The worst players to post a 5+ WAR season

In the last 30 seasons (1983-2012) there are 169 now-retired players to have registered at least 1 season worth 5 Wins Above Replacement. This group is led by Barry Bonds, who did it a whopping 17 times, and Ken Griffey, who did it 9 times. The players atop that list are among the best to have played MLB in the last 3 decades.

But by looking at things a bit differently, we can come up with some surprising names among that same group.

Among those 169 players with at least 1 career 5-WAR season, here are the lowest total career WAR:

Rk Player WAR/pos From To Age OPS Pos Tm
1 Kevin Young 4.2 1992 2003 23-34 .762 *3/597D KCR-PIT
2 Rich Gedman 8.1 1980 1992 20-32 .703 *2/D BOS-TOT-STL
3 Jacque Jones 9.2 1999 2008 24-33 .775 978/D MIN-CHC-TOT
4 Randy Ready 9.9 1983 1995 23-35 .745 457/D39 MIL-SDP-TOT-PHI-OAK-MON
5 Derek Bell 11.3 1991 2001 22-32 .757 *98/75D1 TOR-SDP-HOU-NYM-PIT
6 Hank Blalock 11.6 2002 2010 21-29 .791 *5D3/49 TEX-TBR
7 Gary Matthews 12.3 1999 2010 24-35 .737 *897/D SDP-CHC-TOT-TEX-LAA-NYM
8 Jose Oquendo 12.4 1983 1995 19-31 .663 *46/5937812 NYM-STL
9 Morgan Ensberg 12.8 2000 2008 24-32 .830 *5/3D6 HOU-TOT-NYY
10 Ruben Sierra 13.0 1986 2006 20-40 .765 *9D7/8 OAK-TOT-CHW-TEX-SEA-NYY-MIN
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/27/2012.

So, yeah. Kevin Young put up a fantastic 1999 with the Pirates, posting a 5.3 WAR. He had a 128 OPS+ as the everyday first baseman and also posted unusually good defensive numbers. But in the rest of his career? He posted -1.1 WAR in his 11 other seasons, giving him a career total of just 4.2.

Many of the rest of these guys are all known for 1 or 2 breakout seasons:

  • Rich Gedman had a stellar 1985, playing in 144 games as a catcher and putting up a 126 OPS+. He was also good in 1984 and 1986, amassing 11.4 WAR over those 3 seasons. Sadly, that means he totaled -3.3 WAR in the rest of his career.
  • In 2002 Jacque Jones looked like a breakout star, putting up 5.1 WAR in his 4th season. He wasn’t a terrible player by any means, but he was worth close to 1 WAR in most of the rest of the years of his career.
  • Hank Blalock couldn’t stay healthy. He put up 6.1 WAR at age 22 and another 4.3 at age 23. Then he stopped hitting for 2 years, and when he got his stroke back he couldn’t stay in the lineup.
  • Randy Ready was a part-time player his entire career except for 1987 with the Padres. He had a 153 OPS+ and 5.6 WAR, but still wasn’t given a chance to play full time in the rest of his career. He never had another season with even as much as 2 WAR.
  • And then there’s Ruben Sierra. Our own Adam Darowski wrote about him at Beyond the Boxscore, noting that Sierra had essentially all of his career value within his first 6 seasons, and most of that was in just two years–1989 and 1991. Sierra had WARs of 5.5 and 4.9 in those seasons, never had another season higher than 2.2, and had -5.7 WAR from 1993 through to the end of his career in 2006.

 

42 thoughts on “The worst players to post a 5+ WAR season

  1. 1
    deal says:

    Gary Matthews Jr turned that one year of 5.0 WAR into $47MM.

    Who is the leader among guys that were primarily LF and SS. Don’t see any on the list. Would like to see the makeup of the All-Star team of 1 great WAR seasons.

  2. 2
    Chad says:

    I just tried a few guys off the of my head for SS, best I’ve found so far, is Dickie Thon, who had 2 seasons of 5+ WAR (5.9 in 1982, 7.2! in 1983) but ended with a career WAR of 21.9 Obviously, the beaning affected his career and makes one think of what might have been. I’m sure there is someone else with a lower WAR and a 5+ season, but that’s the best I could find off the top of my head.

