Bluebird History: Player Longevity, Part I

I've been building a Blue Jays spreadsheet over the past few months with the intention of writing some historical, somewhat WAR based, articles about the Jays. Lets face it, as much as we all eagerly anticipate personnel changes, information and talking points become sparse during the off-season, and I think we all grow weary of discussing the Justin Upton, Colby Rasmus, Dan Uggla, and Zack Greinke trade rumours that seem to pop up every few days, and about how much Brian Tallet sucks (hey, did anyone hear...Manny Ramirez wasn't offered arbitration!). So I thought I'd write about something I love, and something a lot of baseball fans enjoy talking about.

I have a rough idea of maybe 10 or 15 fanposts with the information I've gathered, so hopefully these will spark some conversation and help us bored Jays fans get through the winter. I guess now is a good time to mention that all of the WAR data I've gathered is using the Fan Graphs WAR model, except for pitchers prior to 1980 which aren't available on the website. For pitchers prior to 1980, I used the Baseball-Reference WAR model, which generally provides similar values, but it's the best I could do for now.

Skip over the jump if you're interested.

For the first part of this fanpost, I just wanted to take a look at the general trends of players that have played for the Jays. There's no analysis here, I just wanted to share some career length trends that I noticed. I should note, I'm counting a played season as any in which a player appeared in a game and did something (threw a pitch, took an at bat, etc). There's a good chance that I'm not including some players that only played an inning in the field, and I'm definitely not including anyone that didn't appear in a game even though they may have dressed.

Through 34 seasons, 560 players have appeared in at least one game, donning a Jays uniform. That number comprises 292 position players and 268 pitchers. The two graphs below look at WAR in slightly different ways. The first shows the number of players in each career length along with the total accumulated career WAR and the average player career WAR for each group.


There's nothing too shocking here. The graph does a pretty good job of showing why most players career's only last one year. That one year group includes 277 players with a total accumulated WAR of 22.8 (or 0.08 WAR/player) with a maximum WAR of 4.3 (Dave Winfield, 1992) and a minimum WAR of -2.3 (Phil Huffman, 1979, SP). The 2nd highest player in this group - Brandon Morrow with his 3.7 WAR this year, though he'll be out of this group by next year. John Buck is tied for 3rd with a single season WAR of 2.9 (along with Pete Vuckovich and Tom Candiotti).

One interesting thing I noticed - the 5 year career players total accumulated WAR of 140.8 was more than every other group except the 12 year players. This is partly attributable to the number of players in this group (21), but mostly to the quality (Fred McGriff, Roberto Alomar and Devon White were all in this group and were all 20+WAR players over their Jays careers). Also not a surprise, the average career WAR/player increases for each career length with the exception of the 11 year (any guesses who drags that number down a bit?) No players have appeared in a Jays uniform for 13 or 14 years (yet), and Dave Steib is the lone player to appear in 15 seasons.

The second graphs shows the accumulated WAR and average season WAR for every player that played that number of seasons.


So, the average WAR for players playing in their first season as a Jay (all 560 of them) is 0.4. Roger Clemens 1997 season (11.1WAR!) was so good that if you take it out, it actually moves the average down to 0.38 (I know, doesn't seem like a lot, but for a 560 player database...) Guess who the worst player in their first season as a Jay was? Phil Huffman who's -2.3 WAR is the worst single season WAR value of any player in Blue Jays history (and 2nd worst career WAR). Does anyone still think the Pitcher suckage award should be named after Brian Tallet?

The total accumulated season WAR levels off between year 9 and year 12, despite a drop in the number of players from 18 to 7 over that time-frame. The top season WAR/player seasons are the 11 and12 seasons, with an average of about 3.4WAR/player. The players that played 6 through 9 seasons average about 2.0 to 2.5 WAR/player.

One final note. There are some real surprising players that managed to play 8 years in a Jays uniform (a category one would assume is usually reserved for elite type players). Manuel Lee (career 7.2WAR), Greg Myers (career 3.7WAR), Pat Borders (career 6.9WAR), Ed Sprague (career 6.5WAR), and Alex Gonzalez [the first] (9.1 career WAR) as well as Garth Iorg (9 years, 3.7 career WAR) all played for the Jays for more years than a lot of the superstars.

That's it for now (sorry for the length), but I am going to expand on this post sometime soon, so if interested, keep an eye out for that. Comments, questions, thoughts - have at it in the comments!

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