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Negro Leagues

Evaluating Negro Leagues Pitchers, Part II: Foster, Foster, Mendéz, and Paige

[All MLEs updated 7/4/18 to include (a) new 1938 and 1947 data (b) new baserunning-runs estimates (c) new, more objective playing-time estimates]

[Note: All MLEs here updated 1/1/18 due to changes in approach to pitcher batting.]

[Note: All MLEs here updated 1/20/18 due to additional changes in approach to pitcher batting.]

Now that you’ve seen our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Ray Brown, Andy Cooper, Leon Day, and Martín Dihigo, you’re hungry for more. Right? Well, this is your day, because we’re going to share our translations of Rube Foster, his half-brother Willie Foster, José Mendéz, and the great Satchel Paige.

Rube Foster

Andrew “Rube” Foster was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown as a manager. Well, that’s a bit like calling Leonardo Da Vinci a painter. Foster was Clark Griffith, John McGraw, and Ban Johnson, all rolled up into one stocky man. Yes, Foster managed the great Chicago American Giants teams, to the tune of 700-392-27 (.641) and three pennants. Yes, he was 308 games above .500. As a manager he was stern, innovative, and a shrewd judge of talent, probably a lot like two MLB’s most successful mangers of the 1900s, John McGraw and Frank Chance. But Rube Foster is also known as “The Father of Black Baseball” because he was the architect of the Negro National League, the first Negro League with any staying power. However, that’s still not the whole story because Rube Foster was also an excellent pitcher, and a pretty fair hitter to boot. He caught his nickname when he beat Rube Waddell in a black-on-white game, and his repertoire included a screwball that he allegedly taught Christy Mathewson. I don’t think it will spoil anyone to tell you that he’s a mortal lock for the Hall of Miller and Eric. The question is in what capacity: player, manager, or pioneer/executive?

Rube Foster
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 19021917
Into: NL 19021917
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1902   22  150   17   2.0   3.5  |   50   0.2  |   3.7
1903   23  280   30   3.1   6.0  |   93   0.4  |   6.4
1904   24  360   12   1.4   5.0  |  120   0.4  |   5.5
1905   25  330   20   2.3   5.6  |  110   0.5  |   6.1
1906   26  320   19   2.4   5.4  |  107   0.4  |   5.9
1907   27  320   17   2.3   5.3  |  107   0.4  |   5.7
1908   28  320   39   5.5   8.4  |  107   0.4  |   8.9
1909   29  210   37   4.9   6.8  |   70   0.3  |   7.2
1910   30  220   26   3.0   5.2  |   73   0.3  |   5.5
1911   31  210  -23  -2.4  -0.1  |   70   0.3  |   0.2
1912   32  220  - 6  -0.6   1.7  |   73   0.3  |   2.1
1913   33  220  -16  -1.7   0.6  |   73   0.4  |   1.0
1914   34  150  - 7  -0.8   0.7  |   50   0.3  |   1.0
1915   35   60  - 4  -0.6   0.0  |   20   0.1  |   0.2
1916   36   20    0   0.0   0.2  |    7   0.0  |   0.2
1917   37   30    0  -0.1   0.2  |   10   0.0  |   0.3
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     3420  159  20.9  54.6  | 1140   5.0  |  59.6

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 45th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 60th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 40th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 33rd

In 1909, Rube Foster took the actor’s advice and broke a leg. We’ve taken down his innings to reflect that. We also adjust his RA9 that year because it translates to considerably lower than the qualified league leader in the NL. Our adjustment is 10% above the leader in the NL for reasonableness. The injury ruined an otherwise banner year, and it also appears to have permanently damaged his career. Although he came back successfully in 1910, his performance then declined drastically and never rebounded. If it wasn’t the broken leg, or compensation for its effects, then it could have been simple wear and tear. He also had a tendency toward putting on a lot of weight, which can’t have helped.

In general, however, Foster’s pitching career looks a bit like a couple of his MLB contemporaries and near contemporaries such as Ed Walsh (who pitched better and hit worse), Clark Griffith, and Ted Breitenstein. He’s got a really great peak, though it’s done in a bit at the career level by his weak finish.

Willie Foster

[Note: Updated 1/14/18. Presence of highly skewed league data caused z-score translations to be appear artificially low. Fixed.]

[4/3/18, updated to fix a minor park-factor issue.]

