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I wish that Joe Morgan had never become a broadcaster. I wish he'd never written a book called Baseball for Dummies. It's not that Morgan is a bad colour commentator - there are worse. It's merely that some of the stupid things he says and writes these days chisel away at his exemplary playing record.

Since I became a baseball fan (roughly 1975), there have only been one or two ballplayers greater than Joe Morgan. If I were pressed to name the most exciting player I've ever seen, Joe would be on the short list. He was a capable defender at a very demanding position, a patient hitter who hit for excellent power for his position. He was the best baserunner of his generation. Bill James, in The New Historical Baseball Abstract, named him the greatest percentage player in major league history. And although we've had some great second basemen come along since, no one has come close to matching little Joe.

Just a few days ago, baseball writers chose two new members for the Hall of Fame. By my count, that brings the number of players elected by the BBWAA to an even 100, 66 of which are non-pitchers (counting Babe Ruth as a non-pitcher). Many complain about the writers' acts of omission and commission over the years. The writers have had very high standards, much higher than the veteran committees organised in the past. For that we should be grateful, for there is virtually no chance of the writers electing someone like Jay Buhner or Lloyd Moseby to the Hall; the vet committees selected several players roughly with those credentials.

The writers have an inadequate grasp of the defensive spectrum. There are offensive positions - the outfield and first base - where the wear and tear on the body does not drastically limit the length of a career. And there are the defensive positions - second, third, short and catcher - where the toll on the body is greater and defence is of greater importance. It's tremendously difficult to get 3000 hits or hit 500 homeruns playing one of the defensive positions: those who've done it constitute an elite group. Since Morgan (and excluding 2B/1B Rod Carew), no second baseman has been elected to the Hall of Fame by the writers, despite there being three strong candidates. Ryne Sandberg (the most hyped candidate), Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich would not be among the 40 weakest players in the Hall of Fame were they to be inducted. Bobby Grich, the weakest candidate of the three, received just 11 votes in 1992 and fell off the ballot. Lou Whitaker, a stronger candidate, received 15 votes in 2001 and fell off the ballot. Many thought that Sandberg would make it this year, but he ended up with a little over 60% of the votes, narrowly ahead of a vastly inferior player (Jim Rice 54.5%).

Mike, of Mike's Baseball Rants(scroll down to January 6th entry), looked at how freqently players with various career win share totals found their way to the Hall. All 39 eligible players with at least 400 career win shares are in the Hall (a 40th, Pete Rose, is a special case). From 350 to 399 win shares, 35 of 41 are in the Hall: three of the six that aren't are pre-Babe Ruth players; the other 3 are Rusty Staub, Darrell Evans and Lou Whitaker. In the 300-350 range, just over half of the eligibles are in. Among recent players so far rejected are outfielders Andre Dawson, Dave Parker and Dwight Evans; catchers Joe Torre and Ted Simmons; first baseman Keith Hernandez; middle infielders Bobby Grich, Willie Randolph, Alan Trammell and Ryne Sandberg; third baseman Ron Santo; and multi-position player Dick Allen. Mike concludes one of his paragraphs thus:

"Though there are an odd George Van Haltren or Tommy Leach thrown in, most of the players not in the Hall from this range are from the Sixties until the present. They best represent the chasm between what had previously been the de facto standard for a Hall of Famer and what is the standard today."

If the writers are going to apply such a high standard, then perhaps Grich and Whitaker are just on the wrong side of the line. But it's more likely that the writers don't know what they are doing. The problem as I see it is that many of the writers rely on numbers and, unfortunately, show little aptitude for contextualizing them. Absent compelling numbers, they are attracted to media personalities. How else to explain Ozzie Smith's first ballot election when a player of equal credentials (Alan Trammell) languishes around 10% of the votes. We can only hope that in 40 years all the writers will be thoroughly versed in the core sabrmetric tenets and we'll truly have experts worthy of the term deciding membership in the most prestigious institution in baseball.

Enough about the voting ...

Win shares is a very good system for estimating value, but there are a few important limitations in its application to consider. First, avoid comparing pitchers and position players - there's some evidence that the system shortchanges starting pitchers in particular. Second, avoid comparing relievers to starters - again, it seems that the system favours ace relievers over starters. Finally, and most importantly in the present context, two important adjustments need to be made to compare position players in a fair manner.

