In the final installment of WAR leaders by position since 1961, we look at pitchers and catchers. As with the earlier posts, the methodology is to identify the leader in cumulative bWAR over 5-year periods for players appearing in a designated position for at least 75% of their games. For pitchers, this means that a pitcher must appear in either a starting or relieving role for 75% of their games to be included on the leader board.
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Several pitchers were 5-year leaders with less than 5 seasons of work. Dick Radatz was 5-year leader after only the 3rd and 4th seasons of his career. Similarly, Dwight Gooden was 5-year leader after only his 4th season. In the middle of his dominant years John Hiller missed a season recovering from a heart attack. Hiller returned in even better form, earning WAR leadership in 4 straight periods, 2 of which included only 4 seasons. Similarly, one of Tug McGraw’s 5-year peaks includes only 4 seasons due to a missed year. Finally, Sandy Koufax’s 5-year WAR leadership extended to the year after he retired.
In the interests of full disclosure (and for those scoring at home), I departed from my method for determining the WAR leader in a few cases where pitchers appeared as starters and in relief in the same 5-year period.
- First, for 1967-71, Wilbur Wood compiled 18.3 WAR in the period and did meet the 75% rule for appearances as a reliever. Problem was that only 7.6 of that 18.3 WAR came in seasons when Wood was primarily a reliever. All the rest came from his 10.7 WAR season in 1971 when Wood made 42 starts and went 22-13. Since the #2 man, Ted Abernathy, had led in the two preceding periods, besting Wood easily, I’ve selected Abernathy for the 1967-71 period as well.
- Second, for 1974-78 and 1975-79, Rich Gossage’s leading WAR totals have been adjusted to remove the 3.2 WAR he earned in his lone year as a starter in 1976. Even with the reduction, Gossage is still the leader. (Thanks to reader Ed for pointing this out)
- Third, for 1998-2002 and 1999-2003, Derek Lowe was the leader based on total WAR including his seasons as a starter in 2002 and 2003 (and subsequently). With the requisite WAR adjustments to Lowe’s score, new WAR leaders were identified as indicated in the table. (Thanks again to reader Ed for this one as well)
Incidentally, if you’re wondering about Dave Righetti in the same vein, his leadership for 1984-88 is all as a reliever – 1984 was his first year in that role.
There appears to be quite a dearth of dominant catchers between Gary Carter and Mike Piazza, as witnessed by Carlton Fisk’s 3-year reign after the age of 40. In the 7 years (1986-92) represented in Fisk’s WAR leadership, he compiled only 14.8 WAR in total. Nevertheless, Fisk’s 5.1 WAR in 1990 at age 42 is truly remarkable – only Willie Mays at age 40 in 1971 also compiled a 5+ WAR season after age 40.
Finally, as a bonus, and by popular demand, here’s a final table with 5-year WAR leaders for all infield and all outfield positions, all position players, and all players.
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Note that Albert Pujols for 2002-06 is leader for All Position Players, but not for All Infield or All Outfield. This is because Pujols split his time in this period between the outfield and infield, failing to meet the 75% appearance level for either. Similarly, Rickey Henederson in 1982-86 thru 1986-90 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2004-08 were leaders in All Outfield, yet failed to meet the 75% appearance level for any one outfield position. Same story for Alex Rodriguez in the infield for 2001-05 and 2002-06.