Baseball Player Won-Loss Records
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The 1981 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 1981 season.

The 1981 season was a strange and disappointing season, with a 60-day hole in the middle from June 12th through August 10th because of a strike that cost every team between 52 and 60 games played. It then ended with a postseason that featured twice as many teams as the surrounding seasons, but somehow did not include the team with the best record in MLB or the second best team in the NL.

Still, it was major-league baseball and major-league baseball is great.

The Best of 1981

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.

pWins over Positional Average
Top 10 Players
          pWins over Replacement Level
Top 10 Players
Player pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL           Player pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL
1Fernando Valenzuela15.310.53.1
4.2
1Fernando Valenzuela15.310.53.1
4.2
2Dwight Evans18.812.32.9
4.1
2Dwight Evans18.812.32.9
4.1
3Mike Schmidt17.110.62.8
3.9
3Mike Schmidt17.110.62.8
3.9
4Robin Yount14.710.72.6
3.6
4Robin Yount14.710.72.6
3.6
5Dwayne Murphy16.911.62.4
3.6
5Dwayne Murphy16.911.62.4
3.6
6Steve McCatty12.38.12.3
3.3
6Dave Concepcion16.212.72.2
3.4
7Dave Concepcion16.212.72.2
3.4
7Steve McCatty12.38.12.3
3.3
8Steve Carlton11.58.32.2
3.0
8Steve Carlton11.58.32.2
3.0
9Burt Hooton10.06.62.2
2.9
9Andre Dawson17.813.51.8
3.0
10Tom Seaver10.67.42.1
2.9
10Tom Seaver10.67.42.1
2.9


The top 10 players in eWins above Positional Average and Replacement Level were as follows.

eWins over Positional Average
Top 10 Players
          eWins over Replacement Level
Top 10 Players
Player eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL           Player eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL
1Dwight Evans18.812.92.6
3.9
1Dwight Evans18.812.92.6
3.9
2Bobby Grich14.410.32.4
3.4
2Mike Schmidt15.810.32.4
3.4
3Mike Schmidt15.810.32.4
3.4
3Bobby Grich14.410.32.4
3.4
4Andre Dawson17.012.22.0
3.2
4Rickey Henderson19.214.61.9
3.2
5Steve Carlton12.29.71.9
2.9
5Andre Dawson17.012.22.0
3.2
6Rickey Henderson19.214.61.9
3.2
6Steve Carlton12.29.71.9
2.9
7Steve McCatty11.98.61.8
2.9
7Steve McCatty11.98.61.8
2.9
8Fernando Valenzuela12.110.01.7
2.6
8Fernando Valenzuela12.110.01.7
2.6
9Eddie Murray12.38.61.6
2.5
9Robin Yount13.010.91.6
2.5
10Robin Yount13.010.91.6
2.5
10Eddie Murray12.38.61.6
2.5


Fernando-Mania!
Before the strike became the dominant story that sucked the air out of everything else about the 1981 season, the first major story of the 1981 season was a 20-year-old left-hander from Mexico who started the 1981 season - his first full major-league season - by throwing 5 complete-game shutouts in his first seven starts, over which he went a combined 7-0 with a 0.29 ERA in 63 innings. He won his 8th start, 3-2, in a game that saw his ERA nearly double all the way to 0.50.

Obviously, Fernando Valenzuela couldn't keep that pace up all season, but that alone was enough to win him the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards. Based on Player won-lost records, both were well-deserved.

Valenzuela never again matched the greatness of that first month-plus of 1981 in his career. Of course, very, very few pitchers have ever matched that stretch by Valenzuela. It seems unfair, but his career was almost inevitably seen as a disappointment after that start. The truth, however, is that Fernando Valenzuela had a fine major-league career: he even managed to match his overall 1981 season on a couple of occasions (1982, 1986). Fernando Valenzuela's career, as measured by Player won-lost records, is presented in the next table.

