The most consistently *good* player ever? (Part 1)

There’s a player who’s not in the Hall of Fame, even though his career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is: six more than the average HOF position player; more than 13 of the 18 HOF second basemen; and more than any other eligible HOF reject besides PED suspects.

The reason usually given for his exclusion is that he had no great years and few truly outstanding ones. I’m not here to dispute that point, and this article is not an argument for putting him in the Hall.

Instead, I’m exploring whether Lou Whitaker was the most consistently “good” position player in MLB history.



  1. This analysis focuses on WAR, using the Baseball-Reference method. If you prefer the FanGraphs method, know that Whitaker rates a little better over there. If you’re skeptical of defensive WAR ratings, know that more than 80% 77% of Whitaker’s WAR value comes from offense; WAR agrees with the popular view that Whitaker was a good, not great, defender. (For instance, among all 2Bs in the 1980s, Whitaker and Willie Randolph are tied for 2nd in dWAR, but far behind #1 Frank White and very close to the #4-5 guys.)
  2. You may know that I’m a Tigers fan, that Whitaker broke in when I was 13, and that I have advocated his election to the Hall of Fame. I’m trying hard to be objective here, but it won’t surprise me if you find some hint of bias.

Number of “good” seasons

Has anyone produced more “good-but-not-great” seasons than Whitaker? In his 19-year career, Whitaker had:

  • Twelve seasons with 3.0 to 5.0 WAR — the most such years in MLB history. (Three others had 11, and two had 10.)
  • Fifteen seasons with 3.0 to 7.0 WAR — again, the most such years in MLB history. (Two others had 14, and two had 13.)

Why those WAR ranges? The floor of 3.0 WAR is a generally accepted standard for a good season by a regular. (See chart.) In a given year, between one-quarter and one-third of those playing 100+ games will register at least 3.0 WAR; it was 29% last year, 28% since 2000, 27% during Whitaker’s career. (The 3-WAR floor is unfair to players before 1884, when the schedule was much shorter, but I can’t help that; if you want to show that Joe Start fits this bill better than Whitaker, go to it.)

I set the first ceiling at 5.0 WAR representing the rough minimum for MVP selection. During Whitaker’s career, 31 of 35 position-player MVPs had at least 5.0 WAR. A player with 3 to 5 WAR has a good chance of being an All-Star, but is unlikely to be in the MVP discussion.

I set the second ceiling at 7.0 WAR representing the rough minimum for a league leader. During Whitaker’s career, 34 of 38 league WAR leaders had at least 7.0 WAR, and all had at least 6.4. There were about four 7-WAR seasons per year during Whitaker’s career.

And for what it’s worth, if we split the difference and count seasons with 3.0 to 6.0 WAR, Whitaker is tied for the all-time lead with two others, at 13 seasons.

So Whitaker has a claim to the most “good-but-not-great” seasons. How does he fare on consistency?

Consistency of “good-or-better” seasons

For this test, I set a preliminary standard of 100+ games, and a secondary standard of 2+ WAR per 100 games (which of course equates with 3 WAR per 150 games). I gathered the players with the most years of 100+ games, then counted the times they reached that WAR rate.

There are 199 players who had at least 14 seasons of 100+ games.

Nine of them met the WAR standard in every one of those years. Eight of those nine are inner-circle HOFers, or at least have the 100-WAR credential; the other is Jeff Bagwell. All of them had many great seasons. (Even Bags had four 7-WAR years, which only 36 other players in history have done.)

These next seven players met the 2-WAR/100-G standard in all but one of their 100-game seasons. They’re ordered by number of years meeting the standard, with their career WAR/100 in parentheses:

Again, all these guys enjoyed many great seasons — all cleared 90 career WAR with ease, and are (or will be) HOFers — except Whitaker.

The point: Almost all players have significant ups and downs in their career, so those who consistently reach a given WAR threshold almost have to average quite far above that threshold. Whitaker is the leading exception to that rule.

Compare these charts of Sweet Lou and A-Rod, who both have 16 years of 100+ games, with 15 of those at 2+ WAR per 100 games. The charts show each player’s 100-game seasons only, not chronologically but ordered by WAR/100 G, from lowest to highest. The red line represents their career average of WAR/100 G.

First, the superstar:

As shown before, A-Rod has been very consistent, meeting the “good” standard in all but one of his 100-game years. Even so, his chart shows a fair amount of variation from his career average.

Now, Sweet Lou:

Eleven of Whitaker’s 16 full years fall within a range of +/- 12% of his career average. Throw out his high and his low year, and the other 14 fall within +/- 31% of his career average. Now, that’s consistency.


So far, we’ve looked at frequency and consistency of good seasons, and Whitaker’s seems to have a strong claim to the title in question. In Part 2, I will:

  • look at the rarity of amassing so much WAR without any great seasons;
  • compare Whitaker to his contemporaries, both at second base and beyond; and
  • look for current players who fit this mold.

76 thoughts on “The most consistently *good* player ever? (Part 1)

  1. 1
    bstar says:

    Good job, John. You’ve convinced me Whitaker is the most consistent good player ever (which makes him very good to great overall, in my construct).

    I thought Eddie Murray would be on the list of near-misses for both the 3-5 WAR years and the 3-7 ones, but he just misses. If you include Murray’s two 2.9 WAR seasons, he does have 13 seasons between 2.9 and 7 WAR.

