Michael Hoban, Ph.D
The Win Shares System
Michael Hoban, Ph.D.
“If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton
This monograph seeks to identify those major league baseball players who achieved “Hall of Fame numbers” during their playing careers. It represents more than fifteen years of research on the part of a member of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) – who is also Professor Emeritus (mathematics) of the City University of NY and a baseball fan for more than seventy (70) years.
I am the author of five books on baseball and have been quoted in the NEW YORK TIMES as an “expert” on the Hall of Fame (see the end of this introduction).
Almost one- third of the players in the Baseball Hall of Fame do not have the numbers to be there.
To be more precise, 32% of the major league Hall of Fame players (who played since 1901) do not have HOF numbers according to their performance records – on the field in the regular season.
This is the conclusion of the CAWS CAREER GAUGE (CCG) – based on the Win Shares system developed by baseball guru Bill James (the “giant” referred to above).
In other words, almost one-third of all the major leaguers who have been elected to the Hall (and who played since 1901) do not have the career numbers to justify their being in baseball’s shrine.
Clearly, there is some disagreement as to what should be the exact credentials that a player should possess in order to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
According to the guidelines set forth for the BBWAA election process, “Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
This statement clearly suggests that the player’s record and playing ability are the two primary considerations for election to the Hall. It then mentions “integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team” as additional points to be considered.
I would suggest then that a certain minimum level of career numbers should be present before any player is considered for enshrinement at Cooperstown (as a player).
And the CAWS CAREER GAUGE tells us what those Hall of Fame numbers should be.
I think it is fair to say that there are some questionable players enshrined in Cooperstown at the present time. And I am referring here only to the major league players who have been inducted and to the numbers they put into the record books. (I am not concerned here with managers, umpires, executives, etc.)
After the BBWAA elections of 2018, by my count, there were exactly two hundred (200) major league players in the Hall of Fame - whose careers took place primarily from 1901 to the present. Of these, one hundred thirty-nine (139) were position players and sixty-one (61) were pitchers.
The CAWS GAUGE suggests that sixty-three (63) of these players (32%) do NOT have the career numbers to justify their being in the Hall (47 position players and 16 pitchers).
One word of caution.
I do think that there are a few players in Cooperstown who do not have the minimum numbers (because of extenuating circumstances) but who do deserve to be there anyway. One such player is Roy Campanella. In his early years, he was prevented from playing in the major leagues by the color barrier. And then his career was halted prematurely by an auto accident. But in the ten years that he was the catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers (1948-1957) he was the National League MVP on three occasions and clearly demonstrated Hall of Fame performance on the field. He was a truly great player.
I am suggesting that the player’s record on the field should be the primary consideration for induction into the Hall of Fame. Only after it has been determined that the player’s record is “Hall-worthy” would the other points come into play.
So, using Pete Rose as an example, I would say that there is no question that he has Hall of Fame numbers based on his playing career. Unfortunately, his gambling habits called into question his integrity and sportsmanship – and he has been banned from consideration for this reason. Similarly, the “steroids issue” has called into question the candidacy of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens (and a number of others) on the grounds of integrity and sportsmanship.
The point, of course, is that integrity and sportsmanship do have a role to play – but only after it has been determined that the player has career Hall of Fame numbers.
This monograph has only one goal. It is meant to serve as a handy resource for any fan who wishes to address the question: Does John Doe have the career numbers to justify consideration for the Hall of Fame? That is, does a certain major league player (either a position player or a pitcher) have the playing credentials to deserve induction into the sport’s ultimate shrine in Cooperstown, NY?
It is my belief that no major league player should be in the Hall unless his performance on the field has earned him the right to be there. In other words, the fact that he may have been a “great sportsman” or an “outstanding role model” may be important in some other context. But if he does not have the career numbers to justify his induction into the Hall (with some few exceptions), then he should not be there. The numbers should be the #1 consideration.
As with all baseball records, this monograph looks only at a player’s numbers posted during the regular season. No post-season results are considered (in an effort to keep the playing field leveled for all). Of course, this affects some players more than others. We will see, for example, that Hall of Famer Whitey Ford is judged to NOT have Hall of Fame numbers during the regular season. Some fans will argue that if his post-season results were included, this judgment would change. And that may very well be true. But we will focus on the question: Which players posted HOF numbers based exclusively on their regular-season on-field performance alone?
WIN SHARES Changed the Player Assessment Landscape
In 2002, baseball guru Bill James changed the baseball landscape forever with the publication of his book, WIN SHARES. We will have more to say about this later in this monograph but it is important to mention this here at this time.
From the point of view of this author (a mathematician), the concept of Win Shares made it possible (for the first time) to fairly assess a player’s entire career – including hitting, fielding and pitching. That is why it is now possible to compare players much more efficiently than in the past. And the “old ways” of judging whether a player belongs in the Hall of Fame are all but obsolete.