  3. 3
    Andy says:

    From my above list, the lowest ranked shortstops are Jose Offerman (14.8) and Rich Aurelia (15.9)

    Lowest LF: Joe Carter (15.6) Kal Daniels (15.7)
    Lowest CF after Matthews is Carl Everett (18.0)
    Lowest 1B after Young is Cecil the Vessel (14.7)
    Lowest C after Gedman is Rick Wilkins (13.1)

  4. 4
    Chad says:

    Wow, Jose Offerman? Who knew? He went kind of in reverse … he way overachieved with Kansas City, then left for another team. Normally, the Royals sign those types of players.

  5. 5
    Hartvig says:

    Maybe I’m missing something but the first name that sprang to mind was Zoilo Versalles.

    He managed to put up 7.1 of his career total 10.4 WAR AND win an MVP in one season.

    Shouldn’t that put him on the list?

  6. 8
    Dave V. says:

    Operation Shutdown is always happy to be on a list, no matter what the list is.

  7. 9
    Richard Chester says:

    This past July the issue of which player had the highest seasonal WAR that was greater than his career WAR arose on HHS. Here’s what I posted:

    I fooled around with PI and I found that first-baseman Kevin Young had a seasonal War of 5.3 in 1999 vs. a career WAR of 4.2. I can’t be sure if that’s the highest WAR, I found it via a messy search.

  8. 10
    Ed says:

    Derek Bell followed up his 5.1 WAR season with a negative WAR season (-1.6). I wonder how common that is?

  9. 12
    Jason Z says:

    Sorry to be off topic.

    The passing of Marvin Miller brings to light a great injustice.

    Marvin Miller should be in the Hall of Fame.

    This is not a debate, it is a statement of fact.

    Bud Selig, “Marvin Miller belongs in the Hall of Fame, if the
    criteria is what impact you had on the sport, whatever way one
    wants to value that impact, Yes, Marvin Miller should be in the
    hall.”

    Tom Seaver, “Marvin’s exclusion from the HOF is a national disgrace.”

    Bob Costas, “He’s a transformative figure of the game…There is no non-
    player more deserving of the HOF.”

    Jim Bouton, “Instead of pointing to the sky, today’s player’s should be
    pointing to Marvin Miller.

    Tim McCarver, “Marvin was the most extraordinary man I ever met. You know,
    the players knew nothing before Marvin took over. The minimum salary had been the same for 22 years. Riding trains was considered first class travel,
    and West Coast teams were involved by then. That the standard player’s contract was unchanged for so long is mind-boggling. We knew so little that he had to teach us before we cold move on anything. And he taught us and we did move on.”

    Finally, the thoughts of two men separated by years, but not passion for
    the game we all love.

    Red Barber suggested that the three most influential figures in baseball
    history were Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Marvin Miller.

    Bill James, discussing a Mt. Rushmore of baseball suggests that the foursome
    would be Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey and Marvin Miller.

    Marvin Miller is dead at 95. It is a shame that like Ron Santo he did not
    live to see it.

    In Mr. Miller’s case it is worse. For his exclusion can only be explained due
    to vindictiveness amongst the owners that he bested.

    Now that he is gone, I hope the aforementioned get over it and give Mr. Miller
    his rightful place in Cooperstown.

    In fact, I will go so far as to say that all professional athletes should thank Mr. Miller for the money they make.

    He paved the way.

    http://thanksmarvin.com/

    • 13
      Ed says:

      “For his exclusion can only be explained due to vindictiveness amongst the owners that he bested.”

      Not true.

      http://mlb.sbnation.com/2012/11/27/3698038/marvin-miller-baseball-hall-fame-dead

      • 15
        John Autin says:

        Great link, Ed. My only quarrel with Neyer’s statements there is that “by the historical standards of the Hall of Fame, [Bowie] Kuhn belongs there.”

        Unless Rob means the historical “standard” that every commissioner who has served at least N years is in the HOF, I can’t imagine what he means. OK, I haven’t read any books specifically about Kohn. But I know of nothing that Kuhn achieved that wasn’t inevitable (e.g. night World Series games). I know of no way in which he was ahead of his time in a positive way.

      • 19
        Jason Z says:

        Ed:

        The feelings that the owners had for Marvin Miller are
        easily understood. He came along and changed a system
        that had been in place since the 1880’s, and was very
        favorable towards ownership to say the least.

        According to Wikipedia…

        The 2007 electorate that rejected Miller consisted of former players Monte Irvin and Harmon Killebrew; former Yankee player and American League president Bobby Brown; former Red Sox executive John Harrington; current executives Jerry Bell (Twins), Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals), and Andy MacPhail (Orioles); and media members Paul Hagen (Philadelphia Daily News), Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), and Hal McCoy (Dayton Daily News).

