Win Shares Above Bench has been the metric of choice in this series of articles. When we used it to review the top 80 everyday players since 1900 (part one is here and part two is there), we found one egregious Hall of Fame omission by the name of Sherry Magee. We also discovered some decent Hall of Fame arguments for Will Clark, Reggie Smith and Bobby Grich. Hopefully, you learned a little something about each player, too. I sure did.
I don’t have the stamina to keep going through the list of top WSAB, but I did find some interesting rankings and oddities while writing the articles. In fact, I found myself being drawn to two players at a time, maybe because there are two sides to every story. Or so they say… So here’s a bunch of pairings I found intriguing, with extra comments inspired by Fangraphs and Baseball Reference, a baseball blogger’s two best friends.
Ozzie Smith (127 WSAB/180th) and Rabbit Maranville (96 WSAB/310th): Both Smith and Maranville (otherwise known as the Oz and the Rabbit) are in the Hall of Fame; both were voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Both made it on their reputation for fielding excellence.
Maranville has the most fielding Win Shares (144) in baseball history (he also played a bazillion years), and Ozzie is fourth with 139. So Win Shares confirms their sterling reputations. But is that enough to merit inclusion into the Hall? According to their WSAB rankings, the answer appears to be no.
Unfortunately, fielding Win Shares are probably the shakiest part of the Win Share system, and Rabbit’s and Ozzie’s totals deserve a second look. And thanks to Chris Dial, we can do that. Using previous zone ratings, Chris posted a pretty firm estimate that Ozzie saved about 150 runs compared to the average shortstop in the second half of his career. I used Chris’ data for an entry in my Baseball Graphs blog that compared that total to his fielding Win Shares. I found that fielding Win Shares came up short in one particular year.
Now, if I apply the same logic to Ozzie’s career totals (assuming he saved around 300 runs above average in his career) as in that post, I estimate that Ozzie’s fielding Win Shares total is about 44 Win Shares too low. If you were to add those 44 Shares to his WSAB total of 127, the resulting 171 would place him 80th on our list, ahead of Gary Carter. So Smith does appear to have a legitimate Hall of Fame case.
It’s hard to envision the same logic legitimizing Rabbit Maranville’s inclusion. However, it’s also hard to imagine a player with Maranville’s batting stats finishing 2nd and 3rd in MVP voting in two consecutive years, which he did (in 1913 and 1914). Anybody around here ever see the guy play?
Sam (143 WSAB/133rd) and Jim Rice (117/220th): They have the same last name, but little else in common. Sam Rice was a singles-hitting batting machine in the 1920s, a throwback to the previous decade. He was also remarkably consistent, posting the following WSAB totals in consecutive years: 11, 12, 8, 12, 12, 12, 11. He didn’t break into the majors until he was 25, but played until the age of 44.
Jim Rice was a slugger who put up three fantastic years from 1977 to 1979, winning the MVP in 1978 (when he led the league with 23 WSAB). He broke into the majors as a ballyhooed 22-year-old phenom and didn’t disappoint.
Jim played left field but he wasn’t the slickest fielder in the majors. Sam played right field pretty well. Sam is in the Hall of Fame; Jim isn’t.
Now, Sam Rice doesn’t really belong in the Hall. He was one of those biazrro Veteran’s Committee choice. But you can make a decent Hall case for Jim Rice. In fact, he was listed on 63% of ballots this year. Personally, I’m not on that bandwagon, because Rice’s stats received a big boost from Fenway Park. You can’t make a Hall of Fame case for Jim based on his Win Shares; Win Shares likes Sam more.
Lou Whitaker (169 WSAB/81st) and Alan Trammell (145 WSAB/126th): Sweet Lou Whitaker just missed being listed in my previous article. He’s actually tied with Gary Carter for 80th place in all-time WSAB. Yet he received only 15 votes the one year he was eligible for the Hall. Trammell remains in the running for the Hall, but it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll make it.
