MLB Franchise Four: AL West

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.

 

Los Angeles Angels (1961-2015)

(1) Nolan Ryan, 47.7 WAR (1972-1979)

(2) Chuck Finley, 44.7 WAR (1986-1999)

(3) Jim Fregosi, 42.6 WAR (1961-1971)

(4) Brian Downing, 36.5 WAR (1978-1990)

(5) Bobby Grich, 35.6 WAR

(6) Tim Salmon, 35.5 WAR (1992-2004, 2006)

(7) Mike Witt, 33.4 WAR

(8) Frank Tanana, 33.2 WAR

(9) Jered Weaver, 32.5 WAR

(10) Mike Trout, 30.3 WAR (2011-2015)

(13) Garret Anderson, 26.2 WAR (1994-2008)

(19) Vladimir Guerrero, 20.2 WAR (2004-2009)

 

On the ballot: Nolan Ryan played 27 years in the major leagues and eight of those years were with the Angels, during which he averaged almost six WAR per season and over 300 strikeouts per season. He was an All-Star five times with the Angels and is their team leader in career WAR. Ryan is also on the ballot for the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, for whom he ranks 8th and 17th in WAR, respectively. He seems like a no-doubter for the Angels.

The number two player in career WAR for the Angels is Chuck Finley. While Ryan’s 47.7 WAR for the Angels came in just eight years with the team, it took Finley 14 years to accumulate 44.7 WAR, an average of 3.2 WAR per season. Finley’s best year was in 1993 when he was worth 5 WAR. Along with Ryan and Finley, Jim Fregosi is the only other Angels player with more than 40 WAR with the team, but his career was so long ago that he may not resonate with the voting fans like more recent players such as Tim Salmon, or Garret Anderson, who were teammates on the Angels in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They were both part of the Angels’ 2002 World Series championship team.

Brian Downing is the ultimate hipster—he was down with OBP before it became popular. He was also one of the first players to seriously embrace weight training and one of very few players who wore glasses while playing in the major leagues. He even had those tinted lenses that only the coolest dudes can pull off.

Even though he’s just in his fifth year in the big leagues, Mike Trout should get strong consideration for a spot on the Angels Franchise Four. In his three full seasons he averaged 9.6 WAR per season and had a good case to be AL MVP all three years (he won it last year and finished second the previous two years). He’s signed through 2020 and could replace Nolan Ryan at the top of the Angels’ WAR leaderboard within two or three years.

Finally, Vladimir Guerrero is the least-deserving player on the ballot based on career WAR with the Angels, as he only played six seasons with the team and had his three best seasons with the Expos earlier in his career. In his favor, he did win the 2004 AL MVP Award with the Angels and was a four-time All-Star with the team.

Notable snubs: Poor Bobby Grich. He got no love from Hall of Fame voters (just 2.6% of the vote in his only year on the ballot in 1992) despite being eighth all-time in WAR among second baseman (ahead of Hall of Famers Craig Biggio, Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, and others). Here, once again, he gets no love in this Franchise Four activity, not even a place on the ballot. Troy Glaus is pretty far down on the Angels’ all-time WAR list (18th place, with 20.7 WAR), but I associate him more strongly with the Angels than I do Vladimir Guerrero.

My Franchise Four: Nolan Ryan, Mike Trout, Tim Salmon, Brian Downing

 

Houston Astros (1962-2015)

(1) Jeff Bagwell, 80.2 WAR (1991-2005)

(2) Craig Biggio, 65.8 WAR (1988-2007)

(3) Lance Berkman, 51.5 WAR (1999-2010)

(4) Jose Cruz, 47.8 WAR (1975-1987)

(5) Cesar Cedeno, 46.6 WAR

(6) Roy Oswalt, 46.3 WAR

(7) Jimmy Wynn, 38.7 WAR (1963-1973)

(8) Nolan Ryan, 36.4 WAR (1980-1988)

(9) J.R. Richard, 32.2 WAR (1971-1980)

(10) Larry Dierker, 31.8 WAR

(16) Mike Scott, 26.1 WAR (1983-1991) 

 

On the ballot: Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio are easy picks here and it’s hard to think of the two “Killer Bs” without the third “B”, Lance Berkman.

Bagwell played his entire 15 year career with the Astros and finished with 449 career homers and a .297/.408/.540 batting line. He was the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year and the NL MVP for the strike-shortened 1994 season in which he had 104 runs scored, 39 homers, and 116 RBI in just 110 games. He hit .368 that year and had a chance at 50 homers and 150 RBI if not for the labor dispute.

