Michael Hoban, Ph.D
This material is adapted from the book, BASEBALLS BEST: The TRUE Hall of Famers by Michael Hoban, Ph.D. (booklocker.com, June 2007).
The NEWS Hall of Fame Monitor
Even when you have found a system like Win Shares which seems to be completely fair and unbiased in judging the value of a player for each season, there are still some questions to answer as to how to use the system most effectively when you are trying to decide which players had the best careers. This is, of course, related to such questions as Who belongs in the Hall of Fame?
Perhaps the most important question in this regard is how to judge a players longevity as compared to his core performance (his best seasons). How, for example, do you compare a player like Al Kaline, who played for twenty-two years to a player like Joe DiMaggio, who played for only thirteen? Both were great players and both are in the Hall of Fame. During his career, Kaline accumulated 443 total win shares compared to 387 for DiMaggio. But, do you think that anyone would be inclined to claim that Kaline was a better player than DiMaggio? I do not think so. My point is that one must look at something other than total career win shares in order to better distinguish among the truly great players.
It is my contention that it is helpful to examine a player's ten best seasons (what I am calling his core value) in order to get a better idea of how good he really is (or was). But, at the same time, one must give some appropriate credit to a player's career achievements. It is this balancing of career accomplishments and core value that will tell us who had the best careers of all time.
During his ten best seasons, Joe DiMaggio accumulated 325 win shares meaning that he averaged 32.5 win shares per season for those ten seasons a truly impressive achievement. As we saw above, only nine players in the major leagues (two in the American League and seven in the National League) managed to earn 30 win shares in 2006. Imagine how difficult it is to average over 30 win shares for your ten best seasons. Al Kaline earned 268 win shares over his ten best seasons. This represents a very good core but nowhere near DiMaggios accomplishment. And so we can begin to see that Joe D was a substantially better player.
Core Value and Non-traditional Evaluative Win Shares (NEWS)
The Hall of Fame requires that a player must have at least ten years of major league service to be considered for induction into the Hall. And, if we are going to speak of a player's "core value for the purpose of evaluating his career, then it seems appropriate to use this "ten year" measure. That is, I will define a player's core value (CV) as the sum of the win shares that he earned during his ten best seasons.
CV (Core Value) = sum of win shares for a player's ten best seasons.
This core value tells us a great deal about the true value of a players career.
Why 10 Seasons?
No doubt there will be those who will advocate looking at a players peak value and suggest that three or five or seven seasons should be used to define a players peak years. And, of course, doing that could be helpful as well. But that is why I have coined the term core value so as not to confuse this concept with that of a players peak years. Different players will have a different number of peak years. But I am suggesting that regardless of how many peak years a player may have had the players ten best seasons may be considered the core of his career. It is my belief that if we are looking for the players with the absolute best careers (befitting those in the Hall of Fame), then we want to make our criteria as tough as is reasonable. And considering a players core value to be his ten best seasons seems to do that. (And, as noted earlier, the Hall of Fame requires ten seasons in the major leagues for consideration.)
Now, how will we give adequate credit for a player's total career win shares? Consider the following. The CV already includes at least 55% of a player's career win shares for all of the great position players - even those with the longest careers. For example, Hank Aaron played for twenty-three seasons and accumulated 643 career win shares. During his ten best seasons, he earned 356 win shares. This represents 55% of his total win shares. In fact, this is one of the lowest CV percentages for any of the truly great position players. So, this means that if we add an additional 25% of the career win shares not already included in the CV, then it would seem that we are certainly giving appropriate recognition to those players who had exceptionally long careers.
Therefore, I will define Non-traditional Evaluative Win Shares (NEWS) as follows:
NEWS (Non-traditional Evaluative Win Shares) = CV + .25( CWS CV)
(where CWS means total career win shares)
One additional note would seem to be appropriate at this point. There are certain players such as Sandy Koufax and Jackie Robinson who had brief but outstanding careers. We will see that defining core value in this way does not automatically put these players at a disadvantage. It is simply necessary to include within the NEWS HOF Monitor some logical way of assessing these short but great careers. Actually, I will show that both of these players have HOF numbers.
I should point out at this time that throughout this book I will be dealing with those players who played the majority of their seasons in the major leagues during the 20th century that is, from 1901 to the present. I will not examine any 19th century players since the game was so different at that time.
NEWS is all about using the Win Shares system in trying to create an appropriate balance between CWS (career win shares) and CV (core value) in order to judge who had the best baseball careers. In trying to create this balance, I wanted to give a fair value to a players longevity so that his core value (ten best seasons) did not overwhelm his career numbers. This required me to make an educated judgment call.
In examining the numbers, I made the decision that the NEWS should represent at least two-thirds of a players career win shares. The 25% evolved from this decision. That is, every players NEWS score represents at least 67% of his career win shares. For most players, it represents a much higher percentage than that. I should add that I did experiment with using other percentages such as 15% and 33%. For example, if we use 33% in the formula instead of 25%, a few relatively small changes would take place obviously benefitting those players like Hank Aaron and Pete Rose who had particularly long careers. But, after much deliberation, I finally decided that 25% of the non-core win shares seemed to address the value of a players longevity in the fairest manner strictly a judgment call.