        At least two of these owners, MacPhail and Giles come from families with long backrounds on the executive side of baseball.

        I am sure those family discussions in regards to Marvin Miller were not nice, to say the least.

        My grandfather’s family owned a manufacturing company in Mass. from shortly after WW1 until the early 1960’s. I can remember
        discussions about unions we had when he was nearly 90 and had
        been out of the business for almost 40 years. His dislike of
        unions was still strong.

        I would guess that the baseball owners complained about Marvin
        Miller to the writers for years and years.

        The effect of this on his candidacy is hard to calculate, but
        nevertheless should be considered.

        One thing is certain, the power of the pen to create and to
        tear down.

        If you doubt me, just recall how Poison Pen, Dick Young drove
        Tom Seaver out of New York. I am sure the garbage that Dick
        Young wrote 35 years ago about Tom Terrific was with the
        blessings of Joan Payson and M. Donald Grant.

        I maintain that countless owners throughout the years used their
        bully pulpit provided by the local press, to tear Mr. Miller down. The opinion that Mr. Miller had ruined the game must
        have been written hundreds of times by dozens and dozens of writers over time.

        The thought that this would have no impact on the 2007 committee
        I referenced is one I disagree with.

        Considering the jump in attendance and revenues for baseball
        since the advent of free agency, the owners should be thrilled, which I suspect they are.

        • 20
          Ed says:

          Jason:

          1) Did you even read the article I linked to above?

          2) What you’re referring to as the 2007 committee via the Wikipedia article was actually the 2008 committee.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baseball_Hall_of_Fame_balloting,_2008#Veterans_Committee_elections

          3) The 2007 committee was entirely composed of former players, managers or members of the media. As was the earlier 2003 committee which failed to elect Miller. In 2007, Miller did quite well in the balloting, not enough to gain election, but he finished in second, only one vote behind Doug Harvey, as well as 15 ahead of Walter O’Malley, and 37 ahead of Bowie Kuhn.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baseball_Hall_of_Fame_balloting,_2007#Veterans_Committee_elections

          4) The 2008 Committee may have been composed of people who were predisposed against Miller, but note that former union reps Robin Roberts, Tom Seaver, and Brooks Robinson were all offered positions on the committee and all said no.

          http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080521&content_id=2741462&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb

          5) Miller himself sounded quite bitter about not getting elected to the Hall and in 2008 pretty much said that he didn’t want to be elected. His words certainly could have had a chilling effect on future votes.

          6) Re: increase in attendance and revenue since free agency. I’ll just note that correlation doesn’t equal causation and leave it at that.

          • 26
            Mike L says:

            I’m a pro-labor guy and I think Miller did a great thing. The old reserve clause (particularly when coupled with an extensive farm system and one year contracts) was grossly unfair to people with unique talents. It would also be unfair to anyone else in any other walk of life. Why shouldn’t someone be able to go somewhere else for higher pay, or somewhere else for a change of scenery, or somewhere else for a better opportunity? Miller helped make that happen. Cost the owners billions, but he made an enormous impact, and in my opinion mostly for the better.

          • 28
            Steven says:

            I wish my Union could have a Marvin Miller representing it.

          • 30
            John Autin says:

            I read somewhere long ago that Marvin Miller’s biggest stroke of genius was “conceding” (a la Brer Rabbit) to the owners’ demand that free agency be limited to players with 6 years of service. The theory being that limited free agency creates an artificial scarcity which drives up the price of those free agents. (I think that theory is obviously true, and also contributes to longer contracts for those free agents, most of which turn out to be wasteful.)

            As described in this story, Charlie Finley was one of the few owners arguing against that policy, saying it would be better for owners to “make ’em all free agents.”

            I’ve never found a reliable confirmation of that account. Anyone?

          • 31
            Mike L says:

            JOhn A, there’s a sort of defunct site called The Baseball Analysts. They had this quote from an article by Maury Brown from Dec 2005.
            It picks up where Messersmith has been declared a Free Agent
            “Free agency would be available, but how would Miller negotiate the terms? As Miller wrote in, A Whole Different Ballgame, “In the wake of the Messersmith decision it dawned on me as a terrifying possibility, that the owners might suddenly wake up one day and realize that yearly free agency was the best possible thing for them; that is, if all players became free agents at the end of each year, the market would be flooded, and salaries would be held down.”