Craig Biggio was also an Astros’ lifer. He had a tremendous 1997 season worth 9.3 WAR when he hit .309/.415/.501 with good defense at second base. He had over 3000 hits in his career and led the league in getting hit by pitches five times.

Lance Berkman played the first 12 years of his career in Houston, then played for three other teams at the end of his career. His best days were with the Astros, though. He had six seasons with 6 or more WAR, including a 7.7 WAR season in 2008 when he hit .312/.420/.567 with 29 homers, 114 runs, 106 RBI, and 18 steals.

For a generation of fans in Houston, Jose Cruz WAS the Houston Astros. I don’t think you can have a Franchise Four without Jose Cruz on the Astros. His signature high front leg lift and those colorful uniforms of the 1970s just can’t be forgotten.

A player from the early years in Houston, “They Toy Cannon” Jimmy Winn, was able to hit for great power in the old Astrodome, a very tough park for hitters. He also posted very good on-base percentages when getting on base wasn’t as valued as it is today. He had six seasons with more than 100 walks.

Nolan Ryan spent more years with the Astros than he did with any other team during his long career and was on three Astros playoff teams in the 1980s. His 1987 season was very bizarre. He led the league in ERA at 2.76 and strikeouts with 270 but had a win-loss record of 8-16.

Sadly, J.R. Richard’s career was cut short when he suffered a stroke before a game in 1980. Richard was 30 years old at the time and was coming off a 1979 season during which he struck out 313 batters and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting. When he suffered the stroke in 1980, he was 10-4 with 1.90 ERA. He never again pitched in the major leagues.

The lowest ranking guy on the ballot is Mike Scott, who was the NL Cy Young winner in 1986, then was 2-0 with 2 complete games and a 0.50 ERA against the New York Mets in the NLCS. He was very good that year (8.6 WAR) and good again in 1987 (5.3 WAR), but his overall body of work with the Astros doesn’t compare to the others on the ballot.

Notable snubs: As good as Mike Scott was in 1986, his career contributions to the Houston Astros don’t stand up to what Roy Oswalt did during his career and I’m surprised that Oswalt didn’t make the ballot. Also, Cesar Cedeno was an All-Star four times in a five-year stretch for the Astros from 1972 to 1976.

My Franchise Four: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Jose Cruz, Lance Berkman

 

Oakland Athletics (1901-2015)

(1) Rickey Henderson, 68.6 WAR (1979-1984, 1989-1995, 1998)

(2) Jimmie Foxx, 64.6 WAR (1925-1935)

(3) Eddie Plank, 57.8 WAR

(4) Eddie Collins, 55.9 WAR

(5) Lefty Grove, 54.3 WAR (1925-1933)

(6) Al Simmons, 51.6 WAR (1924-1932, 1940-1941, 1944)

(7) Sal Bando, 47.5 WAR

(8) Reggie Jackson, 45.2 WAR (1967-1975, 1987)

(9) Mark McGwire, 44.4 WAR

(10) Bob Johnson, 44.3 WAR

(26) Catfish Hunter, 27.2 WAR (1965-1974)

(45) Dennis Eckersley, 19.5 WAR (1987-1995)

(57) Rollie Fingers, 15.8 WAR (1968-1976)

 

On the ballot: The players on the ballot for the Athletics go as far back as Al Simmons to as recent as Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley. Henderson last played for the A’s in 1998, so there’s a lack of very recent players for Athletics’ fans to choose from. This makes for a difficult ballot. Also, all eight players on the ballot had success with other teams along with their stints with the A’s.

I think Rickey Henderson is obvious. He’s the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time and had his most famous seasons with the A’s, like in 1982 when he stole a single-season record 130 bases. Henderson played 14 seasons for Oakland and led the league in steals eight times while with the team. He was also very good at getting on base and hit for surprising power for a leadoff hitter. He came up with the A’s at the young age of 20 in 1979 and played a little more than a half season, then averaged 6.6 WAR per season over the next five years. After spending 4 ½ seasons with the Yankees, Henderson rejoined the A’s in 1989 and had his best season in 1990 when he hit .325/.439/.577 with 119 runs, 28 homers, and 65 steals, good for 10.2 WAR. In his career, Henderson had over 3000 career hits, 2000 career walks, and a .401 lifetime on-base percentage.

Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove were both very good with the Athletics but also had good years with the Red Sox. They were teammates on the great A’s teams from 1929 to 1931 that went to three straight World Series and won two of them. Al Simmons was also part of those great A’s teams and had his best years with the Philadelphia Athletics but also played eight years with other teams.

Reggie Jackson was the “straw that stirs the drink” with the New York Yankees, after being part of three straight championship teams in Oakland in the early 1970s. He played more than twice as many games with the A’s as he did with the Yankees but it was his time in New York that earned him the nickname “Mr. October.” Still, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Reggie had five seasons with the A’s that were worth 5.7 or more WAR.

Catfish Hunter was also well-known for his play with the Yankees after being one of the first big free agent signings before the 1975 season, but he was much more successful (and healthy) with the A’s.

The two Athletics’ relievers on the ballot, Dennis Eckersley and Rollie Fingers, both had strong seasons with other teams. Eckersley pitched more years in Oakland but many more innings with the Red Sox because he was a starter early in his career and became a closer with the A’s. In 1992, Eck won the AL Cy Young Award and was the AL MVP. Over the three years from 1989 to 1991, Eckersley amazingly struck out 215 batters and walked just 16 in 207 innings (13.4 K/BB).

Notable snubs: Eddie Collins is fourth on the A’s all-time WAR leaderboard and third on the White Sox’ list. He made the White Sox ballot, but not the A’s. Collins played in four World Series for the A’s and they won three of them. Another old-timer, Eddie Plank, was also part of those four World Series squads and ranks third all-time in WAR for the franchise but is also absent from the ballot.

My Franchise Four: Rickey Henderson, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Reggie Jackson

 

Seattle Mariners (1977-2015) 

 

(1) Ken Griffey, Jr., 67.6 WAR (1989-1999, 2009-2010)

(2) Edgar Martinez, 65.5 WAR (1987-2004)

(3) Ichiro!, 54.9 WAR (2001-2012)

(4) Felix Hernandez, 47.9 WAR (2005-2015)

(5) Randy Johnson, 45.5 WAR (1989-1998)

(6) Alex Rodriguez, 35.0 WAR

(7) Jamie Moyer, 30.2 WAR (1996-2006)

(8) Mike Moore, 23.5 WAR

(9) Jay Buhner, 22.4 WAR (1988-2001)

(10) Erik Hanson, 22.0 WAR

(11) Alvin Davis, 21.2 WAR (1984-1991)

 

 

On the ballot: You can’t argue with any of the eight players on the ballot for the Mariners. The top five should definitely be on the ballot and Jamie Moyer and Jay Buhner were on the first three teams in Mariners history to make the playoffs. Alvin Davis, even though he’s 11th on the Mariners’ all-time WAR list, was “Mr. Mariner” in the 1980s. Those were bleak years and he was the one bright spot on the team at the time, even winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1984.

Ken Griffey, Jr. is automatic and I believe Edgar Martinez is also an easy pick for the Mariners Franchise Four. Griffeyput Seattle baseball on the map. Before he joined the Mariners, the team might as well have been in Siberia. Griffey started with the Mariners as a 19-year-old in 1989, then began a stretch of 10 straight season as an American League All-Star, along with 10 straight Gold Gloves and the 1997 AL MVP Award. He led the AL in home runs in each of his final three seasons with the team and averaged 52 homers and 142 RBI per year in his final four years with the M’s.

Edgar Martinez got a late start to his Major League career because the Mariners foolishly kept him in AAA in 1988 and 1989 while Jim Presley manned third base in Seattle. Edgar hit .363/.467/.517 in 1988 and .345/.457/.522 in 1989 in the Pacific Coast League. Meanwhile, Jim Presley combined to hit .232/.278/.367 with the Mariners over those two seasons. Looking back, it was quite ridiculous. Edgar became a full-time player in 1990 and hit .321/.429/.537 over the next twelve years, which included batting titles in 1992 and 1995. That 1995 season was his best in the bigs. He hit .356/.479/.628 and was worth 7 WAR. He then hit .571/.667/1.000 in the five game American League Divisional Series against the Yankees, which ended with Edgar’s game-winning double in the bottom of the 11th that scored two runs and put the Mariners in the ALCS. It’s perhaps the signature moment in the history of the Seattle Mariners.

Griffey and Edgar may be automatic picks but choosing two out of Ichiro, King Felix, and Randy Johnson will be difficult for Mariners’ fans. Ichiro joined the M’s in 2001 and was the AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP on a team that won 116 games. This was after the Mariners had lost Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Randy Johnson. Also, Ichiro was an All-Star during his first ten seasons with the team with a .331 average and 224 hits per season from 2001 to 2010.