Players with longer careers and more career win shares obviously end up with a smaller percentage of their win shares reflected in their NEWS score. And the opposite is true for players who had shorter but still outstanding careers. But, of course, that is one of the points behind NEWS to give appropriate credit to a players core performance (his ten best years).
In creating a HOF monitor using Win Shares, it is important to note that it is NOT the players with the longest careers who are sometimes at a disadvantage for the Hall of Fame but rather those with a somewhat shorter career. For example, every player who has 400 career win shares and who has been eligible has been elected to the Hall of Fame. Players like Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg and Joe Jackson (all with shorter careers) had much better careers than their career win shares might suggest. Consider the following examples which show the NEWS score divided by career win shares for selected Hall of Famers (and Joe Jackson).
Hank Aaron 67% Lou Gehrig 84%
Babe Ruth 71% Joe DiMaggio 88%
Honus Wagner 73% Hank Greenberg 99%
George Brett 76% Joe Jackson 99%
Rogers Hornsby 82% Ralph Kiner 100%
Johnny Bench 83% Jackie Robinson 100%
Hank Aaron had 643 career win shares compared to 387 for Joe DiMaggio because Hank played for many more seasons. This does not really give a fair picture of how good each player really was. Aarons NEWS score of 428 compared to Joes score of 341 is a much better indicator of their relative careers. Hank had the better career but not by as much as the career win shares might suggest.
Arky Vaughan and Brooks Robinson
Arky Vaughan and Brooks Robinson were both outstanding infielders who are in the Hall of Fame. The numbers that they accumulated during their careers illustrate rather well what the NEWS is designed to demonstrate. Both of these players accumulated 356 win shares during their careers. But that does not mean that their careers were similar in any way. Vaughan played for fourteen seasons and Robinson for twenty-three. Arkys core value was 308 meaning that he averaged almost 31 win shares for his ten best seasons a truly great performance. Brooks CV was 247 indicating that he averaged almost 25 win shares for his ten best a very good career but not nearly as good as Vaughan. Arkys NEWS score of 320 places him among the top 35 position players of the 20th century. Brooks score of 274 is respectable but cannot compare to that of Vaughan.
Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter
Here is an example to illustrate the value of NEWS for active players. At the end of the 2006 season, Alex Rodriguez had 340 career win shares, a core value of 317 and a NEWS score of 323. This would place him just ahead of Arky Vaughan and among the top 35 position players of the 20th century indicating that he already has clear HOF numbers. On the other hand, Derek Jeter had 277 career win shares, a core value of 258 and a NEWS score of 263. As we will see, a NEWS score of 280 represents clear HOF numbers. This means that if Jeter does not improve his core value (which he can do), he will need 344 career win shares to reach a NEWS score of 280. Obviously, he can do this with a few more solid seasons. And, at this point, we can say that he will almost certainly establish indisputable credentials for the Hall of Fame.
As an example of how the NEWS HOF Monitor works, Here are two lists which show the 25 position players and the 25 starting pitchers who have had the best careers during the 20th century based on their on-field performance (hitting, fielding and pitching). All numbers are current through the end of the 2006 season.
CWS = career Win Shares
CV = core value
NEWS = career value.
1. Babe Ruth (1914-1935) 756 460 534
2. Ty Cobb (1905-1928) 722 419 495
3. Barry Bonds (1986- ) 686 427 492
4. Honus Wagner (1897-1917) 655 422 480
5. Willie Mays (1951-1973) 642 389 452
6. Tris Speaker (1907-1928) 630 388 449
7. Mickey Mantle (1951-1968) 565 399 441
8. Stan Musial (1941-1963) 604 378 435
9. Ted Williams (1939-1960) 555 394 434
10. Hank Aaron (1954-1976) 643 356 428
11. Eddie Collins (1906-1930) 574 376 426
12. Rogers Hornsby (1915-1937) 502 381 411
13. Lou Gehrig (1923-1939) 489 384 410
14. Joe Morgan (1963-1984) 512 341 384
15. Mel Ott (1926-1947) 528 335 383
16. Nap Lajoie (1896-1916) 496 334 375
17. Mike Schmidt (1972-1989) 467 338 370
18. Frank Robinson (1956-1976) 519 316 367
19. Pete Rose (1963-1986) 547 307 367
20. Rickey Henderson (1979-2003) 535 308 365
21. Eddie Mathews (1952-1968) 450 333 362
22. Jimmie Foxx (1925-1945) 435 325 353
23. Joe DiMaggio (1936-1951) 387 325 341
24. Sam Crawford (1899-1917) 446 303 339
25. Carl Yastrzemski (1961-1983) 488 286 337
The only players on the list who are not in the Hall of Fame are Barry Bonds, Pete Rose and Rickey Henderson.
