you're reading...
Negro Leagues

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Pitchers, Part 4

We got more pitchers than a bar on dollar-beer night. Today it’s Max Manning, Conrado Marrero, Verdel Mathis, and Leroy Matlock. We have previously described method for creating Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues pitchers. In case you need a lengthy, insanely detailed reminder of what’s under the hood.

Max Manning

Guessing he gave righties fits. “Dr. Cyclops” was a 6’4″ beanpole with thick, thick glasses. He threw sidearm, hard, and threw a couple breaking pitches. As if a rail-thin righty coming from 9:00 wasn’t bad enough, he had spotty control, so hitters had to stay on their toes. Manning got his start in the late 1930s with the Newark Eagles, spent parts of three years in the service during World War II, and wasn’t able to make the jump successfully to organized baseball in the Jackie Robinson era. After his career he taught school in Pennsylvania for nearly three decades.

Max Manning
Negro Leagues Stats | Minor League Stats | Bio
Career: 1939–1953
Destination: NL 1939–1953
Missing data: 1950 1952
 
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1939   20  160    3   0.4   2.0  |   53   0.0  |   2.0
1940   21  270   11   1.2   3.9  |   90   0.0  |   4.0
1941   22  210    9   1.0   3.1  |   70   0.0  |   3.1
1942   23  250   13   1.5   3.9  |   83  -0.1  |   3.9
1943   24   10  - 1  -0.1   0.0  |    3   0.0  |   0.0
1944   25       MILITARY SERVICE WWII
1945   26       MILITARY SERVICE WWII 
1946   27  180  - 1  -0.1   1.6  |   60   0.0  |   1.6
1947   28  180    4   0.4   2.3  |   60   0.0  |   2.3
1948   29  180    6   0.7   2.5  |   60   0.0  |   2.5
1949   30  200    8   0.9   2.9  |   67   0.0  |   2.9
1950   31  200    9   0.9   3.0  |   67   0.1  |   3.0
1951   32   60    4   0.4   1.0  |   20   0.0  |   1.0
1952   33  140    6   0.6   2.1  |   47   0.0  |   2.2
1953   34  160    4   0.4   2.2  |   53   0.0  |   2.2
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     2200   75   8.1  30.5  |  733   0.1  |  30.7

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 175th
Pitching Wins Above Average: t-201st
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 141st
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 147th

This MLE might be generous to Manning. We don’t have data for those two seasons in the 1950s, and its possible he simply didn’t pitch those years. James Riley doesn’t show any activity for those seasons, nor does BBREF. Good pitcher, but not great despite his intimidating mound presence.

Conrado Marrero

Usually known to US fans as “Connie,” Marrero spent five years in MLB. Not the usual five years, however, ages 39–43. Clark Griffith’s Senators had a good thing going with scout Joe Cambria who mined Cuba for talent for decades. During World War II, he acquired numerous light-skinned Cubans for the Nats. Then after integration, darker-skinned Cubans came along as well. I’m not sure whether Cambria was linked to Marrero or not. He spent three years with the Habana Sugar Kings in the Florida International League prior to his MLB debut. But the Senators had a very active Cuban pipeline, and Marrero was one of their best finds.

In the capital, Marrero made an All-Star team and even picked up a stray MVP vote. He netted out with a 108 ERA+ and earned 9.8 WAR in his 735 big league innings. The stories about Conrado Marrero are numerous, and I’ll leave you to read his entire story for yourself at your leisure. The question before us is how to interpret his career.

See the trouble for Marrero is that we have little or no information about his pitching at a high level prior to age 27. And no information about him pitching professionally prior to 1946. That’s because he worked on his family’s sugar plantation and played ball for recreation. He eventually got into semipro ball on the island, but his biggest appearances were in hotly contested national amateur tourneys. When he finally signed with the Sugar Kings he was already 36 years old. Any normal career for a light-skinned player of Marrero’s caliber would put him in the big leagues 13 to 15 years sooner. But age 27 is all we’ve got to go with. So that’s where our MLE begins.

The next question is just how good was he? This is a way more complicated question than it initially appears. This is what we know about Conrado Marrero’s career:

  • In 1947 at age 36, he went 25-6 for Havana. His 1.66 ERA led the league by nine points, and his 1.99 RA9 led the league by 26 points.
  • In 1948 at age 37, he went 20-11 for Havana. His 1.67 ERA led the league by ten points, and his 1.88 RA9 led the league by 33 points.
  • In 1949 at age 38, he went 25-8 for Havana. His 1.53 ERA placed second among qualifiers by 11 points, and his 1.78 RA9 led the league by 43 points.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if an All-Star pitcher played in A-ball, you have your answer.

