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Archive for the tag “Wins above replacement”

Each Team’s Single-Season WAR Leader

Measured by WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which player has had the best individual season for each team in Major League history? Listed alphabetically, here are the single-season WAR leaders for each baseball team (since 1900), and the year during which they produced the team record:

1)  A’s – Eddie Collins – 10.5, 1910

2)  Angels – Mike Trout – 10.9, 2012

3)  Astros – Craig Biggio – 9.4, 1997

4)  Blue Jays – Roger Clemens – 11.9, 1997

5)  Braves – Greg Maddux – 9.7, 1995

6)  Brewers – Robin Yount – 10.5, 1982

7)  Cardinals – Rogers Hornsby – 12.1, 1924

8)  Cubs – Rogers Hornsby – 10.4, 1929

9)  Diamondbacks – Randy Johnson – 10.9, 2002

10) Dodgers – Sandy Koufax – 10.7, 1963

11)  Expos / Nats – Pedro Martinez – 9.0, 1997

12)  Giants – Barry Bonds – 11.9, 2001

13)  Indians – Gaylord Perry – 11.0, 1972

14)  Mariners – Alex Rodriguez – 10.3, 2000

15)  Marlins – Kevin Brown – 8.0, 1996

16)  Mets – Dwight Gooden – 12.1, 1985

17)  Orioles – Cal Ripkin, Jr. – 11.5, 1991

18)  Padres – Kevin Brown – 8.6, 1998

19)  Phillies – Steve Carlton – 12.1, 1972

20)  Pirates – Honus Wagner – 11.5, 1908

21)  Rangers / Senators – Josh Hamilton – 8.9, 2010

22)  Rays – Ben Zobrist – 8.8, 2011

23)  Reds – Joe Morgan – 11.0, 1975

24)  Red Sox – Cy Young – 12.6, 1901

25)  Rockies – Larry Walker – 9.8, 1997

26)  Royals – Zach Greinke – 10.4, 2009

27)  Tigers – Hal Newhouser – 12.0, 1945

28)  Twins / Senators – Walter Johnson – 16.0, 1913

29)  White Sox – Wilbur Wood – 11.7, 1971

30)  Yankees – Babe Ruth – 14.0, 1923

As you may have noticed, a pair of players each appear twice on this list.  Rogers Hornsby holds the single-season WAR mark for both the Cardinals and the Cubs.  Kevin Brown, and under-appreciated pitcher if there ever was one, compiled the greatest single-season WAR for both the Marlins and the Padres.  A pair of men named Johnson, Randy and Walter, also appear on this list.

What do you make of the fact that four of the six highest WAR’s on this list occurred before 1925?  Could it be that the level of talent between the very best players and the average players was much greater then than it has been since?

The 1930’s and the 1950’s are, perhaps oddly, the only two decades since 1900 not represented at least once on this list.

Four players, Larry Walker, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, each set their respective team records in a single season, 1997.  Three other players, Cal Ripkin, Kevin Brown (twice), and Greg Maddux, also set their team’s record during that same decade, the 1990’s.

Fourteen different pitchers are represented on this list, including five lefties:  Koufax, Carlton, Newhouser, W. Wood and R. Johnson.

Given how much offense has historically been expected from first basemen, it is surprising that not one single first baseman is represented on this list.  Nor are any third basemen or catchers to be found here.  But eight players who were primarily middle-infielders during their careers are on this list.

Chronologically, the list spans from Cy Young’s 1901 season with the Red Sox to Mike Trout’s 2012 with the Angels.  Five of these players are still active:  Trout, Josh Hamilton, Ben Zobrist, Zach Greinke, and (technically) A-Rod.  Trout and Hamilton are currently teammates on the Angels.

All but seven of these players are still alive.  Only Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Hal Newhouser have passed away.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has identified the period 1947-72 as the “Golden Era” of baseball.  Interestingly, however, only four of the single-season WAR records on this list occurred during that era, and three of them (Carlton and Perry in ’72 and Wood in ’71) barely qualify.  Only Koufax’s 1963 season fits squarely in that arbitrary time-frame.

It will be interesting to see if any of these records fall this season, or over the next several years, as today’s talented young ballplayers leave their mark on the game.

 

 

 

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Is This a Hall of Fame Pitcher?

