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Negro Leagues

Evaluating Negro Leagues Shortstops, Part Two

[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: These MLEs were updated 12/7/17 to correct formula for Rrep, which was over crediting players by one to two runs per season.]

Last week, we dropped MLEs on you for John Beckwith, Grant Johnson, and John Henry Lloyd. In part two of our stop at shortstop, we look at three more greats: Dick Lundy, Dobie Moore, and Willie Wells. As ever, we’re using the routine we’ve developed and enumerated in our article Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters to create a way to put these players into a recognizable historical perspective.

Dick Lundy

[Updated 4/3/18 with minor park-adjustment adjustment.]

King Richard could really pick it. But he brought a big bat to the throne as well. Lundy entered the highest levels of Negro Leagues competitions as an eighteen-year-old in 1916 and had established himself by age twenty as a slick shortstop and a threat at the plate. Some of that batting prowess should be scrutinized a little more closely.

Lundy’s home diamonds averaged a 105 park factor, but we’ll control for that. That said, back in the Hall of Merit days, that electorate explored Lundy in some depth and had concerns about his walk rate being too low for MLB success. We can happily report that in the Negro Leagues Database, his .320 batting average supports a .378 OBP, the implication of which is that his walk rate wasn’t a problem. The difference of 58 points between his OBP and his batting average is quite similar to notable hitters such as Tony Gwynn (50 points difference), Adrian Beltre (53 points), Robin Yount (57 points), Paul Molitor (63 points), and George Brett (64 points).

His isolated power of 134 is very close to a number of big name shortstops across history:

  • Travis Jackson: 142
  • Arky Vaughan: 135
  • Jim Fregosi: 133
  • Derek Jeter: 130
  • Alan Trammell: 130

If that ISO is indicative of the shape of his true talent, it’s plenty to fuel a great career. Even if he lost 20 percent of his ISO in the big leagues (108), he’d have some good company:

  • Bill Dahlen: 110
  • George Davis: 110
  • Pee Wee Reese: 108
  • Joe Sewell: 101

But we’re not literally asking the question, What precisely would Dick Lundy have done in MLB? What we’re asking is What would Dick Lundy’s known statistics look like in an MLB setting? These are subtly different questions. The first one asks us to make expert judgments with the intent of determining whether he could have played in the majors at a high level. The latter asks us, instead, to put a familiar lens to unfamiliar stats so that we can make better sense of them. This distinction is important because we have chosen to elect Negro Leagues players apart from big league players, just as the Hall has done. The Hall of Merit has seen things differently and chooses to lump them together. That presents its own set of theoretical issues and makes questions about items like Lundy’s bat take on a significance and urgency that Miller and I happily don’t have to address.

One final item about Lundy’s bat. As of this writing, his 129 OPS+ is 54th among all Negro Leaguers with 500 or more plate appearances. More impressively, that mark trails only three or four other shortstops. Now, that statement comes with some caveats.

  • It’s based on current data at the Negro Leagues Database, which goes only to 1945 at this time and doesn’t include much of Buster Clarkson’s, Hank Thompson’s, and Artie Wilson’s careers. And much of those careers took place outside of the Negro Leagues: specifically in the minors, the majors, and winter leagues.
  • “Three or four” depends on whether you think John Beckwith was a shortstop. His defense suggest he’d likely not have played there long in the big leagues, though we MLE’d him there for part of his career anyway.
  • Much of Willie Wells’ career took place in Mexico, which is not currently included in the Negro Leagues Database.

But the larger point is not that Lundy was or wasn’t at a particular rank on the totem pole but rather that he was pretty high up it. We are projecting him as a very good hitting shortstop, and shortstops who can hit don’t fall out of ash trees.