This monograph analyses the numbers using the concept of the CAWS CAREER GAUGE (CAWS is an acronym for Career Assessment/Win Shares). The CAWS Gauge is based on Bill James’ Win Shares system – the most comprehensive metric available for determining a player’s total contribution to his team for each season.
The CCG is intended to be used as a helpful tool. I am not suggesting that it is the ultimate measure or that it is “better than” any other metric. What I am suggesting is that it can be useful as one tool in an effort to answer the question: Did John Doe post Hall of Fame numbers during his career?
Some Conclusions from the CAWS CAREER GAUGE
1. At the end of the 2017 season, there were 118 position players and 55 pitchers (173 players) who had achieved Hall of Fame numbers in the major leagues since 1901.
2. Of these players, 25 position players (22 from the modern era and 3 from the deadball era) are not yet in the Hall of Fame. Likewise, 10 pitchers (7 from the modern era and 3 from the deadball era) are not yet in Cooperstown. Of course, a number of these players (like Derek Jeter) have not yet been eligible.
3. A CAWS career score of 280 signifies that a position player (at any position) posted HOF numbers during his career. There are 90 players who have done this since 1901. In addition, as we will see, there are 28 other position players who have also posted HOF numbers during this time frame.
4. A CAWS career score of 230 signifies that a pitcher definitely posted HOF numbers during his career. There are 42 pitchers who have done this since 1901. In addition, there are 13 other pitchers who have also posted HOF numbers during this time frame.
Some of the analysis in this monograph has appeared previously on the web at seamheads.com.
The win shares numbers found in this book are taken from Bill James’ book, WIN SHARES and the various editions of THE BILL JAMES HANDBOOK.
The Hall of Famers discussed in this monograph are those who have been elected through the 2018 Hall of Fame elections.
When I first began to work on the CAWS CAREER GAUGE, I sent an early article to Bill James (the creator of Win Shares) for his consideration. Mr. James responded to the article as follows (12/2/2004):
“Mike-- I read and enjoyed the article, and I appreciate your using Win Shares for the purpose for which it was intended. . .thanks. … Bill”
Thus encouraged, I have spent the past fourteen years (since my retirement from teaching) developing and refining the CAWS approach.
1. I have been a member of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) and involved in baseball analysis since 1998. I am the author of five books on baseball dealing with using the players’ numbers to analyze their careers. My latest book is DEFINING GREATNESS: A Hall of Fame Handbook (Booklocker, 2012).
2. On the CBS NEW YORK website on January 12, 2011, writer Gabe Costa wrote an article entitled BY THE NUMBERS: SOME PIONEERS IN SABERMETRICS that I am considered to be a “pioneer in sabermetrics.” In the article, he wrote about my CAWS CAREER GAUGE in relation to pitcher Bert Blyleven’s election the the Hall of Fame. He also said the following: “(John) Thorn, (Pete) Palmer, (Bill) James and (Mike) Hoban are just a few of the recent “pioneers” with regard to sabermetrics. They, and many others, have only enhanced the appreciation of the game of baseball; a gripping, addictive, intoxicating, wonderful game!”
3. In the NEW YORK TIMES sports section of November 19, 2011, writer Richard Sandomir referred to my CAWS CAREER GAUGE when writing about Hall of Fame qualifications. In an article about the Yankees’ Allie Reynolds being on the Veterans Committee Hall of Fame ballot at that time, Sandomir interviewed Rob Neyer and myself and wrote as follows: “Dr. Michael Hoban, a professor emeritus of mathematics at City University of New York, said that Reynolds’s career “wasn’t long enough, and he simply didn’t contribute enough in those years.” Hoban, who writes for the Seamheads.com blog, has adapted the sabermetrician Bill James’s Win Shares formula to examine the full careers of major leaguers. He said that a starting pitcher must score at least 230 in his Career Assessment/Win Shares calculation, or CAWS, to deserve enshrinement. With a 157 score, Reynolds falls well below Hoban’s benchmark, as do Luis Tiant (213) and Jim Kaat (203), neither of whom have made it to Cooperstown.”
I sent a copy of this article to Bill James and received the following response (11/20/2011):
Good to see you getting the chance to promote solid research. Reynolds was a good pitcher and I have some sympathy for those who admire him, but. . .you're right; he just does not have the credentials to have any legitimate case.
I hope that you will enjoy reading these pages as much as I have enjoyed writing them.
Michael Hoban, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lakewood, NJ,May, 2018
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, since joining SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) in 1998. He is the author of five baseball books including: DEFINING GREATNESS: A Hall of Fame Handbook (Booklocker, 2012) BASEBALL'S COMPLETE PLAYERS (McFarland: 2000) and FIELDER'S CHOICE (Booklocker: 2003).