Astros: Five surprising players who led team in WAR

Here are five surprising players who led the Houston Astros in WAR in a season.

Throughout the history of the Houston Astros organization, there have been plenty of great seasons and great players. From the ones who made it to the Hall of Fame to the ones who fell just short, some pretty remarkable talents have donned this team’s uniform.

Going by Baseball-Reference’s WAR metric, there are several players you’d expect to have led the team in that stat in a given year. Cesar Cedeno did it in five straight seasons, Lance Berkman and Jimmy Wynn did it four times each, and Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Jose Altuve did it three times each. Alex Bregman has led the team in each of the past two seasons and could move up the list.

But then there are players you wouldn’t think of when you try and compile such a list. A couple of these players were in the early days of the franchise and thus not remembered by many fans, but then there are a few from more recent years who just wouldn’t come to mind. Here are five players you might be surprised to know led the Astros in WAR in a season.

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Lucas Harrell (3.1 WAR, 2012)

This was smack dab in the middle of the three straight 100-loss seasons, so this was a bad team. Harrell was surprisingly effective though, managing an 11-11 record with a 3.76 ERA in 32 starts. The second-highest WAR total on this team came from relief pitcher Wilton Lopez, which says a lot.

Harrell’s success was short lived, as he lost 17 games in 2013 with a 5.86 ERA. He also struck out 89 and walked 88, which partially explains why his numbers were so bad. 2012 was the undisputed highlight of his major league career.

Danny Darwin (5.2 WAR, 1990)

Darwin was far from a bad player, as his 21-year major league career would attest. His first stint in Houston from 1986 to 1990 was quite successful, though his brief return in 1996 was much less so. He moved between the starting rotation and the bullpen and was useful in whatever role the team needed him.

He had his best year in 1990 when he went 11-4 with a league-leading 2.21 ERA in 17 starts and 31 relief appearances, also leading the league in WHIP and walks per nine. On this Astros team that lost 87 games, Darwin was the only player to even reach 3.0 WAR.

Bill Doran (5.4 WAR, 1985)

Doran was the epitome of a solid but unspectacular player. He never made an All-Star team or won any major awards despite compiling 32.9 career WAR in a 12-year major league career. He was the kind of guy who would contribute but not necessarily be the face of a franchise.

He was pretty good in 1985, though, hitting .287/.362/.434 with 31 doubles, 14 homers, 23 steals and more walks than strikeouts. On an Astros team with the likes of Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Jose Cruz and Glenn Davis, Doran managed to stand out.

Bob Bruce (5.5 WAR, 1964)

We’re back into ancient history, back when the Astrodome was under construction and the team was called the Colt .45s. These weren’t good teams, but they did have some future stars in very young versions of Jimmy Wynn, Joe Morgan and Rusty Staub, and Larry Dierker made his major league debut on his 18th birthday.

Bruce had undoubtedly the best year of his career in ’64 when he went 15-9 with a 2.76 ERA in 29 starts and six relief appearances. On a team with some notable names in Don Larsen, Bob Aspromonte and future Hall of Famer Nellie Fox, Bruce was definitely their best player.

Hal Woodeshick (4.6 WAR, 1963)

It’s not necessarily a good thing when your team leader in WAR is a relief pitcher, but the left-handed Woodeshick was special this year. He made 55 relief appearances and totaled 114 innings, going 11-9 with a 1.97 ERA and 10 saves.

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His adjusted ERA of 161 is almost 40 points higher than the next-best total on the team that year, which came from Jim Umbricht, who pitched that 1963 season after having offseason surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his leg. Umbricht died shortly before Opening Day in 1964, and his number is retired by the Astros.

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