2004: A Look Back With Win Shares

As you no doubt know, here at THT we keep track of a ton of stats. One of the most interesting (and controversial) of those is Win Shares, which was invented by Bill James. We’ve got the final numbers in for 2004, and I’ve pulled some interesting nuggets out of the new data.

*****

The Cardinals were phenomenal this year, and their biggest strength was an incredible infield. How incredible? Well, the infield of Albert Pujols (40 Win Shares), Tony Womack (18), Scott Rolen (38), and Edgar Renteria (17) combined for a total of 113 Win Shares. That figure is tied for the sixth-highest of all time, and no team has topped it in 70 years. Here are the nine infields in baseball history with 110 or more combined Win Shares:

YEAR  TEAM   WS
1913   PHA  123  McInnis/Collins/Baker/Barry
1908   PIT  117  Storke/Abbaticchio/Leach/Wagner
1914   PHA  117  McInnis/Collins/Baker/Barry
1912   PHA  115  McInnis/Collins/Baker/Barry
1934   DET  115  Greenberg/Gehringer/Owen/Rogell
1975   CIN  113  Perez/Morgan/Concepcion/Rose
1982   MIL  113  Cooper/Gantner/Molitor/Yount
2004   STL  113  Pujols/Womack/Rolen/Renteria
1927   NYG  111  Terry/Hornsby/Lindstrom/Jackson

Okay, first of all, the famous “$100,000″ A’s infields were worth every penny. Secondly, what amazes me about the Cardinals is the fact that they ranked where they did despite Renteria having a subpar season by his own standards. Give Renteria the 25 WS he had last year, and the Redbirds would trail only the 1913 A’s.

Other outstanding infields this year were the Dodgers (96 WS, tied for 33rd all-time), the Rangers (92), and the Padres (91). The worst infields? Seattle (24), Kansas City (36), and Arizona (37). The average infield this season had 64 Win Shares, which is a little higher than the post-1900 average of 59.5.

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Baseball’s best outfield in 2004 belonged to the Giants, who combined for 83 Win Shares (53 of which came from Barry Bonds). The Yankees were the only other team over 70, with 76 Win Shares from Hideki Matsui (29), Bernie Williams (16), and Gary Sheffield (31). The Yankees also owned arguably the best 1-3 relievers this year, with Mariano Rivera (16), Tom Gordon (15), and Paul Quantrill (6) combining for 37 Win Shares. Also in the running are the Twins relievers, who had 36 Win Shares (for an ML-high 15% of the team’s value).

*****

The Twins were one of the most unbalanced teams in the game — they won 91 games, and according to Win Shares, the pitching staff accounted for 43.5% of that figure, the highest percentage in baseball. Along with their 1-3 relievers, the starting five had 71 Win Shares (the most in baseball), and the rest of their pitching staff had 31 (also the most in baseball). That’s 120 WS from the pitchers alone, which means that Twins non-pitchers were responsible for just 56.5% of the team’s victories.

Contrast that with the Reds, who had a 18%-to-82% pitchers-to-nonpitchers ratio (the ninth-lowest in baseball history). The average team this year got just over one-third of their Win Shares from pitchers. Since 1901, only two teams have had over 50% of their Win Shares from pitchers. Those teams? The 1998 Devil Rays and the 2003 Dodgers (both at 51%).

*****

The Mets bench had 45 Win Shares, or 21.1% of their total. That’s the fifth-highest figure in baseball history, behind the ’84 Reds (22.9%), the 1892 Baltimore Orioles, the ’59 Kansas City A’s, and the ’98 Marlins. On the other end of the spectrum, this year’s Orioles and A’s benches were both under 4.8% (a low percentage, but not incredibly so). The average 2004 team had 10.5% of its value from its bench, with the AL lower than the NL (as one would expect).

*****

The incomparable Barry Bonds, who had 53 Win Shares this year, now owns four of the top six seasons for a left fielder, all-time. The other two guys on the list are Babe Ruth, 1921 and Ted Williams, 1946. Speaking of Barry, he’s got 664 career WS, which ranks him third all-time behind Ruth (756) and Ty Cobb (722). He’s signed through 2006, so Cobb is a pretty easy target. Ruth will be harder; if Barry plays only two more years, they’ll both have to be historic to push him past Ruth.

Roger Clemens teased us with retirement in the off-season, then went out and put up 20 Win Shares (trailing only Randy Johnson in the NL). Clemens now has 398 career WS, more than any pitcher since Warren Spahn (and before Spahn, we have to go all the way back to Walter Johnson and Grover Cleveland Alexander).

*****

A few guys really solidified their Hall of Fame cases this season. Tom Glavine’s 15 Win Shares brought his career total up to 276, which is well into Hall of Fame territory for pitchers. Randy Johnson, with an NL-leading 25 WS, now has 286 for his career. Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro now rank 5th and 6th all-time, respectively, among first basemen. And depending on whether or not you count Harmon Killebrew as a 1B, Frank Thomas now ranks either 7th or 8th on that list.

Craig Biggio’s 18 Win Shares this year moved him past, among others, old-time infielder Bill Dahlen. Dahlen’s 394 Win Shares are the most for any eligible player not in the Hall of Fame. It’s more symbolic than anything that Biggio now has one more Win Share than Dahlen, but I hope he doesn’t take over the title “Greatest eligible non-Hall-of-Famer” once his name hits the ballot.

Most people would consider Sammy Sosa, owner of 574 home runs, an easy choice for the Hall of Fame. According to Win Shares, however, he’s just now entering the serious discussion. Sosa now has 309 career Win Shares, which would put him in the Hall of Fame gray area. He still trails (among others) Willie Randolph, Jose Cruz (Senior), Jack Clark, and Norm Cash — none of whom are getting much Hall attention. I’d vote for Sammy in a minute, and his total will keep going up, but at the moment Win Shares sees him as a borderline Hall of Famer.

Not far from Sosa on the Win Shares list is the newly-retired Edgar Martinez, who has 305 career Win Shares. While Sosa’s total will increase, Edgar’s won’t, and his 305 WS aren’t enough for the Hall. Even if you credit him with solid totals for 1988 and ’89 (when he was unjustly stuck in the minor leagues), Edgar would still only have around 330 WS, which would put him in the Dave Parker/Will Clark/Andre Dawson group. He wouldn’t disgrace the Hall of Fame, but neither is he an especially worthy candidate.

*****

I tried to resist getting into Hall of Fame discussions, but as you can see, I succumbed to the temptation. There’s just so much we can do with Win Shares, and I thought I’d share a little bit. I hope you all enjoy the playoffs … As for me, I’ll be rooting for a Dodgers-Red Sox World Series.

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