The Greatest Giants Hitters

willie-maysSo, I did this sort of meaningless baseball thing — not for the first time and not for the last. Here’s what I did: I looked at the Giants position players who were Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement leaders for every 10-year period. EVERY 10-year period. So I looked at the Giant who led the team in WAR from 1883-1892, from 1884-1893, and so on all the way to 2005-14. That’s 123 different time periods.

What you will find — or, anyway, what I will tell you — is that just 23 players in Giant history have been the best by WAR over any 10-year period. That’s fewer than I might have thought. It’s so few, in fact that I’ll just list them all. Here are the 23 players and I have included the second-best player in WAR over those years as well. (The years listed represent the FIRST year in the period, so, say 1922-23 would actually represent 1922-31 and 1923-32.):

1883-1886 (4 times): Roger Connor (ahead of Buck Ewing and Mike Tiernan)

1887-1889 (3 times): Mike Tiernan (ahead of Roger Conner and George Davis)

1890-1897 (8 times): George Davis (ahead of Mike Tiernan and George Van Haltren)

1898 (1 time): Art Devlin (ahead of Roger Bresnahan)

1899 (1 time): Roger Bresnahan (ahead of Art Devlin)

1900-1905 (6 times): Art Devlin (ahead of Roger Bresnahan and Larry Doyle)

1906-1908 (3 times): Larry Doyle (ahead of Art Devlin and Art Fletcher)

1909-1913 (5 times): Art Fletcher (ahead of Larry Doyle and George Burns)

1914 (1 time): George Burns (ahead of Art Fletcher)

1915 (1 time): Ross Youngs (ahead of Frankie Frisch)

1916-1921 (6 times): Frankie Frisch (ahead of Ross Youngs and Travis Jackson)

1922-1923 (2 times): Travis Jackson (ahead of Bill Terry)

1924-1925 (2 times): Bill Terry (ahead of Travis Jackson and Mel Ott)

1926-1939 (14 times): Mel Ott (ahead of Bill Terry, Dick Bartell and Johnny Mize)

1940-1942 (3 times): Johnny Mize (ahead of Mel Ott and Bobby Thomson)

1943-1944 (2 times): Bobby Thomson (ahead of Johnny Mize)

1945-1946 (2 times): Al Dark (ahead of Bobby Thomson and Willie Mays)

1947-1965 (19 times): Willie Mays (ahead of Al Dark, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey)

1966-1971 (6 times): Bobby Bonds (ahead of Willie McCovey, Chris Speier and Jack Clark)

1972-1979 (8 times): Jack Clark (ahead of Bobby Bonds, Darrell Evans and Chili Davis)

1980-1986 (7 times): Will Clark (ahead of Jack Clark, Chili Davis and Robby Thompson)

1987 (1 time): Matt Williams (ahead of Will Clark and Barry Bonds)

1988-2004 (17 times): Barry Bonds (ahead of Matt Williams, Jeff Kent, Randy Winn, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey)

2005 (1 time): Buster Posey (ahead of Pablo Sandoval)

(For those who want to see the WAR of the winners, runners-up and third-place finishers of any given ten year period, go here.)

We see a several truly great ballplayers here, and are reminded of how much Ott, Mays and Bonds towered over their peers. We also see that until Ott came along, no Giant led in WAR over a decade more than eight times. This speaks to the quality of the players (while good, they were not elite) and to the quality of the teams. In the 34 seasons from 1904 to 1937, the Giants finished first or second in the league 24 times and had only three losing seasons. After that, though, the team had some fallow years, and this list shows just how bad they were.

The World War II years were bad for all teams, with most good players in the armed forces for much of 1942-45. Johnny Mize, a Hall of Famer, led the Giants in WAR over three ten-year periods, from 1940 to 1951, even though he only played for the Giants in five of those years. The postwar period wasn’t much kinder to the Giants, either. We see Bobby Thompson leading in WAR for the ten years starting 1943 even though he wasn’t a Giant until 1946 (and that was only a cup of coffee) and Al Dark leading the periods beginning in 1946 and 1947 even though he had only 13 plate appearances in those two years — for the Boston Braves.

Similarly, the 1970s and early 1980s gave us some of the poorest Giants teams. Jack Clark’s years of WAR dominance begin in 1972, five seasons before he was a full-time Giant. Will Clark didn’t come up until 1986, but he is the Giant with the greatest WAR for the decade 1980-89. The Giants of the Barry Bonds years were generally competitive, but we see the signs of the poor teams of the 2000s in the fact that for 2001-2010, Randy Winn, with a Giant WAR of only 12.3 is second to Bonds’s 51.3. That decade was so bad for the Giants that, shades of the Clarks, Buster Posey has the highest Giant WAR in 2005-14 (and second-highest in 2004-13) even though he wasn’t a Giant regular until 2010.

Next: The Pitchers


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