The first is to account for the DH rule. Suppose we take a 100-game sample - in that sample an average team will win 50 games, which equals 150 win shares. The system assigns approximately 48% of them to the offense - 72 win shares in this case. In the National League, those shares get divided among 8 positions and some pinch hitters - let's call it 8.5 positions. In the American League, those same shares are divided among 9 positions. Therefore, two equivalent offensive performances by an individial player would result in different win share totals depending on the presence or absence of the DH rule. The NL average would be 72 divided by 8.5 - 8.47 win shares per position; in the AL you'd get 72 divided by 9 - 8 win shares per position. This leads to the first adjustment: for every 100 games played in a DH league, a player receives a 0.5 win share bonus.

The second adjustment is for length of schedule. We ought to adjust seasonal win share totals for 1972, 1981, 1994 and 1995 to account for shortened schedules. This is very important as far as estimating peak value is concerned (a player who peaked around 1981 or 1994 would have his peak value numbers cut drastically if not for this adjustment). For this purpose, I prorated a player's win share total in the shortened season out to a full schedule. When dealing with career value, I gave only 50% credit for the prorated win shares, because of the risk the non-existent games might have had on a player's health and therefore on his career.

Here is a table comparing the career value of some notable second basemen:

Adjustedadjusted gamesWin Shares over replacement
1963-84Joe Morgan2649509513.92675.5414.8
1970-86Bobby Grich2008329344.22036.7268.8
1975-92Willie Randolph2202307319.02225.8236.5
1977-95Lou Whitaker2390357375.82442.3285.3
1981-97Ryne Sandberg2164346347.52179.2266.8
1988-Craig Biggio2253377384.22285.6299.6
1988-Roberto Alomar2323370382.12353.4295.0

The first four columns should be self-explanatory. The fifth column is win shares adjusted for DH leagues and work stoppages, and the sixth is career games adjusted for work stoppages.

The final column is a bit more complicated. One of the things apparent in win shares is that the "floor" has been set too low. The "floor" is the replacement level: the level at which new talent can be brought in at relatively little cost without a loss of value. I estimate that a replacement player would earn approximately 6 win shares over 162 games, so I recalculated career win shares using this new "zero" line. This is the win shares equivalent of VORP (Value over Replacement Level)

In his first Historical Abstract, Bill James created two ranking lists: one based on peak value and another based on career value. To my dismay, he shelved this approach in the New Historical Abstract and created a single list.

Joe Morgan obviously ranks first in career value among these players. Biggio and Alomar have passed the others and are so close that we need to bring in other factors. Alomar's excellence in post-season play pushes him ahead of Biggio and Lou Whitaker slots in at 4th. Grich and Sandberg are close too, but Ryno gets the nod for 5th place due to his excellent performance in 10 post-season games.

Next up, a look at a much more complex concept - peak value/ability. Peak means different things to different people - I view it at the highest point on the mountain that is a baseball player's career. Some might think that a single season (or even a single game!) would be the best test of peak value/ability, but I can't agree with that line of thinking. Performance is merely a sample of our abilities. If I were audacious enough I might stamp that on my forehead so I'd be reminded of it whenever I looked in the mirror. A single season is a relatively small sample of a player's abilities; for example, over 550 AB, a player's batting average can easily vary 70 points based on nothing more than chance.

I wasn't completely satisfied with any single measure of peak value/ability, so I used four different measures and combined them on a weighted basis. The four measures (along with their weights) are:

    Best year (35%)
    Average of best 3 consecutive years (25%)
    Average of best 3 years (25%)
    Average of best 7 consecutive years (15%)

Here is how the super seven measure up:

YearsPlayersBest3 c3 best7 cComposite
1963-84Joe Morgan44.040.340.335.640.9
1970-86Bobby Grich32.530.831.725.530.8
1975-92Willie Randolph30.726.426.421.527.2
1977-95Lou Whitaker30.826.427.723.727.9
1981-97Ryne Sandberg39.034.736.727.735.6
1988-Craig Biggio38.035.036.633.336.2
1988-Roberto Alomar37.831.536.126.634.1

Craig Biggio had quite an impressive 7-year stretch, not far behind Morgan's best. Sandberg, Alomar and Biggio have similar composite peak scores. Sandberg's impressive post-season record pushes him past Biggio, but the gap is a little too large back to Alomar. Neither Whitaker nor Randolph were great in the playoffs so no changes there. I'd rank them in this order: Morgan, Sandberg, Biggio, Alomar, Grich, Whitaker, Randolph.

