Position Players by WAR: Free Agency

Baseball Prehistory | Deadball Era | Liveball Era | Post-War
Expansion | Free Agency | Modern Era

The Expansion Era saw the Major Leagues spread west and go from 16 teams to 24 26 by 1977:

The pitching mound had been lowered, the designated hitter added, and baseball was looking like the modern game save for one thing: Free Agency. In the 19th century, players started getting paid more than the average worker. In order to control salaries, baseball created the Reserve Clause in 1879 which said that even if a player’s contract expired, the team that contract was with still retained rights to their services. Players were given one-year contracts, and if they refused to sign, they couldn’t sign with another team.

The Federal League was formed in 1914 to compete with the Major Leagues, but only lasted two seasons. After 1915, the Major Leagues bought out most of the owners of the Federal Leagues, giving them ownership in Major League teams, or other considerations. The owner of one of those teams, the Baltimore Terrapins, refused to be bought out and brought suit against the National League under the Sherman Anti-trust Act. That came to a head in 1922 in Federal Baseball Club vs. National League which created the MLB Anti-Trust exemption. Apparently because baseball was an amusement, it didn’t fall under the same rules for interstate commerce.

That all changed in 1975 when an arbitrator struck down the reserve clause and granted Free Agency to two pitchers: Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally. From 1976, Free Agency was born, and players were no longer bound by the Reserve Clause.

A quick synopsis: in 1969, Curt Flood fought against being traded. He gave up his career in baseball. He believed that the Reserve Clause was cause for collective bargaining, and the first collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association was reached by Marvin Miller in 1970. That started the ball rolling for Free Agency to be granted by the arbitrator in 1975.

Here are the players who came out of that era:

And the second half:

Who jumps out to you?

Player list (career WAR in parentheses):

Rickey Henderson (114.1) Mike Schmidt (110.5)
Cal Ripken (99.7) Wade Boggs (94.8)
George Brett (91.6) Eddie Murray (78.8)
Rafael Palmeiro (75.5) Paul Molitor (75.2)
Carlton Fisk (74.4) Lou Whitaker (74.3)
Bobby Grich (74.1) Robin Yount (74.1)
Gary Carter (72.5) Dwight Evans (71.4)
Tim Raines (71) Mark McGwire (70.6)
Ozzie Smith (70.3) Barry Larkin (69.8)
Alan Trammell (69.5) Tony Gwynn (67.9)
Willie Randolph (67.9) Darrell Evans (67.8)
Dave Winfield (67.7) Buddy Bell (66.6)
Ryne Sandberg (62.6) Andre Dawson (62.3)
Keith Hernandez (61.8) Fred McGriff (61.3)
Ron Cey (59.4) Chet Lemon (56.9)
Jim Rice (56.1) Jose Cruz (55.2)
Will Clark (54.4) Brian Downing (54.1)
Jack Clark (53.9) Fred Lynn (53.8)
Tony Phillips (51.5) Toby Harrah (50.9)
George Foster (50.8) Ken Singleton (50.2)
Kirby Puckett (49.4) Julio Franco (48.6)
Lance Parrish (48) Tony Fernandez (47.7)
Matt Williams (47.4) Dale Murphy (47.3)
Brett Butler (46.3) Davey Lopes (46.1)
Devon White (46) Jose Canseco (45.9)
Don Mattingly (45.8) Dave Parker (45.7)
Harold Baines (45.3) Dave Concepcion (44.8)
Doug DeCinces (44.3) Gary Gaetti (44.3)
Albert Belle (44.2) Paul O’Neill (43.8)
Willie Wilson (43.5) Darrell Porter (43.4)
Darryl Strawberry (43.2) Andy Van Slyke (43.1)
Jesse Barfield (42.6) Dusty Baker (42.6)
Steve Garvey (42.5) Kent Hrbek (42)
Chili Davis (41.7) Lenny Dykstra (41.4)
Jim Sundberg (41.4) Tim Wallach (40.6)
Wally Joyner (40.4) Jay Bell (40.3)
Kirk Gibson (39.5) Carney Lansford (39.1)
Cecil Cooper (38.6) Greg Luzinski (38.1)
Bill Madlock (38.1) Pedro Guerrero (37.9)
Bob Boone (37.1) Lonnie Smith (37)
Eric Davis (36.8) Ken Griffey (36.8)
Bob Watson (36.6) Don Money (36.5)
Frank White (36.2) Dwayne Murphy (35.7)
Bobby Bonilla (35.6) Andres Galarraga (35.4)
Ron Gant (35.3) Don Baylor (34.9)
Gary Matthews (34.6) Mike Hargrove (34.5)
Travis Fryman (33.7) Hal McRae (33.6)