The younger half-brother of Rube, and a fine pitcher in his own right. The lefty was the main hurler for the Chicago American Giants in the latter half of the 1920s and beyond. Umpire Jocko Conlon said that Foster’s vast repertoire reminded him of Herb Pennock, only with a fastball that was actually fast. Foster was, like his brother, smart, and he attacked hitters weaknesses by throwing all of his many pitchers from the same motion. In all, his record in the Negro Leagues database includes a 149 ERA+ that ranks ninth of all pitchers with 200+ innings. His documented record currently stands at 67-39, for a .623 winning percentage that’s 21st all-time, but with ten pitchers ahead of him with considerably fewer decisions. The whole enchilada is worth 20.3 WAR in 963 innings, slotting in at 10th in the database despite only the 7th most innings among those ten.

Willie Foster
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 19231937
Destination: NL 19231937
Missing data: 1926, 1929–1930, 1932
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1923   19   40    7   0.7   1.1  |   13   0.0  |   1.1
1924   20  150   23   2.5   3.9  |   50  -0.1  |   3.8
1925   21  150   37   3.7   5.1  |   50   0.0  |   5.1
1926   22  260   34   3.6   6.2  |   87  -0.1  |   6.2
1927   23  270   36   3.9   6.6  |   90   0.0  |   6.6
1928   24  270   28   2.9   5.7  |   90   0.0  |   5.7
1929   25  270   31   2.9   5.8  |   90   0.1  |   5.9
1930   26  270   30   2.7   5.6  |   90   0.0  |   5.6
1931   27  260   19   2.1   4.7  |   87   0.0  |   4.7
1932   28  270   30   3.2   5.9  |   90   0.0  |   6.0
1933   29  240   21   2.5   4.8  |   80  -0.1  |   4.7
1934   30  230   24   2.5   4.8  |   77   0.0  |   4.8
1935   31  170   21   2.1   3.8  |   57   0.0  |   3.8
1936   32  170   14   1.4   3.1  |   57   0.0  |   3.2
1937   33  200   10   1.1   3.0  |   67   0.0  |   3.0
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     3220  363  37.7  70.3  | 1075  -0.1  |  70.3

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 54th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 14th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 15th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 17th

Foster’s 1925 season comes in at a RA9 that’s considerably lower than the qualified league leader in the NL. So we adjust Willie to 10% above the leader for reasonableness, as we have elsewhere.

Better than Mordecai Brown. That’s a reasonable place to start talking up someone’s case for induction. Brown tossed 3171 innings with 32 WAA and 55.1 WAR in 14 seasons. Foster hit a tad better. Another guy in this neighborhood is Clark Griffith who checks in with 3386 innings, 28.7 WAA and 57.7 pitching WAR plus 4 hitting WAR to make about 62 total. Both Brown and Griffith also have reasonably similar peaks to our MLE for Foster.

José Mendéz

[Note: Updated 1/1/18 due to transcription errors.]
[Note: Updated 1/6/18 with improved STDEV information about the Cuban Winter Leagues of the mid-1910s. Had previously only included ERA qualifiers, now includes all pitchers as other seasons do, except for excluding pitchers whose VER low-innings/VERY high RA9 skews entire league.]

To put it mildly, José Mendéz was one hell of a pitcher who threw hard. Like so many pitchers, however, he shone brightly then flickered then flamed out. Mendéz is known in his home country of Cuba as “The Black Diamond” (El Diamante Negro), a nickname he gained in 1908 when, as a relatively unknown player, he tossed 25 consecutive shutout innings against the Cincinnati Reds who were touring the island. From 1907 to 1914, his seasonal ERA+ figures look like a list of area codes with 641, 323, 291, 271, 338, and 446 splashed among them. He was wiry, listed at 5’10” and 152 pounds. Perhaps his slight build couldn’t keep up with the demands of a major league workload, but in 1915, his arm gave out and didn’t revive for years. By the time it did, he was 34, and could only manage a partial season’s work. He played out the string, moundwise, taking most of his appearances at shortstop and outfield. He wasn’t a great hitter by any measure. But he had one last magical moment in him. In 1923, at age 38, he took the mound in the tenth and deciding game of the Negro World Series, pitted against the Hilldale Club from the Eastern Colored League. Hilldale’s lineup included Hall of Famers Louis Santop, Biz Mackey, and Judy Johnson, and hard-hitting regulars George “Tank” Carr and Clint Thomas. Mendéz appeared in four games in the series, the first three in relief. But in the rubber game, he started and went the distance, keeping the Hilldales at bay as the Monarchs captured the title. Four years later, José Mendéz died of tuberculosis. He was 43. Mendéz was in the first class of Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame honorees and was often thought of as the or among the greatest Cuban pitchers of all time.

