The Hall of Super-Stars

April 23, 2017

Imagine that from the get-go, for some strange historical reason, people envisioned a Hall to honor baseball’s best players not with a Hall of Fame but with a Hall of Super-Stardom—that is, instead of honoring career achievements, imagine that we had decided early on to honor those players who had had at least one season of super-spectacular play.

It’s not that farfetched an idea, just a matter of what we think a Hall is intended to honor.  Most Halls of Fame today (Football, Rock and Roll, Sushi-making) honor "career achievement" over "peak performance," and I don’t really want to dispute that or even discuss it, just to note that conceiving of a Hall that values peak over career would also make a certain amount of sense.  We celebrate seasons, after all, as the primary unit of accomplishment. If a team goes 90-72 for five straight years but finishes second in their division every time, it’s very unlikely that we will call them a great team but if we make that three 95-win years with a World’s Championship every time (and disregard the two 82-win years that bring them up to the same five-year total), suddenly we’re talking greatness. Why? Because they won those three championships. 

Likewise, Bill once pointed out the oddity of someone (Wade Boggs, perhaps?) who batted .400 over a period of 162 consecutive games, only the games were split over two different years, so no one noticed it. Nor should they have paid attention to that accomplishment.  No one cares what you do from one July 7th to the next July the 6th, other than us collectors of oddities and freak-show stats. It doesn’t matter.

Seasons matter. Every April we re-set the clock to 0. On a team level, it’s odd to discuss multi-year accomplishments because no team remains the same over a multi-year period, while players have clear beginnings and endings to their careers so we can evaluate an individual’s career fairly. It makes sense.

But imagine that we didn’t regard players like that. Imagine that we reset every player’s numbers to 0 every April, and we looked back in October to see who was truly great. We do this with MVP awards, of course, and similar others, but I’m not suggesting that we simply enshrine all the MVPs and all the Cy Young winners and be done with it. Often, there is an award made when no particular player jumps out at you, and you end up giving it to Jim Rice or Marty Marion or Lamarr Hoyt or Andre Dawson just because they had a decent year, or their team won the pennant, or just because the voters screwed up. You have to award one MVP per league and one Cy Young per league every year, and if you don’t really have one, you give out an award to someone anyway.

You could have a year where three players or five have outstanding seasons, and you could have decades where no player does. In 1961, I think you’d have to agree that both Mantle and Maris had superstar years and they both belong in the Hall of Super-Stars on that basis. Maybe you’d have to include Norm Cash too, though we’re also agreed that Mantle is the only one of those three who deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. This is a different kind of Hall I’m bringing up, with different criteria.

Those aren’t necessarily worse criteria either. In some ways, a Hall of Super-Stardom, honoring players who had spectacular single seasons, would do away with the chief complaint about the Hall of Fame, that it honors some compilers, players who never distinguished themselves, never were considered the best player in the game for a moment, or even came close to that distinction, but who, at career’s end, had compiled numbers equivalent to those of some players who had achieved greatness.

If you take your kid to Cooperstown today, you might get asked, "Hey, Dad, what did Obscure Name ever do to get into the Hall?" and you might fumpher a bit and explain that Mr. Name played for over twenty years and that he once hit 25 homers in a year and won two Gold Gloves, and your kid might very reasonably ask if that’s enough of an accomplishment to warrant a plaque in Cooperstown.  And you might just have to explain, Well, no, not really, son, but life just be’s that way sometime.

But if your kid were to ask the same question about, oh, Dennis McLain, let’s say, you wouldn’t fumphur for a second. "Denny was the cockiest SOB on planet earth, my boy, and in 1968, he…." and you might not run out of material for a few excited minutes.  That would be the main virtue of a Hall of Super-Stars: you’d have a very clear idea of what each inductee did that made him, however briefly, one of the very best players who ever played the game. That ain’t hay.

How would we choose the genuine superstars?

I’m so glad you asked.

