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Who Was the Greatest St. Louis Brown?

February 2, 2010

I’ve been on a bit of a Browns kick lately. Ever since the word got out that Andre Dawson was going into the Hall of Fame as a Montreal Expo, I’ve thought often of St. Louis’ own relocated team. There are still some angry Expo fans who refuse to let go, and I can’t blame them, but the rest of Brown fans who still care is probably a small collection of old guys who get together once a year to reminisce over Ned Garver and Wally Judnich. And there are dorks like me who obsess over random baseball history.

Anyway, I asked myself the question “who was the greatest Brown?” I know the knee-jerk response is to say “Gorgeous George Sisler, stupid”. He’s the only Brown to get elected by BBWAA, he hit over .400 twice, posted a lifetime .340 batting average and hit over .300 over six seasons in which he had such severe sinusitis that at times he suffered from double vision. While Sisler was a hit machine, he has just a career OPS+ is just 124, tied for 245th career all-time. He gets bashed a bit in the saber crowd for not drawing walks, hitting for power all at the wrong end of the defensive spectrum.

On the flip side, you have Bobby Wallace, one of the finest defensive shortstops of his era. Total Zone has him worth 9.5 runs above average per season (700 PA). While his offensive numbers are less than stellar (career OPS+ of 102), he did post some solid seasons in a less than hitter friendly era.  We’ll take a closer look at both players at some point as I add more players in my revolutionary and sometimes controversial Hall of Excellentitude, but in the meantime I just wanted to throw some numbers out for your consideration before you say with certainty that Sisler was the King of the Browns.

Total WAR WAR/700 5-Yr. Peak WAE “RJAWS”
Sisler 50.4 4 35.5 24.6 48
Wallace 60.4 4.5 25.7 21.4 49.4

If you’ve read this site for long, you’re familiar with these numbers. Here we have total WAR, average WAR/700 plate appearances, or WAR per season, each player’s five-year peak, or five-best consecutive seasons, Wins Above Excellence, which is how many wins a player has above three in a season, though his season total can never be below zero. We’re using this to give credit for great seasons while disregarding any season where a player is merely average or below. It doesn’t add for hinder a player’s case for greatness and doesn’t handicap a player for his decline.

Lastly, I have rJAWS, which is basically Jay Jaffe’s JAWS score – [best seven seasons WARP + career WARP/2]. Only instead of using BPro’s iffy WARP, we’re using Rally’s WAR. Go, go gadget bullet-points –

  • Wallace racked up 10 more WAR than Sisler, but it took him 8 seasons to do so.
  • Wallace had twelve seasons where he was an above average player, Sisler only had seven. That’s a big reason Wallace comes out half a win better on average per season.
  • There’s a ten win gap between each player’s five-year peak. Sisler’s five best seasons were 9.2(!), 8.8 (!), 6, 5.9. 5.6. In other words, during that span Sisler was Albert Pujols-good for two seasons and Kevin Youkilis-good for the other three. Wallace’s best was an 8.1 WAR season, followed by some 4-5ish WAR seasons.
  • Sisler has the slight edge in the Wins Above Excellence Category. His best seasons were out of this world good, while Wallace racked up a lot of “good” seasons (3-5.5 WAR range).
  • When it all shakes out, Wallace wins out (barely) in JAWS.

Finally, here’s a WAR trajectory graph.

So what say you? I think it’s fair to say Sisler was the more talented player, and who knows what would have happened had he stayed healthy. But that’s a lot of “what might’ve been”. Wallace on the other hand gave more total value over his career, and while he had several seasons of excellent play, he had only one truly great season.  It’s all a matter of what you value, “greatness” and peak over steadily good production in determining who was greatest.

I’m not sure there’s a right answer here, but I think it’s clear that there’s a lot more of an argument about who was the greatest Brown than what the crowds would tell you.

  1. February 2, 2010 3:53 PM

    I get so tired of Sabermetrics—Bill James has ruined baseball along with unions, drugs and corny announcers. Could Wallace pitch? Sisler was almost another Babe Ruth…and he could run and field better. Bill Borst, the Baseball professor.

    • February 2, 2010 11:32 PM

      Yes, Professor. Wallace could certainly pitch. Wallace was a two-way player, and threw 402 innings for the Cleveland Spiders with an ERA of 3.87, 25% better than the league average through 1894-1896.

  2. February 3, 2010 12:52 PM

    I think it has to be Sisler—not only does he have that huge peak advantage, but three of Wallace’s best seasons, including that 8 WAR year, happened in another uniform, while all Sisler did elsewhere was the last three years of the slap-hitter/bad-fielder portion of his career.

    Keep the Browns-blogging coming, though.

    • February 3, 2010 4:36 PM

      Suddenly I feel naked. How embarrassing. Don’t worry, more Browns blogging to come in the coming weeks. Beats writing about who is in the best shape of their life.

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