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Cupid Childs and the Case of the Missing Aces

childs 2We talked the other day about our remaining second baseman, and I mentioned that one area of further exploration for Cupid Childs was his mix of opponents. To put it baldly, it appears that Childs had it relatively easy.

It’s easy to say that, but without any box scores or splits, how can we know? Simple. Childs played on Cy Young’s team for ten straight years, Nig Cuppy’s eight straight, John Clarkson’s for 2.5 years. This list shows the significance of this factoid:

All pitchers who saved 100+ runs above average, 1890–1899

  • Kid Nichols 560
  • Cy Young 469
  • Amos Rusie 378
  • Nig Cuppy 205
  • Cark Griffith 201
  • Jack Stivetts 168
  • Sadie McMahon 164
  • Ted Breitenstein 161
  • Frank Dwyer 151
  • Bill Hutchinson 120
  • John Clarkson 120
  • Pink Hawley 111

There’s not just that either.

Childs played most of the 1890s with the Cleveland Spiders, and he exited to St. Louis just before they became the infamous 1899 Cleveland Spiders. They were not all that good in 1890 and 1891 but from 1892 to 1898, they played .567 baseball (a 91-win pace in today’s game). And with Young and Cuppy on the hill, they had good pitching. Here’s how Childs’ teams finished in Runs Above Average:

  • 1890 Syracuse (AA) 8th out of 8 (-157)
  • 1891 Cleveland 7th out of 8 (-61)
  • 1892 Cleveland 1st out of 12 (+138)
  • 1893 Cleveland 4th out of 12 (+40)
  • 1894 Cleveland 4th out of 12 (+71)
  • 1895 Cleveland 1st out of 12 (+152)
  • 1896 Cleveland 1st out of 12 (+180)
  • 1897 Cleveland 1st out of 12 (+122)
  • 1898 Cleveland 6th out of 12 (+36)
  • 1899 St. Louis 4th out of 12 (+86)
  • 1900 Chicago 4th out of 8 (+18)
  • 1901 Chicago 5th out of 8 (-42)

On average, Childs’ pitching teammates finished 2.2nd in the league in RAA. Weighted to his PAs, they saved an average of 53 runs a year over 12 years. That’s really impressive, especially considering they played 140 games a year on average.

There’s a third factor here too. The NL of the 1890s was the “big league.” After the AA folded, the NL absorbed four of its teams, swelling in one year by 50%. Effectively, it meant that each year four teams were carrion to be picked apart by the stronger ones. Add in syndicate baseball artificially suppressing some teams and inflating others, and the race to the bottom was fast. As a member of one of the decade’s best squads, Childs avoided not only his own teammates but hit against more of the bad teams than their hitters did.

So the question becomes, how much of a potential effect could these three things have had on Childs’ performance?

Who’s Facing Whom?

So how many PAs might Childs have avoided against the best pitchers thanks to playing with the pitching-rich Spiders? Obviously, we have to estimate. I took that list of pitchers with 100+ RAA from 1890 to 1899, and for each of those season I divided the number of batters the pitchers each faced by the number of opponents in the league. That gave me an estimate of how many times they might have faced the Spiders had they faced each team evenly. Next I divided that figure by the nine lineup slots to see how many times they’d have gotten through a given team’s batting order. Finally I divided that result by the percentage of his team’s games that Childs participated in. It’s a rough estimate, and it looks like this:

Pitcher’s BF /
Opponents in the league /
9 lineup slots *
(batter’s games / batter’s team’s games)

For example, here’s Childs versus Kid Nichols in 1894.

Nichols faced 1,180 batters. Dividing by the 11 opponents in the league means he would have faced 107 Cleveland batters. Dividing those 107 batters by 9 lineup slots means Childs lineup slot could have come up about 12 times. Childs played in 118 of Cleveland’s 130 games (90.8% of them), so 12 times .908 results in an estimated 11 PAs (with rounding).