José Mendéz
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 19071925
Destination: NL 19071922
Missing Data: 1926/1927 Cuban League
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit, Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
                PITCHING         |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1907   22  270   38   5.3   7.8  |   90   0.1  |    7.8
1908   23  270   39   5.5   7.9  |   90   0.1  |    8.0
1909   24  290   52   6.9   9.5  |   97   0.2  |    9.7
1910   25  300   46   5.6   8.4  |  100   0.1  |    8.5
1911   26  310   42   4.7   7.7  |  103   0.2  |    8.0
1912   27  260   26   2.8   5.4  |   87   0.2  |    5.5
1913   28  250   40   4.7   7.1  |   83   0.2  |    7.3
1914   29  170   21   2.6   4.2  |   57   0.1  |    4.3
1915   30   50    2   0.3   0.7  |   17   0.0  |    0.8
1916   31    0    0   0.0   0.0  |    0   0.0  |    0.0
1917   32    1  - 1  -0.1  -0.1  |    0   0.0  |  - 0.1
1918   33    9    0   0.0   0.0  |    3   0.0  |    0.0
1919   34  140   18   2.3   3.6  |   47   0.1  |    3.7
1920   35   65  - 3  -0.4   0.3  |   22   0.0  |    0.3
1921   36   16  - 1  -0.1   0.0  |    5   0.0  |    0.0
1922   37   19  - 2  -0.2   0.0  |    6   0.0  |    0.0
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     2420  317  39.7  62.6  |  807   1.3  |   63.9

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 141st
Pitching Wins Above Average: 11th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: t-20th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 22nd

Mendéz was so dominant in 1908–1910, that we had to use the manual adjustment to keep him in line with MLB league norms. [Note: We had to do the same in 1911 and 1914 after some of our updates.]

I strongly suspect that he would have thrown more innings in the majors at his peak than we show in our MLE, but I’m sticking to the protocol. Here’s a couple of similar players, pitching only for WAA and WAR:


NAME         YEARS   INN   WAA   WAR
=====================================
Ed Walsh        14  2964  36.3  63.2
José Mendéz     16  2420  39.7  62.6
Rube Waddell    13  2961  34.9  61.0
Johan Santaña   12  2026  32.3  50.7
Mordecai Brown  14  3171  32.0  55.1
Sandy Koufax    12  2324  30.7  53.2
Nap Rucker      10  2375  29.7  47.9
Noodles Hahn     8  2029  29.6  45.9
Dizzy Dean      12  1969  26.8  42.7
Addie Joss       9  2327  25.2  45.9

If our MLE protocol is close to “accurate,” at least in the aggregate, Mendéz probably resembles other high-quality peak-oriented candidates who we’ve either elected, kept on a while, or are likely to have strong consideration for on a future ballot.

The story behind these numbers is exactly what you might think. Mendéz was amazing, then he got hurt, he slowly regained some arm strength, and had one more partial season of effective pitching, then trailed away. I’ve eliminated three seasons on the back end of his career that look similar to the three from 1920 onward. As I said before, I suspect that in MLB he would have thrown 300 innings annually during his prime, as Walsh and all the other highest-quality hurlers did. Between his summer and winter seasons, Mendéz twice threw 200+ documented league innings in addition to whatever other non-league innings he threw.

If you had to name one MLB pitcher whose career is reminiscent in its shape to Mendéz’s it might be Jose Rijo. Knock out his age 18–22 years. From 23–29, Rijo dominated the league with a 147 ERA+ peak from 1988–1994 (1315 innings, 35.6 WAR). Then came the endless string of surgeries and rehabs before his brief return in 2001 and 2002. The record suggests that Mendéz’s peak lasted a season longer. Rijo with more innings is a great candidate. But Mendéz is showing more innings by dint of his era and was more productive overall than Rijo. Still the trajectories they took look very similar.

He might have a little bit of a combo case. As manager of the KC Monarchs from 1920 to the late 1926, he helmed a dynasty. His managerial record in all high-quality competition (including postseason and versus white MLB squads) was .571, and he finished 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, and 2nd. He won one of the two Negro World Series he managed. Information on his 1926 team is not yet available.