Utilizing 7-year average win shares per season, we can analyze the rise and fall of a baseball career. Some players (like Joe Morgan) reach a very high peak after a relatively pedestrian start to their careers; others (like Lou Whitaker) improve and decline gradually. My method for determining the steepness of rise and fall of a baseball career (SLOPE) consists of taking the average of the first and last 7-year period of a player's career and comparing it to the peak 7-year period. In formula form it looks like this:

Peak7year divided by [(1st7year plus 2nd7year)/2]

The first seven-year is defined as the one which starts when the player first plays 70 or more major league games in a season. The last seven-year period is defined as the one which ends when the player last plays 70 or more games in a season. For active players, 85% of the win shares accumulated in the first 7-year period is used in place of the last 7-year period. I will list the player from steepest to flattest rise and fall, with total adjusted win shares during each 7-year period noted.

Joe Morgan156.0140.7249.4+68%
Craig Biggio183.4155.9233.4+38%
Ryne Sandberg164.0122.9194.0+35%
Roberto Alomar172.5146.6186.1+17%
Willie Randolph150.5112.9150.5+14%
Bobby Grich173.1178.8143.4+13%
Lou Whitaker150.3166.1146.4+12%

Lou Whitaker's career is about as flat as any you'll see. He became a very good ballplayer after a few years in the league, inched forward, and inched back as he entered his mid-30's. Of particular note is how the early part of Little Joe's career is unremarkable within this little comparison group.

A final tidbit ... The seven players sorted by age of peak ability (defined as the middle year in the 7-year peak): Randolph 25.0, Grich 27.5, Whitaker 29.1, Biggio 29.6, Sandberg 29.8, Alomar 30.4, Morgan 30.8. Is it possible that great players peak later than non-greats (at the same position)? Tango (if you're reading), what do you think?

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Mike Green - Friday, January 09 2004 @ 12:18 PM EST (#73773) #
Great work, Robert. Morgan's peak was likely later than most for two reasons: his mid-career escape from the Astrodome and his serious leg injury in 1968 (in a collision at the bag). Biggio's peak might have been later than expected because of his position change.

The usual definition of peak ability looks at peak seasons rather than the middle year of a 7 year peak. I don't know whether the average peak would be 27 under your definition.
robertdudek - Friday, January 09 2004 @ 01:03 PM EST (#73774) #

As always, I appreciate the compliment ...

If we use the middle year of the 3-year peak, we get:

Randolph 25.0 (same), Grich 26.5 (-1), Whitaker 27.1 (-2), Morgan 30.8 (same), Biggio 31.6 (+2), Sandberg 31.8 (+2), Alomar 32.4 (+2).

This actually increased the average peak age of this group as compared to the middle of the 7-year peak measure by a little less than 0.5 years.
_Shrike - Friday, January 09 2004 @ 02:23 PM EST (#73775) #
An enjoyable read, to be sure. I'm heartened to see a clear and concise piece that contextualizes Whitaker's career and can be read as support for his HoF candidacy. Unfortunately that's 15 years away and in the hands of whatever from of VC they have in 2019.
Mike Green - Friday, January 09 2004 @ 03:04 PM EST (#73776) #
Robert, I looked back at Sandberg and Alomar's careers. There is a certain similarity in that they were great from age 23-25, then below par from 26-28 and much better from 29-33. I think the reasons for the depression in the normal peak years is peculiar to them. In Alomar's case, he was 26-27 in '94-'95 at the time of the disintegration of the WS champs. As is well known, he did not respond particularly well, shall we say. I don't know what the situation with Sandberg was, but I suspect that he had personal problems at that time.

It is funny though. The two great players that Bill James named as having made steady progress over 10 years, with peaks well into their thirties were Rod Carew and Charlie Gehringer. Maybe great second basemen spend a disproportionate time in their early to mid 20s learning their fielding craft, and then focus on hitting in their later 20s and early 30s. That combined with the increased risk of injury might explain what you have observed in an admittedly small sample.
_Repoz - Friday, January 09 2004 @ 04:19 PM EST (#73777) #
Robert....Great stuff. I linked over to Primer.
_Rob - Friday, January 09 2004 @ 08:04 PM EST (#73778) #
Excellent work by my fellow Robert.

