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Negro Leagues

Negro Leagues Legends Wrap Up

[This page is not being updated with the latest MLE information.]

So we’ve been taken a tour of the diamond, introducing all of the Negro Leaguers honored by the brick-and-mortar Baseball Hall of Fame and the online only Hall of Merit. In doing so, we created Major League Equivalencies (MLE), estimates of what a player’s achievements might reasonably look like in an MLB setting.

Today, we’re going to put these 36 players on the same page so that you can compare and contrast them all you want in one spot. This will also help you develop mental benchmarks for the players we’ll be translating going forward, the best of the rest among blackball stars. We’ll show you the career component stats we’ve presented in our previous posts, along with some commentary about how reliable our estimates might be given the information that’s missing and our confidence in the specifics underlying the numbers. And for the eagle-eyed out there, we’ll drop a couple hints about some players we haven’t talked about yet who might be challengers to these 36 players.

First we’ll recap by position, then we’ll run a table sorted by career MLE WAR. Italics indicate the player is already a member of the Hall of Miller and Eric.

Negro Leagues legends by position

CATCHER


NAME               PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
===================================================================
Roy Campanella   7315  218  - 3   -19    25    61  283  27.9  54.9
Josh Gibson      8010  577  - 7     0    26   - 6  591  61.3  88.7
Biz Mackey       7000  253  - 7     0    18    50  315  30.8  53.1
Louis Santop     6560  231  - 4     0     2    73  302  33.1  56.2
Quincy Trouppe   7140  248  - 8     1     0    49  290  28.8  52.0

Let’s remember that our MLE for Gibson has him transitioning to first base during his peak years. Aside from Josh, we could toss the other four catchers into a hat and pick any one at random to come up with pretty much the same player. Some of them hit more than the others. Some field better than the others. Some played at a time when runs were more plentiful or scarcer. One slight advantage accrues to Louis Santop whose 1918 and 1919 seasons are placed into the war-shortened MLB schedules of those years. For those who prorate up to 154 or 162 from there, he’ll pick up another 30 to 50 games. Also, let’s remember that much of Trouppe’s career remains to be updated once the Negro Leagues Database (NLDB) uploads data for the post-war seasons. As for our elections, initial research into the best of the rest at catcher suggests that however many catchers we choose, the four unitalicized names above will be the sole candidates to merit strong consideration.

FIRST BASE


NAME             PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
=================================================================
Buck Leonard   9830  537  -15     0    27   -95  453  47.1  80.5
Mule Suttles  10190  374    0     0    39   -98  315  31.1  63.9 
Ben Taylor    10130  344  - 8     0    67   -84  319  34.6  69.9

There’s a bit more separation here than at catcher. Buck Leonard wins in a walk, and Ben Taylor finishes a clear second. Like Santop above, his career includes those 1918 and 1919 seasons, giving him still another edge on Suttles. We should note, however, that several of Suttles’ and Leonard’s seasons remain outside the NLDB. Looking forward, a few candidates that dang near nobody has ever heard of could make some noise at first base and challenge for a ballot spot. Let’s just say, we’ll send you the bill.

SECOND BASE


NAME               PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
===================================================================
Frank Grant                      ?????
Jackie Robinson  6953  332   36     4    97    36  500  50.2  76.4

Jackie was awfully good, and Grant’s career totals so far consist of very, very few plate appearances, so we just can’t do too much with him just yet. But the pickings at second aren’t robust. Outside of Grant, candidates simply don’t fall out of trees as they do at shortstop and centerfield. One fellow appears like an outside shot to rise up in challenge, but we have some work to do before we decide whether he’s marvelous enough to make it.