Take a close look at the names on the list. Most of them will draw very little argument from fans of the game - but a few of them might. Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie and Sam Crawford (all of whom played early in the 20th century) are probably not as well known as most others on the list. And the presence of Pete Rose and Rickey Henderson so high on the list may raise some eyebrows. Just keep in mind for the present that this list is about as objective a list as is possible using the numbers that the players put together during their careers. And it is based on a careful combination of a players core value (10 best seasons) balanced against career longevity.
Note the large gap in points (26) between Lou Gehrig at #13 and Joe Morgan at #14. This would seem to imply that there is a SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE between the top thirteen players on the list and the bottom twelve. I am inclined to say that this establishes that there have been only thirteen megastars among the position players of the 20th century.
Barry Bonds has a good chance to pass Ty Cobb as the #2 position player of all time if he has a good year in 2007. But it appears unlikely that he will be able to overtake the Babe as the greatest position player of all time. (I should note that Ruths CWS of 756 includes 102 win shares as a pitcher.)
Joe DiMaggio is the only player on the list with less than 400 career win shares. I think this indicates rather well the impact he had in a relatively brief career.
Finally, note the relative balance in the group: twelve played primarily before 1950, and eleven played in the second half of the century while Ted Williams and Stan Musial essentially bridged the mid-century mark. And note that Musial and Williams at 435 and 434 NEWS respectively are in a virtual dead-heat.
Here is the list of the 25 starting pitchers who had the best careers during the 20th century based strictly on the numbers they put together in the major leagues.
CWS CV NEWS
1. Walter Johnson (1907-1927) 560 380 425
2. Pete Alexander (1911-1930) 476 331 367
3. Christy Mathewson (1900-1916) 426 335 358
4. Lefty Grove (1925-1941) 391 301 324
5. Roger Clemens (1984- ) 432 260 303
6. Warren Spahn (1942-1965) 412 259 297
7. Tom Seaver (1967-1986) 388 255 288
8. Eddie Plank (1901-1917) 361 259 285
9. Greg Maddux (1986- ) 383 246 280
10. Gaylord Perry (1962-1983) 369 243 275
11. Bob Gibson (1959-1975) 317 258 273
12. Mordecai Brown (1903-1916) 296 264 272
13. Steve Carlton (1965-1988) 366 240 272
14. Phil Niekro (1964-1987) 374 235 270
15. Joe McGinnity (1899-1908) 269 269 269
16. Robin Roberts (1948-1966) 339 246 269
17. Jim Palmer (1965-1984) 312 252 267
18. Vic Willis (1898-1910) 293 257 266
19. Carl Hubbell (1928-1943) 305 248 262
20. Ed Walsh (1904-1917) 265 259 261
21. Fergie Jenkins (1965-1983) 323 233 256
22. Bob Feller (1936-1956) 292 239 252
23. Randy Johnson (1988- ) 305 230 249
24. Bert Blyleven (1970-1992) 339 218 248
25. Wilbur Cooper (1912-1926) 266 239 246
Every one of these pitchers is in the Hall of Fame except the three active pitchers (Clemens, Maddux and Johnson) and the last two: Bert Blyleven and Wilbur Cooper.
I should point out that Cy Young (1890-1911) is not included on this list because he spent about half of his career pitching in the 19th century. His NEWS score would have been at the top of the list.
Once again, serious fans will recognize most of the pitchers on this list. But how many will be familiar with Eddie Plank, Joe McGinnity, Mordecai Brown, Vic Willis and Ed Walsh even though they are all in the Hall of Fame? And what are Bert Blyleven and Wilbur Cooper, non-Hall of Famers, doing on this list? One of the real rewards in looking at the numbers objectively is that sometimes we do come up with a surprise or two. I should point out that Bert Blyleven is the only pitcher who has accumulated 300 career win shares (and has been eligible for election to the Hall) who is not in the Hall of Fame.
Note the balance in this list as well. Twelve of these pitchers played the bulk of their careers before 1950 and twelve toiled mainly in the second half of the century while Warren Spahn bridged the two halves of the century. Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson were still active during the 2006 season and so could improve on their standing if they play in 2007.
In subsequent chapters, I will use the NEWS concept to examine the career numbers of all of the great players (including a number of current players). In doing so, I will comment on those players who should be in the Hall of Fame as well as on those who may not deserve to be there.
Michael Hoban, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus (mathematics) of the City University of New York. Professor Hoban has been a baseball fan for over 60 years and a serious baseball analyst for the past ten years (he is a member of SABR - Society for American Baseball Research). He has previously written two books devoted to the task of ranking players.
1. Baseballs Complete Players (McFarland: 2000) was an attempt to put the numbers together (both offensive and defensive) to see who were baseballs best all-around players at each position.
2. Fielders Choice: Baseballs Best Shortstops (Booklocker: 2003) was an attempt to rank the shortstops by defensive skills and then by overall excellence.