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The Greatest Reds: The "I don't know how to quit you" Edition

It’s been a few weeks since the last installation of The Greatest Reds series, but I have a couple of complementary pieces I wanted to tack on before the start of Spring Training. This first follow-up will investigate the concept of replacement value with respect to the top 100 list, and will also contemplate where Aroldis Chapman currently sits on the list. Into the gory details, after the jump…

At the very beginning of the top 100 countdown, I wrote a brief explanation of Win Shares, and why I used them as a starting point for the rankings. I also shared what is commonly considered to be Win Shares' primary flaw: it uses a very low baseline, such that a mediocre player can accumulate significant Win Share totals more or less just by showing up and being inserted into the lineup.

In other words, what is missing from Win Shares is context: how many games or innings or at-bats did it take the player to earn 10 Win Shares? To some degree, all valuation metrics suffer from this, although the common remedy is to establish "replacement level" baselines that use a theoretical concept of freely available replacement talent, and calculate value above that line.

The Win Shares-centric version of this concept has been publicly championed by Dave Studeman, and he named his modified metric Win Shares Above Bench (WSAB). It takes a player's level of Win Shares, then subtracts the level of Win Shares we might expect a bench/replacement player to earn over the same amount of playing time.

Readers with OCD will remember that the top 100 countdown was not a strict Win Shares ranking, but tried to balance career and peak performances. With WSAB, I tried first to rank strictly on pure career totals, and then applied a similar peak component like with the original list. Here's a table with the three versions:


On the left is the list that ran on the website, in the middle is the career only ranking, and on the right is WSAB with peak/prime adjustments. You'll also notice the color coding: players in red are those who have dropped more than ten spots from the original list. Players in green are those who have risen more than ten spots. Yellow names indicate those who didn't place in the Win Share-based list, and blue shading is for those players who drop completely out of the top 100.

Bullet-point observations:

  • Since color = variance, it's rather obvious to point out that regardless of the value metric used, there's not a whole lot of shake-up at the top of the lists. I would imagine this to be true of nearly all franchises.
  • Pitchers do well with the higher replacement level, and this is by design. One of the ongoing criticisms with Win Shares is that it doesn't allocate enough credit to pitchers, so the WSAB metric adjusts accordingly. So down-list, you'll see a bunch of pitchers (including relievers) making significant jumps up the list. At the top, however, this is still a hitting franchise: Just one of the top 10 is a pitcher (peaking at #8) compared to none in the first list, and 7 of the top 25 in the WSAB list, as opposed to the initial six. Fascinating (to me) is John Franco's placement in the top 40.
  • Conversely, the players who fall out of the top 100 are primarily up-the-middle guys, including a bunch of guys who had better gloves than bats, and who tended to get stable playing time over a decent length of time.
  • Of the current players, Brandon Phillips is swapped out for Joey Votto.
  • Still Pete Rose at the top (sorry, Slyde). In the WSAB influenced list, Pete's scores about 7% higher than the #2 guy, as opposed to 16% in the original list.

In my opinion, the list on the right is closer to how I would draft for a sim league, while the list on the left matches more satisfactorily my instincts and perceptions as a fan. To use one brief example from today's team, there is no doubt that Joey Votto is a better player than Brandon Phillips, and I can understand how and why Votto's added more incremental value to the club over his short career. On the other hand, Phillips has more than double the appearances than Votto, and is perceived in my mind as the more historically significant Redleg. Additionally, should Votto hit .240 next year, with no power while playing every day (henceforth: "dropping a Tavares"), he would fall off the list on the right. Should Phillips do the same, he would remain on the left-hand list. Again, the former makes sense; the latter appeals to the aesthetics of fandom.

Perhaps a combination of the two would satisfy the competing instincts. Or perhaps we're swimming in murky water, resistant to strict definition. What say you?