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Negro Leagues

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Left Fielders, Part I

[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]

Now our position-by-position stroll around the Blackball diamonds of yesteryear expands into the green expanses of the outer pastures. It’s time to take a look at the outfield, and we’ll start on the port side with Alejandro Crespo, Johnny “Cherokee” Davis, and Valentín Dreke. If you’d like to make our perambulation round the positions even more leisurely, check out our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters. Pack a picnic lunch, lay out a blanket, and make a day of it! You’ll need it.

Alejandro Crespo

This hard-hitting Cuban outfielder shouldn’t be confused with Rogelio Crespo, a fellow countryman whose given name has sometimes been listed as Alejandro. That supposed Alejandro played twenty years earlier, patrolled the infield, not the outfield, and couldn’t hit. The real Alejandro Crespo played left field and was sometimes called “Home Run” because he really could hit. Our MLE agrees that the 6’1″ 205 pounder could pound the ball.

Crespo doesn’t appear to have broken into the top ranks of the game until age twenty-four, and we have him exiting at 37 because information is scant about him after that. He appeared in the Cuban Winter Leagues with diminished playing time and played in the low-level minors a year at age 40 before hanging it up. It’s not really clear yet from the record what exactly marks the end of his productive days. He started to lose playing time in his age 35 and age 36 seasons, so we’re going with an age-thirty-seven retirement for now.

Alejandro Crespo
Negro Leagues Stats | Minor Leagues | Bio
Career: 1939–1955
Destination: NL 1939–1952
Missing data: 1939–1949, 1952–1954

Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA  WAA Rrep RAR  WAR
=============================================================================
1939  24  NL LF   560   10    0     0     0    -5     5   0.5   17   22   2.4
1940  25  NL LF   580    6    0     0     0    -6     0   0.0   18   18   1.9
1941  26  NL LF   610   17    0     0     0    -6    11   1.2   19   30   3.3
1942  27  NL LF   510   13    0     0     0    -5     8   0.9   16   24   2.8
1943  28  NL LF   610   25    0     0     0    -6    19   2.1   19   38   4.3
1944  29  NL LF   620   19    0     0     0    -6    13   1.4   19   33   3.6
1945  30  NL LF   620   21    0     0     0    -6    15   1.6   19   35   3.6
1946  31  NL LF   500   30    0     0     0    -5    25   2.8   16   41   4.6
1947  32  NL LF   580   13    0     0     0    -6     7   0.7   18   25   2.6
1948  33  NL LF   610   17    0    -1     0    -6    10   1.1   19   29   3.1
1949  34  NL LF   490   13    0     0     0    -5     7   0.8   15   23   2.4
1950  35  NL LF   390   11    0     0     0    -4     7   0.7   12   19   1.9
1951  36  NL LF   210    4    0     0     0    -2     2   0.2    7    8   0.9
1952  37  NL LF   100  - 2    0     0     0    -1   - 3  -0.3    3    0   0.0
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 6990  197    0    -2     0   -68   127  13.7  218  345  37.4

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 153rd 
Rbat: 127th
WAA: t-188th
WAR: t-159th

Crespo played little in the US Negro Leagues (just two seasons currently documented), he played a long time in Mexico, and his Cuban play is not documented to the degree that allows us to understand his fielding. In fact, we currently have no information about the quality of his fielding, only his games by position for the two seasons he spent stateside. That’s why we’ve given him a perfectly average fielding profile. The average baserunning, however, he appears to have earned based on what we can tell about him.

In sum, despite a very good total of batting runs, the combination of a shortish career, the high bar of positional value in left field, and his (current) lack of fielding and of baserunning value, he’s “merely” a good-hitting outfielder. Like those are just falling out of trees.

Johnny Davis

It’s hard to say exactly who Johnny Davis was. On one hand, he may have been a big fun-loving type. Or perhaps he was the tough who grew up in orphanages and had trouble with the law. Maybe he was the Merchant Marine who struggled with sea-sickness. The one thing we know about him, is that he could hit. And in some settings he gained renown as a pitcher.

We also know that he was probably a below-average baserunner, but not too much more than that. We have precious little on his fielding other than the fact that he played in the corners for many years for the Newark Eagles before eventually transitioning into organized baseball. We know that was a big fellow who stood 6’3″ and 215 pounds, which was pretty danged big for that time.

