MLB Franchise Four: AL Central

Major League Baseball has a campaign asking fans to vote for the four “most impactful” players in their team’s history, with the winners being announced at the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati. A panel of experts created an eight-man ballot for each team. This panel consists of MLB’s Official Historian John Thorn and representatives from MLB’s official statistician (the Elias Sports Bureau), MLB.com, MLB Network, and the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

“Most impactful” is open to interpretation, which makes this an interesting exercise. It isn’t “best” or “most famous” or “most popular”, but “most impactful.” I decided to look at the eight players on the ballot for each franchise and where they rank in FanGraphs WAR during their time with that franchise.

For each franchise, I’ve listed their top 10 in FanGraphs WAR along with any players who are on the ballot who are below the top 10. The players in BOLD are those who are on the ballot and the years listed are the years in which they played for that team.

 

Cleveland Indians (1901-2015)

 

(1) Nap Lajoie 74.9 WAR (1902-1914)

(2) Tris Speaker 72.6 WAR (1916-1926)

(3) Lou Boudreau 63.1 WAR (1938-1950)

(4) Bob Feller 62.6 WAR (1936-1941, 1945-1956)

(5) Earl Averill 47.7 WAR (1929-1939)

(6) Mel Harder 47.6 WAR

(7) Jim Thome 46.3 WAR (1991-2002, 2011)

(8) Sam McDowell 45.6 WAR

(9) Larry Doby 45.0 WAR (1947-1955, 1958)

(10) Stan Coveleski 43.7 WAR

(31) Omar Vizquel 27.6 WAR (1994-2004)

 

On the ballot: All but two players on the ballot for Cleveland had their careers end before 1960. This is a ballot for an older generation and no one goes back farther than Nap Lajoie, whose time with the Indians ended more than 100 years ago. From 1902 to 1914, he led the league in hitting four times and finished with a .339 career average with the team. In fact, he was so good the team was known as the Cleveland Naps from 1903 to 1914.

Tris Speaker started his career with the Boston Red Sox, then joined the Indians in 1916 at the age of 28 and immediately led the AL in hitting with a .386 batting average. He also led the league in on-base percentage (.470) and slugging percentage (.502). He was well known for his defensive abilities in addition to his strong bat and averaged 6.6 WAR per season with the Indians.

Lou Boudreau was the player-manager and MVP of the 1948 Indians, the last Cleveland team to win a World Series. Bob Feller was also on that 1948 squad. Feller pitched 62 innings as a 17-year-old with the 1936 Cleveland Indians. From 1938 to 1941, Feller was a four-time All-Star and averaged 23 wins and 309 innings per season. He then missed three-and-a-half seasons to military service, which very likely prevented him from winning 300 games in his career (he had 266). He was back in the Indians’ rotation full-time in 1946 and pitched 371 1/3 innings with 348 strikeouts and a 2.18 ERA. He was worth 10 WAR that season. Feller was visible after his playing career ended and much-loved in Cleveland with frequent appearances at memorabilia conventions.

Earl Averill played for the Indians from 1929 to 1939. The team never finished higher than third during his tenure, but he was an All-Star for six straight years in his 11 years with the team.

I’ve always felt Larry Doby should be honored right along with Jackie Robinson on April 15th each year. Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play in the modern major leagues when he debuted with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947, but it gets forgotten that Larry Doby debuted with the Indians less than three months later and dealt with the same racist attitudes and actions that Jackie Robinson did. Doby was just a part-time player his first year with the Indians but soon became a perennial All-star with the team.

Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel are the only two players on the ballot who played for the team in the last 50 years. They were on the very good Cleveland teams of the mid 1990s that made the playoffs five straight years and six times in seven years, including two losing World Series appearances.

Notable ballot snub: Kenny Lofton is 11th on the all-time WAR list for the Indians and was an under-appreciated part of those good Cleveland teams in the mid-1990s (except for 1997, when he was with Atlanta). He’s 20 spots higher than Omar Vizquel with almost 16 more WAR than Vizquel had with the team, but did not get a spot on the eight-man ballot.