How many outstanding seasons must a pitcher accumulate to become a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate?  This question is more important than ever because, now that the 300-game winner is likely to become all but extinct, it will become  increasingly necessary over the next several years to develop a set of objective criteria which might enable a  broad consensus to form regarding what exactly constitutes a Hall of Fame pitching career.

When we look back over the history of baseball regarding what it has meant to be a Hall of Fame-worthy pitcher, the 300-win threshold was not always considered a prerequisite to HOF induction.  Certainly, plenty of exceptions to this relatively modern de facto standard have been  made over the years to recognize the excellence of pitchers such as Dizzy Dean (150 wins), Jack Chesbro (198 wins), Rube Waddell (193 wins), Ed Walsh (195 wins), Addie Joss (160 wins), Dazzy Vance (197 wins), and, of course, Sandy Koufax (165 wins.)

In none of their respective cases did winning fewer than 200 games, let alone 300,  prevent their eventual enshrinement.  Fans and sportswriters alike were apparently of the opinion that greatness did not necessarily equal longevity, or that “only” a few outstanding seasons simply weren’t enough to merit Hall induction.

Yet by the 1970’s — certainly by the 1980’s — it had become de rigour for fans and pundits alike to trumpet the 300-win standard (or something damned close to it) for a pitcher to obtain even a passing glance at Hall immortality.  The irony is that at precisely about the time Hall voters had appeared to come to expect this arbitrary standard of would-be HOF pitchers, the game itself was evolving in ways (increased reliance on team’s bullpens, for example) that would make it less likely that modern pitchers would ever likely become 300-game winners.

There is always a lag time between what is true and what we believe to be true.  That is called learning from experience.  The history of America is the history of what we once believed to be true (slavery was justifiable, women could not compete in the workplace with men, etc.) versus where we are (however imperfectly realized) today.  HOF voters and fans are no different, and represent, perhaps, an even more conservative subculture of the general population.  Once an idea takes root, it is nearly impossible to shake.  Thus the continual, disproportionate attention paid to statistics such as batting average (for hitters) and wins (for pitchers.)

So, keeping in mind actual Hall of Fame history, please allow me to provide you with a series of statistics, and you tell me, (keeping in mind that only about one-third of Hall of Fame pitchers have actually won over 300 games) did this particular pitcher enjoy a HOF-worthy career or not?

Let’s begin with this pitcher’s three best consecutive peak seasons:

58 wins, 19 losses, completed 35 of 99 starts, 13 shutouts, 745 innings, 744 strikeouts, 1.04 WHIP, .187 batting average against, 2.28 ERA, 22.0 WAR, won a Cy Young award, and finished 2nd and 7th in the voting the other two years.  Incidentally, this is not a 19th-century, or early 20th-century dead-ball era pitcher.

At this point, would you agree or disagree that those are Hall of Fame-caliber numbers?

Lest you might think that those three seasons represent the entirety of this pitcher’s productive career, here are his statistics for his seven best consecutive years (he missed about half of one of these seasons):

119 wins, 46 losses, a .721 win-loss percentage, 209 starts, 55 complete games, 20 shutouts, 1,522 innings, 1,391 strikeouts, 1.14 WHIP (the same as Greg Maddux’s career WHIP), .207 batting average against, a 2.83 ERA, and 36 WAR (which includes his very respectable contributions with the bat.)

There was another 4th place as well as a 5th place finish in Cy Young voting during those additional four seasons.  In four of those seven years, he struck out over 200 batters, and he never lost more than nine games in any one of those campaigns.  That 36 WAR, by the way, is about the same as or higher than a few starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame, and we’re not quite done with this pitcher yet.

So, how about now?  Does this seven-year run of success merit HOF attention?  Does he at least belong in the conversation?  Are his numbers, at least at this point, not on a par with the other pitchers I mentioned in an earlier paragraph who won fewer than 200 games, but are in the Hall anyway?

To be eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, a ballplayer needs to have accumulated at least ten seasons of service time at the Major League level.  So let’s look at this pitcher’s best ten-year period, and we’ll evaluate his HOF-worthiness:

154 wins-81 losses, .655 win-loss percentage, 296 starts, 67 complete games, 23 shutouts, 2,128 innings, 1,852 hits, 1,835 strikeouts, 3.03 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, .212 batting average against (he batted .200 over those ten seasons), and 47.0 WAR.

