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.
Atlanta Braves (1871-2015)
(1) Hank Aaron, 136.0 WAR (1954-1974)
(2) Eddie Mathews, 94.3 WAR (1952-1966)
(3) Chipper Jones, 84.6 WAR (1993, 1995-2012)
(4) John Smoltz, 80.3 WAR (1988-1999, 2001-2008)
(5) Warren Spahn, 74.3 WAR (1942, 1946-1964)
(6) Greg Maddux, 73.9 WAR (1993-2003)
(7) Kid Nichols, 72.8 WAR
(8) Phil Niekro, 71.0 WAR
(9) Andruw Jones, 64.3 WAR
(10) Tom Glavine, 57.0 WAR (1987-2002, 2008)
(11) Dale Murphy, 44.3 WAR (1976-1990)
On the ballot: The players on the Braves Franchise Four ballot range from Warren Spahn, who first played in the big leagues in 1942, to Chipper Jones, who hung up his spikes after the 2012 season. Three of the players on the ballot—Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, and Hank Aaron—were part of the 1957 World Series Champion Milwaukee Braves team. Four players—Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine—were key members of the consistently good Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990s. Then there’s Dale Murphy, who played for the Braves from 1976 to 1990 and experienced just three seasons in which the team finished in the upper half of the standings. The Braves finished in last place eight times in those 15 years but Murphy was a bright spot, winning back-to-back MPV Awards in 1982 and 1983.
Hank Aaron hit .280/.322/.447 as a 20-year-old rookie for the 1954 Milwaukee Braves. He was not an All-Star that year, but he would be an All-Star for the next 21 years of his career. He was the National League MVP in 1957, the year the Braves won the World Series. He led the league in home runs and RBI four times each and in total bases eight times and was the all-time leader in career home runs when he retired. He’s an easy pick for the Braves Franchise Four.
Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn were teammates of Hank Aaron in the 1950s and 60s. Mathews ranks third all-time in FanGraphs WAR for third basemen. Spahn is sixth all-time in wins for a pitcher. Both were key contributors to the Braves back-to-back World Series years in 1957 and 1958. Mathews had 7.3 WAR in 1957 and 5.8 WAR in 1958. Spahn was the Cy Young Award winner in 1957and led the National League in wins both years.
The Atlanta Braves made the playoffs every year from 1991 to 2005, except for the 1994 season that was ended by a labor dispute. Chipper Jones joined the team as a regular in 1995 and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, then won the NL MVP Award four years later when he hit .319/.441/.633 during the 1999 season.
John Smoltz was a very good starting pitcher from 1989 to 1999, which included an NL Cy Young Award in 1996. He was injured and missed the entire 2000 season, then came back as a relief pitcher and saved 144 games over three seasons from 2002 to 2004.
Greg Maddux won his first Cy Young Award with the Cubs in 1992 but was at his absolute best with the Braves from 1993 to 1998 when he averaged 7.9 WAR per season, won three more Cy Young Awards, and had a 2.15 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. In 1994 and 1995, Maddux was 35-8 with a 1.60 ERA over 411 2/3 innings.
Tom Glavine didn’t reach the heights that his fellow pitchers did. He never had a season with as much as 6 WAR. He was an above-average pitcher for a long time, though, and finished his career with over 300 wins.
Notable ballot snubs: Phil Niekro and his 71.0 WAR with the Braves (8th all-time) give him an argument for inclusion over Glavine (57 WAR) and Murphy (44.3 WAR) but it’s a tough call.
My Franchise Four: Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Chipper Jones, John Smoltz
Miami Marlins (1993-2015)
(1) Hanley Ramirez, 30.4 WAR
(2) Giancarlo Stanton, 21.4 WAR (2010-2015)
(3) Luis Castillo, 21.1 WAR (1996-2005)
(4) Josh Johnson, 20.8 WAR
(5) Miguel Cabrera, 19.6 WAR
(6) Dan Uggla, 18.1 WAR
(7) Ricky Nolasco, 17.9 WAR
(8) Mike Lowell, 17.3 WAR (1999-2005)
(9) Dontrelle Willis, 17.1 WAR
(10) Jeff Conine, 16.7 WAR (1993-1997, 2003-2005)
(13) Gary Sheffield, 14.4 WAR (1993-1998)
(14) Charles Johnson, 14.0 WAR (1994-1998, 2001-2002)
(15) Josh Beckett, 13.9 WAR (2001-2005)
(50) Livan Hernandez, 3.9 WAR (1996-1999)
On the ballot: The Marlins have made the playoffs twice in the 22 seasons they’ve completed (and won the World Series both times). Their two World Series squads are well represented on their Franchise Four ballot. Luis Castillo, Jeff Conine, Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, and Livan Hernandez were on the 1997 team that beat the Indians in the World Series. Castillo, Conine, and Johnson were also on their 2003 World Series team, with Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett joining them on the roster. The only player on the team’s Franchise Four ballot who wasn’t a part of either World Series team is Giancarlo Stanton, their current superstar. Stanton is starting his sixth season with the team and is already second on their all-time WAR leaderboard. In his first five years with the team, he averaged 31 home runs and 127 games played. Before this season he signed a 13-year, $325 million contract so his place on the Marlins Franchise Four is likely a sure thing.