            Charlie saw this advantage. “Hey what’s the problem?” Finley said. “Make ’em all free agents!” Miller waited to see if anyone would actually listen to the maverick. “My main worry was that someone would actually listen to him,” Miller said.

            The result? No one listened.

            Finley had said how the owners could actually benefit from the ruling. The owners, through their own stupidity, balked at Finley’s suggestion and have been paying for it since.

          • 33
            John Autin says:

            Mike L @31 — Thanks!

            I also found a similar passage in Tom Verducci’s piece on Miller’s death:
            http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/tom_verducci/11/27/marvin-miller-free-agency/?xid=si_mostpopular

          • 37
            Ed says:

            Re: John #30

            In one of his abstracts, Bill James talked about the effects of Bowie Kuhn’s decision to block Charlie Finley’s sales of his star players to other teams. Basically James argued that Kuhn’s decision exacerbated the effects of free agency by reducing team’s options for acquiring talent. Had Kuhn made different/better decisions in the ’70s, who knows what baseball would look like today?

          • 38
            Jason Z says:

            Ed:

            The fact that the committee in 2008 gave Miller
            three votes and Bowie Kuhn ten votes just reinforces my opinion.

          • 41
            nightfly says:

            In re: Finley and free agency – for all his insanity, Charlie O. actually was a fairly shrewd operator. He built a three-time champion club, he was often correct in his assessments about the state of the game, and nobody liked him, so whatever innovations and skills he showed were ignored or downplayed, out of a stubborn and perverse principle.

            If Walter O’Malley had said the same thing about free agency, Miller and the MLBPA would have been in trouble. But it was Finley, so out of reflex the rest of the owners dug in.

        • 36
          deal says:

          I found Paul Hagen to be a good writer w/ Thoughtful opinions and a grasp of baseball history.

          I have no idea on how he voted when he had the opportunity. Even though he was based in Philadelphia I doubt that his vote would have been poisoned by his connection w/ covering the Phillies and proximity the Giles Family and Ownership.

  10. 14
    John Autin says:

    Here’s one from the other side of the ledger: Since 1901, there are 157 players with at least 13 years qualified for the batting title (using the P-I “qualified” button, whatever the standard was for a given year).

    Of those 157 players, Barry Bonds is the only one with 5+ WAR in every qualified season (he had 17).

    Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Mike Schmidt all missed just once; Speaker, Hornsby and Gehrig missed twice. Cobb missed 3 times, but he also had more 5-WAR seasons than anyone since 1901 (18).

    • 22
      no statistician but says:

      Speaking of missing, Bonds just missed having—came within 25—enough plate appearances to qualify three times, and all three times his WAR was considerably below 5.0.

      • 32
        John Autin says:

        Fair point, nsb — the “qualified” threshold is somewhat arbitrary and specifically benefits Bonds in this test.

        So I ran the numbers again using a lower standard: 100 games, and 2 WAR per 100 games.

        First I collected the 183 players with at least 14 seasons of 100 games, since 1901.

        Then, for those 100-game seasons, I counted the number of years with at least 2 WAR per 100 games.

        Here are the 9 players who reached that standard every year, ordered by most such years:
        – 21, Bonds
        – 19, Cobb, Speaker, Mays
        – 18, Ott
        – 15, Ruth, Hornsby
        – 14, Gehrig, Bagwell

        Now here are the 7 who missed just once, ordered by the number of years with 2 WAR per 100 games. Guess which name I find most interesting (soon to be the subject of a post):
        – 18, F.Robinson
        – 17, E.Collins
        – 15, Wagner, A-Rod, Lou Whitaker
        – 14, Williams, Foxx

        • 40
          no statistician but says:

          Gosh, do you mean Floyd Robinson?

          (Hmm. Should I spoil this rollicking witticism with the usual Irony Alert?)

  11. 17
    Jimbo says:

    In the latter half of Sierra’s career, I was always baffled that he kept getting jobs.

    • 21
      Phil says:

      Seems strange to say so now, but early on, when the focus was still squarely on traditional stats, Sierra seemed HOF bound. Certainly through ’91; he wasn’t very good ’92-’95, but he did continue to knock in some runs, so he ended ’95 with 220 HR and 950 RBI days before turning 30. Then he really hits the skids for the rest of his (yes, perplexingly lengthy) career.

      • 23
        Doug says:

        To your point, Phil, other than Sierra, only one eligible player has done this and not made the Hall (nor is likely to). Hard to be part of a better group (totals shown through age 29 season).