And why didn't Tim McCarver write Baseball for Dummies?
_kevin warren - Friday, January 09 2004 @ 09:37 PM EST (#73779) #
why mccarver didn't write 'baseball for dummies'? too tough to spell 'dummies'.
good article.
my comments are similar to those already posted--morgan became noticeably good after leaving the 'dome; losing enough speed to be just really fast; changing eras (mid '60s to the hitting '70s); difference in offensive philosophy.
and he was a good defensive player--really good. not nudging up against great, but really good.
the adjusted column in the first table brings thngs home a bit--would i trade sandberg (267 win shares over replacement) and a hitter (150 wsor) for joe morgan at the start of the careers? no. in the middle of their careers, not without an ounce of really good stuff.
he was really good, and was really good beyond where a white second baseman had finished doing well.
and lou whitaker finished where? in voting. why.
frank white had a similar career path to joe morgan's. white's had less of a flare at the left (later start; sooner a regular), and a steeper decline on the right (wasn't as good & didn't hang around as long). oh, and by the way, the peak of white wasn't close to morgan's.
_Rob C - Friday, January 09 2004 @ 09:39 PM EST (#73780) #
Awesome work, Robert. I'm also glad I'm not the only one who was crestfallen to see James had dropped the peak/career value argument in the NHBA. And here I had been training my friends to think about value in both peak and career contexts for years, especially in terms of how it applies to other sports like hockey and football.
_jb - Saturday, January 10 2004 @ 09:29 AM EST (#73781) #
exceptional study, an awesome reminder of just how good morgan was.
_Chuck Van Den C - Saturday, January 10 2004 @ 09:41 AM EST (#73782) #
I wish that Joe Morgan had never become a broadcaster. I wish he'd never written a book called Baseball for Dummies. It's not that Morgan is a bad colour commentator - there are worse. It's merely that some of the stupid things he says and writes these days chisel away at his exemplary playing record.

I remember hearing Joe Morgan for the first time, when he was just starting his broadcasting career. Unaware of who I was listening to (I heard a voice but saw no face), I asked "who is this idiot?". I was completely dumbfounded to learn that it was Joe Morgan.

It completely baffled me that a player with such an incredible "sports IQ" could speak as if he didn't have a clue about the very game at which he excelled.

I remember him specifically saying that Chico Walker was a good leadoff man for the Cubs despite his low batting average, because he would spark the team with his speed.

I don't know that he's gotten any better in the intervening 20 years (Walker either).
Craig B - Saturday, January 10 2004 @ 11:56 AM EST (#73783) #
I don't know that he's gotten any better in the intervening 20 years (Walker either).

Well, Chico's 46 now, but I suppose the good news is, he couldn't have gotten that much worse. The interesting thing is, Walker was never really all *that* fast. Certainly not as fast as Shawon Dunston or Jerome Walton, who were both on that same '91 Cubs team (it must be the '91 Cubs you're referring to).

Also, that Cubs team was the only major league team to give significant time to Cedric Landrum, who might have been the quickest player in professional baseball since Willie Wilson. Landrum (who I can't remember playing) apparently could absolutely *fly*. (His son Senterrio Landrum is a baseball and football player at Duke, and I wonder if he mightn't be worth a 35th-round pick by someone if he's got anything like his dad's speed). Terry Jones, the former Expo, had blazing speed, and I remember he was from Landrum's college program and people said Landrum was faster.
Coach - Saturday, January 10 2004 @ 01:15 PM EST (#73784) #
Robert, I really enjoyed this, and as always, I learned something.

Unlike the majority of our readers, I remember the Big Red Machine well, and have believed since 1975 that Morgan was in a class by himself. Sandberg was also terrific, but I was sure Alomar, in his prime, was even better. Now, Id rate them about even, so both should be in Cooperstown eventually. The underrated Biggio belongs, when hes eligible, but he might get shortchanged. Though Im a small-Hall guy who would draw the line there, I wouldnt complain if Whitaker or Grich made it.