Luis Castillo is the longest tenured Marlin on the ballot. He played 10 years with the team and accumulated 21.1 WAR, with his best season being the 4.9 WAR season of 2003. He hit .314/.381/.397 that year, made his second All-Star team, and won the first of three straight Gold Glove Awards.
Jeff Conine and Charles Johnson each had two separate stints with the Marlins. Conine and Johnson were teammates on the 1997 World Series winners. Conine was selected by the Marlins in the 1992 Major League Baseball expansion draft and his best year with the Marlins was in 1996 when he hit .293/.360/.484 and was worth 4.4 WAR. He’s one of the most loved players in franchise history, still works in the team’s front office, and is known as “Mr. Marlin”. Charles Johnson hit .250/.347/.454 in 1997, with good defense behind the plate. He followed up his good regular season play by hitting .357/.379/.464 in the ’97 World Series.
Gary Sheffield played for eight different MLB teams in his 22-year career. Six of those seasons were with the Marlins from 1993 to 1998 but two were partial seasons. He joined the Marlins in the middle of the 1993 season then left partway through the 1998 season. His best year with the team was in 1996 when he hit .314/.465/.624 and was worth 6.5 WAR.
Livan Hernandez, like Sheffield, played for many different MLB teams. Hernandez spent 17 years in the bigs and spent time with nine different teams. He had more starts with Washington and San Francisco than he did with the Marlins but his work in the 1997 postseason earned him a place on the Marlins’ ballot. Hernandez won two games in the NLCS and two more in the 1997 Fall Classic and was named MVP of each series. Of course, if he makes the team’s Franchise Four, MLB might want to carve out some space for Eric Gregg and his generous strike zone that helped Livan strike out 15 Atlanta batters in Game 5 of the 1997 NLCS.
Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett were both 4 WAR players for the Marlins’ 2003 World Series championship team. Lowell had a career-high 32 homers that year. Beckett only started 23 games during the 2003 regular season but made five starts in the postseason and was named MVP of the World Series.
Notable snubs: Well, Livan Hernandez is way down the list of career WAR for Marlins players (50th). His spot on the ballot is almost solely due to his 1997 postseason heroics. Is he more worthy than the team leader in career WAR, Hanley Ramirez?
My Franchise Four: Giancarlo Stanton, Jeff Conine, Luis Castillo, Mike Lowell
New York Mets (1962-2015)
(1) Tom Seaver 68.5 WAR (1967-1977, 1983)
(2) Dwight Gooden 52.6 WAR (1984-1994)
(3) David Wright 52.2 WAR (2004-2015)
(4) Jerry Koosman 41.9 WAR
(5) Darryl Strawberry 35.5 WAR (1983-1990)
(6) Jose Reyes 30.7 WAR
(7) Jon Matlack 29.5 WAR
(8) Carlos Beltran 29.4 WAR
(9) Edgardo Alfonso 29.0 WAR
(10) Mike Piazza 27.0 WAR (1998-2005)
(12) Keith Hernandez 26.2 WAR (1983-1989)
(32) Gary Carter 12.8 WAR (1985-1989)
(53) John Franco 8.9 WAR (1990-2001, 2003-2004)
On the ballot: Tom Seaver is the Mets’ all-time leader in FanGraphs WAR, was named to 10 All-Star teams, won three NL Cy Young Awards with the team, and was the #1 starter on the 1969 “Miracle Mets” team that won the first World Series in franchise history. He should be a lock.
Four players on the ballot—Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, and Gary Carter—were part of the 1986 Mets team that won the World Series in seven games over the Boston Red Sox.