THIRD BASE


NAME              PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
==================================================================
Ray. Dandridge  7690  212   18     1   144    10  385  41.0  68.0
Judy Johnson    5400    2    0     0    24    31   57   5.7  22.7
Jud Wilson      8400  456    0     0    43    24   24  51.2  77.9

There’s a clear winner and clear loser here. Then there’s Ray Dandridge. This is probably the maximum value Dandridge could end up with. But we’re still working through how to best evaluate the fielding contributions of players whose primary source of fielding data is the minor leagues. Stay tuned, but know that Dandridge’s value is more likely to decrease than increase. Among the unheralded players we’ll be looking at in the near future, at least one has a puncher’s chance of a candidacy, and maybe a couple depending on what data becomes available and when. More on that later.

SHORTSTOP


NAME                PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
====================================================================
John Beckwith     7530  403  -17     0   -64    36  358  34.6  58.8 
Grant Johnson     9080  157  - 5     0    66   108  327  34.4  65.7
John Henry Lloyd  9490  410   40     0    39   112  601  67.7 102.5
Dick Lundy        9380  227   19     0    35   126  407  41.0  71.5
Dobie Moore       5380  239  - 1     0    99    75  412  43.8  62.2
Willie Wells     10780  229   20     0   100   149  497  50.6  85.9

Quite a melee here! Beckwith trails considerably due to his stone glove, while Lloyd and Wells are clear yesses. In between them is a very competitive trio. Dobie Moore lacks career length, but like Jackie, he packed a whale of a punch into his short tenure. He also would pick up some value due to the shortened war schedules of 1918 and 1919. But so would Dick Lundy! However, Grant “Home Run” Johnson gets even more with several turn of the century seasons that require proration. Once you account for all this, it’s a very close ranking. Well, lucky we get to pick 29 guys, because it’s possible that five of these six could end up with a plaque. Then again, two or three other, less well-known names are emerging in our research into the best of the rest. At a minimum, John Beckwith should be worried about losing his seat on the bus.

LEFT FIELD


NAME             PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
=================================================================
Monte Irvin    7817  356   36   -13    76   -43  412  42.5  70.1
Minnie Minoso  9952  360   18     5    21   -75  325  32.4  62.7

We really see Irvin more as a centerfielder, but his MLB career in left field gets him plunked here. Both he and Minoso have several seasons of missing data that could provide a little more jet fuel for their candidacies. Then again, Minoso is so close to the borderline that not-so-hot performances in the missing years could also set him back. Which leads to the larger point that Minoso probably shouldn’t be considered a Negro Leagues at all candidate because he played just a handful of his seasons in them. However, because we ran the numbers, we felt it was important to show his totals. In the future, left field looks like it has some depth among the also rans with the possibility of a couple borderliners. We’re just starting to pick at these guys, and while it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if we don’t elect a single Negro Leagues left fielder (if we call Irvin a centerfielder), some names could bubble up high enough to make a play. Sometimes betting against heavy odds pays off.

CENTERFIELD


NAME                  PA  Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR
======================================================================
Cool Papa Bell      10370  209   57     0   -13   -34  430  22.1  55.7
Willard Brown        9560  176    9   - 7    18   -41  155  15.6  49.4
Oscar Charleston     9910  626   37     0    31   -75  619  62.8  95.5
Larry Doby           7530  332   16    22    22   -19  375  38.5  62.4
Pete Hill           10330  419    5     0    26   -69  381  43.7  81.7
Alejandro Oms        9970  409    0     0   -12   -49  348  35.0  71.1
Turkey Stearnes     10500  600    6     0    35   -54  587  57.8  91.6
Cristobal Torriente  8380  486   20     0   -18   -57  432  46.8  76.1

Charleston and Stearnes, news at 11:00. But beyond them a bed vein of center field treasure. Pete Hill, Cristobal Torriente, and Alejandro Oms have compelling cases. Larry Doby and Cool Papa Bell are lagging behind, but in both their cases, some missing seasons could improve their odds. Then there’s Willard Brown. Need to reiterate here that his MLE is highly provisional. We have the missing seasons, and we have the fact that outfield defense is more difficult to figure than infield defense when most of the data comes from minor league seasons. Don’t count Brown out quite yet, but his case needs a lot of help. Again, this is a very deep position, and we have a ton of other quality candidates to check in on. We’ll give you pole to pole coverage, don’t worry.

