From the Pages of Vine Line: WAR All-Stars—First Base
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 third installment of our WAR All-Star team, first base, is where one of the Cubs’ biggest legends—both on the field and in the dugout—resides.
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.
First Baseman: Frank Chance, 1906—7.7 WAR
Probably better remembered for his Tinker to Evers to Chance defensive exploits, Frank Chance could do it all on a baseball field. He not only managed the 1906 team to the World Series, he also led the league with 103 runs and 57 stolen bases in 136 regular season games that season. How many everyday first basemen can do that? As a matter of fact, none. Only one first baseman since 1914 has swiped as many as 45 bases in a year: Gregg Jefferies with 46 in 1993. It’s safe to say the game has changed a bit since the turn of the last century—Prince Fielder and Joey Votto aren’t going to do that much running—but Chance’s 1906 season still holds up as one of the best of all time for a first baseman. All three components of his slash line were good for top five in the NL, and you could argue that his WAR should be higher for what he accomplished as a manager.
Rob Neyer’s Take:
“Chance makes the list because of his accomplishments as a player, but ‘The Peerless Leader’ obviously deserves a big dollop of extra credit for managing the Cubs to 116 wins and the best winning percentage in modern major league history.”
Other Notable Seasons:
Derrek Lee – 6.9 WAR (2005)
Phil Cavarretta – 6.4 WAR (1945)