Admittedly, those are just about the only productive seasons he enjoyed during his career, but they certainly were a productive ten years.  The 154 wins are not that different from the number Koufax, Vance, Dean, and the others won during their entire careers.  And this pitcher’s final career WAR, 53.2, is higher than Hall of Famers Elmer Flick, Burleigh Grimes, Sam Rice, Mickey Cochrane, Bobby Doerr, Kirby Puckett, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Lazzeri, Chief Bender, Bob Lemon, Nellie Fox…and Sandy Koufax.

Mind you, no one’s arguing that this pitcher was necessarily better than any of those players.  But if his career WAR is at least on a  par with those Hall of Famers, would it be ridiculous to ask if he should at least be in the conversation regarding the Hall of Fame?

His final career totals:

194-112, .634 win-loss percentage, 2,800 innings, 2,564 hits, 2,293 strikeouts, a .226 career batting average against, 1.25 WHIP, 3.51 ERA (though just 3.11 over his 12 years in the N.L.) a no-hitter, the aforementioned Cy Young award, a Rookie of the Year award, four trips to the All Star game, a Silver Slugger, and a World Championship ring.

So what’s your final decision as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned?  Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Either way, you’ve just taken a long, hard look at the career of Dwight Gooden.

Gooden spent just one year on the HOF ballot, drew just 3% of the vote, and that was the end of that.

It may very well be that every single member of the BBWAA took the time to seriously consider Gooden’s record before they cast their ballot, but I doubt it.  Players are preceded, smothered and sometimes buried by the narrative that has attached itself to their names, like barnacles under an old ship.  Gooden’s narrative is complex and tragic.

Now, I realize Gooden is far from the only potentially deserving HOF candidate to have been virtually ignored by HOF voters.  But I chose him precisely because so few fans and writers have ever appeared to take his overall career as seriously as his accomplishments suggest that they should.

Not every pitcher who finds success in the Majors is going to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  I get that.  But the current process does beg the question, short of 300 victories, just what exactly is it that voters want?

Author’s note:  I had written this post in its entirety before learning of the retirement of the great Roy Halladay late yesterday afternoon.  I could just as easily have made my key point about Halladay as about Gooden.  Will Halladay, with just 203 career wins, end up one and done on the Hall ballot like Gooden, or will the BBWAA recall all the great years Halladay enjoyed in his career, and reward him accordingly?  Most importantly, by what objective criteria will they decide?

Top Ten Pitchers Who Never Won 20 Games

Whether it’s fair or not, a 20-win season has long been regarded as a mark of excellence for a pitcher.  Up until perhaps the past decade or so, an ace pitcher was expected to win at least 20 games in a season.  Anything less than that was considered a bit of a disappointment, regardless of how strong that pitcher’s other stats may have been.  This led me to wonder which of the best pitchers in MLB history (using WAR as a career measure of success) never enjoyed a 20-win campaign.

Dave Stieb pitching in Toronto, Canada in 1985...

Dave Stieb pitching in Toronto, Canada in 1985. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I decided to exclude currently active pitchers as well as, for obvious reasons, pitchers who worked primarily in relief during their careers.  Here’s what I came up with:

1)  Chuck Finley (L):  200-173, WAR:  58.5

2)  Frank Tanana (L):  240-236, WAR:  57.5

3)  Dave Stieb (R):  176-137, WAR:  57.0

4)  Kevin Appier (R):  169-137, WAR:  55.0

5)  Kenny Rogers (L):  219-156, WAR:  51.1

6)  Mark Langston (L):  179-158, WAR:  50.3

7)  Dennis Martinez (R):  245-193, WAR:  49.5

8)  Jimmy Key (L):  186-117, WAR:  49.4

9)  Milt Pappas (R):  209-164, WAR:  46.8

10)  Steve Rogers (R):  158-152, WAR:  45.3

As you can see, if you came of age as a baseball fan around the 1980’s, you’ll be quite familiar with many of these names.  Only a couple of the pitchers on this list go back much further than that, with Milt Pappas apparently being the “old-timer” on this list.

Exactly half the pitchers on this list were southpaws, and two guys named Rogers are represented as well.  Each of the first eight guys on the list pitched either primarily or exclusively in the American League.  Milt Pappas split his career almost evenly between the two leagues, and Steve Rogers is the only pitcher on this list to have pitched exclusively in the National League.