How about this: let’s start with two different synoptic systems of measuring individual seasons. For the sake of discussion (and please feel free to suggest any other two systems you prefer), I suggest WAR and Win Shares. I know Bill’s still working hard on his latest iteration of Win Shares and Loss Shares, or whatever he’s calling it this time, but since this is just a hypothetical illustration of the principles I’d use, let’s just make Bill’s original Win Shares (not the extra-crispy recipe) one of our methods of measuring great seasons.

The idea is that, in addition to taking into account the whole of a player’s season—offense, defense, baserunning, sunflower-seed spitting, etc.-- each system relies on a different methodology, so that a quirkiness or fault of any one system need not eliminate a player from having his great season evaluated fairly. (If your game has a flaw that neither system overlooks, maybe the problem, Horatio, is not in our metrics but in yourself?) If you rate highly in only one of these disparate systems, then you’re eligible for consideration for the Hall of Super-Stars.

If you rate highly in both systems, of course, you’re in like Doug Flynn will never be. But if you make the cutoff in one, and miss it in another, then your eligibility would come before the august panel adjudicating such decisions. In an ideal world, that august panel would be carefully chosen among the wisest sages in the baseball world, but in this illustration, I’ll have to settle for a random bunch of BJOL readers. In other words, you’re it.

Let’s set arbitrary cutoffs in both WAR and Win Shares, arbitrary yet unreasonably high cutoffs, just so we have lists of a manageable size to deal with at first. If we choose the ungodly high cutoff of 11.0 WAR, we get a dozen position players in our HoSS:

 

Position Player         Year

 WAR

Babe Ruth               1923

14.1

Carl Yastrzemski   1967

12.4

Rogers Hornsby     1924

12.1

Lou Gehrig              1927

11.8

Barry Bonds           2002

11.8

Honus Wagner       1908

11.5

Cal Ripken               1991

11.5

Ty Cobb                   1917

11.3

Mickey Mantle        1957

11.3

Willie Mays              1965

11.2

Stan Musial             1948

11.1

Joe Morgan             1975

11.0

 

For those of you currently experiencing a case of the fantods, and muttering in your half-dazed state, "A dozen great seasons and no Ted Williams? Blasphemer of blasphemers!" and the like, I say, "Relax, get ready." Ted’s next on the WAR listing, with 10.9.  (Though it isn’t 1941—it’s 1946.) Now 11.0 is certainly too high to set the bar, but the dozen players it yields is a manageable number for illustrative purposes, and it’s a pretty strong dozen, wouldn’t you say? Not the 12 greatest position-players’ seasons ever, perhaps, but it’s certainly a reasonable place to start the discussion. There’s not an undeserving honoree among ‘em, not a fluke, not a freak, not a faker.  Most of these players had more than one 11.0 or more WAR season, which I eliminated from the list because once you’re qualified, you’re qualified. No need for multiple years-- a single 11.0 or greater WAR season gets you through this stage of my HoSS.

Bill’s original 2002 Win Shares provides a handy listing on p. 623 of the greatest seasons according to win shares that differs from the above listing (full listing, with duplicate WAR entries, is here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/WAR_bat_season.shtml) but not significantly. Bill’s list has Honus Wagner setting the standard, not the Babe, whose 1923 season comes up just behind Hans’ 1908. Various other differences between the WAR and WS lists apply—Cobb’s 1915 and 1911, for example, are higher on the Win Shares list than his 1917, which also appears, and so on. The Win Shares list cuts off at Musial’s 46, so we’ll use that as our convenient cutoff for Win Shares.

Those position players’ seasons that appear on one list and not the other are Cal Ripken’s 1991, Carl Yastrzemski’s 1967, Lou Gehrig’s 1927, Joe Morgan’s 1975, Tris Speaker’s 1912, Ted Williams’ 1946, and Nap Lajoie’s 1910. That’s where you come in, our panel of baseball sages. I would have you vote on which of these players’ best seasons is the most deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Superstars: make your best case, and finally cast your ballot, for the one you favor.  After a period of discussion, arguing, debate, one of these players will gather the most votes, and six will not.

