Bringing James Holzhauer to Baseball

It has been over a month since James Holzhauer lost on Jeopardy!, crushing my heart and, if Twitter is to be believed, the hearts of many others. Since part of the way through his incredible run, however, one question nagged at me. If we consider Jeopardy! to be a sport, then Holzhauer may very well have just had the most dominant stretch ever produced by an athlete. What would it take for a baseball player to equal this absurd level of performance?

There are some rules that first have to be established here. For the purposes of this exercise, monetary winnings on Jeopardy! will be equated to WAR. According to this research from the Jeopardy! fan website, the average contestant (since October of 2004) wins $11,899.44. Given that the show airs every weekday in the year, that rounds to about 261 episodes per year. With three contestants per episode, the average amount of money rewarded to Jeopardy! contestants in one season (ignoring that for certain tournaments there are set amounts of prize money, this only applies to the actual amounts won) is easily calculable. Three contestants per episode times 261 episodes times $11,899.44 per contestant equals $9,317,261.52 awarded from Jeopardy! to contestants each year.

In this article, in which the baseball equivalent of LeBron James is calculated, it is stated that MLB allots 1,000 WAR per season. Holzhauer’s winnings on Jeopardy! totaled $2,462,216, a staggering amount, one that would constitute 26.426% of the winnings in an average season. In baseball terms, Holzhauer was worth 264.3 WAR. That would be in one season. For reference, no player has even reached 200 career WAR. Now to see what it would take to reach this lofty number.

In 2018, the MLB WAR leader was, of course, Mookie Betts, who posted a mark of 10.4. All we need to do is increase this by 2541.3%. No big deal *gulps*.

So, according to this WAR calculator, a pitcher who pitched every inning of every game and struck out every batter would have a WAR of 137.8 (in a league with a 4.15 ERA like in 2018). We’re more than halfway there. Only 126.5 WAR to go. Now our incredible ace Holzhauer also comes to the plate five times a game. He never makes an out, and every time he makes contact is a home run. Every plate appearance ends in either a home run or a walk. His baserunning is excellent. The league average OBP is .288 and the SLG is .344. This brings Holzhauer to exactly 126.5 WAR as a hitter (using the same calculator). His total WAR is 264.3 on the dot.

Obviously, this is an exercise in absurdity. Jeopardy! is a sport, if we can call it that (and as an aspiring contestant, I most certainly will), in which one player controls the entirety of the game for herself or himself. It goes without saying that this is not the case in baseball. One way of looking at it is that Jeopardy! and baseball are very different games. How I choose to take it, however, is a commentary on the dominance of James Holzhauer. The former Effectively Wild guest was quite possibly, probably in fact, the greatest of all time at what he did. These numbers just serve as an illustration of how amazing he was.





Sean is a student at Fordham University in Bronx, NY. He studies mathematics with a concentration in decision making and a minor in sports journalism. Occasionally, he submits articles to Fangraphs in the hopes that they aren't terrible. You can follow him on Twitter @srhkthew2.

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Tyler Burch
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I think this argument is a bit flawed. You say that MLB allots 1,000 WAR/season, meaning that this is a zero-sum game, if one person gains some WAR, someone else loses it.

Jeopardy, however, is not a zero-sum game. Players gain money as they get questions right, and lose it as they get questions wrong, so the total money per season can fluctuate drastically, it’s not being pulled from a single pool, like the 1,000 WAR/season you mention is.

Daniel King
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Member
Daniel King

Well to be fair, baseball isn’t really a zero sum game either. One player could pull a Holzhauer and hit home runs in every at bat while striking everybody out. We’d still say 1,000 WAR per season, there’s not a limited amount of home runs or strikeouts allowed.

As a silly exercise I think it’s fine!

VincentGuilds
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VincentGuilds

Lets look at this from a different perspective. $566,400 is the most you can earn in a single game of Jeopardy. Holzahuer won 32 games, so his maximum earnings would have been $18,124,800. So a perfect run, getting every question right, timing the daily double perfectly and betting the max, etc, would have earned him that amount. He ended up earning 2,462,216 or about 13.6% of that. If a pitcher pitched every inning of every game for a team and struck out everybody, he would be worth 850 WAR. As a position player he’d be reliant on the rest of… Read more »