Little Joe can be extremely annoying, not just to statheads, but he doesn't deserve to have that "chisel away at his exemplary playing record" -- what a shame if that's true.
_Chuck Van Den C - Saturday, January 10 2004 @ 04:57 PM EST (#73785) #
it must be the '91 Cubs you're referring to

Walker was a member of the Cubs from '85 to '87 as well and I can't help but think that my Morgan reference falls within this time period. Morgan's playing career ended after the '84 season and I'm guessing he got into broadcasting pretty soon thereafter. I'm thinking NBC Saturday afternoon games as opposed to ESPN Sunday night games, though my memory may be murky.
_studes - Monday, January 12 2004 @ 08:22 AM EST (#73786) #
Very nice article, Robert. I like your discussion about Win Shares' flaws, and I've posted a link from my site (admittedly a little late -- sorry!).

I'd be interested in your take on some of the things I've proposed for Win Shares. In particular, I believe that the Win Shares Baseline methodology I've proposed addresses the DH issue. I've also taken some steps to address the starter/reliever balance, though I still have some work to do there.

Again, very nice article. Joe Morgan is one of the great enigmas of our time.
_Spicol - Monday, January 12 2004 @ 10:43 AM EST (#73787) #
Robert...I'd set this aside for a few days because of it's length (spare minutes have been scarce lately). I now scold myself for having done so. Great article.

There's no doubt that the players you've selected to analyze are the greats from the modern era. I'd be interested in seeing, if it isn't too much work, how they compare to those who were merely good and those who merely were. Maybe stick Davey Lopes (robbed by playing years and years in pitchers' parks), Chuck Knoblauch, Frank White and Bret Boone in the mix.
_studes - Monday, January 12 2004 @ 11:03 AM EST (#73788) #
BTW, a question: did you use base Win Shares or adjusted Win Shares for your peak value analysis?

Also, I'd be interested in your thoughts about replacement value. How did you derive that?
robertdudek - Monday, January 12 2004 @ 11:59 AM EST (#73789) #
Adjusted win shares for everything, but for adjusted career win shares I discounted the win shares added by prorating for short seasons at 50%.

Replacement level can be set in many different places, but I'm fairly certain that a team of replacement players would win more than 11.8% of their games, which is how many a team which scored 0.5 runs as compared to league average and allowed 1.5 times league average would be predicted to win.

Over a 162 game schedule, that's 19.1 wins. In modern times, there are plenty of players who could be rounded up that would win many more games. I estimated a replacement level team to be of true talent of about .279 or 45.2 wins over 162 games. There have been a couple of teams which achieved that, but it's safe to say they were having off years. For example, the Tigers last year had some decent players, but were also using some players who were below replacement level (mostly youngsters they wanted to give playing time to).

Anyways, that represents 26.1 marginal wins in the James system, about 65% of which go to position players. Using 8.5 as the number of positions, that works out to about 6 win shares per 162 games per position. I realize there is a scaling problem in win shares, which is why I advocate switching to a marginal win shares system which would allow negative shares. You could call it marginal performance shares.
_studes - Monday, January 12 2004 @ 12:30 PM EST (#73790) #
Thanks, Robert. I don't know if you've spent any time at my site lately, but marginal Win Shares is where I've been taking the system, too.

I need to think about the DH adjustment vis-a-vis what I've done. I've proposed an approach to marginal Win Shares, and I've also advocated for negative Win Shares for really bad batters and pitchers. I've also suggested that batting Win Shares for pitchers should be pulled out of pitching WS and stand alone as batting WS.

I don't know if these adjustments solve the DH problem or not; I need to think about it.
robertdudek - Monday, January 12 2004 @ 12:57 PM EST (#73791) #
In my opinion, the DH problem boils down to this:

NL players have their batting stats compared to a group that includes pitchers and their pinch-hitters, while AL players (1973 to present) are compared to a group that includes designated hitters.

The problem also exists in a stat like Offensive Winning Percentage as long as the baseline used is the average team performance. To get a fair comparison you'd have to compare batters to a group that excludes P/PH for P in the NL and DHs in the AL.

The question becomes how to divide offensive win shares. You have to give win shares to designated hitters. One idea is to give separate offensive win shares to the 1-8 hitters in each league and to the #9 hitters, taking 50% of runs created (or another measure) of each sub-group as the appropriate zero line.

This seems overly complicated compared to determining the amount that the AL player is shortchanged and adjusting accordingly.
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