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Negro Leagues

Evaluating Negro Leagues Corner Outfielders

The Negro Leagues didn’t exactly churn out high-profile corner outfielders. If you think about it for a moment this makes sense. The best righty athletes played shortstop, third base, or centerfield. The best lefty athletes played centerfield or pitched. First base wasn’t quite the sluggardly dumping ground it was in MLB, and fielding there was highly valued in the Negro Leagues. Catcher? That’s its own beast. Which leaves us with only second base, left field, and right field. For most of the existence of the Negro Leagues, second base was either a hitter’s position (like in MLB) or in transition toward a fielder’s position (as double plays increased). Like third base in the majors since the 1930s, it was something of a tweener job: not athletic enough to play the premium positions, but a good enough hitter to start. Then there were the corner pastures. The Negro Leagues produced some decent left fielders but they appear in retrospect to be second-tier guys, very few of whom were major stars. We’ll meet them sometime in 2018. Right field was even less respected. Pitchers routinely moonlighted in right field when not pitching. So this position has even less depth than left field.

Which explains why today’s crop of so-called corner outfielders are actually out of position despite being well known as corner guys. Monte Irvin played left field in organized (aka: white) baseball, but he played centerfield and shortstop in the Negro Leagues. Minnie Miñoso played third base and went to left field out to unblock his path. Bullet Rogan could hit nearly as well as he pitched, and Martín Dihigo, whom we encountered earlier, was the greatest utility man the world has ever seen. We refer you to our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters for all the gory details on our translations, but those for Rogan and Dihigo don’t include any pitching value.

Left Field

Monte Irvin

[Note: Updated 1/14/18 to include 1946 data.]

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

Montford Merrill Irvin was on the short list of players that Branch Rickey considered for integrating the Dodgers. Many African American players thought he should have been the first. Newark Eagles owners Abe and Effa Manley would have made a storm of it, and Rickey looked elsewhere. Irvin was considered the finest all-around player in black baseball. He possessed outstanding speed, a good arm, great general athleticism, and a high baseball IQ. Plus he could hit like the dickens. He spent nearly three seasons in Uncle Sam’s uniform in the mid-1940s, during which time he played little if any baseball, and he claimed he lost a lot of traction in the transition back. That just meant he went from amazing to outstanding before returning to amazing. Most fans today remember him as one of the earliest stars to integrate. He led the NL in RBIs in 1951, earning a third-place finish in the MVP vote. He was 32 and his best years were behind him. The Giants jerked him around a little, sending him on AAA assignments here and there during his tenure in Gotham. Even before that, he had to prove himself in the minors, as if he hadn’t been proving himself for ten years prior to that. Integration was a slow, stupid, fearful process, and it cost Monte Irvin MLB service time. It cost us all the chance to watch an all-time great.

Monte Irvin
Negro Leagues Stats | Major League Stats | Minor Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1938–1957
Destination: NL 1939–1956
Missing data: 1947–1948
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit, Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame

Year Age Lg Pos    PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1939  20 NL CF    580    8    4    0     4   - 1   14   1.5   18   32   3.4
1940  21 NL CF    620   24    4    0     4   - 1   31   3.3   19   51   5.3
1941  22 NL CF    590   30    4    0     4   - 1   36   3.9   18   55   5.9
1942  23 NL CF    640   42    4    0     4   - 1   49   5.5   20   69   7.9
1943  24 NL CF     30    0    0    0     0     0    0   0.0    1    1   0.1
1944  25                         WORLD WAR TWO
1945  26 NL CF     90    1    1    0     0     0    2   0.2    3    5   0.5
1946  27 NL CF    570   38    4    0     3   - 1   45   5.0   18   63   7.1
1947  28 NL CF    580   32    4    0     4   - 1   39   3.9   18   57   5.8
1948  29 NL CF    580   29    4   -2     4   - 1   34   3.5   18   52   5.5
1949  30 NL RF    550   33    4   -2     0   - 5   30   3.0   17   47   4.8
1950  31 NL 1B    620   41    1   -2     8   - 6   42   4.2   19   61   6.2
1951  32 NL LF    657   40    4   -1     7   - 7   43   4.4   24   68   6.9
1952  33 NL LF    135    3   -1    0     0   - 1    1   0.1    5    6   0.6
1953  34 NL LF    502   29   -1   -3     7   - 5   28   2.6   19   47   4.5
1954  35 NL LF    512    5    0   -2    13   - 6   10   1.0   19   30   2.9
1955  36 NL LF    173   -4    1    0     4   - 5   -2  -0.3    7    5   0.4
1956  37 NL LF    388    7    0   -2    10   - 4   11   0.9   15   25   2.4
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 7817  358   36  -13    76   -43  414  42.7  259  674  70.3