What’s the difference between the two? 1987. Trammell had 23 WSAB that year and should have won the MVP. Whitaker racked up 7 WSAB. In fact, Whitaker never had a WSAB total over 16 in any one year. He ranks 286th in All Star Win Shares while Trammell ranks 119th.
Dwight (152 WSAB/112th) and Darrell (164 WSAB/89th) Evans: I’m a big Dwight Evans fan. Like Bobby Grich or Joe Rudi (60 WSAB/569th), he was a joy to watch because he played the game just right. For instance, look at how his walk rate rose during his major league years (graph on the right).
His other brother Darrell has a slightly higher WSAB total. Darrell was a walking machine and he has more fielding Win Shares than Dwight (a surprise to me), which is how he managed to out-WSAB Dwight. But the Evans dudes were two fine players, underappreciated in their day. Dwight received enough Hall of Fame votes to stay on the ballot for three years, but Darrell was only on for one (eight votes).
Ernie Banks (141 WSAB/142nd) and Luis Aparicio (88 WSAB/358th): 1959 was the year of the shortstop in Chicago. One shortstop batted .304/.374/.596 with 45 home runs (and two stolen bases) and won the MVP. The other Chicago shortstop batted .257/.316/.332 with six home runs and 56 stolen bases and came in second in MVP voting.
Banks and Aparicio were two great shortstops, though they represented two extremes. Banks was a prototypical slugger of the 1950s; the only difference was that he could play some short. Unfortunately, he lost his edge when he turned 31, moved to first base and was an average hitter for the rest of his long career.
Aparicio was a new breed: a slick fielder who stole bases. He was the first of a slew of speedsters who would change the game—Maury Wills, Lou Brock, Campy Campaneris—who would bring speed to a new level as a tactical weapon. There was no way he deserved so many MVP votes in 1959, and his Hall of Fame election is certainly questionable. But both men are in the Hall for the types of people they were, and what they represented on the field, as well as their playing contributions.
Larry Walker (164 WSAB/91st) and Jeff Kent (162 WSAB/92nd): Larry Walker has retired and Jeff Kent soon will. Both men are currently ranked about 90th in WSAB, and both will present intriguing Hall of Fame possibilities.
Kent has played the more valuable position, second base, but not nearly as well as Walker played right field. As the graph shows, Kent was a late bloomer, becoming an All Star at the age of 30. If he had played on that level in his 20s, he would be a no-brainer Hall of Famer.
Larry Walker was also a tremendous player who will probably be discounted because of where he played: his first six years in Montreal and his peak years in Denver. It’s worth remembering that, in 1997 (his MVP year), his OPS was actually higher on the road than at home. Walker was a great batter, fielder and baserunner and he deserves strong consideration by the BBWAA.
Pedro Guerrero (133 WSAB/170th) and Steve Garvey (105 WSAB/264th): Pick your least favorite trend of the 1970s: disco or the MVP voting for Steve Garvey. Steve Garvey was in the top 14 in MVP voting seven consecutive years, and actually won it in 1974. 1974, when he hit 21 home runs and had the ninth-highest WSAB count in the league. And that was his best year. These were probably the years that Bill James, Pete Palmer and John Thorn really began to see red and sabermetrics was born.
Contrast Garvey’s career with Pete Guerrero’s, who played first and third for the Dodgers in the following decade. Over their careers, Guerrero and Garvey received about the same number of MVP votes. But Garvey won one while Guerrero didn’t, even though Guerrero was a much better hitter. In fact, let me show you the difference in their Runs Created per 27 outs:
If Guerrero’s career hadn’t started late and ended early, you’d still be hearing a lot more about the guy.
Jimmy Wynn (158 WSAB/97th) and Cesar Cedeno (146 WSAB/124th): Now here are two guys you don’t hear much about, yet they both rank among the top 160 everyday players since 1900. The Toy Cannon wasn’t a high-average hitter, but he walked a lot (15% of plate appearances) and hit a lot of home runs despite playing in the Astrodome. And here’s something I didn’t know: he hit slightly worse against left-handed pitchers but walked more often with a lefty on the mound. Pretty interesting profile for a right-handed batter.
