Q: One of the things I like about JAWS on Baseball-Reference—and when it first went up, I lost a day—when you see it, you look at it, it passes the sniff test. Look at the eyeball test and those lists look pretty much right. I know that’s not scientific, but does that hold some weight with you?
A: I think so. That may have been a hinderance when I was at BP, there was no way to lay it out and see it. I would do it in the context of my pieces, but to do it every time when you’re talking about Larry Walker or Todd Helton, or someone at the end of their career and we want to put placement on him. It was a lot of extra labor. This saves me a lot of labor.
Q: There’s something to me, that if I look at right fielders, I see Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Reggie Jackson, Larry Walker … to me that makes total sense.
A: I agree, and thank you for recognizing that. I will fall short of saying this is the one answer to any player ranking that you want to come up with, because there are a lot of subjective decisions to make if you want an all-time ranking, but if you want to talk about fitness for the Hall of Fame, I think it’s more than up to the task.
Q: What are the factors built in here that say this guy is a Hall of Famer? Which numbers are the most important and weigh the most heavily?
A: It’s Wins Above Replacement, which accounts for historical changes in scoring levels over time and adjusts for position, so that it’s fairly supple when it comes to answering questions like, ‘was this guy in the 30s worth more than this guy in the 60s or the 90s?’ It answers the questions if historical guys, like a [Sandy] Koufax or Pedro Martinez are up to the task even if they didn’t win 300 games. I think it’s ideal for figuring out the tradeoffs. That said, when I do my evaluations and I see a guy above on peak, but below on career standards, I think we can take those guys into consideration. For the most part you’re only talking about guys play out the string at a less than satisfactory level. I think this answers the questions whether this guy in his prime was as good as someone else. … When it comes to the steroid era, this is a valuable tool. There are many ways you can apply standards of who is worth a vote and who isn’t. I think you should still start with the numbers. To me, you can justify not voting for Sammy Sosa or Rafael Palmeiro simply looking at the JAWS numbers and putting into context how a guy got to 500 or 600 home runs. Mark McGwire is below the JAWS standard by a couple of points in both career and peak. Palmeiro, above on career and below on peak. If you are someone who sticks to a value of peak over career, or the other way around, I think you have your answer here or get a good answer here. If you want to say Fred McGriff’s 493 home runs are worth more than Rafael Palmeiro’s 569, well, I’ve got a response to that based on the numbers here. We’ve adjusted for the era, we’ve adjusted for these things, and they don’t come out that way. There are a lot of things and I believe I came up with a tool that I believe is fairly elegant. I may be surprised with myself that it’s so versatile in that regard. I like when we can stick to numbers and not get into the shouting matches over subjective things. My hope is to cut the noise level a little bit.