Please note that the 1/14/18 update gave Mendez a big boost in 1913 due to one pitcher whose numbers in less than two innings were so bad that the entire league was thrown way out of whack, leaving Mendez’s season pedestrian. Now it resembles the rest of his peak, as it should have from the start.

Satchel Paige

[Note: Updated 1/13/18 to include just-released 1946 data, which ends up in a 30 inning decrease; also required using the manual RA9 lever on a couple seasons. Overall, very minimal career-level movement.]

Thousands of players appeared in the Negro Leagues. Excluding those who only got their starts there (such as Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, or Willie Mays), the one single player that virtually anyone with a little bit of baseball history in their noggins has heard of is Leroy Robert Paige, better known as Satchel. It’s difficult to describe Paige in a paragraph or two. There’s a slightly clownish showman side to him, the guy who in his forties entered the majors and threw the puff ball and the hesitation pitch. There’s a magical-mystery side to him, an image he honed in his autobiography and his seven rules for living. Then there’s the mythological aspect, much of which has some basis in facts, much of which Satchel encouraged with his many stories oft retold and oft amended. And these all bleed into his showman persona—sitting down his fielders and striking out the side, for example. There’s also a little bit of sly trickster to him, for he was well known for his nights on the town. The least recognized part of the great Satchel Paige is probably his important impact on integration by becoming the first black baseball player to draw integrated crowds to see him pitch. Lastly, comes his actual play. Of course, everything else depended on his ability to throw that fastball and command it so effectively. Without that fastball and without honing it everything that followed was impossible. As you’ll see below, his performance record, and, therefore, his MLEs more than measure up to the hype. There’s good reason that everyone knows Satchel Paige. He has a defensible argument for being the best pitcher ever, and he most certainly has a fantastic argument as the best pitcher between the wars. The question isn’t whether he was as good as his legend says, instead the question is just how high up the list of all-time greats he can go.

Satchel Paige
Negro Leagues Stats | Major Leagues Stats | Bio 
Career: 19281953
Destination: AL 19281953
Missing Data: 1929, 1937, 1939, 1940, 1947, 1950
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |  BATTING     |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |    PA   WAR  |   WAR
=========================================================
1928   21  180   25   2.6   4.5  |    60   0.1  |   4.5
1929   22  200   31   3.1   5.1  |    67   0.1  |   5.2
1930   23  200   23   2.1   4.2  |    67   0.1  |   4.3
1931   24  220   40   3.9   6.2  |    73   0.1  |   6.2
1932   25  270   65   6.5   9.3  |    90   0.1  |   9.3
1933   26  280   30   3.0   5.9  |    93   0.0  |   5.9
1934   27  270   66   6.5   9.2  |    90   0.1  |   9.4
1935   28  270   52   5.2   7.9  |    90   0.1  |   8.0
1936   29  270   27   2.4   5.4  |    90   0.1  |   5.5
1937   30  260   34   3.2   6.0  |    87   0.1  |   6.1
1938   31  190   18   1.7   3.7  |    63   0.1  |   3.8
1939   32   10    2   0.2   0.3  |     3   0.0  |   0.3
1940   33  190   28   2.8   4.8  |    63   0.1  |   4.8
1941   34  250   26   2.7   5.3  |    83   0.1  |   5.4
1942   35  250   35   4.0   6.5  |    83   0.1  |   6.5
1943   36  260   25   3.1   5.6  |    87  -0.1  |   5.5
1944   37  240   35   4.2   6.5  |    80   0.0  |   6.5
1945   38  180   27   3.3   5.0  |    60   0.0  |   5.0
1946   39  150   25   2.9   4.3  |    50   0.0  |   4.3
1947   40  140   15   1.7   3.0  |    47   0.1  |   3.1
1948   41   73   10   1.0   1.6  |    25   0.1  |   1.7
1949   42   83    9   0.9   1.7  |    18   0.0  |   1.7
1950   43   89   12   0.9   1.8  |    30   0.1  |   1.8
1951   44   62    0  -0.1   0.4  |    17   0.0  |   0.4
1952   45  138   17   1.9   3.4  |    44   0.1  |   3.5
1953   46  117   15   1.6   3.0  |    30   0.0  |   3.0
1965   58    3    1   0.2   0.2  |     1   0.0  |   0.2
--------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     4845  695  71.7 120.7  | 1591    1.4  | 122.1

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 8th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 6th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 3rd
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 3rd

For the record, we used the manual adjustment on Satch’s 1933, 1934, 1944, 1946, and 1947  seasons.