RIGHT FIELD


NAME              PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR
===================================================================
Martin Dihigo*  10700 526    0     0    120  -65  581  59.0  94.1
Bullet Rogan*    9780 539   20     0     22  -99  481  50.1  83.0  
*Assumes the player did not have a pitching career

Again, we’re seeing Dihigo as more of a centerfielder than we are a right fielder, but that’s just the way his record fell out. With the exception of shortstop and catcher, you can put him at any old position you want, including on the mound, and he’s a Hall member in the making. That said, he’s probably a better hitter candidate than pitcher candidate, but he’s hardly a slouch on the mound. Rogan is more limited as a position player, really only a right fielder. But he sure could hit. He plays up better as a pitcher, but as you can see, he’s got some serious sting in that bat. Looking into the future, there are very few high quality right field candidates in general, so we think we’ll be lucky if even one strong candidate emerges.

PITCHER


                          PITCHING          |   BATTING  | TOTAL
NAME                  IP  RAA   WAA     WAR |  PA    WAR |  WAR 
=================================================================
Ray Brown            3940  160  18.0   57.9 | 1314   7.6 |  65.5 
Andy Cooper          3100  320  33.5   65.0 | 1034  -4.9 |  60.0
Leon Day             2860   68   8.2   37.2 |  954   5.3 |  42.5
Martin Dihigo-a*     4335  297  32.1   75.9 | 1446  12.4 |  88.2
Martin Dihigo-b*     3865  267  29.1   67.9 | 1289  10.4 |  78.3
Rube Foster          3420  159  20.9   54.6 | 1140   5.0 |  59.6
Willie Foster        3220  363  37.7   70.3 | 1075  -0.1 |  70.3
Jose Mendez          2420  317  39.7   62.3 |  807   1.3 |  63.9
Satchel Paige        4825  686  70.9  119.8 | 1584   1.5 | 121.4
Bullet Rogan*        4241  447  49.3   91.5 | 1414  12.6 | 104.1
Hilton Smith         3260  261  28.6   61.2 | 1088   5.5 |  66.7
Smokey Joe Williams  5210  545  63.7  114.6 | 1732   8.2 | 122.8
a: MLE created from scenario where Dihigo follows normal pitching career arc
b: MLE created more directly from Dihigo’s stats, which are heavily influenced by his two-way play
*Assumes the player did not have a position-player career

The only guy here whose case is on life support is Leon Day, but even has a ray of hope since one of his biggest seasons isn’t yet accounted for in the NLDB. As we’ve noted before, Andy Cooper’s MLE feels a little puffy. He’s missing a few tail-end seasons that we’ve had to fill in with league-average performance that may be making him look as though he finished stronger than he did. He’s also going to face a tough challenge and needs some good news to appear on the NLDB. Jose Mendez has a very short career, especially for his time, but man it’s a dandy. Pound for pound he might be the best guy on this list, but there’s just not enough bulk for him to get in the ring with Satchel or Smokey Joe.

Every one else is in the great middle until you reach Rogan, Williams and Paige. These three appear to be the cream. I’ve argued before that Paige is the clear choice as the #1 Negro Leagues pitchers, and quite possibly the best pitcher between the world wars. Joe Williams comes up behind him in overall value, but I would caution against getting too onto that bandwagon. The difference in pitching WAA is huge between them. Williams makes up some of the difference in bulk value that’s below average and above replacement, but a huge part of his run at Paige is from batting. Now if we only looked at this table, we’d think nearly every Negro Leagues pitcher was a star hitter too. They played the field and swung the bat a lot more than their more specialized MLB counterparts. It’s an open question whether their outstanding hitting bats would remain so potent in organized baseball. I’m guessing probably not, and that right there puts more separation between Paige (who wasn’t a great hitter anyway) and Williams who benefits more from his bat.