My Franchise Four: Nap Lajoie, Lou Boudreau, Bob Feller, Jim Thome

 

Kansas City Royals (1969-2015)

 

(1) George Brett 84.6 WAR (1973-1993)

(2) Amos Otis 42.0 WAR (1970-1983)

(3) Kevin Appier 41.8 WAR

(4) Mark Gubicza 40.1 WAR

(5) Bret Saberhagen 38.5 WAR (1984-1991)

(6) Willie Wilson 35.2 WAR (1976-1990)

(7) Dennis Leonard 34.5 WAR

(8) Paul Splittorff 33.2 WAR

(9) Frank White 31.1 WAR (1973-1990)

(10) Hal McRae 27.6 WAR (1973-1987)

(11) Alex Gordon 27.0 WAR (2007-2015)

(25) Dan Quisenberry 14.4 WAR (1979-1988)

 

On the ballot: Some players should be automatic Franchise Four players for the team they played with. One of those players is George Brett with the Kansas City Royals. He played 21 years with the team, has almost twice the WAR of the next-highest player, and was with the team during the most successful years of the franchise, including seven of the eight years in team history that the Royals made the post-season. The gap between Brett and Amos Otis is the fourth highest for any top two players on their team’s all-time WAR leaderboard. Brett was a 13-time All-Star for the Royals and won the AL MVP Award in 1980 when he hit .390/.454/.664. He had over 3000 hits and 1500 RBI in his career. His postseason numbers are even more impressive than his regular season numbers: .337/.397/.627. Brett is as automatic as can be for a Franchise Four candidate.

Willie Wilson, Frank White, and Hal McRae were teammates of Brett during all seven years the team made the playoffs from 1976 to 1985, while Amos Otis was there for the first five of those post-season years. Wilson was the leadoff hitter who hit .294/.331/.387 with an average of 51 steals over the ten years of his prime from 1979 to 1988. Frank White won six consecutive Gold Gloves from 1977 to 1982. Hal McRae was a two-time All-Star who hit .293/.356/.458 with the Royals in his career. Amos Otis provided strong defense in center field, was a five-time All-Star, and won three Gold Gloves.

The two pitchers on the ballot are Dan Quisenberry and Bret Saberhagen. Quisenberry came aboard in 1979 and led the AL in saves five times in six years in the early 1980s and finished in the top five in AL Cy Young voting five times. He was known for his submarine pitching and quirky sayings (“I found a deliver in my flaw”) and was one of the most popular players on the team in the early 1980s. Bret Saberhagen showed up in 1984, then was the AL Cy Young winner on the 1985 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals. He won two games against the Cardinals and was named World Series MVP.

Alex Gordon is the only current player on the ballot. He has nearly the same WAR as Hal McRae in their respective time with the Royals but he doesn’t have the multiple playoff series that so many of the guys on the ballot have.

Notable snubs: There isn’t necessarily a snub here because all of the players on the ballot have either quality play or a good narrative behind their selection, or both, but Kevin Appier and Mark Gubicza provided more value to the Royals than six of the players who made the ballot.

My Franchise Four: George Brett, Amos Otis, Bret Saberhagen, Willie Wilson

 

Detroit Tigers (1901-2015)

 

(1) Ty Cobb 143.4 WAR (1905-1926)

(2) Al Kaline  88.9 WAR (1953-1974)

(3) Charlie Gehringer 78.6 WAR (1924-1942)

(4) Lou Whitaker 68.1 WAR

(5) Harry Heilmann 64.4 WAR

(6)Alan Trammel 63.7 WAR (1977-1996)

(7) Mickey Lolich 62.0 WAR

(8) Hal Newhouser 60.4 WAR

(9) Sam Crawford 60.1 WAR (1903-1917)

(10) Hank Greenberg 57.9 WAR (1930, 1933-1941, 1945-1947)

(16) Justin Verlander 43.5 WAR (2005-2014)

(18) Miguel Cabrera 39.9 WAR (2008-2015)

 

 On the ballot: There are some players who are “no-doubters” when it comes to this Franchise Four exercise. George Brett is one for the Royals. For the Tigers, I believe there are three—Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, and Charlie Gehringer. Not only do all three players sit atop the Tigers’ WAR leaderboard, they all have long career with the team. Al Kaline and Charlie Gehringer played their entire careers in Detroit, while Cobb played his final two seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics, but is deeply associated with the Tigers in the early part of the 20th century.

Ty Cobb is ranked fourth all-time in FanGraphs WAR, with 149.3, just 0.6 behind Willie Mays. He led the league in hitting 12 times in 13 years from 1907 to 1919 and had a .377 batting average during this stretch. He also led the league in on-base percentage seven times and slugging percentage eight times. He had three years with more than 10 WAR, with 1917 being his best, at 11.5 WAR, when he hit .383/.444/.570 (200 wRC+). The 54.5 WAR gap between Cobb and Al Kaline is the largest gap between any top-ranked player over the second-best player of any franchise in baseball.

In his 20-year career with the Tigers, Al Kaline only reached the postseason twice, but this included the 1968 season when the Tigers won their first World Series in 23 years. Even though he had only played 102 games during the 1968 regular season, Kaline played all seven games of the 1968 World Series and hit .379/.400/.655. At his best, Kaline was an All-Star every year from 1955 to 1967 and won 10 Gold Gloves for his defense in right field.

