By: James Esatto
Ed.: This is the final part of a three-part project ranking all of the 30 MLB franchises by their “all-time” best possible rosters. We’d like to thank Jimmy for putting all of the thought and effort into this and for allowing us to publish it here at The Read Zone.
Part I was published on Monday, and Part II on Wednesday. Today’s installment is what you’ve all been waiting for — a look at the Top 8 All-Time Franchise Teams. If you haven’t seen your team thus far (and perhaps surprised by that – looking at you, Cubs fans), then congratulations.
1. Only contributions for that franchise.
2. The roster must be made up like a real roster, meaning players must play specific positions.
3. Two extra positions only: an extra OF and a Utility spot.
4. Players could play any position they could have reasonably been asked to play in real life. (Example: Craig Biggio represents the Astros at catcher)
5. The criteria is simple – career WAR while with the franchise.
Results thus far (loosely arranged into groups):
- 30. Tampa Bay Rays, 1998-2013, 45.6 W%, 0 World Series, 247.3 WAR;
- 29. Miami Marlins; 1993-2013, 47.1 W%, 2 World Series, 267.3 WAR;
- 28. Arizona Diamondbacks 1998 – 2013; 49.9 W%, 1 World Series, 281.2 WAR;
- 27. Colorado Rockies 1993-2013; 47.3 W%, 0 World Series, 316.6 WAR;
- 26. San Diego Padres 1969 – 2013; 46.4 W%, 0 World Series, 342.9 WAR;
- 25. Milwaukee Brewers 1969 – 2013, 47.8 W%, 0 World Series, 442.3 WAR;
- 24. Texas Rangers 1961-2013, 47.6 W; 0 World Series, 451.6 WAR;
- 23. Toronto Blue Jays 1977-2013, 49.6 W%, 2 World Series; 451.6 WAR;
- 22. Washington Nationals 1969-2013, 47.9 W%, 0 World Series, 463.7 WAR;
- 21. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 49.9 W%, 1 World Series, 477.1 WAR;
- 20. Seattle Mariners, 1977-2013, 46.6 W%, 0 World Series, 501.1 WAR;
- 19. New York Mets, 47.8 W%, 2 World Series; 511.4 WAR
- 18. Kansas City Royals, 1969 – 2013, 48.0 W%, 1 World Series; 534.4 WAR
- 17. Houston Astros, 1962 – 2013, 49.1 W%, 0 World Series; 611.5 WAR
- 16. Baltimore Orioles, 1901-2013,47.5 W% , 3 World Series; 686 WAR
- 15. Chicago White Sox, 1901-2013, 50.6 W%, 3 World Series; 730.3 WAR
- 14. Cleveland Indians, 1901 – 2013, .50.9 W%, 2 World Series; 755.7 WAR
- 13. Oakland Athletics, 1901 – 2013, 48.7 W%, 9 World Series; 759 WAR
- 12. Los Angeles Dodgers, 1884 – 2013, 52.4 W%, 6 World Series; 791.3 WAR
- 11. Cincinnati Reds, 1882 – 2013, 50.8 W%, 5 World Series; 793.2 WAR
- 10. Philadelphia Phillies, 1883 – 2013, 47.3 W%, 2 World Series; 801.6 WAR
- 9. Minnesota Twins, 1901 – 2013, 48.1 W%, 2 World Series; 802.6 WAR
8. Chicago Cubs / Chicago Orphans / Chicago Colts / Chicago White Stockings 1876 – 2013, 51.2 W%, 2 World Championships, 10 Pennants, 16 Playoff Appearances; 823.8 WAR
C – Gabby Hartnett 52.3
1B – Cap Anson 79.7
2B – Ryne Sandberg 60.4
3B – Ron Santo 71.7
SS – Ernie Banks 62.8
OF – Sammy Sosa 60.5
OF – Billy Williams 58.7
OF – Bill Nicholson 37.9
OF – Jimmy Ryan 34.7
Util – Stan Hack 55.7
SP – Fergie Jenkins 59.5
SP – Rick Reuschel 50.4
SP – Bill Hutchison 41.7
SP – Bob Rush 41
SP – Clark Griffith 39.7
RP – Bruce Sutter 17.1
The loveable losers actually spent the first half of their existence as one of the better teams, but the most shocking thing about this team is who did not make it. Where are the pitchers from the dead ball era? Where are Tinker/Evers/Chance? Where are Mark Grace and Hack Wilson? Simple answer is that they were all just not quite good enough for various reasons. Even so, this Cubs team is jammed full of stars, but no superstars, maxing out at 79.7 WAR. The consistency was enough to get them to #8 but no higher.
For the record, Frank Chance, Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers finished 9-10-12 respectively (Mark Grace was 11) and all had over 40 WAR, but the Cubs have historically had great infields. Give me Banks to Sandberg to Anson any day (as long as I do not have to talk to Anson). The big weakness in the lineup is the back end of the outfield, Hack Wilson had half as many at bats as Jimmy Ryan, but only finished 1 WAR behind him. By the way, I cannot help but look at this list and continue to be annoyed about how long it took Santo to get into the Hall of Fame when so many people below him got in without question.
The two best of the early era pitchers finished six and seven (Mordecai Brown and Hippo Vaughn respectively). Their raw stats are very impressive but nobody ever scored any runs in that time period; in context Griffith and Rush were slightly better, very slightly. Only one of their starters topped 3000 IP with the franchise, Hutchison with 3021, which kept their raw WAR totals a little lower than might be expected.
In a transitional state, it is hard to see any help on the horizon for Chicago. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are just starting promising careers but it would take a hell of a run to crack that infield. The easier way to break through would be as a starter or outfielder, and there are not any currently on the major league roster with that kind of upside.
Brian: I’d say that – aside from speculation as to who the top teams are – the most common thing that I have observed about this article is people’s surprise that the Cubs and Pirates did so well. It’s funny to make fun of these franchises for their recent struggles (Pirates) or historical struggles (Cubs) but when you really think about the project as a whole, teams with longer, more storied histories are going to dominate this.
The Cubs are one of those teams. Despite their lack of a true star (as pointed out by Jimmy), the presence of Anson, Sandberg, Santo, Banks, and Sosa (60+ WAR each) over the years has served to help them to a strong finish.
Put in perspective, the player with the lowest WAR of that group (Sandberg, 60.4) would be the best player on 9 of the first 11 teams that we looked at in this project – only Yount, Griffey, and Edgar Martinez ended their careers with more WAR for one franchise than Sandberg did for the Cubs, yet he is 5th on this squad.
7. St. Louis Cardinals / St. Louis Perfectos / St. Louis Browns / St. Louis Brown Stockings 1882 – 2013, 51.8 W%, 11 World Championships, 18 Pennants, 25 Playoff Appearances; 867.7 WAR
C – Ted Simmons 48.9
1B – Albert Pujols 84
2B – Rogers Hornsby 92.7
3B – Ken Boyer 50.7
SS – Ozzie Smith 59.2
OF – Stan Musial 126.8
OF – Enos Slaughter 46.7
OF – Jim Edmonds 41.9
OF – Lou Brock 41.5
Util – Ray Lankford 40.3
SP – Bob Gibson 91.4
SP – Jesse Haines 35.8
SP – Dizzy Dean 35.3
SP – Harry Brecheen 34.5
SP – Silver King 33
RP – Lee Smith 5
Wow. This is arguably the second most successful franchise in baseball history. What are they doing at #7? They have got four true superstars and lots of other excellent players. Oh, right, it is that awful back of the rotation and reliever! None of the bottom three members of their rotation even threw 1800 innings for the franchise, and Haines (who did) only had an ERA+ of 109. It is pretty amazing that a team that has been so great has managed so little pitching in their history. The outfield is nothing special either after Musial, this is a very top heavy team.
When the lineup starts with Musial/Hornsby/Pujols you are off to an amazing start but it slides quickly from there. The next highest total belongs to Ozzie Smith, the best defensive player ever in my opinion. Still, when your fourth most effective member of the lineup had a career OPS of .694 it is pretty underwhelming. Johnny Mize and Joe Medwick who would have added some much needed thump both fell just short, Mize because he left the team and Medwick because of the war.
The pitching is all about Bob Gibson. Dean was as effective but done at 27. Brecheen was not a regular until he was basically 30 and Silver King only pitched three seasons for the franchise. Let me say that again. The fifth best starter in the Cardinals franchise history only played for them for three seasons! There was not even that much competition, Larry Jackson is the only other starter in franchise history who even got to 29 WAR. Relievers? Value is split pretty equally between Smith, Jason Isringhausen, Todd Worrell and Bruce Sutter, none of whom distinguished themselves.
There should be help on the way fairly soon. Adam Wainwright, in the midst of a great season is a couple full years away from breaking into the top five but could end up second all time on the list. Similarly, Lee Smith has to fall before too long; Jason Motte is probably 100 innings at his current level of production away and if Trevor Rosenthal sticks in the bullpen longterm, he should blow them both away. Offensively Yadier Molina is chipping away but still 20+ WAR behind Simmons. The Util spot might be reachable but he will need multiple productive seasons to get there.
Brian: People will be surprised by this, but I’m not. Although the trifecta of Musial, Hornsby, and Pujols – who were good for 303.5 career WAR for the Cardinals – is an incredible place to begin, as Jimmy points out, the franchise is not deep with Cardinals lifers.
Recent history is not everything, but a look at the Cardinals rosters over the years evidences a great ability on the part of the franchise to find and plug in great talent of all ages into their roster. Bad for an all time franchise team, but great for sustained success. Look at some of these names that did not make the list but who excelled for the Cardinals for a spell: Keith Hernandez, Scott Rolen, Joe Medwick, Mark McGwire, Red Schoendeinst, Darryl Kile, John Tudor, Cy Young, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright. In that sense, they are sort of the anti-Athletics.
They also have a direct path to improvement – they just need to find and hold on to some great pitching (Shelby Miller, anyone?)
6. Pittsburgh Pirates / Pittsburgh Alleghenys 1882 – 2013, 50.3%, 5 World Championships, 9 Pennants, 14 Playoff Appearances, 870.2 WAR
C – Jason Kendall 31.8
1B – Willie Stargell 63
2B – Bill Mazeroski 31
3B – Arky Vaughan 63.1
SS – Honus Wagner 127.3
OF – Roberto Clemente 80.8
OF – Paul Waner 70.2
OF – Max Carey 57
OF – Fred Clarke 51.1
Util – Barry Bonds 48.2
SP – Bob Friend 63.9
SP – Babe Adams 50
SP – Wilbur Cooper 45.3
SP – Bob Veale 40.8
SP – Deacon Phillippe 34.2
SP – Roy Face 12.5
It has been awhile since they were relevant, but the Pirates have boasted some of the league’s biggest stars in the past. Honus Wagner and Roberto Clemente end up on most people’s lists for the best all around players in the game’s history and their second tier is loaded with other solid pieces. There are definitely some holes though (C, 2B, 5th SP) that could be filled in. Worth noting that if Bonds spent his whole career in Pittsburgh, the franchise would be in the top three all time.
Wagner is obviously amazing and although Clemente’s overall value has been questioned by some recently due to his lack of OBP, he was still an all-time great. Waner is often overlooked because he played during the home-run explosion but was always more of a doubles hitter. Vaughan, Wagner’s protege, was actually on a similar career path but aged quickly, unlike Wagner who just kept piling up monster seasons. Mazeroski and Kendall stand out as mediocre players who could easily be displaced eventually.
The Pirates never had a true star pitcher, but their top three played a long time for them, and kept posting solid seasons. Vern Law and Sam Leever, another pair of quantity over quality pitchers just missed. Veale was easily the most effective of the top 7 when he took the field, but also posted the fewest innings.
The Pirates current franchise player, Andrew McCutchen, is the only player currently on the roster who has already accumulated some career value and is young enough to continue the charge. Currently at 22.2 WAR, the outfield is a tough group to crack. Not even halfway to Bonds, it is hard to like his chances, and it seems unlikely the Pirates will move anywhere on this list in the near future.
Brian: I think Jimmy nailed this with his intro – the Pirates are an all-time great franchise with some all-time great players, though you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t follow baseball before 1992.
We all like to make fun of Jason Kendall’s terrible late-career batting but it’s easy to forget that he had a truly incredible run in Pittsburgh before his horrible – I mean horrible – ankle injury. Kendall batted .206/.387/.418 for the Pirates for an OPS+ of 108, stealing 140 bases and hitting 67 home runs from 1996 to 2004. For a flashback to Kendall’s ankle injury (called “one of the worst things I’ve seen” by manager Gene Lamont), take a look at this Sports Illustrated article. Yikes. (Excerpt: Several Pirates were nearly in tears, including Osik, Kendall’s best friend, his backup and, now, his replacement.)
Only a few guys who I don’t know on this list, like Bob Veale (her?) and Babe Adams.
5. Boston Red Sox / Boston Americans 1901-2013, 51.7 W%, 6 World Championships, 10 Pennants, 19 Playoff Appearances; 924 WAR
C – Carlton Fisk 38.2
1B – Jimmie Foxx 37.7
2B – Bobby Doerr 53.3
3B – Wade Boggs 70.8
SS – Rico Petrocelli 39.4
OF – Ted Williams 130.3
OF – Carl Yastrzemski 94.9
OF – Dwight Evans 64.3
OF – Tris Speaker 54.6
Util – Jim Rice 50.8
SP – Roger Clemens 83.4
SP – Cy Young 59.1
SP – Pedro Martinez 55.4
SP – Lefty Grove 38.5
SP – Tim Wakefield 37.7
RP – Jon Papelbon 15.6
Imagine what Ted Williams’ total would be if he didn’t fight in any wars. Yastrzemski cannot quite match up to Williams but posts a gaudy total himself to help push Boston into the top five. Clemens is far from popular in Beantown these days but it is impossible to deny how dominant he was while with them. With Foxx, Speaker, Young and Grove, the Red Sox have a small chunk of value from four of the greatest ever.
The lineup is all about the outfield and more treads water through C/1B/SS. Ortiz will probably catch Foxx by the end of the season but it is hard to imagine him him doing that much more before running out of gas. Garciaparra ended his Boston days at 38.7 WAR, just behind Petrocelli. I do not think many would believe that Evans was a better player than Rice but it seems fairly obvious if you actually look at the numbers closely.
Young and Clemens both pitched over 2700 innings for Boston while Pedro managed only 1383.2. Luckily, Martinez was just that good. Grove joined Boston in his mid-30s but was easily good enough to make the team anyway. Wakefield’s durability allowed him to pull ahead of Mel Parnell for the last rotation slot. There are a lot of Red Sox pitchers just outside the top 7 with excellent rate numbers but not the career length to make the team.
The Red Sox have a few candidates to push them up the list further. Ortiz should start contributing very soon. Jon Lester is up to 26.4 WAR but is slowing down fast. Beckett might have had a chance if he stayed around. Pedroia is already up to 31.5 but has a hard route to the team, needing to pass either Doerr or Rice.
Brian: Over his career, David Ortiz has earned +377.2 for his work with the bat and a -184.9 positional adjustment, primarily for the fact that he is a designated hitter. Nonetheless he has 39.9 fWAR at the moment. One can only wonder where Ortiz would be on this list if he was allowed to pick up a first baseman’s mitt (I can’t claim to know whether that would be a success or failure, but he doesn’t grade out as terribly as you might expect using Ultimate Zone Rating).
Every good fan knows that Roger Clemens was a Red Sox, but I am not sure how many realize what a large portion of his career he spent there. I remember Clemens the Red Sox, the Blue Jay, the Yankee (bane of my existence), and the Astro, but for some reason didn’t recall that he spent almost 60% of his time in Boston. His totals from Boston are predictably amazing: 192-111, 3.06 ERA, 2590 strikeouts. He has almost a Hall of Fame career in Boston before famously being given up on, and then went on to compile another 162-73, 3.21 ERA, 2082 strikeouts with the other franchises.
4. Detroit Tigers 1901 – 2013, 50.7 W%, 4 World Championships, 11 Pennants, 14 Playoff Appearances; 980 WAR
C – Bill Freehan 44.8
1B – Hank Greenberg 57.3
2B – Charlie Gehringer 77.7
3B – Miguel Cabrera 32.5
SS – Alan Trammell 63.6
OF – Ty Cobb 144
OF – Al Kaline 88.8
OF – Harry Heilmann 64.8
OF – Sam Crawford 60.4
Util – Lou Whitaker 68
SP – Hal Newhouser 62.7
SP – Mickey Lolich 59.1
SP – Tommy Bridges 55.4
SP – Dizzy Trout 46
SP – Justin Verlander 41.4
RP – Jonas Hiller 13.5
Detroit has the fourth most talent of any franchise in history and even boasts two active players in mid-career! They are probably going to end up in the third slot soon, maybe even by the time this article gets posted with the way Cabrera has played lately. The biggest reason Detroit rates so highly is… well Ty Cobb. The second biggest reason is because almost all their key players spent their whole careers in Detroit. Seven of the players in the lineup played over 2,000 games with the franchise and Heilmann played 1,991 as well. Their top four pitchers all threw more than 2,500 innings for Detroit too.
