Today, the Detroit Tigers are paying tribute to the 1968 team during the 45th anniversary year of that team’s World Series win, the 3rd in Tigers history. Today, I though I’d give you a ranking of the best Tigers teams ever by Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which will allow for a comparison between eras.
As you may know, one of the primary benefits of WAR is that it compares players to their own contemporaries, meaning that it controls for the overall quality of the league at the time. Obviously, Babe Ruth played in a low HR era, so his totals look more impressive than someone like Sammy Sosa who played at the height of offense in MLB. WAR allows us to make direct comparisons between teams that played decades apart, which is why I’m using it. Obviously, you can look at win totals and how far each team went in the postseason, but this is another approach to the same question.
9. 1909 Tigers (47 WAR, 98 Wins, lost World Series)
8. 1946 Tigers (48.6 WAR, 92 Wins)
7. 1968 Tigers (48.8 WAR, 103 Wins, won World Series)
6. 1940 Tigers (49.4 WAR, 90 Wins, lost World Series)
5. 1935 Tigers (50.1 WAR, 93 Wins, won World Series)
4. 1961 Tigers (50.7 WAR, 101 Wins)
3. 1915 Tigers (50.8 WAR, 100 Wins)
2. 1984 Tigers (51.6 WAR, 104 Wins, won World Series)
1. 1934 Tigers (52.1 WAR, 101 Wins, lost World Series)
Should you be interested, the 2012 Tigers ranked 16th on this list with 43.9 WAR and 88 Wins, while the 2006 Tigers were 23rd with 42.2 WAR and 95 wins. Surprisingly (and perhaps due to WWII), the World Champion 1945 Tigers are 56th on the list with 34.5 WAR and 88 wins. The 2013 Tigers are already better than 13 other Tigers teams!
It’s also of note, perhaps, the strong relationship that Wins Above Replacement has with actual team Wins in large samples; nearly a perfect 1 to 1 ratio.
So while we tend to consider the four World Series teams the best ones, if you’re looking for regular season greatness the list looks slightly different. Let’s celebrate all of the great Tigers teams, and even the bad ones. Even that one at the far bottom left portion of the graph. I still love you, 2003 Tigers.