Dick Lundy
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1916–1937
Destination: NL 1917–1937
Missing data: 1927, 1929
Honors: Hall of Merit

Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp  Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA  Rrep RAR   WAR
============================================================================
1917 18 NL  SS    50    0    0    0      0     1    1   0.1    2    3   0.3
1918 19 NL  SS    90    1    0    0      0     1    3   0.4    3    6   0.7
1919 20 NL  SS   110    2    0    0      0     2    4   0.5    3    8   1.0
1920 21 NL  SS   510   21    0    0      2     7   30   3.4   16   46   5.2
1921 22 NL  SS   480   19    0    0      2     7   28   2.8   15   43   4.3
1922 23 NL  SS   530   25    0    0      2     7   34   3.2   17   51   4.9
1923 24 NL  SS   450   14    0    0      2     6   22   2.1   14   36   3.5
1924 25 NL  SS   570   25    0    0      2     8   36   3.6   18   53   5.5
1925 26 NL  SS   590    7    0    0      2     8   17   1.6   18   36   3.4
1926 27 NL  SS   560   26    0    0      2     8   36   3.6   17   53   5.5
1927 28 NL  SS   540   19    0    0      2     7   29   2.9   17   46   4.7
1928 29 NL  SS   580   19    0    0      2     8   30   2.9   18   48   4.8
1929 30 NL  SS   540   12    0    0      2     7   22   2.0   17   38   3.5
1930 31 NL  SS   580    7    0    0      2     8   17   1.5   18   35   3.1
1931 32 NL  SS   570    3    0    0      2     8   14   1.4   18   31   3.3
1932 33 NL  SS   510   12    0    0      2     7   21   2.1   16   37   3.7
1933 34 NL  SS   540  - 5    0    0      2     8    4   0.5   17   21   2.4
1934 35 NL  SS   480  - 1    0    0      2     7    8   0.8   15   23   2.3 
1935 36 NL  2B   500    4    0    0      2     3    3   1.0   16   25   2.6
1936 37 NL                  DID NOT PLAY
1937 38 NL  SS   350   10    0    0      1     5   16   1.6   11   27   2.8
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                9130  221    2    0     34   123  380  38.1  285  665  67.5

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 41st
Rbat: 103rd
Rfield: 51st (shortstop only)
WAA: 34th
WAR: 33rd

Dick Lundy’s offense ranks as one of my biggest surprises so far in this journey through the Negro Leagues. Thus the long passage above about it. Two hundred plus runs is a lot to project for a shortstop with a 129 OPS+ in leagues of lesser quality. It would rank in the top ten among all big league shortstops. But let’s keep in mind this is a model of Lundy’s career, and we’re projecting it to be quite long. Luke Appling had about 1,000 more PAs than Lundy, posted a 113 OPS+, and picked up 235 Rbat. Same thing with Harry Hooper who had about 1,000 more PAs, turned out a 111 OPS+, and end up with 192 Rbat. In 200 fewer PAs, Joe Judge racked up 189 Rbat and a 114 OPS+. In 700 fewer PAs, Ed Konetchy hit for a 123 OPS+ and notched 211 Rbat. Jimmy Sheckard batted a couple hundred fewer times than our projection for Lundy with a 121 OPS+ and 225 Rbat. Joe Cronin OPS+ed 119 in 500 fewer PAs than this MLE with 242 Rbat. So Lundy’s Rbat is consistent with a long-career player with an OPS+ between 5 and 15 percent lower than his known OPS+ on the Negro Leagues Database. It is, of course, entirely possible that we’ve overshot him too. But we did the same thing for Lundy that we’re doing for all Negro Leagues position players.

As for his glove, well, it looks a little less sterling than reports had credited him. His known DRA boils down to about 7 Rfield per 154 games, and our method reduces that to 2.48 per 154. The overall picture we get is sorta like what Robin Yount would have looked like if he’d stayed at shortstop and traded some of his high baserunning value into the fielding runs column. Lundy probably wouldn’t have hit with Yount’s power (certainly not Yount’s peak power), but the offensive contribution would turn out someone similarly.

Dobie Moore

This fellow’s kind of like the seamier side of Roy Hobbs. Early in the 1926 season, the thirty year old Moore eschewed a night on the town in KC with teammates and instead ended up in the company of Ms. Elsie Brown who may or may not have mistook him for a prowler, who may or may not have operated a brothel, whom he may or may not have hit, and who may or may not have been his girlfriend. Witnesses’ stories didn’t match up, so we don’t know precisely what occurred, but the result either way was the end of Moore’s career. A bullet from Ms. Brown’s gun struck his leg, blowing two of his bones into six pieces. Perhaps Moore might have returned to the game after that, but when he then leapt off a balcony to avoid mortal disrepair, he landed on said leg, doing emphatically career-ending damage. Thus did the curtain close on a great baseball player’s tenure.

