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Chicago Cubs: 25 Greatest Sluggers in Franchise History

Jay FloydContributor IIJanuary 26, 2012

Chicago Cubs: 25 Greatest Sluggers in Franchise History

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    Sammy Sosa. Ernie Banks. Ron Santo. Hack Wilson. Billy Williams. Aramis Ramirez. Andre Dawson. 

    How do you measure a slugger?

    How do you recognize the achievements of Dave Kingman, who hit 94 home runs in three years, alongside those of Cap Anson, who hit just 97 home runs over 22 years, but still ranks 15th in OPS and holds the Cubs' record for the most RBI, with 1,880?

    There's no perfect system. 

    But looking at all 55 players who've hit at least 50 home runs in a Cub uniform, then awarding points to the top 25 players in six categories, this list ranks some of the best sluggers in Cubs history.

    The results are surprising.

Ranking Sluggers in Six Categories

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    You can look at the traditional measures of HR and RBI totals to measure sluggers, or incorporate more advanced metrics, like OPS. 

    But what do you do about all those strikeouts? Because hitters who avoid strikeouts are better run producers, and good sluggers tally runs. 

    Furthermore, looking only at career totals means players with longevity in a Cubs uniform often end up with the most of a particular statistic. And that doesn't mean they were the best in every at-bat, just over a long period of time.

    Sure, playing with the team for many years means they deserve recognition. But several short-term players left lasting numbers in the Cubs' record book, and they should get credit, too.  

    That means HR and RBI totals must count, but a batter's HR and RBI rates, their likelihood of doing damage in any given AB, can also be useful measures.

    Ultimately, a combination of these statistics provides an interesting overview of Chicago's best sluggers, allowing some comparisons between franchise icons and free agent fill-ins.

    1. Home run totals
    2. Home run rate (AB per HR)
    3. RBI totals
    4. RBI rate (RBI per AB)
    5. On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS)
    6. Strikeout Percentage

    In the first five categories, the 55 players with at least 50-plus home runs as a Cub were ranked highest to lowest.

    The top player in each category received 25 points. Each subsequent player received one less point, e.g. the second-ranked player in the category received 24 points, the third received 23 points, on down to the 25th-ranked player, who received one point. Those ranked 26th through 55th received zero points.

    In the case of strikeout percentage, the player with the worst strikeout percentage (the most likely to strike out) received negative-25 points, down to the 25th-worst player, who received negative-one point. Those ranked 26th through 55th received zero points.

    Finally, the points in each category were totaled and players ranked by the overall number of points earned.

    For example, Ron Santo had 337 HRs, hitting one every 23 ABs over his career, amassing 1290 RBI and driving in a run every six ABs. He finished with an OBP of .838 but struck out once almost every six AB, too.

    Compared to the other Cubs sluggers, Santo ranks high in some categories but just average in others. He's fourth in home run totals, but 19th in home run rate. He's fifth in RBI totals but 15th in RBI per AB. And he's 17th in OBP but is in the top 20 in strikeout percentage, too.

    Using the point system outlined above, and ranking Santo's statistics against other Cubs, here's how his numbers add up.

    HR Total: 22 points (ranked fourth overall in Cubs history) 
    HR Rate: 7 points (19th) 
    RBI Total: 21 points (5th)
    RBI per AB: 11 points (15th)
    OPS: 9 points (17th)
    SO Rate: -6 points (20th-worst strikeout percentage)

    Total Points Earned: 64

    Overall, those numbers make Santo the eighth-best slugger in Cubs history, tied with Rogers Hornsby. Both Santo and Hornsby end up with 64 points but in different ways, across different lengths of time, and in different time periods.

    Ronnie played for 14 seasons while Rogers played for just four. Santo has the clear edge in overall totals but each of Hornsby's at-bats were more devastating to opposing teams. And despite just 58 dingers, Hornsby's OPS is the highest of any player to wear a Cubs uniform and hit 50 or more home runs.

    Which of the two was better? You decide.

    But here are the results for the top 25 sluggers in Cubs history according to this ranking system.

No. 25: Jim Hickman

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    Hickman's best years were with Chicago and none were better than 1970, when he hit 32 HR, with 115 RBI, while posting an OPS of 1.001.

    In six seasons he managed some decent overall numbers. 

    HR Total: 97 (23rd in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 20.54 AB (14th)
    RBI Total: 336
    RBI per AB: 0.169 (14th)
    OPS: 0.829 (23rd)
    SO Rate: 19.0% (15th worst)

    Total Points Earned: 19 

No. 24: Leon Durham

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    Durham is widely remembered for the error he made at first base during Game 5 of the 1984 National League Championship Series that cost the Cubs the lead, and perhaps a chance at the World Series.

