December 4, 2023

The Hall of Famers: The 5 Levels of Greatness – Part 2

September 7, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

In this article, I will present the Level 1 and Level 2 position players.  These are the thirty-one (31) major league players who had the best career numbers in the 20th century.  I think it is fair to say that there are few surprises on these two lists.

Level 1  -  Players with a CAWS score > 400

Since 1901, there have been only thirteen (13) position players who attained a CAWS career score of 400 or better. These are the true legends of the game.  Their career numbers are better than any other position players.  Here they are.

All numbers include the 2011 season.
Bold  =  Hall of Famer
CWS  =  Career Win Shares
CV  =  Core Value (sum of win shares for 10 best seasons)
CAWS  =  Career Assessment/Win Shares  =  CV  +  .25(CWS – CV)
*  =  deadball era

1. Babe Ruth RF 756 460 534
2. Barry Bonds
LF 707 427 497
3. Ty Cobb* CF 722 419 495
4. Honus Wagner* SS 655 422 480
5. Willie Mays CF 642 389 452
6. Tris Speaker* CF 630 388 449
7. Mickey Mantle CF 565 399 441
8. Stan Musial LF 604 378 435
9. Ted Williams LF 555 394 434
10. Hank Aaron RF 643 356 428
11. Eddie Collins* 2B 574 376 426
12. Rogers Hornsby 2B 502 381 411
13. Lou Gehrig 1B 489 384 410

The CAWS Career Gauge suggests that these thirteen players posted better career numbers than any other major league position players of the 20th century.  And, of course, for serious baseball fans, most of these are “household names.”

Because of the allegations of steroids use, I am sure that there will be those fans who will be upset that Barry Bonds’ career numbers put him just behind the Babe on this list.  But please remember that this list is just about his numbers (whether he earned those numbers fairly is another question).

Take a look at Bonds’ core value of 427.  That means that he averaged 42.7 win shares during his ten best seasons.  98% of major leaguers can only dream of a season in which they earn 40 win shares – but Barry averaged better than 40 for his ten best seasons.  Note that only four players on the list had a CV (core value) of better than 400: Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.

As you can see, four of the legends from the list above played predominantly during the deadball era (1901 to 1919): Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker and Eddie Collins.  And how many casual fans have even heard of Eddie Collins – who is arguably the best second baseman of the century?

This ranking places the great career of Honus Wagner in proper perspective and shows just how special a player he was.  Did he really have better career numbers than Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle?   That is hard to believe but the numbers do not lie.

Look at how close the CAWS score is for Stan Musial (435) and Ted Williams (434).  And how relatively close for Willie Mays (452) and Mickey Mantle (441).

Nine of the thirteen legends were outfielders while two were second basemen and one each was a shortstop and a first baseman.  There are no catchers or third basemen among these players.

Of the Level 1 players, twelve are in the Hall of Fame and one (Barry Bonds) is not yet eligible – and perhaps will never be elected.

Level 2  -  Players with a CAWS score > 330 & <400

14. Joe Morgan 2B 512 341 384
15. Mel Ott RF 528 335 383
16. Nap Lajoie* 2B 496 334 375
17. Mike Schmidt 3B 467 338 370
18. Frank Robinson RF 519 316 367
19. Pete Rose LF 547 307 367
20. Rickey Henderson LF 535 308 365
21. Eddie Mathews 3B 450 333 362
22. Alex Rodriguez SS 443 329 358
23. Jimmie Foxx 1B 435 325 353
24. Albert Pujols 1B 347 347 347
25. Joe DiMaggio CF 387 325 341
26. Sam Crawford* RF 446 303 339
27. Carl Yastrzemski LF 488 286 337
28. Gary Sheffield LF 430 305 336
29. Paul Waner RF 423 304 334
30. Reggie Jackson RF 444 296 333
31. George Brett 3B 432 296 333

There are eighteen (18) superstars in Level 2: ten are outfielders, three are third basemen, two each are first basemen and second basemen and one is a shortstop.  There were no third basemen in Level 1 but there are three here.  No catcher has career numbers that would put him in Level 1 or 2.

