Born: January 5, 1898
Died: November 15, 1985
The modern day comparable player, at least by the statistics, seems to be Mark Grace. A doubles hitter who didn't hit a lot of home runs, but batted well enough to drive in a lot of runs for a hitter without much power (Stephenson drove in a career high 110 runs with just 17 home runs in 1929
Mark Grace's RBI career high was 98 with just 14 home runs in 1993.
Yesterday's Cubs, Today's Metrics
One of my favorite things about digging into Cubs history is learning more about relatively unknown Cubs in past history that do not get the recognition that they deserve. Riggs Stephenson is certainly one of those Cubs players.
First, Stephenson's low profile in Cubs history is certainly due, in part, to the era he played in. His Cubs career was from 1926 to 1934. This era is actually a rather under appreciated timeframe in Cubs history. The Cubs had some great teams that went to the World Series often (1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 & 1945) but none of these teams won a World Series. Even the Cubs outfielders he played with include Hall of Famer's Hack Wilson & Kiki Cuyler.
How does Riggs Stephenson compare to other
great Cubs Outfielders in team history?
Riggs Stephenson played 9 years with the Cubs, played in 978 games with a career WAR (as a Cub) of 25.5. This WAR figure is better than 2 Cubs who won MVP as OF'ers for the Cubs (Hank Sauer & Andre Dawson). Stephenson did play over a hundred more games than both of these guys, but the difference in WAR (Stephenson, 25.5, Sauer, 18.5 & Dawson at 17.2) is significant enough that even if both Cubs had played as many games as Stephenson, they probably wouldn't have matched Stephenson's WAR figure.
A better comparison of a hitter's overall value compared to other players of their respective era is WRC+ A WRC+ of 100 means a player is an average MLB hitter for their time period. Stephenson's WRC+ of 133 is comparable to HOF'er Billy Williams (134) and all-time Cubs HR leader Sammy Sosa (134).
Stephenson's .336 career batting average as a Cub is tied for 1st with Bill Madlock (after 2017 season).
How did Riggs Stephenson compare to other OF in MLB history?
I went to Fangraphs hitting leaders stats and reviewed the statistics for all MLB outfielders from 1926 to 1934 (Riggs Stephenson career with the Cubs) to compare Stephenson to players in his own era.
Stephenson was 17th in total WAR (25.5) and his WRC+ was 13th (133). Some of the names of players that ranked higher than Stephenson were Cubs outfielders (and Hall of Famers) Hack Wilson & Kiki Cuyler. Other non-Cubs were Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Al Simmons & Paul Waner. Riggs Stephenson may be one of the best Cubs players ever to not be elected to the Hall of Fame.
Photo from Library of Congress. Riggs Stephenson, Hack Wilson and Earl Webb pictured (right to left).
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