Randy Johnson (“The Big Unit”) was integral to the first two playoff teams in Mariners’ history when he went 18-2 in 1995 and 20-4 in 1997. In that 1995 season, the Big Unit won the one-game playoff against the Angels to put the Mariners in the post-season, then won two games against the Yankees in the ALDS, including one in relief while pitching on one day’s rest. He has the post-season narrative to promote his case for the Mariners Franchise Four.

King Felix, of course, has been the face of the Mariners for the better part of the last decade and is signed through the 2019 season. He won the AL Cy Young Award in 2010 and was second last year. It will be interesting to see what the fans do here with five very good players competing for four spots.

Most likely, Jamie Moyer, Jay Buhner, and Alvin Davis will be left out in the cold, as they just don’t compare to the top five. They all had great moments with the Mariners and are well remembered by the fans.

Notable snubs: He doesn’t really compare to the top five on this list and Mariner fans have no love for him, but A-Rod had five seasons with five or more WAR with the Mariners early in his career, so he was worth more to the team than Moyer, Buhner, or Davis.

My Franchise Four: Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, Ichiro Suzuki, Randy Johnson

 

Texas Rangers (1961-2015)

(1) Ivan Rodriguez, 49.4 WAR (1991-2002, 2009)

(2) Rafael Palmeiro, 42.3 WAR (1989-1993, 1999-2003)

(3) Buddy Bell, 34.6 WAR

(4) Jim Sundberg, 31.4 WAR

(5) Juan Gonzalez, 30.2 WAR (1989-1999, 2002-2003)

(6) Toby Harrah, 29.5 WAR

(7) Ian Kinsler, 29.1 WAR

(8) Frank Howard, 27.9 WAR (1965-1972)

(9) Alex Rodriguez, 27.0 WAR

(10) KennyRogers, 25.6 WAR

(11) Michael Young, 24.4 WAR (2000-2012)

(13) Adrian Beltre, 22.4 WAR (2011-2015)

(14) Josh Hamilton, 22.2 WAR (2008-2012)

(17) Nolan Ryan, 21.1 WAR (1989-1993)

 

On the ballot: Ivan Rodriguez looks like an easy pick for the Rangers Franchise Four. He spent 12 years with the Rangers at the beginning of his career and averaged over 4.0 WAR per season, including five seasons with 5.0 or more WAR. He was the face of the Rangers throughout the 1990s. Not only was he a very good-hitting catcher, he was terrific behind the plate with a rifle for an arm. With the Rangers, he was a 10-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove winner, and won the 1999 AL MVP Award when he hit .332/.356/.558 with 35 homers and 113 RBI.

Rafael Palmeiro is second all-time in WAR for the Rangers, but his case will be difficult for the voters. Some will choose him as one of the Rangers Franchise Four based solely on his numbers during two stints with the team, while others will consider other factors and not give him a vote. In 10 years with the Rangers, Palmeiro hit .290/.378/.519 with an average of 32 homers and 104 RBI per season.

Whether they were deserved or not, Juan Gonzalez won two MVP awards with the team. His first came in the 1996 season. He hit 47 home runs and had 144 RBI that year, but FanGraphs has him worth just 3.5 WAR. He won the AL MVP Award again in 1998 when he led the AL with 50 homers and 157 RBI, but even that year he was worth just 4.9 WAR, which was much less than many other players, including Alex Rodriguez, who was worth 7.9 WAR.

When Frank Howard was on the team that would become the Texas Rangers they were called the Washington Nationals. I don’t think he’ll resonate with fans as a Franchise Four candidate of a team whose uniform he barely wore (35 games as a Ranger in 1972).

Other than Nolan Ryan, the other players on the eight-man ballot are more recent. Josh Hamilton is unlikely to get much traction from fans but Michael Young and Adrian Beltre could get significant support, as could Nolan Ryan thanks to his post-playing-career role as team president. Young played 13 years with the Rangers, while Ryan played just five years with the team and Beltre is in the midst of his fifth season with Texas.

Notable snubs: For a generation of Ranger’s fans in the early 1980s, Buddy Bell was the team’s best player and regular All-Star representative. He only played six-and-a-half seasons with the team but had more than 4 WAR in all six full seasons and had three seasons with greater than 6 WAR, in large part due to terrific defense at third base.

My Franchise Four: Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Michael Young, Nolan Ryan



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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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