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32 Responses to “Position Players by WAR: Free Agency”

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  1. SC2GG says:

    No one jumps out at me, because the graphs are too small to read, and don’t expand to a visible size once you click on them.

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  2. J.Leeker says:

    Damn, I forgot how good Mike Schmidt was. 10 seasons over 7 WAR.

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    • So fully agreed — he was the big surprise for me making this era.

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      • Mac says:

        Really, Schmidt was a surprise? Arguably the best third baseman of all time. The current top career WAR among all 3B (though A-Rod will surpass him). Rare combo of elite power/elite defense. Star of George F. Will’s Sports Machine Mike Schmidt is forgotten so quickly?

        Don’t mean to harsh, but in my mind the guy has to go in the inner HOF circle.

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  3. ralf says:

    Kent Hrbek doesn’t belong in the HOF, but look at the guys within +/- 4 career WAR of him. It’s really a shame that no one ever mentions him outside of MN.

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    • Eric R says:

      Here are the guys +/- 2.0 WAR of Hrbek with each players’ BBWAA HoF votes:

      Paul O’Neill (43.8) 12/545
      Willie Wilson (43.5) 10/499
      Darrell Porter (43.4) 0/423
      Darryl Strawberry (43.2) 6/516
      Andy Van Slyke (43.1) 0/515
      Jesse Barfield (42.6) 0?
      Dusty Baker (42.6) 4/430
      Kent Hrbek (42) 5/499
      Chili Davis (41.7) 3/516
      Lenny Dykstra (41.4) 1/472
      Jim Sundberg (41.4) 1/460
      Tim Wallach (40.6) 1/472
      Wally Joyner (40.4) 0/545
      Jay Bell (40.3) 2/539

      I skipped one [below], but all of the rest, including Hrbek, got between 0% and 2% of the vote. Atleast it seems the writers views in this case match up pretty solidly with WAR. Not sure on Barfield, why wasn’t he ever on the ballot? But in any case, I’m counting that as a zero…

      And then there is Steve Garvey (42.5 WAR): who was on the ballot for fifteen years and averaged over 150 votes… So the best question is what makes Garvey nearly a HoFer (he has the fifth most BBWAA HoF votes of any player not elected by the BBWAA, Bunning, Hodges, Cepeda and Slaughter ahead) and the others +/- 2 WAR got virtually no support…

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  4. AJS says:

    There were 26 teams in 1977. Count the dots on your map.

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  5. Schu says:

    What jumps out is how much more WAR the players produce during their club control seasons than after they are finally eligible for free agency.

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  6. PJS says:

    Grich and Whitaker had much more value than Ryno at bat and in the field. Do the sportswriters still not understand the value of a walk?

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  7. Jeff says:

    Whitaker jumps out to me…


    and why has the saber community not fought for him, or Trammel???

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    • Jeff says:

      I cannot believe he has more WAR than Gwinn, Ozzie Smith, Raines, Winfield, AND Sanburg…

      Oh and only 30 more than Rice… but oh I forgot, playing for the Red Sox or Yankees gets you an automatic extra 30WAR when you retire.

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      • Jeff says:

        and what a freaking joke for the baseball writers to even CONSIDER Mattingly…

        not even 50 WAR???

        but he was A Yankee!!!

        I guess being a average player on a shitty team is worth more than being a great player on one of the most dominant single year teams of all time… (1984 Tigers)

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      • bcp33bosox says:

        Jeff, while I agree with you to a point and certainly think the voting process is flawed, I do not think WAR should be the only stat used either.

