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Negro Leagues

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Second Basemen

[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]

The Negro Leagues simply didn’t develop many transcendent second basemen. The best right handed athletes played shortstop. For more than half the Leagues’ history, third basemen needed to be better athletes than second basemen. But that doesn’t mean the Negro Leagues didn’t have any good keystone men. Our next two posts will introduce several of them: Bobby Avila, Heberto Blanco, Rev Cannady, Bill Monroe, Pat Patterson, and a few quick-hits as well.  We refer you to our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters for all the gory details.

Bobby Avila

You probably know Avila primarily as the fellow who, during the Indians’ magical 1954 season, hit .341 to win the AL batting title. Not surprisingly, his career year. Surprisingly, at age 30. Avila had hit .299, .304, .300,and .286 prior to 1954, so a spike in average like that wasn’t outside his zone. For a second baseman, Avila hit with surprising authority. He earned 87 batting runs from 1950–1955, posted a 116 OPS+, and made three All-Star teams. He had some good pop, averaging 27 doubles, 6 triples, and 12 homers per 162 games. Throw in 17 baserunning runs and slightly above average fielding, and you’ve got a very valuable player. BBREF says so to the tune of 5 WAR per 650 PA. An unwillingness to wear eyeglasses may have inhibited Avila’s production thereafter. He had minor eye surgery in 1955 due to a cyst on his cornea (ick!). Whether or not the surgery affected his vision, something did. He had become nearsighted but resisted wearing glasses at the plate. He eventually relented but wouldn’t wear them on the field. Still, he went downhill quickly.

Avila debuted in the majors at 25, played part time at 26, and didn’t emerge as a regular until age 27. Why the late start? He was a somewhat dark-colored Mexican man, which is why even though  he never played in the Negro Leagues, we’re assessing him here. In 1943, Avila got his start at age 19 in the Mexican League. He played well enough for Puebla to earn the starting job and rapidly emerged as a strong offensive performer. From age 20 to age 23, he rang up averages of .334, .350, .359, and .346 in Mexico. It was a good offensive league with several parks at high altitudes, but his peak MLB years bear out the talent he showed south of the border. When he finally signed with the Indians after the 1947 season, the Tribe sent him immediately to the then AAA Baltimore Orioles. Avila (Beto to family and friends) didn’t speak English and had trouble initially adjusting to organized baseball. He hit just .220 in Charm City, but the Indians brought him up in 1949 anyway. He sat on the bench in deference to Joe Gordon and hit .214 in 31 games, used mostly as a pinch hitter and pinch runner. In 1950, he played in half the Indians’ games and hit .299. Gordon retired after the season and the job was his.

All of which is to say that in a normal career not influenced by race and color, Avila’s woodshedding and his uptake of English would have occurred in the US in the minors. These are the subtle ways that the color line influenced even those who crossed it.

Bobby Avila
Major Leagues Stats | Minor Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1943–1959
Destination: NL 1943–1959
Honors: Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame

Year Age Lg Pos    PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1943  19 AL 2B     50    0    0    0     0     0    1   0.2    2    3   0.4
1944  20 AL 2B    250    6    1    0     1     2   11   1.2    9   20   2.2
1945  21 AL 2B    450   15    2    0     1     4   23   2.6   15   38   4.4
1946  22 AL 2B    580   21    3    0     2     6   32   3.5   20   52   5.8
1947  23 AL 2B    590   15    3    0     2     6   26   2.9   20   46   5.1
1948  24 AL 2B    270  - 9    1    0     1     3  - 4  -0.4    9    5   0.5
1949  25 AL 2B    560  - 3    3   -1     2     5    7   0.7   19   26   2.6
1950  26 AL 2B    560    5    5   -1    -3     3    5   0.5    7   12   1.2
1951  27 AL 2B    615   15    3   -1     6     6   29   2.9   19   48   4.8
1952  28 AL 2B    628   21    2    0    -4     7   26   2.8   20   46   4.7
1953  29 AL 2B    633    7    1   -2    13     6   26   2.7   19   44   4.6
1954  30 AL 2B    629   33    5    0     4     6   48   5.0   19   67   7.0
1955  31 AL 2B    634    9    2   -2   -11     5    3   0.4   19   22   2.3
1956  32 AL 2B    597  -22    5    0     7     5  - 5  -0.5   18   13   1.3
1957  33 AL 2B    528  - 2    0    0   - 5     4  - 3  -0.4   16   13   1.2
1958  34 AL 2B    445    0   -2    0   - 4     3  - 2  -0.4   14   11   1.0
1959  35 AL 2B    306  - 5    0   -1   - 8     1  -11   1.2   12    0  -0.1
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 8326  107   36   -8     4    73  211  24.8  257  466  49.0

