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A shorter burst of glory

February 1, 2023



Whether Peak Value was still relevant was brought up, which you say many do continue to consider it...I think it's underused, that it should be almost, not quite but close to, as important as Career Value.  


Example: I don't think a player like this exists, but if a player for 5 years had seasons comparable to Babe Ruth's best- put those seasons in the middle of Ruth's peak, era adjusted, and no one could tell them apart- but then aged very poorly for whatever reason and gradually by 2 years after that 5 year run was an average MLB player, 2 years after that was replacement level, played one more replacement level year due to name recognition, then that was it for 10 year career.  


I'd think that guy is a HoFer- assuming no scandal- due to amazing peak value though whether using traditional stats or WAR or WS his career totals would say he wouldn't belong.  


I don't think that describes anyone real, but if it did would that player belong in your view?  My view is he would.

Asked by: Anyone






            This for some reason was a lot easier to research than the other question asked the same day, but the answer is actually more interesting, I think. 

            Surprisingly, there actually ARE a group of players who had Babe Ruth-level values for just a few years and then disappeared.  They’re called 19th century pitchers.  In the 19th century there were a whole group of pitchers who would win 40 or 50 games a year for a short period of seasons.  They’d go like 40-11, 40-13, 44-12, 32-18, then they were done.  Some of them would play the outfield when they weren’t pitching, and hit .340. Several of them are in the Hall of Fame, like Ole Hoss Radbourn, John Clarkson and Mickey Welch, but many more of them aren’t, like Silver King, Dave Foutz, Toad Ramsey, Grasshopper Jim Whitney and George Bradley.  

            I studied this question by


1. Identifying all players who had at least 125 Win Shares in their five best seasons, and

2. Then cutting the list to those who had 60% or more of their career Win Shares in those five seasons. 


This gave me a list of 108 players, but 15 of those were guys who were still active, like Mookie Betts and Nolan Arenado, who will or would drop off the list when they have one or two more good seasons.  (The study was through 2019.)   This left me with a list of 93 candidates, actually less than that when you exclude the recently-retired guys like Buster Posey and Ryan Howard.   Let’s say 88 candidates.  More than 30 of those were 19th century pitchers.   The only 19th century player/not a pitcher who made it into the group was Tip O’Neill, and he actually was a pitcher at the start of his career, too. 


So there are, we could say, about 50-60 players since 1900 who were high-impact players for about five seasons, but who had short careers.  Three points about that group:


1)      None of the 20th century candidates were high-impact at the level of Babe Ruth or the best of the 19th century pitchers,

2)      The PITCHERS in that group mostly ARE in the Hall of Fame,

3)     The positions players mostly are not.   A few of the position players did make it to the Hall of Fame, based on five great years or four great years, but mostly they haven’t. 


So we could divide them into:


a)     Pitchers who did make the Hall of Fame,

b)     Pitchers who didn’t,

c)      Position players who did, and

d)     Position players who didn’t. 



Since 1900, the outstanding example of a player who was absolutely brilliant for five seasons, but that was all he was able to do, is Al Rosen.  Rosen was late getting to the major leagues due to a series of circumstances and retired early because of back trouble.  He was about as good as any player in baseball from 1950 to 1954, driving in 100 runs every year, hitting .300 three times, and being selected unanimously as the MVP in his best season. 



Pitchers who were brilliant for a few years and did make the Hall of Fame. . ..well, pitchers who had 125 Win Shares in their five best seasons, but 60% or more of their career Win Shares in those five seasons.



            Pitchers who qualified for the list by the statistical parameters, and who did make the Hall of Fame, include Iron Man Joe McGinnity, Jack Chesbro, Addie Joss, Rube Waddell, Dizzy Dean, Hal Newhouser and Sandy Koufax. 

            Those who qualified for the list by the statistical parameters but didn’t make the Hall of Fame are Bill Dinneen, Jim Bagby and Wes Ferrell.   Oh, I’m sorry, there is a fourth; Hippo Vaughn.  I love Hippo Vaughn; there’s a lot of great stories there.  There should be a bio of him. And Noodles Hahn, I guess; he’s a good story, too. 

            Anyway, position players who qualify for the list only make the Hall of Fame if there is something "extra" to their story.  They make the Hall of Fame if they have a "hook", if they have something that draws attention to them.  This includes:

            Frank Chance

            Ross Youngs

            Hack Wilson

            Hank Greenberg

            Roy Campanella

            Ralph Kiner

            Jackie Robinson


            I think that’s it.  Seven 20th century players who had brilliant but short careers did make the Hall of Fame.  

            But more than 30 didn’t or haven’t.  I’m not saying that the 30-some who didn’t or haven’t were as good as the seven who did, but there is some overlap.  Wally Berger was better than Hack Wilson no matter how you cut the data.   Shoeless Joe Jackson is a special case, although technically he fits the list.  Heinie Zimmerman and Bennie Kauff, although not as great as Shoeless Joe, were also banned from the game in the middle of outstanding careers.   Others of note who did not make the Hall of Fame include:

            George Stone, who led the American League in hits as a rookie (1905) and won the batting title at .358 in 1906.  Stone was clearly a great player, but started having leg troubles after a couple of years, and left baseball after the 1910 season, as I recall, to go into the jewelry business.   But that’s just a memory, and maybe my head is fooling me with a pun.   Stone, jewelry.  Gem stones. You get it?

            Jacques (Jack) Fournier.  A big hitter in the first years of the lively ball era, and before the lively ball era although the stats aren’t as compelling before 1920.

