Sunday, January 27, 2008

Honus Wagner Named Best Shortstop Of All Time

The Bleacher Report recently put out a report about the greatest shortstops of all time. It looked at the following players to determine who was #1: Lou Boudreau, Barry Larkin, Joe Cronin, Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan, Ernie Banks, Cal Ripken Jr. Ozzie Smith, Luke Appling, Bill Dahlen, and Gorgeous George Davis.

How can you compare such talented players across decades of baseball? The authors used the Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) method. In a nutshell, WARP looks at how many additional games a team would win having a certain player on board instead of an average Triple-A "replacement player".

WARP scores look at three main factors: Batting Runs Above Replacement, Fielding Runs Above Replacement, and Pitching Runs Above Replacement. The three numbers are added and then divided by the number of runs per win that season.

A regular season player will average a WARP of 3 to 5 over a season which means that the player is responsible for 3 to 5 more wins than the team would win if they used a replacement player at his position. An all-star player would typically have a WARP over 7 while a MVP candidate might have a WARP over 10. Hall of Fame players usually have career WARPs of over 100.

So how do the shortstops compare?

Here's how they score according to their career WARP numbers:
  • Honus Wagner (240)
  • Bill Dahlen (180)
  • George Davis (170)
  • Arky Vaughan (134)
  • Luke Appling (130)
  • Cal Ripken Jr. (127)
  • Ozzie Smith (127)
  • Joe Cronin (120)
  • Ernie Banks (115)
  • Barry Larkin (110)
  • Lou Boudreau (108)
Here is what The Bleacher Report had to say about Honus Wagner and his clear margin of victory:
Honus Wagner is very clearly the greatest shortstop in the annals of the game, and quite possibly (Babe Ruth included), the most dominant performer at any point in baseball history. Looking at the above numbers, it is shocking the level to which Wagner exceeds the other shortstops on this list. He was worth 240 wins-above- replacement-player in his career, none of the others were within 60 points of that. His 5- year peak exceeded the 2nd place finisher by 10, 3rd place by almost 20. His 10-year totals were even more impressive. His 1908 season may be the best ever, where he put up the following line:

AB-568 H-201 D-39 T-19 HR-10 R-100 RBI-109 SB-53 BB-54 .354/.415/.542/.957

This looks pretty spectacular, and then you realize that 1908 was the lowest offensive point of the twentieth century, the deadest of the dead ball seasons. Baseball Prospectus translates this 1908 season into contemporary numbers. Prepare to be blown away, and remember, he is also one of the game's 3-4 greatest defensive shortstops.

AB-609 H-226 D-54 T-14 HR-57 BB-70 SB-54 R-150 RBI-177 .371/.440.787/1.227

From a gold glove shortstop, this is beyond belief. This season was worth 19 wins above a replacement player. This means that, given an average team that would finish the season with a record of 81-81, was starting a replacement level shortstop, replaced that shortstop with Wagner, and the team could expect to win 100 games.

Following is Wagner's career line, as translated through Baseball Prospectus:

H-3640 D-855 T-138 HR-637 BB-1174 SB-640 R-2060 RBI-2257 .324/.394/.595

It's like combining Albert Pujols and Ozzie Smith.

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