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Negro Leagues

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Pitchers, Part 6

Today we’re toeing the slab once more with three Negro Leagues pitchers, ore maybe more accurately, two Negro Leagues pitchers and an MLB pitcher who got his start in Blackball. If you want to know how we come up with our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues pitchers then by all means set your kitchen timer for five days and read our primer.

José Muñoz

The medium-height righty from La Habana threw a good fastball and a tough scroogie. He spent five seasons stateside in the Negro Leagues, and played 11 seasons in the winter league of his homeland. He had a massive year in 1909 and several good ones around that.

But pitching is a gambling-man’s game. It’s baseball roulette. While we don’t have the specific story, Muñoz’s arm must have given out in a hurry because suddenly in 1913, he stank up the joint, and there’s no record of him after that.

Jose Muñoz
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1902–1913
Destination: NL 1904–1913
Honors: Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1904   23   20    0   0.0   0.2  |    7   0.0  |   0.2 
1905   24  200  - 1  -0.1   1.9  |   67   0.1  |   2.0 
1906   25  320  - 1  -0.1   3.1  |  107   0.0  |   3.1 
1907   26  320    0   0.0   3.1  |  107   0.0  |   3.2 
1908   27  270   10   1.3   3.8  |   90   0.0  |   3.9 
1909   28  290   41   5.3   8.0  |   97   0.1  |   8.1 
1910   29  220   12   1.4   3.5  |   73   0.0  |   3.6 
1911   30  180    9   1.0   2.8  |   60   0.1  |   2.9 
1912   31  260   14   1.4   4.1  |   87   0.1  |   4.1 
1913   32  180  -29  -3.1  -1.2  |   60   0.1  |  -1.1 
------------------------------------------------------- 
TOTAL     2260   54   7.1  29.4  |  755   1.5  |  30.1
 
Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 166th  
Pitching Wins Above Average: 222nd
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 152nd  
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 151st

Good pitcher. Great for a very short time. Not someone likely to draw our vote at the Hall of Miller and Eric.

Don Newcombe

With Newcombe it all comes down to the question of when you think he’d have made the big leagues. He played against top-flight Negro Leagues talent from the age of 18 with that huge fastball of his. In 1946, as a twenty-year-old, Newk pitched in the Dodgers’ chain in Nashua with Roy Campanella as his catcher and co-integrator.

In Jules Tygiel’s Baseball’s Great Experiment, he discusses that the Dodgers thought Newcombe needed more seasoning to hone his control, so the sent him back to New Hampshire in 1947, despite allowing only 2.32 runs a game in 1946 (2.21 ERA). Newcombe walked about a batter every other inning In 1947, just as he had in 1946, en route to a 3.79 RA9 (2.91 ERA). They bumped him up to Montreal in the International League, where his control was the same as ever (actually a little worse), and he posted a 3.95 RA9 (3.14 ERA). So they returned him to Montreal in 1949 where he forced their hand with basically the exact same control and slightly better results: 3.18 RA9 and a 2.65 ERA. His control instantly improved upon reaching Flatbush, and he posted excellent seasons for Dem Bums.

Rickey brought along Newcombe more slowly than he brought along Campanella. In fact, Dan Bankhead, not Don Newcombe, was the first African American to throw a pitch for the Dodgers. So it’s an open question, in my mind, whether as a white man Newcombe would have debuted earlier. And also how much earlier? So we present two scenarios below. The first in which Newcombe arrives as an 18-year-old in 1944; the second as a 20-year-old in 1946. As Harry Kalas used to intone: IBM presents, You Make the Call.

Don Newcombe
Negro Leagues Stats | Major League Stats | Minor League Stats | Bio
Career: 1944–1960
Destination: NL 1944–1960

               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1944   18   30    1   0.1   0.4  |   10   0.1  |   0.5 
1945   19  100   15   1.6   2.6  |   33   0.2  |   2.8 
1946   20  160   17   2.0   3.6  |   53   0.4  |   4.0 
1947   21  210   32   3.5   5.6  |   70   0.6  |   6.2 
1948   22  210   36   4.0   6.0  |   70   0.6  |   6.6 
1949   23  280   40   4.3   7.1  |   93   0.8  |   7.9
1950   24  267   10   1.0   3.6  |  110   0.7  |   4.3
1951   25  272   11   1.1   3.8  |  114   0.4  |   4.2
1952             MILITARY SERVICE  
1953             MILITARY SERVICE      
1954   28  144  -10  -1.0   0.4  |   55   0.5  |   0.9
1955   29  234    6   0.6   2.9  |  125   2.4  |   5.3
1956   30  268   17   1.9   4.5  |  128   0.9  |   5.4
1957   31  199   12   1.3   3.2  |   86   0.5  |   3.7
1958   32  168  -10  -0.8   0.9  |   73   1.3  |   2.2
1959   33  222   24   2.7   4.8  |  123   1.9  |   6.7
1960   34  137  -14  -1.4  -0.2  |   62   0.2  |   0.0
------------------------------------------------------- 
18-34     2900  187  21.0  49.2  | 1205  11.5  |  60.7
20-34     2770  171  19.2  46.2  | 1162  11.2  |  57.4
Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 87th | 102nd
Pitching Wins Above Average: 60th | 72nd
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 50th | 61st 
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 30th | 39th

In both scenarios, the additional heft brings Newcombe from a good pitcher to a contender for the Hall of Miller and Eric (or your favorite Hall). He’s a Wes Ferrell for the 1950s: Very good on the mound, though not great, and an outstanding hitter for a pitcher. Together that combo is electable. At the same time, that three-WAR difference, at the margins, could be the difference between election and dejection for Newk.

