5 Year WAR Leaders – Infielders 1961-2011

Birtelcom’s recent post on dynastic succession by teams got me to thinking about succession in terms of players. In particular, does the best player at a position remain the best player for an extended period, or does that honor tend to shift around among the better players during any particular time?

To answer this question, I looked at cumulative bWAR measured over 5 year periods, for every such period since 1961. Since I was focusing on individual positions, I set a high threshold of at least 75% of games played at that position during the period. This approach will exclude players who split time among positions, or around the time of a mid-career position switch. But, I believe those are precisely the reasons why this approach is preferable when evaluating players by position.

In his Baseball Abstracts, Bill James talked about the considerations that went into his HOF Standards and HOF Monitor scores. I don’t recall exactly how he expressed it, but one of things James looked at was whether a player was recognized as the best at his position at the player’s peak, and also how long that peak was. I’m not going to delve into the subjective argument of how a player was recognized or regarded. Instead, the table below is one way to represent whether a player was the best at his position, whether recognized as such or not.

So, here’s the table. Scroll through to see the top MLB player by bWAR on a year-by-year. Again, the player identified is the one accumulating the most bWAR in the 5 year period ending with the indicated year. Also, you can type a player’s name, or a year, in the Search bar to bring up that specific information.

[table id=33 /]

 

You can see that dynasties exist for players as well as teams. Sometimes, there are transition periods between the emergence of truly dominant players at a position but, in most cases, players tend to hold their crown for a few years at least, and often more, sometimes a lot more.

So, what do you think? Any surprises? Does this feed fuel to the fire for any HOF arguments?

I will follow up this post with one on outfielders and another on pitchers and catchers. If I’m feeling energetic, I’ll also take a look at 1901-1960.

 

 

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Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

The 2nd most dominant SS of the last 50 years (after Ripken)…

Dagoberto Campaneris.

Did so while averaging 4.1 between 1968-1977.
45.3 career WAR
SS on 3 (consecutive) WS winners.
SB leader 6 out of 8 years.
14th all-time.
2249 hits in a low-offense era.
40 SH in 1977 the most since 1929.
Played all nine positions in one game.

Threw a bat at Lerrin Lagrow during a playoff game, and Billy Martin attacked him in the ensuing brawl. Eleven years later Billy plucked him out of the Mexican league to come back at age 41. He batted .322

HOF consideration?
On the ballot once. 3.1%

Richard Chester
Guest

While browsing through Campaneris’ home page I saw that he led the AL in SH with 25 while participating in only 98 games. I wonder if anyone has led the leaugue in a counting stat in fewer games.

topper009
Guest

Babe Ruth led the league in HRs (11) in 1918 in only 95 games.

kds
Guest

We have a problem with this type of question because in 1918 they ended the season early for WWI. They played about 126 games. Also, for 1901 and later shortened seasons in 1919, 1972, 1981, 1994, 1995. Plus the lengthened the season with expansion in 1961-62.

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Very good point.
The answer, then, has to be a %

Lawrence Azrin
Guest

Deion Sanders is close:
1992, leading with 14 3Bs in 97 games, 325 PAs

I have the feeling that triples is one category that you can lead the league while playing much less than a full season.

Richard Chester
Guest

When Chief Wilson hit his record 36 triples in 1912 the second-place finishers (Wagner and Murray) had 20 each. Wilson hit triple #21 in his 77th game so if he stopped playing then and there he still would have led the league.

bstar
Guest
I think Campy’s biggest problem is his lack of superior defense. No Gold Gloves(not suggesting that’s the be-all end-all of metrics there) but to me he’s pretty similar to Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Smith, minus the 21 Gold Gloves between Luis and Ozzie. All three had great career SB numbers, and Aparicio and Smith led the league in SH twice also. Campy’s postseason prowess gives him a nose up over Aparicio at least, but to me not enough to make up for the defensive discrepancy between the three. Smith 87 OPS+, 580 SB, 21.6 dWAR, 12 GG Aparicio 82 OPS+,… Read more »
Jason Z
Guest

My first impression was also Campy.

