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Negro Leagues

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Centerfielders, Part III

We’ll meet our third centerfield threesome of not as legendary Negro Leagues today as we get to know a little more about Henry Kimbro, Jimmie Lyons, and Spottswood Poles. Speaking of meeting people, if you’re looking for that special someone, you probably won’t want to look at our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters, because this explainer is, well, long, nerdy, and not something you’d want to whip out at a restaurant in the struggle to make witty ripostes. Not that one should whip anything out in public on a first date.

Henry Kimbro

Kimbro’s career path is somewhat unusual. It may be only a reflection of the statistical record we have on him but he peaked very late, from ages 31 to 35. Somehow in his early thirties he suddenly discovered his stroke and smacked the league’s pitchers around pretty good.

Prior to that, Kimbro had been about an average hitter with some speed and a good defensive reputation. We don’t have enough information about his defense to support any conclusion about his abilities, so we’ve chosen to make him dead average in that regard for his entire career. As to what magic dust he might have sprinkled on his bat, I can’t say.

Henry Kimbro
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1937–1953
Destination: NL 1937–1951
Missing data: 1948–1953

Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield  Rpos  RAA   WAA Rrep RAR  WAR
===============================================================================
1937  25  NL CF   610    2    1     0     0     - 2     1   0.1   19   20   2.1
1938  26  NL CF   630  - 4    1     0     0     - 1   - 4  -0.4   20   16   1.7
1939  27  NL CF   630    5    1     0     0     - 1     4   0.5   20   24   2.5
1940  28  NL CF   630  - 1    1     0     0     - 1   - 1  -0.1   20   19   2.0
1941  29  NL CF   620    4    1     0     0     - 1     4   0.4   19   23   2.6
1942  30  NL CF   620    2    1     0     0     - 1     2   0.3   19   22   2.5
1943  31  NL CF   620   17    1     0     0     - 1    17   2.0   19   37   4.2
1944  32  NL CF   570   17    1     0     0     - 1    17   1.8   18   35   3.8
1945  33  NL CF   570   36    1     0     0     - 1    36   3.7   18   54   5.6
1946  34  NL CF   500   26    1     0     0     - 1    26   2.9   16   42   4.8
1947  35  NL CF   510   15    1     0     0     - 1    15   1.6   16   31   3.2
1948  36  NL CF   380    9    1     1     0     - 1    10   1.0   12   22   2.3
1949  37  NL CF   280    6    0     1     0       0     7   0.7    9   15   1.6
1950  38  NL CF   280    6    0     1     0       0     7   0.7    9   15   1.6
1951  39  NL CF   120    0    0     0     0       0     0   0.0    4    4   0.4
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 7570  142   11     3     0     -13   143  15.1  236  379  40.9

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 110th 
Rbat: 188th
WAA: 172nd
WAR: 135th

As is often the case among Negro Leagues players, Kimbro’s career got off to a very late start. He was playing amateur ball and working at a service station as late as 1935 or 1936 (ages 23 and 24). That might explain why he peaked so late. If he’d seen a lot fewer pitches earlier in life, he might not have had the sheer number of repetitions required to peak at a normal time in his career.

Jimmie Lyons

I’m not sure why I stuck Lyons in the centerfield group. He belongs in left field, but let’s not let that stop us.

Lyons was a Deadball outfielder who could do a little of everything. He was well known as a speedster, had a very good glove at any of the outfield stations, and a swung a good bat. He doesn’t appear to have performed at a superstar level, more like an occasional All-Star who would be the fifth or sixth best player on a championship team.

Jimmie Lyons
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1911–1924
Destination: NL 1911–1924
 
Year Age Lg Pos  PA  Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA  WAA  Rrep RAR  WAR
================================================================================
1911  21 NL  LF   450    1     1     0     2    - 5   - 1  -0.1   14   13   1.4
1912  22 NL  RF   530  - 8     1     0     1    - 6   -11  -1.2   17    5   0.5
1913  23 NL  RF   520    2     1     0     1    - 6   - 1  -0.1   16   15   1.7
1914  24 NL  LF   540    1     1     0     2    - 6   - 1  -0.1   17   16   1.8
1915  25 NL  CF   540   16     1     0     4    - 3    18   2.2   17   35   4.3
1916  26 NL  LF   540   10     1     0     2    - 6     7   0.9   17   24   3.0
1917  27 NL  CF   510   10     1     0     4    - 3    12   1.5   16   28   3.5
1918  28 NL  RF   450   14     1     0     1    - 5    11   1.4   14   25   3.1
1919  29 NL  LF   100    6     0     0     0    - 1     6   0.7    3    9   1.1
1920  30 NL  LF   570   34     2     0     2    - 6    31   3.5   18   49   5.6
1921  31 NL  LF   590   13     2     0     2    - 6    11   1.1   18   30   3.0
1922  32 NL  LF   530  - 2     1     0     2    - 5   - 4  -0.4   17   13   1.3
1923  33 NL  LF   550    7     2     0     2    - 5     6   0.6   17   23   2.3
1924  34 NL  LF    50    5     0     0     0      0     5   0.5    2    6   0.6
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 6470  109    18     0    28    -64    90  10.5  202  292  33.4

