Using Win Shares and the Historical Baseball Abstract, Cooperstown-style – the introduction   Leave a comment

My favorite baseball book – and I have a few – is The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.  The “new” version was published in 2001, and the hardcover version weighed in at 998 pages of overwhelming baseball goodness.  James sought to do a number of things in his book:  describe the way the game was played on a decade-by-decade basis, discuss the Negro League players in a historical context, and (these last two are intertwined) rank the top 100 players of all-time, and top 100 at each position, primarily by his newly created “Win Share” method.

Ranking anything can cause a great debate.  I bought the book for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was to somehow affirm my own opinions on the players I grew up with.  Bill James put a lot of thought and work into creating the methodology of Win Shares, but it never really and permanently caught on, as opposed to a similarly “new stat” like WAR (Wins Above Replacement).  I can understand why.  For all of its complexity, it is, after all, based on just one person’s work.  The weights assigned to certain values are merely chosen for effect and to ultimately reach a final figure.  Fielding is a part of it as well, and while the accuracy of those statistics is ever-improving, they are still – in my mind, at least – impossible to perfectly quantify.  Finally, the formula involved is extremely complicated, and I can easily understand why it has not or did not catch on with a jaded, old-school fanbase.

Nonetheless, I’m perfectly willing to use James’ book as a resource to rank MLB players, past and present.  His rating system is based on six factors:

  • The player’s career Win Share total
  • His best three Win Share seasons
  • His five best consecutive Win Share seasons
  • Career Win Shares per season
  • A time line adjustment (the argument that the quality of play has gotten better over time)
  • A subjective element (based on defense, clutch play, leadership, etc)

So for all the work, all the research, and the pedigree that a Bill James has, I definitely believe in Win Shares (WS) as a good method of sorting players and ranking seasons – just like I do with WAR.  It’s certainly a better way than ranking players based on the numbers of games they played, their batting average, or the number of Gold Gloves on their mantle.  For the purposes of this essay, I will be primarily using WS and WAR, along with everything else under the sun to try to determine if the players on this year’s BBWAA ballot deserve enshrinement in Cooperstown.

There are 22 players on the ballot who, in my opinion, warrant attention for the honor.  (Sorry, Kenny Rogers.)  I will be grouping them together based on the position they played the most, just as James ranked the players in his Abstract.  For the outfielders, and other guys that split time at different spots, I’m using’s defensive games played.

One more thing.  Since the Abstract came out in 2001, a lot of players have debuted, or performed at a high level for many years.  Though these players didn’t make James’ various lists at the time, they should be remembered now.  I’m not going to try to argue that, for example, Luis Castillo would be the 86th best second baseman of all time now; I would suggest that he belongs in a certain range, though.  However, I’m only going to concentrate on players that have (again, in my mind) legitimate Hall of Fame credentials.  In some cases, I’m going to do a bit of projecting, but the player must have five full or partial MLB seasons under his belt already.  Buster Posey makes that cut; Giancarlo Stanton does not.  At this point in time, early on in my thought process, I don’t think that there will even be that many young players to consider.  Most of the HoF candidates, the recently-retired, and the still-active superstars are more worthy of the attention and the analysis.

I will start with the catchers.  With any luck, tomorrow.


Posted December 8, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

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