From the Page of Vine Line: WAR All-Stars—Right Field
All month, we’ve 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). We conclude our WAR All-Star team in right field, where one of the Cubs’ most polarizing players covers the corner outfield spot. Bill Nicholson manned the tricky right field corner at a high level in the ’40s, and Andre Dawson racked up his MVP award at the position, but Sammy Sosa’s 2001 campaign was tops in franchise history.
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.
Right Field: Sammy Sosa, 2001—9.9 WAR
Say what you will about Sammy Sosa. He certainly had some indiscretions and didn’t exactly leave the game in the Hall-of-Fame manner people expected circa 1998. But he undeniably put up some of the most statistically exciting, video game-like seasons in Cubs history. And if you were a North Side fan between 1992-2004, you likely loved No. 21. Though he’s probably best remembered for his magical two-step with Mark McGwire during the 1998 season—a season that ultimately netted him the NL MVP award—his 2001 campaign was actually better. His home runs and RBI were comparable, but he had 14 more doubles, five more triples, 43 more walks and 18 fewer strikeouts. This all led to a significantly higher OPS. The statistic OPS+ takes OPS and normalizes for outlying variables such as park effects. A 100 OPS+ is considered league average. In 2001, Sosa’s OPS+ was an astronomical 203.
Rob Neyer’s Take:
“The third season in which Sosa hit 60-some home runs … and somehow didn’t lead the National League in homers in any of those seasons. In ’01, though, he did lead the league in both runs and runs batted in.”
Other Notable Seasons:
Bill Nicholson—7.3 WAR (1943)
Sammy Sosa—7.1 WAR (1998)