Fernando Valenzuela
Basic Player Won-Lost Records
Value Decomposition
Season Team Age Games pWins pLosses pWin Pct. pWOPA pWORL eWins eLosses eWin Pct. eWOPA eWORL
1980LAN19
10
0.80.20.7640.2
0.3
0.70.40.6550.20.2
1981LAN20
25
15.310.50.5923.1
4.2
12.110.00.5471.72.6
1982LAN21
38
19.315.00.5643.1
4.5
18.214.60.5552.74.1
1983LAN22
36
16.215.30.5151.3
2.6
16.215.90.5041.02.3
1984LAN23
35
16.216.60.4950.7
2.0
16.415.40.5151.32.6
1985LAN24
35
15.714.70.5171.3
2.8
17.314.50.5442.23.7
1986LAN25
39
18.415.00.5512.6
4.0
18.315.10.5482.64.0
1987LAN26
38
16.917.70.4890.5
2.2
15.818.10.465-0.31.3
1988LAN27
23
8.310.00.453-0.5
0.3
8.19.70.456-0.40.4
1989LAN28
34
11.513.20.467-0.3
0.8
12.313.80.470-0.21.0
1990LAN29
35
13.013.70.4880.5
1.7
12.913.90.4820.31.5
1991CAL30
2
0.71.70.282-0.5
-0.4
0.31.20.205-0.4-0.4
1993BAL32
32
10.711.20.490-0.1
0.9
10.410.40.5000.11.1
1994PHI33
8
1.72.00.456-0.1
0.1
2.82.80.4930.10.4
1995SDN34
29
6.15.70.5160.5
1.1
5.66.60.459-0.20.4
1996SDN35
36
11.610.80.5171.0
2.2
10.611.30.4830.21.4
36
19
6.08.80.404-1.1
-0.3
5.67.40.430-0.70.1
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
CAREER (reg. season)
474
188.5182.20.50912.4
29.0
183.6181.30.50310.226.6
------ ------ ------ ------ ------
PostSeason (career)
9
4.63.30.585 1.24.03.50.535 0.8
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
COMBINED
483
193.2185.40.509
30.3
187.6184.80.503 27.4


Mike Schmidt
Just looking at counting stats, Mike Schmidt's 1981 season doesn't look like anything special. Schmidt hit 35 or more home runs eleven times in his career; in 1981, he hit 31. Schmidt drove in over 100 runs in a season nine times; in 1981, he drove in 91. Mike Schmidt scored more than 80 runs in a season thirteen times; in 1981, he scored 78 runs. Mike Schmidt had 280 or more total bases twelve times; in 1981, he had 228 total bases. Of course, that's because Mike Schmidt played 145 or more games in his career thirteen times, but played in only 102 games in 1981. And, of course, he didn't play in only 102 games because he was injured or ineffective; no, he played in only 102 games in 1981 because the Phillies only played 107 games because of the 1981 strike.

In fact, taking season length into consideration, 1981 may well have been Mike Schmidt's finest season. He led the National League in on-base percentage (.435), slugging percentage (.644), times on base (189), total bases (228), runs scored (78), runs batted in (91), home runs (31), and walks (73).

Mike Schmidt's career, as measured by Player won-lost records, is presented in the next table.

Mike Schmidt
Basic Player Won-Lost Records
Value Decomposition
Season Team Age Games pWins pLosses pWin Pct. pWOPA pWORL eWins eLosses eWin Pct. eWOPA eWORL
1972PHI22
13
1.31.20.5200.0
0.1
1.01.00.481-0.00.0
1973PHI23
131
14.212.00.5410.7
1.8
12.911.70.5240.31.3
1974PHI24
162
24.016.80.5893.3
4.8
23.516.20.5933.34.8
1975PHI25
158
21.317.20.5531.9
3.4
23.216.50.5843.14.7
1976PHI26
160
23.616.10.5953.4
4.9
22.516.30.5802.84.2
1977PHI27
153
21.414.90.5892.8
4.3
21.415.10.5872.84.2
1978PHI28
145
20.216.20.5551.6
3.0
18.414.80.5531.42.7
1979PHI29
160
24.117.10.5853.1
4.7
23.317.40.5722.54.1
1980PHI30
150
23.616.90.5823.0
4.5
24.417.30.5853.24.8
1981PHI31
102
17.110.60.6162.8
3.9
15.810.30.6052.43.4
1982PHI32
148
22.516.20.5802.6
4.1
21.215.00.5852.64.0
1983PHI33
153
22.317.00.5672.1
3.5
22.416.60.5742.43.8
1984PHI34
151
22.517.60.5612.2
3.8
21.816.10.5762.74.1
1985PHI35
158
18.816.40.5340.5
1.8
20.015.00.5711.83.1
1986PHI36
160
21.015.50.5742.1
3.5
19.814.30.5812.23.5
1987PHI37
147
22.216.80.5702.2
3.8
20.315.00.5752.23.6
1988PHI38
108
12.613.10.491-0.4
0.6
13.312.60.5140.21.2
1989PHI39
42
4.65.70.449-0.6
-0.2
4.84.80.500-0.10.3
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
CAREER (reg. season)
2,401
337.4257.40.56733.6
56.4
330.0246.10.57335.757.8
------ ------ ------ ------ ------
PostSeason (career)
36
4.14.40.484 0.14.64.20.519 0.4
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
COMBINED
2,437
341.5261.80.567
56.4
334.5250.30.573 58.2


One way to tell how impressive Schmidt's 1981 season was: don't look at the columns headed "Season" or "Games" and try to figure out which season was 1981. Yes, it's the only season between 1974 and 1984 where Schmidt earned fewer than 20 pWins (and the only season between 1974 and 1987 with fewer than 19 pWins), but in terms of pWOPA and pWORL, 1981 fits very comfortably with the surrounding seasons. Now imagine if Schmidt had been able to play another 50 games that season. That would have made his 1981 season really stand out.

Peak Seasons for Hall-of-Merit Members
Because it was so much shorter than the surrounding seasons, the 1981 season saw somewhat more seasons that could be viewed as outliers: both good and bad. Two such players - on the good side - show up among the top three players on eWOPA and eWORL leaderboards above: Dwight Evans and Bobby Grich. Evans and Grich have three things in common: the 1981 season was their best (on a rate basis, controlling for context), both of them are in the Hall of Merit, and, finally, neither of them are in the Hall of Fame.

While 1981 was the best season (rate-wise) in the careers of Evans and Grich, they both had several other excellent seasons and excellent overall careers. Their careers are compared below, as measured by (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) eWins.

Dwight Evans Bobby Grich
Season Games eWins eLoss Win Pct. eWOPA eWORL Games eWins eLoss Win Pct. eWOPA eWORL
1970
 
292.53.00.448-0.20.1
1971
 
71.30.80.6340.30.4
1972182.41.90.5570.2
0.4
13217.013.70.5542.03.3
19731159.78.70.5270.3
1.1
16221.817.00.5622.74.3
197413316.014.10.5330.7
1.9
16023.119.60.5412.33.9
197512614.512.80.5300.5
1.6
15021.117.40.5472.23.7
197614619.015.90.5431.2
2.5
14418.815.50.5482.13.4
1977738.67.10.5480.6
1.2
526.65.80.5360.81.3
197814719.416.40.5421.0
2.4
14416.316.00.5050.61.9
197915217.116.10.5150.0
1.3
15319.916.00.5542.43.8
198014617.415.80.5240.5
1.8
14917.515.80.5251.32.6
198110818.812.90.5922.6
3.9
10014.410.30.5842.43.4
198216223.818.80.5592.2
3.8
14518.416.30.5311.52.8
198312615.014.10.5150.3
1.5
12016.213.60.5441.62.7
198416224.320.20.5461.3
3.0
11613.612.50.5200.81.8
198515922.618.80.5461.6
3.1
14417.015.90.5150.61.8
198615219.216.20.5431.2
2.5
9710.110.10.5010.31.0
198715419.715.10.5651.7
3.0
198814918.115.80.5330.6
1.9
198914617.114.20.5461.3
2.7
199012210.610.10.5110.2
1.4
19911018.68.10.5150.1
0.8
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
CAREER RECORDS2,597321.8273.20.54118.1
41.8
2,004255.6219.30.53823.842.2


1981 Postseason

The Cincinnati Reds had the best record in the major leagues in 1981. The St. Louis Cardinals had the second-best winning percentage in the National League. One-third of the teams in the National League made the playoffs in 1981, but not the Reds or the Cardinals.

Because of the players' strike in the middle of the 1981 season, MLB decided to do a split-season schedule with the teams that were leading the four divisions when the strike hit - the Yankees, A's, Phillies, and Dodgers - playing the teams with the best post-strike records - Brewers, Royals, Expos, and Astros - in a preliminary round of "divisional series".

