Matt Cain, a three-time All-Star, has announced that Saturday against the San Diego Padres will be the final start of his impressive career.
Just when you thought you had enough stats to last a lifetime someone had to come along and muck up the works with 10-year peak WAR.
As the most rabid of baseball stat junkies will tell you, wins above replacement (WAR) is a measure of performance that sets a player against the cumulative league averages to determine how much better or worse that player is compared to the “next best” option. Examining peak WAR as it is used currently, raises questions with about the validity of a player’s “peak” seasons as expressed through the 7-year peak WAR statistic.
My problem with 7-year peak WAR is that it does not give you a player’s peak production. It only tells you what his seven best statistical seasons were regarding wins above replacement. This is wrong for a couple of reasons. Allow me to explain my reasoning.
Peak is Prime
To me, peak is synonymous with a player’s physical prime. I would like to find common ground here because I hate to break it to the hardcore stat guys, peak does not mean seven best seasons. The definition of peak should be the same as talking about a player’s prime years, or when he is at his physical apex.
Settle down and let me finish before you go dusting off those torches. Don’t go thinking problems with peak WAR as it is currently considered is a challenge to WAR itself. Wins above replacement is very useful, especially when gauging a player’s Cooperstown credentials. My problem is with the way it is calculated with respects to a player’s peak.
I have spent countless hours poring over player data and calculating my own version of “peak WAR” and my application isn’t what might be usually expected. It’s hardly an attempt at reinventing the wheel though. Think of it as a minor tweak in how we view a player’s peak production. I must also add; the Cooperstown inductees have nothing to fear.
When looking at the peak of a pro-ballplayer, I don’t need to know what his seven best WAR seasons are, nor do I care. No, what I need to know is how well he performed through his physical peak. Here’s an example showing exactly what’s trying to be conveyed. Brett Favre in 2009 put up the greatest season of his entire career at 40-years old. Now tell me this, is this a guy in his peak? Or, is this an outlier of a season that happened outside of his physical peak? I’m going with the latter folks.
Let me get to the nuts and bolts. What I mean by physical peak is this: what is the player(s) production over his age 23-33 seasons when he is the strongest, fastest and fittest that he will ever be?
10-Year Peak WAR
Why pick 10 years as a sample? Firstly, this examination of peak WAR should only be used as a measure for Hall of Fame standards. The way I apply WAR should never be used on active players, unless you are comparing them with the career trajectory of a legend.
As I look at more and more data, those 10 years (23-33) look to be the general peak ages a player does his most damage. Granted there are players that don’t fit that criteria exactly, but these standards of peak envisioned here don’t care about that. If you enter the game at 24 years of age, like Kirby Puckett did for example, I take that as being a peak season. The reasoning is this, Hall of Fame players generally get to the bigs earlier and they stay longer.
Players should be rewarded for their production in their “non-peak” years as well. In my application of WAR, I generate two classes: 10-year peak WAR and Non-peak WAR. All 11 seasons that fall between a player’s age 23-33 seasons are his 10-year peak, and all other seasons up to age 22, and all seasons post-age 33 are calculated to be his non-peak WAR.
These calculations of 10-year peak WAR vs. Non-peak WAR speaks to one thing. Career Longevity. This is not to say that a player cannot be Hall of Fame worthy after playing a limited number of years, but generally, we all know that you need at least a decade of dominant play on your resume to get in to Cooperstown.
There are exceptions to every rule of course, but how many Sandy Koufax’s are there exactly? Koufax, by my system, had eight seasons of his 10-year prime only, and yet still managed a (50.2) WAR over that stretch.
It only becomes more impressive when you realize that in eight seasons from age 23-30, Koufax still put up better 10-year peak WAR than did Molitor, Stargell, Winfield and Puckett along with many more.
This is where examining peak WAR takes a twist. A player should be rewarded for his length of career. If a player makes it to the bigs at 21 for instance, those first two seasons while he’s developing are tacked on to whatever production he shows from age 34 until retirement. This is what I call Non-peak WAR.
Consider my application of WAR as I have outlined it so far. What I am essentially doing, is saying how good were these guys, and for how long? I am favoring career length as much as I am favoring the player’s overall production and worth to his team. Trust me, the Hall of Famers still stand out. Start doing some calculations if you don’t believe me.
If you are a purest like me, Cooperstown isn’t for those that burn out after five seasons (unless you’re ridiculous like Koufax), Cooperstown is for those that do it better and do it longer. In case you are wondering what Sandy’s Non-peak WAR was, it was (3) and that’s not a typo either. The fact that Koufax made the Hall is a testament to how great he actually was.
Consider Paul Molitor. From 1980 through 1990, Molitor posted a (41.3) WAR. That’s damn good. But it’s also off the pace of Hall of Fame standards for third basemen using this version of 10-year peak WAR by nearly 10-points. It’s what Molitor did in those other 10 of his 21 big league seasons that truly sets him apart. His Non-peak WAR (34.2) is over two-times higher than Hall standard at his position (15.9). Molitor’s Non-peak WAR is so good, it puts him as the best of all time at third base in Non-peak WAR by nearly 9-points over Mike Schmidt’s (25.6) Non-peak WAR.
What it Means
There really is no solid indicator for career longevity. Especially when you isolate a player’s seven best seasons irrespective of when they occurred in a player’s career chronologically. Those who play a shorter amount of time are going to have to be so good they won’t be denied. Like Koufax.
Falling short on one end of these WAR calculations isn’t scuttling a player’s shot at the Hall. But it is putting them to a higher standard to truly dominate for the brief moments they are playing.
What is harsh though, is Larry Walker only getting 21.9 percent of the vote in the most recent Hall of Fame voting. On his seventh ballot, mind you. Here’s a guy that finished with a 10-year peak WAR of (49.4) and a Non-peak WAR of (23.3). Not bad considering Hall average for RF is (52.6/20.6) by my system.
Walker is off the 10-year peak WAR of right fielders by 3-points, but he’s above Non-peak production by nearly 3-points. How is Walker not getting more than 1 in 5 Hall votes? And please, do not give me that, “He played in Colorado!” crap either. I’m not having it, where a player takes the field for their home games should not be looked upon as a sin. Furthermore, if that’s the standard we’re going by I feel bad for any great player that calls Coors Field home. Let’s not make Larry Walker another snub job that the Veterans Committee is going to have to fix.
Like the Alan Trammell debacle.
(feature photo courtesy of: Sports Illustrated)
“From our Haus to yours
As one of the most storied franchises in MLB history, the Los Angeles Dodgers are a staple of American culture. But their history in Los Angeles is relatively short, moving to the city in 1957. To understand the impact the Dodgers have had on the fabric of America, we first must understand their storied history. We begin in 1884 in Brooklyn, New York.
Same Place, Different Name (1884-1920)
What would become the Los Angeles Dodgers began as the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1884. They took their name from the defunct baseball club before them, but the name didn’t stick for long. In their first 36 years of existence, the club went through nine name changes. For a club that has had such a storied history, this inconsistency is surprising to see. But nonetheless, the team’s winning ways began in Brooklyn.
They started off with a bang, winning the NL Championship in their first year in the league. They were able to capture five NL Pennants in their first 36 years in Brooklyn, but were unable to win the World Series. The team faced the Cleveland Indians in the 1920 World Series, but were bested in seven games. That loss would mark the beginning of a 20+ year playoff drought in Brooklyn. Even so, the popularity of the ball club grew, and established a strong fan base in Brooklyn and the surrounding area.
One for Brooklyn (1921-1957)
The years after their 1920 World Series appearance were lean times for Brooklyn fans. From 1921 to 1939, Brooklyn finished better than third in their division only once, coming in second place in 1924. But fans still had a reason to pack the seats in Ebbets Field. And that was none other than Dazzy Vance. Vance first pitched for the rival Yankees in 1915 before coming to Brooklyn in 1922. The 31 year old would spend 10 memorable seasons in Brooklyn before moving on to St. Louis in 1933. Vance won the NL MVP in 1924 and posted two seasons of 10+ WAR in his 10 years in Brooklyn. Dazzy Vance is the 6th best player in Dodgers’ history in terms of WAR.
The team would officially become the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932, the year that Vance left for St. Louis. The Dodgers were entering new territory without their staff ace, but it wouldn’t be long before they were back to their winning ways. Entering the 1941 season, the Dodgers were one of the favorites in the NL. They had won 88 games in 1940 and were looking to build on their success. And build they did, racking up 100 wins and an NL Pennant. While the Dodgers did lose the World Series to the Yankees, they had made it back to their winning ways. They would have one losing season in their next 10 years. But even with all of their wins, one player made an impact so great, it changed the nation.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson, better known as Jackie, made his MLB debut with the Dodgers on April 15th, 1947. It may have gone down as a footnote in history, but there was one defining factor; Robinson was African-American. He was the first African-American to play in the majors, breaking the color barrier in MLB. He also went on to have a Hall of Fame career, winning the NL ROY in 1947 and NL MVP in 1949. Robinson helped change the fabric of America, but he also helped give Brooklyn a gift they will never forget.
After back to back World Series appearances in 1952 and 1953, the Dodgers failed to make the playoffs in 1954. But in 1955, the Dodgers would come out on top. Driven by Hall of Fame center fielder Duke Snider, the Dodgers bested the New York Yankees in seven games. It was the only World Series title won in Brooklyn, with the franchise moving to Los Angeles in 1957.
A Dynasty is Born (1958-1996)
The Brooklyn Dodgers were in the middle of a strong run, making the playoffs six times between 1947-1957. But when
majority owner Walter O’Malley wanted to build a new stadium for the team, New York officials were hesitant. After multiple failed attempts to find suitable land in New York for a stadium, O’Malley reached out to officials in Los Angeles. They were looking for a team, and O’Malley was happy to give them one. The Dodgers officially moved to Los Angeles for the 1958 season, changing the course of the franchise forever.
After moving across the country, the Dodgers spent the 1958 season trying to establish themselves. But a 71-83 record was just a blip on the Dodgers’ radar. The 1959 season would signal the beginning of a spectacular run of dominance for the Dodgers. They captured the World Series title, besting the Chicago White Sox in six games. It was a great boon for the Dodgers, and helped establish themselves as a cornerstone in Los Angeles. But it was just the beginning.
From 1959-1966, the Dodgers made four World Series appearances, winning three titles. Two of the greatest pitchers in Dodgers’ history were the driving force behind their run of dominance. Don Drysdale became a Dodgers legend, winning a Cy Young award and making the Hall of Fame. He retired with a sparkling 2.95 ERA and 2486 strikeouts. But Drysdale wasn’t alone in dominating for the Dodgers.
Sandy Koufax was one of the best pitchers of his era, winning three Cy Young Awards and one MVP in his 12 year career. He helped drive the Dodgers to three World Series titles in his career, and retired with a 2.76 ERA. Koufax also became a Hall of Famer, credit to his illustrious career. But the Dodgers would not make the World Series again until the 1974 season.
The Dodgers were able to capture two more World Series titles in the next 30 years, anchored by two other great pitchers. The 1981 season was one of magic in Los Angeles, as Fernandomania swept over the metro area. The 20 year old won the NL Cy Young that season, and led the Dodgers to the World Series title. Another Dodger Cy Young winner anchored the 1988 World Series title team. Orel Hershiser won the NL Cy Young in 1988, and led a Dodger team that won 94 games. They easily won the World Series that season, winning in five games.
Winning became the order of the era for the Dodgers, consistently making the playoffs. But as the turn of the century neared, the Dodgers found themselves on the edge of a new era.
A new age (1997-Present)
After the 1996 season, the Dodgers didn’t make the playoffs again until 2004. The consistently won, but weren’t able to break through to the playoffs. From 2004-2011, the Dodgers made the playoffs four times. But consistent playoff appearances still didn’t lead to a World Series appearance, causing management to overhaul the roster. The overhaul netted the team current stars like Adrian Gonzalez and Clayton Kershaw, and landed them in first place in the NL West from 2013-2016.
With perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw anchoring one of the deepest staffs in the majors, the Dodgers are set to contend in the NL for years to come. Corey Seager will join Kershaw in leading the Dodgers’ dominance, as the young shortstop is just beginning his career in Los Angeles. The future is bright in L.A., with young stars and established veterans leading the way. As one of the most successful teams in baseball history, they’re set to add to their trophy case and hopefully bring a World Series title back to Los Angeles.
“From Our Haus to Yours”