The 1978 Season as seen through the Prism of Player Won-Lost Records
Next in my continuing series of looking at individual seasons through the prism of Player won-lost records is the 1978 season, which had a regular season so good they decided to play an extra game.
The Best of 1978
I calculate Player won-lost records two ways: pWins, which tie to team wins and eWins, which control for context and the ability of one's teammates. For players with more pWins than eWins, their Player wins contributed to more team wins than one might expect; for players with more eWins than pWins, just the opposite is true: their Player wins translated into fewer team wins than expected. Or more briefly: a player with more pWins than eWins was better in context, a player with more eWins than pWins was worse in context.
The top 10 players in pWins above Positional Average and Replacement Level were as follows.
The top 10 players in eWins above Positional Average and Replacement Level were as follows.
Some seasons, it seems that almost all of the best players are Hall-of-Famers and some seasons not so much. The 1978 season appears to be one of those "not-so-much" seasons: of the 16 players in the four tables above, only 4 are in the Hall of Fame, and one of them barely made it.
AL MVP: Jim Rice vs. Ron Guidry
The 1978 season saw two American League players put up historical traditional numbers. Ron Guidry was the unanimous choice as AL Cy Young winner for posting a 25-3 record and a 1.74 ERA in 273.2 innings with 248 strikeouts. He finished second in AL MVP voting to Jim Rice whose Triple Crown stats were .315/46/139. Rice was also the first player to rack up 400 total bases (Rice had 406) since Hank Aaron in 1959 and the first American League player to do so since Joe DiMaggio in 1937.
The sabermetric consensus has generally been that Ron Guidry was better than Jim Rice in 1978 (and that Jim Rice is overrated in general).
Player won-lost records, however, see their two seasons as much closer in value with the choice between them coming down to what you prefer to judge them against: average or replacement level (or something in between). Guidry beats Rice in wins over positional average but comparing them against the lower replacement level gives the edge to Rice. Their seasons are compared in the next table.
Taking a weighted average of pWOPA and pWORL, Rice and Guidry end up with the same value using weights of 15.2% for pWOPA and 84.8% for pWORL. Using eWOPA and eWORL, Rice and Guidry are equal using weights of -35.8% for eWOPA and 135.8% for eWORL.
As I noted above, 1978 seems to have been something of the year of the non-Hall-of-Famer. The player on the above lists who perhaps best personifies "non-Hall-of-Famer" is Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Mike Caldwell.
Mike Caldwell entered the 1978 season having spent seven seasons in the major leagues with four different teams compiling a pitcher won-lost record of 40-58 with 16 saves and a 4.02 ERA. Seemingly inexplicably, Caldwell pitched 293.1 IP in 1978, including 23 complete games (4 more than he had in the previous seven seasons combined) and 6 shutouts (1 more than he had in the previous seven seasons combined), with an ERA of 2.36. He remained solid, if not quite that good, in 1979 (16-6, 3.29 in 235 IP, 16 CG, 4 ShO), slipped back to mediocre in 1980 and hung around for four more seasons as a somewhat below-average starting pitcher. He did last long enough to appear for the Brewers in their only World Series appearance, where he pitched quite well (3 games, 2 starts, 2-0, 2.04 ERA in 17.2 IP).
The next table presents Mike Caldwell's career in three acts: Act I, journeyman; Act II, ace; Act III, past his prime.
|Act I: Journeyman (1971 - 1977)|
|Act II: Ace (1978 - 1979)|
|Act III: Past His Prime (1980 - 1984)|
NL MVP: Dave Parker
The National League MVP winner in 1978, and deservedly so looking at eWins over replacement level, was Dave Parker (note: the top 10 in eWOPA and eWORL were dominated by American Leaguers in 1978). In 1978, Dave Parker was in the midst of a 5-year peak where he led all major-league players in pWins and eWins from 1975 through 1979.
The top 10 players in pWins over replacement level from 1975 - 1979 are shown in the next table.
The 1978 postseason saw the same four division winners as 1977: New York, Kansas City, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles; the same two pennant winners: New York and Los Angeles; and the same World Series winner: the Yankees. In fact, the NLCS and World Series lasted the same number of games as in 1977; at least the Yankees beat the Royals in four games instead of five (as they had the two previous seasons) or things might have been really boring.
The postseason stars for the Yankees this season included their biggest regular-season star: Ron Guidry, along with Thurman Munson and Roy White. Davey Lopes and Steve Carlton had strong postseasons in losing causes.
Top postseason players by round were as follows.
Best of 1978 by Factor and Position
Next, let's look at the top players in (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) eWins over Positional Average in various aspects of the game.
Best by Factor: Batting, Baserunning, Pitching, Fielding
There are four basic factors for which players earn Player won-lost records: Batting, Baserunning, Pitching, and Fielding. The top players in 1978 in eWOPA by factor were as follows.
Positional Average excludes pitcher offense
Positional Average excludes pitcher offense
The Montreal Expos' starting outfield in 1978 was Warren Cromartie in left, Andre Dawson in center, and Ellis Valentine in right, all of whom started at least 146 games, had at least 17 outfield assists, and, as shown above, led the major leagues in net fielding wins at their position.
Player won-lost records are divided into nine components. Components 8 and 9 are baserunner outs and baserunner advancements. The 1978 Montreal Expos were among the best defensive teams in Components 8 and 9 of any team for which I have calculated Player won-lost records. The top 10 teams in net fielding wins for Components 8 and 9, combined, are shown in the next table.
Best by Position
Next, we look at 1978 Major-League leaders in eWOPA by position. The figures shown here only include Player decisions earned while playing this particular position, and include no contextual adjustments (expected or actual).
For relief pitchers, context-neutral records may not be the best measure of how good they are, as context can matter a great deal, depending on how a pitcher is used. Here are the top relief pitchers of 1978 in context, in terms of pWins and pWOPA.
Finally, here are the best at three oft-forgotten positions that can nevertheless matter: pitcher offense, pinch hitting, and pinch running.
Noteworthy Players of 1978
Finally, let's take a look at some players who had noteworthy 1978 seasons.
The 1978 season saw the major-league debut of two middle infielders who would go on to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame: Paul Molitor and Ozzie Smith.
The career Player won-lost records of Molitor and Smith are shown in the next table.
| ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ |
Team Comparison: Which Team was Better, the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox ended the regularly scheduled portion of the 1978 season tied with 99 wins apiece. The Yankees won Game 163 and the A.L. East division title, from which they went on to win their second straight World Series.
Player pWins are tied to team wins. Hence, the players on the New York Yankees ended up combining for exactly one more pWin than the players on the Boston Red Sox, by construction. I also calculate eWins, however, which are context-neutralized and not tied to team wins. So how did the 1978 Yankees and Red Sox compare in eWins? The next two tables make that comparison.
The first table compares eWins for the Yankees and Red Sox by factor: batting, baserunning, pitching, and fielding.
The Yankees had a fairly average offense and excellent pitching - e.g., Ron Guidry. The Red Sox had fairly average pitching and excellent hitting - e.g., Jim Rice.
The next table compares the Yankees and Red Sox by position.
|eWins, eLosses, eWOPA by Position|
||New York Yankees
||Boston Red Sox
Great starting pitching in New York supplemented by an above-average bullpen beat out an outstanding outfield supplemented with an All-Star catcher. In this case, the old adage held true (barely): good pitching beat good hitting.
All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.
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