He is the only player on the list
for at least five consecutive seasons
who is not in the HOF.

By this metric he was the best SS in
the AL for ten seasons. By that point
alone it seems his HOF candidacy was
badly flawed.

Jason Z
Guest

Fregosi also, preceeding Campy, separated by Petrocelli.

Ed
Guest

Bill Skowron??? Really? Looks like he had a whopping 13.5 WAR during the period in question. Hard to believe that no first baseman could do better than that.

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Ray Boone
Dick Gernert
Gail Harris
Bob Boyd
Vic (No) Power
Norm Zauchin
George Crowe
Dale Long
Frank Torre
Ed Bouchee
(an old) Gil Hodges

14.2 WAR from Stan the Man

16.2 from Baby Bull
Was Cepeda not at 1B enough to make the list?

Mike L
Guest

It may not be that outlandish. It’s the last year before expansion, and my memory is that a lot of teams used 1B as a rotational spot where catchers and outfielders would also play. McCovey didn’t start until 1959, Norm Cash wasn’t a regular until 1960.

Ed
Guest

Cepeda was primarily in LF in 1960 so I assume Doug didn’t count that year in his totals. Same thing for Musial. He was primarily in the outfield in ’60 and ’61.

BTW, many of Pujols’ two year totals beat Skowron’s 5 year total.

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest
Skowron averaged 2.7 WAR for those 5 years. The 2B in that period, Nellie Fox, averaged 4.2 – and that’s while posting a NEGATIVE WAR in 1961. The SS, Banks, averaged 7.8 ___ So, no, not a glory period for first sackers. ___ Skowron played only 74 games in ’59 due to a back injury, which finally gave Marv Throneberry a chance to play his natural(-ly bad) position. Marvelous debuted in ’55 with one amazing game and a 473 ops+. Then spent the next two years absolutely mashing in the Denver air (82 hr 269rbi). He wasn’t so Marv in… Read more »
bstar
Guest

I might be mistaken on this, but I believe it took Dave Duncan passing him last year for Galen Cisco to lose the title of “most seasons as pitching coach”. He coached five different teams, including the World Champ ’92-’93 Jays. This was just a blurb I heard last year, so I’m not 100% sure it’s reliable.

Ed
Guest
Just out of curiosity, I decided to look at how many 1st baseman had 4.0 WAR seasons by decade. The first number is the number of first basemen with WAR greater than 4.0. The number in parentheses is the number of players with over 100 games played with at least 75% at first base. The third number is simply the percentage. 1901-1909: 20 (113) 17.7% 1910-1919: 16 (142) 11.3% 1920-1929: 29 (150) 19.3% 1930-1939: 52 (146) 35.6% 1940-1949: 29 (134) 21.6% 1950-1959: 19 (132) 14.4% 1960-1969: 30 (182) 16.5% 1970-1979: 35 (194) 18.0% 1980-1989: 44 (199) 22.1% 1990-1999: 58 (222)… Read more »
Doug
Guest

Here’s the 1957-61 cumulative 1B WAR based on the 75% playing time criterion. Pretty close.

1. Bill Skowron, 13.5
2. Norm Cash, 13.2
3. Joe Adcock, 13
4. Jim Gentile, 10.3
5. Vic Power, 9.5

kds
Guest

Skowron was platooned a lot, cutting his counting numbers, including WAR, but helping his rate stats. Cash was just getting started, didn’t have near 5 full years. Adcock was well past his peak. Power was a great defensive player at 1st, but not much of a hitter for the position. Gentile played very little in ’57-’58 and none in ’59. Cepeda and McCovey when both were with the Giants required one to play the outfield.

AlbaNate
Guest

The first thing that popped out at me was “why didn’t Campaneris get more serious HoF consideration?” I mostly remember him for that HR he hit in game seven of the 73 WS…forgot what a good player he actually was.

Kinda suprised not to see George Brett at all on here, but he had the misfortune of playing at the same time as Mike Schmidt.

How did Dick McAulife manage to break into Joe Morgan’s streak?

Jim Fregosi!

A-Rod: Five years each at two positions–wow.

