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Negro Leagues

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Pitchers, Part 5

[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]

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the dugout…. More Negro Leagues pitchers! Today we’ll get our teeth around Webster McDonald, Henry McHenry,  If you are in the mood for a treatise, we have previously described our method for creating Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues pitchers.

Webster McDonald

McDonald was a submariner righty. Everything he threw had a wrinkle, and he threw everything. He was the kind of pitcher who knew the hitters, pitched away from their strengths, and avoided making mistake pitches thanks to good control. McDonald had trouble breaking into the league and didn’t arrive until age 25, but once he made it, he spent sixteen productive seasons mostly with the Pennsylvania/Delaware/Maryland near his native home of Philadelphia.

Webster McDonald
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1925–1940
Destination: NL 1925–1940
Missing data: 1926–1927, 1929
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1925   25  210   32   3.2   5.4  |   70   0.1  |   5.5 
1926   26  200   23   2.4   4.4  |   67   0.1  |   4.5 
1927   27  210   24   2.5   4.6  |   70   0.1  |   4.7 
1928   28  180   33   3.5   5.3  |   60   0.1  |   5.4 
1929   29  200   17   1.6   3.7  |   67   0.1  |   3.8 
1930   30  200    3   0.2   2.4  |   67   0.1  |   2.5 
1931   31  180    5   0.5   2.3  |   60   0.1  |   2.4 
1932   32  270    7   0.8   3.6  |   90   0.1  |   3.7 
1933   33  280    3   0.3   3.1  |   93   0.1  |   3.2 
1934   34  200   11   1.1   3.2  |   67   0.1  |   3.3 
1935   35  270   16   1.6   4.4  |   90   0.1  |   4.5 
1936   36  270    9   0.9   3.7  |   90   0.1  |   3.9 
1937   37  260  - 7  -0.7   2.1  |   87   0.1  |   2.2 
1938   38  260  - 6  -0.6   2.1  |   87   0.2  |   2.2 
1939   39  150    5   0.5   2.1  |   50   0.1  |   2.1
1940   40   10    1   0.1   0.2  |    3   0.0  |   0.2
------------------------------------------------------- 
TOTAL     3350  175  18.1  52.5  | 1118   1.5  |  54.0
 
Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 50th  
Pitching Wins Above Average: t-77th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 42nd  
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 47th

McDonald is mostly famous for going 14-4 against white big-league teams, and his Negro Leagues record attracts less interest. But in translation, it looks pretty darned good. Most of his value comes from being above replacement, but very much above average.

Is there more to his story?

In the bio link above, the authors provide evidence that puts McDonald in the NNL and ECL for various teams in several seasons from 1920 through 1924. Mostly, these seasons were limited to a few appearances. Still, McDonald does not appear in the Negro Leagues Database at all until 1925 when he finally stuck at the top levels. At least two different possibilities exist to explain this discrepancy, which show us again how strange the world of Negro Leagues data is.

  1. McDonald pitched in games that the standards for the Negro Leagues Database wouldn’t consider league games
  2. The Negro Leagues Database does not yet have boxscores for any of his pre-1925 league games.

Either of these explanations might suffice, or perhaps both are simultaneously true, or perhaps neither is true, and there’s some other explanation. Anyway, McDonald didn’t get traction until 1925 anyway, so it may be that these precursor seasons don’t mean all that much to our MLE.

Henry McHenry

McHenry got his start in the early 1930s, established himself quickly as a top pitcher, got the decision in the 1940 East-West All-Star game and appeared again the next year in it. In this thirties, however, he frequently summered in Mexico, and probably didn’t have great optics for the lore makers as a result.

A big righty, McHenry threw pretty much any pitch, and was a good hitting pitcher. As a batter, he hit for low batting averages, but he could hit the long ball. He hit 16 round trippers in Mexico in 1942 and averaged 11 per 162 games stateside. As a result, perhaps, he also drew his fair share of free passes.

McHenry was just a few years younger than Satchel Paige, but didn’t cross over to whiteball. He wasn’t as talented as Satch, of course, he was a 37-year-old man by 1947, he’d spent most of the previous decade playing outside the US, and despite his good hitting, his pitching performance fell off after 1943. He wasn’t an attractive prospect for big-league scouts.

Henry McHenry
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1931–1951
Destination: NL 1932–1949
Missing data: 1932, 1934, 1947
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1932   22   40    1   0.1   0.6  |   13   0.1  |   0.6 
1933   23   10    0   0.0   0.1  |    3   0.0  |   0.1 
1934   24  140    7   0.7   2.1  |   47   0.2  |   2.4 
1935   25  150   20   2.1   3.6  |   50   0.2  |   3.8 
1936   26  200   30   3.1   5.1  |   67   0.4  |   5.5 
1937   27  220    7   0.7   2.9  |   73   0.4  |   3.3
1938   28  190    2   0.2   2.2  |   63   0.3  |   2.5
1939   29  210   16   1.7   3.8  |   70   0.4  |   4.2
1940   30  270    0   0.0   2.8  |   90   0.5  |   3.2
1941   31  250    7   0.7   3.3  |   83   0.4  |   3.7
1942   32  140  - 5  -0.6   0.8  |   47   0.2  |   1.1
1943   33  260   10   1.2   3.8  |   87   0.3  |   4.1
1944   34  200  - 5  -0.5   1.5  |   67   0.3  |   1.8
1945   35  180  -19  -1.9   0.0  |   60   0.2  |   0.2
1946   36  260  - 6  -0.7   1.9  |   87   0.4  |   2.4
1947   37  180  - 2  -0.2   1.7  |   60   0.3  |   2.0
1948   38  180    1   0.1   1.9  |   60   0.3  |   2.2
1949   39  140    1   0.1   1.5  |   47   0.2  |   1.7
------------------------------------------------------- 
TOTAL     3220   65   7.0  39.7  | 1074   5.1  |  44.8 

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 53rd  
Pitching Wins Above Average: t-224th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 92nd  
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 76th

Basically, McHenry looks like an innings eater, but in fact, we see him as a pretty good pitcher for much of his career, and a pretty spotty one for the other half. He wasn’t a Jeckyll-and-Hyde sort alternating good and poor seasons, just a guy who aged kinda normally and went from occasional All-Star to bulk-innings-delivery man as his abilities diminished. And because he could hit, he did enough to stay around and produce seasons at or near league-average performance for a long time. Or to put it another way, he went from a #2 starter in the first half of his career to a #3/#4 starter in the back half.

Barney Morris

A righty knuckleballer, Barney Morris probably threw more like R.A. Dickey than he did Tim Wakefield. Dickey threw a hard knuckleball (“angry” as he calls it), whereas Wakefield threw a flutter ball. In fact, Dickey’s knuckler was faster than Wake’s fastball. Anyway, Morris threw his knucklball hard too and with some degree of control at that.

At least that’s what the story goes. But one does wonder if that means he threw a knucklecurve like Mike Mussina or something along those lines. Without seeing his grip and knowing only that he threw it about as hard as his fastball, it’s hard to know.

Morris pitched in a few East-West All-Star Games, and won couple Negro World Series games. He could hit a little, and he profiles much like Henry McHenry (above) at a career level, though instead of a half-good/half-meh career like McHenry, Morris’ career comes out more like a consistently slightly above average hurler.

Barney Morris
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1932–1948
Destination: NL 1932–1948
Missing data: 1932–1935, 1940
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1932   22  150    3   0.3   1.8  |   50  -0.1  |   1.7
1933   23  160    3   0.3   1.9  |   53  -0.2  |   1.7
1934   24  200    4   0.4   2.5  |   67  -0.1  |   2.4 
1935   25  190    4   0.4   2.3  |   63  -0.2  |   2.1 
1936   26  230    8   0.8   3.2  |   77  -0.1  |   3.1 
1937   27  260    7   0.8   3.4  |   87  -0.2  |   3.3 
1938   28  210    5   0.5   2.7  |   70  -0.1  |   2.6 
1939   29  210   10   1.1   3.2  |   70  -0.1  |   3.1 
1940   30  270    7   0.7   3.5  |   90  -0.2  |   3.3 
1941   31  250    7   0.7   3.3  |   83  -0.2  |   3.1 
1942   32  220  -18  -2.0   0.3  |   73  -0.3  |  -0.1 
1943   33   10  - 2  -0.2  -0.1  |    3   0.0  |  -0.1 
1944   34  230    0   0.0   2.3  |   77  -0.4  |   1.9 
1945   35  180   26   2.9   4.7  |   60  -0.3  |   4.3
1946   36  260    6   0.7   3.3  |   87  -0.4  |   2.9
1947   37  180  - 1  -0.1   1.8  |   60  -0.1  |   1.6
1948   38  140  - 1  -0.1   1.4  |   47  -0.1  |   1.2
------------------------------------------------------- 
TOTAL     3350   68   7.3  41.4  | 1117  -3.2  |  38.1 

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 50th  
Pitching Wins Above Average: t-218th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 101st  
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): t-105th

It appears as though Morris must have had an injury in 1943, or else his starts are underreported thus far. We treated it as an injury season.

