Michael Hoban, Ph.D
Part 1 -
The Win Shares System
How to Judge a Career
The 1800/255 Benchmark - Jackie Robinson
The 2400/180 Benchmark - Pedro Martinez and Sandy Koufax
The 1500/150 Benchmark - Mariano Rivera
How to Judge a Career – Total Win Shares is Not Enough
Michael Hoban, Ph.D.
The Win Shares system does a wonderful job of telling us how good a season a player had. For example, in 2006, Albert Pujols of the Cardinals contributed more to his team than any other National Leaguer. He had 39 win shares that year – 36.3 from the offensive side and 2.4 for his defense. Similarly, Derek Jeter of the Yankees contributed more to his team than any other American Leaguer. He had 33 total win shares – 28.0 for offense and 4.6 for defense. (Data from hardballtimes.com.) As a rule of thumb, 30 win shares for a position player is considered to represent an MVP (Most Valuable Player) type of season.
But how do you go from the examination of a player’s individual seasons to a conclusion about his career? This is the essential question that I wished to answer. And, of course, a simplistic answer might be: just add up the win shares from all his seasons and that will tell you. That is, if you know the total of a player’s career win shares, you can judge how good he was. But, I think it is not quite as easy as that.
It is true to say that the total career win shares may tell us a lot about a player. For example, any position player who has 400 career win shares has had a great career – no question about it. Likewise, for any pitcher who has 300 career win shares.
But the evaluation of many players’ careers is more complicated than that. Hall of Famer Dave Winfield had 415 career win shares while Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio had 387. Does that mean that Winfield had a better career than DiMaggio or that Dave belongs in the Hall of Fame but Joe does not? Of course not.
Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton had 319 career win shares while Hall of Famer Juan Marichal had 263. Does that mean that Sutton was a better pitcher than Marichal? I think that very few fans would reach that conclusion.
The point here is that total career win shares alone does not tell us enough about a player’s career.
And that is where the CAWS CAREER GAUGE adds to the value of the Win Shares system. The CCG suggests that a better (and fairer) way to judge a player’s career is to combine the win shares from a player’s ten best seasons plus an appropriate amount of credit for the player’s longevity.
And, as we shall see, the CCG suggests that Joe DiMaggio and Juan Marichal had better careers than Dave Winfield and Don Sutton, respectively.
You may say that this conclusion is a “no-brainer” – and you may be right. But how about this one?
Is there some way to demonstrate empirically that some players who had relatively short careers like Hank Greenberg (267 career win shares) and Sandy Koufax (194 career win shares) actually did post Hall of Fame numbers?
Well, the CCG has in fact created benchmarks to determine whether a position player or a pitcher had a short but great career and did post HOF numbers. And, as it turns out, Greenberg and Koufax are two of a very small group of players who did indeed post HOF numbers in a relatively brief period of time. As we will see later in this monograph, only eleven position players and eight pitchers qualify for this distinction.
So, Win Shares alone tells you how good a SEASON a player had.
And the CAWS CAREER GAUGE tells you how good a CAREER a player had.
The CAWS Formula
Here is the CAWS formula: CAWS = CV + .25(CWS – CV)
Where CAWS = Career Assessment/Win Shares
CV = Core Value = sum of win shares for a player’s ten best seasons
CWS = total career win shares
Why use the ten best seasons for the player’s core value? Often, we see the concept called “peak value” defined to be a player’s five best seasons or seven best seasons. But I am not talking about a player’s peak - since I use the player’s ten best seasons whether they come at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of his career - or a combination of these.
Since we are attempting to identify those players with the best careers, it seems that ten seasons is the least we should use as a player’s core value. Add to that the fact that the Hall of Fame requires that a player be active in the major leagues for at least ten seasons in order to be eligible for induction.
Why 25%? This is more of an arbitrary choice based on trial and error and on a mathematician’s feel for the game. I have been watching (and studying) baseball games for 73 years (since 1945 when I was ten years old). During that time, I have seen so many of the greats and near-greats of the game. I experimented with 10% and 50% as well and looked carefully at the results. I concluded that 25% of the other career win shares added to the player’s core value represented a better snapshot of a player’s career than any other choice.
Using this formula in relation to the questions posed earlier, we see that Joe DiMaggio had a CAWS score of 341 while Dave Winfield had a score of 298 (mainly because Joe’s core value was much higher than Dave’s, 325 versus 259). So, the Yankee Clipper had a better career.
And Juan Marichal’s CAWS score of 238 is superior to that of Don Sutton’s 220 (a core value of 229 versus 187). So, the Dominican Dandy had the better career.