OK, maybe not dejection. He doesn’t know about me and Miller, and it’s even less likely he cares about us. But let’s say, instead, that it’s an empathic dejection on the parts of his fans. Newcombe, 91, is still alive. He’s the 44th oldest living major league ballplayer, and among the very oldest living Negro Leaguers.

OK, before we leave Newcombe, two interesting facts.

1) Don Newcombe, a great hitting pitcher, batted lefty despite throwing righty. I don’t recall the last pitcher who batted lefty but threw righty, but I’d reckon it’s much rarer among hurlers simply because if they get hit on their throwing arm or wrist, the damage has more potential to be season or career threatening. It appears via the BBREF Play Index that only 390 northpaws in history hit from the other side. But most interestingly, eight pitchers do so now, but the top three in career PAs are all in the New York Mets’ rotation: Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler. As Mel Allen used to say, “Hooooooow, ’bout that.”

2) Newcombe was a big, big guy. 6’4″, 220 lbs big. In 1950 that was kinda huge. When I was growing up, folks talked about six-footers being basketball material. Not so much these days when the high-sixes and sevens dominate the NBA and college ranks. Go on and google images of Newcombe. He’s got a big frame, fairly wide shoulders, and hips that could pull a plow. Here’s two shots that put him in context, one with Jackie and Campy, the other with Willie Mays. Newk was just huge. Here’s another good pic, and this one shows you how amazingly large Luke Easter was. He makes Newcombe seem small!

Juan Padrón

The tall righty (6’0″, 185) complemented a good fastball with good breaking stuff and a dominant changeup. There’s always been a little mystery around him. Twenty years ago James Riley shown him born in “Cuba” with no death date and with no death date but a note that said he’d been reported dead at age 39. Now the Negro Leagues Database reports Padrón’s birth as 1892 in Key West, with a death in 1981 in Grand Rapids at age 89. Big differences.

In fact, Riley also indicates that Padrón debuted in 1909 and pitched in Cuba during the winters of 1909 to 1919. He also says that Padrón could hit. It appears that neither of those three things are true. As the amazing Gary Ashwill points out, Riley somehow conflated the record of Juan Padrón and portions of the record of Luis Padrón.

No difference of opinion exists in one key place: Juan Padrón was an outstanding pitcher. He’s one of the best pitchers I hadn’t heard of before starting this project. Unfortunately, his W-L record doesn’t reflect that excellence because he played with some iffy teams.

Padrón’s record also doesn’t explain much of what happened to him. I can’t either. He pitched at the highest levels from 1915 to 1926, and suddenly, he fell off the map. To be honest, it looks like a classic case of a pitcher’s arm just giving out. He’s cookin’ with gas in 1925 (ERA+ of 170) then disappears after 1926. Riley indicates he began pitching semipro ball a few years later in Michigan, which seems plausible. His arm gave out, a few years later, it comes back a little but not enough to compete at the top level, so he makes his bread where he can. He ended up staying in Michigan.

Juan Padrón
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio: There really aren't any online, the link to Gary's work above is the best
Career: 1915–1926
Destination: NL 1915–1926
Missing data: 1926
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1915   22  220   14   1.7   3.8  |   73  -0.4  |   3.4
1916   23  310   26   3.5   6.4  |  103  -0.5  |   6.0
1917   24  300   18   2.3   5.1  |  100  -0.7  |   4.7 
1918   25  270   15   1.9   4.5  |   90  -0.7  |   4.1 
1919   26  240  - 7  -0.8   1.6  |   80  -0.5  |   1.3 
1920   27  300   16   1.9   4.8  |  100  -0.5  |   4.5 
1921   28  250   30   3.2   5.7  |   83  -0.2  |   5.6 
1922   29  250   41   4.2   6.7  |   83   0.0  |   6.7 
1923   30  240   38   3.9   6.3  |   80  -0.1  |   6.2 
1924   31  270   34   3.7   6.5  |   90  -0.3  |   6.3 
1925   32  260   39   3.9   6.6  |   87   0.0  |   6.6 
1926   33   50    9   0.9   1.4  |   17   0.0  |   1.4 
------------------------------------------------------- 
TOTAL     2960  273  30.2  59.3  |  986  -3.8  |  56.7 

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 83rd  
Pitching Wins Above Average: 31st
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 32nd  
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 41st

One whale of a pitcher. In many ways, he’s Hippo Vaughn with an extra All-Star-level season in there. Vaughn is about one All-Star-level year from being a very serious contender for the Hall of Miller and Eric, so Padrón will clearly be a person of considerable interest to us.

* * *

Next week we put ourselves out to pasture. It’s our first step off the infield dirt as we graze on left fielders as we welcome Alejandro Crespo, Vic Harris, and Bill Hoskins to the fold.

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “Evaluating More Negro Leagues Pitchers, Part 6

  1. Was a big Newcombe fan as a kid. The way he has subsequently handled his alcohol problem has made me an even bigger fan.
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | May 23, 2018, 8:33 am
  2. Any plans to look at Chet Brewer?

    Posted by David Brooks | June 19, 2018, 3:29 pm
    • Yes and no. Yes in the sense that he’s one of many players I’d like to do. No on the sense that I don’t think he will get done this year.

      Brewer turns out pretty average or worse. He’s not a very impressive pitcher statistically. But he is mentioned by several important historians, so I intend to run his MLEs once Miller and I get our ducks squared about our Negro Leagues elections and the annual Hall and HoME elections.

      Posted by eric | June 19, 2018, 4:03 pm

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