    To back up your argument for Whitaker, here’s his WAR graphs from Fangraphs. Look at the second one, the cumulative WAR graph. The almost-perfectly straight slope of the line really underscores Sweet Lou’s consistency:

    • 6
      Hartvig says:

      Great pickup on Murray- another of the poster boys for consistency.

      If we were to form a team Wagner would be perhaps the most consistent but maybe not what is meant by the idea behind the article. Jeter or Reese would be maybe a little better matches than Whitaker’s former Keystone partner. Luis Aparicio would be another. At third Ron Cey or Bob Elliott would be good candidates if you consider Ron Santo to rank a notch higher on the greatness ladder.

      • 8
        Ed says:

        Palmeiro is another one. Twelve seasons between 3-7 WAR, plus a season of 2.8 WAR.

      • 13
        PP says:

        Schmidt had 14 straight yrs of 4.7 to 9.5 according to BBREF. 13 of those 14 were above 5.8.

        • 33
          Hartvig says:

          Schmidt, like Wagner and maybe even Santo, kind of crosses from the *good* level into *great* territory tho (Santo’s stretch wasn’t near as long however).

          I just glanced at Henry Aaron’s numbers- he had an almost identical stretch to Schmidt’s (4.7 to 9.1) that went 17 years & all but 1 was 5.9 or above.

    • 10

      That second graph is amazing. Murray’s looks similar (and rides a little higher) until age 34, when he trails off a little, but sticks around as a somewhat useful player.

  2. 2
    Tubbs says:

    Nice to see Whitaker getting some attention. I’ll be interested to see how he does in 2016 when he’s eligible in the Expansion Era Committee Vote. Hopefully Cox, Torre, LaRussa all get in on 2013 ballot so that 2016 won’t be so crowded. I’m not sure how Marvin Miller’s passing will affect his vote total but either way with likely holdovers Dwight Evans, Keith Hernandez, Ted Simmons, and Dave Concepcion, Whitaker will join a stacked ballot in 2016. Also, the Expansion Era will elect ugh Bud Selig when he retires which will likely make him eligible in 2016. Whitaker is very deserving of the HOF, so is Trammell. Consistency is an underrated skill, it was an insult that he didn’t get 5%.

    • 4
      MikeD says:

      It was when Whitaker fell off in rapid order that I wondered if all candidates should have two years on the ballot, falling off in year two if they don’t get five percent. I suspect if a very good player, who some consider Hall-worthy, falls below 5% in year one, it might create a push in year two, hopefully giving the player extra life while his case is debated.

      Yet despite that, I’m guessing any player who is one and done has substantial issues to overcome in the collective mind of BBWAA members, so it probably wouldn’t make much difference.

      • 12

        “I suspect if a very good player, who some consider Hall-worthy, falls below 5% in year one, it might create a push in year two, hopefully giving the player extra life while his case is debated.”

        You mean like Kevin Brown last year? I dislike Brown as much as the next guy, but he’s well above the borderline, as evidenced by his 136 Hall Rating at Hall of Stats. Whitaker’s 142 is even better, but as John notes above, he was more consistently good, while Brown had five straight seasons of 5.9 or more WAR, peaking at 8.3.

        • 32
          MikeD says:

          Brown is certainly another and more recent one. Many believe a HOFer is a HOFer, and if there’s any question about a player being a HOFer, then he isn’t a HOFer. Under that way of thinking, every player should be elected on his first year of eligibility and there would be no need for fifteen years on the ballot. Nice in theory but not in reality.

          I understand mosc’s point about clearing the ballot, but I don’t see a major problem if players were given two years to register five percent, especially if an additional requirement was added, such as a player has to get at least five votes (that will eliminate anyone getting token vote, or even two) to return on the ballot the second year for a shot at 5%. If they don’t get it in he second year, then they’re gone. It would at least give the opportunity for debate if a player like Whitaker or Brown is below 5%. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if many voters on both of those players planned to revisit them in future elections, only to find they quickly fell off.

          Yet, I stick by my other point. Anyone that low is probably never going to get elected by the BBWAA. Trammell, for example, started out at around 15% and more than a decade later he’s still only at 36% Yet that growth does show some shifting of opinion and understanding, which could have also benefited Whitaker.

      • 16
        mosc says:

        You have to clear people off the ballot or else you end up with the same problem you had when they first started voting: 10 people only leaves off Babe Ruth on a couple ballots. Whitaker’s not getting voted in by the 75% process. If you reduce the hall to the players who actually were, he’s not not that close. Maybe he gets in through the back door, more power to him. The front door was rightfully shut in his face.

        • 25
          MikeD says:

          I’m not quite sure what you mean by “rightfully shut in his face.” If by that you mean he didn’t get 5% to stay on the ballot, then you’re correct. He was not elected and dropped off the ballot based on the way the rules are currently constructed. If by “rightfully shut in his face” you mean he doesn’t deserve to be in the HOF, well that’s a whole different discussion.

  3. 3
    MikeD says:

    Interesting, as usual.

    Among current players, I’d guess Jeter might fall into metronome consistency category.

  4. 5
    Ed says:

    John – Great analysis and I look forward to reading the second part. One question: you state that over 80% of Whitaker’s value comes from offense. How did you calculate that? Thanks!

    • 44
      John Autin says:

      Ed — Good question, and perhaps you suspected how I had erred. I did base that statement on Lou’s proportions of oWAR and dWAR — but of course that’s wrong, because dWAR has the positional value folded into it.

