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…related to Baseball Dynasties, but not included in the actual book.

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Position Rankings, Part 1

by Bill James

Eddie and Rob sent me a draft of their book at the time that I was trying to finish my book on Win Shares, so naturally I entangled the two in my mind. I wondered how the great teams would compare, by the Win Shares method?

A Win Share is one-third of a win, attributed to an individual player. In this method, if a team wins 100 games, the players on that team will always have 300 win shares — exactly 300, neither one more nor one less. If a team wins 80 games, their players will have exactly 240 Win Shares. What we do from there is construct hundreds of formulas to ask, “How many of these Win Shares do we attribute to the pitchers? How many to the hitters? How many to the fielders? Of those which go to the fielders, how many go to this fielder? Of those which go to the hitters, how many go to this hitter?

Now, I want to stress that this does not create a system which favors a player on a good team. A player will get just as many Win Shares if his team loses 100 games as he will on a team which loses 100 games, if he plays as well. But in terms of comparing one team to another, the Win Shares method is of no use. The Win Shares system is an accounting system, essentially, which seeks to trace the credit for a team’s wins to individual players. Thus, if you use the Win Shares system to compare the overall quality of two teams, you will run into a tautology. The better team will be the team which has won more games, always, because the team’s quality, in this method, is wholly defined by its won-lost record.

What the Win Shares system is good for is not deciding which team was better, but understanding why the teams were as good as they were — where they were strong, where they were weak, how strong they were here, how weak they were there. Of course, Eddie and Rob have already written a lot about that, and their analysis may be, in many cases, more sophisticated then my formulas. But still, at the least, I can offer a second opinion.

No more … Here’s how I rate the players on these teams, by position:

Catcher
Johnny Bench, 1975 Reds………..30
Elston Howard, 1961 Yankees…….29
Yogi Berra, 1953 Yankees……….28
Roy Campanella, 1955 Dodgers……28
Bill Dickey, 1939 Yankees………27
Mickey Cochrane, 1929 Athletics…26
Chief Meyers, 1912 Giants………24
Gary Carter, 1986 Mets…………22
Johnny Kling, 1906 Cubs………..21
Walker Cooper, 1942 Cardinals…..17
Jorge Posada, 1998 Yankees……..16
Pat Collins, 1927 Yankees………12
Ira Thomas, 1911 Athletics……..12
Elrod Hendricks, 1970 Orioles…..11
Ray Fosse, 1974 A’s…………….3

Whenever there is a tie on these charts, I listed first the player who had more Win Shares over a three-year period. In the case of Berra and Campanella, for example, Roy Campanella hit .207 in 1954 and .219 in 1956, thus rates at only 49 for the three-year period (9-28-12), whereas Berra rates at 91 for the three-year period 1952-1954 (29-28-34). Like it matters; you all have your opinions about Berra and Campanella, and I’m not going to persuade anybody, anyway.

Five of these catchers are in the Hall of Fame — more than at any other position except center field (where Mantle appears twice) and pitching aces, which is not exactly a parallel list. The five teams at the bottom of the list all had catchers splitting playing time.

First Base
Lou Gehrig, 1927 Yankees……….44
Frank Chance, 1906 Cubs………..35
Jimmie Foxx, 1929 Athletics…….34
Boog Powell, 1970 Orioles………31
Keith Hernandez, 1986 Mets……..29
Gil Hodges, 1955 Dodgers……….23
Gene Tenace, 1975 A’s………….22
Tino Martinez, 1996 Yankees…….21
Tony Perez, 1975 Reds………….19
Buck Herzog, 1912 Giants……….19
Stuffy McInnis, 1911 Athletics….18
Moose Skowron, 1961 Yankees…….17
Joe Collins, 1953 Yankees………14
Johnny Hopp, 1942 Cardinals…….10
Babe Dahlgren, 1939 Yankees……..9

Gehrig in 1927 is (a) not quite as valuable as Ruth, who picked up 45 Win Shares, but (b) still having as good a season as any first baseman in major league history. There are three major league first basemen who have earned 44 Win Shares in a season: Gehrig, Stan Musial and Will Clark.

Assuming that Gehrig would have earned at least 30 Win Shares in 1939 had he not been ill, the Yankees in 1939 would then have probably won 116 or more games.

Second Base
Joe Morgan, 1975 Reds………….44
Eddie Collins, 1911 Athletics…..36
Larry Doyle, 1912 Giants……….30
Joe Gordon, 1939 Yankees……….26
Tony Lazzeri, 1927 Yankees……..24
Chuck Knoblauch, 1998 Yankees…..23
Davey Johnson, 1970 Orioles…….23
Johnny Evers, 1906 Cubs………..20
Billy Martin, 1953 Yankees……..18
Wally Backman, 1986 Mets……….17
Maxie Bishop, 1929 Athletics……16
Jimmy Brown, 1942 Cardinals…….16
Junior Gilliam, 1955 Dodgers……14
Bobby Richardson, 1961 Yankees….13
Dick Green, 1974 A’s……………5

Junior Gilliam was a good player; he just had a poor year in 1955. Richardson also was much better in other years. At the end of the 1974 season, the A’s were using squadrons of second basemen, pinch hitting for each one when his turn to hit came around.

