5 Year WAR Leaders – Pitchers and Catchers 1961-2011 (plus a bonus feature)

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.

[table id=35 /]

 

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.

[table id=40 /]

 

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.

 

 

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Tmckelv
Tmckelv
8 years ago

Man Carlton Fisk was a great Catcher for a long time. The number of great catchers changed dramatically from the start of his career (1972) toward the end (early 1990s).

At first, you are like “boy, Fisk got lost in the shuffle by Bench and Carter”…but then there he is as the top C in 1990-1992 (with much less WAR totals than he had in the 1970’s/1980’s).

David
David
8 years ago

Bolstering Tim McCarver’s HOF creds.

John
John
8 years ago

The dominance of Bonds and Pujols over the last 20 seasons is uncanny.

Jeff Hill
Jeff Hill
8 years ago

1992-2005..Barry Bonds was leader of all players, enough with the steriod talk for this guy, he could play regardless.

Dr. Remulak
Dr. Remulak
8 years ago

Jorge Posada HOFer! 4x 5-year WAR leader among C. Top 15 all-time WAR at C.
5 Rings. Case closed.

bstar
bstar
8 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Remulak

I’m with you on that. Lower the HOF WAR standard for catchers!

John Autin
Editor
8 years ago

Doug, it’s great to see pitchers & catchers reporting last, for a change!

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
8 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

#6/John A. – LOL

Michael Sullivan
Michael Sullivan
8 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

it’s a stack. last in first out.

Voomo Zanzibar
8 years ago

Ed Bailey led ’57 – ’61 like this:

102 ops+
121 G avg
3.1 WAR avg (2.5 /0.6)

His 15.3 is the lowest total for a Catcher’s leader until the Scioscia/Fisk era.

Bailey’s best year was actually 1956:
.300 .385 .551 .936 142
5.0 WAR

Voomo Zanzibar
8 years ago

Two things stand out for me on the second chart:
____________

Sal Bando was the most valuable position player for five years.

____________

Willie Mays averaged 10 WAR for eight years.
He also averaged 9.4 WAR for 13 years (1954 – 1966)

Fireworks
Fireworks
8 years ago

@4 Yeah, that’s the thing that is most interesting about Bonds. Steroids allowed him to be Ruth-valuable at the end of his career but he was almost Mays-valuable for over a decade in the first part. I’m not saying he belongs in the Hall but if any of the players with links to steroids gets in, it should be him. I think most people agree Bonds probably didn’t “cross the line” with substances until he noticed all the attention McGwire and Sosa were getting chasing Maris–his numbers were still in his normal range until perhaps the 2000 season, so I’d… Read more »

Fireworks
Fireworks
8 years ago

I meant at the end of 1998 or 1999. Also, I just realized that I feel a little bad for Bonds. We’ve mostly thought of what we as fans lost in terms of the integrity of numbers and how the game was played and all the rest of that when we think about the steroid era. Bonds lost his legacy. I don’t mean his integrity, reputation, or character. That we all knew was lost the moment we put two and two together about how his head had doubled in size (and his character was never highly regarded in the first… Read more »

bstar
bstar
8 years ago
Reply to  Fireworks

Fireworks, I don’t think any of us know right now how we view steroids-era great players in, say, 20 or 30 years. I tend to agree with Bill James on this one, that eventually ALL the great players, even with the steroid taint, will eventually get into the Hall. It’s more a question of when than if to me. You never know, in ten years we all may be taking HGH to heal from injuries.

John Autin
Editor
8 years ago
Reply to  Fireworks

Fireworks, I agree with basically all of your factual and descriptive statements @10-11. I just don’t get how that all adds up to you feeling bad for Bonds. He was a great baseball player, and I wish that more people would have realized that he was already the best even when he was only hitting .300 with 30 HRs and 100 walks. But nothing else that I ever heard about Barry Bonds gave me any reason to care a whit about his well-being. Most of the things I heard about him and the way he treated other people, going all… Read more »

Shazbot
Shazbot
8 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

This smells an awful lot like post-facto justification.

Tmckelv
Tmckelv
8 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

God I love this site!

William Shakespeare and George Foster in the same thread.

Even Gloucester would be able to see the growth of Barry’s head post-cream/clear.

Ed
Ed
8 years ago

Re: the Wood exception. Wouldn’t the same thing apply to Derek Lowe? He was a full time starter in ’02 and ’03. For the 98-02 period, he only has 10.2 WAR as a reliever; for 99-03, it drops to 9.5. I assume Rivera and others would have him beat.

Same question re: Gossage in ’78 and ’79. He was a full-time starter in ’76 when he picked up 3.2 WAR.

Ed
Ed
8 years ago
Reply to  Doug

Thanks Doug. I suspected Gossage would still lead but wasn’t sure. And what about Keith Foulke, swooping in and stealing one from Rivera? Otherwise Rivera would have 13 straight years as the leader!

Fireworks
Fireworks
8 years ago

@ JA What I mean is that I think Barry was motivated by his ego to one-up these guys because he knew he was better (and was). I don’t feel sorry for him in the way that you feel sorry for someone whom truly suffers. What I mean is that the thing I think he most sought to gain (recognition of his greatness) is the thing that he’ll have the hardest time having fully recognized in the future. No doubt he is a jerk. But so was Cobb. But we mostly reconcile his jerkiness and prowess as a ballplayer into… Read more »

Fireworks
Fireworks
8 years ago

Got my latter and former mixed up above.

Fireworks
Fireworks
8 years ago

Bstar, not begat. Damn you autocorrect.