    But he was a Cub for eight seasons and went to the All-Star game twice, in 1982 and 1983. 

    Truth is, Chicago wouldn't have been to the NLCS without Durham in 1984, and he should be remembered for more than that mistake.

    HR Total: 138 (14th in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 23.30 AB (21st)
    RBI Total: 485
    RBI per AB: 0.151
    OPS: 0.846 (14th)
    SO Rate: 18.9% (16th worst)

    Total Points Earned: 19
     

No. 23: Moises Alou

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    With a wad of chew visible from the stands, a batter's glare and sans batting gloves, Alou was an old school slugger. And he couldn't lay off a high fastball.

    But in his prime, that bat turned high heaters into doubles and home runs with a quick flick. And he was tough to strikeout simply because of bat speed. 

    His strong wrists and short stroke made him a dangerous hitter no matter where he played, but for three years Chicago fans watched him produce consistently at Wrigley.

    HR Total: 76 
    HR Rate: 21.71 AB (17th in Cubs history)
    RBI Total: 258
    RBI per AB: 0.156 (22nd)
    OPS: 0.837 (18th)
    SO Rate: 12.6%

    Total Points Earned: 21 

No. 22: Jimmy Ryan

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    Ryan is a good example of how longevity matters, as well as how difficult it can be to compare players across different era.

    He played for the Cubs for 15 years and is ninth all-time in RBI. By the standards of his era, he was a slugger, hitting more than 10 HR four different times.

    And while his strikeout percentage is remarkably low compared to modern players, so is his HR rate. That makes it tough to say exactly where he fits on a list of Cubs batters, but here's how he compares to the others.

    HR Total: 99 (21st in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 68.33 AB
    RBI Total: 914 (9th)
    RBI per AB: 0.135
    OPS: 0.824
    SO Rate: 6.2% 

    Total Points Earned: 22 

No. 21: Andy Pafko

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    Pafko was selected to five All-Star games during his nine years with Chicago.

    Like Jimmy Ryan, Pafko struck out at an astonishingly low rate and wasn't a traditional power hitter, either. He finished with more than 20 HR just three times (1948, 1949-50) but managed to hit 10-plus HR in 11 different seasons.

    He can also boast an achievement shared by just one other player on this list: He appeared in a World Series for the Chicago Cubs (1945).

    HR Total: 126 (16th in team history)
    HR Rate: 28.31 AB 
    RBI Total: 584 (22nd)
    RBI per AB: 0.164 (17th)
    OPS: 0.829 (24th)
    SO Rate: 6.8% 

    Total Points Earned: 25 

No. 20: "Kiki" Cuyler

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    It seems hard to believe, but the nickname "Kiki" was an upgrade over his given name, Hazen Shirley Cuyler.

    He's another "slugger" only in relative terms, doing loads of damage without a large number of long balls. 

    HR Total: 79 
    HR Rate: 46.67 AB 
    RBI Total: 602 (19th in Cubs history)
    RBI per AB: 0.163 (19th)
    OPS: 0.876 (10th)
    SO Rate: 10.0%

    Total Points Earned: 30 

No.19: Henry Rodriguez

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    Oh, Henry!

    The beauty of his catchphrase, of course, was that fans could say it whether Rodriguez struck out or swatted one onto Sheffield Avenue.

    As far as the Cubs are concerned, only Sammy Sosa and Dave Kingman hit dingers at a faster rate. And of all the other Chicago sluggers who hit 50-plus homers, only Jose Hernandez struck out more often than Henry Rodriguez.

    That means few Cubs represent the quintessential "feast or famine" slugger better than Oh, Henry! 

    HR Total: 75 
    HR Rate: 14.95 AB (3rd in Cubs history)
    RBI Total: 223
    RBI per AB: 0.199 (6th)
    OPS: 0.882 (9th)
    SO Rate: 26.9% (2nd worst)

    Total Points Earned: 36 

No. 18: Mark Grace

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    Mark Grace is the modern-day equivalent of many old-time players on this list: he refused to strike out and didn't possess much pop, but was a consistent RBI machine and played well for a long time.

    With more than 2,500 hits, 400 doubles and 1,000 RBI, there's no question Grace should be considered among the best hitters in team history, despite a relatively low number of HR.

    He was the last Cub to hit for the cycle, and no player had more hits in the 1990s than he did, notching 1,754.

