Teams and Star Power

Recently, I was looking at a list of the worst teams in history (’99 Spiders, ’62 Mets, ’16 A’s, etc). I agree that these teams were terrible, but they each had stars on their rosters. The Mets had Ashburn and Hodges, the A’s had Lajoie, and even the Spiders had Lave Cross.

So I took a look at each team’s top career WAR earner to see which team had the lowest. I narrowed the search to 1901-2007 and also took out the Federal League. As a side note, I understand that Career WAR is not the only factor in determining a player’s “superstar” level, but this is the term I decided to use.

Here are the Top 10 teams with the lowest career WAR leader.

# Year Team WAR Top Player W-L
1 1902 SLN 15.0 Patsy Donovan 56-78
2 1906 BRO 15.1 Doc Gessler 66-86
3 1972 SDN 15.9 Mike Caldwell 58-95
4 1969 KCA 18.0 Jim Rooker 69-93
5 1962 KC1 19.0 Norm Siebern 72-90
6 1963 KC1 19.0 Norm Siebern 73-89
7 1921 BSN 19.5 Billy Southworth 79-74
8 2001 DET 20.3 Bobby Higginson 66-96
9 1999 DET 20.3 Bobby Higginson 69-92
10 1977 SEA 20.6 Ruppert Jones 64-98

The above list was originally peppered with teams from 2011/12, but I took them out since their players are still active. The lowest current team is the Royals, whose leader is Alex Gordon with 13.6 WAR. I’d bet good money that Hosmer, Moustakas, or even Wil Myers will end up with far more than 13.6.

Since the ’21 Braves are the only team to finish above .500, I decided to take a look only at the teams with more victories than losses…..

# Year Team WAR Top Player W-L
1 1921 BSN 19.5 Billy Southworth 79-74
2 1938 BSN 32.1 Tony Cuccinello 77-75
3 1914 SLN 33.8 Miller Huggins 81-72
4 1962 PHI 35.4 Johnny Callison 81-80
5 1901 DET 35.6 Kid Gleason 74-61
6 2000 ANA 37.1 Tim Salmon 82-80
7 2005 OAK 37.7 Jason Kendall 88-74
8 1971 KCA 39.2 Amos Otis 85-76
9 1950 NY1 39.4 Alvin Dark 86-68
10 1933 BSN 39.8 Wally Berger 83-71

Save for the ’21 Braves, I was quite surprised that no other team has had their top player with less than 30 career WAR. You would think there would be another .500+ team over the course of a century.

The ’05 Athletics may climb off this list before it’s said and done, since they have a few active players with some good years left in them (most notably Dan Haren).

While I’m at it, I’ll take a look at each team’s average career WAR weighted on playing time (plate appearances and innings pitched). This should give us a good overall view a team’s “star power”, not just their top player. I also added each team’s attendance rank in their league.

# Year Team Avg WAR W-L Attendance
1 1954 PHA 2.6 51-103 8 / 8
2 1902 SLN 3.1 56-78 4 / 8
3 1943 PHA 3.4 49-105 6 / 8
4 1972 SDN 3.4 58-95 12 / 12
5 1910 BSN 3.8 53-100 8 / 8
6 1977 SEA 4.4 64-98 8 / 14
7 1973 SDN 4.5 60-102 12 / 12
8 1906 BRO 4.7 66-86 7 / 8
9 1971 SDN 4.8 61-100 12 / 12
10 1948 SLA 4.8 59-94 8 / 8

The ’54 A’s were truly an awful team. They did have Gus Zernial and Vic Power (playing CF), but they also had a bunch of negative career WAR players. Their attendance also reflects their “star power”, finishing dead last in the AL. The 3,957 per game average was just 31% of the league average. To compare that to today, the Indians have the worst attendance at under 20,000, but it is still 65% of the league average.

We’ll give the ’43 Athletics a break because of The Second World War. The talent pool was severely limited.

Just off the list at 13, the 1964 Mets had an average career WAR of 5.3 and still finished second in the league in attendance. With a shiny new stadium, those New Yorkers sure were happy to once again have National League baseball!

Now let’s take a look at the highest average career WAR…..

# Year Team Avg WAR W-L Attendance
1 1933 NYA 45.8 91-59 1 / 8
2 1928 PHA 45.2 98-55 2 / 8
3 1932 NYA 44.8 107-47 1 / 8
4 1918 BOS 43.5 75-51 3 / 8
5 1927 PHA 43.5 91-63 4 / 8
6 1931 NYA 43.4 94-59 1 / 8
7 1904 BOS 42.7 95-59 1 / 8
8 1926 NYA 42.3 91-63 1 / 8
9 2005 NYA 42.1 95-67 1 / 14
10 1902 BOS 41.8 77-60 2 / 8

It doesn’t hurt to have Babe Ruth on your team, seeing as how he played for half the teams on the list. The ’33 Yankees had 9 Hall of Famers, while the ’28 A’s had 7.

The 1927 Athletics finished just 4th in the league in attendance. I guess Ty Cobb, Zack Wheat, Eddie Collins, Al Simmons, Lefty Grove, and Mickey Cochrane weren’t enough to bring the fans to the park. In fact, their attendance dropped over 2k per game from the previous season.

The list is dominated by the Yankees, Red Sox, and Athletics. They actually took the top 19 spots. Other top teams were the mid-1920’s Senators, late 90’s Braves, and late 50’s Braves.

And finally, I’ll take a look at the lowest average career WAR of all the Pennant Winners……

# Year Team Avg WAR W-L Attendance
1 1944 SLA 10.0 89-65 6 / 8
2 1914 BSN 13.9 94-59 1 / 8
3 1990 CIN 15.9 91-71 4 / 12
4 1943 NYA 16.7 98-56 1 / 8
5 1993 PHI 16.7 97-65 4 / 14
6 1917 NY1 16.9 98-56 1 / 8
7 2002 ANA 17.2 99-63 7 / 14
8 1945 DET 17.9 88-65 1 / 8
9 1967 BOS 18.4 92-70 1 / 10
10 1987 SLN 18.5 95-67 1 / 12

As you might imagine, the list was dominated by recent pennant winners, so I removed the teams with active players who have years ahead of them. As before, we’ll give the World War teams a break due to talent pool restrictions.

Some history buffs may have been able to peg the ’14 Braves to top this list. Their roster contained two Hall of Famers (Maranville and Evers), but their star pitchers either had career years in 1914 or flamed out due to injury.

This was a long post, so thanks for your patience.

WAR available in Downloads

While our old Wins Above Replacement (sometimes known as gWAR) was replaced on the site with Baseball-Reference’s system, I’ve decided to make it available via a .csv download for those still interested. If you’re looking for a .csv download of B-Ref’s WAR data, it is available for download on their site.

I know this took me a lot longer than I originally expected, so I apologize for the delay.