From the Pages of Vine Line: WAR All-Stars—Catcher
All month, we’ll be unveiling the best single seasons by a Cubs player at each position in the team’s more than 100-year history, using the advanced statistic Wins Above Replacement (WAR). The second installment of our WAR All-Star team, catcher, is probably the biggest shocker on the list.
Here’s how we chose our team.
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).
For more information or the entire team, 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.
Catcher: Rick Wilkins, 1993—6.6 WAR
Gabby Hartnett, Jody Davis and Randy Hundley all had fabulous careers donning the tools of ignorance for the Cubs, but no catcher in the organization’s history had a better individual season than … wait for it … Rick Wilkins in 1993. Though his .330 batting average on balls in play might indicate he got a little lucky, his stats were among baseball’s best by any measure. His home runs, batting average and slugging percentage all ranked in the top 10 in the NL (though he recorded only 500 plate appearances, two short of qualifying for a batting title), and his 30 round-trippers were the most from a Cubs catcher since Hartnett’s 37 bombs in 1930. Defensively, not many people ran on him, but that might be because he threw out an impressive 46 percent of base stealers. Wilkins likely isn’t the first Cub who comes to mind as the organization’s best backstop, but in 1993, he was about as good as it got.
Rob Neyer’s Take:
“[This] probably ranks as one of the great fluke seasons, as Wilkins hit 30 homers in ’93 but never hit more than 14 in another season—and not more than eight with the Cubs.”
Other Notable Seasons:
Gabby Hartnett – 5.6 WAR (1930)
Gabby Hartnett – 5.1 WAR (1935)