Some other sports are having championships right now, but they aren’t baseball, so I won’t talk about them. However, they did make me think of something the other day; baseball is pretty unique. When stars in the NBA or NHL or even NFL don’t win a championship, they get major blame. Championship rings are actual, honest-to-god currency in other sports.
Baseball though? Not nearly. Sure, sometimes people will try and break up championship rings in a “Who’s Better” debate, but then someone will bring up five-time champ Luis Sojo or any number of bench players from the 1950s Yankees* and the debate will quickly fizzle out.
*For example, I just discovered Bobby Brown, four-time World Series victor with six and a half Wins Above Replacement to his name over not-quite eight seasons. Or there’s future manager Ralph Houk, who played in 35 games for five different eventual World Series winners, with 0.1 WAR along the way.
Yep, when you can point out that greats like Ernie Banks or Ted Williams never won a title, you can see why the subject doesn’t come up as much. But the game’s parity has never been better, with nine different winners in the past twelve years and a large number in the running this year; on top of that, free agency lets players move about the league like never before. Are there any more greats in danger of joining that group?
Well, I now have a Sporcle answering that question-the best players by Baseball-Reference’s WAR without a World Series Title. Click here to try it. If you aren’t interested in a game, I’ll examine the results after the break.
Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran are at the top. I’ve written about the tragedy that is Beltran and the postseason before. I’m hoping he finally gets to end that drought this year, although there’s a little extra going into it for me.
Then we get into the guys mostly associated with an expansion team, between Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, and Ichiro. Then some early-2000s A’s guys in Tim Hudson and Jason Giambi (if those A’s had just taken one one those series, that would have cleared up this list a decent bit). After that is a pair of once-dominant, now more mortal pitchers in Johan Santana and Roy Oswalt. I’m not sure anyone has gone from forefront in people’s mind as a star to “has-been” (or, at least, perceived has-been) than Johan, which is sad really. Torii Hunter rounds out the top ten. It’s worth noting that Hunter is twentieth on the overall list. So half of our top-twenty has won at some point.
The top twenty is a weird mix of the end of the line (Miguel Tejada, Carlos Zambrano, Placido Polanco, and arguably Bartolo Colon and Eric Chavez*) and the still-stars (David Wright, Joe Mauer, Cliff Lee, Justin Verlander, and Felix Hernandez). It closes with 35th overall Felix, meaning we’re sitting at 3/7 of the top 35 with a championship. This number is about to stabilize.
*Two more Moneyball-ers
From there, I don’t have as much interesting commentary. The next ten is a younger set overall (Crawford, Peavy, Braun, Granderson, Longoria, Greinke, Haren, Kinsler, Reyes, and Zimmerman). The only particularly interesting thing is the start of the 2010-2012 Rangers set, the newer equivalent to the Moneyball A’s. In any case, Reyes and Zimmerman are tied for 29th without a win and 53rd overall.
*Technically, I suppose they’re littered throughout the list, with Beltre and Lee already named. However, the bottom of the list has more of the “career” Ranger types, between Kinsler (28th, 51st overall), Michael Young (48th, 83rd) and Josh Hamilton (t-50th, t-85th). Yes, I realize those second two have played elsewhere, but I can’t think of another word to express the sentiment right now. The Rays from this era also place a quite a few on this list too, I suppose, between Crawford and Longoria here and Zobrist and Pena later on. The Rangers just seem more thematically similar to those oft-frustrated A’s teams though, although I suppose the Rays have the poor-team angle.
This 3/5 approximation is about where it stays for the rest of the list. 37 of the top 62 are without a title. 51 of the top 85. 59 of the top 100. It’s actually interesting how closely it hovers to this mark.
There are some faults in this. Any time you go far down a list like this, it gets controversial. For example, Andrew McCutchen isn’t on the list. He probably will be by the start this postseason, sitting just over 2 WAR below Jason Bay and Josh Hamilton, but he isn’t now. Meanwhile, Alex Rios and Ted Lilly are on this list, almost entirely because of longevity over dominance.
However, there is a certain trade off to that; younger players have also had less of a chance to win their way off of the list. Look at Yadier Molina; he currently sits just shy of this list, in the area of Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Phillips. He’ll never wind up on the top 50, though, because he was lucky enough to win early in his career. It’s not fair to lump McCutchen’s bad fortune (since he’s only played five years, and he’s on a rising team to boot) in with 36-year old Mark Ellis, even if McCutchen is indisputably the better player.
In any case, that 3/5 mark is probably a reasonable estimate for how many great players are ring-less. Maybe it even holds for players as a whole? Either way, I may have to look at the all-time mark to see if this is a result of those earlier-mentioned changes in the mobility of teams and players in the game.