    HR Total: 148 (13th in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 48.35 AB 
    RBI Total: 1004 (8th)
    RBI per AB: 0.140 
    OPS: 0.832 (21st)
    SO Rate: 7.8%

    Total Points Earned: 36 

No. 17: Ralph Kiner

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    He was a serious thumper early in his playing days but with just two years on the Cubs, in the twilight of his career, Kiner is lucky to be on the list. And there are plenty of arguments to be made that others deserve a spot more than this short-timer.

    Kiner did have two decent years in Chicago, hitting the minimum number of homers needed to qualify for this comparison despite suffering injuries. And his OPS and HR/RBI rates remained strong until he retired in 1955.

    HR Total: 50
    HR Rate: 19.42 AB (12th in Cubs history)
    RBI Total: 160
    RBI per AB: 0.165 (16th)
    OPS: 0.886 (8th)
    SO Rate: 16.2% (21st worst)

    Total Points Earned: 37 

No. 16: Ryne Sandberg

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    Ryno was one of the premier, slugging second basemen during his playing days. And despite a brief retirement, he swatted 37 homers in his final two seasons, showing good ability to drive the ball throughout his career.

    There are plenty of other qualities that would put Sandberg higher on a list of all-time Cubs legends. But comparing him to other Cubs sluggers, his HR/RBI rate are relatively low and keep him from ranking higher, despite some impressive overall totals.

    HR Total: 282 (5th in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 29.71 AB
    RBI Total: 1061 (7th)
    RBI per AB: 0.127
    OPS: 0.796 
    SO Rate: 15.0% (24th worst)

    Total Points Earned: 38 

No. 15: Glenallen Hill

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    Hill's HR totals appear laughable when stretched across his five-year career. But if you consider he had just 908 AB in those five years, or roughly two years worth of playing time, the numbers are more impressive.

    When he was in the lineup he produced runs (or struck out).

    Don't forget, this is the only man to ever hit the roof of the five-story building on the other side of Waveland Avenue. Think about that, he parked it on top of the building across the street.

    That sounds like a slugger. 

    HR Total: 59 
    HR Rate: 15.39 AB (4th)
    RBI Total: 167
    RBI per AB: 0.184 (9th)
    OPS: 0.906 (5th)
    SO Rate: 23.8% (8th worst)

    Total Points Earned: 42 

No. 14: Derrek Lee

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    There's no denying Lee was an exceptional hitter most of his time with Chicago, especially in the MVP-caliber season of 2005, when he logged 46 HR, 107 RBI, 50 doubles and led the league in BA (.335) and OPS (1.080). 

    In seven years, Lee smacked 30-plus HR for the Cubs three different times and, for better or worse, finished among the top 25 in all six stat categories. 

    HR Total: 179 (11th in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 19.63 AB (13th)
    RBI Total: 574 (23rd)
    RBI per AB: 0.163 (18th)
    OPS: 0.903 (6th)
    SO Rate: 20.5% (11th worst)

    Total Points Earned: 44 

No. 13: Dave Kingman

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    Dave Kingman was a fearsome sight at the plate. In three years with the Cubs, he managed to leave an indelible impression, especially 1979, when he led the league with 48 HR, to go with 131 strikeouts and an OPS of .956.

    No other Cub with 50-plus homers has ever hit them at a faster pace. And if Kingman got five ABs in a game he was likely to knock in a run.

    Naturally, he also struck out almost once every four at-bats, too.

    HR Total: 94 (24th in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 12.57 AB (1st)
    RBI Total: 251
    RBI per AB: 0.212 (3rd)
    OPS: .907 (4th)
    SO Rate: 24.2% (7th worst)

    Total Points Earned: 53 

No. 12: Andre Dawson

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    Of the Cubs' sluggers fans might expect to see on this list, Dawson has some numbers they might not know about.

    For starters, Dawson didn't strike out nearly as often as his peers. And compared to Derrek Lee, he posted more RBI in less time (501 fewer AB), along with a better HR rate, too.  

    HR Total: 174 (12th in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 18.75 AB (9th)
    RBI Total: 587 (21st)
    RBI per AB: 0.180 (11th)
    OPS: 0.834 (20th)
    SO Rate: 13.9%

    Total Points Earned: 57 

No. 11: Bill Nicholson

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    Despite playing with undiagnosed and untreated diabetes for part of his playing career, Nicholson was one of Chicago's earliest proto-typical sluggers.

    Over 10 seasons, the right fielder averaged 20 HR, 83 RBI, an OPS of .840 and struck out less than Ryne Sandberg.

