Have you seen FanGraphs’ WAR Grid? It’s a fascinating and still fairly recent creation that has all sorts of interesting uses. One thing it can do (ignoring the awesome horizontal depictions of WAR by seasonal age, which is really the whole point) is easily give you WAR leaderboards that can be limited by team, position, time period, or any combination of the three.
So I was looking through the positional grids by team. Here’s the list of Braves right fielders, for instance. And I started to look around and determine what each team’s weakest position is — of the players atop the WAR list at each position for the franchise’s entire history, who accumulated the fewest with the team?
And having thought something like that, of course, I’m required to write it up. So I’ll cover the whole league this week, in three parts: the AL and NL West today, the Central on Wednesday, and the East on Friday. The idea is that for many of these teams, you’ll look and think “they’ve been around for [number] years and they’ve seriously never had a better [position] than [forgettable player]??!” Something like that.
A couple things: first, catchers get much less opportunity to accumulate any stat, including WAR, than any other player. I’m adding 20% to all catchers’ WARs, to avoid having it become a “Your Team’s Best Catcher” list. Second, the WAR Grid puts the same player in multiple positions; Darin Erstad, for example, shows up as both the Angels’ top 1B and top CF. If that happens, I count only his primary position with the team, and use the #2 player at the secondary position (I’d be surprised if this actually makes a difference).
Diamondbacks: right field, Justin Upton (8 WAR)
That’s right; a 23 year old is his team’s all-time leader at his position. He also just barely falls behind Chad Tracy at first base (7.7 to 7.8) for the worst position. Prior to Upton, the leading right fielder was Reggie Sanders, who put up 3 WAR in his one and only season with the team. Yes, they’ve been around for just 13 seasons, but it took twelve of them for a right fielder to put up what you might reasonably call a “good” season (Upton’s 4.6 WAR in 2009). In contrast, the top left fielder (Luis Gonzalez) and center fielder (Steve Finley) have combined to put up 56 WAR.
Rockies: catcher, Chris Iannetta (7 WAR)
The 20% rule doesn’t save the Rockies. Baseball-Reference lists twelve different starting catchers in the franchise’s eighteen seasons, almost all of them really, really bad. From pre-Yankee Joe Girardi (three years, 0.6 WAR) to would-be savior Ben Petrick (four partial seasons, 0.6 WAR) to former would-be Marlin savior Charles Johnson (two seasons, 3.0 WAR), it’s just been nothing but ugly. So they finally get one (in 2008) who’s pretty good, and what do they do? They constantly bury him on the bench or in the minors, in favor of more ugliness. Here’s hoping he gets a fair shot this year.
Dodgers: right field, Carl Furillo (40 WAR)
Obviously, the point of this is not to compare a 140 year old franchise like the Dodgers to younguns like the Rockies and D-Backs; each franchise has to kind of stand on its own. Between Brooklyn and LA, the Dodgers have at least one Hall of Famer at the top of the list at every position except first base (where Gil Hodges has come close) and right. Furillo himself was a good (sometimes very good) player, and was known for his phenomenal throwing arm. He spent all of his fifteen years with the Dodgers, opening in Brooklyn in ’46 and calling it quits in SoCal in 1960.
Padres: shortstop, Khalil Greene (10 WAR)
The Padres’ two greatest players were both right fielders — Gwynn, of course, and Winfield. No other position has seen a player accumulate much more than 20 WAR, and many are below that. But shortstop is the worst. Greene had a nice rookie season in 2004 and a couple other pretty decent ones (did you remember that he hit 27 HR — while playing half his games in Petco — in 2007? I didn’t), but his career has been in a nosedive since 2008 and it’s unlikely you’ll see him in the bigs again. The Padres’ two most famous shortstops, Garry Templeton and Ozzie Smith (who played just four seasons with the team, well before he learned to hit a little), are both right behind with 9.
Giants: catcher, Buck Ewing (33 WAR)
And so our first Hall of Famer graces the list. Ewing’s a pretty questionable Hall choice, of course, and played just ten seasons with the team (though they were ten of his best). The 20% adjustment still puts him just a bit behind third baseman Art Devlin. Interesting note: the Giants’ all-time team, of course, has just about the greatest outfield possible (Bonds-Mays-Ott). If not for Mays, though, center would be the Giants’ worst position, with Bobby Thomson’s 29 WAR next in line.
Angels: catcher, Bob Boone (16 WAR)
Boone had a weird Angel career. He arrived when he was 34, a three-time All-Star from the Phillies coming off of three two nightmarish seasons. He got some MVP ballot mentions in his first season, despite hitting .256/.310/.337, and then made an All-Star team the year after that, a .256/.289/.353 season (he’d been better in the first half, but not much better). Boone was given four consecutive Gold Glove Awards from ages 38 through 41, and also put up two of the three best OBPs of his career at 40 and 41.
A’s: right field, Reggie Jackson (50 WAR)
I know, I couldn’t believe it either. At almost every position, the Athletics have either a good player who played nearly his entire career with the team (Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando) or a great player who was there for only a portion of it (Reggie, Rickey, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane). The upshot is that virtually all of them end up somewhere between 50 and 60 WAR. Reggie’s first eight and a half seasons just happen to come in at the bottom of that list, no more than a win or two each behind Campy, Bando and the adjusted Cochrane.
Mariners: left field, Phil Bradley (13 WAR)
Left field just barely saved me from having to make the difficult decision of whether Edgar Martinez is a third baseman (since I’m not counting DHes as anything); if not, the second-best 3B is Adrian Beltre, at 17. The M’s, in their relatively short existence, have had a player at every other position who has been pretty good for at least a few years. All they’ve got in left, though, is Bradley’s 1985 (.300/.365/.498, 26 homers) and a couple other decent years. Raul Ibanez comes close, but terrible defense in his last couple years with the team hold him back.
Rangers: center field, Don Lock (15 WAR)
The Rangers make a strong showing (for an expansion team) at every position except center, though there’s typically a big dropoff between the #1 and #2 player at a position, which explains the relative lack of success. Center’s a black hole, though. Lock debuted along with the new Senators in 1962 and had two pretty decent years out of five, and was out of the league by ’69. Josh Hamilton is right behind in #2 after just three injury-plagued seasons, and would be primed to take over the top spot if he figured to keep playing a lot of CF.