As you would expect, everyone on this list who has been eligible has been elected to the Hall of Fame.

Note that this list suggests that Mike Schmidt had the best career at third base in the century.  It is possible that Alex Rodriguez will pass him if he plays more games at third base than at shortstop before he retires.

Note that three recent players are in this group: Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Gary Sheffield.  Gary Sheffield???  ARod and Pujols did not surprise me at all.  But Sheffield’s career numbers ranking him this high completely stunned me.

But that is one of the advantages of this type of research – once in a while a genuine surprise comes along.  Also note that Sheffield has 430 career win shares.  Every major leaguer with 400 or more win shares (who has been eligible) has been elected to the Hall of Fame.  Of course, the “steroids problem” may put an end to that streak.

Adjusting for Military Service

You will note that Joe DiMaggio is in Level 2 at #25. And some fans may be surprised that he is not a Level 1 player.  As most fans know, Joe D had a relatively short career of only thirteen seasons and this is a major reason why his career numbers do not rank him higher.  He lost seasons to military service and to early retirement due to a foot problem.

DiMaggio lost three playing seasons (1943-45) in the prime of his career to military service in World War II.  And so, some fans may speculate as to what his career might have looked like if he did not lose those years.  For example, would he have been a Level 1 player?  Of course, the same question would apply to some other great player as well such as Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Willie Mays – to name just a few.

But I thought that I would use Joe and Ted as examples as to what would happen if we “project” (in a reasonable manner) what those missing years would have been like.  And in these two cases, this is relatively easy to do.

For the two years prior to his military service, Joe DiMaggio earned the following win shares:  1941 = 41 and 1942 = 32.  On his return from the military, he earned the following in the next two years:  1946 = 24 and 1947 = 30.  If we average these four seasons, we get 31.75 or 32 win shares.  Therefore, it is reasonable to project that he would have averaged 32 win shares for the three years that he was in the military.  And so his new CAWS line would look like this.

Joe DiMaggio CF 483 337 374

As you can see, this adjustment would not put the Yankee Clipper into Level 1 since his CAWS score would still be less than 400.  But it would move him on the Level 2 list from #25 to #17.

This adjustment is even more dramatic for Ted Williams since he essentially lost five seasons to military service – three during World War II and two during the Korean War.  As most fans know, Ted was a jet pilot.

For the two years prior to his first military stint, Ted earned the following win shares: 1941 = 42 and 1942 = 46.   On his return, he earned the following: 1946 = 49 and 1947 = 44.  The average is 45.25.  So, we award him 45 win shares for each of the three years during WW II.  Similarly, for his time in the Korean War, 1950 = 19 and 1951 = 34 while 1954 = 29 and 1955 = 23.  So, we award him 26 win shares for each of the two seasons he lost there.  Therefore, Ted’s new CAWS line looks like this.

Ted Williams LF 732 433 508

This adjustment becomes VERY SIGNIFICANT.  It moves the Splendid Splinter up from the #9 position on the Level 1 list to #2 – just behind the Babe.  And I think it is fair to say that many fans would tend to agree with this conclusion.

1. Babe Ruth RF 756 460 534
2. Ted Williams LF 732 433 508
3. Barry Bonds
LF 707 427 497
4. Ty Cobb* CF 722 419 495
5. Honus Wagner* SS 655 422 480
6. Willie Mays CF 642 389 452

In Part 3 of this series, we will take a look at those players who qualify for Levels 3 and 4 of the Levels of Greatness among the position players of the 20th century.

Thanks for your time.

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


3 Responses to “The Hall of Famers: The 5 Levels of Greatness – Part 2”
  1. David says:

    A few questions/comments:

    1.) Part 1 said your articles would address the question, “That is, does a certain major league player (either a position player or a pitcher) have the credentials to deserve induction into the sport’s ultimate shrine in Cooperstown, NY?” I find that interesting, because you specifically mention pitchers, but I don’t see any on this list. I looked back through the Part 1 article, and I don’t really see a point at which you say you will only be addressing position players, which leads me to the question, “Where are the pitchers?”