  • In 1950 at age 39, he went 6-10 for Washington. His 4.50 ERA turned into a 100 ERA+ and 1.5 WAR.
  • In 1951 at age 40, he went 11-9 for Washington. His 3.90 ERA turned into a 106 ERA+ and 2.9 WAR. He was just getting started.
  • In 1952 at age 41, he went 11-8 for Washington. His 2.88 ERA turned into a 124 ERA+ and 3.7 WAR.
  • In 1953, at age 42, he went 8-7 for Washington. His 3.03 ERA turned into a 128 ERA+ and 2.0 WAR.
  • In 1954, at age 43, he went 3-6 for Washington. His 4.75 ERA turned into a 76 ERA+ and -0.4 WAR.

He hung it up after his lone subpar professional season. Keep in mind that his MLB experience put him in one of the more pitcher friendly parks the AL, Griffith Stadium. On the other hand, he played for a terrible team. Washington never finished higher than fifth, and their records during his career were

  • 1950: 67-87
  • 1951: 62-92
  • 1952: 78-76
  • 1953: 76-76
  • 1954: 66-88

Marrero’s defenses were…not very good. Well, in 1953 it was very good (+0.28 RA9), but in every other season they were at least -0.15 to the bad. But maybe for Marrero they weren’t so bad? He was a fly-ball pitcher, see, and the Griffiths must have valued outfield defense to cover all the extra square footage in their expansive home park. Here’s the defensive value of the top five outfielders on the Nats each year of his career:

Conrado Marrero's Outfielders 

YEAR     NAME            POS  INN   RFIELD*  DRA^
==================================================
1950   TOTAL                           0     3.8
       Gil Coan          7    769      0     7.5
       Sam Mele          98   824     -3   -19.8
       Irv Noren         8   1059      1     8.6
       Johnny Ostrowski  7    325      0     9.8
       Bud Stewart       97   822      2   - 2.3

1951   TOTAL                          14    34.1
       Gil Coan          7   1135      8    27.1
       Mike McCormick    987  526      0   -10.4
       Sam Mele          98  1059      0   - 0.4
       Irv Noren         8   1104      4    22.7
       Sherry Robertson  9    172      2   - 4.9

1952   TOTAL                           4     0.4
       Jim Busby         8   1123      2    10.9
       Frank Campos      79   200      0   - 2.7
       Gil Coan          7    721      0   -10.5 
       Jackie Jensen     9   1240      0   - 9.8
       Ken Wood          7    488      2    12.5

1953   TOTAL                           9    20.7
       Jim Busby         8   1321     16    23.9
       Gil Coan          7    350      6     9.2
       Jackie Jensen     9   1288     -4   - 8.5 
       Kite Thomas       97    70     -4   - 1.8
       Clyde Vollmer     7    912     -5   - 2.1

1954   TOTAL                          -1    13.7
       Jim Busby         8   1375      4    21.4
       Roy Sievers       7   1166     -5     3.2
       Tom Umphlett      9    750      1   - 6.5
       Clyde Vollmer     9    195     -3   - 6.5
       Tom Wright        97   330      2     2.1

*includes all positions played
^single season version, range value only, outfield defense only 

Marrero consistently received above average to outstanding defense, primarily due to the presence of Jim Busby, a famously rangy centerfielder. The combination of a huge home park and strong outfield defense probably helped Marrero quite a bit. We can’t really account for that very well, but it’s good to know as we assess the likely validity of the MLE.

When we run all that through our MLE machine, we get 31.2 pitching WAR for his eight professional seasons. His three seasons in Havana translate to 6.6, 5.5, and 7.9 WAR. That results in my needing to employ the manual override for those three seasons because they would otherwise translate into seasons too good to be credible.

One last point. Marrero is not really a Negro Leagues candidate, just like Bobby Avila wasn’t. However, he was limited by the same set of circumstances as any dark-skinned player, so we’re examining him here.

