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Win Shares Paperback – February, 2002
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The Win Shares rating system was the basis for his player rankings in the New Historical Abstract.
James always seems a step ahead of everyone else when it comes to baseball analysis. The players' performance in a season is summarized by an integer number representing three times the number of wins a player contributed to his team. For instance Barry Bonds scored a 54 for 2001 -- tied for the third best season according to James.
Getting through the detailed explanation of the system (over one hundred pages) takes time. I wish it had been condensed some more. The fun begins when James uses his results to ask questions such as "Which players deserved postseason awards?"
or to compare players over different eras like Carl Yastrzemski and Chuck Klein.
Another emphasis in this book is on fielding stats. James spends a lot of time picking apart Total Baseball's fielding ratings and then attempting to prove his system is better.
There is also a 500-page reference section showing Win Share results for players on every major league team since 1876, career progressions for top players, career and single-season leaders, etc. Overall, a nice companion to the new Historical Abstract and Total Baseball.
This book, in particular, however, is one that all but the most diehard statheads will find a tad disappointing. The first 100 pages of the book is concerned with constructing the system and running it through three examples. I found this interesting because I was fascinated by the construction of this system. James does an excellent job of justifying his methodology and is sensitive to the fact that this is the first version of Win Shares -- it can stand improvement. But it might get tedious if numbers don't fascinate you.
The second section details why he made some of the decisions he made in constructing the system. The third section is what most people will find interesting -- a long section of Jamesian essays looking at ROY awards, MVP awards, comparing various players, finding good players on bad teams, extreme teams (all hitting or all defense), etc. Great stuff.
The fourth section is like Baseball Enyclopedia -- a listing of win shares for every team in baseball history, with detailed breakdowns for certain players. If you're fond of finding out who was the most valuable player on the 1982 Brewers or whether Don Sutton really WAS that good, you'll have fun. But if the baseball encyclopedia or baseballreference.Read more ›
People often look to new statistics to simply reaffirm what they already believe. Of course Babe Ruth's 1927 season was the greatest of all time. Of course, Bob Gibson's 1968 season was the pinnacle of pitching excellence in the 'live ball' era. Without a doubt, any number of Ozzie Smith's seasons would rank him in the very top of shortstops in terms of defense. And book after book comes out and tells us the same stuff we already have heard.
I, for one, have listened to enough people repeating these supposed "truisms" of baseball history to be exciting to another bandwagon statistician. The beauty of Bill James' Win Shares is that it presents a different way of looking at things, thus contributing in a new and exciting way to the discourse of baseball statistical exploration. And by the way, according to James's research, Babe Ruth's '27 season didn't crack James' Top 25. Two pitchers in the year 1972 alone rank better than Gibby's '68 campaign. And, no matter how hard you look, no Ozzie Smith season made the 10 ten for defense among shortstops.
James' system operates on the idea that individual statistics (such as batting average or home runs) should not be looked at in a vacuum. Obviously, a home run in Coors Field is less significant than a home run in Dodger Stadium. With more runs being scored, a home run in Colorado does less to contribute to a win than a home run in a traditional pitcher's park like Chavez Ravine. And batting .350 in 1932 when the National League average was over .300 means far less than it does in 2001 when the league average is in the .250 range.Read more ›
I have a major criticism with the win shares system, however, and I hope I'll be able to express it adequately in writing. My problem is this. Win shares are based on the idea that a player contributes offensively to the runs that the team scores and defensively to limiting the runs the team allows. What James does, however, is start with the total number of wins for a team -- e.g., 97 for the 1977 Baltimore Orioles -- and then he takes as a fundamental premise that the Orioles as a team created 291 win shares. He then allocates those win shares to the offense, the defense, and the pitching, and then calculates each player's "share" of the team offense, the team defense, and the team pitching -- adding the total together for each player. For instance, Ken Singleton gets 36 win shares for the 1977 Orioles.
Here's the problem. Based on the total number of runs the Birds scored that year and the total runs they allowed, and using the "Pythagorean" formula popularized by James himself, Baltimore should have only gone 88-73 in 1977. So there should have been only 264 win shares to go around, not 291. That's a difference of 9%; accordingly, I would submit, Singleton should only get 33 win shares, not 36.
By contrast, take the 1972 Orioles, who actually went 80-74, but whose Pythagorean won-lost mark is 90-64. James's system allocates 240 total win shares to the team that year, instead of 270 -- a 12% percent difference.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great book; well worth it for the sabrmetrically interested. Book came quickly and in great condition. Very happy with this purchase and the process.Published on May 26, 2009 by Steven W. Flanders
A reader said earlier, if someone other than James wrote this book, no one would care. This is probably true. Read morePublished on June 16, 2004 by Thomas P. Burwell
This book is the sort of thing us stats geeks dream of. With Win Shares Bill James may have come closer than anyone else to developing a statistical system that objectively... Read morePublished on June 10, 2004 by Kari L. Black
Bill James' Win Shares is the quintessence of baseball sabermetrics. Although he doesn't call the Win Shares method an end-all way to rate players, I disagree. Read morePublished on May 3, 2003 by mat
Another great Bill James effort. His "New Historical Abstract" had introduced us to the "Win Shares" approach, and here, he fleshes it out. Read morePublished on December 17, 2002 by Mark Cannon
I can't remember the last time I was this disappointed in a book. James, at his lowest professional point, converts subjectivity into numbers with the goal of somehow legitimizing... Read morePublished on December 12, 2002
First, I am impressed by the quality and thoughtfulness of the reviews here.
Second, I agree with those who thought it was unnecessary for Bill to beat up on Pete Palmer's... Read more
A number of other reviewers have critisized Bill James' latest effort. While he does address the downsides to Pete Palmer's system, and then proclaim not to be "judging... Read morePublished on August 15, 2002