From the Pages of Vine Line: WAR All-Stars—Center Field
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). Next up on our WAR All-Star team is center field, where you have to go all the way back to 1930 and Hack Wilson to find our winner. Though the Hall of Famer had several spectacular seasons in his 12-year career, he put up historic numbers in 1930, setting a major offensive record that still stands today.
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.
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.
Center Field: Hack Wilson, 1930—8.0 WAR
Some records will stand forever. The game has changed so dramatically that Cy Young’s 511 career wins are fairly well unreachable. But thanks to the PED-fueled 1990s and early 2000s, offensive records were made to be broken. Then there’s Hack Wilson’s mark of 191 RBI, which has managed to endure since 1930. The closest it ever came to being touched was the following season, when Lou Gehrig plated 184. Despite below-average defense, Wilson had a historic season with the bat—he drove in 53 runs in August alone. But there are some caveats. RBI is a dependent stat, and Wilson never could have driven in that many without Woody English (.430 OBP) and Kiki Cuyler (.428 OBP) batting in front of him. Plus, the NL hit a combined .303 in 1930. Still, in a year in which offense was up, the 5-foot-6 slugger was the best in baseball by a wide margin, leading the league in homers (56), RBI, walks (105), strikeouts (84), slugging percentage (.723) and OPS (1.177).
Rob Neyer’s Take:
“Hardly a one-season wonder, the bizarrely shaped Wilson led the NL in homers four times and RBI twice. But it’s his ’30 season that still draws raves, as his 191 RBI set a record that still hasn’t been challenged.”
Other Notable Seasons:
Hack Wilson – 6.6 (1927)
Hack Wilson – 6.5 (1929)