        Rk Player Year HR RBI From To Age Tm
        1 Miguel Cabrera 2012 321 1123 2003 2012 20-29 FLA-DET
        2 Albert Pujols 2009 366 1112 2001 2009 21-29 STL
        3 Andruw Jones 2006 342 1023 1996 2006 19-29 ATL
        4 Alex Rodriguez 2005 429 1226 1994 2005 18-29 SEA-TEX-NYY
        5 Juan Gonzalez 1999 340 1075 1989 1999 19-29 TEX
        6 Ken Griffey 1999 398 1152 1989 1999 19-29 SEA
        7 Ruben Sierra 1995 220 952 1986 1995 20-29 TEX-OAK-TOT
        8 Johnny Bench 1977 287 1038 1967 1977 19-29 CIN
        9 Frank Robinson 1965 324 1009 1956 1965 20-29 CIN
        10 Al Kaline 1964 232 957 1953 1964 18-29 DET
        11 Hank Aaron 1963 342 1121 1954 1963 20-29 MLN
        12 Mickey Mantle 1961 374 1063 1951 1961 19-29 NYY
        13 Eddie Mathews 1961 370 992 1952 1961 20-29 BSN-MLN
        14 Hank Greenberg 1940 247 1003 1930 1940 19-29 DET
        15 Mel Ott 1938 342 1306 1926 1938 17-29 NYG
        16 Jimmie Foxx 1937 379 1345 1925 1937 17-29 PHA-BOS
        17 Lou Gehrig 1932 267 1146 1923 1932 20-29 NYY
        Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
        Generated 11/27/2012.
        • 24
          Phil says:

          Thanks. Wouldn’t have guessed such a list would be so impressive (i.e., I would have expected a few more mercurial washouts). I guess Andruw Jones is the best comp for Sierra, though Jones was much better at his peak.

          • 25
            Doug says:

            Juan Gonzalez, also. Among players with 200 HR/800 RBI before age 30, Gonzo is one of just four with more than 75% of career HR and RBI before age 30. Others are Hal Trosky, Vern Stephens and Darryl Strawberry.

            Sierra is one of 12 with more than 70% of HR and RBI before age 30. Others are (in addition to above) Hank Greenberg, Johnny Bench, Boog Powell, Greg Luzinksi, Del Ennis, Ron Santo and Jimmie Foxx.

      • 27
        Mike L says:

        In the 1994 Edition of The Politics of Glory, Bill James predicts that Rubin Sierra would be inducted in 2017 and Juan Gonzales in 2019. He also had Mattingly in 2015, and Brett Butler in 2012.

        • 34
          Jimbo says:

          Through his age 25 season, Ruben already had 993 hits! Even before the age of BR I could recognize as a 10 year old reading the back of his baseball card that this guy was on pace for something special. 3500 hits? He also already had 586 rbi’s. It seemed the sky was the limit. Of course back then nobody noticed terrible bb and obp numbers.

          Prior to 1995 players really should’ve just been free swingers. It was in the best interests of their bank accounts. Get 200 hits or 100 rbi’s in a season and a big pay raise is coming. .400 obp or 100 walks? Nobody cared. From a selfish standpoint, talking a walk was always a dumb move prior to 1995 ish.

        • 35
          Ed says:

          I seem to recall that in one of his Abstracts, Bill James compared Sierra to Hank Aaron. It may have been after Sierra’s first season, at age 20, which is pretty similar to Aaron’s age 20 season.

      • 29
        John Autin says:

        Curious thing about Ruben. Obviously a player who hits 30 HRs with a decent BA at age 21 has big promise. I was assuming that he never advanced his command of the strike zone — he had 39 walks and 114 Ks at 21 — but actually that’s wrong; he did make some inroads on both counts.

        But get this: His career BAbip was .279. Out of 190 players with 5000+ PAs during Ruben’s career, he ranked 174th in BAbip. That’s not necessarily a kiss of death, but since his HR rate went backwards, it doesn’t leave much to grow on.

  12. 39
    Nick Pain says:

    Rich Gedman’s 1991 season is one of 8 with at least 100 PA’s and 10 or fewer hits, for non-pitchers. 3 of them were homeruns, however.

    • 42
      GrandyMan says:

      From ’80 to ’83, he had a WAR of -0.6, then 11.4 from ’84 to ’86, and finally -2.7(!) from ’87 to ’92. What a strangely accentuated career path.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *