From the Pages of Vine Line: WAR All-Stars—Pitcher

Imagine a roster with Banks, Fergie, Santo and Sosa—all in their primes.

With a lot of help from stats website Fangraphs.com, and a little insider information from author and SB Nation National Baseball Editor Rob Neyer, we’ve compiled the all-time greatest single seasons from a Cubs player at each position. Because there’s so much that goes into the game of baseball, and numbers are by nature open to interpretation, compiling this kind of roster can be fairly subjective and lead to lengthy debates. We opted to take as much conflict as possible out of the equation and simply utilized the advanced statistic wins above replacement (WAR).

We won’t bore you with an extensive breakdown of the formula, but what WAR essentially does is aggregate everything an individual contributes—offensively and defensively—into one definitive number that conveys his value, typically ranging from -1 to 10. The purpose of the formula is to quantify how much a team would lose if a player was swapped for an average replacement player.

In order to qualify for our team, each player had to spend the majority of his time at a single position during the season being measured. And because the team wasn’t officially christened the Chicago Cubs until 1903, players who represented the Orphans, Colts and White Stockings were excluded (apologies to Bill Hutchison and his 10.6 WAR in 1892). It wasn’t necessary to win an MVP or even go to the All-Star Game. These are simply the best WAR seasons for a Cubs player at each spot on the diamond.

For Friday’s installment, we unveil the greatest single season for a pitcher in Cubs history. For more information or the entire roster, be sure to pick up a copy of July’s issue of Vine Line. And watch the blog in the coming weeks for the rest of the roster.

Pitcher: Fergie Jenkins, 1970—10.5 WAR

Jenkins

If you’re looking for an example of how fickle wins above replacement can be, look no further than Cubs great Fergie Jenkins. His 1971 season was phenomenal. He won 24 games behind a 2.77 ERA and was awarded the NL Cy Young for his efforts. It was the previous season, however, the one without an All-Star appearance—much less the Cy Young hardware—in which he compiled the best-ever WAR for a Cubs pitcher. Though the first half of his 1970 season got off to a rocky start, Jenkins rallied in the second half, posting a 2.75 ERA and holding opposing batters to a .197 average after the All-Star break. To the credit of manager Leo Durocher, much of the team’s success that season came from letting Jenkins take the ball deep into outings. In 39 starts, he tossed 24 complete games. Much of the right-hander’s success came from his 4.57 K/BB ratio, the third-best mark of the decade.

Rob Neyer’s Take:
“[This was] the middle of a brilliant six-year run in which Jenkins averaged 21 wins, 39 starts and 306 innings per season. It seems we’ll never see the likes of him again.”

Other Notable Seasons (Pitcher):
Fergie Jenkins – 10.3 WAR (1971)
Fergie Jenkins – 9.1 WAR (1969)

9 Comments

Mistake on this one. Even if I trust FanGraphs WAR vs. other sources (whose all others would rank 1971 far ahead in WAR), even FanGraphs gives Fergie Jenkins a better WAR in 1971 vs. 1970 … when you include his hitting. +1.6 WAR vs. -0.5 WAR makes a big difference. Jenkins went .243/.282/.478 in 1971 vs. going .124/.129/.221 in 1970.

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