The final result was the third World Series meeting between the Yankees and Dodgers in five years (and, if I counted correctly, the 10th overall such World Series matchup). At least the winner was different than the two previous times.

The best postseason performances of 1981 are shown in the next table.

1981 Postseason: Total
pWins pLosses pWORL
Burt HootonLAN2.71.80.8
Fernando ValenzuelaLAN2.82.10.7
Rich GossageNYA1.60.40.7


Top postseason players by round were as follows.

1981 Postseason: World Series
pWins pLosses pWORL
Pedro GuerreroLAN1.40.50.5
Bob WatsonNYA1.00.50.3
Ron CeyLAN1.20.70.3
Tommy JohnNYA0.90.50.3
Steve YeagerLAN0.70.20.3

1981 Postseason: League Championship Series
pWins pLosses pWORL
Burt HootonLAN1.20.60.5
Ray BurrisMON1.10.60.3
Willie RandolphNYA0.80.30.3
Rick MondayLAN0.70.20.3

1981 Postseason: Division Series
pWins pLosses pWORL
Steve RogersMON1.40.60.6
Dwayne MurphyOAK1.10.20.5
Rich GossageNYA0.90.10.4
Fernando ValenzuelaLAN1.30.80.4
Dave RighettiNYA0.90.30.4


The split-season format did lead to two teams making the first playoff appearance in franchise history by winning second-half division titles: the Milwaukee Brewers and the Montreal Expos. The Brewers followed this up by making the World Series the following year. The Expos, on the other hand, never made the playoffs again before moving to Washington in 2005 - thanks, in no small part, to another, arguably even more devastating strike.

Hence, Steve Rogers's 1981 divisional series performance (2-0, 0.51 ERA in 17.2 IP) remains the greatest postseason performance in Montreal Expos history.

Best of 1981 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 1981 in eWOPA by factor were as follows.

Batting
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Mike Schmidt11.46.72.2
Dwight Evans11.98.02.0

Positional Average excludes pitcher offense



Baserunning
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Tim Raines Sr.2.41.00.7

Positional Average excludes pitcher offense



Pitching
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Steve Carlton10.27.82.4
Don Sutton7.95.72.2
Steve McCatty10.48.32.1
Rollie Fingers4.22.41.8
Fernando Valenzuela9.98.11.8
Dave Righetti5.53.81.8
Bill Gullickson7.96.21.7
Ken Forsch7.66.01.7
Mario Soto9.67.91.6
Nolan Ryan7.86.21.6
Burt Hooton6.95.41.5
Dave Stieb9.37.81.5


I might have missed somebody somewhere along the way, but Rollie Fingers is the first relief pitcher that I remember seeing ranking this high among all pitchers within a single season.

Fielding, P
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Dennis Leonard0.30.10.2
Shane Rawley0.30.00.2
Joe Niekro0.30.10.2
Dan Petry0.20.10.2
Mike Caldwell0.20.10.2
Ross Baumgarten0.30.10.2


Fielding, C
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Gary Carter1.91.20.7


Fielding, 1B
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Eddie Murray1.81.10.6


Fielding, 2B
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Tom Herr4.33.60.7


Fielding, 3B
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Buddy Bell3.72.80.9


Fielding, SS
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Robin Yount4.53.70.8


Fielding, LF
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Willie Wilson6.14.61.5


Fielding, CF
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Al Bumbry4.23.30.9


Fielding, RF
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Dwight Evans5.84.51.2


Best by Position
Next, we look at 1981 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).



Catcher
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Gary Carter10.99.11.0


First Base
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Eddie Murray12.38.81.6


Second Base
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Bobby Grich14.410.62.2


Third Base
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Mike Schmidt15.610.62.2


Shortstop
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Robin Yount12.810.81.5


Left Field
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Rickey Henderson19.214.81.8


Center Field
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Andre Dawson17.012.51.9


Right Field
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Dwight Evans18.713.22.4


Starting Pitcher
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Steve McCatty10.88.41.4
Steve Carlton10.38.11.3
Don Sutton8.16.01.2
Fernando Valenzuela10.38.41.2


Relief Pitcher
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Rollie Fingers4.42.80.6


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 1981 in context, in terms of pWins and pWOPA.