    2.) Because it’s a Hall of Fame thing, and everyone has his/her own opinion on these things, I’d like to share an opinion, as well as a question. I did a little exercise asking myself who the all-time “inner circle” guys were. I was curious if I could get a read on it. Basically, it would be equivalent to your Level 1. I had 23 (Hall-eligible) position players represented – basically the same guys you had in your top-25, except I didn’t include Bonds or A-Rod, and I had George Brett, Johnny Bench, and Jackie Robinson instead of Pete Rose, Eddie Mathews, and Mel Ott. I say all that to ask a question: how did you decide on what “Level 1” was – was it an arbitrary choice because 400 is a nice, round number? Or did it have to do with the large gap between Gehrig and Morgan, and 400 is pretty much in the middle? Or did you simply want about 13 guys in Level 1?

    3.) Next, you adjusted for military service. Did you adjust for time in the Negro Leagues? I don’t mean ranking players who never played in the Majors – that’s beyond the scope of your project. I’m talking about making an adjustment, mathematically, for Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, and Monte Irvin, specifically (Irvin being the hardest, because he spent a majority of his career in the Negro Leagues). For example, Jackie Robinson didn’t break into the Majors until age 28. In his first 4 seasons, he totaled 114 Win Shares. Now, had he broken in at age 24 (a more normal age, I think), let’s say his production would have been even 20% below the next four years (meaning he should have totaled about 91 Win Shares). I pick this number arbitrarily, but to somewhat represent improvement as Robinson aged. Anyway, adding 91 career Win Share to Robinson’s total would give him a CAWS score of 368 [350+.25(350-277)], putting him ahead of Frank Robinson! I think such an adjustment would be appropriate.

    4.) If Babe Ruth is included, but other pitchers are not, did you make an adjustment to Ruth’s Win Shares to exclude the ones earned as a pitcher?

    5.) Finally, I just wanted to say that I love the series so far, and I love your Hall of Fame posts. I don’t always agree with them. but it’s really enjoyable to talk/think about. So I just wanted to say “thank you.” I also want to apologize for the marathon post. I look forward to your responses.

  2. MIKE HOBAN says:


    Thanks for your interest and for the very good comments. I will attempt to answer your questions.

    1. The Pitchers – Obviously, I did not make it clear enough at the beginning of Part 1 that I would deal with the position players first (in Part 1 to 4) – and then with the pitchers in a separate series. That series will follow this one.

    2. Very good observation. Yes, I decided to make a 400 CAWS score the cut-off for Level 1 partly because of the “huge” gap between Gehrig and Morgan.

    3. Military Service – Of course, I have not adjusted for military service for all the players. I decided to do it for Joe D and Ted W as an example of how it could be done. I have not decided yet whether I will attempt to do it for others.
    Negro Leagues – This would be much more complicated and Monte Irvin is a good example (by the way, Monte was one of my favorite players. I was a Giant fan and lived a few blocks from the Polo Grounds when Irvin was playing there). For one thing, Joe D and Ted lost those seasons in their primes and we have the evidence of performance in the majors before and after their service. So, a reasonable projection in relatively easy. But Monte ( and other Negro Leaguers) made it to the majors after many of their best years were behind them – so, an accurate projection becomes much harder. However, it might be worth the effort.

    4. The CAWS Gauge attempts to judge a player’s whole career. I do not see why I would exclude Ruth’s years as a pitcher. My own thinking is that his years as a very good pitcher enhance his position as the GREATEST BASEBALL PLAYER EVER.

    5. Thanks to you for taking the time to really examine my stuff. I appreciate it.


  3. David says:

    I figured as much about Ruth’s pitching numbers. The only reason for my confusion was simply that I wasn’t aware you were going to be ranking pitchers at all. Thus, I didn’t understand how, if you were only ranking position players, why Ruth’s pitching stats would be included. Now that I understand that you WILL be including pitchers, I get it. Totally makes sense. Thanks so much for the reply, and I look forward to the continuation of the series.

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