SocraticGadfly: More debate on just how special Shohei Ohtani's season has been

October 29, 2021

More debate on just how special Shohei Ohtani's season has been

This is an updated post of one I did about this subject from the start of last month, and it's being done for several reasons.

First, now that we're at the end of a season, we can further peruse this debate, especially with debate gearing up for the playoffs and Shohei Ohtani lamenting that the Angels aren't there and broadly hinting they need to do more, though he later said he's perfectly open to signing a new contract with them.

Second, it's due to Baseball-Reference briefly being hinky or wonky, or seemingly so, when I made that last post.

My piece at the start of September didn't immediately show up on the pages of either Ohtani or Mike Trout, and since the piece was about the former, and built on a piece I did three years ago about the latter, that's ... er, problematic? It eventually did, but don't ask me more. An additional bit of perplexment that approaches frustration is that B-Ref sometimes changes on a daily basis, if not weekly, the exact form of the full HTML for the players involved, specifically where some of the "cruft" goes in relation to the URL for a player's page. That, in turn connects to B-Ref having a limit on how many linked players "work" in a piece, so someone doesn't spam the site with blog posts about 40 players.

To try to make sure that we don't hit that problem, I will do a couple of things that also make this a full update. Per David Schoenfield's stats guys at ESPN objecting that WAR, especially back pre-1920, greatly favored pitchers, and since Ohtani's biggest damage this year has been as a batter, we'll look only at batters, and only post-1945, that is, getting us into some version of the modern age.

With that, let's update.

Three years ago David Schoenfield tried to claim that Trout was on track for the best season ever. He was wrong and I thoroughly explained why.

But, Schoenfield has moved on. Now he's hinted that Ohtani might be among the best, and, once again, from what I can see before I hit the ESPN+ paywall he ignores Walter Johnson's GOAT 1913 season. (To be half fair, in 2018, it wasn't just Schoenfield; it was a whole set of ESPN clusterfuckheads.)

So, no, Schoenfield Ohtani's year, while it could have been in the 10-WAR range if he finished out strong, is NOT Babe Ruth. Or Barry Bonds. Or Mike Trout.  (And, of course, he didn't even finish in the 10-WAR range, which will be the subject of a FOURTH post in a couple of weeks.)

And certainly not Walter Johnson.

Also, as for the two-way claims? Well, not totally so fast. In his peak, Johnson appeared as a batter in 55 or so games for several years straight. (That said, most those years, he pitched 48 or more games.) Twice he was over 60 games. In 1914, one year after his peak, he had 160 PAs. In 1918, 167. Rounding up a 0.9 year, he had seven straight years of 1.0 or more WAR at the plate. (Johnson also in 1913 tied his career best in batting with a 109 OPS+. You can see more about Big Train at my post linked up top.

I now see that some dood from Yahoo Sports, Jack Baer, via MSN, has doubled down on Schoenfield's nuttery. And, he's wrong, as I discussed two weeks ago in what I decided needed to be a separate breakout post.

Now, on the 2018 piece, ESPN Stats and Info had one of their staff snootily tweet back to me when I tweeted this, that it was about position players only.

Well, Schoenfield never said that. (And, this year, he certainly hasn't. At least, he didn't before I hit the paywall screen.)

This dude said "it was implied."

I said "oh really"?

He then said that WAR favored pitchers, especially in the dead ball era.

But, with this, we're going to transition to batters and move beyond the previous piece. That's in large part because Ohtani earned 60 percent of his WAR as a batter this year, and it's how he's best known and why people hit the highlight clips.

We're going to look at batters only, and we're going to go Schoenfield et al one better, and do modern era only, as in, post-World War II, with night baseball, the start of integration, and then expansion. This will also partially address a commenter on my previous "You're No Babe Ruth" post.

First, and what surprised me? Carl Yastrzemski, 12.4 WAR in his 1967 Triple Crown year, is the only batter from semi-live ball or full live ball besides Ruth in the top 35 on B-Ref's single-season WAR list, and he's the ONLY modern era player in the top 45. Yep. Ahead of Bonds. Or Trout. THAT is how Dum a Fuq Schonefield is.
OK, others?
Bonds, 11.9 WAR, 2001.
Cal Ripken, 11.5 WAR, 1991.
Mickey Mantle, 11.3 WAR, 1957.
Stan Musial, 11.3 WAR, 1948.
Willie Mays, 11.2 WAR, 1962.
Mantle, 11.2, 1956.
Mays, 11.0, 1964.
If you let me go a bit lower?
Mookie Betts, 10.7, 2018.
Ted Williams, 10.7, 1946.
Bonds, Trout (twice), Yaz and Robin Yount at 10.5.
So, at 11 WAR, batters only, modern era only, we still have six batters way, way ahead of Ohtani. Dropping to 10.5, we've got nine. (If we went to the pre-modern era, whether live or not so live on the baseball, I'd have a couple more batters.

And, this is just one season. Bonds (asterisk, of course) Mantle and Mays (no, greenies aren't roiding), Yaz (forgot him at first!) and Trout all broke 10.5 WAR twice.

As far as surprises? 

After not realizing that Yaz was that good? Ripken would be second. He was 30, which yes, is well younger than Bonds, but ... unaided by chemicals, unlike as Bonds was, at a tough defensive position, and 1,500 or so games into his consecutive games streak. It's one of two 10-WAR seasons for him. (Flip side is that you get more dWAR, if you're good, at SS.)

Yount is the No. 2 surprise, as in a kind of under the radar deal.

There's also surprises as to who's not on the list, including one outfielder. One VERY well known outfielder.

But, if you want to talk about standouts? Playing the toughest position besides catcher, and two-thirds of the way into that consecutive games streak, with much of that first two-thirds involving the complete game of every game? Let's talk Ripken.
Yes, let's enjoy Ohtani. Let's even enjoy Red Satan pumping up a story of the inscrutable, Zen-like Ohtani that, on second thought, it sounds like it comes dangerously close to playing on a racial stereotype, and only three months after Stephen A. Smith stuck his foot in his mouth about Ohtani. I'm not saying Tim Keown had unconscious intent. But ...


And now that we know he ended his year at 9.0 WAR, I can do another story about this. And will. And, while he did this as a two-way player? 9.0 WAR, per the players above, ain't 10.5 WAR.

And, if you want to note the two-way? Besides Betts, but not listed here, two pitchers in this century alone both broke that 10.5 WAR hurdle as well, so just stop it. And, yes, that's the subject of another post on Shohei Ohtani, man vs legend, coming up in a couple more weeks.

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