Visualizing Declining Standards for Retired Uniform Numbers

From SABR member J-Doug at Beyond the Box Score on April 7:

Are MLB franchises exercising less discretion when retiring player uniforms? A look back at the history of retired uniforms—and the contributions of those who filled them—suggests that they are.

By combining the data used in last week’s post on retired uniforms with Rally’s Wins Above Replacement (rWAR) values, I produced the chart above. Prior to 1970, it was rare that a team would retire a uniform that belonged to a player who contributed less than 80 rWAR to that particular team. By 1990, teams were regularly honoring players who produced less than 50 rWAR.

In 1999, the 10-year moving average for a player’s contribution in a retired jersey bottomed out at 41.1 rWAR. The cumulative mean contribution currently sits at an all time low of 53.9. In 2000, the Devil Rays retired the uniform of Wade Boggs, who produced a whopping 0.4 rWAR while wearing a Tampa Bay uniform.

While it’s important to recognize that on-field value is not the only variable teams consider when retiring a player’s number, it’s undeniable that teams are lowering their standards when they decide whom to honor.

See the charts and read the full article here:

Originally published: April 7, 2011. Last Updated: April 7, 2011.