This lineup is stacked every where except third base and Cabrera is changing that quickly. Poor Norm Cash had 54.2 WAR and could not get a spot. Cobb is obviously the star but Kaline played at a high level forever and so did Gehringer. The lineup is just full of players that put up big seasons year after year. The only one who did not have a lengthy career with the Tigers was Greenberg, and that was primarily because of the war.
While there is no real standout, Detroit has three starters with over 55 WAR and Verlander will probably make it four eventually. Jack Morris threw more innings than any of these five except Lolich but still came in behind all five, he just was not that good, and does not belong in the Hall of Fame. Hooks Dauss and George Mullin also piled up big inning totals but were just outside the top five.
We have already mentioned the two young superstars who should push Detroit over the 1,000 WAR plateau. It is hard to envision anyone else sneaking in considering the high threshold of entry. Max Scherzer is up to 14.2 and still improving but is already 28, Rick Porcello is four years younger and at 10.1 WAR but just never seems like he is going to take that step forward everyone was anticipating.
Brian: Four of the top five franchises have one guy who qualifies as an absolute monster – for this franchise, obviously, it is Cobb. As Jimmy points out, Detroit is in good shape at the moment with two all-time greats currently accumulating value and showing little sign of slowing down (if you believe Verlander is on the down-side, I’ve got a bridge to sell you).
Cabrera has posted 6 to 7 WAR each of the last four years, but is on pace for 9.0 WAR this season. At age 30, how much more does he have in the tank? If he can post 8-7-6-5-4 over the next five seasons, which I don’t think is overly optimistic, that’s an additional 30 WAR. And Verlander? He has also posted between 6.3 and 8.1 WAR over the last four years, and although he is struggling now, ought to be good for 5 WAR this year. Verlander is also 30 years old, is he good for another 20 WAR? I’d love to know what people think in the comments.
3. Atlanta Braves / Milwaukee Braves / Boston Braves / Boston Bees… and many other names 1876-2013, 50.1 W%, 3 World Championships, 17 Pennants, 22 Playoff Appearances, 984.8 WAR
C – Joe Torre 34.9
1B – Eddie Mathews 94.3
2B – Rabbit Maranville 29.5
3B – Chipper Jones 85.1
SS – Herman Long 38.1
OF – Hank Aaron 136
OF – Andruw Jones 65.2
OF – Dale Murphy 44.9
OF – Wally Berger 37.1
Util – Tommy Holmes 34.7
SP – Warren Spahn 80.2
SP – John Smoltz 76.9
SP – Phil Niekro 74.5
SP – Kid Nichols 72
SP – Greg Maddux 71.6
RP – Gene Garber 9.8
The Atlanta Braves? The previous four teams have all won more championships, but the Braves have something none of them do. The nastiest pitching staff anyone has ever seen. Tom Glavine fell 22 WAR short of making the team even though he won 244 games with the Braves. He would be the best pitcher on Cincinnati and second best on numerous top 10 teams but here he is on the outside. Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and two of the best contemporary players round out an amazing roster.
The corner infield slots are the biggest strengths for Atlanta’s lineup. Chipper Jones and Mathews were both primarily third basemen but dabbled elsewhere. Andruw Jones also had a much better career than most people realize, blowing away Dale Murphy who some people think is a Hall of Famer. No one can match Hank Aaron when it comes to effectiveness over a long period of time; his career stats across the board might be better than anyone’s. The middle infield and back end of the outfield is surprisingly weak.
Greg Maddux pitched 2526.2 innings for the Braves, posting a 194-88 record with a 2.63 ERA in an offensive era. He is their 5th best starting pitcher. Smoltz pitched 800 more innings than Maddux to get in front of him, and Nichols/Niekro/Spahn each pitched over 4,500 innings for the Braves. That is a staggering number of starts and I think it is highly unlikely we will ever see another starter crack this top five.