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 73rd
Rbat: 229th
WAA: t-77th
WAR: 81st

As is the case for many players, Bobby Avila’s thirties wrecked his chances at a Hall of Miller and Eric career. Cobbling together 5.7 WAR after age thirty is exactly how not to cruise into the HoME. Avila fought injuries. In addition to the corneal cyst he had foot injuries in 1955. Clearly whatever happened to him, after age 33, he lose considerable athleticism. His baserunning value disappeared and his fielding plummeted. That said, this is a career that turns out to look a lot like Hardy Richardson, Tony Lazzeri, or Fred Dunlap. Moderately high peak, decent career length, and about two All-Star years away from being over the line. Or maybe just a few more productive, above average seasons. Maybe if he’d been born five years later, it would have gone very differently.

Heberto Blanco

[Updated 3/31 due to using incorrect minor league Quality of Play factors.]

This quick-footed Cuban got his start in the Negro Leagues prior to the war. He then moved to Mexico where he played most of the rest of his career before finishing up with a few games in the low minors in 1956. He also played winters in his homeland. Blanco’s game didn’t revolve around power…. He hit only 13 homers in the 3,105 plate appearances that comprise his summer professional career. He did use his speed to leg out some triples and steal some bases. He also had a decent batting eye and drew his walks. His career summer triple-slash line of .283/.358/.360 says it most succinctly. If you’re looking for a type of player, he looks something like a righty version of Joey Cora (.277/.348/.369), Fernando Viña (.282/.348/.379), or Bill Speiers (.271/.341/.370). A useful hitter up the middle where the batting requirement to hold a job is basically don’t suck. Blanco is also reputed to have a good glove.

By the way, there’s a little confusion on BBREF about Blanco’s name, and so there are two entries below for his minor leagues stats.

Heberto Blanco
Negro Leagues Stats | Minor Leagues Stats (as Heberto) | Minor Leagues Stats (as Harry) | Bio
Career: 1941–1956
Destination: NL 1942–1956
Missing data: 1944, 1947, 1949, 1955
Honors: Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
==========================================================================
1942  21 NL  2B  300  - 1    0    0      2    3    4   0.5    9   13   1.6
1943  22 NL  2B  470    2    1    0      3    5   10   1.1   15   24   2.8
1944  23 NL  2B  480    3    1    0      3    5   11   1.2   15   26   2.9
1945  24 NL  2B  510    6    1    0      3    5   14   1.5   16   30   3.2
1946  25 NL  2B  530    6    1    0      3    5   15   1.7   17   32   3.6
1947  26 NL  2B  480    3    1    0      3    5   11   1.1   15   26   2.7
1948  27 NL  2B  510    0    1    0      3    5    9   0.9   16   25   2.6
1949  28 NL  2B  480    2    1    0      3    5   10   1.1   15   25   2.6
1950  29 NL  2B  520    4    1    0      3    5   13   1.3   16   29   2.9
1951  30 NL  2B  400    2    1    0      2    4    9   0.9   12   21   2.2
1952  31 NL  2B  430    6    1    0      2    4   13   1.4   13   26   2.9
1953  32 NL  2B  440  - 8    1    0      3    4  - 1  -0.1   14   13   1.3
1954  33 NL  2B  530    3    1    0      3    4   11   1.1   17   24   2.8
1955  34 NL  2B  380    0    1    0      2    3    5   0.6   12   17   1.8
1956  35 NL  2B   80  - 1    0    0      0    1    1   0.1    2    3   0.3
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
                6540   27   10    0     37   61  135  14.3  204  338  36.3