    HR Total: 205 (8th in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 23.69 AB (22nd)
    RBI Total: 833 (11th)
    RBI per AB: 0.172 (13th)
    OPS: 0.840 (16th)
    SO Rate: 14.1%

    Total Points Earned: 60 

No. 10: Cap Anson

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    How do you compare Anson's numbers to the other bashers?

    He played for 22 seasons and holds the team record for RBI by almost 250.

    But no one on this list is less likely to hit a home run than Cap, even though he boasts a better OPS than Andre Dawson and was almost impossible to strikeout. In his era he was a superstar.

    And no other hitter can claim to have managed and been part-owner of the Cubs. 

    HR Total: 97 (23rd in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 93.86 
    RBI Total: 1880 (1st)
    RBI per AB: 0.207 (4th)
    OPS: 0.844 (15th)
    SO Rate: 3.5%  

    Total Points Earned: 62

No. 9: Rogers Hornsby

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    Rogers Hornsby has the highest OPS of any slugger on the list despite one of the lowest HR totals.

    Though he spent four seasons with the team, he did most of the damage in 1929, when he was an offensive machine. That year saw him finish with 39 HR, 149 RBI and an OPS of 1.139.

    HR Total: 58
    HR Rate: 19.33 AB (11th)
    RBI Total: 264
    RBI per AB: 0.236 (2nd)
    OPS: 1.039 (1st)
    SO Rate: 9.3% 

    Total Points Earned: 64

No. 8: Ron Santo

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    Santo's numbers have been dissected every year since he became a Hall of Fame candidate.

    And there's no way around it: Ronnie was one of the Cubs' best run producers for more than a decade.

    Sure, he struck out a lot, but he walked a lot, too. Something people forget: Santo led the league in walks four times and had 92-plus walks in five straight seasons (1966 through 1970) during an era when on-base percentage wasn't valued the same way it is today.

    And that's evidence he aimed to destroy hittable pitches but avoid bad balls. So while he was an aggressive hitter he still commanded the strike zone. Theo Epstein would have loved him for it. 

    HR Total: 337 (4th in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 23.05 AB (19th)
    RBI Total: 1290 (5th)
    RBI per AB: 0.166 (15th)
    OPS: 0.838 (17th)
    SO Rate: 16.4% (20th worst)

    Total Points Earned: 64 

No. 7: Gabby Hartnett

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    Hartnett was the Cubs backstop for almost 20 years and, until Johnny Bench rewrote the book, Gabby was considered one of the best offensive catchers in the game's history.

    His best season was 1930, when he hit 37 HR, with 122 RBI and an OPS of 1.034. 

    HR Total: 231 (7th in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 27.19 AB 
    RBI Total: 1153 (6th)
    RBI per AB: 0.184 (10th)
    OPS: 0.860 (12th)
    SO Rate: 10.9% 

    Total Points Earned: 69

No. 6: Hank Sauer

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    Hank Sauer was the left field version of Andre Dawson, as the two sluggers compare well.

    In five fewer games than Dawson, Sauer hit 24 more home runs and had the same number of RBI. They also struck out at similar rates.

    But because Hank accomplished more than Andre in the same amount of playing time, he ranks higher.

    HR Total: 198 (9th in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 15.98 AB (5th)
    RBI Totals: 587 (20th)
    RBI per AB: 0.185 (8th)
    OPS: 0.860 (13th)
    SO Rate: 14.3% 

    Total Points Earned: 75 

No. 5: Billy Williams

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    Amassing 16 seasons with Chicago, Williams wrote his name into record books with that sweet swing.

    Perhaps the most complete hitter of the top five, Williams managed to provide power while balancing run production and plate discipline.

    He cranked 30-plus HR five times in his career, and hit 20-plus HR an amazing 14 times, including 13 straight years (1961 through 1973).

    HR Total: 392 (3rd in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 21.63 AB (16th)
    RBI Total: 1353 (4th)
    RBI per AB: 0.160 (20th)
    OPS: 0.867 (11th)
    SO Rate: 11.0% 

    Total Points Earned: 76 

No. 4: Ernie Banks

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    Mr. Cub's HR and RBI totals ensure him a place among the team's royalty. But according to this ranking system, Banks isn't the best in the bunch.

    It's true, his 512 dingers are only good for second-most in team history. But unlike the record-holder, Ernie's name was never mentioned in the same breath as HGH, steroids or corked bats. And anyone arguing Banks should be the top slugger in team history won't find much opposition from fans.

    Of all the numbers, his HR rate might be most impressive. It's easier to put together a few good seasons of hitting homers at that fast clip. But to average a long ball as often as Banks did for almost 20 years is truly remarkable. 

