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Heinie Groh and Sal Bando Go Saberhagen

Heinie Groh, 1919Through our 2003 election, we’ve elected 173 players. That means we have only 42 spots remaining in the HoME. But most of those spots are already spoken for. Nobody’s going to be surprised in the next few elections when Paul Molitor, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, and Cal Ripken have their plaques written. So we’re not really dealing with 42 spots. It’s closer to half a dozen.

For the last three elections now I’ve been voting for Sal Bando to get into the Hall of Miller and Eric. And not really meaning to, I last wrote about him just two weeks ago when I talked about players who were the best in the game for a five-year run. Today I’m actually starting this post with the intention of writing about Bando. I’ve been in his camp for three main reasons.

  1. I believe we need another 3B.
  2. I believe the era in which Bando played is currently under-represented.
  3. I believe Bando is ever so slightly more appealing than Heinie Groh.

On the other hand, reasonable people could agree with the first point, acknowledge that Groh’s era is under-represented too, and believe that Heinie is ever so slightly more appealing than Sal.

Heinie Groh played for the Giants, Reds, and Pirates over 16 seasons from 1912-1927. He was a star for the Reds in the late teens, and he was the 3B on their squad that topped the Black Sox in the 1919 World Series. He also played 3B for the 1922 Giant team that won it all. Groh took home a couple of OBP titles and a couple of doubles titles, and he added a bit more Black Ink on top of that. At his 1915-1919 peak, he was the best non-pitcher in the NL. And in all of the game he trailed just Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Eddie Collins. From the start of the AL in 1901 through the end of WWII in 1945, we can call him the game’s best 3B behind Home Run Baker. Nevertheless, he never received much support for the Hall, topping out at a measly 2% in 1955. Of course, he might be able to take solace in the fact that eight players on that ballot who received fewer than his five votes are now in Cooperstown.

Sal Bando played for the A’s and Brewers for 16 seasons from 1966-1981. He was a star in Oakland in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, and he manned the hot corner for Oakland’s consecutive World Series champs from 1972-1974. He tops Groh in that he was the best non-pitcher in all the game by WAR from 1969-1973. Opening it up to a decade from 1969-1978, and we’re looking at a guy who trails only Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Rod Carew, and Reggie Jackson in non-pitcher WAR. He didn’t put up a lot of Black Ink, but those who are against pitchers winning the MVP might have given Bando the award in 1971, one of his three top-4 finishes in the voting. Bando was considered by the Baseball Writers only once. In 1987, just three of them supported his candidacy for Cooperstown.

A real difference between our two third sackers is how they fare against their contemporaries. While you’ll recall Groh is the second best 3B for nearly half a century, Bando played with a lot more competition. From 1961-1990, 30 years, Bando trails Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Brooks Robinson, Ron Sando, Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, and Wade Boggs. That’s a lot of guys.

So then, should we elect Bando? Groh? Both? Neither? For questions like these, we turn to our Saberhagen List. We use our version of Bill James’ Keltner List in an effort to better understand a player’s candidacy. Hopefully that’ll happen for our 3B contestants.

How many All-Star-type seasons did they have?

Heinie Groh never made an All-Star team, which is hardly his fault. The first such game took place in 1933, while Groh was out of the game by 1927. Sal Bando made four squads before George Brett became a regular in 1975 and none thereafter.

But we’re not talking about making All-Star teams here. Rather, we’re discussing having All-Star-level seasons. That’s at about 5 WAR. After the adjustments I make for shortened schedules and Defensive Regression Analysis, mainly, Groh and Bando both clock in at five All-Star seasons. As for their sixth best seasons, they’re both at 4.7 wins. Between the two, we’ll call this one a draw.

However, we still have to compare them to HoMErs at the hot corner. No 3B currently elected has as few 5-win seasons other than Darrell Evans, who’s at just two. But that number is a bit skewed. Evans does have a career year of 9.1 wins that he can highlight, and he has six years of between 4.6 and 4.9 wins. It seems clear Groh and Bando, by themselves, form the in/out line at third base.

Overall, it’s not strange to find guys in the HoME with only five years at the All-Star level. King Kelly, Gabby Hartnett, Eddie Murray, Duke Snider, and Monte Ward are just a few. Both of our third basemen are in good company by this standard.

How many MVP-type seasons did they have?

This is another reason we’re on the borderline. An MVP-level year is about 8 WAR. Bando topped out at 7.9 in 1969, while Groh’s best was 7.3 in 1917. Richie Ashburn, Johnny Mize, Goose Goslin, Sam Crawford, Keith Hernandez, and others all failed to put up an MVP-level year by my numbers. And they’re all in the HoME. Among 3B, we have Deacon White, Brooks Robinson, Buddy Bell, Graig Nettles, and Tommy Leach (if you want to call him a 3B). It’s very clear that lacking an MVP-level year isn’t a disqualifier.

Were they good enough players that they could continue to play regularly after passing their primes?

Groh stopped being a star in 1920, but in three of his next four seasons he put up at least 3.5 WAR. Late in his age-34 season he suffered a knee injury and wasn’t ever again a regular. Had he been able to hang on for one more year, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation.