The first several years of Morris’ career were spent in oddball spots that are not yet documented in the Negro Leagues Database. I’m not sure if they will ever be. He began his top-level career in 1932 with the Monroe Monarchs of the Negro Southern League. This circuit was bolstered by the addition of teams spun off by the midseason dissolution of the East-West League in 1932 (its lone year of operation). It is, by some, considered, therefore, to have been a top-level league in 1932.

Next, Morris followed Satchel Paige and others to the North Dakota where the owner of a team in a semipro loop was creating a supersquad by buying up outstanding black talent. Morris spent a few years there, as did Quincy Trouppe and others, and then got his start in the Negro Leagues proper in 1935. So quite a bit of his early times are not documented in the Database.

We also have nothing on his activities in 1940, and his biographical sources are silent on the matter. But what we do have is extensive (721 innings over 10 years) and offers a pretty solid idea of what sort of performances he gave.

 

Lightning Round!

We have a few other players to talk about, including two career-level lines and one fellow whose MLE is too goofy to post in good faith.

Booker McDaniel(s)
Negro Leagues Stats | Minor Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1941–1951
Destination: NL 1941–1951

               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
TOTAL     1820  -47  -3.6  15.0  |  606   0.7  |  15.7

Terris McDuffie
Negro Leagues Stats | Minor Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1932–1954 
Destination: NL 1932–1946 
Missing Data: 1933–1934, 1948–1950, 1952–1953  
                PITCHING          |  BATTING  |  TOTAL 
YEAR  AGE    IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA   WAR |   WAR 
======================================================== 
TOTAL      2240  -45  -4.0  18.9  | 745   1.9 |  20.8

And that brings us to Juanelo Mirabal. Running his stats straight through our routine, he looks like a borderline candidate for the Hall of Miller and Eric. But looking more closely, there’s some issues. First of all, we have to split his career in half. Prior to age 28, we have a lot of data, just one missing season. In those six seasons, two are dead average, two are All-Star years, and is a very good year, one is below average. But the innings attached to the excellent years are more substantial than the innings attached to the mediocre ones. The problem is that after age 27, we have a whole lot of nothing on Mirabal. His statistical record dries up.

Here’s the tale. In 1929, Mirabal is reported by James Riley to have gone 1-2 and hurt his arm. Other sources report that his Cuban Stars played 46 games. So we could give him about 30 innings, call it an injury and move on using his known career averages to round things out. But as we’ve already said, those averages skew very high. We don’t know whether he recovered from his injury enough to return to anything like his prior level of performance.

But Riley also tells us this: Mirabal relied on a “quick delivery” until it was outlawed by the Negro League in 1929…the same year he injured himself. I don’t precisely know what a “quick delivery” is, but I’d guess it’s probably a quick-pitch sort of thing designed to catch hitters napping. When the practice was outlawed, Mirabal hurt his arm. Correlation ain’t causation, but we also know that he was asking his arm and body to move in new ways while retaining his high velocity levels (and he threw hard).

So we have three pieces of information:

  1. He was forced to change his motion
  2. He injured his throwing arm
  3. His record disappears after 1929.

Regarding this last part, Riley offers no statistical or narrative about Mirabal’s post-1929 career except to vaguely say that, “Three seasons later, when the Cubans were members in the ill-fated East-West League, he was still a member of their pitching staff.” The Wikipedia lists his only season after 1929 as 1934, as does BBREF. The latter has only hitting numbers, no pitching totals.

So, once we get more of the scoop on Mirabal, we’ll post his MLEs, but until then, we’re going to say they are too provisional to include.

* * *

In a week, we move on to shortstop, a position with a raft of talent to check in on. We’ll run three parts there, with our first one introducing you to Frankie Austin, Sammy Bankhead, and Pelayo Chacon.

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