Ed
Guest

1) Campaneris was hurt by playing in a pitcher’s park in a pitcher’s era.
2) Brett’s problem was injuries. On a per game basis, he definitely beat Schmidt from 76-80.

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Average WAR from ’76 – ’80

7.8 Brett
8.2 Schmidt

Per 162 games:

8.7 Brett
8.5 Schmidt
___

Schmidt posted a 5+ WAR 14 years in a row.
6+ WAR eleven years in a row.

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Schmidt’s best peak 5 was actually 1974 – 1979, where he averaged an 8.4 WAR

His successor, Wade Boggs, tallied an 8.6 from ’85 – ’89
(though somehow his 162 game avg is 8.3 ???)

Wade cracked 8 all five years:
8.5
8.6
9.1
8.7
8.2

AlbaNate
Guest

Five years with a WAR of eight or higher is pretty rare. I’m not great with these kind of searches, but as far as I can tell only eight players besides Boggs have done this:

Babe Ruth 7 years 1926-1932
Willie Mays 7 years 1960-1966
Albert Pujols 7 years 2003-2009
Honus Wagner 6 years 1904-1909
Hank Aaron 5 years 1959-1963
Cy Young 5 years 1892-1896
Joe Morgan 5 years 1972-1976

Ted Williams kind of did it too. 1941-1942. Then he was in the military for three years, then did it for four more years from 1946-1949.

bstar
Guest

My first thought was, “What about Lou Gehrig”? Sure enough, if you make it 7.5 WAR or better, the Iron Horse did it eleven straight years(’27-’37).

bstar
Guest

McAuliffe hit a pretty fair amount of homers in the 60s for a second baseman. Looks like he was the Dan Uggla of that decade.

John Autin
Editor

McAuliffe also averaged 101 BB per 162 G in that span, and just 3 GDP/162 G.

Another Tiger for the Hall of Very Good.

Steven
Guest

Didn’t McAuliffe first come up as a shortstop?

bstar
Guest

Not just that, he played shortstop for the Tigers ’til 66 and then transitioned to 2B after that. Over a third of his games are at shortstop. Not that anyone takes much stock in these, but his first B-ref comp is…..Jim Fregosi, who is discussed further down the thread.

bstar
Guest
McAuliffe showed up recently on a query I did to determine how historically elite Dan Uggla’s career HR total was at age 31: HR for 2B by age 31: 1. Soriano* 241 2. Hornsby 217 3. Sandberg 205 4. D Uggla 190 5. B Doerr 183 6. C Utley 177 7. McAuliffe 172 8. Jf Kent 161 9. J Gordon 153 10. R Alomar 151 *Though at age 31 Soriano had still played more than 50% of his games at 2B, as of this year he will no longer qualify as a 2B as his time in the outfield is… Read more »
Ed
Guest

The reason McAulife broke Morgan’s streak is because Morgan missed almost the entire 1968 season due to injury (only 27 PAs). Actually the fact that Morgan is the leader for the 64-68 period is pretty amazing since he also barely played in 1964 (43 PAs). He also missed 5 games in ’65, 40 in ’66 and 29 in ’67. His 432 games for the 5 year period is likely the lowest (by far) for any of Doug’s leaders.

AlbaNate
Guest

Several people had the title, lost it for a year and then regained it, but it looks like Ripken is the only one to lose it for two years only to regain later.

Hartvig
Guest

I think that actually speaks to the incredible concentration of talent at that position during those years- that mid-career a player that virtually everyone ranks as one of the best ever at his position would be unseated by 2 different players

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

The other Hot Cornerers who have come anywhere close:

6.8 Alex Rodriguez ’04 -’08
7.4 Eddie Mathews ’59 – ’63
7.9 Ron Santo ’63 – ’67

AlbaNate
Guest

I was surprised to see Grich make it on two years in the 80’s. I think of his dominant period–and his stats back up my memory–as being in the 70’s. I guess the competition just got weaker in the 80’s. Joe Morgan finally got old.

John Autin
Editor

Grich’s best offensive year was 1981, with a league-leading 164 OPS+. He tied for the lead in HR that year, too.

bstar
Guest

Grich was one of those second basemen who hit more HRs as his career progressed. Other good second baggers to see a similar trend:

Jeff Kent
Craig Biggio
Joe Morgan
Lou Whitaker
Frank White

AlbaNate
Guest

It’s true that Grich had some of his best power and OPS+ years in the last half of his career, but in terms of WAR, his best years were:

1973: 7.3
1974: 6.7
1975: 6.7

Followed by 79,81,72,76,83,80,78…he was pretty solid for a long time.

bstar
Guest

Another thing that struck me was Todd Helton’s nice run in the early 2000s. Would he have made the list once if he’d been playing in San Diego or Montreal? His career road numbers say “no way”.

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Helton’s numbers really illustrate both the Coors effect, and also the Offensive era he played in.

From 2000 – 2004

.349 .450 .643 1.093 160+

Sick, sick numbers.

When Rogers Hornsby posted similar numbers in 1921 his WAR was 11.7

Helton’s average?
7.3 WAR
and that is with 1.1 dWAR

Hartvig
Guest
Using Bill James’s Historical Baseball Almanac player rankings, which covers thru 1999 or 2000, it appears that third base comes out the best. I’m going to take a stab at trying to show his ranking by position from ’61 to ’00. 1b 2b 3b ss 61 75 15 03 05 62 17 15 03 05 63 20 15 03 30 64 20 29 03 30 65 20 29 03 19 66 39 29 06 15 67 39 05 06 15 68 09 01 06 15 69 09 01 06 15 70 09 22 06 15 71 09 01 06 32… Read more »
AlbaNate
Guest

Hey, does anyone know why–in the view I’m looking at, which is currently my home computer, not a mobile device–some posts don’t have reply buttons? I was going to reply to post #31, but I don’t see a reply button.

kds
Guest

When the replies are nested too deeply you are not given the opportunity to reply. Yet another reason to prefer linear ordered comments.

AlbaNate
Guest
One nice thing about using my mobile device to read these posts on HHS is that it doesn’t show them nested. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t show them as numbered, so it’s hard to reference specific posts. I preferred things the way they were before, all in a big long list, like the way the blog was on bbref.com. But that’s just me. I don’t care for change much. If it were up to me, I’d get rid of interleague play first, then wildcards, then the DH. I’d have AL umps bring back those mammoth chest protectors they used to wear…I… Read more »
Richard Chester
Guest

I agree with you about the big long list, interleague play and wildcards.

Ed
Guest

I wonder how much these things are influenced by our childhood memories of baseball. I grew up in the mid 70s so the DH doesn’t bother me. But interleague play and wildcards = the work of the devil!!!

bstar
Guest

I agree about wildcards; I’m OK with interleague play, except for this year. For some reason, the Braves get to play the Yankees TWICE while the Phillies instead get the Twins and no Yankees at all. Thanks for the imbalance, Bud.

bstar
Guest

The best you can do is reply to your #12, which will put your next comment under my #31. I think it does this mainly because there just isn’t enough space left in the right-hand margin to cover another indentation. So it will show up as a reply to your #12 but by the body of your post it will be obvious what you are replying to anyway.

bstar
Guest

^^OOPS. Ironically, a reply fail by me. 40 should have been a reply to 39.

bstar
Guest

2nd straight reply fail. 40 replying to 33. Geez.

bstar
Guest

Here’s the leaderboard for Doug’s tables of 5-year WAR leader seasons:

1. Morgan 11
2. Schmidt 10
2. A-Rod 10
4. Ripken 9
5. Boggs 8
6. Sandberg 7
7. Santo 6
7. Campy 6
7. Bagwell 6

kds
Guest
A-Rod would have 12 in a row, but the rules we’re using require that we not count the 5 year periods ending in 2005 and 2006 because he split the periods between SS and 3B 3 years to 2. (and then 2 years to 3.) So, he loses 2 periods where he had 2 MVP’s! Has any other player won MVP’s at 2 different positions that were important fielding positions? (3B and “up the middle.”) How many have won MVP’s at any 2 different positions? Or had MVP level seasons, say 7+ WAR at different positions?
topper009
Guest