      Using the WAR Runs values (and excluding Rpos), Whitaker’s value was 77% offense, 23% defense.

      • 51
        Ed says:

        John – Actually I wasn’t sure. I originally thought that you were counting the positional adjustment as an offensive value. My original inclination was that doing so would be incorrect. But then I realized I could be wrong, that perhaps the positional adjustment is an offensive value. So I did a google search. Which didn’t yield much except the following comment from Dave Cameron:

        “I wouldn’t necessarily phrase it that way. wRAA is an offensive metric, UZR is a defensive metric. The position adjustment, while based on historical defensive performance, is a neutral metric, as is replacement level.

        For instance, you could add wRAA + Position + Replacement together and get our version of VORP, which is an offensive metric.”

        For me, that just confused the issue. He says it’s a neutral metric but then says it’s part of VORP which is an offensive metric. Anyway, obviously a moot point since what I thought you might have done isn’t what you did.

  5. 7
    Ed says:

    How about “Consistently Very Good”? Using John’s definitions and looking at seasons between 5-7 WAR, I get the following list:

    Cobb: 10
    Ott, Speaker: 9
    Frank Thomas, Edgar Martinez: 8
    Abreu, Larkin, Henderson, Molitor, Kaline, Ashburn, Mize: 7

    I actually did this search specifically because I was interested in seeing where Abreu would rank. I expect him to get almost zero support for the HOF and perhaps he doesn’t belong. But I do think he was criminally underrated during his career. BTW, his 7 seasons of 5.0-7.0 WAR were done consecutively. The only other person on the list with 7 such season in a row was Frank Thomas. So by that definition Abreu (and Thomas) was/were the most consistent Very Good player.

    • 21
      mosc says:

      Abreu and Sheffield are chronically underrated. Sheffield has steroids stuff but I don’t think I’m the only one who noticed a much smaller Abreu showing up in 2006 and from then on.

      Sheffield either found safe stuff to use or was never really a big benefactor from it anyway because his late career power numbers were pretty typical for a guy in his late 30s. Slugging .450 at age 40 well after the steroid era in that big NYM ballpark I hope opened some eyes as well to someone who was always a good power threat with BB>SO OBP goodness.

      Abreu’s more underrated due to defense and speed. His -10 career DWAR is absurdly stupid. The arm was there and young Abreu was quite agile.

      Those years for Frank Thomas as “very good” was an understatement. He may not have been a WAR queen with big defense to boost his numbers (-23 dwar? At first base? impossible!) but he was as good as anybody ever. Especially if the general consensus is right that he was clean surrounded by people who weren’t, it’s just exceptional.

      • 24
        Lawrence Azrin says:

        Sheffield had defensive shortcomings that cut down his overall value, though they seem considerably overstated by the Rfield WAR in B-R. AFAIK, -195 runs is the worst Rfield ever?

        Frank Thomas was absolutely AWESOME in his twenties and looked like he was in that Ruth/Williams territory as one of the best hitters ever, but after age 32, injuries and a big drop in BA dragged him down from awesome to very good-to-excellent. He could always walk and hit for some power.

      • 30
        Ed says:

        Abreu was also underrated because he was a multi-talented player who lacked one outstanding skill.

        BTW, I know I’m a broken record on this but you can’t look at dwar by itself because it includes the positional adjustment. In Thomas’ case, most of the -23 dwar comes from the negative positional adjustment of being a DH for much of his career. In the field he had -65 fielding runs, which translates to a loss of about 6 or 7 WAR, not 23.

      • 46
        bstar says:

        Mosc, the same metrics that you say are absurdly stupid are agreeing with you, that Abreu was a fine outfielder when he was younger.

        As Ed points out, Rfield is really the column you should be looking at for fielding prowess. Let’s look at Abreu before and after age 30.

        Rfield up to age 30: +62 fielding runs
        Rfield past age 30: -61 fielding runs
        Rfield for career: +1 fielding runs

        Abreu is actually quite the poster child for how outfielders age. He doesn’t have one negative Rfield until he gets into his 30s, and after that he would never again put up a positive defensive number.

        DRS and TZ saw Abreu as a good outfielder (great for a few years), and then a below average one as he totally lost his speed as he aged. Add them all up, and he comes out average. Doesn’t this make perfect sense? The -10 you’re seeing is just the accumulation of his positional adjustment over the years.

        • 58
          mosc says:

          I actually like the defensive metrics for comparing within a position. The issue for me is when they are used to offset their offensive stats and especially so when it is compared to other players who play different positions. Defensive stats work well at telling me who was the best defensive left fielder or something, they just don’t do a damn bit of good including in the total value of that player and are completely meaningless in comparing the total value of that left fielder against a catcher. The problem with dwar is it’s used as position independent and because it’s used in WAR. I don’t want to start this argument again here but please keep in mind what my actual issue is. I like that the defensive stats show Abreu as an above average defender when he was younger and a below average defender as he aged. I argue the magnitude of those values is too severe on both sides.

          DH should cost you some DWAR but a win a year? That’s absurd. The magnitudes on defensive values are off to me. Outfielders matter less, middle infielders matter more. Catchers matter most of all. The damn pitcher fields more than your left fielder does.

          • 61
            John Autin says:

            False statement: “The damn pitcher fields more than your left fielder does.”

            Not unless you’re comparing Greg Maddux to Greg Luzinski.

            2012 MLB stats:
            Total chances:
            P – 8481
            LF – 9218

            That’s 9% more chances for LF.

            Further, almost 90% of pitchers’ putouts are simply taking a throw at first base. And a play not made by a LF often goes for two or three bases, which is almost never the case for pitchers.

            It’s clear that left fielders’ defense is far more important than that of pitchers.

          • 63
            mosc says:

            I didn’t realize the total chances were higher for LF, I stand corrected there.

            But covering first is not easy on any play starting on the mound. Lazy fly balls to left or cutting off a base hit and throwing to the middle infielder are pretty easy plays. There are great defensive plays in left probably more often than from the mound but the routine plays are more difficult for the pitcher. So what I’m saying is a gold glove pitcher adds more defensive value than a gold glove left fielder. Course, the pitcher is only on the field for like what? 15% of the season at most? Still, as a positional value, I would rank pitcher higher than a corner outfielder defensively.

      • 60
        Jason Z says:

        On June 14, 1997 I attended a game between the Yankees and Marlins in Miami.

        No record exists because the game was rained out after 1 inning.

        But what an inning.

        The Yankees scored four runs in the top of the first.

        The Marlins came up and scored five runs in the bottom
        of the first, then the rain came, and the game was cancelled.

        Even so, events transpired, including something I will never

        Gary Sheffield came up with the bases loaded against David
        Wells. He failed off two pitches into the upper deck down
        the left field line. Both pitches were crushed, and one could
        see that Sheffield had Wells timed perfectly.

        Before the next pitch, for the only time in my life, I had
        no doubt that Sheffield would homer on the next pitch. Never before, or since, in 36 years of watching baseball, have I ever
        positively expected a home run.

        The ferocity of his swings and where those first two pitches
        had landed convinced me.

        The next pitch was absolutely crushed. It was amazing to see.

        That thought and a career OPS+ of 140 leave no doubt in my mind
        that Gary Sheffield is a Hall of Famer.

  6. 9
    deal says:

    Whitaker’s Career oWAR ranks 65th all-time, yet he only has one career offesive category that ranks in that range – Walks 57th.

    Played a long time and has reallly good career numbers for a guy that only recieved MVP votes in one season.

    The man retired with an active string of 5 consecutive years of 120+ OPS. I would think that is not very common.

    • 11
      Richard Chester says:

      In his last 5 years Whitaker had a minimal seasonal PA total of 285. Using that as a seasonal cut-off there have been 5 other players with their last 5 years of 120+ OPS or better in the ML (Federal League excepted). They are Larry Walker, Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Roy Cullenbine and Bob Johnson.

      • 17
        deal says:

        Thanks Richard – I love this I come up with some crazy hypothesis/Question and by lunch time somebody has an answer.

        Roberto Clemente would have been the one folks could figure out.

        Who knew that Mantles final years remained so Productive – despite a pretty low BA he still got walked a lot. In that pitching dominated era his AVG was probably not that far below the rest of the leagues.

        • 18
          Richard Chester says:

          It’s really easy to find those players if you are a PI subscriber.

        • 20
          Lawrence Azrin says:

          His last two years Mantle’s BA was .245 and .238, but still seven and five points above the AL average. He never had a year where his BA was less than the league average.

          His OPS both years was well over a hundred points better than the league-average.

          • 34
            Jimbo says:

            The hitter-anemic 60’s made Mantles final years look much worse than they really were. Maybe in a different era he wouldn’t have felt so diminished and might’ve played a few more years?

          • 62
            mosc says:

            Mantle was done for non-baseball related reasons and being hobbled in the pre-DH era. Also, his strikeouts were racking up and that was thought of very negatively in his era. We look now at the walks and say his plate discipline was excellent but he was ragged on for it. I think in today’s era he would have swung away even more, been forced to stay sober, and would have been impossible for Barry Bond’s late roiding to keep up with for career HR’s.

          • 64
            Jason Z says:

            I think Mantle’s retirement was the result of two things.

            He had been playing in pain for a long time and probably had enough.

            Also, he was very frustrated that his career average had fallen below .300 (.298)

            Probably didn’t see a pathway back to .300.

          • 66
            mosc says:

            He couldn’t get out of the box barely at all by the end. His power, his eye, bat speed, they were all still enough to keep going. Obviously the power was down due to age but still productive. His BAbip dropped to a career worst .262 in ’68. I think his next season would have been pretty ugly. Nobody wants to see a hero playing below league average.

            I don’t think he was ever that comfortable at first base either. Pepitone was not mantle with the bat but he was a very good defensive first basemen displaced to an outfield role he was not well suited for. He had gold gloves in ’65 and ’66 before mantle needed to be moved, and returned to first in post-mantle ’69 to win his third and final GG.

      • 19
        Doug says:

        If you look at number of qualifying seasons among the last 5 at 120+ OPS+, only Bob Johnson meets these criteria for all 5 seasons. And, he did so at age 35-39. Nobody has done this in 4 of the 5 last seasons since the 1950s.

