June 6, 2023

A New “Rule of Thumb” – 300 Win Shares

June 20, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

When fans talk about who belongs in the Hall of Fame, mention is often made of the three “rules of thumb” that have been around for some time.  That is, a player “deserves to be in the Hall of Fame” if he

  1. Has 3000 hits or
  2. Has 500 home runs or
  3. Has 300 wins as a pitcher.

Of course, there are no such “rules.”   But this has become a standard belief among many fans because, in fact, virtually all players who have attained any of these distinctions are in fact in the Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, it appears that the steroids era may put an end to the two batting achievements as “rules of thumb” since Mark McGwire (500 home runs) and Rafael Palmeiro (500 home runs and 3000 hits) do not appear to be headed to Cooperstown any time soon.  And Roger Clemens may put an end to the 300 wins “rule” when he becomes eligible.

Be that as it may, in this essay, I will look at the third “rule” – that is, pitchers who attain 300 wins.  And I will show that, given what has actually happened in the voting for the Hall of Fame, this particular concept should be replaced at this point in time with the new “rule of thumb” – Any pitcher who earns 300 win shares in his career deserves be in the Hall of Fame.

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 had.

In doing the research involved in creating the CAWS Career Gauge, it has become obvious to me that 300 win shares for a pitcher denotes a very special milestone.  And it is important to note I am not so much advocating what should happen – as I am pointing out what has in fact already happened.

Consider the following:  In the modern era (1920 to present), there have been only thirteen (13) pitchers who have recorded 300 wins – and every one of them who has been eligible is in the Hall of Fame. Of course, this is not really surprising since winning 300 games is quite an achievement.  Here are those pitchers and the number of wins each recorded (for the purposes of this essay, Pete Alexander is not considered to be a modern era pitcher).   The first number is games won and the number in parentheses is career win shares.

Pitchers with 300 Wins in the Modern Era (13)

Warren Spahn 363 (412)
Greg Maddux 355 (398)
Roger Clemens 354 (432)
Steve Carlton 329 (366)
Nolan Ryan 324 (334)
Don Sutton 324 (319)
Phil Niekro 318 (374)
Gaylord Perry 314 (369)
Tom Seaver 311 (388)
Tom Glavine 305 (314)
Randy Johnson 303 (326)
Lefty Grove 300 (391)
Early Wynn 300 (309)

It is interesting to note that each of these pitchers has also earned 300 career win shares.  Of course, that is not too surprising either since one might expect that any starting pitcher who pitched long enough and well enough to win 300 games should have accumulated at least 300 win shares.

What is surprising however is the following: During the modern era, besides the thirteen pitchers above, there have been only ten (10) other pitchers who have earned 300 career win shares – and every one of them is also in the Hall of Fame .

Pitchers with 300 Win Shares but not 300 Wins (all are in the Hall of Fame):

Bert Blyleven 339
Robin Roberts 339
Fergie Jenkins 323
Red Ruffing 322
Bob Gibson 317
Eppa Rixey 315
Jim Palmer 312
Ted Lyons 312
Carl Hubbell 305
Dennis Eckersley 301

That’s right.  What we see is that there have been only 23 pitchers who have earned 300 career win shares (in the modern era) and every one of them who has been eligible is in the Hall of Fame. (And the four who have not yet been eligible clearly have HOF numbers according to the CAWS Career Gauge: Maddux, Clemens, Glavine and Johnson).

Therefore, what can we conclude from these facts?

Actually, something that is quite significant.  What this means is that the voters for the Hall of Fame have decreed by their votes (whether they know it or not) that 300 win shares for a pitcher virtually guarantees induction into Cooperstown.

So, we have our new “rule of thumb:”  A pitcher who earns 300 career win shares is a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame.

If you do not agree with this conclusion, that is fine.  But your argument would be with the voters – not with me.  I am just the messenger delivering the news.

Hall of Fame Numbers Without 300 Wins or Win Shares

In pointing out this new “rule of thumb,” it is not my intention to suggest that in order to achieve HOF numbers during a career that a pitcher must earn 300 win shares.

In fact, there are a number of pitchers in the modern era who have not earned that many win shares but who do in fact have career HOF numbers according to the CAWS Career Gauge.  That is, they fit into one or more different groups that also define pitching greatness.

Here are the other modern era pitchers who have put up HOF numbers but who do not have 300 career win shares.

A CAWS Score of At Least 235 (6 pitchers)

Bob Feller
Burleigh Grimes
Hal Newhouser
Juan Marichal
Carl Mays
Stan Covaleski

All of these pitchers except for Carl Mays are already in Cooperstown.  Hopefully, the Veterans Committee will vote Mays in one of these days.

There are a few other pitchers from the modern era who achieved pitching greatness while pitching relatively fewer innings.

A CAWS Score of 180 with Fewer Than 2400 Innings Pitched (6 pitchers)

Pedro Martinez
Sandy Koufax
Hoyt Wilhelm
Goose Gossage
Roy Halladay
Dizzy Dean

All of these pitchers who have been eligible are in the Hall of Fame (Koufax, Wilhelm, Gossage and Dean).

Finally, there are five relief pitchers who have achieved greatness with still fewer innings pitched.

A CAWS Score of 150 with Fewer Than 1500 Innings Pitched (5 pitchers)

Mariano Rivera
Lee Smith
Bruce Sutter
Billy Wagner
Dan Quisenberry

Of this group, only Bruce Sutter is in the Hall of Fame at present.  Lee Smith is currently on the Hall of Fame ballot.  And Mariano and Wagner are not yet eligible.  Only Dan Q has been passed over completely at this time.

According to the CAWS Career Gauge, at the end of the 2010 season, these seventeen (17) pitchers together with the twenty-three (23) mentioned above are the only pitchers from the modern era to have posted obvious Hall of Fame numbers.

That is, these forty (40) pitchers are the most obvious choices among the pitchers for induction into Cooperstown.

Thanks for your time.

Mike Hoban, Professor Emeritus – City U of NY
Author of A GOOD CAWS: A Hall of Fame Handbook  (2011)

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