1982 Robin Yount SS
1989 Robin Yount CF

Lawrence Azrin
Guest
2 MVPS – Hank Greenberg: 1935 – 1B 1940 – LF (made way for Rudy York at first) 7+ WAR at two different positions: – Mel Ott/1938 had 8.7 WAR mainly at third, he was usually a RFer – Ty Cobb/1907 had 8.4 WAR in RF (B-R doesn’t break it down, but Crawford was in CF the first few years of Cobb’s career, before Cobb took over CF),then too many years to list in CF – Honus Wagner in 1900 (mostly RF), then 1901/1902 (all over the place), after 1902 many years at SS, too many to list – Rod… Read more »
Paul E
Guest

Not on the list, but Richie Allen 9.0 WAR in 1964 at 3B for Philadelphia and the player preferably known as Dick Allen had 9.0 WAR in 1972 (MVP) at 1B for White Sox.

According to the decade reviews in the”win shares” tome BJHBA, Allen was the best player in MLB for both 1964 and 1972….no MVP in 1964 after the Phillies collapsed – Callison finished second to Boyer

Dr. Doom
Guest
Pete Rose was famously an All-Star at like 6 positions or something. Paul Molitor did something similar. Although all three of his MVPs were won as a C, Yogi Berra was also an All-Star as an OF in ’61. Yount is the only player I can think of to do it at two “up-the-middle” spots. Harmon Killebrew won his MVP playing out-of-position, at 3B. Dick Allen won his ROY at third, his MVP at first. Stan Musial’s three MVPs were split; two were in the OF (and he moved around a bit there); the middle one was a 1B. Hank… Read more »
AlbaNate
Guest

Darin Erstad and Placido Polanco are the only players to win Gold Gloves at multiple positions. Polanco did it at two infield positions (3B & 2B) while Erstad did it for 1B and OF.

birtelcom
Editor

Remarkable amount of stability in Doug’s list since 2003.
Consecutive years on Doug’s list with the same four guys:
68-69 McCovey/Morgan/Santo/Fregosi
72-73 McCovey/Morgan/Bando/Campaneris
82-83 K. Hernandez/Grich/Schmidt/Yount
86-87 E. Murray/Whitker/Boggs/Ripken
91-92 W. Clark/Sandberg/Boggs/Ripken
03-04 Helton/Kent/Rolen/A-Rod
05-06 Helton/Kent/Rolen/Tejada
07-09 Pujols/Utley/A-Rod/Jeter
10-11 Pujols/Utley/A-Rod/Hanley Ramirez

Ed
Guest

Going forward, Pujols will undoubtedly remain tops at first base, and Longoria will take over at 3rd. Second and Short are a tossup. Here are the top 4 year totals coming into this year for the top 2/3 at each position.

1st Base: Pujols (30.9), Gonzalez (22.6)
2nd Base: Utley (22.1), Pedroia (20.4), Kinsler (19.4)
Short: Ramirez (18.6), Tulowitzki (18.5)
3rd Base: Longoria (24.1), Beltre (15.8)

jameson
Guest

I’m pretty sure Hanley is moving to third to make room for Reyes. That leaves Tulo tops at short for a little while at least.

Ed
Guest

Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Well, that leaves Escobar (14.3) and Reyes (14.1) next in line behind Tulo. Too far back to catch him unless he gets injured.

Paul E
Guest

In addition to Ramirez moving to 3B, Utley left Clearwater to see a specialist in Phila for his ailing knee…probably an insurance claim by Phila waiting to happen

AlbaNate
Guest

I’m not surprised by the stability at all. The very nature of rolling five year leaders takes out the fluke greet seasons and leaves you with those who are consistent.

Mike L
Guest

Agreed, providing they stay at position and healthy.

Ed
Guest

Doug – check it out…someone has turned this into a Sporcle quiz!

http://www.sporcle.com/games/piano_guitar/mlb-best-infielders-1961-2011

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