        Rk Yrs From To Age
        1 Bob Johnson 5 1941 1945 35-39 Ind. Seasons
        2 Jackie Jensen 4 1956 1959 29-32 Ind. Seasons
        3 Ralph Kiner 4 1951 1954 28-31 Ind. Seasons
        4 Roy Cullenbine 4 1943 1947 29-33 Ind. Seasons
        5 Lou Gehrig 4 1935 1938 32-35 Ind. Seasons
        6 Bill Terry 4 1932 1935 33-36 Ind. Seasons
        7 Babe Ruth 4 1931 1934 36-39 Ind. Seasons
        8 Lefty O’Doul 4 1930 1933 33-36 Ind. Seasons
        9 Harry Heilmann 4 1927 1930 32-35 Ind. Seasons
        10 Braggo Roth 4 1917 1920 24-27 Ind. Seasons
        11 Shoeless Joe Jackson 4 1916 1920 28-32 Ind. Seasons
        12 Sam Crawford 4 1913 1916 33-36 Ind. Seasons
        13 Johnny Bates 4 1910 1914 27-31 Ind. Seasons
        14 Jake Stahl 4 1908 1912 29-33 Ind. Seasons
        15 Tim Jordan 4 1906 1909 27-30 Ind. Seasons
        Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
        Generated 11/30/2012.
        • 52
          deal says:

          Lot of early retirees in the list. Gehrig is the big one of course. Shoeless Joe ejected. Kiner Injury. Jackie Jensen Fear of flying.

          Clemente would be on the list if the threshold is reduced to 400 PAs. After age 32 he never played more then 140 games.

          • 53
            Richard Chester says:

            Harry Heilmann is another early retiree. He retired after the 1930 season at age 35 due to arthritis. In 1932 he made an ill-fated comeback attempt and had to quit again after only 15 games with a 58 OPS+.

      • 54
        Ed says:

        Wonder if Roy Cullenbine is the only guy to get released after three straight seasons of 4.0+ WAR?

        • 55
          Richard Chester says:

          Cullenbine and Clemente are the only players with a WAR of 4+ in each of their last three years. So Cullenbine is the only guy to be released. In his last year, 1947, Cullenbine batted .224 with an OBP of .401. That is the lowest BA for a player with a .400+ OBP. He received 137 BB, the most ever for a last season.

          • 56
            Richard Chester says:

            Cullenbine set another record in 1947. His 22-game streak of at least one BB broke the record then held by Ted Williams.

  7. 14

    Whitaker’s might be the first case in which sabermetrics build a reasonable Hall of Fame case for a player who didn’t seem to have one previously. People talk about Blyleven being a SABR-darling, but the guy threw 60 shutouts and had ten seasons with an ERA below 3. We don’t need park and era adjustments to know that he was an all-time great; we just need to stop caring about wins and losses (though Blyleven had a ton of wins too).

    In Whitaker’s case, he’s got no black ink (except for co-leading the league in games played in a strike-shortened year), he rarely hit .300, and he only got MVP votes in one year. Without the tools available to measure his accumulated value by aggregating offense, defense, and baserunning and making contextual adjustments, there’s no real reason to think he’s a Hall of Famer. If Whitaker ever gets in, he’ll owe a lot to the nerds. Most other Hall of Famers owe more to common sense.

    Unless Bill Dahlen gets in first.

    • 29
      Ed says:

      Bryan – Perhaps but I think John’s post is the sort of thing that works against Whitaker. The reason he didn’t receive much support when he was on the ballot is because he was perceived as a good, but not great player. This just reinforces that perception.

      • 31

        Ed, I think we basically agree here, but before WAR, we didn’t have a method of comparing the cumulative value of a long, good-but-not-great career to a short-but-high-peak guy. I’m actually on the fence about Whitaker’s candidacy, but the fact that he earned more WAR with his good-but-not-great play than Frank Thomas or Reggie Jackson or Roberto Alomar tells us something we didn’t know when Whitaker was first on the ballot, doesn’t it?

    • 35
      John Autin says:

      Great point, Bryan. But let me add that 2B, SS and C are positions where I believe you’ll find a *lot* of HOFers who had no black ink.

    • 65
      mosc says:

      Whitaker and Trammel probably go in together on some veteran committee type thing. That’s what I would think. Maybe one focused on using proper statistical analysis on the era between the lowered mound and the syringe?

  8. 15
    Doug says:

    Indian Bob Johnson is another player of this mold.

    Played only 13 seasons, but all were above 502 PA. 11 of the 13 seasons were between 3 and 7 WAR – the other two were 2.5 and 2.7. 11 of his 13 seasons were also between 125 and 147 OPS+ – the other two were 156 and 174. All of his seasons had an OBP above 0.350, and 11 of 13 seasons had a slugging percentage above 0.450.

  9. 22
    mosc says:

    Is there a player in baseball history with a bigger percentage of his total WAR being cut by WAA than whitaker? Some minimum cuttoff, say 30 career war. What’s whitaker at like 50% of his war being cut by going to WAA?

    • 26
      Baltimorechop says:

      BREF doesn’t have a WAA option in their player index, unfortunately.

      Whitaker has 71.4 WAR, 42.8 WAA (just under 60%)
      Reggie Jackson (first guy i clicked on) 68.4 WAR, 35.4 WAA 51.7%

      Yet Reggie made that top 50 “Inner Circle” hall of fame list, and Whitaker still has to buy a ticket to get in the hall. Free your mind.

      • 27
        Baltimorechop says:

        More guys under Lou:

        Biggio: 62.1 29.1 (47%)
        McCovey: 60.7 30.4 (50%)
        Murray: 63.4 27.4 (43%)

        all % are rounded and from Hall of Stats.

      • 59
        mosc says:

        Interesting stats. Defense is jading things too much. All the guys showing up here are poor defensive players compared to a consistently excellent defensive players. All the guys listed hit better than Whitaker I’d say.

        Ryan shouldn’t get penalized for being a league average pitcher in his 40s. He was in his 40s!