We repeat this for each of these top pitchers against Childs for 1890–1899, zeroing out his teammates and anyone in 1890 or 1891 who wasn’t in his league, and we get about 981 PAs. Here’s how they are distributed:

  • Nichols 147
  • Young 0
  • Rusie 131
  • Cuppy 0
  • Griffith 73
  • Dwyer 82
  • Breitenstein 110
  • Hutchinson 105
  • Clarkson 37
  • Stivetts 105
  • McMahon 92
  • Hawley 98

I repeated this calculation for 9 other hitters whose careers included the same ten-year period. Here’s how it worked out, ranked by the least potential PAs against these hurlers, and including the percentage of each player’s PAs form 1890–1899 that this would be worth:

NAME         POT. PAS %PAS
=============================
Jimmy Ryan      926   16.8%
Jake Beckley    964   21.4%
Cupid Childs    981   16.7%
Hugh Duffy      986   15.7%
Jesse Burkett  1008   17.1%
Mike Tiernan   1055   20.3%
George Davis   1147   20.3%
Bid McPhee     1163   21.3%
Ed Delahanty   1173   19.9%
Billy Hamilton 1186   20.5%

By this way of estimating, Childs may have had one of the easiest times of it against the top pitchers, facing them the third fewest times in total and the second fewest by percentage.

But how much of a difference in difficulty is this? For each pitcher, I divided his RAA for the decade by his BF, then applied that rate to the number of potential times a hitter faced him:

RAA / BR * potential BFP

Here’s the result just as I described it, but also in the group-worst 1186 PA that Hamilton had against these pitchers. Finally, the net difference.

                oppRAA/
NAME     oppRAA  1186   diff
==============================
Duffy     18.0   21.7   -3.7
Childs    18.0   21.8   -3.8
Burkett   19.2   22.6   -3.4
Beckley   19.3   23.8   -4.5
Ryan      19.6   25.1   -5.5
Tiernan   20.7   23.2   -2.5
Davis     22.7   23.4   -0.7
Hamilton  23.7   23.7    0.0
Delahanty 23.8   24.1   -0.3
McPhee    24.5   25.0   -0.5

Assuming that anything I’ve done above makes sense, this effect is…not very significant. It’s on the order of a half a run a year. But while these are the best pitchers, they are only twelve, and we haven’t accounted for whom these hitters faced instead. Let’s see what it means when we look at all the pitchers in the league.

Among the hitters we looked at, Ed Delahanty’s teams were the worst at pitching. And since he spent the entire decade with pitching poor teams, I used him as a comparison point with Cupid Childs whose teams were very good.

I ran three different estimates. First I used the number of games their teams played against each opponent as a basis for allotting PAs against the various opponents. Then I applied the opponents’ RAA. In other words:

(G vs opp / Team Games) * PA * (oppRAA / BF)

Just sum up among all the teams for every year and voila. Childs faced teams that were -3.5 RAA, Delahanty +4.7—an 8 run swing over these ten seasons.

I also figured the PAs against each team using opposing teams’ batters faced. That’s because the worst and best pitching teams might face more and fewer batters respectively than an average team. I found two ways to do this. This simple way:

( oppBF / (lgBF – teamBF) ) * PA * (oppRAA / BF)

Done this way, Childs faced pitchers that were -4.0 RAA, while Delahanty’s opponents were +2.6 RAA, a 6.6 RAA difference.

The more complicated way:

  1. Find each team in the league find their BF / G
  2. For each team in the league multiply A times the number of games against the player’s team
  3. Find the sum of B across the league
  4. For a given team, divide B into C and multiply by the player’s PA
  5. Mutiply by that team’s RAA / BF.

With this method, Childs’ opponents were -5.0 RAA en toto, and Delahanty’s were +3.0 RAA, an eight RAA difference.

So the difference between Childs who had it pretty easy and Delahanty is a mere seven or eight runs. And that’s without having the data available to know precisely what any batter’s true mix of opponents was.

So is this a thing? Maybe, but if so it’s hard to imagine it being worth more than a win’s worth of runs between the toughest mix of opponents and the easiest without further information. In the tilt-a-whirl offense of the 1890s, it might only be half a win.

Should we hold it against Childs? Probably not, because these are merely estimates. It’s something to think about as one of the last possible tiebreaker among many, but not something to can a guy for.

But at least I can put this one gently to bed.

—Eric

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