After a suitable interval, another discussion period would ensue, to select which one of the remaining six players gets enshrined in the Hall of Superstars. You wouldn’t want to schedule this next ballot too quickly, but you wouldn’t need to have the votes as far as apart as a year, either. You would also need to have these votes for position players alternate with votes for superstar pitchers, and possibly for superstar managers and the like. So there would always be some discussion brewing, which would always end in a clear resolution. Meanwhile, seasons continue going on, with new players emerging, both instant inductees with spectacular WAR and WS, and those who get voted on by making one standard and missing the other.

It goes without saying that, in showing the principles of an HoSS, I’ve set the standard way too high. In reality (the reality inside my skull, of course) this HoSS could easily set the minimum standards much lower, 10.0 WAR and 35.00 Win Shares or even lower, and we would be choosing among a slightly lesser breed of superstars, all fully qualified by any definition of "superstar."  The WAR list of eligible candidates in the case of 10.0 and 35.00 cutoffs, for example, would begin with Rickey Henderson, whose two highest WAR seasons, 1985 and 1990, each come in at 9.9, and Bryce Harper, whose 2015 also comes in at 9.9. Speaking of Harper, this HoSS would necessarily allow a player to be inducted while he is still active or, in Harper’s case, before he has begun shaving.

There wouldn’t really be any controversies until we reached for candidates well below 10.0 WAR and 35.00 Win Shares, of course. All the players I’ve named, and whom WAR or Win Shares has listed, for outstanding superstar seasons have also all been elected to the actual Hall of Fame, most very easily, so there’s not even a discussion here on that score.  The first player listed on the WAR chart who is NOT already in the Hall of Fame is Mike Trout (10.8 in 2012) and he, of course, is not eligible yet, but most of us concede he will get there five years after he hangs up his spikes. The next-highest single-season WAR belongs to—Mike Trout in 2016 (10.5).  The first non-HoF player after Trout to be listed is A-Rod (10.4 in 2000)—again, only awaiting enshrinement. (I’m not getting into the steroid controversies here—A-Rod and Bonds are clearly Hall of Famers by their accomplishments, but if MLB wants to declare them ineligible for reasons of their own, that isn’t my concern here.) After A-Rod, the next non-HoFer is Sammy Sosa (10.3 in 2001), another easy pick aside from the steroid question.

There is a powerful correlation between players who have had at least one spectacular season and eligibility for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The first fifty names on the WAR chart (with numerous repeats) are completely non-controversial, players who have already displayed their credentials for the actual Hall of Fame. We first encounter a player on the WAR chart who is eligible (other than Bonds) but who has been rejected for Cooperstown in the 51st spot (or maybe the 49th, either tied with Hornsby and Ruth with 10.1 or just behind them—not sure how BBRef computes second-decimal-point ties),  Al Rosen in 1953. I don’t consider Rosen to be all that controversial by this standard (he had a hell of a career, delayed by Ken Keltner’s popularity as Cleveland’s 3b-man and ended prematurely by injury), but the next non-elected player, Rico Petrocelli in 1969, certainly raises an eyebrow at 10.0.  After Petrocelli, the next non-HOFers (apart from such non-eligibles as Bryce Harper and Shoeless Joe Jackson) are a shortstop named Terry Turner (9.4 in 1906), then Norm Cash (9.2 in 1961), Jason Giambi (9.2 in 2001) and Scott Rolen (9.2 in 2004).  It isn’t until we reach down below 9.0 that we encounter such names as Lonnie Smith (8.8 in 1989), Stuffy Stirnweiss (8.7 in 1945) and George Stone (8.7 in 1906).  These names crop up among the first 200 names (again, with a lot of repeats) listed on the WAR chart. Presumably (I don’t have a convenient chart of comprehensive Win Share-rankings by season) some of these lesser names would not appear on the comparable Win-Shares listing and so would be subject to a vote, but even if some of them eventually get into the HoSS, I’m not at all sure they’re any bit inferior to some of the worst hockey pucks who’ve gotten past the goaltenders of Cooperstown.