Charlie Gehringer spent 19 years with the Tigers and saw postseason action three times, including a World Series title in 1935. In his prime, Gehringer rarely missed a game and hit for a high average with a good on-base percentage while playing strong defense at second base. His career batting line is .320/.404/.480.

Beyond those three it becomes difficult to pick a fourth for the Tigers. Alan Trammel is another Tiger player who never left Detroit, and he won a World Series title in 1984. Hank Greenberg played all but one of his 13 seasons in the big leagues with the Tigers and was part of the 1935 World Series titlists. Sam Crawford was a big part of three straight World Series teams for the Tigers from 1907 to 1909.

The contemporary Tigers on the ballot, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, are pretty far down the list of WAR leaders for this franchise but will add to their totals in the years to come. Current voters might be tempted to vote for one or both of them, but they don’t really compare with the players above them on the Tigers’ ballot just yet.

Notable snub: Like Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker is criminally underrated. He ranks just below Grich on the all-time WAR leaderboard for second basemen and, like Grich, was “one-and-done” in Hall of Fame balloting (2.9% in 2001). He’s fourth all-time among Tigers’ players in WAR, yet is not on the ballot, while his longtime double-play partner, Alan Trammel, is on the ballot.

My Franchise Four: Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Charlie Gehringer, Alan Trammell

 

Minnesota Twins (1901-2015)

 

(1) Walter Johnson 117.9 WAR (1907-1927)

(2) Harmon Killebrew 66.3 WAR (1954-1974)

(3) Rod Carew 56.9 WAR (1967-1978)

(4) Bert Blyleven 55.8 WAR (1970-1976, 1985-1988)

(5) Jim Kaat 53.3 WAR (1959-1973)

(6) Sam Rice 50.3 WAR

(7) Camilo Pascual 48.1 WAR

(8) Joe Judge 45.6 WAR

(9) Kirby Puckett 44.9 WAR (1984-1995)

(10) Joe Mauer 44.8 WAR (2004-2015)

(11) Goose Goslin 42.2 WAR

(12) Tony Oliva 40.7 WAR (1962-1976)

 

On the ballot: It’s definitely strange to see Walter Johnson on top of the Twins’ WAR leaderboard because he, of course, played for the Washington Senators long before the team moved to Minnesota before the 1961 season. Because he never wore a Twins jersey, it will be interesting to see if the voting fans consider him a Franchise Four player. Johnson is fourth in career FanGraphs WAR, just behind Greg Maddux and ahead of Randy Johnson.

Harmon Killebrew was a Washington Senator for the first seven years of his career but then played another fourteen years as a Twin before one final year with the Royals. Killebrew led the American League in home runs five times as a Twin, including three years in a row when he hit 48, 45, and 49 bombs from 1962 to 1964.

Rod Carew led the AL in hitting seven times as a member of the Twins, including a stretch where he led the league in hitting six times in seven years. He also led the league in on-base percentage four times in five years.

Bert Blyleven had two stints with the Twins during his playing career and is third in wins all-time for the franchise. He’s also been an announcer for the team since 1996 (“Circle me, Bert!”) and was recently elected to the Hall of Fame. A teammate of Blyleven for four years in the early 1970s, Jim Kaat won the second-most games in Twins’ history. He played 15 of his 25 years with the team.

Kirby Puckett was a roly-poly fan favorite in the Metrodome through the last half of the 1980s and first half of the 90s. He was an All-Star in each of the last 10 years of his career and helped the Twins win two World Series Championships before glaucoma caused him to lose vision in his right eye, which ended his career. He hit .314/.379/.515 (123 wRC+) in his final year with the team.

Joe Mauer has played the first 12 years of his career with the Twins and is signed through 2018. He has three batting titles and an MVP award.

Finally, Tony Oliva was a Twins’ All-Star from 1964 to 1971 and led the league in hits five times.

Notable snubs: None.