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 191st   
Rbat: t-523rd
Rfield: 33rd (2B only)
WAA: t-179th  
WAR: 170th

We assumed here that Blanco’s defensive reputation was reasonably accurate. His stolen base record suggests that he was speedy but not Lou Brock out there. He strikes me as either someone who would have led off for a team without an obvious leadoff hitter or someone who would be described all the way through to the 1990s as a “prototypical number two hitter.” That is, a reasonably fast guy who could handle the bat, made good contact, put the ball in play, and had virtually no power. Today he’d bat eight or ninth, but he’d probably be especially valuable to a team with pitchers who relied on inducing weak contact and who had a lineup with good power but not much on-base skill to set the table. In others words, good ballplayer, and a guy you’d want your favorite club to develop, but a complementary player, not a core contributor. The sort of guy who a team would let test free agency the moment he lost a step.

Rev Cannady

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

Walter “Rev” Cannady was apparently hard to get along with. He played for at least a dozen teams stateside in addition to some winter ball teams, and was described by James Riley as a fellow teammates left alone due to his unpredictable, mean, and sometimes violent tendencies. Sounds like a fun guy. But Cannady was a decent hitter and he had both a good glove and some versatility in the field. If his raw numbers through age forty are annualized, he looks like a 30 double, 10 triple, 10 homer guy with a dash of speed and about 50 walks a year.

Rev Cannady
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1921–1945
Destination: NL 1921–1942
Missing data: 1923, 1924, 1927, 1929, 1940, 1941

Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield  Rpos RAA   WAA  Rrep  RAR  WAR
========================================================================
1921  19 NL  SS  100    4    0       0     1    5   0.5    3    8   0.8
1922  20 NL  SS  110    5    0       0     2    7   0.6    3   10   1.0
1923  21 NL  SS  460    9    1      -1     6   15   1.5   14   29   2.9
1924  22 NL  SS  470    6    1      -1     7   12   1.3   15   27   2.8
1925  23 NL  SS  520    5    1      -1     7   12   1.1   16   28   2.7
1926  24 NL  SS  580    2    1      -1     8   10   1.1   18   29   3.0
1927  25 NL  2B  550    5    1       4     4   14   1.4   17   31   3.2
1928  26 NL  2B  580    7    1       4     4   16   1.6   18   34   3.5
1929  27 NL  2B  570    7    1       4     4   15   1.4   18   33   3.1
1930  28 NL  2B  520    6    1       4     4   14   1.3   16   31   2.7
1931  29 NL  2B  570   10    1       4     4   19   2.0   18   37   3.8
1932  30 NL  2B  510  - 1    1       4     4    7   0.7   16   23   2.3
1933  31 NL  2B  550  - 3    1       4     4    6   0.6   17   23   2.6
1934  32 NL  2B  560  -14    1       4     4  - 5  -0.5   17   12   1.3
1935  33 NL  2B  560    3    1       4     4   12   1.2   17   30   3.0
1936  34 NL  2B  470    5    1       3     3   12   1.2   15   27   2.7
1937  35 NL  2B  430    8    1       3     3   16   1.6   13   29   3.0
1938  36 NL  2B  400  - 3    1       3     3    4   0.4   12   16   1.7
1939  37 NL  2B  280    5    0       2     2   10   1.0    9   19   2.0
1940  38 NL  2B  250    2    0       2     2    7   0.7    8   14   1.5
1941  39 NL  2B  210    1    0       2     2    5   0.6    7   12   1.3
1942  40 NL  2B  150  - 2    0       1     1    1   0.1    5    6   0.7
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                9400   68   15      48    82  213  21.3  293  505  51.5

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: t-38th 
Rbat: 338th 
Rfield (second base only): 27th  
WAA: t-106th  
WAR: t-71st

This is sorta like what you’d get if you took Billy Herman’s career and smooshed it so that he had 1,500 more plate appearances, and the value he created was spread evenly among more seasons. Or Bid McPhee’s career with a tiny bit of smooshing. Of course the consistency you see here is illusory. It is a remnant of relying on central tendency to develop annualized performance estimates. So Cannady would certainly have had more peaks and valleys. But we do have quite a bit of data on him, and generally he seems to have been reasonably consistent over time. Good ballplayer. Great? Remains to be seen. We still have some data to add to the picture.