Tell you the truth, I can’t remember reading the names Terry Turner or George Stone before today (well, I knew the George Stone who pitched for the Mets in 1973, but I think he’s even further down the WAR chart than his predecessor)  but now I’m curious to learn about that 1906 season. Sight unseen, however, I would guess that these more controversial choices stand up pretty well against the mistakes of Cooperstown, considering how different in conception the HoSS is from the actual HoF. I’m amazed at how little divergence there is between the two bodies. Honestly I would have expected the list of superstar seasons to feature many more fluke seasons than it has so far.

Whether this HoSS is any loopier than the HoF is an open question. The principle of selection, clearly "peak" over "career," is certainly a valid one. If the original decision had been to choose on this basis back in the 1930s, or if the decision to begin a Hall had been postponed until we had developed accurate synoptic metrics, I’m not sure that a Hall populated in this manner would seem any less sensible to us than the one to which we’ve grown so accustomed that we can’t imagine a different way of doing things.

A few afterthoughts:

1)     I personally think it’s kind of cool to have a 21-year-old kid in the HoSS for almost his entire playing career, like Bryce Harper isn’t full enough of himself already. But if you can walk the walk, then more power to you. Harper has both the power and the walks.

2)     That does raise the concept, though, of disgraceful behavior making a player ineligible for HoF (and HoSS) honors, which I didn’t want to raise on account of irrelevancy to the concept of a Hall of Super-Stars.  I mean, if Harper and Trout were to get inducted now, and then they open a Gambling, Hookers, and Dope Superstore at some point down the road, can MLB declare them retroactively ineligible? I don’t really see why not. I mean, we all understand that Bonds, Jackson, Rose, Clemens, McGwire et al. are more than qualified for the HoF by normal standards but they’ve committed acts that make their inductions problematic, don’t we? No one pretends that their playing careers are in any way inadequate, so removing an already-existing plaque would, in a way, be an even more severe punishment than not electing them in the first place.

3)     I always wonder what MLB would have done if one of the above-named miscreants would have been elected to the HoF and THEN have been discovered to have misbehaved egregiously. Let’s say Rose had gambled on his own team to lose, that the evidence for this was clearer than it actually was, that he’d bribed Reds players to strike out on purpose, run a high-volume meth lab out of the trainer’s room, making Walter White look like Snow White, etc. but that he’d retired, been inducted into the HoF, and all that BEFORE the first evidence of this miscreancy had been discovered.  Would we have to suck it up and live with a miscreant in the Hall of Fame? Or do you suppose MLB would have found some way to expel Rose from the Hall? I have no idea.

4)     Since inviting all of you to vote on one player for the HoSS, I’ve decided that it would be more interesting to have you choose among more controversial choices, assuming my high standard of 10.0 WAR players would all be inducted anyway, so now I’m asking you to select from the following list:  Rosen, Petrocelli, Cash, Rolen, Turner (look him up), Giambi, Smith, Stirnweiss, and Stone (look him up, too). I have faith that you’ll make the wisest possible selection, and I look forward to reading your votes, your reasoning, and your comments.