Third Base
Home Run Baker, 1911 Athletics….35
Harry Steinfeldt, 1906 Cubs…….34
Pete Rose, 1975 Reds…………..31
Red Rolfe, 1939 Yankees………..31
Scott Brosius, 1998 Yankees…….26
Jimmy Dykes, 1929 Athletics…….22
Sal Bando, 1974 A’s……………21
Brooks Robinson, 1970 Orioles…..21
Gil McDougald, 1953 Yankees…….21
Buck Herzog, 1912 Giants……….19
Ray Knight, 1986 Mets………….18
Clete Boyer, 1961 Yankees………14
Whitey Kurowski, 1942 Cardinals…13
Jackie Robinson, 1955 Dodgers…..12
Joe Dugan, 1927 Yankees…………7

Dugan, the last guy on the list above, actually replaced Home Run Baker as the Yankees’ third baseman, and no doubt improved the team. That was when Baker was old and Dugan was young. This chart compares them when Baker was young and Dugan was old.

Shortstop
Derek Jeter, 1998 Yankees………28
Bert Campaneris, 1974 A’s………22
Marty Marion, 1942 Cardinals……22
Tony Kubek, 1961 Yankees……….21
Dave Concepcion, 1975 Reds……..19
Pee Wee Reese, 1955 Dodgers…….19
Art Fletcher, 1912 Giants………18
Joe Tinker, 1906 Cubs………….18
Phil Rizzuto, 1953 Yankees……..18
Jack Barry, 1911 Athletics……..17
Frankie Crosetti, 1939 Yankees….17
Mark Koenig, 1927 Yankees………15
Mark Belanger, 1970 Orioles…….12
Joe Boley, 1929 Athletics……….9
Rafael Santana, 1986 Mets……….7

What conclusion can be drawn from the observation that none of these great teams had a truly great shortstop, except perhaps the Yankees with the still-developing Derek Jeter? Probably none. Historically, as many shortstops have had 35-point seasons as players at the other positions, and many of them did this for World Championship teams. It just happens that none of them did it for any of these World Champion teams. Many or most of the shortstops listed here had big seasons in other years.

Left Field
Al Simmons, 1929 Athletics……..33
Stan Musial, 1942 Cardinals…….28
Don Buford, 1970 Orioles……….25
George Selkirk, 1939 Yankees……25
Jimmy Sheckard, 1906 Cubs………24
Joe Rudi, 1974 A’s…………….24
Bris Lord, 1911 Athletics………22
George Foster, 1975 Reds……….21
Bob Meusel, 1927 Yankees……….21
Gene Woodling, 1953 Yankees…….20
Mookie Wilson, 1986 Mets……….16
Yogi Berra, 1961 Yankees……….16
Beals Becker, 1912 Giants………15
Chad Curtis, 1998 Yankees………13
Sandy Amoros, 1955 Dodgers……..11

Don Buford was one of the really underrated players in baseball history. Between 1965 and 1971, he earned 24 or more Win Shares five times. Not that this would impress Stan Musial, who had 30 or more Win Shares ten times.

Center Field
Mickey Mantle, 1961 Yankees…….48
Duke Snider, 1955 Dodgers………36
Joe DiMaggio, 1939 Yankees……..34
Earle Combs, 1927 Yankees………31
Bernie Williams, 1998 Yankees…..27
Mickey Mantle, 1953 Yankees…….26
Lenny Dykstra, 1986 Mets……….23
Paul Blair, 1970 Orioles……….21
Mule Haas, 1929 Athletics………21
Bill North, 1974 A’s…………..19
Terry Moore, 1942 Cardinals…….19
Jimmy Slagle, 1906 Cubs………..18
Fred Snodgrass, 1912 Giants…….18
Cesar Geronimo, 1975 Reds………16
Rube Oldring, 1911 Athletics……15

<p.
Had DiMaggio not been injured in 1939, he would rank second on the list: his 34 Win Shares were earned in just 120 games. But DiMaggio never did sustain that level of play over a 154-game season. His best seasons were 41 and 38 Win Shares — phenomenal totals, but not Mickey Mantle numbers. 48 was Mantle’s third-best season.

The fact that all of these teams were strong in center field is, in my opinion, probably significant, because Center Field is the apex of a talent triangle. All young outfielders are tried in center field before they are sent to some other position — to right field if they can throw but not run well enough, or to left field if they can run but not throw well enough, or to first base if they can’t do either but can hit. A young outfield star tends to play center field until somebody comes along who is better at it than he is. For that reason, I think, it would be very unusual for a great team to have a less-than-superlative center fielder, because the lack of a center fielder would generally indicate a team that was short of talent, in a way that a hole at any other position would not.

Right Field
Babe Ruth, 1927 Yankees………..45
Enos Slaughter, 1942 Cardinals….37
Roger Maris, 1961 Yankees………36
Reggie Jackson, 1974 A’s……….30
Frank Robinson, 1970 Orioles……26
Paul O’Neill, 1998 Yankees……..26
Darryl Strawberry, 1986 Mets……25
Danny Murphy, 1911 Athletics……25
Wildfire Schulte, 1906 Cubs…….23
Bing Miller, 1929 Athletics…….22
Carl Furillo, 1955 Dodgers……..22
Charlie Keller, 1939 Yankees……21
Hank Bauer, 1953 Yankees……….20
Ken Griffey Sr., 1975 Reds……..18
Red Murray, 1912 Giants………..17

By my reckoning, Ruth had three seasons better than 1927 and three other seasons which were just as good. Slaughter and Maris are represented here by their best seasons; Reggie and Frank obviously are not.