My Franchise Four: Walter Johnson, Harmon Killebrew, Bert Blyleven, Kirby Puckett

 

Chicago White Sox (1901-2015)

 

(1) Luke Appling 72.7 WAR (1930-1943, 1945-1950)

(2) Frank Thomas 68.1 WAR (1990-2005)

(3) Eddie Collins 64.6 WAR (1915-1926)

(4) Red Faber 54.7 WAR

(5) Ted Lyons 54.6 WAR

(6) Billy Pierce 51.0 WAR

(7) Ed Walsh 49.2 WAR

(8) Nellie Fox 43.8 WAR (1950-1963)

(9) Minnie Minoso 41.8 WAR (1951-1957, 1960-1961, 1964, 1976, 1980)

(10) Mark Buehrle 40.1 WAR

(17) Luis Aparicio 32.0 WAR (1956-1962, 1968-1970)

(26) Harold Baines 24.5 WAR (1980-1989, 1996-1997, 2000-2001)

(28) Paul Konerko 23.6 WAR (1999-2014)

 

On the ballot: Luke Appling is the White Sox franchise leader in WAR, was named by the BBWAA as the greatest player in the history of the White Sox in 1970, hit .388/.474/.508 in 1936 and, to top it all off, hit a home run off Warren Spahn in the 1982 Old-Timer’s Game at the age of 75. Put that man on the White Sox Franchise Four, stat!

Frank Thomas had eight seasons with five or more WAR as a member of the White Sox and hit .307/.427/.568 with the team in his career. He led the league in on-base percentage four times in seven years from 1991 to 1997 and won back-to-back AL MVP Awards in 1993 and 1994.

Eddie Collins played the first half of his career with the Philadelphia Athletics and the second half of his career with the Chicago White Sox. As a member of the White Sox, Collins won the 1917 World Series and was a member of the 1919 World Series team that lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the “Black Sox” scandal that saw eight teammates, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, banned from baseball for life by the commissioner. Collins, of course, was not part of the “eight men out.”

Nellie Fox, Minnie Minoso, and Luis Aparacio were White Sox teammates in the 1950s and early 1960s. Fox was a 12-time All-Star and won the 1959 AL MVP award when the White Sox made the World Series. Like Fox, Luis Aparacio was another big part of the 1959 World Series team known as the “Go-Go Sox” because of their propensity to steal bases. Aparacio led the AL that year with 56 steals. Minnie Minoso was a four-time All-Star in nine seasons with the Sox. After his playing career ended he lived in Chicago for many years and represented the franchise as “Mr. White Sox” well into this century.

Harold Baines was a White Sox icon in the 1980s. In the middle of the 1989 season, the White Sox made a much-derided trade with the Rangers that saw Baines leave the team. This would become known as the “white flag” trade. In a bizarre twist, the White Sox retired Baines’ #3 about a month later, which is rare for an active player. Baines would go on to play another twelve seasons and would have his number unretired in two different stints with the team later in his career.

Paul Konerko is pretty far down on the White Sox WAR leaderboard but was part of the last White Sox team to win the World Series back in 2005 and was the MVP of the ALCS that year.

Notable snub: Among contemporary players, I would argue Mark Buehrle is a more deserving candidate for the ballot than Paul Konerko. Buehrle has 40.1 WAR as a White Sox player compared to 23.6 for Konerko and both were on the 2005 World Series championship team. Buehrle also has one of the two perfect games thrown by a White Sox pitcher.

My Franchise Four: Luke Appling, Frank Thomas, Nellie Fox, Minnie Minoso



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Bobby Mueller has been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan as far back as the 1979 World Series Championship team ("We R Fam-A-Lee!"). He suffered through the 1980s, then got a reprieve in the early 1990s, only to be crushed by Francisco Cabrera in 1992. After a 20-year stretch of losing seasons, things are looking up for Bobby’s Pirates. His blog can be found at www.baseballonthebrain.com and he tweets at www.twitter.com/bballonthebrain.

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Steve
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Steve

I didn’t see Jack Morris… SNUB.

Ted
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Ted

maybe this misses the point of the exercise (then again, “most impactful” IS vague) and maybe right now he is only a candidate for snub . . . . but Chris Sale is already approaching the bottom of that list in only his 5th full season. And he’s arguably the most dominant Sox starter in 40? years. If Hahn’s turnaround happens in the next 2 or 3 years, Sale (along with Abreu) will be the centerpiece of that, and if “impactful” can mean backbone of a resurgent franchise, he will be that guy.

Brian
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Brian

Just found the article, so excuse the late comment.

Thank you for mentioning the Lofton Snub. He was the heart and soul of that time during some of the best years Cleveland sports will ever see. His heart was broken after being traded to the Braves. How many players with broken hearts would immediately sign with his former team one year after being traded? One of the last times the Indians actually sold out a game at Jacobs/Progressive field outside of playoff/opening day games was the day Lofton was inducted into the Indians hall of fame. He started crying when they announced the sell out and how it was the first midseason sellout since 2002!

I appreciate Thome as a player and a person, but he used us as leverage and ran for the money. If someone from the golden era of Indians baseball belongs on this list it is Lofton. Snub for sure.