 

 
 

COMMENTS (18 Comments, most recent shown first)

MikeChary
I vote for Skates. And as for retroactive gambling stuff, we know what Bowie Kuhn would have done: www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-mantle-mays-gambling-dwyre-20150324-column.html
5:57 AM May 8th
 
MarisFan61
Steven: I appreciate all that! I just didn't get that far in the first place!
(Yeah, I find it hard to go further on something if the premise doesn't grab me, even though it means I miss an occasional thing about Win Shares or Roger Maris.) :-)

It didn't seem to me that there's anything particularly interesting about some new way of finding great seasons. I didn't think we were short on that to begin with.
7:49 PM Apr 25th
 
wdr1946
Win Shares for every player in every season are available on the Seamheads
Baseball Gauge site, plus a lot else. For some reason, although everyone knos about Baseball Reference, very few know about this site. The Win Shares on this site start in 1871 (Bill James begins in 1876) and continue literally until today. One can also make All Star teams by season, etc.
6:12 PM Apr 25th
 
Steven Goldleaf
"I only read the beginning of the article and didn't go on because the subject didn't look that interesting to me"--Wow, you're tough. I wrote this piece with you in mind. I challenged WAR. I used Maris as an example of an unappreciated superstar. And the subject didn't interest you? I quit.
4:48 PM Apr 25th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. Sorry for the 100 comments in a row or however many, but, I noticed this, which makes the "WAR" figure less ridiculous although I wouldn't say it eliminates the ridiculosity.
I don't know if WAR takes it into account. (ANYONE KNOW?)

Some of his situational "clutch" stats for the year are, well, Ted Williams.

Men on: .407/.496/.630
RISP: .418/.504/.633
High leverage: .354/.462/.598

(Although, Late & Close: .269/.398/.463)
1:16 AM Apr 25th
 
MarisFan61
(TYPO in that post: In the 2nd main paragraph, it should be,
"....the next 10 guys all had about 15% more playing time.")
1:03 AM Apr 25th
 
MarisFan61
A little more on Lonnie Smith in 1989:

There's a thing that makes his 8.8 "WAR" even weirder.
I imagine you guys don't know (which means mainly that I didn't :-) .....also that there's no reason to have known it, and we certainly wouldn't suspect it from the numbers we've seen here).

He got the 8.8 WAR despite relatively little playing time. He started only 129 games, and had 5 other games of a couple innings or a few innings.
He had the highest "WAR" in the majors; the next 10 guys all had about 15% less playing time.
As you all probably know, "WAR" is a 'counting stat' kind of thing, in that it's cumulative.
15% less playing time means (basically) 15% less "WAR."
He still led the majors in WAR.

He happened to be on an awful team that was even more awful than they were, so to speak -- they underperformed their already-poor Pythagorean projection by 6 games -- and it caused WAR to have a psychotic reaction. How, I don't know, but it did. The Braves went 63-97. They 'should have' been more like 69-91. "WAR," as you might know (or, I should say, as I believe; I don't know as a fact that this is so, but from what I've ever looked at, it seems to be so) .......WAR is correlated only with a team's Pythagorean projection; it takes no account of a team's actual wins.

So, the team 'shouldn't have' won very many games, and they won even fewer. Smith was the only position player having a decent year. He had a very good year, albeit in limited time. The "WAR" system sees him as having performed at a uber-superstar level -- prorating his "WAR" to full-time play would give him a Mike Trout "WAR" figure -- while the rest of the position players did their best to undermine what he did and to keep the team from winning, which in fairness doesn't seem far from the truth, but Lonnie Smith never was Mike Trout, and the 33 year old Lonnie Smith sure wasn't Mike Trout.

BTW, the second highest "WAR" for a position player on the team was by a guy with even less playing time, Oddibe McDowell. He had a weird year too. He joined the team in mid-season. In his first half season (with Cleveland), he was extremely lousy, and his WAR was minus-0.6. In his half season with the Braves, he was excellent, and his WAR was 2.1.

BTW, looking at his numbers and Lonnie Smith's, it is not evident why his WAR would have been so much less than half of Smith's.

Let's see what Win Shares says:
Smith 27 (as noted by FreeKresge)
McDowell (in his half season with the Braves) 11

That's a lot more like it.
1:01 AM Apr 25th
 
MarisFan61
Interloper here. :-)
I only read the beginning of the article and didn't go on because the subject didn't look that interesting to me.
But, I look at the comments and......I don't mean I'm gonna talk about 'my guy' although I'm not complaining about seeing the stuff on him.