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 97th
Rbat: 41st
WAA: 23rd
WAR: t28th

Two quick WW2 notes before we dive in a little further. Irvin played in a handful of games prior to his draft notice arriving in 1943. He was mustered out in August of 1945, arriving on September 1st to rejoin the Newark Eagles. That’s why all three years of his military service aren’t blank spots.

I mentioned above that Irvin was jerked around a bit by the Giants. In 1949, he played in 63 games with Jersey City, crushing AA with an 1.161 OPS. He was added to the big league roster in July, but got into only 36 of the Giants’ remaining 80 games. The team had three outfielders with an OPS+ in the 110 to 130 range. Irvin played little and in sporadic time didn’t hit that much. Our MLE reflects his actual performance while providing playing time appropriate to an All-Star player. In 1951, the same thing happened, only this time Irvin teed off with a 1.907 OPS, got to New York much earlier and hit well.

In 1952, Irvin suffered a gruesome ankle fracture. While he returned from it, he had obviously lost his speed. While our Rbaser figures prior to the injury, therefore, do not take his post-fracture running figures into account, we are using his MLB career Rdp rate for seasons without or with incomplete MLB data. He is likely losing a handful of runs here.

We also note that prior to his ankle injury, and putting aside 1949 for reasons mentioned above, Irvin played in 91% of games in known full seasons. This is the rate we use to generate his playing time prior to his big league years.

Regarding his position. He started life as a shortstop and quickly moved to centerfield where we have little data on his defense. So we went a different route. As a major league left fielder, Irvin earned 16 runs of combined positional value and fielding in 724 games. That’s 3.2 per 154. So to move him to centerfield retrospectively, we assumed that same rate per 154 games, and finding his fielding runs by subtracting his positional runs from that 3.2/154 rate. That averages out to about 4 Rfield in most seasons.

Ultimately, the MLE for Irvin tells a story reminiscent of Joe DiMaggio. Great young player, three years in the service, comes back and eventually injury does in his effectiveness. DiMag had more height to his peak, while Irvin played a couple more full seasons.

Minnie Miñoso

[Note: Updated 1/14/18 to include 1946 data.]

They called him Orestes in the Negro Leagues. They also called him a third baseman, but Miñoso signed with the Indians whose roster already included the fading Ken Keltner and the rising Al Rosen. So off to left field trundled Miñoso, where he would gain his fame. The irrepressible Miñoso became a popular figure thanks to his dashing all-around play and amiable attitude. It earned him seven All-Star berths, second place in the 1951 Rookie of the Year voting, four fourth-place finishes in the AL MVP voting, plus votes in several other seasons. He picked up three Gold Gloves to boot. He led the league in all sorts of categories throughout his career, including Hit by Pitched Ball an astounding ten times.

And that MLB career by itself isn’t enough. It hasn’t been for the Hall of Fame, nor for the Hall of Miller and Eric. So far, we haven’t taken his pre-MLB into account. Our rules prohibited us from doing so, and now we must decide how to apply our rules since we’ve finally gotten his MLEs worked out. They don’t, by the way, make him a slam dunk, but they put him right on or right over the line. Let’s go to it.