  10. 23
    Brent says:

    Huh, guess the wrong Detroit second baseman has the nickname “Mechanical Man”.

    • 36
      John Autin says:

      Brent, that’s a sharp observation. Gehringer produced just a few more WAR than Whitaker, and they’re even closer on a per-PA basis. But Gehringer had FIVE 7-WAR seasons. Only 26 others in MLB history have so many great seasons, five of them second basemen.

  11. 40
    birtelcom says:

    Most seasons with an OPS+ over 100 but below 142:
    17 Gwynn, Whitaker, Sam Rice
    16 Darrell Evans, Yaz

  12. 41
    no statistician but says:

    I’m late to the debate, but here are a few observations:

    Going strictly by WAR, a cumulative interpretive stat, is a method that rewards longevity and consistency, and while it opens our eyes to someone like Whitaker, it also has the power to overvalue someone like Whitaker. Here is where I’m cruising into dangerous waters, but I’ll go on to say that a player who flew so consistently beneath the radar of widespread appreciation in his career—5 times an All Star, only once in an MVP vote (eighth place)—may possibly seem better in hindsight than he actually was in the flesh owing to not simply nostalgia but statistical interpretations that favor his style of play. As Bill James pointed out about Phil Rizzuto (and probably some other players), while the man was playing no one was thinking , Aha! Future HOFer! In the Scooter’s case, being in NY, being a broadcaster, being matched in people’s minds with Pee Wee—the whole laundry list—carried him in as much as his MVP, All Star status, lost war years, and undoubted defensive excellence. Does he belong? WAR says no, in part because of the lost years, in part because his offensive numbers are hindered by a lack of power. Does a good player in a key position on 8 pennant winners and 7 WS champs belong? Maybe.

    That brings up my other point, which I made a few weeks back on a different post: If you believe in a small Hall, only 30 to 40 players as of now really are that much above the rest. If you believe in a large Hall, there ought to be room for people like Whitaker on the basis John reveals here so well, and room for the Scooter on the basis of what I’ve pointed out here along with some things I haven’t. There ought to be no set criteria per se—Sorry, Adam—simply a sense of worthiness to be enshrined for what was done in the overall scheme. I haven’t time to elaborate, but there are all kinds of ways players qualify legitimately for the Hall—look at the ones who are already there whom no one questions.

    • 42
      Baltimorechop says:

      Re: war overvaluing Whitaker

      Hof-Ers with more PA but less war than Lou


      Appling, Gwynn, Reggie, Banks, alomar, Dawson, Frisch

      Non Hof-Ers with more war in fewer PA:
      Pujols and bagwell. Just 2

      Hof-Ers with more war in fewer PA:
      9. Only 11 guys had more war in fewer PA period.

      In what way does WAR favor Lou?

      • 47
        no statistician but says:


        I’m not sure I follow your argument. If I had claimed that WAR overvalued Whitaker, which I did only in a conditional sense, your saying that his WAR is superior to those of other players could logically be used in an argument to support the position that WAR overvalues Whitaker. I think.

        The main point of JA’s analysis is that in the long term Whitaker was consistently good, played at a high level every year and played for a pretty long time. My point was not that Whitaker particularly, but someone like Whitaker, could be both undervalued, which Whitaker obviously was, and overvalued by people who look at accumulated WAR and nothing else to determine a player’s ultimate worth. JA points out again and again that Whitaker was not the highest of the high or very often even close in any given season—just good to very good year after year after year after year—but the weight of the evidence gives credence to the position that this style of play, consistency at an unvaryingly good level, is unique and special.

        And, to my mind—as my second paragraph indicates pretty clearly—it more than qualifies him for the HOF for his achievement, provided that we’re talking about a HOF that isn’t restricted to the few, the “small Hall.” Do I think he’s a better player than Appling, Gwynn, or Reggie on the basis of accumulated WAR? Nope.

        • 57
          Baltimorechop says:

          My point is that the idea that war overvalued Lou is based around it rewarding his longevity. Yet, many significant hall of famers have fewer war in more plate appearances. Additionally, only 11 players total have scored more war in fewer plate appearances.

          Lou’s criticism is entirely based on his supposed unspectacular play over a long career. Were that the case, there should be many non hall of famers who out war’ed him in fewer plate appearances. I guess if one has no faith whatsoever in war they could say it favors Lou in a general sense.

          He may not have had the spikes ( such as Reggie’s 30 hrs before the break), but Whitaker was immensely valuable.

    • 43
      John Autin says:

      As I said up front, the point of this piece was *not* to stump for Whitaker as a HOF candidate. But it seems the question cannot be ignored.

      Let’s keep it simple: In my opinion, if you oppose Whitaker for the Hall, then you either reject WAR, or you make a specific case for why WAR overvalues him, or you set a criterion of great seasons that a HOFer must have.

      By any measure of career WAR, Whitaker is a clear HOFer:

      — Career WAR of 71.4 is 6 more than the average position-player HOFer.

      — In WAR per 1,000 games, Whitaker would rank 55th among positional HOFers — well above the median, just behind Ryne Sandberg, just ahead of Ron Santo. Whitaker averaged 29.9 WAR/1000. The average pos. HOFer had 30.4.

      Whitaker played a long time, but we’re not talking about Pete Rose here. He’s 84th all-time in games with 2,390. That’s 11 games more than Alomar (whom he easily bests in WAR both total and per 1000), 11 games less than Mantle (who retired at 36).