I'm gonna talk about Win Shares, as compared to "WAR."

Has anyone ever seen a Win Shares figure that looks seriously anomalous?
I don't think I ever, ever have.

If some of you do find some, I'll guess you'll be able to find a few dozen seriously anomalous "WAR" figures for every one of those.
12:20 AM Apr 25th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Score one for Win Shares, and against WAR. (Subjectively speaking.) It might be interesting to see how many of these anomalous WARs are contradicted by Win Shares. May be a whole nother article just tracing out some of these anomalies.
10:26 AM Apr 24th
 
FreeKresge
Lonnie Smith is credited with 27 win shares in 1989, which is not much more than the 26 he had in 1982. Roger Maris is credited with 36 win shares for 1961.
9:26 AM Apr 24th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Anyone have a copy of Win Shares handy? Now I'm curious about how many Win Shares Smith accrued in 1989, and whether that figure in any way agrees with his WAR. To use my example again, not only was Smith's defensive reputation far, far worse than Roger Maris's, but Smith was in his 30s (33, I think) and Maris in 1961 was at his peak, which was a very good defensive peak. A 40 HR bulge and six or seven years of age advantage in fielding--just doesn't add up. If no one has the book handy, I'll be at home again by tonight and will see what's going on with WS.
8:57 AM Apr 24th
 
steve161
The positive dWAR (an improbable 2.0) probably has something to do with it. Yes, it was a career offensive year, but only 1 oWAR better than 1982. Who was that guy wearing Lonnie Smith's glove in 1989?​
7:36 AM Apr 24th
 
Steven Goldleaf
The one we all remember (?) that has me puzzled is Lonnie Smith's 8.8 WAR in 1989. How is this an all-time great spectacular season: www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/smithlo01.shtml ?

Yes, it's Smith's best year, yes, he reached double-digits in HRs for the only time in his career (21), yes, yes, yes....but how is it better than, say, Maris's best year? Don't get it.
6:44 AM Apr 24th
 
bearbyz
I will go with Rosen. I remember looking at that year as a kid and thinking he should be a hall of famer. For a while I thought he was a hall of famer.
10:02 PM Apr 23rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
No love for Terry Turner? I must admit, after reviewing his stats (http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/turnete01.shtml) , I don't get it.
He not only played in the deadball era, he WAS the deadball era (career 1901-1919), but his offense is pretty bad, even in the greatest year of his life. In that year of 1906, he had an OPS+ of .709. He led the AL in nothing. I'm not seeing where the fabulous WAR comes from. Oh, it's the defense--a dWAR of 5.3, or better than a quarter of his lifetime dWAR in that single year. What the hell was going on?
8:20 PM Apr 23rd
 
steve161
For me it's either Rosen or Rolen (who says third basemen don't get enough love?). Rosen's top single season is better than Rolen's (by BBRef's WAR, anyway, for whatever that's worth), but Rolen had the better career. I think Rosen might have been the better hitter and I know Rolen was the better fielder.

On single season, Rosen's massive 1953 has to carry the day. Rolen's 2004 ain't chopped liver, but for HoSS purposes I have to go with Al.

On the other hand, I think Rolen belongs in Cooperstown; Rosen falls short.
7:55 PM Apr 23rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
I find that a fine approach, TJ. I wouldn't mind if people decided that a genuine fluke year, like Brady Anderson's, for example, wasn't representative of who he was as a player.
6:18 PM Apr 23rd
 
taosjohn
I vote Rolen-- his longevity and his many very good years suggest that his big year was less of a fluke than the others'. Whether that's a valid approach by your standards I leave to you...
5:40 PM Apr 23rd
 
 
©2019 Be Jolly, Inc. All Rights Reserved.|Web site design and development by Americaneagle.com|Terms & Conditions|Privacy Policy