Johnny Davis
Negro Leagues Stats | Minor Leagues | Bio
Career: 1940–1954
Destination: NL 1941–1954
Missing data: 1947-1951, 1953-1954
Year Age Lg Pos  PA  Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR  WAR
===========================================================================
1941  24 NL  LF   450  - 5     0       0    -4   - 9  -1.0   14    5   0.5
1942  25 NL  LF   440    4     0       0    -4     0   0.0   14   14   1.6
1943  26 NL  LF   540   12     0       0    -5     6   0.7   17   23   2.6
1944  27 NL  LF   530   20     0       0    -5    14   1.5   17   31   3.3
1945  28 NL  LF   530   24     0       0    -5    18   1.9   17   35   3.7
1946  29 NL  LF   570   28     0       0    -6    22   2.5   18   40   4.5
1947  30 NL  LF   560   15     0       0    -5     9   0.9   17   27   2.8
1948  31 NL  LF   510   14     0       0    -5     8   0.9   16   24   2.6
1949  32 NL  LF   510   14     0       0    -5     8   0.8   16   24   2.5
1950  33 NL  LF   510   14     0       0    -5     8   0.8   16   24   2.5
1951  34 NL  LF   440   12     0       0    -6     7   0.7   14   21   2.2
1952  35 NL  LF   180    5     0       0    -2     3   0.3    6    8   0.9
1953  36 NL  LF   240    7     0       0    -6     4   0.4    7   11   1.1
1954  37 NL  LF   190    5     0       0    -2     3   0.3    6    9   0.9
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 6200  168    -3       0   -60   102  10.7  193  295  31.7

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 229th   
Rbat: 150th
WAA: t-242nd 
WAR: 220th

There’s quite a lot we don’t know about Davis’ stats either! We have virtually nothing for the back half of his career. We’ll someday soon get his 1947 and 1948 numbers at the Negro Leagues Database, but his minor leagues numbers haven’t changed since SABR gave them to BBREF, what, ten years ago now? I mean, we have several of is minor leagues stat lines, but they lack league context.

Perhaps a more significant issue is that Davis, according to James Riley, had issues with the law, and his parole in New York City precluded leaving the area. So he couldn’t travel with the team, limiting his playing time in 1941 and 1942 in particular. Getting more data on his post-parole durability may increase the playing time we assign him in the future.

There’s a really great comp for Davis among active players, and that’s Nelson Cruz. If you look at Cruz’s value-based numbers on BBREF, they mirror Davis’s in many ways. But basically, you got two big righties who weren’t great runners and mostly played a one-dimensional game (power). We may never know whether Davis was indeed a below-average fielder, but were he, his profile would look even more like Cruz’s.

Vic Harris

Harris is best known as the manager who piloted the Homestead Grays to umpteen winning seasons and championships. He played for them from 1928 through 1945 with just two exceptions: a half season in 1932 that he split between the Grays and the Detroit Wolverines and the 1934 season he spent with the famed Pittsburgh Crawfords. He could play a little in his own right, too. A long-time, steady contributor, he had a line-drive bat with moderate power, slightly below average speed, and a slightly above average glove.

Vic Harris
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1923–1945
Destination: NL 1923–1942
Missing data: 1925-1927, 1929
Year Age Lg  Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA  Rrep  RAR  WAR
===========================================================================
1925  20 NL  LF  160    1    0    0     0   - 2     0   0.0    5    5   0.4
1926  21 NL  LF  360    4  - 1    0     1   - 4     0   0.0   11   12   1.2
1927  22 NL  LF  490    7  - 1    0     1   - 5     2   0.2   15   17   1.8
1928  23 NL  LF  600   13  - 1    0     1   - 6     7   0.7   19   26   2.6
1929  24 NL  LF  600    9  - 1    0     1   - 6     3   0.3   19   22   2.0
1930  25 NL  LF  610   13  - 1    0     1   - 6     7   0.6   19   26   2.3
1931  26 NL  LF  570   11  - 1    0     1   - 6     5   0.6   18   23   2.4
1932  27 NL  LF  600   21  - 1    0     1   - 6    15   1.5   19   33   3.4
1933  28 NL  LF  590   11  - 1    0     1   - 6     5   0.6   18   23   2.7
1934  29 NL  LF  590   11  - 1    0     1   - 6     5   0.5   18   24   2.4
1935  30 NL  LF  600   14  - 1    0     1   - 6     8   0.8   19   26   2.7
1936  31 NL  LF  590    6  - 1    0     1   - 6     0   0.0   18   18   1.9
1937  32 NL  LF  590   11  - 1    0     1   - 6     6   0.6   18   24   2.5
1938  33 NL  LF  490    5  - 1    0     1   - 5     0   0.0   15   16   1.7
1939  34 NL  LF  400    0  - 1    0     1   - 4   - 4  -0.4   12    9   0.9
1940  35 NL  LF  310  - 4  - 1    0     0   - 3   - 7  -0.8   10    3   0.3
1941  36 NL  LF  230  - 4    0    0     0   - 2   - 6  -0.6    7    1   0.1
1942  37 NL  LF  160    0    0    0     0   - 2   - 2  -0.2    5    3   0.4
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                8540  130  -15    0    12   -82    44   4.3  266  310  31.8

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 64th   
Rbat: t-203rd
WAA: t-443rd  
WAR: 220th

Harris might have a great case as a manager, though it’s unclear right now to us what the managerial role meant in the Negro Leagues, and particularly when a team had a strong owner like the Gray’s Cum Posey. We’ll revisit the question way down the road, but for now, Harris’ playing career is not worthy of induction into the Hall of Miller and Eric.

* * *

Next week, it’s more left fielders you’ve probably never heard of, featuring: Blainey Hall, Bill Hoskins, and Fats Jenkins.

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