Birtelcom’s recent post on dynastic succession by teams got me to thinking about succession in terms of players. In particular, does the best player at a position remain the best player for an extended period, or does that honor tend to shift around among the better players during any particular time?
To answer this question, I looked at cumulative bWAR measured over 5 year periods, for every such period since 1961. Since I was focusing on individual positions, I set a high threshold of at least 75% of games played at that position during the period. This approach will exclude players who split time among positions, or around the time of a mid-career position switch. But, I believe those are precisely the reasons why this approach is preferable when evaluating players by position.
In his Baseball Abstracts, Bill James talked about the considerations that went into his HOF Standards and HOF Monitor scores. I don’t recall exactly how he expressed it, but one of things James looked at was whether a player was recognized as the best at his position at the player’s peak, and also how long that peak was. I’m not going to delve into the subjective argument of how a player was recognized or regarded. Instead, the table below is one way to represent whether a player was the best at his position, whether recognized as such or not.
So, here’s the table. Scroll through to see the top MLB player by bWAR on a year-by-year. Again, the player identified is the one accumulating the most bWAR in the 5 year period ending with the indicated year. Also, you can type a player’s name, or a year, in the Search bar to bring up that specific information.
[table id=33 /]
You can see that dynasties exist for players as well as teams. Sometimes, there are transition periods between the emergence of truly dominant players at a position but, in most cases, players tend to hold their crown for a few years at least, and often more, sometimes a lot more.
So, what do you think? Any surprises? Does this feed fuel to the fire for any HOF arguments?
I will follow up this post with one on outfielders and another on pitchers and catchers. If I’m feeling energetic, I’ll also take a look at 1901-1960.