Bill Monroe

This Bill Monroe does not play Bluegrass. He plays second base, third, and shortstop. A contemporary of Grant Johnson, Monroe was one of black baseball’s most important stars in the early 1900s. And apparently among its most marketable, especially to the ladies who were as fond of him as he of they. Monroe was a colorful showboating sort who entertained with outstanding play as well as with tricks such as catching pop flies behind his back.

But Monroe had real baseball chops. He was reputed a very good defensive player who could pick it across the infield. He had good foot speed, and he could hit. In Negro Leagues play and Cuba he showed pop and stole his share of bases. It didn’t last, however, and after his age 34 season, his bat suddenly went south. Then his health went with it. He died from tuberculosis in March of 1915. He was just 37 and left behind accolades of all sorts from highly placed Negro Leagues stars and execs as well as from John McGraw.

Bill Monroe
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1899–1914
Destination: NL 1899–1912
Missing data: 1901, 1902
Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
=======================================================================
1899  21 NL  SS  400    9    0      0     6   14   1.3   12   27   2.5
1900  22 NL  SS  390    3    0      0     5    9   0.8   12   21   1.9
1901  23 NL  SS  420    3    0      0     6    9   0.9   13   22   2.3
1902  24 NL  SS  480    5    0      0     7   12   1.4   15   27   3.1
1903  25 NL  SS  480   17    0      0     7   24   2.4   15   39   3.9
1904  26 NL  SS  520    2    0      0     8    9   1.1   16   25   3.0
1905  27 NL  SS  520    3    0      0     7   11   1.2   16   27   3.0
1906  28 NL  3B  480   11    0      5     4   20   2.4   15   35   4.3
1907  29 NL  3B  530   12    0      5     4   21   2.6   17   37   4.8
1908  30 NL  3B  530   19    0      5     4   28   3.5   17   44   5.7
1909  31 NL  2B  530   47    0      5     0   52   6.1   17   69   8.1
1910  32 NL  2B  510    0    0      5     0    5   0.5   16   21   2.4
1911  33 NL  2B  450    0    0      4     0    4   0.4   14   18   1.9
1912  34 NL  2B  400  -13    0      4     0  -10  -1.0   12    3   0.3
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
                6640  119    0     33    57  208  23.6  207  415  47.2

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 181st   
Rbat: 214th
WAA: t-84th  
WAR: 88th

We’ve made Monroe a shortstop for about half his career, then slid him along the defensive spectrum. Remember in his time, third base and second base were flipped on the spectrum. His playing time by position is kinda weird. In 1907 and 1908 he’s clearly a third baseman. In 1911 and 1912 he’s clearly a second baseman. But beyond that, nothing’s all that clear. Partly that lack of clarity has to do with some very small samples of seasons. Partly he simply roamed the diamond. So we built his MLE around the idea that he started as a shortstop and eventually moved elsewhere. His defensive numbers at shortstop are pretty good in the Nero Leagues database, and they all come from after our 1905 cutoff for shortstop. More over, a guy in the majors wouldn’t move off of shortstop if a team didn’t think he could play it. So we made him an average fielder. It’s possible we’ve shortchanged him in so doing.

Bill Monroe appears to have had some trouble staying in the lineup, particularly in Cuba during the winter. Too much snow, I guess. His early years represent small pieces of seasons, and he’s very hit and miss there. I’m not entirely sure what to make of his playing time record, so I’m playing it pretty straight, but if more data should ever come to light, we find that he was more durable than our MLE currently suggests.

Pat Patterson

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

Smart guy this one. After his playing career, he became a teacher and eventually superintendent of schools in Houston. Pretty smart on the field too. Patterson hit for average, a little power, and decent speed. He didn’t walk all that often, but he put the ball in play a lot and a lot of his line drives turned into doubles and triples.