Gooden was good in 1986 (5 WAR) but he was at his best the previous year when he went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts in 276 2/3 innings (9 WAR).
Similarly, Darryl Strawberry was a good player in 1986 (3.4 WAR) but had five other seasons with the Mets that were more valuable, with his best season coming in 1990 when he hit .277/.361/.518 with 37 homers and 108 RBI.
Keith Hernandez’ best season with the Mets was in 1986 when he hit .310/.413/.446. Hernandez is an interesting choice for the Mets’ ballot. He played more seasons and had more WAR with the St. Louis Cardinals but did not make their eight-man ballot. Gary Carter also played more years with a team other than the Mets. He spent 12 years with the Expos and is their franchise leader in WAR. He played just five seasons with the Mets and is 32nd on their all-time WAR leaderboard. Both Hernandez and Carter were big contributors to the last Mets’ World Series-winning team, so that likely sealed their place on the Franchise Four ballot. Hernandez may get some votes because he’s been an announcer with the team for many years in addition to his playing career.
Mike Piazza and John Franco were teammates on the 1999 and 2000 Mets teams that made the playoffs. The 1999 team lost the NLCS in six games, while the 2000 team made it to the World Series but lost in five games to the New York Yankees. As a Met, Piazza hit .296/.373/.542 and averaged 3.4 WAR per season. Franco saved 276 games for the Mets in his career but his overall total of 8.9 WAR in 14 seasons with the team suggests he doesn’t really belong on the Franchise Four ballot.
Finally, David Wright has been the face of the franchise over the last decade and is third all-time in WAR for the team. He’s a seven-time All-Star with a career batting line of .298/.377/.494.
Notable snub: Jerry Koosman and Jose Reyes are fourth and sixth in WAR for the Mets, yet did not make the eight-man ballot. Koosman even had two wins in the 1969 World Series. Perhaps he and/or Jose Reyes would have been a better choice than John Franco.
My Franchise Four: Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez
Philadelphia Phillies (1883-2015)
(1) Mike Schmidt, 106.5 WAR (1972-1989)
(2) Steve Carlton, 73.5 WAR (1972-1986)
(3) Ed Delahanty, 64.8 WAR
(4) Robin Roberts, 62.7 WAR (1948-1961)
(5) Chase Utley, 60.9 WAR (2003-2015)
(6) Richie Ashburn, 52.3 WAR (1948-1959)
(7) Sherry Magee, 51.5 WAR
(8) Pete Alexander, 50.8 WAR
(9) Jimmy Rollins, 49.1 WAR (2000-2014)
(10) Bobby Abreu, 47.2 WAR
(17) Chuck Klein, 34.0 WAR (1928-1933, 1936-1944)
(20) Jim Bunning, 31.2 WAR (1964-1967, 1970-1971)
On the ballot: Mike Schmidt played his entire career with the Phillies, was a three-time NL MVP, 12-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove winner, and led the league in home runs eight times. He was also the MVP of the 1980 World Series championship team. He’s a lock for the Phillies Franchise Four.
While perhaps not as well liked as Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton should be a lock also. He won three NL Cy Young Awards with the Phillies and was an All-Star seven times. His 1972 season is legendary. That year, Carlton went 27-10 for a team that won just 59 games. He led the league in wins, ERA (1.97), games started (41), complete games (30), innings pitched (346.3), and strikeouts (310). In the Phillies’ World Series in 1980, Carlton won two games.
Robin Roberts averaged 4.5 WAR per season for the Phillies in his 14 years with the team. He was a workhorse, averaging 267 innings per year and eclipsing the 300-inning mark in six consecutive seasons with the Phillies. Richie Ashburn was a longtime teammate of Roberts who was well known for his defensive prowess but also had good on-base ability (.396 lifetime on-base percentage).
Chuck Klein put up eye-popping numbers during the great hitter’s era of the early 1930s. In his first six years with the Phillies, he averaged 32 homers and 121 RBI per year with a batting line of .359/.412/.632 and was the 1932 NL MVP.
Jim Bunning averaged 6.6 WAR per season in his first four years with the Phillies. This included the heart breaking 1964 season when the Phillies held a 6 ½-game lead with 12 games left to play but lost 10 of their last 12 games and were overtaken by the St. Louis Cardinals.