Top Relief Pitchers of 1981, based on pWORL
Player pWins pLosses pWin Pct. pWOPA pWORL
Rollie Fingers7.13.70.6601.52.2
Bruce Sutter6.84.70.5880.81.5
Dan Quisenberry5.32.90.6451.01.5
Rich Gossage4.72.40.6651.01.5
Rick Camp5.63.60.6110.91.4


Rollie Fingers's 1981 season was something to behold. He won both the AL MVP and Cy Young awards that season. While he probably didn't deserve either of those, he did have an outstanding season, putting up a 1.04 ERA in 78 relief innings with 6 wins and 28 saves. He earned the win or save in 34 of the Brewers' 62 wins that season (55%). Blowing those numbers up to 162 games, that would translate to a 1.04 ERA in 116 innings with 9 wins and 42 saves (which would have set a new major-league record at that time). Of course, a couple of bad outings or a couple of weeks with a sore arm and a full-length 1981 season might not have looked quite as impressive. Nevertheless, it was a heckuva season by Fingers.

Designated Hitter
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Greg Luzinski10.48.20.9
Cliff Johnson6.84.90.8


Finally, here are the best at three oft-forgotten positions that can nevertheless matter: pitcher offense, pinch hitting, and pinch running.

Pitcher Offense
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Tom Seaver1.11.40.3


Pinch Hitter
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Jay Johnstone1.20.80.2
John Milner1.00.60.2
Milt May0.50.20.2
Jason D. Thompson0.60.30.2
George Vukovich0.60.20.2
Bob Molinaro1.10.80.2
Bobby Murcer0.70.40.2
Alan Ashby0.40.10.2
Steve Braun0.80.50.2
Rick Monday0.70.40.2
Jerry White0.60.40.2
Joe Lefebvre0.40.10.2
Rusty Staub0.70.50.2


Pinch Runner
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Eddie L. Miller0.20.00.1
Lee Lacy0.20.00.1
Bob Dernier0.20.00.1
Jerry Royster0.20.00.1


Noteworthy Players of 1981

Finally, the 1981 season saw the major-league debuts of two infielders who would go on to win a combined 3 MVP awards, 11 Gold Gloves, start 26 All-Star games, and both be elected to the Hall of Fame: Cal Ripken and Ryne Sandberg.

Their careers, as measured by Player won-lost records, are compared in the table below.

Cal Ripken Ryne Sandberg
Season Games pWins pLoss Win Pct. pWOPA pWORL Games pWins pLoss Win Pct. pWOPA pWORL
1981180.60.90.397-0.1
-0.1
110.00.00.5240.00.0
198215921.717.90.5482.4
3.9
15618.219.10.487-0.90.6
198316224.919.30.5643.5
5.1
15819.520.70.485-0.51.0
198416225.819.30.5724.5
6.2
15625.319.10.5703.35.0
198516123.220.40.5322.4
4.0
15324.019.20.5562.33.9
198616222.020.10.5232.0
3.5
15419.518.50.5140.82.2
198716219.421.30.476-0.1
1.5
13216.815.90.5130.61.9
198816119.919.80.5020.7
2.2
15520.418.60.5231.02.5
198916222.519.30.5382.4
3.9
15621.618.10.5451.63.0
199016120.618.50.5271.8
3.2
15522.018.70.5401.63.1
199116223.420.00.5392.5
4.1
15823.117.10.5752.84.3
199216219.518.90.5071.0
2.5
15824.818.80.5682.84.5
199316220.519.40.5141.3
2.8
11713.213.70.491-0.20.9
199411214.912.80.5381.6
2.8
576.97.10.493-0.10.5
199514417.718.40.4910.4
1.9
199616320.619.20.5181.4
3.0
15019.616.70.5391.73.2
199716219.317.00.5311.2
2.6
13512.713.70.480-0.40.6
199816116.417.40.485-0.5
0.9
19998610.09.20.5220.5
1.2
2000838.87.70.5330.6
1.3
200112811.514.00.451-1.2
-0.1
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
CAREER RECORDS2,995383.3350.70.52228.2
56.5
2,161287.6255.10.53016.637.2




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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