but he really does seem unfairly underrated nonetheless. He's on the short short list of the very best players of all time.

He's long been a favorite of this site, but Jimmy Wynn claims 3 of the top 20 seasons in Astros history. It would be hard to identify a player whose reputation as a player is more hampered by context. He played home games in the Astrodome during a brutal pitcher's era and was a high-OBP/low-AVG type. He finished his career with just a .250 batting average but a 128 OPS+.

Adrian Beltre's 2004 is the second best season in Dodgers history. The rest of the list includes names you'd expect except for number seven. There's that guy again! It's Wynn, who hit .271/.387/.497 for the 1974 Dodgers.

Four of the ten best Mets seasons took place between 1996 and 1998, and the names blew my mind. I guess John Olerud's doesn't - he was an excellent player and his 1998 is tied for the best Mets season. Who's he tied with? Yup, Bernard Gilkey, who hit .317/.393/.562 for the 1996 Mets. Edgardo Alfonso's 1997 and Lance Johnson's 1996 rank 7th and 9th respectively. Alfonso's 2000 ranks 10th.

So Chase Utley's been pretty good, right? He's one of the best players of the last bunch of years, the very best player in fact during one of the most successful stretches in Philadelphia Phillies history. Well Mike Schmidt had NINE seasons better than Utley's second best. Ryan Howard's best season ranks 52nd in Phils history ($125 million LOL).

I have never heard of Sixto Lezcano, but apparently he had the 4th best season in Padres history. For any reader who feels inclined, I would love to learn more about Sixto if you could share memories in the comments section.

Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, Hornsby, Musial Pujols...check out the St. Louis Cardinals list and you get a real appreciation for the standing that Pujols already has in the game's history.


If anybody is interested, I have a bunch of Sixto Lezcano rookie cards that can be had for a cheap price. He was a highly regarded young player during the mid- to late-1970s who could hit, field, and throw. He was one of many up and coming right fielders with canon arms in the 1970s, a group that included Dave Parker, Dave Winfield, Dwight Evans, Ellis Valentine, and, to a somewhat lesser degree, Jack Clark.

Lezcano's best season was actually 1979 when he was second in the AL in OPS (.987) - only behind Fred Lynn, whose 1979 season you highlighted in your Wezen Ball guest article. Through his age 25 year, Lezcano hit .283 with 84 HR and had an OPS+ of 130.

Lezcano was the principal attraction for St. Louis in a seven-player trade with Milwaukee that sent Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich from the Cardinals to the Brewers during the 1980 and 1981 offseason. He was out of baseball five years later at the age of 31.

That's awesome, Rich. Thanks a lot.

I'm stunned that Johnny Bench's best years don't crack the Reds' Top 5. You would think that a great-hitting catcher would be even more valuable and rare than a great-hitting 2nd baseman.

WAR is all about relative to the average. In Morgan's/Bench's day, the average 2B was much worse than the average catcher, so Morgan stands out much more, expecially when looking at relevant stats like OPS (Morgan), and not RBI (Bench, thanks to Morgan's OBP).

I'm too young to remember Sixto, but my dad has told me often that, in the early years of the Brewers, Sixto was the only player worth watching. Check out his numbers from 1976-1979: he was constantly improving his strikeout and walk rates, hitting for decent power and a good average.

Rich, you've mentioned that he was the principal attraction for St. Louis in that trade? For quite a while, he was considered, according to my father, to be the superior young Brewer to even Robin Yount or Paul Molitor (although he and Molitor didn't overlap too much). I don't think that quite worked out...

I remember Sixto, and I too, have a bunch of his old baseball cards. He had a few good years, but never was quite as good as I thought he'd be.

A few years ago, a Puerto Rican guy on my slow pitch softball team claimed that he knew Sixto Lezcano from back home. I believed him, because Sixto ain't exactly a household name these days...if he was lying in his name dropping he probably would have picked someone better known.

Sixto Lezcano was a fun player, especially in Strat-O-Matic. He could hit lefties very well, with good power and average.

Here's a Wikipedia link for those who want to know more (I have nothing to do with its creation, I just found it moments ago):

I live in Europe, so miss most of Morgan's 'commentary', but i get the general gist - but the thing i don't understand is why a guy like Morgan, who played like the ultimate modern SABR player (high OBP, great def at a tough position, good SB efficiency) commentates like an old school manager?

Or did he think we was hurting his team when he played by taking a walk instead of (for example) laying down a bunt to move the runners over?

What struck me about the StL link was not all the Pujols but that Rolen and Edmonds were nearly as valuable in 2004.