Conrado Marrero
Major League Stats | Minor League Stats | Bio
Known pro career: 1946–1953 (with prior amateur and semipro activity known back to 1938)
Destination: AL 1938–1953
Honors: Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame; Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame
                PITCHING         |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1938   27  220  - 7  -0.7   1.6  |   73  -0.3  |   1.2
1939   28  210  - 1  -0.1   2.1  |   70  -0.3  |   1.8
1940   29  230    3   0.4   2.7  |   77  -0.3  |   2.4
1941   30  210    6   0.7   2.8  |   70  -0.3  |   2.5
1942   31  220   10   1.2   3.4  |   73  -0.3  |   3.1
1943   32  220   22   2.7   4.8  |   73  -0.3  |   4.5
1944   33  230   25   2.8   5.1  |   77  -0.3  |   4.8
1945   34  210   39   4.3   6.4  |   70  -0.3  |   6.1
1946   35  200   30   3.6   5.5  |   67  -0.3  |   5.2
1947   36  250   38   4.1   6.6  |   83  -0.4  |   6.2
1948   37  210   31   3.4   5.5  |   70  -0.3  |   5.2
1949   38  260   48   5.3   7.9  |   87  -0.4  |   7.5
1950   39  152    4   0.3   1.5  |   61  -0.2  |   1.3
1951   40  187   14   1.5   2.9  |   71  -0.1  |   2.8
1952   41  187   19   2.3   3.7  |   70  -0.6  |   3.1
1953   42  146    8   0.8   2.0  |   54  -0.2  |   1.8
1954   43   66  - 8  -0.8  -0.4  |   17  -0.2  |  -0.6
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     3405  282  31.9  64.0  | 1163  -5.2  |  58.8

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 45th
Pitching Wins Above Average: t-28th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 22nd
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): t-34th

So much depends on how you think about what a 27-year-old rookie’s workload would look like. Here we’ve given Marrero a #2  starter’s workload from the get-go. A search on the BBREF Play Index told us that from 1920 through 1960, about one 27-year-old rookie pitcher threw 200 innings per season. That corresponds, in 1938 terms, to a #2 pitcher. Given Marrero’s high level of ability, it doesn’t seem unlikely he’d toss 200 frames at that age. Some of the guys on the list are well-known pitchers: Dazzy Vance, “Toothpick” Sam Jones, Curt Davis, Ray Kremer,  Harvey Haddix, Jack Sanford, Gene Bearden, Claude Passeau, Rip Sewell. Most of them aren’t well-known. Many were flashes in the pan or averageish pitchers.

And most of them didn’t face the color line.

Interestingly, however, we also tried making Marrero a #4 his first two seasons and a #3 the next three, and it did very little to change the shape of his career. More innings, yes, but only minor changes in the rest of his MLE figures.

To double check, we looked at big league pitchers active from 1920 onward to see what they did from ages 27 to 43. Marrero’s 3405 MLE innings place fourteenth. His MLE WAA places twentieth. His MLE pitching WAR ranks twelfth. Is that reasonable? I don’t know. One way to understand it better could be to compare the performance of the 267 pitchers since 1910 whose careers included seasons anywhere from age 39 to 43 to Marrero’s.

INNINGS PITCHED

Marrero ranks 23rd among all retired MLB pitchers from 1910 through 2017 in innings pitched from age 39 to age 43. Twelve pitchers among the twenty-two above him are members of the Hall of Merit. Eight of the twenty-two after him are HoMErs.

Another way to look at this is to see whether Marrero’s durability was unusual for an old pitcher. His 152 innings rank 54th among all 39 year olds. His 187 innings rank 34th among all 40 year olds. He’s 18th among 41 year olds at 184 innings. He’s also 18th among 42 year olds, this time 146 frames. Even his 66.33 innings at 43 rank 24th.

So Marrero isn’t the very most durable of old pitchers, but he’s doing just fine.

WAA

Marrero ranks 25th in this group in WAA. Fifteen of the pitchers above him are in the HoME or are Mariano Rivera. Nine of the twenty-five below him are HoMErs, Satchel Paige, or Andy Pettitte (who may have a strong case).

WAR (pitching only)

Marrero ranks 26th in this group in WAR. Fifteen of the pitchers above him are in the HoME or are Mariano Rivera. Seven of the twenty-six below him are HoMErs.

It’s clear that Marrero is an elite older pitcher. He’s around the 25th best of the 267 in the group, which make him among the top 10 percent of the entire group. On the other hand, he’s not among the upper elites either. And most older pitchers were elite pitchers prior to being old guys. There is some support here for his very strong MLE. Not definitive support, but support nonetheless.

Verdell Mathis

Can’t say that I know all that much about Verdell Mathis. He was an All-Star lefty who pitched with the Memphis Red Sox for eleven years and frequently played centerfield and first base. He had bone chips removed from his elbow in 1945 and reportedly lost a lot of zip on his pitches. We don’t yet have enough information to see if that’s truly the case. Therefore you might want to take the post-war phase of his career as provisional. It probably won’t look that good once the results are all in.

Mathis retired from baseball in 1950 and then worked for some time at Memphis’ renowned Colonial Country Club, host of numerous PGA events. Now I don’t know much about the Colonial Country Club beyond that, except that it didn’t allow minority members for a very long time. Which means it’s not very hard to imagine what an abrupt change Mathis’ professional life took. As a ballplayer, considered for a time the best lefty in the league, he played for crowds of black Americans as a main attraction, a standout, and earned a good living. Then working at an exclusive golf club he was supposed to blend into the scenery for the white folks who couldn’t have cared less about his starting two East-West All-Star Games.

