With the 2004 season one-third of the way to the finish line, the Brewers' record stands at an impressive 27-25. Why has the club exceeded expectations? Which players have contributed the most to the team's stellar play? Certainly, both General Manager Doug Melvin and his front office staff as well as field Manager Ned Yost deserve credit for the Brewers' solid start. But when it comes to evaluating the contributions of the players themselves, one of the best metrics available is a system called Win Shares. This article will provide an overview of Win Shares, a listing of the Brewers' Win Shares through games of June 3rd, and an analysis of the team's strengths and weaknesses.
Introduction To Win Shares
Bill James invented Win Shares as a simple way to compare baseball players. The idea was to develop a statistic that allows you to compare shortstops and outfielders, starters and relievers, relievers and shortstops, etc. Since the win is the ultimate measure of success, James developed a stat that measures each player's contribution to his team's wins, or Win Shares.
--Studes, The Hardball Times, 05/14/2004
The Win Shares concept is brilliant in its simplicity. Assign a single number to each player's actual contributions on the mound, at the plate, and in the field. Adjust for ballpark and context (especially for defensive statistics). Mix well. What you get is a single number that measures the value of a ballplayer's performance and which, when all player's tallies are added together, is equal to three times the team's wins. Studes provides additional clarification:
Although the Win Share methodology is extremely complex, the output is simple: one number that represents the number of wins contributed by that player. Actually, Win Shares is the number of wins contributed by that player multiplied by three. Why? To make it simpler. By multiplying the result by three, Win Shares provides enough meaningful distinction between players. It's enough to say that Albert Pujols contributed 41 Win Shares last year. You don't have to say that he contributed 41.1. The extra decimal point doesn't add any accuracy.
There are three types of Win Shares: batting (which includes basestealing), fielding and pitching. Over an entire league, batters receive a little less than half of all Win Shares, and fielding and pitching receive slightly more than half. This will vary quite a bit for separate teams, depending on their relative strengths.
So everyday players tend to garner more Win Shares than pitchers, because they are credited with both batting and fielding Win Shares. Shortstops and catchers generally receive more fielding Win Shares than other positions, because they play more crucial fielding positions. Strikeout pitchers receive more Win Shares than pitchers who allow balls in play, because they don't depend on their fielders as much.
The in-season Win Shares calculations at The Hardball Times are a welcome addition to the statistical marketplace. They also provide a new "Win Shares Above Average" method of evaluating Win Shares, a tool that measures the player's contributions in relation to what would be expected from an average player given the same playing time. One will notice that the Win Shares numbers are all whole numbers; as Studes explained above, adding further decimal levels does not add meaningful value to the results.
The Brewers' Win Shares
The following table lists each Brewers' Hitting Win Shares (hWS), Pitching Win Shares (pWS), Fielding Win Shares (fWS), the total Win Shares the player has accumulated (WS), the player's expected number of Win Shares (xWS), and the player's Win Shares Above Average (WS+).
Player hWS pWS fWS WS xWS WS+
Brooks Kieschnick 1.4 3.0 0.0 4 1 4
Lyle Overbay 7.8 0.0 0.8 9 6 3
Scott Podsednik 6.5 0.0 1.4 8 6 2
Dan Kolb 0.0 4.4 0.0 4 3 2
Ben Sheets -1.4 7.1 0.0 6 4 2
Ben Grieve 4.6 0.0 0.4 5 3 2
Mike Adams 0.0 1.3 0.0 1 0 1
Keith Ginter 4.6 0.0 0.8 5 4 1
Doug Davis -1.4 6.0 0.0 4 4 1
Dave Burba 0.0 2.5 0.0 2 2 1
Chris Saenz -0.1 1.2 0.0 1 0 1
Billy Hall 2.6 0.0 0.8 3 2 1
Victor Santos -0.6 1.9 0.0 1 2 0
Trent Durrington 0.1 0.1 0.1 0 1 0
Matt Wise -0.1 0.9 0.0 1 1 0
Luis Vizcaino 0.0 1.4 0.0 1 2 0
Jeff Bennett -0.1 1.8 0.0 2 2 0
Chad Moeller 1.0 0.0 1.9 3 3 0
Corey Hart 0.0 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Craig Counsell 2.3 0.0 2.3 5 5 0
Chris Capuano -0.2 1.1 0.0 1 1 0
Ben Hendrickson -0.1 -0.2 0.0 0 0 0
Wes Obermueller 0.6 0.1 0.0 1 2 -1
Junior Spivey 2.3 0.0 1.0 3 4 -1
Geoff Jenkins 4.1 0.0 0.9 5 6 -1
Gary Bennett 0.3 0.0 0.5 1 2 -1
Brady Clark 0.6 0.0 0.8 1 3 -1
Wes Helms 1.1 0.0 0.5 2 4 -2
Ben Ford 0.0 -0.2 0.0 0 1 -2
Adrian Hernandez -0.1 -1.4 0.0 -1 1 -2
Matt Kinney -0.2 -0.7 0.0 0 2 -3
Of the team's 78 Win Shares, 50 have been contributed by position players, 24 by pitchers, and 4 by Brooks Kieschnick, who has contributed in both categories.
Analyzing The Numbers
As would be expected, Lyle Overbay has contributed the most Win Shares to the 2004 Brewers. However, Brooks Kieschnick is the surprising leader in Win Shares Above Average thanks to his unique abilities as the big leagues' only true two-way player. On the other end of the spectrum, one finds Matt Kinney and Wes Helms (who is currently on the DL) and relievers Adrian Hernandez (now at Indianapolis) and Ben Ford (on the DL). The foursome has contributed only one Win Share between them, or nine less than could be expected from average replacements. The other Brewers' that have performed below-average include position players Junior Spivey, Geoff Jenkins, and Gary Bennett and pitcher Wes Obermueller.
Offensively, the Crew's most productive hitters are Lyle Overbay (7.8 hWS), Scott Podsednik (6.5), Ben Grieve (4.6), and Keith Ginter (4.6). Despite receiving substantially less playing time, Billy Hall (2.6) has accumulated more Win Shares than regular shortstop Craig Counsell (2.3).
In the field, the Crew has been paced by Counsell (2.3 fWS) and Moeller (1.9), to be expected given their defensive positions. Podsednik (1.4) and Spivey (1.0) have also been solid contributors and even Grieve (0.4, compared with 0.9 for Jenkins) has been serviceable.
Ben Sheets is tops among Brewers' pitchers (7.1 pWS) with Doug Davis (6.0) and Dan Kolb (4.4) next on the list. Sheets and Davis have both cost the team 1.4 Win Shares at the plate, however, something that is confirmed by watching either of them attempt to hit.
Win Shares are not predictive of future success. In other words, this tool measures what players have done and not what they will do. We can expect improvement from Geoff Jenkins and a decline from Lyle Overbay, but to this point in the season the latter has been the superior player by four Win Shares Above Average, a very significant margin. The club's biggest weaknesses are at catcher, where both Moeller and Bennett have struggled, and in the outfield, where Jenkins and Clark have been sub-par. Keith Ginter has been an upgrade over Wes Helms at third, but Junior Spivey has been yet to find his groove at the plate.
You can learn more about Win Shares at The Hardball Times or in any number of books by Bill James. The full calculation is detailed at the Baseball Graphs website. You can keep track of Win Shares for yourself by visiting the Hardball Times' stats page often throughout the season.
Bill Batterman is a writer for Brewerfan.net. You can get in touch with him by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org.