Our MLE shows Satchel as just a smidgen ahead of Pete Alexander for third on the total WAR list. Turns out that Old Pete could hit and Satchel wasn’t great.

This might look at first like a very aggressive MLE. Probably you’re asking why Paige is so far ahead of his closest temporal peers and how much confidence we have in saying that he was the 3rd most valuable pitcher prior to expansion. The reason is pretty simple actually, and it’s easiest to see if we digress for a moment for a mini-essay on Lefty Grove and Satchel Paige.

Robert Moses Grove pitched in the AL from age 25–41. Taking the ages they had in common in MLB (per our MLE), Grove tossed 3940 innings in his entire career. We’ve pegged Paige at 3563 during the same span. Lefty was done after age 41. Paige, however, had five years left in the tank and 489 innings. Those frames get him to 4055 innings. But Satch was in the Negro National League at age 21, blowing batters away. From age 21 to age 24, we’ve estimated him at 800 more innings, slowly inching up from 180 to 220 innings before becoming a number one starter at age 25.

But what was Grove up to from age 21 to 24? Pitching for the best team in the minors, the Baltimore Orioles. Lefty was sold to the A’s after four years dominating in Charm City. Jack Dunn waited and waited for his price and eventually Connie Mack met it. Grove went 96-34 (.738) in 1061 innings in those four seasons. He was always younger than the league, and in the first three years, he was three full years younger than the average player in the IL. Despite that, he saved roughly 180 runs more than the average IL pitcher during that time. That’s an average of 45 runs a year. In 1921–1924 in MLB, nine pitchers reached or exceeded 45 RAA in one season (keep in mind RAA is park and defense adjusted, we’re not including that info for Lefty). The O’s were a dynasty and probably played great defense, and we don’t have park factors, so let’s say that it’s really 40 a year for Lefty. Now let’s knock it down by 20% since the O’s were a AAA club. That’s still 32 RAA a year. A total of 25 pitchers in all of MLB from 1921–1924 did that well in a given season, or eight per year. In a league with 16 teams, that means that only half the aces in the league reached that level of run prevention. Lefty Grove was an MLB pitcher who was kept down by the way talent was acquired and developed at the time.

So if we think that Grove was MLB ready, how many innings might he have thrown in the AL in 1921–1924. We’ve already said that the IL was a AAA-level league with an 80% discount on runs, and MLB innings are more pressure packed. Let’s simply apply that same percentage to his innings. Right, so he goes from 1061 to 850, or basically the same that we’ve estimated Satchel throwing. Add those 850 to Grove’s 3940, and you get 4790, which is just 65 fewer than we’re calling for Paige.

Folks, these are the two best pitchers between the world wars. In the Negro Leagues database, Satchel Paige is the Leagues’ best pitcher by ERA+. Not just by a little, but by a lot. His ERA+ of 191 in documented games totaling 973 innings is 27 points higher than the second-best ERA+. The nearest ERA+ for a pitcher within 100 innings of him is Dave Brown (1008) at 150. You know who’s the best MLB pitcher with a substantial career by ERA+ from 1893–1960? Lefty Grove, edging out Walter Johnson 148 to 147. Narrowing down to 1915–1953 (a span that gives the pre-war debutants a chance and that ranges to the end of Paige’s career, Grove’s 148 ERA+ is seven points better than Pete Alexander’s 139. You want to narrow it down to between the wars and Integration (1920–1945)? Grove completely dominates. That 148 ERA+ is 18 points higher than anyone within 500 innings of Grove (Carl Hubbell, 130). Everyone between them is a partial career except Dizzy Dean, who trails Grove by 18 in ERA+ and 2000 in innings pitched. When we go into the shape of their respective careers, there’s even a similar mid-career transformation from thrower to pitcher due to injury.