Most of the Negro Leagues pitchers we honor will come from this list. Maybe all of them. But there’s a whole lot of pitching talent that we haven’t begun to scratch the surface of understanding yet. Tons of talent, so much that we’re worried it will feel like a volley of cannonballs, so we’re going to alternate between pitchers and hitters. We don’t want to nuke you into a winter’s worth of pitching headaches.

We’re a zillion words into this post, so we’ll leave you with one final table. This time we’ll just list out all the guys above in order by their WAR, separating hitters and pitchers. By the way, in the hitters table, the position will reference the spot on the field where our MLE says they would have played the most, which doesn’t necessarily correspond to where we lumped them above.

Negro Leagues legends ranked by MLE WAR

HITTERS


RK  NAME           POS     PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
===========================================================================
 1  J. H. Lloyd     SS   9490  410   40     0    39   112  601  67.7 102.5
 2  O. Charleston   CF   9910  626   37     0    31   -75  619  62.8  95.5
 3  M. Dihigo*      CF  10700  526    0     0   120   -65  581  59.0  94.1
 4  T. Stearnes     CF  10500  600    6     0    35   -54  587  57.8  91.6
 5  J. Gibson     C/1B   8010  577  - 7     0    26   - 6  582  60.4  87.8

 6  W. Wells        SS  10780  229   20     0   100   149  497  50.6  85.9 
 7  B. Rogan*       RF   9780  539   20     0    22   -99  481  50.1  83.0   
 8  P. Hill         CF  10330  419    5     0    26   -69  381  43.7  81.7
 9  B. Leonard      1B   9830  537  -15     0    27   -95  453  47.1  80.5
10  J. Wilson       3B   8400  456    0     0    43    24  523  51.2  77.9 

11  J. Robinson     2B   6953  332   36     4    97    36  500  50.2  76.4
12  C. Torriente    CF   8380  486   20     0   -18   -57  432  46.8  76.1
13  D. Lundy        SS   9380  227   19     0    35   126  407  41.0  71.5
14  A. Oms          CF   9970  409    0     0   -12   -49  348  35.0  71.1
15  M. Irvin        CF   7817  356   36   -13    76   -43  412  42.5  70.1

16  B. Taylor       1B  10130  344  - 8     0    67   -84  319  34.6  69.9
17  R. Dandridge    3B   7690  212   18     1   144    10  385  41.0  68.0
18  G. Johnson      SS   9080  157  - 5     0    66   108  327  34.4  65.7
19  M. Suttles      1B  10190  374    0     0    39   -98  315  31.1  63.9 
20  M. Minoso       LF   9952  360   18     5    21   -75  325  32.4  62.7

21  L. Doby         CF   7490  332   16    22    22   -19  375  38.5  62.4
22  D. Moore        SS   5380  239  - 1     0    99    75  412  43.8  62.2
23  J. Beckwith     3B   7530  403  -17     0   -64    36  358  34.6  58.8 
24  L. Santop        C   6560  231  - 4     0     2    73  302  33.1  56.2
25  C.P. Bell       CF  10370  209   57     0   -13   -34  430  22.1  55.7

26  Campanella       C   7315  218  - 3   -19    25    61  283  27.9  54.9
27  B. Mackey        C   7000  253  - 7     0    18    50  315  30.8  53.1
28  Q. Trouppe       C   7140  248  - 8     1     0    49  290  28.8  52.0
29  W. Brown        CF   9560  176    9   - 7    18   -41  155  15.6  49.4
30  J. Johnson      3B   5400    2    0     0    24    31   57   5.7  22.7

PITCHERS


                          PITCHING        |  BATTING   | TOTAL
RK  NAME            IP   RAA  WAA   WAR   |  PA   WAR  |  WAR 
===============================================================
 1  J. Williams    5210  545  63.7 114.6  | 1732   8.2 | 122.8 
 2  Satchel Paige  4885  686  70.9 119.8  | 1584   1.5 | 121.4
 3  Bullet Rogan*  4241  447  49.3  91.5  | 1414  12.6 | 104.1
 4  M. Dihigo-a*   4335  297  32.1  75.9  | 1446  12.4 |  88.2
 5  M. Dihigo-b*   3865  267  29.1  67.9  | 1289  10.4 |  78.3