Half of these pitchers won at least 200 games, and all finished with records above .500.  Only three of the pitchers on this list reached 19 wins in a season:  Langston (twice), Tanana, and Steve Rogers.

In their prime, each of these pitchers was very tough, and if any of them had pitched on consistently better teams, or were a bit luckier, they might not have appeared on this list at all.

Position Players’ WAR Analysis: The First Five Years

A couple of months ago, I did a post on Pitching WAR Analysis:  The First Seven Years. I chose seven as the magic number because this often represents the entire first half of many pitchers’ careers, and because it sometimes takes pitchers several years to fully harness their talent.

Ty Cobb safe at third after making a triple, 8...

Ty Cobb safe at third after making a triple, 8/16/[19]24. 1 negative : glass ; 4 x 5 in. or smaller. This is a cropped version of File:Ty Cobb sliding2.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now we turn to Position Players’ War.  This time I chose to focus only on the first five years of various players’ careers.  I am of the opinion that although many hitters develop slowly, hitters often arrive a bit more fully formed than pitchers.

Also, with the recent call-up of Nationals outielder Bryce Harper, of whom many people are already predicting a Hall of Fame career, it is instructive to look at other players in their extreme youth to gauge whether or not it is useful to begin making those sorts of predictions so soon.

The list of 50 players that follows is not by any means meant to be some sort of comprehensive overview of baseball history.  It is merely a snapshot of 50 players who went on to have significant, if not necessarily Hall of Fame worthy, careers.

New York Yankees centerfielder and Hall of Famer .

New York Yankees centerfielder and Hall of Famer . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think you will be, as I was, surprised where some of these players rank in the early part of their respective careers.  I left out Babe Ruth, by the way, because he tends to skew all lists in a way that makes almost all other players appear to be irrelevant pretenders.

1)  Ted Williams – 43.3

2)  Eddie Collins – 42.7

3)  Ty Cobb – 42.2

4)  Mickey Mantle – 38.3

5)  Willie Mays – 38.1

6)  Alex Rodriguez – 37.4

7)  Tris Speaker – 37.0

8)  Lou Gehrig – 36.5

9)  Don Mattingly – 36.0

10) Stan Musial – 35.8

11) Albert Pujols – 35.0

11) Mike Schmidt – 35.0

13) Wade Boggs – 34.1

14) Cal Ripkin – 33.7

15) Rogers Hornsby – 33.6

16) Nomar Garciaparra – 33.2

17) Jimmie Foxx – 32.8

18) Joe Jackson – 32.7

18) Jackie Robinson – 32.7

20) Joe DiMaggio – 32.6

21) Johnny Bench – 31.0

21) Barry Bonds – 31.0

23) Dick Allen – 30.4

24) Bobby Bonds – 30.2

24) Frank Thomas – 30.2

26) Johnny Mize – 29.4

26) Dave Parker – 29.4

28) Ralph Kiner – 29.0

29) Andruw Jones – 28.8

30) Ken Griffey, Jr. – 28.7

31) Vada Pinson – 28.6

32) Hank Aaron – 28.3

33) Frank Robinson – 28.0

34) Sal Bando – 27.8

35) Reggie Jackson – 27.2

36) Duke Snider – 27.1

36) Honus Wagner – 27.1

38) Derek Jeter – 27.0

39) Jim Fregosi – 26.9

39) Al Kaline – 26.9

41) Cesar Cedeno – 26.6

42) George Brett – 26.3

43) Freddy Lynn – 25.1

44) Tony Oliva – 24.9

45) Bobby Murcer – 24.7

46) Chipper Jones – 24.6

47) Reggie Smith – 23.8

48) Jim Rice – 22.7

49) Robin Yount – 11.9

50) Roberto Clemente – 9.2

No real surprises among the top five, though a lot of people forget how good Eddie Collins was.  I like that Mantle and Mays are listed so closely together, since they’ve always been linked so closely in the imaginations of baseball fans.

[Eddie Collins, Philadelphia, AL (baseball)] (LOC)

[Eddie Collins, Philadelphia, AL (baseball)] (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

A-Rod’s listed WAR was compiled entirely in Seattle through his age 24 season.  It is highly unlikely he was using PED’s at that point.  Whether we like him or not, he has always been a legitimately great baseball player.