    HR Total: 512 (2nd in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 18.40 AB (8th)
    RBI Totals: 1636 (2nd)
    RBI per AB: 0.174 (12th)
    OPS: 0.830 (22rd)
    SO Rate: 13.1% 

    Total Points Earned: 84

No. 3: Aramis Ramirez

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    Like many fans, I didn't see this coming. 

    Still, the numbers say he's good at everything you'd expect of a slugger, despite not being the best at any of them. 

    He's probably asterisk free. He was critical to the playoff run of 2003, which launched his career (and the franchise) to the next level. And he's a good guy who gave the best years of his career to the Cubs. 

    Yes, there are some things fans won't miss.

    But if you're talking about sluggers, there's no question Ramirez fits the bill. Because fans came to expect Aramis would hit close to .300, with 30 HR, 100 RBI, every year. And if there were runners on base the team wanted him at the plate. 

    Believe it or not, he's one of best hitters to ever wear Cub pinstripes.

    HR Total: 239 (6th in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 17.71 AB (7th)
    RBI Totals: 806 (12th)
    RBI per AB: 0.190 (7th)
    OPS: 0.887 (7th)
    SO Rate: 13.7%   

    Total Points Earned: 91

No. 2: Sammy Sosa

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    Sosa is the only player in the top five of every category. 

    And whether fans think his totals should count, or whether his numbers come with a presumption of guilt about performance-enhancing drug use, there's no question Slammin' Sammy was a real slugger.

    Even if he was as loaded as his corked bat, when he hit the ball fans leapt from their seat hoping to see him hop out of the batter's box.

    Naturally, fans watched him swing and miss a lot, too. He led the league in strikeouts three consecutive seasons (1997 through 99).

    HR Total: 545 (Most in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 12.83 AB (2nd)
    RBI Totals: 1414 (3rd)
    RBI per AB: 0.202 (5th)
    OPS: 0.928 (3rd)
    SO Rate: 26.0% (3rd worst) 

    Total Points Earned: 93

No. 1: Hack Wilson

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    At 5'6" and 200 lbs, Hack Wilson was a tree trunk with arms. 

    His career was short, like his stature, and he was inducted to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee having been (ahem) overlooked by the BBWAA.

    But he tops this list because his best years were with the Cubs, and none better than 1930, when he hit 56 home runs and knocked in 191 RBI.

    That's still the major league record for RBI in a season.

    And for six years, Wilson averaged 31 HR, 128 RBI and an OPS of 1.002 while striking out less often than Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo or Derrek Lee.

    HR Total: 190 (10th in Cubs history)
    HR Rate: 16.60 AB (6th)
    RBI Totals: 769 (13th)
    RBI per AB: 0.244 (1st)
    OPS: 1.002 (2nd)
    SO Rate: 14.6%

    Total Points Earned: 97 

Other Notables and Final Reflections

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    According to this ranking system, out of the other 30 players who've hit 50-plus home runs for the Cubs, a few big names didn't make the list. 

    Missed the Cut

    Alfonso Soriano: 30th (132 HR but high strikeouts and low RBI totals net just 10 points)
    Keith Moreland: 35th (6 points)
    Bill Buckner: 36th (1 point)
    Shawon Dunston: 37th (0 points)


    Other Interesting Outcomes

    Even though the following players have logged the requisite 50-plus home runs, their strikeout ratios make them less than desirable, even for sluggers. Each of these players finished with a negative score.

    Jody Davis: 46th (16th all time with 122 HR but high strikeout rate reduces him to negative-3 points)
    Rick Monday: 48th (negative-7 points)
    Randy Hundley: 49th (negative-7 points)
    Geovany Soto: 52nd (Homers every 23.2 AB, but strikes out 25.7 percent of the time, negative-15 points)
    Rick Wilkins: 53rd (negative-17 points)
    Corey Patterson: 54th (70 HR, 111 BB, 552 strikeouts and negative-21 points)
    Jose Hernandez: 55th (Struck out 28 percent of the time, worst ever by a Cub with 50-plus HR, negative-25 points)

    This ranking system isn't perfect.

    A more complete overview might factor in WAR, or weight the values of categories, perhaps thinking HR and RBI totals are a better reflection of sluggers than HR and RBI rates, and therefore deserving more consideration. Perhaps penalizing poor strikeout rates isn't as useful as rewarding good ones. And maybe some fans think strikeouts shouldn't be a factor anyway.

    But we're talking about sluggers, not rocket science. 

    And even though they played in different times with disparate approaches, no matter how you rank them these were some of the best in Cubs history.

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