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Best Cubs, White Sox by decade? Go to WAR

Updated: July 7, 2014 10:44PM

In the July issue of the Cubs’ Vine Line magazine, Phil Barnes’ cover story is ‘‘10 for the Ages,’’ with a blurb about the top Cubs player in each decade from the 1910s onward.

Players are ranked according to fWAR, the version of wins above replacement. WAR and other stats, such as Bill James’ Win Shares and Baseball Prospectus’ WARP, are useful for such comparisons because they include defense and baserunning along with hitting and put things into the context of the player’s own time. A .300 batting average or a .900 OPS means different things in different eras. But by translating to how many wins the numbers were worth at the time, we have a basis for cross-era comparisons.

The Vine Line list starts in the 1910s with pitcher Hippo Vaughn (fWAR of 32.0). He is followed by 1920s pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander (28.8), 1930s second baseman Billy Herman (37.6), 1940s outfielder Bill Nicholson (36.9), 1950s shortstop Ernie Banks (39.6), 1960s third baseman Ron Santo (56.3), 1970s pitcher Rick Reuschel (41.3), 1980s second baseman Ryne Sandberg (33.7), 1990s first baseman Mark Grace (36.2) and 2000s pitcher Carlos Zambrano (26.5).

What if we were to find the best decade-by-decade fWARs on the White Sox?

Here’s the list: 1910s pitcher Ed Cicotte (33.8), 1920s pitcher Red Faber (43.4), 1930s and 1940s shortstop Luke Appling (31.7 and 41.1), 1950s outfielder Minnie Minoso (47.4), 1960s pitcher Gary Peters (24.7), 1970s pitcher Wilbur Wood (35.2), 1980s catcher Carlton Fisk (23.1), 1990s first baseman/designated hitter Frank Thomas (53.8) and 2000s pitcher Mark Buehrle (36.6).

A few things of note:

Decades were defined as starting with the year ending in zero (1910-19, 1920-29 and so on). That gives an advantage to players who were with their club for the entire decade, and it doesn’t always pick up on a player’s best 10-year stretch. Second baseman Eddie Collins was second for the Sox in both the 1910s and 1920s, but his best 10-year stretch was a 56.1 fWAR from 1915 to 1924, far ahead of the decade totals of Cicotte and Faber.

On the North Side, Banks tops the 1950s despite not joining the Cubs until late in 1953. His best 10-year stretch — 1955 to 1964 — was an fWAR of 53.7.

The Sox hit a doldrums from the 1960s into the 1980s, with few high-WAR position players having long careers with the team. Third baseman Pete Ward was the 1960s leader among position players at 20.7, and third baseman Bill Melton topped the 1970s at 16.7. First baseman Dick Allen was often spectacular from 1972 to 1974, but with only three seasons, his fWAR with the Sox was 15.4.

If you drop the decades provision and compare fWARs over entire careers in the two-major-league era that started in 1901, Appling is the Sox’ leader at 72.7, followed by Thomas at 68.1 and Collins at 64.6. Across town, Santo leads with a 71.9 fWAR in his Cubs career, followed by Banks at 63.3 and Sandberg at 61.0.

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