 6  Willie Foster  3220  363  37.7  70.3  | 1075  -0.1 |  70.3 
 7  H. Smith       3260  261  28.6  61.2  | 1088   5.5 |  66.7 
 8  Ray Brown      3940  160  18.0  57.9  | 1314   7.6 |  65.5 
 9  Jose Mendez    2420  317  39.7  62.3  |  807   1.3 |  63.9
10  Andy Cooper    3100  320  33.5  65.0  | 1034  -4.9 |  60.0 

11  Rube Foster    3420  159  20.9  54.6  | 1140   5.0 |  59.6
12  Leon Day       2860  368  8.2   37.2  |  954   5.3 |  42.5

See you next time when we get into the first five Negro Leagues pitchers who haven’t been elected to a Hall!

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Discussion

7 thoughts on “Negro Leagues Legends Wrap Up

  1. I know he plays forever ago, but what kind of info do you have available on Bud Fowler? I presume he has the Grant problem (as does pitcher George Stovey).
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | January 10, 2018, 8:39 am
  2. Nice work Eric! Looking forward to seeing the next tier.

    Posted by CARL J GOETZ | January 10, 2018, 12:59 pm
  3. Thanks for this invaluable work. Two questions:

    1. In general, do your estimated WAR totals for Negro legends best correlate with bWAR, fWAR or gWAR? The final one is, of course, Baseball Gauge’s WAR, my favorite and the only one that uses DRA for the defensive element. I’m trying to make some baseball sim teams comprised of the best players for every five-year increment and want to include the likes of Gibson and Charleston along with Ruth and Gehrig. Of course Baseball Gauge now has a “custom metric” where you can use the offensive component from bWAR but DRA for the defensive portion…

    2. Do you have any similar plans for WARstimations for the legendary players from the Nippon league?

    Thanks — Brian

    Posted by zaldamo | May 27, 2018, 2:09 pm
    • Brian, thanks for reading and for your comment. So glad you are enjoying this work.

      The answer to #1 is BBREF WAR. In fact, in addition to using BBREF’s calculations for the R/W stuff, I purposely scale DRA to Rfield. There are, however, subtle differences. My Rbat uses RC, which is simpler to work with on my end. My baserunning is an estimate, and Rdp is generated by comps to players of the same handedness within 5 Rbaser of the player in question.

      The biggest caveats for you are that a) the Rbaser and Rdp for nearly all players so far haven’t been updated to my latest method (that will happen pretty soon), and b) the next thing I’ll be looking more closely at is playing time, which seems like it should be easy but is cunningly difficult in a subtle fashion.

      2) We are not currently planning any Nippon MLEs. The level of work required to get the Negro Leagues off the ground was kind of obscene, and I’m hoping my marriage makes it through. NPB might be easier in certain obvious ways, but I think it probably requires more careful scrutiny in other ways. I’d be glad to share my experiences with anyone who might go the NPB route, but simply completing the Negro Leagues MLEs that I’m planning is a plenty big enough project for now!

      In case anyone wonders, we’ve now covered about 60 to 70% of all players we’ll be considering for the HoME. That means we will publish about 200 to 230 MLEs or career lines when all is said and done. I’m about 25 away from that goal, at which point a few things happen:
      A) we have our HoME elections
      B) we go into maintenance mode and update our MLEs as the gang at Seamheads make more data available
      C) I turn some attention to another large group of MLEs for fellas we won’t need to worry about for our elections but who have received support in some way from experts as qualifying as important players. But that will probably be a more leisurely stroll than the gauntlet we are currently running. Also that’s like six to eight months from now….

      Posted by eric | May 27, 2018, 10:09 pm

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