Clearly, Don Mattingly was on his way to being the next Lou Gehrig before his back problems struck.  Pujols sandwiched between Musial and Schmidt just feels right.  Who was the best Cardinals player ever?  I’ll take Musial by a hair over Pujols.

Look at the infielders listed 13-16.  Nomar was right there with Boggs, Ripkin and Hornsby through his age 28 season, then a wrist injury after his age 29 season reduced him to a shell of his former self.  After his age 28 season, he would accumulate just 9.0 additional WAR over the rest of his career.

Joe Jackson and Jackie Robinson, tied for 18th, are certainly two of the top five written about baseball players of the 20th century.  Robinson arrived, fully formed, in the Majors at age 28.  Therefore, it is highly likely that he would have accumulated significant additional WAR for his career had he broken in at a more typical 22 or 23 years of age.

Joe Jackson, on the other hand, certainly lost some additional career WAR at the end of his career.  Banned from baseball at age 32, his final season in 1920 (not 1919, as some people believe), was one of his finest.  There’s no reason to think  he wouldn’t have added significantly to his career WAR total had he played an additional 3-5 years.

Interesting how close Barry and his father, Bobby, were through their first five seasons.

Look at how close Dave Parker was to Johnny Mize.  Parker could have been great if he’d taken the game more seriously in the early ’80’s.

An image of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame...

An image of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame first baseman Johnny Mize. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you had to pick either Andruw Jones or Ken Griffey, Jr. through their first five seasons, as you can see, it would have been a legitimate toss-up.

If you had to pick between Vada Pinson, Hank Aaron or Frank Robinson after just five seasons of each of their careers, are you sure you would have picked Aaron?  Pinson was a special player through age 26, then merely a decent player after that.

Look at Sal Bando!  He comes in ahead of his flashier teammate Reggie Jackson, and also ahead of fellow third basemen George Brett and Chipper Jones over their five initial seasons.

Back in the 1950’s, it was common to hear people speak of Willie, Mickey and The Duke.  But as you can see through their first five seasons (and this holds true for the most part over the rest of their careers,) although Duke Snider was a very fine ballplayer, he was never really in the same class as his fellow New York center fielders.

Would you have guessed that, through their first five seasons, shortstops Honus Wagner, Derek Jeter and Jim Fregosi were just about equally valuable?

They were each highly productive players from the beginning of their careers.  Wagner is probably one of the top ten players of all-time.  Jeter, of course, has enjoyed a Hall of Fame caliber career.  Fregosi, on the other hand, was pretty much done as a useful player at age 28, after which, of course, the Mets decided to trade away Nolan Ryan to obtain him.  Nice job, guys.

Once upon a time, Cesar Cedeno was a very fine baseball player.

When I was a kid, I thought Freddy Lynn was the greatest thing since Shake a Pudd’n.

Before the Red Sox had Jim Rice, there was Reggie Smith.  I am convinced that if they had kept Smith, he would have gone on into the Hall of Fame.  He was a better all around player than Rice, and he hit into fewer double plays.

O.K., so what’s up with Robin Yount and Roberto Clemente?  Their combined WAR for their first five years each adds up to just barely over 20.0.  Were they overrated?  How did they each manage to recover from such inauspicious debuts to go on to Hall of Fame careers?

Yount broke into the Majors at age 18, clearly before he was ready.  He spent the better part of the 1970’s just learning his craft.  But for the next five seasons, beginning in 1980, he accumulated another 34.7 WAR and won an MVP award.  Those were his age 24-28 seasons.  He won another MVP award in 1989, and finished his career with a HOF worthy 72.0 WAR.

As for Clemente, he, too, just wasn’t quite ready when he was brought up at age 20.  By age 26, however, he was ready to dominate, and dominate he did, winning a Gold Glove each of the next dozen seasons, winning an MVP award (and a World Series ring in ’71), and he finished his career with an outstanding 91 WAR.  Clearly, he was a late bloomer.

So, will Bryce Harper, only 19-years old, follow the career path of a Yount or a Clemente, or will he, alternatively, be the next Ty Cobb or Mickey Mantle?  A third possibility, which none of us hope for, is the Cesar Cedeno / Vada Pinson / Nomar Garciaparra career path.

Generally speaking, if he can accumulate at least 35 WAR in his first five years, he is probably on his way to a HOF career.  So let’s check back in after the 2016 season, and we’ll see how Harper’s career is progressing.

I’ll be waiting here, so don’t be late.

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