Big Apple, Small WAR Numbers

A Wins Above Replacement (WAR) number of 8.2 or more is an excellent season number — that’s an MVP-level season performance.  But it’s not exactly rare.  From 1962 on, the Baseball-Reference Play Index shows 91 seasons by position players that rose to the 8.2 or more WAR level.  On average, that’s about two a year, and with two leagues picking MVPs — well, you can see why I described the 8.2 or over level as MVP-type performance.

OK, now how many of those 91 position player seasons of 8.2 WAR over the 1962-2012 period do you suppose have been produced by a position player for a New York City team?  Would you believe there have been only three such player-seasons?  In 1985, Rickey Henderson in his first year with the Yankees, at age 26, put together an awesome 9.8 WAR year (that was no fluke, as Rickey had another 9.8 WAR year, and grabbed the MVP award, with the A’s in 1990). And A-Rod has produced two seasons over 9 WAR for the Yankees: 2005 and 2007.  But that’s it.  Other than those three player-seasons, no Yankee position player from 1962 on has produced more WAR in a season than 7.8, achieved by Robinson Cano in 2010, Derek Jeter in 1999 and Bobby Murcer in 1972.

And then there are the Mets, whose top WAR position-player seasons ever are David Wright’s 8.1 in 2007, Carlos Beltran’s 8.0 in 2006 and Bernard Gilkey’s flukey 7.8 in 1996.  No other Met position player has topped 7.3 WAR in a season.  It is thus not surprising that no Met position-player has ever led the NL in WAR (baseball-reference version) in any season, which happens to be a timely fact because as of now, with a month left in the season, David Wright is actually leading the NL in b-ref WAR, having nudged ahead of the slumping Andrew McCutchen (.588 OPS in McCutchen’s last 21 games).


Big Apple, Small WAR Numbers — 18 Comments

  1. How do the other 88 8.2+ WAR seasons since 1962 break down by market? Is it significant, or merely curious, that NY has just 3 of them? Or is it more significant simply because the NY teams are at/near the top of spending year after year and produce only 1/30th of the 8.2+ WAR seasons?

  2. As I suspected, the number of players on New York teams isn’t realy all that unusual when viewed in a larger context. After looking at all franchises within the parameters of the search, I see that no team has more than 4 players with 8.2+ single season WAR, while 6 teams haven’t had a single player post an 8.2 WAR season.

    While a few surprises made the list (and a few surprises that didn’t), the most intersesting thing to me is that only 3 players accomplished an 8.2+ with multiple teams, they being Bonds (Pirates, Giants), Henderson (Yankees, Athletics), and Rogriguez (Mariners, Rangers, Yankees).

    Reds (4) – Bench, Morgan, Foster, Rose
    Phillies (4) – Schmidt, Allen, Utley, Dykstra
    Mariners (4) – Griffey, Rodriguez, Suzuki, Boone
    Red Sox (4) – Yastrzemski, Petrocelli, Boggs, Lynn
    Giants (3) – Mays, Clark, Bonds
    Cubs (3) – Sosa, Santo, Sandberg
    Cardinals (3) – McGwire, Pujols, Torre
    Athletics (3) – Henderson, Giambi, Jackson
    Braves (3) – Aaron, Smith, Evans
    Rockies (2) – Walker, Helton
    Pirates (2) – Bonds, Clemente
    Angels (2) – Erstad, Trout
    Dodgers (2) – Beltre, Piazza
    Rangers (2) – Rodriguez, Hamilton
    Twins (2) – Carew, Knoblauch
    Yankees (2) – Henderson, Rodriguez
    Padres (1) – Gwynn
    Nationals/Expos (1) – Carter
    Brewers (1) – Yount
    Royals (1) – Brett
    Tigers (1) – Cash
    Rays (1) – Zobrist
    Orioles (1) – Ripken
    Astros (1) – Biggio
    Diamondbacks (0)
    Marlins (0)
    Mets (0)
    Indians (0)
    White Sox (0)
    Blue Jays (0)

    • Two names that I was a little surprised not to see mentioned played together in high school

      One was Daryl Strawberry. He was never really even close- maxing out at 6.1- partly because he never played much more than 150 games in a season, partly because of his defense and presumably partly because of drugs.

