September 19, 2014

Just How Good were Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens?

August 2, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Here is the short answer.  According to the numbers alone, Barry Bonds had the #2 best career of any position player of the modern era (behind only Babe Ruth) and Roger Clemens is the greatest right-handed pitcher of the period (since 1920).  And yet neither of these great players may make it into the Hall of Fame.

Perhaps a fitting epitaph for the “steroids era” in baseball would be the following:

Here lie the reputations of two of the greatest players

to ever play the game -

Destroyed by their own reckless pursuit

of perfection.

Because that is apparently what happened.  Each of these great players wanted to be the best and chose whatever means to get there.  But how good were they?

Bill James’ Win Shares system is the most comprehensive tool available to understand how good a season a player had.  It includes offensive and defensive contributions and adjusts for all relevant factors.  The CAWS Career Gauge (Career Assessment/Win Shares) uses win shares to measure how good a career a player has had.  The CAWS Gauge is based on a player’s core value (his ten best seasons) plus additional credit for his other seasons.  It is an objective tool which attempts to assess career value.  And the CAWS Gauge suggests that Bonds and Clemens were two of the greatest players to ever play the game.

Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds, of course, holds the career record for home runs at 762.  And his seven MVP awards are just this side of unbelievable.  And so there can be no question that during his career he posted Hall of Fame numbers.  But that does not really answer the question of exactly how good he was.  Perhaps this will help.

According to the CAWS Career Gauge, only nine position players in the modern era (since 1920) have posted a CAWS score of 400.  Here are those players.  CWS is career win shares, CV is core value (the win shares for the ten best seasons) and CAWS is the career score [CAWS = CV + .25(CWS – CV)].

Player POS. CWS CV CAWS
1. Babe Ruth RF 756 460 534
2. Barry Bonds
LF 707 427 497
3. Willie Mays CF 642 389 452
4. Mickey Mantle CF 565 399 441
5. Stan Musial LF 604 378 435
6. Ted Williams LF 555 394 434
7. Hank Aaron RF 643 356 428
8. Rogers Hornsby 2B 502 381 411
9. Lou Gehrig 1B 489 384 410

Of course, aside from possibly Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Tris Speaker from the deadball era, this is a list of the greatest position players to ever play the game.  Of course, all are in the Hall of Fame except Bonds.  It seems to me that seeing Barry Bonds’ name among these true superstars of the game really brings home to the average fan exactly how good he was.  My own personal opinion is that Willie Mays was the greatest all-around player of all time.  And so when I see that Bonds’ numbers place him ahead of Willie that really tells the story for me.

Look at Barry’s CV (core value) of 427.  That means that for his ten best seasons Bonds averaged better than 42 win shares per season.  That is mind-boggling!  95% of players can only dream of a 40-win shares season.  But Barry averaged better than that for his top ten seasons.  Love him or hate him – no one can deny that during his twenty-two major league seasons Barry Bonds put up the numbers.

Roger Clemens

In the area of starting pitching, Roger Clemens’ numbers are almost on a par with Barry Bonds’ numbers for a position player.  Clemens pitched for twenty-four seasons, won 354 games and garnered an unbelievable seven Cy Young awards.  There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that he has the numbers for induction into the Hall of Fame.  But exactly how good was he when compared to the other great starting pitchers of the era?

According to the CAWS Career Gauge, Roger Clemens is the best right-handed starting pitcher of the modern era (since 1920).  Only twelve pitchers have achieved a CAWS score of 260 or better during this time frame.  Here are those pitchers.  CWS is career win shares, CV is core value (the win shares for the ten best seasons) and CAWS is the career score [CAWS = CV + .25(CWS – CV)].

Player CWS CV CAWS
1. Lefty Grove 391 301 324
2. Roger Clemens
432
260
303
3. Warren Spahn 412 259 297
4. Tom Seaver 388 255 288
5. Greg Maddux
398
246
284
6. Gaylord Perry 369 243 275
7. Bob Gibson 317 258 273
8. Steve Carlton 366 240 272
9. Phil Niekro 374 235 270
10. Robin Roberts 339 246 269
11. Jim Palmer 312 252 267
12. Carl Hubbell
305
248
262

Of course, all of these pitchers are in the Hall of Fame with the exception of Clemens and Greg Maddux who are not yet eligible.  As an aside, this list also gives you some idea of how good a pitcher Greg Maddux really was – ranking among the top five careers of the era.

