Graph of the Day
Career WAR Arcs can be compared to the average Hall of Famer for interesting results.
If you're not already familiar with the concept, readers JBrew and Studes (and Justin Inaz and Sky Kalkman)* developed a way of looking at potential Hall-of-Famers by arranging all previous members' WAR data into a best-season-to-worst view. They took the data, found the median, and then stretched a "hall of fame zone" from the 20th to 50th percentiles from which to compare would-be candidates.
You can see that concept HERE. (Sorry, requires an ESPN Insider subscription.)
*edit: Sky corrects the record in the comments section. He was not in fact the creator of the "HoF Zone."
While the effort has been duplicated numerous times, not only by myself but also now appearing on Fangraphs as a regular feature/tool, there was always one minor issue I took with the approach. That was that the approach seemed to neglect the overall curve of the player's career: the ups, the downs, the long stretches of average production, the shockingly swift decline that all players must eventually face.
I decided another approach was in order.
With that in mind, I decided to take the same set of players and find another Hall of Fame Zone--the Hall of Fame Career WAR Arc. I took every player and arranged his career WAR numbers (via Fangraphs) from his first season to his last. I found that the average Hall of Famer has a 20.5-year career. That surprised me a bit.
With the career-aligned data in place, from each of their rookie seasons to their sad departure from the majors some 20 years later, I averaged every year's WAR data. Obvious note: while almost every hall of famer starts with a modest 1.0-ish WAR, they adjust very quickly, up into the 5s and 6s in just three years. Even if you've been following sabermetrics for some time, you might still be surprised to note that the average hall of famer peaks in his 7th season--somewhere between 26 and 28 years old.
With the average hall-of-fame WAR for each season of the "average hall of famer" in place, I then found the standard deviation for every season, then added and subtracted that amount from each respective season. I plotted the data and found a polynomial (^4) line-of-best-fit for each line: one line for the average, one line for the lower standard deviation, and one line for the high standard deviation.
The results are as follows.
I truncated the data at 21 seasons, and kept the scale to show 14 WAR. With the area between the standard deviations shaded in grey (keeping with Sky's original theme), we now have a Hall of Fame Zone in a career arc format from which to judge potential candidates.
Here's how it might be applied:
The Kid had a higher WAR in his 5th season (9.0) than he did for his last 11 seasons combined. Beautiful, and tragic career arc.
What a brilliant career. Freaking amazing. Playing at a premium position at the beginning of his career gives him a nice boost, though.
Even at a positional disadvantage, Pujols has spent his career as BETTER than Hall of Fame.
Removing the bar charts and combining the curves into a single chart gives a wonderful career comparison:
So, what do you think? Whose career would you like to test against the Career Arc Hall of Fame Zone? Who, right now in his 3rd-4th-5th season, is producing 5 or more WAR? Maybe we should watch them.
And because I had it open still: