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January 30, 2006

JAWS 2006

From the Mailbag

by Jay Jaffe

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Thanks in part to the synergy of hosting a chat on the day that the Hall of Fame voting results were announced, this year's JAWS series generated more feedback than all of my other JAWS articles over the past two years. A couple of letters made one of our recent mailbags, but with no shortage of good stuff left over, I've opted to round up a handful of the most interesting questions and my responses, some of which have been expanded upon since my initial email correspondence.

Rock: The Vote

Great job covering the Hall of Fame this year, as always. I was curious to know what Tim Raines' JAWS score is. In my opinion, he's a Hall of Famer, but I know that his candidacy is borderline and that in many ways he doesn't stack up. Regardless, a leadoff hitter with a career .385 OBP, who stole 808 bases at an 85% clip, while maintaining an OPS of .810 over more than 10,000 plate appearances at least deserves some consideration. If you have it, can you tell me his JAWS score? Also, what do you think of his chances of making it to the Hall?

--Jake Berlin

Gotta love the Rock! Friend of BP Alex Belth probably calls me twice a year to ask whether I think Tim Raines could make it, chirping, "I wish he was on this ballot, man!" On some level, I share Alex's excitement, and if ever there were a candidate I'd want to launch a preemptive campaign to enshrine, it's Raines, who in his Expo days was an unforgettable, electrifying ballplayer, the kind whose obvious joy at playing the game made you savor it--and him--all the more.

Raines' JAWS numbers (121.6 career WARP/67.7 peak/94.7 JAWS) are far enough beyond the average Hall left fielder (105.2/59.7/82.4) that there shouldn't be any doubt about whether he's a Hall of Famer, and I think it's fair to say that I don't know a single stathead who doesn't endorse him as Hallworthy. His combination of speed and ability to get on base made him the best leadoff hitter in the game this side of Rickey Henderson. Even into his latter days, he was a valuable roleplayer for a couple of champion Yankees teams.

That said, I get the sense that Raines will be pushing the rock uphill when he reaches eligibility in 2008, mainly because he's often measured in direct comparison to his contemporary, Henderson. He can't match Henderson's unassailable resume--didn't reach 3,000 hits, doesn't hold the all-time record for steals or runs, never spoke of himself in the third person. As good as his JAWS is, it can't hold a candle to Rickey's 165.2/70.4/117.8, which ranks 22nd all time. That's an unfair standard to measure anybody against, but it's something Raines will have to contend with. He may end up in a boat similar to Bert Blyleven, another blindingly obvious candidate whose merits the BBWAA has thus far failed to appreciate. I think he'll get in eventually (it certainly doesn't hurt to see him as the first-base coach of the World Champion White Sox) but it may take him a good while, perhaps when a larger handful of writers who were raised on the work of Bill James (a huge fan of Raines) and more comfortable with sabermetrics gain their voting eligibility.

Helmet Boy

Just perusing JAWS I got to thinking about John Olerud. It seems that what you wrote about Will Clark will apply to Olerud and then some. He has a peak (seven best WARP3) that rivals Mattingly and a JAWS that reaches the high 80s.

As a stathead and Mets fan I have been a big Olerud fan for some time, but I'm fairly sure he has no chance of making the HOF (I also don't think Tim Raines will make it, though I'm less sure of that). Given how little fanfare his retirement has gotten, is it fair to start speculating about where Olerud will rank among those not enshrined?

--A.P.

With a JAWS of 111.6/66.1/88.9, the just-retired John Olerud actually outdistances Will Clark (101.4/64.2/82.8) by a significant margin. Here's a chart of the first basemen with JAWS above 80.0 and their Hall status:


Player            WARP   PEAK    JAWS   Status
Lou Gehrig       142.8   83.2   113.0   In
Jimmie Foxx      135.8   78.6   107.2   In
Rafael Palmeiro  137.9   67.5   102.7   Active (?)
Jeff Bagwell     125.3   72.9    99.1   Active (?)
Eddie Murray     131.2   65.6    98.4   In
Roger Connor     123.3   65.3    94.3   In
Frank Thomas     114.7   73.1    93.9   Active
Cap Anson        130.3   57.1    93.7   In
John Olerud      111.6   66.1    88.9   Eligible 2011
Dan Brouthers    104.0   64.9    84.5   In
Johnny Mize      101.2   67.0    84.1   In
Keith Hernandez  102.5   65.3    83.9   Fell off ballot 2004
Mark McGwire     101.9   65.4    83.7   Eligible 2007
Will Clark       101.4   64.2    82.8   Fell off ballot 2005
That's pretty fair company, topping 11 other Hall of Fame first basemen and a pair of ballot perennials, Steve Garvey and Don Mattingly, who won't get in via the BBWAA. The closest active first basemen not on the list are Jim Thome (74.9), Todd Helton (72.7) and Jason Giambi (69.6), none of whom figures to pass Olerud.