Verdell Mathis
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1940–1950
Destination: NL 1940–1950
Missing Data: 1947–1950
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1940   25  230  -10  -1.0   1.4  |   77   0.4  |   1.8
1941   26  210   16   1.8   3.9  |   70   0.4  |   4.3
1942   27  250    2   0.2   2.7  |   83   0.4  |   3.1
1943   28  260   35   4.3   6.8  |   87   0.4  |   7.2
1944   29  200  - 7  -0.8   1.3  |   67   0.3  |   1.6
1945   30  250   11   1.2   3.7  |   83   0.3  |   4.1
1946   31  150    7   0.8   2.3  |   50   0.3  |   2.5
1947   32  180   11   1.2   3.7  |   60   0.3  |   3.3
1948   33  160   12   1.2   2.8  |   53   0.3  |   3.1
1949   34  140   12   1.2   2.6  |   47   0.3  |   2.9
1950   35  130    8   0.8   2.2  |   43   0.3  |   2.4
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     2160   97  11.0  32.6  |  720   3.7  |  36.3

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)

Innings pitched: 181st 
Pitching Wins Above Average: t-150th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: t-123rd
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): t-114th

Good pitcher with a big year in 1943. But we need more data prior for his post-surgical career before we can say with any certainty if this MLE represents his career well.

Leroy Matlock

Matlock is kind of the Verdell Mathis of the 1930s. Good, strong lefty with a wide repertoire who had some dominant years and could hit as well. Matlock was a very loud second fiddle to Satchel Paige on the early 1930s Pittsburgh Crawfords, and once Satch skipped town took over as the squad’s ace. He didn’t disappoint. Various reports have him with gaudy records in the mid 1930s. In 1937, he jumped to Santo Domingo for the short-lived Dominican league. Matlock would later jump to Venezuela for a summer (1939) before signing on in Mexico for his last three seasons (1940–1942).

Leroy Matlock
Negro Leagues Stats | Mexican League Stats | Bio
Career: 1929–1942
Destination: NL 1929–1942
Missing data: 1929–1931, 1937, 1939
               PITCHING          |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1929   22  150    6   0.6   2.2  |   50   0.1  |   2.3
1930   23  180    6   0.5   2.5  |   60   0.1  |   2.6
1931   24  220    7   0.8   3.0  |   73   0.1  |   3.1
1932   25  210    5   0.5   2.7  |   70   0.1  |   2.8
1933   26  240   15   1.7   4.1  |   80   0.1  |   4.1
1934   27  230   19   1.9   4.3  |   77   0.1  |   4.4
1935   28  220   39   4.2   6.4  |   73   0.1  |   6.5
1936   29  270   31   3.3   6.0  |   90   0.2  |   6.2
1937   30  220    7   0.7   2.9  |   73   0.1  |   3.1
1938   31  220  - 9  -0.9   1.4  |   73   0.1  |   1.5
1939   32  210    5   0.5   2.7  |   70   0.1  |   2.8
1940   33  230   15   1.6   3.9  |   77   0.1  |   4.0
1941   34  190    8   0.9   2.8  |   63   0.1  |   2.9
1942   34  180  - 3  -0.4   1.4  |   60   0.1  |   1.5
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     2970  151  16.0  46.2  |  989   1.5  |  47.7

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 78th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 93rd
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: t-61st
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): t-66th

We’re missing Matlock’s first three seasons, and there are currently no quality stats available for the Dominican and none at all that I’ve seen so far for Venezuela. I’m fairly sure that this MLE paints an appropriate picture of Matlock, but I’ll generally hold out hope for more from the early period to help us put a little more flesh on these bones. Still, this guy was someone you’d want on your team for sure.

* * *

Next time around, we’re on to third base to meet up with Howard Easterling, Ollie Marcelle, and Carlos Moran.

Advertisements

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Evaluating More Negro Leagues Pitchers, Part 4

  1. What a career for Marrero, with the late bloomers, is it fair to wonder if the arm could have handled innings at a young age, in addition to what they did accomplish?

    Excited for Carlos Moran next week!

    Posted by Ryan | April 4, 2018, 11:32 am
    • Truly hard to know what to think about Marrero before age 27. He didn’t have a lot of mileage on his arm, as you note, so it’s too much to really speculate before that. Kind of like how I don’t give pitchers war credit at the HoM. Too many unknowns about pitcher health.

      Posted by eric | April 4, 2018, 8:35 pm

Tell us what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

Institutional History

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: