Monday, July 30, 2012
Biggest increases/decreases in WAR
By David Schoenfield
Mark Simon and I teased this on the Baseball Today podcast, so here it is. Tom from Melbourne, Fla., writes in:
I have a slew of answers for Friday's ridiculous question regarding greatest difference in WAR in consecutive years. For the analysis, I wrote a program to search player profiles and career stats on Baseball-Reference.com for every major league player in history. Here are the results.
Largest one-year increase in WAR for batters (min 350 PA in each year): A total of 30 players have had increases in WAR of greater than 6.0 in a year. The largest one-year increase was by Rickey Henderson from his rookie season in 1979 (-1.0 WAR) to his sophomore season in 1980 (8.7 WAR), a difference of +9.7 WAR. The top-10 list includes several Hall of Famers (Henderson, Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Mike Schmidt), two active players (Matt Kemp, Josh Hamilton), a guy called "Nails" (Lenny Dykstra, of course), and two guys who had a standout season (Bret Boone, Tommy Harper). Boone went from a WAR of 0.0 in 2000 to an MVP-esque WAR of 8.5 in 2001.
OK, this is Dave again. I'll run Tom's lists with some of my own commentary.
Besides Henderson, Collins and Schmidt were also cases of players developing from their rookie seasons to their sophomore years. Collins increased his average from .273 to .346 and his stolen bases from eight to 63. (Like Henderson, he also barely met the 350-plate appearance cutoff.) Schmidt hit .196 with 18 home runs as a 23-year-old rookie in 1973. What were the odds that player would develop into the best third baseman of all time? As a sophomore, he hit .282 and led the National League in home runs and slugging percentage while playing a great third base. Dykstra was actually healthy in 1989, but after a midseason trade from the Mets to the Phillies, he had hit just .222 with Philadelphia, dragging down his season numbers. In 1990, he hit .325 and led the NL in hits and on-base percentage. Other than 1993, he'd spend much of his remaining seasons on the DL.
Babe Ruth appears twice, both following shortened seasons. In 1922, he played just 110 games, missing the first six weeks because of a suspension due to offseason barnstorming actitivities and then more time when he has suspended again for jumping into the stands to confront a heckler (imagine if that happened today!). In 1925, he suffered his infamous "Bellyache heard 'round the world" season and played just 98 games while hitting .290. Ruth had initially fallen ill during the Yankees' spring training tour, a stomach ache blamed on eating too many hot dogs. Good stories. Ruth later underwent surgery for what doctors called an intestinal abscess although one teammate suggested Ruth's problem occurred a little lower on his anatomy. Others have speculated alcohol poisoning. Whatever the cause of Ruth's ailments, he bounced back in 1926.
The one name that may surprise you is Tommy Harper. The Seattle Pilots selected Harper from the Indians in the 1969 expansion draft and while he led the AL with 73 stolen bases he hit just .235 with just 21 extra-base hits in 148 games. The team moved to Milwaukee in 1970 and Harper discovered his power stroke, hitting a career-high 31 home runs while playing third base.
Here are the five biggest decreases:
As Tom writes, "Sisler missed the entire 1923 season with a severe case of sinusitis which resulted in double vision, and he was never the same after that." After hitting .420 in 1922, his averaged dropped to .305 when he finally returned in 1924. We talked about Ruth. Ashburn looks like a case of a guy who just got old overnight. A fleet center fielder known his on-base skills and range, Ashburn had led the NL with a .350 average and .440 OBP in 1958 at the age 31. In 1959, those numbers dropped to .266 and .360 and his defensive numbers took a big hit. His speed numbers also dropped -- 13 triples to two and 30 stolen bases to nine. Maybe there was an injury involved here, but Ashburn missed just one game and the Phillies traded him after the season. Looks like a guy who just lost his speed to me. Ripken's 1991 MVP season remains one of the biggest fluke seasons in recent decades. He hit between .250 and .264 every season from 1987 to 1993 except for 1991 when he exploded with one of the great offensive seasons ever by a shortstop. Similarly, Boudreau had one of the best shortstop seasons of all time in 1948, hitting .355 with a .453 OBP (he had 98 walks and just nine strikeouts) while being credited with 3.0 WAR on defense alone. Boudreau had bad ankles and even though he was just 31, 1949 would be his last season as a regular.
Anyway, thanks to Tom for the lists. Good stuff.