      The other was Eric Davis in his incredible 1987 season where he hit 37 home runs, stole 50 bases, scored 120 runs and drove in 100. His WAR was “only” 7.7 because he managed to do all that in less than 130 games.

    • Brooklyn Mick @ comment #2 and pcg @at #1: Among the 20 franchises that have been playing since 1962, the average number of position player-seasons of 8.2 WAR per franchise has been about 3.5. So the Yankees are on the low side of average.

      But since 1962, the Yankees’ regular season winning percentage has been .558, way better than any other franchise (the Dodgers and Red Sox are second and third respectively at .538 and .532). You would normally expect that they thus have produced a higher than average number of the top level player-seasons. The Giants have had 12 position player WAR seasons over 8.2, the Red Sox and Reds 9 each, the Mariners 8. From 1962 on the Yanks have eight world championships, while those four franchises, with their 38 combined position player seasons over 8.2 have a combined six world championships. I thought that was interesting. And then adding the Mets, another huge-market team and one that has won four NL pennants, it seemed worth noting the combined dearth of the highest level position-player performances.

      As for a possible explanation, I think AlbaNate @ comment #5 may be on to something — to the extent the Yankees (and to a lesser degree the Mets) tend to use their financial power to buy more sure-things in the form of established players, they may be sacrificing a little bit at the very top end by maybe losing out on the tip-top prime years of rising young stars. That may partly be a function, at least for the Yankees, of not getting access to the top picks in the first round of the amateur draft.

    • Neither Torre nor McGwire had 8.2+ WAR seasons with St Louis. They maxed out at 5.6 and 7.2 respectively due to horrible defense. The oWAR for those seasons did exceed 8.2.

  3. It looks like most of these high WAR seasons were produced by home-grown talent in their younger years. Not too many players produce such high WAR numbers after they enter free agency, which perhaps helps explain why a team as successful as the Yankees wouldn’t have more of these high WAR players.

  4. If you go back another 10 years, you could add another 10 ≥ 8.2 WAR seasons from New York (5 for Mantle, 2 for Mays, 3 for Snider).

  5. If you limit it to oWar

    (which takes out the dWar stat that I’m arguing we’ve got to consider a work in progress)

    the only players to achieve 8.2+ since 1990 who have not been linked to performance enhancing drugs (either confirmed or just libeled) are

    9.0 1991 Ripken
    8.8 1999 Jeter
    8.7 1997 Larry Walker
    8.3 2011 Kemp
    8.3 2003 Pujols
    8.2 1990 Rickey

    Bonds 7 times
    ARod 6 times
    Sosa, McGwire, Piazza, Giambi each once.

    I’m not trying to start a PED thread – just thought it would be an interesting sidenote…

  6. The 1998 Yankees, who won 125 games, had no players with WAR at 8.2, but did have four players (Jeter, O’Neill, Bernie, and Brosius) between 5 and 7.5 They had an aggregate of 56 WAR, which would have projected to 108 wins. Their pythag was also 108 wins. I might make a slightly different argument about the Yankees than just that they are buying players right after their youthful peak. It’s also that they can afford to somewhat overpay for solid players who can contribute. On top of their big four, the 1998 Yankees had four other position players between 2.1 and 2.9 WAR, and seven pitchers at 2.1 WAR or more. By comparison, the 2010 Pirates had exactly one player over 1.9, Andrew McCutchen (3.6).

  7. The Yankees pythagorean win total you reference does not include the post-season so the actual win total should not either. For the regular season the Yankees won 114 games.

  8. On Wednesday August 26, 1998 the Yankees lost their
    fourth game in a row to fall to 94-36.

    This was the longest losing streak of that season.

    Eight different times that year the Yankees won
    five games in a row or more.

    Those eight winning streaks accounted for 62
    of their 114 wins.

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