Michael Hoban, Ph.D / Hall of Fame

**Derek Jeter
and the Gold Glove
Best
Hitter of the Past Decade**

Can ARod Catch Honus?

Adapted from Fielder’s Choice:
Baseball’s Best Shortstops (Baseball
Concepts:2003)

By Michael Hoban, Ph.D.

A
new book has reinforced the belief that HonusWagner is the greatest all-around
shortstop (hitting and fielding) who ever played the game of baseball at
the major league level (Cal Ripken Jr. is a distant
second). Wagner played from
1897 to 1917 primarily for the Pittsburgh
Pirates. During the
20^{th} century, he was by far the best hitting shortstop of all
time. He won the batting title
in the National League eight times during his career and he is #13 among
the best hitters of all time. And
he is also #10 in fielding among those players who have played shortstop
in the major leagues for an extended period of time (he played 1887 games
at the position).

These
facts (among many others) are established in
Fielder’s Choice: Baseball’s
Best
Shortstops
by Michael Hoban, Ph.D., a professor of mathematics and a serious baseball
researcher. Dr. Hoban is a member
of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) and the author of
Baseball’s
Complete Players
(McFarland:
2000(.

One
of the more amazing facts of Wagner’s career is that he did not begin
to play shortstop on a full time basis until 1903 when he was 29 years of
age. Add to that the fact that
Honus had his best hitting season at the age of 34 in 1908 and his best defensive
season at the age of 38 in 1912 and you realize what a special talent he
was.

But
another very special talent has emerged at shortstop over the past seven
years in the person of Alex Rodriguez.
Already one of the best hitters in the game today (at any position),
ARod has improved his fielding to the point where he is one of the best fielding
shortstops playing at the present time. (He won his first Gold Glove in 2002 and deservedly so
since he was the best fielding shortstop in either
league.)

And
so it is natural for fans to wonder if Alex has any real chance to displace
Honus as the best all-around shortstop in baseball
history. This is particularly so since ARod was only 27 years of
age at the end of the 2002 season and had already played 1109 games at the
position.

The
new book,
Fielder’s
Choice, now gives us the tools to look at this question in
a new light and to come up with an answer based on a serious analysis of
the numbers. And it is somewhat
surprising to note that ARod does seem to have a shot (however difficult)
of challenging Honus for the title of the greatest shortstop
ever.

Let’s
look at hitting first. In the
book, Professor Hoban introduces a new metric called Batting Proficiency
(BP) for measuring a player’s hitting success for each
season. Obviously, the book
gives the full rationale and details of the metric, but here we will indicate
that BP essentially combines on-base percentage, slugging average and runs
created in a balanced manner (properly adjusted for season and
league). It then translates
the number into a “batting average type number” – so that
300 represents a very good hitting
season. According to the his
batting proficiency, Honus Wagner is the #13 most proficient hitter of all
time (Babe Ruth and Ted Williams are #1and 2,
respectively). And Honus (at
325) is the only shortstop among the 37 players in history to have a ten-season
BP average of better than 300.

Now,
what is an appropriate way to compare ARod and Honus as
hitters? As we just noted, Wagner
has a BPR (batting proficiency rating) of 325 for his ten best seasons (and
this is the thirteenth best in history).
The next two best hitting shortstops are Ernie Banks and Arky Vaughan
– both with a BPR of 280 based on their ten best
seasons. But, of course, Alex
has not played ten full seasons yet. In fact, he has not played even half the seasons that
Honus did. So it would appear
appropriate to look at ARod’s five best hitting seasons to date and
to see if he would have a chance to catch Wagner if he had at least five
more seasons at the same
rate.

Using
this process, we find that for his five best hitting seasons so far (out
of seven full seasons), Alex has an average BP of
322. Compare that to Nomar Garciparra’s 292 and Derek
Jeter’s 270.

If
we look at only the five best hitting seasons of the top hitting shortstops,
here is the average BP of each.

Honus
Wagner
342

Alex
Rodriguez
322

Ernie
Banks
308

Arky
Vaughan
306

Nomar
Garciaparra
292

So,
if we assume that Alex can keep up this same hitting pace for at least five
more seasons, he will be at 322 but will still fall short of Honus’
ten-year BP of 325. Now, that
is kind of interesting because ARod has had some fine hitting seasons so
far. Of course, it is possible
that he will improve his production over the next few years since it can
be argued that he is just now entering his prime as a player – but,
of course, there is no guarantee of
that.

Ok,
now what about fielding? In
the book, Professor Hoban introduces a system called the CDT (Career Defensive
Total) for determining who were baseball’s best defensive
shortstops. The system uses
the fielding numbers that the players have put into the books – as well
as two key comparative statistics: the fielding percentage and the range
factor compared to the league for each
season. Ozzie Smith emerges
as the #1 defensive shortstop of all time – not a great surprise to
too many followers of the game.
But the #2 player is a relative unknown to most
fans. Walter (Rabbit) Maranville
played shortstop from 1912 to 1935 with remarkable agility and
effectiveness. The fact that
Ozzie played towards the end of the century and the Rabbit towards the beginning
helps to illustrate how balanced the system really
is. Under the CDT system, Honus
Wagner emerges as the #10 best defensive shortstop in baseball history for
his career.

The
CDT system establishes a score of 800 as indicating that a shortstop had
a very good defensive season. If
a shortstop averages better than 800 for ten seasons, this indicates that
he is an outstanding defensive player.
Honus averaged 862 for his ten best fielding
seasons. And for his five best fielding seasons through 2002, Alex
Rodriguez had averaged 831. Which
means that if he can continue this performance for five more years he would
establish himself as one of the best defensive shortstops of all
time.

In
the book, Dr. Hoban compares the shortstops as all-around players by combining
their hitting and fielding accomplishments (their BP average plus 25% of
the CDT score). Following that
model, we can compare ARod and Honus as follows.

Honus
Wagner
325
+
216
=
541

Alex
Rodriguez
322
+
208
=
530

What
this means is that if ARod continues to hit and field at his current pace,
he will wind up as the second greatest all-around shortstop of all time –
behind Honus.

But
we have seen that Wagner did not have his best hitting season until age 34
and his best fielding season until age
38. And it would seem that Rodriguez
(at age 28) still has at least a few of his most productive years ahead of
him.

Therefore,
it seems reasonable to state that Alex Rodriguez has a good chance to displace
Honus Wagner as the greatest all-around shortstop of all
time.

*Michael Hoban, Ph.D is Professor Emeritus of mathematics at the City
University of N.Y. He has been
an avid baseball fan for over 60 years and has become a serious baseball
analyst for the past 10. He
is the author of two baseball books:
BASEBALL'S
COMPLETE PLAYERS (McFarland: 2000) and
FIELDER'S
CHOICE (Booklocker: 2003).
*

Eric Gartman (baseball business) - Rating the Top Baseball Players of all Time: The Extrapolation Method (updated to include 2006 season)

Bruce Baskin (Latin Baseball) - Maestros of Mexico: Hector Espino and others

Craig Tomarkin (the Guru) - Baseball's Thrity Greatest Foreign Players (who never played in the MLB)

John B. Holway (esteemed and widely published Negro Leagues expert) - My Hall of Fame Ballot Japanese in Cooperstown?