So do we think that putting forth the idea that Paige would have finished around 8th in innings from 1893–1960 is buying into the hype? Not likely, because the hype is real, and a pitcher of Paige’s ilk is very difficult to find a comp for. We didn’t try to pattern Paige’s career after Grove’s. It just worked out that way, but it is very telling. The fact that Paige continued to tack on value after Grove was a goner is telling too. Here’s an interesting table:

Starting pitchers, ages 40+
NAME              AGES    IP  ERA+  WAR
========================================
Jack Quinn       40-49  1428  122  25.9
Phil Niekro      40-48  1977  103  25.6
Cy Young         40-44  1226  124  23.6
Nolan Ryan       40-46  1271  116  22.7
Roger Clemens    40-44   850  146  22.3
Randy Johnson    40-45  1013  116  20.8
Warren Spahn     40-44  1163  104  12.5
Red Faber        40-44   779  112  12.2
Pete Alexander   40-33   665  128  11.5
Satchel Paige    41-46   476  124  10.3
Dennis Martinez  40-44   616  115   9.8
Dutch Leonard    40-44   465  114   8.9
Kenny Rogers     40-43   636  106   8.5
Connie Marrero   40-43   583  111   8.0
Ted Lyons        40-45   410  134   7.7
Tom Seaver       40-41   415  122   7.6
Sad Sam Jones    40-42   500  107   6.7
Early Wynn       40-43   571  106   6.6
Eddie Plank      40-41   367  125   6.5
Johnny Niggling  40-42   479  113   5.9
Jesse Haines     40-43   370  107   5.2
John Smoltz      40-42   312  113   5.0

Paige is the only pitcher of the bunch who didn’t pitch in his age-40 season. That’s because Jackie Robinson broke the color line when Satch was 40. In fact, Bill Veeck didn’t even sign Paige until July 7th of 1948. Paige was also out of the majors at age 43. Not for lack of performance either. He was coming off a 3.04 ERA in 83 innings of 132 ERA+ relief for Cleveland. Paige’s 4–7 record may have been the impetus to release him after the season, baseball wasn’t so smart about stats back then, or perhaps the culprit was that Veeck had sold the Indians, and Paige had no advocates among the new ownership. Satchel barnstormed throughout 1950, and when Veeck returned to the majors in 1951 with the Brownies, he once again signed Paige halfway through the season. Satch spent three more productive years in the bigs. The fact that Veeck acted as Paige’s patron belies the bigger point: Other teams ignored him despite the fact that he still had above-average MLB stuff. They likely did so in large part because of the race climate during baseball’s Integration period. Most teams hadn’t really integrated yet, and those that had (like the Giants, Dodgers, and Indians) won a whole lot of pennants before the rest of the league caught up. So Paige lost about three season’s worth of playing time compared to the other old pitchers in our table (1947, half of 1948, 1950, plus half of 1951).

So is 4855 innings and third in WAR reasonable for Satchel Paige? It’s up to you to decide for yourself. But even if you knock him down some, you’ll find that he’s still Grove’s only competition for the best pitcher between the wars, and that his MLE career overall has more bulk to push him well above Lefty.

That’s it for part two of our look at Hall-honored Negro Leagues pitchers. Next time we’ll wrap them up with Bullet Rogan, Hilton Smith, and Smokey Joe Williams.

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Discussion

5 thoughts on “Evaluating Negro Leagues Pitchers, Part II: Foster, Foster, Mendéz, and Paige

  1. Great stuff Eric, looking forward to the next round.

    As you mention, an important take away is that the total WAR is fairly representative of the player career, the individual seasons will have error bars, or be conservative in some cases. This appears to be the case for Satchel Paige, he comes out like Warren Spahn and not Lefty Grove from these numbers, a few but not all time-peak years, with amazing prime/career value, or 11-15 all-time among hurlers.

    Others:
    Martin Dihigo – upper mid tier HOF.

    Rube Foster – bot 1/4 HOF

    Next 3 and Rube will be great to see how cases develop with new data:
    Ray Brown – just in
    Willie Foster – just in
    Andy Cooper – just out

    Leon Day – short, ~150 (even with 2 years war credit).

    Do you generally agree with the tiers/placements I made based upon your figures?

    Posted by Ryan | October 11, 2017, 11:40 pm
    • Ryan, I would recommend that you wait for the rest of our pitchers to come through. Not just the ones I’ve worked up in this round (the Hall and HOM) members, but also those who will come later. There’s some tremendous pitchers still in the offing whom we haven’t looked at yet. Dick Redding, for example.

      Posted by eric | October 12, 2017, 5:02 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Evaluating Negro Leagues Pitcher, Part III: Rogan, Smith, and Williams | the Hall of Miller and Eric - October 18, 2017

  2. Pingback: Election Results: Negro Leagues Election #1 | the Hall of Miller and Eric - March 15, 2019

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