The Deadball Era and the Modern Era
The CAWS CAREER GAUGE has examined only those players who played the majority of their careers since 1901. This time frame is divided into two parts:
1. The Deadball Era (1901 to 1919)
2. The Modern Era (1920 to the present)
A player is considered to be part of that era where the majority of his games was played.
For example, Cy Young (1890-1911) is a 19th century player and will not appear in this monograph at all. He pitched more games and got more wins before 1901 than he did after the turn of the century. He had 286 of his 511 wins before 1901 and he pitched in 505 of his 906 games before that date.
Ty Cobb (1905-1928) is considered to be a deadball era player since he played 15 of his 24 seasons in the deadball era.
Babe Ruth (1914-1935) is considered to have played in the modern era since he only played 6 of his 22 seasons in the deadball era.
The main focus of the CCG is the modern era although we will include deadball era players in some rankings.
The CCG has concluded that there are only 118 position players and 55 pitchers (a total of 173 players) who posted Hall of Fame numbers during the time frame from 1901 to 2017. A player must have completed ten major league seasons in order to be considered for the ranking.
1. Of the 118 position players, 102 played during the modern era and 16 during the deadball era.
2. Of the 55 pitchers, 43 played during the modern era and 12 during the deadball era.
Please see the lists at the end of this monograph for the names of the players.
The CAWS CAREER GAUGE employs a defensive adjustment in order to create an appropriate benchmark to determine whether a position player has Hall of Fame numbers. The benchmark for each position is as follows:
1. CAWS score of 280 for right fielders, left fielders, first basemen and designated hitters;
2. 270 for center fielders and third basemen;
3. 260 for second basemen and
4. 250 for shortstops and catchers.
Using these benchmarks, the CCG suggests that (as mentioned earlier) there have been 118 position players since 1901 who have posted Hall of Fame numbers during their playing career. They are distributed as follows:
First base = 16
Second base = 15
Third base = 11
Shortstop = 17
Left Field = 18
Center Field = 14
Right Field = 14
Catcher = 11
Designated hitter = 2.
A player is assigned (with very few exceptions) to the position where he played the most games during his career. So, for example, Paul Molitor and Frank Thomas are considered to be designated hitters because they played more games as a DH than at any one position.
One of the few exceptions to this rule, for example, is Ernie Banks. He played more games at first base (1259) than at shortstop (1125). But in everything I have read (and in the Hall of Fame), Banks is always referred to as a shortstop. So, I regard him as such.
This is particularly important in Banks’ case (CAWS score = 268). As a shortstop (benchmark = 250), the CAWS Gauge considers him to have Hall of Fame numbers but, as a first baseman (benchmark = 280), he would not have HOF numbers.
The Importance of the Core Value
There are probably many baseball fans who have never heard of Elmer Flick or Heinie Manush and yet both are in the Hall of Fame. And there are probably some fans who have heard of them but are inclined to dismiss them as “not deserving of being in the Hall.” But the truth of the matter is that one of them, at least, clearly has the career numbers to be in the Hall of Fame.
One important value of the CAWS CAREER GAUGE is to help us distinguish between career numbers that at first glance may appear to be similar. And these two players illustrate rather well the importance of looking adequately at a player’s core performance.
Elmer Flick was an outfielder who played in the big leagues for 13 seasons from 1898 to 1910. That means he had a relatively short career. During his career he accumulated 291 win shares - not an impressive number compared to the best players in the game. Joe DiMaggio, for example, also played for 13 seasons and had 387 career win shares.
Heinie Manush was also an outfielder who played for 17 seasons from 1923 to 1939. During that time he earned 285 win shares - only six less than Flick. But of course it took him seventeen seasons to do it. And that is the point behind the CV (core value). When judging the value of a player’s career, it is essential to see how he did during his ten best seasons.
CWS CV CAWS
Elmer Flick 291 280 283
Heinie Manush 285 236 248
During his ten best seasons, Elmer's core value (CV) was 280 which means that he averaged 28 win shares per season for those ten seasons - a very impressive feat. Any player who earns 28 win shares in a single season has had a very good season. A player who averages 28 win shares over his ten best seasons has had a great career. That CV of 280 puts him right up there with such players as Shoeless Joe Jackson and Al Kaline and ahead of such Hall of Famers as Dave Winfield and Willie Stargell.
Heinie Manush, however, is a different story. He had a CV of only 236 which would put him in the company of such players as Norm Cash and Dwight Evans - good, solid players but questionable as far as HOF credentials are concerned.
Elmer Flick has a CAWS score of 283 – putting him among the top 85 position players of the 20th century and making him an unquestioned Hall of Famer. Heinie Manush has a CAWS score of only 248 – suggesting that he does not have HOF numbers.