        Mattingly was a 6X AS, 9X GG, 4X top-5 MVPs and a batting title to go along with a .307 career hitter. Now while I don’t think he necessarily belongs in the HOF, he had a solid, albeit short-ish career.

        Rice was one of the most feared AL hitters of his generation and he dominated, again albeit for a short time and it took the full 15 years as a result becasue he did not have the counting stats, so it is not like they just said, yep he was a Red Sox.

        And while it is fun to go back and look at the new sabermetric stats on the legends, it is anachronistic to judge them solely on WAR or any other saber stat that was not being used at the time. Even OBP which was kept track of, was not considered that valuable, especially compared to “batting .300″ …People (fans, media and even management) used to complain when Boggs took a BB with a runner on second or third. It was a different game, with different evaluations of talent.

        With all that being said, I think Whitaker and Trammel both belong, but I also think Raines, Dewey, Grich, McGriff and Larkin do as well.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        One of the questions that you might ask yourself is, if this was the best player on a team, could they win the WS? For Mattingly, the answer has to be no given that he had about as good a “rest of the team” as you could expect and they never won the WS.

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    • todmod says:

      Well first off, Whitaker’s not on the ballot. He didn’t get 5 percent of the vote in his first year, so he got dropped off. His fate is up to veteran’s committee. Trammell has got sabre support, but he also has no chance of being elected. He just doesn’t have enough votes – guys like Larkin/Raines are more likely candidates to get in.

      And while I definitely think Whitaker has a solid HOF case, his career WAR doesn’t tell the whole story.

      As a comparison to Trammell/Larkin/Ozzie:


      Whitaker was very good for a long time – his 12th-18th best seasons top the others by a lot. But his peak was also not as high as the other 3 guys. You can make a decent case that his very best was not quite good enough to be a Hall of Famer. He deserved more support than he got, but he’s far from a must-put-in guy.

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  8. My echo and bunnymen says:

    If the bolded players are hall of famers, then why isn’t Dawson highlighted? Isn’t he in the HoF?

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  9. fredsbank says:

    so I know FG hates that Dawson is in the Hall, but to blatantly omit it seems a little over the top

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  10. brad says:

    The absence of Barry Bonds jumps out at me. By my math he had 73.8 WAR from 89-95.

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  11. Shattenjager says:

    Fred Lynn jumps out at me for just having an odd looking graph.

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  12. Mac says:

    There are a few guys straddling the 1995 mark who really belong in both eras. Bonds, Clemens, and Maddux all were great in this era but really made their mark in the modern era. Then there’s Frank Thomas.

    The Big Hurt played from 1990-2008.
    From ’90-’97 he never posted an OPS less than .975.
    From ’98 – ’08 he only once posted an OPS greater than .975

    Lumping Thomas in with the offensive explosion of the late 90’s paints the wrong picture of his career. If ever a true DH belongs in the HOF, it should be Frank Thomas.

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  13. Barkey Walker says:

    As a Twins fan, I’m always floored by how low the WAR of Puckett is (49.4). He had very good traditional stats. Was revered by local sports casters as very good in CF when he was young, and a career BA of 0.317, hit about 20 HR/year (more in his prime) but he did not walk. If a pitcher would throw it, he would swing at it.

    This also helped him accumulate HOF type stats, fewest years in the majors before breaking 2000 hits (5), was viewed as “leading the team” to two WS championships, first player to sign for over $3mil/year, and (how could you forget), hit a walk off homer in a WS game.

    Because of this, he was a first year eligible HOF member. I wonder if there are other first year HOF members with such low WARs.

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  14. ScooterPie says:

    I don’t know if anyone is still looking here, but has something gone horribly wrong with the first picture? I see nothing, not even a clickable link.

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    • ScooterPie says:

      In the interest of doing something other than whine, let me say this: when this series first started, I wasn’t quite certain of the point. It was kinda neat, but …

      Having now grown accustomed to these graphics, I love the whole series. These are great to look at.

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