But despite his solid JAWS showing, Olerud may suffer a similar fate as Clark, who fell off the ballot in his first year and who most closely resembles him according to Bill James' Similarity Scores. He doesn't have the counting stats ("only" 255 homers and 2239 hits), made only two All-Star teams and didn't win an MVP award, though he's got a batting title and three Gold Gloves to his name. I've got a hunch that while the writers may smile when they recall his sweet swing, they'll find his candidacy wanting in comparison to his lumberjack-like contemporaries who launched so many home runs.

Sweet Relief

Clearly their careers are not near over, but where do Rivera & Hoffman fit on that chart of JAWS relievers you assembled with Wilhem, Fingers & Gossage?

--A.G.

In my piece on relievers, I introduced a new measure called RAJAWS (Reliever Adjusted Jaffe WARP Score) to account for the concept of leverage. I used Reliever Expected Wins Added (WXRL) in the formula 0.5 * WXRL + JAWS, which produced numbers for relievers on a scale that keeps them in line with the starting pitchers in the Hall and on the ballot.

Because the play-by-play data currently on the site only goes back to 1972 (an update back to 1960 is pending), Rollie Fingers' WXRL total is incomplete, missing his WXRL for no fewer than 119 relief appearances, about the equivalent of two seasons. Hoyt Wilhelm's final season was 1972, which means I'm missing 20 seasons of WXRL values for him. But filling out the chart as best I can, and throwing a few other relievers (Bruce Sutter, Rich Gossage, and Lee Smith from this year's ballot, Dan Quisenberry from my fond teenage recollections) in there:


             WARP   PEAK   JAWS   WXRL  RAJAWS
Gossage      84.0   51.2   67.6   54.0   94.6
Rivera       74.8   57.2   66.0   53.7   92.9
Smith        77.4   44.0   60.7   47.5   84.5
Hoffman      65.9   45.1   55.5   53.1   82.1
Fingers      76.2   46.4   61.3   40.0*  81.3
Wilhelm      94.0   46.7   70.4   -0.3*  70.1
Quisenberry  56.2   48.7   52.5   33.9   69.4
Sutter       55.2   44.5   49.9   37.6   68.7
The average Hall of Fame pitcher's JAWS score at the time of the balloting (e.g., not including Sutter) was 80.6, so by this methodology, Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, like Gossage and Smith, are worthy of enshrinement. Fingers might be missing about 6 WXRL, which puts him around 84.0 RAJAWS, but even without those, he's over the line. And yes, even missing two decades' worth of WXRL, Wilhelm scores better by this method than the recently elected Sutter, as does the late Quisenberry, the unforgettable submarining Royals relief ace of the '80s.

A Rose by Any Other Name Would Be in the Hall of Fame

Pete Rose has only 48.2 WARP3 for his five top seasons, but a whopping 151.3 WARP3 for his career. How low is 48.2? What is the standard deviation of the peak? Perhaps there should be a cut-off point for peak to keep out players with moderate talent but extraordinary ability to play every day. I feel less strongly about a cut-off for career value, since I would be willing to recognize a player who, say, put together 5 17-WARP3 seasons and then quit.

--N.J.

The methodology for JAWS has evolved to credit a player's top seven seasons at large, rather than top five consecutive, in the peak category. But rest assured that 48.2 was a very respectable peak under the old method, well above the average HOFer at every position (best was CF at 46.5; average for all hitters was 43.1).

Under the new method, Pete Rose's peak measures 65.5, which ranks 92nd all-time (including all pitchers and hitters, not just HOFers) or 65th among all hitters if you prefer to measure that way. That score is above average overall (62.1) and for every position but 2B (67.1). The standard deviation for the hitters overall is 13.3. Purely from a playing standpoint (leaving the moral questions aside), Rose is overqualified for the Hall, ranking 29th in JAWS overall, 22nd among hitters.

From 1965-1976, Rose played at a very high level of 8.6 WARP a year, which is a remarkable run, even moreso for its consistency. Not for nothing did the Reds take four pennants and five division titles on his watch during that run; he had company on the Big Red Machine, but being able to pencil in nine wins at one slot year in and year out is a fine way to build a winner. The rest of his career is extremely ordinary, but that run is good enough for the Hall in and of itself.

As for your hypothetical, consider that only Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth reached 17 WARP even once, and remember that a player needs 10 years in the big leagues to be eligible for the Hall.

The Hall of Pinstriped Coattails

This next email follows up an offhand remark that I made in my chat, answering a question from Brian of Los Angeles: "Despite playing far from the coasts, the Cardinals seem to have more than their fair share of "cheap" HOF inductees (Sutter, Jesse Haines, Chick Hafey). Are there any other franchises that strike you as chronically over- or under-respresented in the Hall?"

To which I answered:

The Yankees have a lot of subpar HOFers from a JAWS standpoint: Waite Hoyt, Catfish Hunter, Jack Chesbro, Whitey Ford, (who doesn't score well on JAWS, though I think that was more a fuction of his usage as mandated by the team), Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs.

Tinker-Evers-Chance are all in that group of 24 worst hitters, all VC elected as I mentioned above.

The Giants probably have the most though. Bresnahan, Lindstrom, Travis Jackson... I need to study more closely to be sure, but it's either them or the Yanks.