Minnie Miñoso
Major League Stats | Minor League Stats | Bio
Career: 1946–1964, 1976, 1980
Destination: AL 1947–1964
Missing data: 1947-1948
Honors: Hall of Merit, Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame, Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame
Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA  Rrep RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1946  20 AL  3B  100    0    0    0     0     0    0   0.0    3    3   0.4
1947  21 AL  3B  450    3    1    0     0     0    4   0.4   14   18   2.0
1948  22 AL  3B  560    8    1    0   - 1     0    8   0.8   17   26   2.6
1949  23 AL  3B  590   24    1    0   - 2     0   23   2.3   18   42   4.2
1950  24 AL  3B  570   18    1    0   - 3     0   16   1.5   18   34   3.2
1951  25 AL  3B  622   39    4    1   - 4    -4   37   3.7   19   56   5.5
1952  26 AL  LF  668   18   -1    1     6    -4   19   2.1   19   39   4.0
1953  27 AL  LF  657   26    0   -1   - 1    -7   17   1.7   20   37   3.8
1954  28 AL  LF  676   47    2    0    16    -6   58   6.2   20   78   8.2
1955  29 AL  LF  614   14    1    0     8    -6   17   1.8   18   35   3.7
1956  30 AL  LF  665   43    3    2     2    -7   43   4.3   20   63   6.2
1957  31 AL  LF  678   30    3    1     5    -7   33   3.4   20   53   5.4
1958  32 AL  LF  538   32   -1    0     6    -7   29   3.0   19   48   5.0
1959  33 AL  LF  650   28    1    0    15    -7   36   3.5   19   55   5.5
1960  34 AL  LF  670   26   -2    0   - 5    -8   10   0.9   20   31   2.8
1961  35 AL  LF  635   21    2    1   -13    -7    3   0.1   19   23   2.0
1962  36 AL  LF  108  - 7    2    1     0    -1  - 6  -0.7    4  - 2  -0.3
1963  37 AL  LF  363  -10    0   -1   - 9    -4  -23  -2.7   11  -12  -1.6
1964  38 AL  LF   38    0    0    0     1     0    1   0.1    1    2   0.2
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                9952  361   18    5    21   -75  326  32.5  300  628  62.8

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1964)
PA: 23rd   
Rbat: 41st
WAA: 46th   
WAR: 40th

To give you a sense of what’s missing, here’s what Miñoso’s pre-MLB career path looks like.

  • 1946: Negro Leagues
  • 1947: Negro Leagues, played in East-West All-Star Game
  • 1948: Negro Leagues, played in East-West All-Star Game; 11 games at Dayton of the A-level Central League, .525 AVG, .825 SLG
  • 1949: 9 games with the Indians, 137 with San Diego of the PCL, .855 OPS as a 23 year old
  • 1950: 169 games with San Diego, .945 OPS

There’s little reason to believe that Miñoso wasn’t a big-league ready player at a very early age. These MLEs add an additional 13.2 WAR to The Cuban Comet’s MLB total. There is likely some wiggling that’s going to happen as more data is released at the Negro Leagues Database. Miñoso’s rookie season of 1946 was just released, and looks less flattering than 1947 and 1948 promise to be. In fact, it drags him down by 0.2 WAR from his 1946-less MLE, because it’s good enough to include as if he were a part-time player breaking in as a rookie. That’s exactly what you see above, and he was an average ballplayer.  If 1947 and 1948 are good seasons, that could help Miñoso pick up a bit more value. Of course the opposite could be true as well. What they will do, we hope, is give us a better sense of his fielding value. We stepped him down gradually to a place where moving to left field made sense, but in the event, he might well have been above average at the hot corner. We don’t currently know. The other missing link is those 11 games in the Central League. They don’t currently count toward his record because we are missing walks and we don’t have league-wide totals to work from. Hey, 11 amazing games can help, even if just a little bit.

Overall, Miller and I are already having lively discussions about Miñoso and how we handle his case. As we approach our January vote, it’ll likely heat up.