We don’t yet have stats for his final three years, making his MLE incomplete. He played his last game in 1949 at age 37, and we don’t know yet how effective he was in those final years. (Another source suggests he played at least one more year in the 1950 Man-Dak league.) That means we’ve given him his career average performance. That probably pumps him up a little. On the other hand, he seems to have had a little trouble staying in the lineup, which may or may not be accurate and which could be ameliorated somewhat by those last three seasons if he played more often.

Pat Patterson
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1934–1949
Destination: AL 1934–1949
Missing data: 1947–1949, 1950?

Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA  Rrep RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1934  22 NL  2B  450   16    0    0     1    3    20   2.0   14   34   3.5
1935  23 NL  2B  510   27    0    0     1    4    32   3.2   16   48   4.8
1936  24 NL  2B  520   25    0    0     1    4    30   3.0   16   46   4.6
1937  25 NL  2B  500    8    0    0     1    4    13   1.3   16   28   3.0
1938  26 NL  2B  480   11    0    0     1    4    15   1.6   15   30   3.2
1939  27 NL  2B  530   14    0    0     1    4    19   2.0   17   36   3.7
1940  28 NL  2B  500   15    0    0     1    4    20   2.1   16   36   3.8
1941  29 NL  2B  490    9    0    0     1    4    15   1.6   15   30   3.3
1942  30 NL  2B  460    3    0    0     1    4     9   1.0   14   23   2.7
1943  31 NL  2B        MILITARY SERVICE (WWII)
1944  32 NL  2B        MILITARY SERVICE (WWII)  
1945  33 NL  2B        MILITARY SERVICE (WWII)
1946  34 NL  2B  370   19    0    0     0    4    23   2.6   12   35   3.9
1947  35 NL  2B  350    8    0    0     0    3    12   1.3   11   23   2.4
1948  36 NL  2B  290    9    0    0     0    3    13   1.4    9   22   2.3
1949  37 NL  2B  250    8    0    0     0    2    11   1.1    8   19   2.0
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                5700  174    5    1     7   47   233  24.0  178  411  43.1

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 288th 
Rbat: 146th 
WAA: 82nd  
WAR: t-120th

Heck of a player. This is the kind of guy who could be part of a championship team’s core, however, his peak performances probably aren’t flashy enough and his career quite long enough to build out a Hall-level resume. That puts him in the Tony Lazzeri, Del Pratt area of second basemen. Real good player, but not quite enough of him to go around. The difference between Jeff Kent and Pat Patterson is primarily that Kent at least had two seasons at a near-MVP-level of play. Naturally, part of that is to do with how our MLE system flattens out career arcs, but it also has to do with Patterson’s inability to stay in the lineup.

Lightning Round

Now it’s time to have a look at three guys you might be surprised to learn don’t look nearly as good in the MLEs as they do in the lore.

Newt Allen
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1923–1944
Destination: NL 1923–1941
Missing Data: 1926–1927, 1929–1931, 1938
NOTE: Elongated his decline phase to age 40
      Lg Pos  PA  Rbat  Rbaser  Rfield  Rpos  RAA  WAA  Rrep  RAR   WAR 
======================================================================= 
TOTAL NL 2B  8510 -60     16      11     60    28  2.6   265  293  29.8

Piper Davis 
Negro Leagues Stats | Minor Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1942–1958 
Destination: NL 1943–1958
Missing Data: 1947–1950 
      Lg    Pos     PA  Rbat  Rbaser  Rdp  Rfield  Rpos  RAA  WAA  Rrep  RAR   WAR 
================================================================================== 
TOTAL NL 2B-3B-RF  5740  40      0     -2     6     45    89  9.3   179  268  28.6

Bingo DeMoss 
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1910–1928 
Destination: NL 1910–1928 
Missing Data: 1926–1927
NOTE: Lengthened his career versus first version of this MLE  
      Lg Pos   PA  Rbat  Rbaser  Rfield  Rpos  RAA  WAA  Rrep  RAR   WAR 
========================================================================= 
TOTAL NL  2B  8610 -164    2      113     29    -2  0.2   268  267  29.9

* * *

We’ll finish our sweep of keystone sackers next time out as we check in with Tommy Sampson, Bonnie/Bunny/Barney Serrell, George “Tubby” Scales, Marvin Williams, and a special guest.

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