Throughout the 1970s, Cedeno was a very, very good hitter, averaging 16 WSAB over six straight years from 1972 through 1977. From 1972 to 1975, he might have been the best player in the NL outside of Cincinnati. In fact, he seemed to rise to the occasion when the Astros played the Reds, batting .328/.397/.558 in 748 plate appearances against them.
Orlando Cepeda (150 WSAB/116th) and Tony Perez (149 WSAB/117th): Both Cepeda and Perez are in the Hall of Fame, and their career WSAB figures are decent enough for consideration. Cepeda had that great 1967, when he won the MVP and played for the World Series champ.
Perez never won an MVP (his best year was 1970, when he finished 3rd in voting) but he sure played on a lot of World Series champions. He also played a long time (until he was 44) and had a reputation as an RBI man.
Of course, there are two ways to get a lot of RBIs: come to bat with lots of men on base, and/or bat particularly well with men on base. In 31% of his plate appearances, Perez had men in scoring position. The league average in 1975 (for example) was 24%. At the same time, he batted .265 with the bases empty and .294 with men on base (a clutch performance that is captured by Win Shares).
So although Perez’s RBI totals were boosted by the Big Red Machine, his reputation as a clutch hitter was deserved and a factor in Cincinnati’s success.
Robinson and Doby would have been inducted into the Hall of Fame for their pioneering roles, of course, but they were also mighty fine ballplayers. Robinson actually ranks 55th all-time in All Star Win Shares (see below). If he had broken into the majors around the age of 22 instead of 28, his career ranking would be comparable to DiMaggio’s. There was nothing Jackie Robinson couldn’t do on a ballfield.
Larry Doby did reach the majors at a young age (23) and managed to put together a fine career, too. That graph is Doby’s slugging percentage, which he maintained at a very consistent .480 to .520 range for many years. Doby is 72nd in All Star Win Shares.
Ralph Kiner (129 WSAB/177th) and Dave Kingman (57 WSAB/615th): Kiner was the stereotypical slugger of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Kingman was something else altogether. Both hit a lot of home runs, but Kiner also walked. And, as you can see in the graph, he didn’t strike out nearly as much as Kingman.
Bernie Williams (148 WSAB/119th) and Jim Edmonds (155 WSAB/103rd): I’ve seen Hall of Fame campaigns for both Williams and Edmonds, and their WSAB rankings qualify them for serious consideration. It will be interesting to see how that shakes out.
Ken Singleton (145 WSAB/127th) and Andre Dawson (143 WSAB/134th) and Dave Parker (141 WSAB/143rd) and Kirby Puckett (139/146th): On the other hand, what truly distinguishes them from these guys, one of whom is in the Hall of Fame? And don’t forget Dale Murphy (127 WSAB/181st).
Bill Mazeroski (62 WSAB/551st) and Doug Flynn (-28/7,903rd): Maz is in the Hall of Fame but, as James points out in the Win Shares book, his double play stats are almost certainly inflated because he played behind a ground ball staff that didn’t strike out a lot of batters. Still, he has more fielding Win Shares than any other second baseman (115).
Flynn was another fine fielder at second base. But his bat, well, wasn’t so hot. In fact, he is the worst player in major league history, according to WSAB. Yes, he’s 7,903rd.
Next week: Pitching WSAB.
References & Resources
Win Shares Above Bench is calculated by first calculating the “expected” Win Shares for a player (that is, the number of Win Shares an average player would get, based on that specific player’s playing time) and then multiplying the result by 75%. In other words, a bench player is considered to be about 75% of average and every Win Share above that level is a Win Share Above Bench.
Other metrics we considered are Win Shares Above Average (in which the expected Win Shares are multiplied by one) and All Star Win Shares. For All Star Win Shares, we multiply a player’s expected Win Shares by 150% and count each Win Share above that level. Also, we don’t count any Win Shares below 150% (as we do in WSAB and WSAA) so players are deducted Shares for average seasons, early retirement or injury.