The two active players on the Phillies ballot are Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Utley and Rollins were part of the Phillies run of playoff teams from 2007 to 2011 that resulted in back-to-back World Series appearances and one World Series title (2008). Utley became a regular in 2005 and reeled off six straight years with 5 or more WAR. Rollins best stretch of play for the Phillies was from 2004 to 2012, during which he averaged 4.2 WAR per season and won the NL MVP Award in 2007.
Notable snub: Most of the Phillies top players are on the ballot with Ed Delahanty being the notable exception. Delahanty is third all-time in WAR for the Phillies but played most of his career before 1900 so would unlikely to get much traction in the voting as a Franchise Four candidate.
My Franchise Four: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Chase Utley, Robin Roberts
Washington Nationals (1969-2015)
(1) Gary Carter, 53.8 WAR (1974-1984, 1992)
(2) Steve Rogers, 51.5 WAR (1973-1985)
(3) Tim Raines, 49.3 WAR (1979-1990, 2001)
(4) Andre Dawson, 44.3 WAR (1976-1986)
(5) Tim Wallach, 35.3 WAR
(6) Ryan Zimmerman, 34.1 WAR (2005-2015)
(7) Vladimir Guerrero, 33.8 WAR (1996-2003)
(8) Dennis Martinez, 24.3 WAR (1986-1993)
(9) Javier Vazquez, 24.1 WAR
(10) Bryn Smith, 20.9 WAR
(11) Rusty Staub, 18.0 WAR (1969-1971, 1979)
On the ballot: It just doesn’t feel right to me to consider the Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals to be the same franchise. I know it’s true of other franchises, like the Braves who played in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, and the Athletics, who played in Kansas City and Philadelphia, but it feels different to me. Maybe it’s because the Expos to Nationals change happened in my lifetime and I have read from die-hard Expos fans that their allegiances did not transfer to Washington. The Expos are their team and their team ceased to exist after the 2004 season. Expos fans did not become Nationals fans. Still, this is how the Franchise Four balloting is designed, so we have to consider Steve Rogers along with Ryan Zimmerman.
The top five leaders in war for this franchise are all old Montreal Expos players. One of them, Tim Wallach, did not make the eight-man ballot. At the top of the leaderboard is Gary Carter, who came up as a 20-year-old with the Expos in 1974. Caster had his first really good season in 1977 and that started an extended run of greatness that lasted through the 1986 season. In Carter’s final eight seasons with the Expos, he averaged 6.1 WAR per season as a good-hitting catcher who was also very good behind the dish and had a great arm. Carter’s best season was 1982, when he hit .293/.381/.510 with 29 homers and 97 RBI. He was also very good in the 1981 postseason when he hit .421/.429/.895 in the divisional series then hit .438/.550/.500 in the NLCS that the Expos lost in five games to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Steve Rogers played his entire 13-year career with Montreal and had nine seasons with 4 or more WAR. He won three games with a 0.98 ERA in three starts during the 1981 postseason.
Tim Raines and Andre Dawson were teammates with the Expos from 1979 to 1986. Although Dawson is in the Hall of Fame, it was Raines who was the more valuable player. Hopefully, he will get into Cooperstown soon. Raines played the first 12 seasons of his career in Montreal then one final partial season late in his career. In his 13 years with the team, Raines hit .301/.391/.437 and stole 635 bases with a success rate of 86%. Dawson averaged 4 WAR per season in his 11 years in Montreal and was the 1977 NL Rookie of the Year.
Dennis Martinez played more years and pitched more innings for the Baltimore Orioles but was a three-time All-Star with the Expos from 1990 to 1992. Vladimir Guerrero was not only a good player with the Expos, he was also very entertaining to watch. He had a rifle arm in the outfield but occasional issues with accuracy that made things interesting. He never saw a pitch he didn’t want to swing at but was still able to consistently post on-base percentages of .370 or higher throughout his Expos’ career. He was a joy to watch.
Ryan Zimmerman is in his 11th season with the Nationals. Injuries have limited him at times during his career. His best stretch of play was in 2009 and 2010 when he had 6.6 WAR each season.
The low man on the Expos/Nationals Franchise Four ballot is Rusty Staub, who ranks 18th all-time in WAR for the franchise. Staub had more plate appearances with three other teams than he had with the Expos but “Le Grand Orange” was the team’s biggest star and most-liked player in the first few years after they came into existence in 1969.
Notable snubs: None, really. Tim Wallach had more WAR than four players on the ballot but all four players below him have good supporting stories behind their placement on the ballot, so it’s understandable that Wallach didn’t make the cut.
My Franchise Four: Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Vladimir Guerrero