      Do you think that WAR somehow overvalues Whitaker by as much as 20%? Well, 80% of his actual WAR would be 57.4, which would rank 75th among pos. HOFers. 80% of his WAR/1000 would be 23.9, which would rank 103rd in that group — tied with Willie Keeler, ahead of 24 HOFers who have at least 40 career WAR.

      80% of Whitaker would best on both counts 20 HOFers who have at least 40 career WAR:

      HOFer … Career … WAR/1000
      Zack Wheat … 56.9 … 23.6
      Harmon Killebrew … 55.8 … 22.9
      Willie Stargell … 54.2 … 23.0
      Luis Aparicio … 51.7 … 19.9
      Enos Slaughter … 51.3 … 21.6
      Max Carey … 51.1 … 20.6
      Tony Perez … 50.1 … 18.0
      Harry Hooper … 49.4 … 21.4
      Bid McPhee … 48.3 … 22.6
      Sam Rice … 48.0 … 20.0
      Nellie Fox … 46.3 … 19.6
      Orlando Cepeda … 46.1 … 21.7
      Kiki Cuyler … 44.4 … 23.6
      Jim Rice … 44.3 … 21.2
      Ernie Lombardi … 43.6 … 23.5
      Edd Roush … 43.0 … 21.9
      Lou Brock … 42.8 … 16.4
      Chuck Klein … 41.5 … 23.7
      Heinie Manush … 41.5 … 20.7
      Hugh Duffy … 40.1 … 23.1

      I’ve already conceded that Whitaker had no great seasons, so if that’s a deal-breaker for your HOF, we have no quarrel. But if you think WAR overvalues him, you should explain why, or withdraw your point.

      And the “I know it when I see it” standard is no more persuasive for HOF selection than it is for defining pornography.

      • 45
        Mike L says:

        John A, I’d put them both in, and give some consideration to Willie Randolph (63 WAR, 28.6 WAR/1000). But the three had very bad luck to be considered at a time when the middle infield positions were being redefined by a number of exceptional offensive players.

      • 48
        no statistician but says:


        I feel like the man who was always misunderstood. I agree with you totally on Whitaker’s value and I thank you for putting it in such persuasive terms. Here is what I replied above to Baltimorechop that may explain my position more clearly. Cheers.

        “The main point of JA’s analysis is that in the long term Whitaker was consistently good, played at a high level every year and played for a pretty long time. My point was not that Whitaker particularly, but someone like Whitaker, could be both undervalued, which Whitaker obviously was, and overvalued by people who look at accumulated WAR and nothing else to determine a player’s ultimate worth. JA points out again and again that Whitaker was not the highest of the high or very often even close in any given season—just good to very good year after year after year after year—but the weight of the evidence gives credence to the position that this style of play, consistency at an unvaryingly good level, is unique and special.

        And, to my mind—as my second paragraph indicates pretty clearly—it more than qualifies him for the HOF for his achievement, provided that we’re talking about a HOF that isn’t restricted to the few, the “small Hall.” Do I think he’s a better player than Appling, Gwynn, or Reggie on the basis of accumulated WAR? Nope.”

        Pornography, by my definition, is any deliberate attempt to take advantage of human weakness to elicit a heightened emotional response not appropriate to the stimulus. Given this definition horror stories are far more pornographic than films depicting explicit sexual acts. You had to ask.

    • 49
  13. 50
    Mike Felber says:

    If you prioritize peak value, maybe he does not make it. For me he does. Above average HOF man in career value, but lower peak. Avergae them together, barely better than the average HOF 2B

    Second Base (11th), 71.4 career WAR/36.5 7yr-peak WAR/54.0 JAWS
    Average HOF 2B (out of 19) = 66.0 career WAR/42.8 7yr-peak WAR/54.4 JAWS
    Similarity Scores
    Explanation of Similarity Scores

    Doing it with good WAR per PA does it for me. If he just played forever, I would say no.

  14. 67
    leatherman says:

    I just wanted to add Bobby Grich into the discussion. His career wasn’t quite as long as Whitaker’s, but his peak was much higher. Grich accumulated 33.3 WAR (6.7 avg) in five seasons from 1972-1976, while Whitaker’s top five season total was just 24.5. In the 15 seasons from 1972-1986, here are Grich’s WAR values: 5.6, 8.0, 7.0, 7.0, 5.7, 1.3 (injured, 52 games), 3.1, 5.7, 3.9, 5.3, 3.4, 4.1, 1.6, 2.7, and 1.8.

    His career WAR total of 67.3 (including 16.2 dWAR) is close to Whitaker’s 71.4 (15.4 dWAR) as well. They were very similar, but Whitaker played three more seasons and his WAR values were far more consistent than Grich’s. Grich had 7 seasons with WAR value greater than 5.2, while Whitaker only had 2.

    • 68
      John Autin says:

      Leatherman, Grich is surely one of the most underrated great players in MLB history. He had 3 seasons of 7+ WAR. Every other HOF-eligble 2B with 3 or more years of at least 6.5 WAR has been inducted. Only 3 other eligible 2Bs with an 8-WAR year have not been inducted — Snuffy Stirnweiss (twice during WWII), Chuck Knoblauch and Bret Boone.

      One thing I hadn’t looked at close enough is how good an offensive player Grich was *before* he signed the big deal with the Angels (after his age-27 season). There are 60 2Bs in MLB history with 3,000+ PAs through age 27. Grich’s 127 OPS+ ranks 7th in that group — and that’s before he ever hit 20 HRs in a season.