Bando still reached 4.7 wins at that same at age-34. But like Groh, he was done after that. And you want to know how close this pair is? According to my numbers, Groh totaled -0.12 WAR in his last three years. Bando put up the same -0.12.

Are their most comparable players in the HoME?

At 3B Bando’s most comparable player is Groh and Groh’s is Bando. So no, they’re not in the HoME.

But to determine the list of comparable non-pitchers, I included those who are within 10% of each player’s WAR for his best five years, seven years, ten years, twelve years, fifteen years, and career.

For Bando, there are 30 players on that list. Those guys include HoMErs Joe Sewell, Dave Bancroft, Billy Herman, and Bill Freehan. There are four borderliners on the list: George Gore, Jose Cruz, Roy White, and Groh. There are five guys who we haven’t yet considered. And the remaining sixteen have earned HoME obituaries.

For Groh, the list is longer, 43 deep. Those guys include just one HoMEr, Dave Bancroft. There is just one other guy on the borderline, Sal Bando himself. There are only four guys who we haven’t considered, including two certain to receive their obituaries as soon as they’re eligible. And the remaining 37 players have all received HoME obits. Overall, this is an extremely weak list.

While Bando’s list suggests that he’s a longshot for the HoME, it’s not an unreasonable landing place. Groh’s list suggests there’s very little chance he’ll get into the HoME. Thus, we have to conclude that there’s a small advantage for Bando here.

Were they ever the best third basemen in baseball? Or in their leagues?

We can see from the chart below that Groh was more dominant in his time than Bando was in his. On one hand, we could say that Groh bested his competition and Bando didn’t. On the other, we could admit that much of Bando’s competition was HoME-level and Groh’s wasn’t.

Sal Bando, 2001Heinie Groh  MLB  NL     Sal Bando   MLB  AL
1914-1946     1    1     1968-1970    2    1
1915-1917     1    1     1969-1971    1    1
1916-1918     1    1     1970-1972    1    1
1917-1919     1    1     1971-1973    1    1
1918-1920     1    1     1972-1974    2    1
1919-1921     1    1     1973-1975    5    2
1920-1922     2    2    
1921-1923     2    2     
1922-1924     2    2
1923-1925     3    2

If there’s an advantage here, and I’m not sure there is, it belongs to Groh.

Did they ever have a reasonable case for being called the best player in baseball? Or in their leagues?

Groh’s peak was 1915-1919, and he’s nowhere near at the level of Ty Cobb during that time. He’s fourth in the game. However, he does seem like the National League’s best player over those five years. He’s also the best in the NL from 1915-1917 and 1915-1918.

Bando’s peak was more spread out. We could call it 1969-1978. He’s fifth during that time and third in the AL. Limiting to 1969-1976, we’re talking fifth in the game and second in the AL. A year less, 1969-1975, he’s fourth in the game and second in the AL. And from 1969-1974, he’s third in the game and the best player in the AL. Six years as best in the AL is pretty impressive. For five years, 1969-1973, he was the entire game’s best. He was also the very best from 1969-1972 and 1969-1971.

While 3B in Bando’s era were more impressive, he had more time on top of his league, and he’s the only one of these two with time as the best player in the game.

Is there any evidence to suggest that they were significantly better or worse than is suggested by their statistics?

The above numbers are skewed a little bit because Rfield thinks more highly of Bando’s fielding than DRA, a stat that I prefer. While Bando’s greatness was undeniable, perhaps he wasn’t really the best in the game.

For both there’s a number that shows how their counting statistics are artificially depressed, so it might explain why they don’t always get so much love from the baseball community. BBREF has a number called AIR, which represents the offensive level of the leagues and parks in which the hitter played. With 100 as average and Groh’s and Bando’s numbers at 90 and 89 respectively, we can see that they both played in situations that suppressed their offensive totals by a pretty decent amount.

Did they have a positive impact on pennant races and in post-season series?

The first time Heinie Groh encountered the challenge of October baseball was 1919. His Reds were terrific that year and didn’t receive much competition in the NL. They also didn’t receive much of a challenge in the World Series, as their opponents worked to give the Series to Cincy. The victory had little to do with Groh, who hit a poor .172/.314/.241 in eight games. His only two RBIs of the entire Series were in the 9-1 rout in Game #1.

Heinie Groh, 1923Groh got to his second World Series in 1922 with the Giants, though he still hadn’t been in much of a pennant race. On the regular season, every one of his starting teammates hit at least .320, while Groh batted just .265 on. When the World Series came, Groh stepped up his game with a .474/.524/.579 line. He had three hits, a walk, and a run scored in their 3-2 victory in the opener. And he played well throughout. The Giants swept around a tie in second game.

The next year the Giants were back in the World Series without a real pennant race. They lost to the Yankees this time, and Groh struggled at .182/.280/.273. Still, he helped his mates to a lead after the first game, scoring a run and driving in two in a 5-4 win.

