Fun with Wins Above Replacement - National League Edition
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.