Topsy Hartsel, a little tiny guy who walked a lot, had .400 on base percentages several times in the early history of the American League.  Led the AL in runs scored and stolen bases in 1903. 

            Dolph Camilli, 1941 National League MVP.  A truly great player for about five years. 

            Gavy Cravath, who led the NL in home runs several years in the Dead Ball era.  Still irritates me that the record books insist on spelling it "Gavvy".   "Gavy" was short for "gaviota", Spanish for Seagull, a nickname given to him after he accidentally killed a seagull with a line drive.  I’ve got a 200-page file on Gavy Cravath here somewhere, don’t know if I can ever find it. 

            Hal Trosky, whose career was shortened by overpowering headaches. 

            Charlie Keller, a Yankee of the DiMaggio era.  Like Camilli, he was a "perfect" offensive player—a left-handed slugger who hit for a good average WITH power and with walks.  Could create 115 runs a year without anybody noticing it.  You love those guys in a table game.  Career shortened by back trouble.  Had a son who had similar ability but also had the back trouble, wasn’t able to make the majors.  Which I think may also be true of Trosky; I think Trosky had a son who was a good player, but who also had the headaches. 

            Tommy Henrich and Tommy Holmes were outstanding short-career players of the same era as Keller. 

            Roger Maris.  You probably know his story. 

            Albert Belle and Nomar Garciaparra are recent players who are also in this group; one of them might make the Hall of Fame yet, probably not but it could happen.   For some reason Don Mattingly doesn’t show up on the list, although his narrative is similar. 

            Other players who qualify for the list, more or less chronologically, are Patsy Dougherty, Art Devlin, Turkey Mike Donlin, Eddie Joost, Roy Cullenbine, Stan Spence, Eddie Stanky, Johnny Pesky, Ted Kluszewski, Al Rosen of course, then Elston Howard, Jim Ray Hart, Don Buford, Rico Petrocelli, Howard Johnson, Pedro Guerrero, Edgardo Alfonso and Jose Bautista.  All of those guys were really good players, but just weren’t able to sustain it long enough to catch Cooperstown’s eye. 

            What you actually asked about was whether a player of this description should be in the Hall of Fame.  Well, if he was Babe Ruth-level, sure, but since nobody is or was, it’s a different question.  Let’s pick one from each decade. . .Kluszewski, Maris, Buford, Mattingly, Albert Belle, Nomar.   In general I would say "No", not because they were not great, but because there were other guys who were just as great, but who did it for a longer period of time.

            There’s not enough separation between Ted Kluszewski and Jason Thompson.  

            Thanks for reading.  


COMMENTS (8 Comments, most recent shown first)

For a more recent player for this list, I'd nominate David Wright. I think he looks like he was on the Scott Rolen path for the Hall of Fame through his twenties with some excellent years mixed in there but injuries ended his career earlier than typical. I'm not sure how he looks through a Win Shares lens though.
5:45 PM Feb 22nd
Also interesting in a few years to see the margins. The year he hit 24 HRs the next highest was 13. The year he had 128 ribbies next highest was 95.
2:47 AM Feb 7th
Hippo & Noodles!

Coming to Hulu!
2:28 PM Feb 4th
Gav(v)y Cravath, one of my new favorites (we share the same birthday) actually led his league in home runs six times, and all of baseball 4 times, in a seven year stretch. He compiled 47 Black Inks, his first at Age 32. Compare this to contemporary Tris Speaker with 38 Black Inks. In fact, I wonder the all time record for Black Inks for someone who didn't get one in his 20s would be?..

And he got no love, since this happened in the bandstand Baker Bowl.

Maybe Park Factor points should be called Cravaths. Mantle had a 6 Cravath advantage over Mays.

1:38 PM Feb 4th
I like Ventboys' list because he used a higher standard for the five best seasons, and therefore got at least closer to what I was talking about, closer to Ruth-level (but unable to stay at that level nearly as wrong as Ruth did).

Of the eight eligible among those, 5 are in, and I'd have to look them up closer, but the three not in (Rosen, Keller, and Berger) my inclination would be to advocate for them (which could change if/when I delve into their stats)...well, and see their WAR, which I tend to think is better than Win Shares (though if there were Win Shares and Loss Shares, and at one time Bill had planned to make Loss Shares, WS and LS used together would likely be better than WAR).

Bill makes a good point about the bigger list, which was that others had 5 years as good as the best 5 years of many on the list and then did more with the rest of their career, so those with equal peak value but better career value obviously are more qualified.

But if someone's best 5 years are better than those of many who are rightly in the Hall (I said rightly, so leaving out the stupid selections) they probably belong, and if someone's a Rusty Staub, who played forever but was never that great, they probably don't...the idea being I think Peak Value may be undervalued relative to Career Value in rating careers.
7:18 AM Feb 2nd
Cravath would be a good answer to a trivia question. Name the players who have led the league in home runs five or more times.


Of course.

And Gavy Cravath.
7:03 PM Feb 1st
I don't have a pitcher database with full Winshares data yet, but for hitters I found ten players at 150 or more Winshares in their five best seasons.

Of the ten, five are in the Hall of Fame (Hughie Jennings, Hack Wilson, Ralph Kiner, Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg). One is ineligible (Joe Jackson) and one hasn't been retired long enough (Jose Bautista).

The other three are popular what-if guys, I think: Al Rosen, Charlie Keller and Wally Berger. You talked about all three of them in your article.

6:07 PM Feb 1st
I love this sort of thing ... I wonder how things would be different if it was 150 (30 per season). I might be able to find out ...
5:56 PM Feb 1st
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