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 198th
Rbat: 226th
WAA: t-245th 
WAR: t-198th

Lyons has two things worth noting. First that he served in the World War I, which is why his 1919 season appears curtailed. Second that he fell off the map at age 34 and never surfaced in the top black leagues again. I don’t know if there’s an injury issue or a personality issue or what, but he played a handful of games in 1924 and that was that.

Spottswood Poles

That’s one of the best given names in the Negro Leagues. It belongs to one of the Leagues’ best centerfielders. Poles had a classic Deadball game. He ran fast and frequently, he could play strong defense, and while he had virtually no power, he used the whole field to poke line drives where they wasn’t. The combination added up to a lot of offense.

Poles missed all of 1918 after going “over there” for World War I and was back in 1919. Although we are showing him with positive defensive value throughout his career, in reality, Poles’ defense gave out in 1917 and 1919 was his last season in centerfield. He was no longer the ballhawk he’d been, forcing a move to left field, where he did just fine, thank you.

At age 35, after the 1923 season, Spot Poles had grown weary of the bus trips and barnstorming and retired from professional baseball to be with his wife and a run a taxi business. Poles had managed his money well and could afford five cabs. This is not how baseball careers end. Players in their mid-thirties don’t general retire abruptly to run a small business. It shows how the incentives for players were a little more mixed in the Negro Leagues of yesteryear than in white baseball at practically any time since the early 1880s.

Spottswood Poles
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1909–1923
Destination: NL 1909–1923

Year Age Lg  Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA  Rrep  RAR  WAR
===========================================================================
1909  21 NL  CF  490    5    1    0     3   - 3     6   0.7   17   23   2.8
1910  22 NL  CF  590   14    1    0     3   - 3    15   1.7   20   35   4.0
1911  23 NL  CF  560   13    1    0     3   - 3    14   1.4   19   33   3.5
1912  24 NL  CF  590   25    1    0     3   - 3    26   2.7   20   47   4.8
1913  25 NL  CF  580   19    1    0     3   - 3    20   2.2   20   40   4.4
1914  26 NL  CF  500   14    1    0     3   - 3    15   1.8   17   32   3.8
1915  27 NL  CF  580   10    1    0     3   - 3    11   1.3   20   30   3.7
1916  28 NL  CF  570    7    1    0     3   - 3     8   1.0   19   27   3.5
1917  29 NL  CF  560    6    1    0     3   - 3     7   0.9   19   26   3.3
1918  30         MILITARY SERVICE --- WORLD WAR I 
1919  31 NL  CF  510    9    1    0     3   - 3    10   1.2   17   27   3.3
1920  32 NL  LF  510   19    1    0     3   - 5    17   1.9   17   34   3.9
1921  33 NL  LF  510   30    1    0     3   - 5    29   2.9   17   46   4.7
1922  34 NL  LF  450   18    1    0     2   - 4    16   1.6   15   32   3.1
1923  35 NL  LF  450    8    1    0     2   - 4     7   0.7   15   22   2.2
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                7450  198   10    0    44   -51   201  21.8  255  455  51.0

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 120th   
Rbat: 125th
WAA: t-101st  
WAR: 73rd

I’m not entirely sure what to do about two of Poles’ seasons. In 1911 and 1914, he hit poorly in Cuba, and his team, Fe, benched him at some point so that he played only about half a year or so. Actually that’s not entirely accurate. In 1911, he played just fine, but his batting average was low, belying his positive overall offensive contribution. In 1914 he simply didn’t play well. Anyway, Fe didn’t play him very often in direct contrast to his work stateside where he was very durable. The net effect is to pull down my calculations for overall durability a bit.

Also, despite Poles’ renowned speed, his stolen bases per game are not all that special in his leagues. Overall, he stole about 40% more often than the league, which nets out to about +1 Rbaser per year. Not bad, obviously, but nothing special. This is in contradiction to approximately every single source. They each take pains to remind us how fast he was, so it’s possible there’s some undershooting here in that area.

* * *

Join us next week as we close out centerfield with the story of Lazarus (Salazar, that is), the Thomases (Clint and Jules), and the always popular Lightning Round!

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Evaluating More Negro Leagues Centerfielders, Part III

  1. Thanks for your continued yoeman’s work and conforming that Poles was an outstanding, but shy of HoMEr level.

    Posted by Ryan | July 11, 2018, 10:28 am

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