Groh’s first pennant race took place in 1924. His Giants opened September up just two games, and they were tied on September 4. From September 5 through September 19, Groh helped the Giants to an 11-5 record by slashing .342/.400/.356. Unfortunately, a leg injury sidelined him for the rest of the regular season, and he managed just one trip to the plate, a single, in New York’s World Series loss to Washington.

By that point Groh was done. His Pirates got to the 1927 World Series but lost to the juggernaut Yankees. Groh went 0-1.

Sal Bando had a more extensive post-season career, some of it good, some of it not good at all.

Bando’s first time in the playoffs came without a pennant race, as his 101-win A’s faced the 101-win O’s in the 1971 ALCS. Bando had his best year in ’71, and he really brought it against Baltimore, crushing the ball at .364/.417/.818. Unfortunately for him, he had three of the only eight extra base hits for Oakland, including a homer in the finale against Jim Palmer, but Baltimore swept the Series.

From 1972-1975, the A’s kept winning the AL West without a real challenge. That first year they took on the Tigers in the ALCS. Bando hit .200/.200/.200 without a run or a run batted in, yet the A’s won three games to two. In the World Series, Bando improved to .269/.321/.308 in a seven-game struggle to beat the Reds. He had neither an extra base hit nor an RBI until the deciding game. Tied at one with two outs in the sixth, Gene Tenace hit a run-scoring double, which Bando followed with a run-scoring double of his own. That was the deciding run. Oakland went on to win 3-2.

The next year Bando seemed to struggle against the Orioles, hitting just .167/.318/.500. But it’s that third number, the SLG number, which stands out. Down a game in the best of five, Bando hit two homers against Dave McNally, one in each of the sixth and eighth innings, as Oakland won 6-3 and evened the Series. That World Series saw the A’s face the Mets who were trying to pull off another miracle. Bando hit .231/.333/.346 as the A’s won in seven games. No big hits for Bando in that World Series.

The 1974 ALCS saw Bando’s A’s face Baltimore again. Bando hit .231/.412/.692 in that Sereies against the O’s. Down 1-0, Bando homered off Dave McNally in the fourth inning of Game #2 to start the scoring. He hit a solo homer off Jim Palmer in Game #3, and that’s the only scoring there was in the 1-0 Oakland win. And he walked three times and scored both Oakland runs in in the 2-1 win in the finale. It’s not unreasonable to guess that Oakland might not have won the ALCS in 1974, and thus might not have won their third straight World Series, without Sal Bando. At .063/.200/.063, Bando was pretty useless in the World Series win against LA. But I don’t know that they’d even have gotten there without him.

By 1975, the Oakland dynasty was just about over, but they got to the ALCS one last time. Bando did his part with a .500/.500/.667 line, but the Red Sox swept Oakland 3-0.

Leaving for Milwaukee after the 1976 campaign, Bando wasn’t again in a pennant race until the second half of the 1981 split-season. At that point a Brewer and at the end of his career, Bando wasn’t a regular down the stretch, and he didn’t contribute much to Milwaukee’s second-half title. In the ALDS, however, he was pretty good at .294/.368/.471 in Milwaukee’s loss to the Yankees. He drove in a run in their Game #3 win to keep the Brewers from being eliminated. But that was really it. Bando’s career ended after drawing a walk against Goose Gossage when Roy Howell ran for him in the eighth inning of the deciding game of the Series.

Sal Bando, 1981Overall, Groh has a couple of nice points. Bando does too, as well as some down points. But I’m really giving Bando some extra credit for the 1974 ALCS. It’s quite possible the A’s dynasty would have been one World Series win without his contributions that year.

Is either one the best eligible player at his position not in the HoME?

I’m calling Paul Molitor a 3B. If you call him a DH, Groh and Bando are the only two 3B who we’re currently considering for the HoME. So yes, they’re the best. In fact, after this election, we’re only considering ten other guys at the hot corner. Alphabetically, they’re Edgardo Alfonzo, Wade Boggs, Bobby Bonilla, Ken Caminiti, Jeff Cirillo, Gary Gaetti, Edgar Martinez, Terry Pendleton, Robin Ventura, and Matt Williams.

Is either one the best eligible candidate not in the HoME?

Paul Molitor, Dennis Eckersley, and Dave Stieb are all on this ballot in 2004, and I prefer each of these players to Groh and Bando.

Conclusions

I like the Saberhagen work because it sometimes helps to provide clarity. It has even changed my mind in the past. Today, however, it just strengthens my already held opinion. If we need a 3B, and if the eras of Heinie Groh and Sal Bando are relatively equally in need of help, I’m going to continue supporting the player who I think is slightly superior. I’m going to continue supporting Sal Bando. Now I just wait on Eric to join me or convince me otherwise.

Miller

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “Heinie Groh and Sal Bando Go Saberhagen

  1. No extra credit for the “bottle bat”? By this point it’s the only thing anyone knows about Groh. Nice piece. Always like these studies.
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | March 6, 2015, 9:05 am
  2. Groh is just such a hard call for me. I feel like we’re going to be debating his candidacy until the very end.

    Also, that bat is so cool! I kinda want one now that you mention it.

    Posted by Miller | March 10, 2015, 7:31 am

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