From the Pages of Vine Line: WAR All-Stars—Second 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). For the fourth installment of our WAR All-Star team, we turn to second base. Though most Cubs fans immediately assume Ryne Sandberg had the best-ever WAR season at the keystone, it was actually Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, whose remarkable 1929 campaign earned him the NL MVP.
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.
Second Baseman: Rogers Hornsby, 1929—11.0 WAR
Even if you take his abrasive personality out of the equation, Rogers Hornsby probably wouldn’t be the best-liked player in Cubs history. He spent 13 years as a key member of the rival Cardinals before coming over in a trade prior to the 1929 season. But in his first year on the North Side, he delivered one of the best offensive campaigns by a second baseman in baseball history. His 39 home runs are tied for the third most ever at the position, while his slugging percentage and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) both rank fourth. He also led the NL in runs scored and total bases. It almost goes without saying he was the league MVP. Though much of his stay in Chicago was marked by injuries and squabbles with ownership, it’s tough to ignore what Hornsby did with the bat in 1929, especially when you consider offensive production was rarely required from the keystone in that era.
Rob Neyer’s Take:
“Though 33 and a few years past his prime with the Cardinals, ‘Rajah’ still batted .380 with great power and played in every single game.”
Other Notable Seasons:
Ryne Sandberg – 8.0 WAR (1984)
Ryne Sandberg – 7.3 WAR (1982)