Right Field

Martín Dihigo

When last we saw our hero, Dihigo was sporting a pair of pitching MLEs. Now we get to see how he’d look if he made the majors only as a position player. El Maestro played nearly all the positions around the diamond. Here’s the games listed on the Negro Leagues Database and the innings as well. We’re missing innings for many seasons, which is why the two don’t quite pass the eye test:

  • 1B: 64 games, 235 innings
  • 2B: 41 games, 108 innings
  • 3B: 66 games, 406 innings
  • SS: 40 games, 142 innings
  • LF: 23 games, 151 innings
  • CF: 45 games, 340 innings
  • RF: 57 games, 300 innings

And that’s just the Negro Leagues. He played for many years in Venezuela and the Mexican League, not to mention various winter leagues, but we don’t too much info on them. But when it comes down to it, his defensive stats look best at centerfield and right field. But he played more in the corners than in center, which is why we’re sharing him with you among the corner guys. In our MLE, he’s more centerfielder than anything else, and he starts out in center and moves eastward at age 32, then finally to first base at age 39 to round out his final three years.

Martín Dihigo
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio 
Career: 1924–1947 
Destination: NL 1924–1947 
Missing data: 1929, 1932–1934 
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit, Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame, Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame

Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield  Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
========================================================================
1925  20 NL  CF  250    9    0       3   - 1   10   1.0    8   18   1.7
1926  21 NL  CF  580   46    0       6   - 3   49   5.0   18   67   6.9
1927  22 NL  CF  580   35    0       6   - 3   38   3.9   18   56   5.8
1928  23 NL  CF  580   20    0       6   - 3   23   2.3   18   41   4.2
1929  24 NL  CF  570   26    0       6   - 2   30   2.7   18   47   4.4
1930  25 NL  CF  580   36    0       6   - 2   39   3.4   18   57   5.0
1931  26 NL  CF  570   34    0       6   - 2   38   3.9   18   56   5.8
1932  27 NL  CF  560   27    0       6   - 2   31   3.2   17   49   5.0
1933  28 NL  CF  550   25    0       6   - 2   30   3.3   17   47   5.3
1934  29 NL  CF  560   25    0       6   - 2   30   3.0   17   47   4.8
1935  30 NL  CF  590   28    0       6   - 2   33   3.3   18   51   5.1
1936  31 NL  CF  570   25    0       6   - 2   30   3.0   18   48   4.8
1937  32 NL  RF  550   34    0       6   - 5   35   3.6   17   52   5.4
1938  33 NL  RF  570   37    0       6   - 6   38   3.9   18   55   5.8
1939  34 NL  RF  580   37    0       7   - 6   38   3.9   18   56   5.9
1940  35 NL  RF  550   24    0       6   - 5   25   2.7   17   42   4.5
1941  36 NL  RF  490   15    0       6   - 5   15   1.7   15   31   3.4
1942  37 NL  RF  440   16    0       5   - 4   16   1.9   14   30   3.5
1943  38 NL  RF  380   12    0       4   - 4   13   1.4   12   25   2.8
1944  39 NL  1B  350    6    0       6   - 3    9   0.9   11   20   2.1
1945  40 NL  1B  200    7    0       3   - 2    8   0.8    6   14   1.5
1946  41 NL  1B   50    2    0       1     0    3   0.3    2    4   0.5
------------------------------------------------------------------------
               10700  526    0     120   -65  581  59.0  333  914  94.1

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 11th
Rbat: 19th 
WAA: 13th  
WAR: 15th

As he does on the mound, Dihigo looks like a star. Only more so.  He’s quite a hitter, an outstanding fielder, and an average runner. With four years of missing data and a couple others with relatively little data, there’s a lot of use of Dihigo’s career average. This weighs down his peak and makes him look preternaturally consistent, and you may want to look at the career data as your primary barometer.