One of the weakest positions on the roster is closer and Craig Kimbrel has that in his sights. He probably will not catch Garber (who has thrown 856 innings to Kimbrel’s 188.2) this year but might by next season. The only other route to making this team is middle infield or catcher. Brian McCann is at 27.5 WAR and creeping up on Torre. He is having a bit of a bounce back season and should pass him fairly soon. Andrelton Simmons is not much of a hitter but might ride his defense a long way up the list. He will need to improve with the stick drastically though to ever challenge Herman Long.
Brian: The Braves are SO interesting. Not only are they interesting because of their incredible, unparalleled pitching staff, but because of Andruw Jones. When he finally hangs it up and becomes Hall of Fame eligible, I think it will be really interesting to see how he is treated. Centerfielders, for some reason, get shafted when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration, but Jones was, for a short period, the historically good. He barely accumulated positive value outside of Atlanta (67.8 WAR total) but managed to hit 434 (!!!) home runs in his career along with his peerless defense. It’s silly to say it just doesn’t feel like he’s Hall-worthy, but with his abrupt fizzle-out at age 30, it is very hard to place him.
Speaking of players (like Clemens) with inner-circle Hall of Fame careers split over multiple teams, it is so strange to think of Greg Maddux as anything other than a Brave. He accumulated 114.3 career WAR, but only around 60% of that as a member of this franchise. There is nothing particularly insightful about this observation, but it is fun to wonder what-might-have-been if there was no strike, and Maddux’s 1994 and 1995 seasons (1.56 ERA and 1.63 ERA respectively) had not been interrupted. He pitched 202 innings in 1994 in only 25 starts, averaging what seems like 14 innings per start (he notched 10 complete games).
I don’t mean to turn this into an aside about Maddux alone, but this is how the last seven starts of his 1994 season went: CG, CG, CG, 8 innings one run, CG, 8 innings no runs, and a CG shutout in Colorado pre-humidor. The most pitches he threw in the last six of those games (four complete) was 106 pitches. I can’t even.
2. San Francisco Giants / New York Giants / New York Gothams 1883 – 2013, 7 World Championships, 22 Pennants, 24 Playoff Appearances, 1032.9 WAR
C – Buck Ewing 32.5
1B – Bill Terry 57.1
2B – Larry Doyle 47.1
3B – George Davis 44.9
SS – Travis Jackson 46.1
OF – Willie Mays 147.9
OF – Barry Bonds 115.4
OF – Mel Ott 110.9
OF – Willie McCovey 61.5
Util – Roger Connor 53.9
SP – Christy Mathewson 88.9
SP – Juan Marichal 69.2
SP – Carl Hubbell 53.6
SP – Gaylord Perry 46.3
SP – Amos Rusie 45.2
SP – Robb Nen 12.4
Now that is an outfield. Three of the greatest totaling over 370 WAR on their own goes a long way to putting you second all time in the franchise rankings. Not to be overlooked is the potent 1-2 punch of starters in Mathewson and Marichal who do their part as well. The pitching is deep and the lineup has only one real weak spot in catcher, hard to hold it against Ewing though considering he played without a mitt and was always breaking his fingers.
The Giants have always seemed to have one amazing outfielder, first Ott, then Mays and finally Bonds. Playing time is the biggest thing keeping the rest of this roster from pushing the total higher. Beyond the top four players, only Terry made it over 7,000 plate appearances, and he barely did. Also worth noting that the top four hitters combined for over 2,200 home runs.
Mathewson was never quite the equal to Walter Johnson but he was not too far behind. The Greg Maddux of his day he relied on control and a great changeup en-route to 14 straight outstanding seasons. Marichal and Hubbell were also more notable for their polish than raw stuff but pitched at an equal level of effectiveness to Matty. Perry spent basically half his career elsewhere but was around long enough to post plenty of big seasons. There is a huge dropoff after Rusie, all the way down to Red Ames and his 28.8 career WAR.
The two easiest routes to increasing the Giants’ WAR total would be catcher and starting pitching. Luckily that is exactly the current San Francisco team’s biggest strength right now. 28-year-old Matt Cain is already 7th all time at 28.3 WAR and is starting to turn around his first rough season. Tim Lincecum is spinning his wheels but just turned 29 and is right behind Cain. Madison Bumgarner has reached double-digit WAR already at the age of 23. Buster Posey has a long way to go before he can catch Ewing but is off to a good start. 26-years-old and at 15.7 WAR he is roughly halfway to Ewing. Pablo Sandoval is less than a year older than Posey and ahead of him in WAR but has a higher hurdle to jump to make the team.
Brian: Okay, so now we know who the winner is. What makes this interesting is that, like the Tigers, the Giants have active players who can still do some damage. The gap between #2 and #1 on this list is approximately 65 WAR, which is both a lot and a little, depending on the circumstances. As Jimmy rightly points out, the Giants’ best hopes for improvement are in places where they are the weakest: Posey at catcher, Sandoval at third, and starting pitcher generally. Time will tell whether the Giants can surpass our #1 team thanks to contributions at two or more of those positions.
Also interesting to note that although the Ott-Mays-Bonds trifecta is not the best three-player combo in this project – you will see those guys next – but Mays-Bonds, with their 263.3 WAR nudges them ahead of Ruth-Mantle but not Ruth-Gehrig. But let’s talk about those guys now:
1. New York Yankees / New York Highlanders / Baltimore Orioles 1901-2013, 56.8%, 27 World Championships, 40 Pennants, 51 Playoff Appearances; 1097.9 WAR
C – Bill Dickey 56.3
1B – Lou Gehrig 116.7
2B – Willie Randolph 51.6
3B – Alex Rodriguez 48.8
SS – Derek Jeter 74.6
OF – Babe Ruth 149.9
OF – Mickey Mantle 112.2
OF – Joe DiMaggio 83
OF – Yogi Berra 63.8
Util – Tony Lazzeri 48.7
SP – Andy Pettitte 56.2
SP – Whitey Ford 55.5
SP – Red Ruffing 52.1
SP – Ron Guidry 47.7
SP – Lefty Gomez 41.2
RP – Mariano Rivera 39.6
You were expecting something else? You could actually make a pretty spectacular team out of the players who did not make this list (20 batters in Yankee history topped 40 career WAR). Babe Ruth just edges out Willie Mays for the highest career total and the Yankees have have two others that easily cleared 100 WAR. I have not even gotten to Joe DiMaggio yet who probably would have also if not for the war. Apologies to Jorge Posada, Charlie Keller, Bernie Williams, Graig Nettles, Earl Combs and my uncle Phil Rizzuto, you would have made almost every other team but are not quite good enough here.
The Yankees have historically been strong behind the plate and in the outfield. Berra was primarily a catcher but also played left field and this configuration increases their team WAR by a tiny amount. Everyone knows how sensational Ruth and Gehrig were but Mantle was basically as good and few realize this. The man drank too much and had a lot of injuries but still had one of the most amazing careers ever. Contemporaries Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez may inch the Yankees total over 1,100 total with the help of Rivera.
The Yankees pitching staff is surprisingly ordinary, other than Rivera. Starting pitching has never been the strength of the franchise. All five of the pitchers here were very good but only outstanding in brief stretches. Mussina finished 6th but well behind Gomez at 36.7 WAR. Andy Pettitte just snuck by Ford for the top honors. Hard to believe that he is the ace of the most talented franchise in history, apparently offense wins championships.
There are three players that are still technically active on this roster but who knows if we will ever actually see Jeter or Rodriguez again with how long their injury recovery is taking. C.C. Sabathia is already up to 15th all time in WAR at 23.8 but it’s hard to imagine him keeping the momentum going long enough to reach Gomez. Robinson Cano is coming up on free agency but if he stays in New York he has a shot at catching Lazzeri. Cano currently stands at 33.2 WAR, which is 23rd all time for the team, 5th among second basemen.
Brian: Booooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Although its interesting to see how well Alex Rodriguez has done, despite the scorn heaped upon him as a Yankee. Booo.
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James Esatto is a graduate of Marist College, where he majored in sports journalism, and amateur baseball historian.
Site co-founder Brian Mangan contributed Arrested Development jokes, booing, and general inanity to this article. He took a History of Baseball class with Jimmy one summer at Marist and struck out his professor in a pick-up game.
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