These salacious details aside, Dobie Moore could really play. Per the Negro Leagues Database, from 1920 through 1925, he was third among all Negro Leaguers in Wins Above Replacement. His batting average was the eleventh highest in the leagues, his slugging percentage fourteenth. Finishing third in games and fourth in plate appearances, he placed second in hits, doubles, and triples to the incomparable Oscar Charleston, not to mention tenth in homers. His 91 fielding runs led all Negro Leaguers at any position during that same stretch and puts him second all-time to keystone man Bingo DeMoss who racked up 101 in 200 more games. If you asked someone in the Negro Leagues who the best player in the game was in the early 1920s, Charleston would have been the answer. But Dobie Moore was second with a bullet.

Moore reached the Negro National League in 1920 with the famed Kansas City Monarchs, and that’s where his statistical record begins. He was twenty-four, pretty late for a great player. Turns out that Moore, like Bullet Rogan, had spent the previous five seasons playing for Uncle Sam in the 25th Infantry Wreckers. This is the African American team that walloped all comers from military teams to PCL stalwarts. Moore was one of several Wreckers who made the jump to overt professionalism, and his KC teammates Bullet Rogan and Oscar “Heavy” Johnson did so as well with outstanding results. In our MLE, we take Moore’s career back to 1916, his age-twenty season, based on historical records supplied by researchers contributing to the Hall of Merit project. The MLE, therefore, gives him career-average performance rates in those seasons as we do for all missing data. Given the shortness of Moore’s career, we’re unlikely to elect him out of the gate, so we can return to that question later if we find that approach problematic.

Dobie Moore
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1916–1926
Destination: NL 1916–1926
Missing data: 1926
Honors: Hall of Merit
Year Age Lg Pos  PA  Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA  Rrep  RAR  WAR
=======================================================================
1916  20 NL  SS  110    5    0       2    2    9   1.1    3   12   1.5
1917  21 NL  SS  570   25    0      11    8   44   5.4   18   62   7.6
1918  22 NL  SS  480   21    0       9    7   37   4.4   15   52   6.3
1919  23 NL  SS  530   23    0      10    8   40   4.8   17   57   6.9
1920  24 NL  SS  590   24    0      11    8   43   4.9   18   62   7.0
1921  25 NL  SS  480   21    0       9    7   37   3.7   15   52   5.3
1922  26 NL  SS  610   36    0      11    8   56   5.3   19   75   7.2
1923  27 NL  SS  650   30    0      12    9   50   4.9   20   71   6.9
1924  28 NL  SS  620   33    0      11    9   53   5.4   19   73   7.5
1925  29 NL  SS  630   18    0      11    9   38   3.6   20   58   5.5
1926  30 NL  SS  170    6    0       3    2   12   1.2    5   17   1.8
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
                5440  243   -1     101   76  419  44.7  170  589  63.4

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 323rd 
Rbat: 88th
Rfield: 15th (shortstop only)
WAA: 22nd  
WAR: t-36th

If we’re looking a comparable player in terms of value, Jackie Robinson is your closest analog. Different players, though. Moore wasn’t much (that we can tell) on the bases, and Robinson was a baserunning machine. Dobie’s offensive game was built around line drives and contact, and Jackie walked a lot more. But both men could really pick it in the field, and Moore played a more premium position. In general, Moore was legitimately a great player. The question is whether he had enough time in the league to collect the value necessary to get our vote. We suspect deeper inquiry will be necessary.

Note: In our July, 2018 update, Moore’s playing time increased ever so slightly. In our new system, we are comparing players to groups of players whose careers we project to be of similar length. That breaks down a bit with someone like Moore whose career was ended in the most of sudden of ways. We, therefore, comped his career to medium-long and long career shortstops, or as though he would have played fifteen to eighteen years.

Willie Wells

[Updated 4/3/18 for minor park corrections.]