A reader emailed me to comment on my answer:

Not sure I agree about Yankee overrepresentation:

  1. Obviously, Whitey Ford was a HOFer, and using runs against average would make that clearer.

  2. Are Chesbro and Catfish really 'Yankee' HOfers? Even Hoyt, to some extent....

  3. Combs and Lazzeri were typical beneficiaries of the largesse toward hitters from the 20s and 30s, no NYC specificity makes sense.

  4. Not only the Goose, but many other Yankees have gotten oddly short shrift: Munson never received standard benefit of the doubt as to premature death (cf. Joss), Randolph's statistical case is decent whereas he has NEVER received any notice, same with Nettles, and I actually believe that favoring better than average/short career types like Guidry and Cone makes far more sense than the Suttons of the world norms.

Basically, I have problems with comparing HOFers to replacement players, and think it prioritizes length over peak excessively, esp. if one views making the playoffs as the goal of teams, not 85 wins type seasons.

--J.H.

Much of the reason so many Yanks are in the Hall has to do with postseason success--a relevant segment of a player's career that JAWS doesn't even purport to address. The point of my answer had less to do with over-representation in the HOF than identification of HOFers who were below-average from a JAWS standpoint, and on that note, there's a large handful of Yankees in the Hall who fit that description to a tee.

Ford is at 214 PRAA. The average HOF pitcher circa this year's JAWS (as in not including Sutter) is at 239, so he's even subpar by that standard, and his 73.5 JAWS score is well below the average of 80.6. Ford's winning percentage--a product of the run support he received, which was about 13 percent above the normalized average for his career, one of the top 20 marks ever--and postseason laurels are what gets him a space in the Hall.

Hunter's in the Hall for what he did as an Athletic (his Cooperstown plaque has no logo on the cap, a rarity), so I'll call that one an error on myself. Chesbro's in there for what he did as a Yankee (though he too has no insignia on his cap). Five of his top seven WARP seasons are from his Yankee/Highlander days, and 82% of his WARP is as well. Hoyt (Yanks cap) too; heck, he only had two double-digit win seasons elsewhere. 63.6 % of his WARP was for the Yanks, so I'll stand by that one too.

Combs (48.1 JAWS) is the second lowest-rated CF in the Hall, laughably distant from the CF average (86.2). Only three outfielders in the Hall have lower JAWS (Hafey, Lloyd Waner, and Tommy McCarthy). Lazzeri at 67.5 is the second-lowest-rated 2B, well below the positional average of 90.6. Both are in the Hall for their proximity to the Ruth/Gehrig dynasty teams more than anything else.

Both Graig Nettles and Willie Randolph were in hailing distance of the JAWS positional standards under my older method (where peak was defined as five consecutive years). They're further off now; the former is about 5 JAWS points below 3B, the latter about eight below the 2Bs. What that's saying, essentially, is that they didn't have enough great seasons to merit induction. Thurman Munson was a 32-year-old catcher whose WARP had decreased for four straight years, and who was dipping into the realm of average as a hitter, who had a lot of mileage for a catcher, and who was agitating to be traded closer to his Ohio home in the years leading up to his death. Unless a move to DH resurrected his bat, he wouldn't have been a very impressive candidate from the JAWS standpoint. The Joss "exemption" came from the Veterans' Committee, which is responsible for some of the Hall's more egregious selections, and it looks more like a fluke than a standard nearly 30 years after his induction.

On the latter note, that's a philosophical difference we can argue all day about; the JAWS system is designed to reward both peak and career, and I think by double-counting a player's seven-best seasons, it succeeds. Ron Guidry and David Cone have reasonably impressive peaks, but if we induct everybody with peaks of their caliber without regard to career accomplishment, the ranks of the Hall would double. This debate could go on forever, but I'm still standing by my assertion that vis--vis JAWS, the Yanks are over-represented in the Hall because too many of those inducted don't measure up to the rest of the HOFers. Are they the only team who can say that? Likely not, but they were the ones who came to mind when I was asked, and given the sheer number of them, I'd wager a fuller study would confirm my assertion.

Get Mo' JAWS workin'

I've really enjoyed your analysis of the HOF eligibles. I was wondering if you've given any thought to posting your JAWS statistics in the statistics section of the website. I think that would be a great resource. Keep up the great work.

--D.T.

Thanks for the kind words. I agree that it would be great to have a means of browsing through JAWS scores on the site; not only do I get dozens of random questions asking me about Player X and his score, but the methodology has gained enough acceptance that other people enjoy trotting it out to make a player's case. Marc Normandin of Beyond the Boxscore did a project called the Ray Lankford Wing of the Hall of Fame. Inspired by the Lankford comment in Baseball Prospectus 2005 ("[H]e deserves to be remembered as one of the best of the 'has no prayer at the Hall of Fame' sub-stratum of greatness."), Normandin compiled and published the JAWS scores of about 250 ballplayers who comprise the upper tier of non-Hall of Famers--guys like Joe Torre, Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, Keith Hernandez, and now Will Clark. It's fun to browse through, and perhaps if I bat my blue eyes at our data crew enough times, they can create something similar for our site.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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