You will note that Clemens has more career win shares than any one on the list attesting to the fact that he was very good for a very long time.  And this ranking does indicate that Roger had the best career of all right-handed starting pitchers of the era – beating out Tom Seaver for that honor.

So, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were not just very good players.  The numbers they posted during their careers establish them as true superstars whose credentials for the Hall of Fame would not be questioned were it not for the steroids issue.

Therefore, the question really becomes: How will the members of the BBWAA who vote for induction into the Hall of Fame treat players who are suspected of steroids use?

So far, we have only the evidence of Mark McGwire to go by.  In his first year on the ballot in 2007, McGwire got 128 votes (less than 25%).  On his fourth year on the ballot in 2010, he got the same 128 votes.

As far as I am concerned, these votes tell a clear tale.  The support for Mark McGwire is stagnant.  It now appears very clear to me that Big Mac will never be voted into the Hall by the BBWAA. So, to me at least, the message from the writers has become crystal clear – If we think you did steroids, you will not get into the Hall of Fame.

But will this message apply to other players?  I believe it will.  If the baseball writers will not elect Mark McGwire (former “national hero”) to the Hall of Fame because of his alleged steroids use, is there any reason to believe that they will elect any other player who is tarred with the same brush?  I do not believe so.  Why would they?

Therefore, I feel confident in predicting that no player connected to the abuse of steroids in the mind of the writers will ever be elected to the Hall (unless the climate changes dramatically).  I am not saying that I believe that these players should not get into the Hall.  What I am saying is that based on the evidence that we have to date, I cannot imagine any reason why the writers will elect any of these players – if they will not elect Mark McGwire.

Therefore, given the present climate and despite how great their numbers are, I do not believe that either Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens will ever be elected to the Hall of Fame.

If anyone would like to get a free e-copy of Professor Hoban’s 100-page monograph: A HOF HANDBOOK: Who Belongs and Who Does Not,  just drop a note to mike_hoban@msn.com.

Comments

2 Responses to “Just How Good were Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens?”
  1. Al Featherston says:

    Very good stuff, as usual.

    Let me suggest that any reader take Professor Hoban up on his offer for his free monograph. I did and it’s excellent — I’m still disgesting it. Not sure I’m in total agreement with his system, but he makes a great case and I haven’t come up with an obvious flaw.

    My only complaint is that Professor Hoban’s articles on this site have been basically about no-brainer candidates — of course Jeter and Chipper are Hall of Famers. As for Bonds and Clemens, no one would argue their numbers — the only debate is, as he notes, questions about how the voters will handle their PED use.

    What I would really like to see is Professor Hoban tackle the HOF credentials of some more borderline candidates. John Smoltz, for instance — his combination of success as a starter and a reliever make him unique in baseball history (maybe Echersley is close — but Smoltz was a much better starter, while Eck had a longer career as a reliever). Is he Hall of Fame worthy? What about Jorge Posada — I’ve seen measures that rate him the No. 8 offensive catcher in baseball history. But he was average defensively for most of his career and lately has been a liability behind the plate. Is that Hall worthy.

    I hear the White Sox broadcasters talk about Andrew Jones as a HOF candidate. I don’t buy it, but he did seem (to me) to have about half of a HOF career — he was a big-time home run hitter and the best defensive CF of the generation for 5-6 years. Does he have a chance? What about Todd Helton? Jim Edmunds?

    And what about a few more recent debates? I happen to think Tim Raines was a MUCH better candidate for induction than ex-teamate Andre Dawson. Why aren’t Alan Trammell and Bert Blyleven in the HOF yet?

    Not really complaining, just begging for illumination on these issues.

  2. Mike Hoban says:

    Al,

    Thanks for the comments. And, of course, I have written about some of the players you mention. If you check my HOF blog on this site, you will find that I did an article on John Smoltz last August – in which Eckersley and Blyleven are mentioned.

    I also did one on Tim Raines who, as you note, had much better career numbers than Andre Dawson.

    I will consider writing more about the “borderline” players.

    Mike

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