Recently, David Appelman introduced all of us to the Automated WAR grids. When I clicked into the WAR grids section, the top-25 all-time leaders in recorded MLB history was illustrated as the sample grid. I took some time to let the awe set in, admiring the absolute dominance of the true legends of the game who seem to transcend even the Hall of Fame.
One of the first things I noticed was that every one of them at least matched 100 career WAR. I got to thinking about which players we watch today that we may someday see on this elite 100+ WAR list. There were 19 players active in 2010 that have accumulated 50 career WAR or better. At the top we already see ARod at 120, the only current player who we know for certain fits into that super-elite status. After ARod there is Pujols, who has racked up 81 WAR to date and will likely only need 3 more seasons to join the club. The rest of the players on the list are all guys who are at least in their late 30s and many of them are on the cusp of retirement and/or are in dramatic decline. Realistically, there were only two other players who I thought may have an outside shot at 100 WAR: Jeter and Ichiro.
We’ll start with Jeter because he’s already accumulated 70 WAR. He has averaged 4.7 WAR per season for his career and would have to continue that pace for seven more seasons to reach the 100 mark. Last year was the worst season of his 15-year career, with 2.5 WAR. Bill James projects him at 2.8 next year. Considering his 2009 came with a whopping 7.1 WAR explosion I’m not sure he won’t bounce back a bit more than that, especially after looking at his career-low BABIP in 2010. With that being said Jeter will turn 37 this season, so for him to continue to etch out nearly 5 WAR per season until he’s 44 may be a stretch. Looking at his WAR per age, Jeter seemed like he would have a pretty decent shot until last season’s nose-dive. If he can settle at some middle ground between his two most recent seasons it doesn’t seem impossible that he’ll get to 100 WAR, considering the line-up he plays in, but I’m not sure how likely it is.
Ichiro is an intriguing case. He’s six months older than Jeter and has only accumulated 50 WAR thus far in his career. Like pre-2010 Jeter, Ichiro seems to be almost immune to age regression. He’s averaged 5.1 WAR per season over the course of his MLB career and would need to keep that up for about 10 more seasons to reach the 100 WAR plateau. For most players, staying in the majors until age 47 would be a feat in and of itself, let alone producing far more than the average player does for so long. Ichiro’s skill-set, heavy on speed and defense, typically do not age nearly as well as his have to this point (see Jeter). The skills that usually do age well, on-base skills and power, aren’t generally considered his strong points. Ichiro has a career .099 ISO and his solid on-base average could be volatile if his contact skills begin to decline, considering his fairly average BB%. Still, I think most of us can agree that Ichiro definitely doesn’t fall under the category of normal, to say the least. Looking at his production over his career, he remains near his prime production, so anything is possible.
Ripken and Kaline were each declining steadily at the same point in their careers as our two subjects. One note on Ripken; his WAR numbers took a significant hit when he moved from shortstop to third base. A position move seems likely for Jeter if he plans on playing another six or seven seasons, which makes his rise to 100 WAR seems even less likely.
Neither of the two future Hall of Famers seems likely to reach 100 WAR, but it sure is fun thinking of what kind of seasons remain ahead of them if they even come close.