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Joe DiMaggio, Road Warrior

joe-dimaggio-leafI don’t know what I was reading recently that made me look into home and road splits. In the world of WAR, they’re not really super significant, but they can certainly be telling in how we view a player, rightly or wrongly. It speaks to the greatness of Stan Musial, for example, that he had exactly 1815 hits at home and on the road. If we know that Mel Ott homered 323 times at home and only 188 on the road, we might question his credentials, but if we realize that he had 526 extra base hits at home and 545 on the road we may not worry nearly as much.

Perhaps you’ve heard a story that Larry MacPhail and Tom Yawkey, drinking one night, agreed to trade Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams. As we often do when we sober up, they changed their minds. The story I heard it when I was a kid was that Williams would have been even better in Yankee Stadium, while DiMaggio would have been better in Fenway Park.

In this post, I want to explore, at least cursorily, how true those things are.

Teddy Ballgame

As it pertains to Williams, I’ll be brief. In Yankee Stadium, Williams posted a .309/.384/.543 line. He played at least 100 road games in six other parks. He had a better batting average in four of them. He had a better on base percentage in only two. But he had a better slugging percentage in five of the six. Not including Fenway, Williams homered in five places more than he did Yankee Stadium. I know I haven’t done any great analysis here, but the bit of information I have suggests the idea that Williams would have been a lot better in Yankee Stadium is exaggerated. BBREF agrees. Based on tOPS+, which measures how much better you were in one half of a split than another, Williams was about 1% worse in Yankee Stadium as compared to his other games.

Joltin’ Joe on the Road

As for DiMaggio, he was an outstanding road player.

        R    H    2B   HR   RBI   BA    OBP   SLG   OPS
=====================================================================
Home   648  1060  187  148  720  .315  .391  .547   .938
Away   741  1155  203  213  815  .334  .406  .611  1.016

You know your home park. You get to sleep in your own bed when you play there, yet DiMaggio was clearly a better hitter on the road, at least by these numbers. And again, BBREF agrees. By tOPS+, DiMaggio is 8% better on the road than at home.

And look at what a difference 8% seems to be. Think about some of those career rate stats if DiMaggio wasn’t a Yankee. More on those below.

Fenway Park

DiMaggio hit 46 career home runs against the Red Sox, and 29 (63%) of them were in Fenway Park. He had a career OPS of .982 against the Red Sox; it was 1.105 in Fenway. It’s clear he was a better hitter there, and his career numbers likely would have looked a lot better had MacPhail and Yawkey not sobered up. Overall, he had the same road advantage per tOPS+ at Fenway as he did on the road in general, 8% better.

Overall

Let’s consider some of DiMaggio’s career numbers if we just doubled his road career. But first, a couple of notes.

  • All of these rankings are since 1913 since BBREF doesn’t have data that’s as complete before that.
  • The Rank category is pretty straight forward. It’s DiMaggio’s career rank since 1913.
  • The Road Rank category is where DiMaggio would rank if his road numbers were doubled. As for the rate numbers, we’re looking at DiMaggio’s road numbers versus home and road of others.
  • The Road Only category looks at the road ranks only of all players since 1913. This is different from the above since we’re comparing only road numbers, not extrapolating road numbers.
Category     R   HR   RBI  TB   BA   OBP  SLG  OPS
==================================================
Rank        68   82   44   89   22   56    9   11 
Road Rank   52t  50t  29   64   15   34    4    7
Road Only   47   46   23t  61    9   13    4    5

DiMaggio isn’t just a little better on the road, he’s considerably better. Consider fourth all-time in slugging and ninth all-time in batting average. That’s a batting average better than Stan Musial or Wade Boggs. It’s a slugging percentage that tops Barry Bonds and Jimmie Foxx.

Conclusions

If DiMaggio weren’t a Yankee, I’m sure he’d lose some of that New York cache. And the Yankees themselves probably would have lost some rings too.

Anyway, the real take-homes here are two. First, if DiMaggio didn’t play in Yankee Stadium, he wouldn’t have been better, at least not meaningfully so, but he would have seemed better. The second message is a reminder of how surface stats influence us. With all of my complaining about how writers should just stop with the Larry Walker Coors talk, I suspect I do it too. I rate Joe DiMaggio differently because he called Yankee Stadium home than I would if he played half of his games somewhere else.

Miller

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Joe DiMaggio, Road Warrior

  1. In partial defense of Williams, when he went to Yankee Stadium he had to face the Yankee staff. That staff was part of the reason the Yanks were dominant in the era.
    I remember Johnny Roseboro once commenting that he we lucky when he batted. As a Dodger he never had to face Koufax or Drysdale.
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | March 3, 2017, 8:15 am

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