Back to the fielding question for a moment. About the only places you wouldn’t want to put him on for an MLE are shortstop and second base. He wasn’t abysmal at either, but there’s a noticeable gap between his defensive performance there and everywhere else. Which leaves us with centerfield as probably his best fit position-wise. But if you wanted to run an MLE with him starting off at third base and moving across the infield, that could easily work too. This configuration made the most sense to me as a major league career pathway, and we could well discover how wrong we really are should more data come to light. That said, we haven’t done a lot of shaping here, just plugging in his average defensive rate over time. His younger seasons might well have more value and his older ones less.

Bullet Rogan

We’ve already showed you that Rogan is a top-five pitcher in Negro Leagues history. He’s nearly as good in the outfield. In this MLE, we’re working from the premise that he never pitched and played as a full-time right fielder. He certainly had the arm for it.  And the bat. His 160 OPS+ in Negro Leagues play is 13th highest on the Negro Leagues Database. It’s actually 17 points higher than Dihigo’s.

Bullet Rogan
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio 
Career: 1915–1937 
Destination: NL 1915–1936 
Missing data: 1915–1919, 1926–1927, 1929–1932 
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit

Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield  Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
========================================================================
1915  21 NL  CF  300   16    2       2   - 3   17   2.0    9   26   3.2
1916  22 NL  CF  560   31    4       4   - 7   31   3.9   17   49   6.1
1917  23 NL  CF  560   31    4       4   - 6   31   3.8   17   49   6.0
1918  24 NL  CF  460   24    3       3   - 5   25   3.0   14   40   4.8
1919  25 NL  CF  510   25    3       3   - 6   25   3.0   16   41   5.0
1920  26 NL  CF  530   18    2       3   - 6   18   2.0   17   34   3.9
1921  27 NL  CF  630   27    1       4   - 7   26   2.6   20   45   4.7
1922  28 NL  CF  650   53    1       4   - 6   52   4.9   20   72   6.9
1923  29 NL  CF  570   34    0       2   - 5   31   3.0   18   49   4.8
1924  30 NL  CF  550   49    0       1   - 5   44   4.4   17   61   6.2
1925  31 NL  CF  550   32    0       1   - 5   27   2.6   17   44   4.2
1926  32 NL  CF  580   33    0       1   - 6   28   2.8   18   46   4.7
1927  33 NL  RF  590   32    0       1   - 6   27   2.7   18   45   4.6
1928  34 NL  RF  630   33    0       0   - 6   27   2.7   20   47   4.7
1929  35 NL  RF  600   33    0      -1   - 6   26   2.3   19   45   4.1
1930  36 NL  RF  510   28    0      -2   - 5   22   1.9   16   37   3.3
1931  37 NL  RF  380   20    0      -2   - 4   14   1.5   12   26   2.7
1932  38 NL  RF  380   16    0      -3   - 4   10   1.0   12   21   2.2
1933  39 NL  RF  190    7    0      -2   - 2    3   0.3    6    9   1.0
1934  40 NL  1B   50   -3    0       1     0   -4  -0.4    2   -2  -0.2
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                9780  539   20      22   -99  481  50.1  305  786  83.0

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 28th
Rbat: 18th 
WAA: 18th  
WAR: 18th

Seems like we’ll elect this guy at whatever position he played. I left his fielding alone and didn’t include the algorithmically derived version because I’d already done a lot of shaping. But Rogan is a +6/154 right fielder according to the formula, which is very similar to what you see in his good years above.

* * *

Next time out we’ll start our look at centerfield. The Negro Leagues spat out great centerfielders left and right, and our this two-parter will feature Cool Papa Bell, Willard Brown, Oscar Charleston, and Larry Doby.

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “Evaluating Negro Leagues Corner Outfielders

  1. so what are the career war totals for Dihigo and Rogan?

    Posted by Jim Albright | December 21, 2017, 1:22 pm
  2. So, for Irvin, are those combined NegL and NL numbers for the years he did both? For Minoso, are both 1949 and 1950 based on his PCL play?

    Posted by CARL J GOETZ | December 22, 2017, 11:12 am

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