      His career 125 OPS+ ranks 9th among all 2Bs in MLB history. And then there’s the Gold Gloves.

      Among the 45 retired 2Bs with 30+ career WAR, Grich ranks 8th in WAR/game.

      But despite the high peak and a few off years, he shares with Whitaker the trait of being good in every facet of the game, to the point where no signature skill stands out. In that regard, I’m not sure that Grich’s star would be much bigger if he played today.

      • 69
        Doug says:

        Looking at career span of the HOF second basemen, there are, with two exceptions, at least two HOF players who were active in every season since 1901. The two exception are the years 1973 to 1980, when only Joe Morgan, among HOF second basemen, was active, and the years 1985 to 1987, when only Ryne Sandberg was active.

        Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker would fill those “holes” very nicely, all the more so since both were in the opposite league of their HOF contemporary.

        Player WAR/pos From ▴ To Age
        Nap Lajoie 85.6 1901 1916 26-41
        Johnny Evers 45.2 1902 1929 20-47
        Eddie Collins 118.5 1906 1930 19-43
        Rogers Hornsby 124.6 1915 1937 19-41
        Frankie Frisch 68.0 1919 1937 20-38
        Charlie Gehringer 76.6 1924 1942 21-39
        Tony Lazzeri 46.2 1926 1939 22-35
        Billy Herman 52.5 1931 1947 21-37
        Bobby Doerr 47.4 1937 1951 19-33
        Joe Gordon 54.0 1938 1950 23-35
        Red Schoendienst 39.0 1945 1963 22-40
        Nellie Fox 46.3 1947 1965 19-37
        Jackie Robinson 58.7 1947 1956 28-37
        Bill Mazeroski 32.3 1956 1972 19-35
        Joe Morgan 97.1 1963 1984 19-40
        Ryne Sandberg 64.9 1981 1997 21-37
        Roberto Alomar 62.9 1988 2004 20-36
        Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
        Generated 12/6/2012.

        Another way to look at the list above – the first 56 seasons since 1901 are represented by the top 13 names on the list, the next 56 years, only by the last four names (and parts of Fox and Schoendienst’s careers). To be sure, there may yet be more HOFers to represent the last 56 seasons, but it’s still quite an imbalance.

        Want to know how bad Bill Mazeroski was as a HOF pick? Maz has less career WAR than 2nd baseman Miller Huggins, elected to the HOF as a manager.

        • 70
          Ed says:

          If we’re going to talk about criminally underrated 2nd basemen, then I have to mention Chase Utley. One of only 27 players in MLB history with 5 or more seasons of 7+ WAR. All the others are in the Hall, most on the first ballot. Utley also has 5 seasons of being in the top 3 in WAR for NL position players, yet he’s never finished higher then 7th in MVP balloting. I don’t get it. Sure he’s been overshadowed by Ryan Howard to a certain extent but Biggio never had that problem re: Bagwell. And Alomar played with plenty of home run hitters as well.

          BTW, since they started recording caught stealing data in 1951, Utley is the only player with two seasons of 14+ steals and 0 caught stealing.

          • 71
            John Autin says:

            Amen on Utley. Yet I feel his HOF chances slipping away. Between the late start (first full year at 26) and the injuries that have limited him to 100 games per year over the last three, it’s easy to imagine his raw totals costing him a lot of votes when the time comes.

            P.S. Utley is the career leader in SB%.

          • 72
            Ed says:

            Agreed John. What puzzles me the most is his poor showing in the MVP votes. I just can’t figure out what the voters wanted him to do that he wasn’t doing.

          • 73
            John Autin says:

            Ed @72 — “I just can’t figure out what the voters wanted him to do that he wasn’t doing.”

            Sure you can! Just look at his teammates who won MVP Awards in 2006 and 2007! The voters still love large raw numbers, like 149 RBI or 139 Runs.

          • 74
            Ed says:

            Actually 2008 is the year that frustrates me the most.

            290+ BA, 30+ HRs, 40+ doubles, 100+ runs and rbis, 14/16 SBs, led the league in hit by pitches, and played gold glove caliber defense at 2nd. And of course, he played for a team that finished first.

            So where did he finish in the MVP balloting? 14th! 14th! He finished behind two players (Manny and CC) who were only in the NL for 1/3 of the season. He finished behind Ryan Braun, Carlos Delgado and Aramis Ramirez all of whom he beat in OPS, not to mention being better in the field and the basepaths. He finished behind the Phillies closer (Lidge) who had a nice season but nothing historic. He finished behind Chipper Jones who missed 34 games and whose Braves finished 20 games behind the Phillies.

            And of course, he finished behind his teamamte Ryan Howard whom he also beat in OPS that year.

            I really think some people should have been permanently banned from voting, based on what happened that year.

          • 75
            Doug says:


            To your point about Utley’s late start, Kiki Cuyler is the only HOF position player since 1901 who, like Utley, compiled fewer than 150 games before his age 26 season.

          • 76
            John Autin says:

            Doug @75 — Good point, but not quite complete. Through age 25, Bill Terry had 80 games, and Earl Combs just 24.

            I’ll guess that you checked “Non-pitcher” in your P-I search. Doing so creates a default requirement of at least 50% of games at some specific position. Terry and Combs do not meet that requirement; Terry pinch-hit in 47 of his 80 games, while Combs pinch-hit or pinch-ran in 13 of his 24.

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