A complete player, Wells could do darn near anything on the field with skill. In the field, he must have been like Ozzie Smith in the sense that he was slightly built (5’8″, 160 pounds), covered a lot of ground, and made up for an OK arm with a quick release. Not that he’s in Ozzie’s class, but he seems like the same kind of player in the field. At the plate, it’s a whole ‘nuther story. Wells more than held his own. With a keen eye and surprising power for a shortstop, he notched a 129 OPS+ in currently known Negro Leagues seasons. He didn’t necessarily do any one thing supremely well, but like many great players did numerous things well or very well.

For a long-tenured player and one of renown, it’s surprising how much of his data has not yet made it into the Negro Leagues database. Some of that data is coming down the pike, but Wells also played several years in Mexico later in his thirties. As you’ll see, it doesn’t matter where he played, he racked up a lot of value.

Willie Wells
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1924–1947
Destination: NL 1924–1947
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit

Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
======================================================================
1924  18 NL  SS  130    3   0       1    2    6   0.6    4   10   1.0
1925  19 NL  SS  200    2   0       2    3    7   0.7    6   13   1.3
1926  20 NL  SS  400    9   0       4    6   19   1.9   12   31   3.2
1927  21 NL  SS  570   17   1       5    8   31   3.1   18   49   5.0
1928  22 NL  SS  580   32   1       5    8   46   4.5   18   64   6.4
1929  23 NL  SS  660   20   1       6    9   36   3.3   21   57   5.2
1930  24 NL  SS  660   16   1       6    9   32   2.8   21   52   4.6
1931  25 NL  SS  640   11   1       6    9   27   2.8   20   47   4.9
1932  26 NL  SS  640    0   1       6    9   15   1.6   20   35   3.6
1933  27 NL  SS  610  - 4   1       6    8   11   1.2   19   30   3.4
1934  28 NL  SS  650  - 5   1       6    9   11   1.1   20   31   3.2
1935  29 NL  SS  650   23   1       6    9   39   3.9   20   59   6.0
1936  30 NL  SS  650    9   1       6    9   25   2.5   20   45   4.5
1937  31 NL  SS  620   17   1       6    9   32   3.3   19   52   5.3
1938  32 NL  SS  650   20   1       6    9   36   3.8   20   56   5.9
1939  33 NL  SS  640    7   1       6    9   22   2.3   20   42   4.4
1940  34 NL  SS  600   13   1       6    8   28   2.9   19   46   4.9
1941  35 NL  SS  540   11   1       5    7   24   2.6   17   41   4.5
1942  36 NL  SS  520    9   1       5    7   22   2.5   16   38   4.4
1943  37 NL  SS  490   12   1       5    7   23   2.7   15   39   4.4
1944  38 NL  SS  390    7   0       4    5   17   1.8   12   29   3.1
1945  39 NL  SS  280    5   0       3    4   12   1.2    9   20   2.1
1946  40 NL  SS  200    0   0       2    3    5   0.5    6   11   1.3
1947  41 NL  SS   40    0   0       0    1    1   0.1    1    3   0.3
----------------------------------------------------------------------
               10780  236  14     111  166  526  53.6  374  901  93.1

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 9th 
Rbat: 93rd 
Rfield (shortstop only): 15th 
WAA: 18th  
WAR: 14th

Wells was a great player. He’s not among the four players who I think have a defensible part in the GNLOAT conversation (Greatest Negro Leaguer of All Time), but like Bullet Rogan, Smokey Joe Williams, Cristobal Torriente, Turkey Stearns, Pete Hill, Buck Leonard, and Martin Dihigo, he’s in the next tier. If Charleston, Gibson, Lloyd, and Paige are comparable to Mays, Ruth, Young, Johnson, Wagner, Cobb, and fellows like that, then the Willie Wells tier of Negro Leaguers is analogous to players like Schmidt, Musial, Williams, Gehrig, Clemens, A-Rod, Hornsby, Speaker, Aaron, and those fellows.

* * *

Next time, we’ll take a stroll into the green side pastures of the outfield to look at corner outfielders, including Monte Irvin and Minnie Miñoso. We’ll also examine two multipositional stars of two different sorts whom we’ve already had one look at: Martin Dihigo and Bullet Rogan. Then it’s onto the the Negro Leagues’ very deepest position, centerfield.

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