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Negro Leagues, Sidebars

The New Totem Pole—Not the Same as the Old One

If you’ve followed along this summer, you probably have gotten the feeling that we have shaken up our thinking about baseball’s totem pole. That’s true, and while we’ve hinted a couple times at what that might mean for our individual rankings, we have not gone into detail yet. Today I’m going to get specific. 

Our segregation adjustment and our decision to elect Negro Leaguers and MLBs in a single stream has three noticeable effects. 

  • 1) Pre-Robinson Black players take the place of borderliners
  • 2) Post-expansion players climb in the ranks by virtue of not losing any value to our segregation adjustment
  • 3) Pre-Robininson white players around fifteenth and lower at their position lose spots in the rankings and in some cases drop out of contention for a HoME spot. 

These effects are probably more pronounced among pitchers but are very visible among all players. I’m going to share my rankings at each fielding position from the 18th slot on down to the 28th and, next week, from the 61st spot on down to the 98th among pitchers. These rankings will include only players eligible through our 2021 election. I’ll also present notable player movement. Here you’ll see these new dynamics at work very closely. Remember that we’re electing 264 players, so the approximate in/out line for a perfectly balanced Hall of Miller and Eric would be 23 at each position and 79 pitchers.

Catcher

Negro Leaguers entering top 25: Louis Santop (8), Biz Mackey (14), Regiño Garcia (19)
Modern players entering top 25:
Players exiting top 25: Roger Bresnahan, Wally Schang

RK NAME             CHEWS+

18 Jim Sundberg     107.8
19 Regiño Garcia    105.2
20 Charlie Bennett  104.8
21 Gene Tenace      103.1
22 Mike Scioscia    101.7
23 Bill Freehan     101.6
24 Javy Lopez       101.0
25 Jason Kendall     98.7
26 Quincy Trouppe    98.0
27 Wally Schang      97.9
28 Jorge Posada      96.1

This one’s pretty simple. Good Negro Leaguers came in, the segregation adjustment came along, and they canceled each other out. Makes me wonder whether we will elect very many early catchers. Schang and White may represent their eras better than Lopez or Kendall and may have a strong argument that way.

First Base

Negro Leaguers entering top 25: Gibson (13), Leonard (19)
Modern players entering top 25: Lance Berkman
Players exiting top 25: Jake Beckley, George Sisler, Bill Terry

RK NAME              CHEWS+

18 Eddie Murray      111.9
19 Buck Leonard      109.9
20 Mark McGwire      109.8
21 John Olerud       108.7
22 Will Clark        107.3
23 Hank Greenberg    107.1
24 Lance Berkman     103.4
25 Harmon Killebrew  102.4
26 Bill Terry         98.2
27 George Sisler      98.1
28 Jason Giambi       97.2

Three-true outcomes fans, Harmon Killebrew is now in the house! Competitors Clark and Olerud ascend the ladder while Jake Beckley spirals off into never-ever land. This is news for us because those four (Killer, the Thrill, Olerud, and Becks Lite) have occupied the same space for years, just off the tail end of key candidates. These new rankings provide the two modern players a little separation from Killebrew and shunt Beckley into the deep, deep backlog. Oh, and Hank Greenberg takes a big tumble from around 10th to 23rd. That’ll leave a mark.

Second Base

Negro Leaguers entering top 25:  George Scales (19)
Modern players entering top 25:  Jim Gilliam, Chuck Knoblauch
Players exiting top 25: Bobby Doerr, Lonnie Frey, Hardy Richardson

RK NAME             CHEWS+

18 Cupid Childs     102.2
19 George Scales    101.7
20 Ross Barnes       99.5
21 Bid McPhee        96.8
22 Billy Herman      94.6
23 Jim Gilliam       93.3
24 Fred Dunlap       92.5
25 Chuck Knoblauch   90.9
26 Julio Franco      90.8
27 Bobby Doerr       89.4
28 Hardy Richardson  89.1

Obviously, Childs’ position has become less tenable, but he remains above this line, which is a strong argument for him. Barnes essentially sits on the line, but McPhee, Herman, and Doerr, HoMERs all, fall below the 100 mark in CHEWS+. The double whammy they face comes in the form of Frank Grant (not shown above), probably Black Baseball’s best player from around 1885–1905. We don’t have enough statistical evidence to run an MLE for him (though what exists backs up his reputation), so we need to leave a little space for him. The aforementioned trio of threatened HoMERs benefits, however, from the weak crop great second basemen. At any other position a player with a 94.6 CHEWS would rank closer to 30 than Herman’s 22nd.

Third Base

Negro Leaguers entering top 25:  Jud Wilson (7)
Modern players entering top 25:  Toby Harrah, Robin Ventura, Tim Wallach 
Players exiting top 25: Bob Elliott, Heinie Groh, Stan Hack, Tommy Leach, Ned Williamson

RK NAME             CHEWS+

18 Ron Cey          108.4
19 Matt Williams    101.3
20 Jimmy Collins    100.4
21 Robin Ventura     99.6
22 Deacon White      96.9
23 Toby Harrah       95.6
24 John McGraw       95.5
25 Tim Wallach       94.5
26 Ken Caminiti      93.9
27 Tommy Leach       93.2
28 Ned Williamson    90.6

Attack of the 1980s/1990s third basemen! Williams, Ventura, Wallach, Caminiti, and Bonilla all make big strikes while five old-school dudes drift away. In fact, the only top-25 third basemen who debuted prior to Eddie Mathews were Home Run Baker, Jimmy Collins, John McGraw, and Deacon White. Third base is a modern player’s position, and right now, I’m also seeing an attack of the 2010/2020s third basemen! David Wright, Evan Longoria, Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson, and Manny Machado have already supplanted members of the top 25. We’re just waiting for Wright to gain Hall eligibility (2024) and for Longo, Arenado, Donaldson, and Machado to retire. Kris Bryant follows very closely behind, while Alex Bregman and Jose Ramirez have already put themselves on a top-flight trajectory. Even Anthony Redon has an outside shot of finishing in that kind of company despite a lost 2021 season. By the way, this list of third basemen includes Edgar Martinez and Paul Molitor both of whom really qualify at DH.

Shortstop

Negro Leaguers entering top 25:  John Henry Lloyd (5), Willie Wells (8), John Beckwith (14), Dobie Moore (20), Dick Lundy (21), Grant Johnson (27)
Modern players entering top 25:  
Players exiting top 25: Dave Bancroft, Hughie Jennings, Joe Sewell, Joe Tinker, Johnny Ward

RK NAME             CHEWS+
18 Derek Jeter      109.9
19 Lou Boudreau     108.2
20 Dobie Moore      107.6
21 Dick Lundy       101.6
22 Pee Wee Reese    100.8
23 Bert Campaneris  100.3
24 Miguel Tejada     99.0
25 Art Fletcher      98.9
26 Jim Fregosi       98.6
27 Grant Johnson     94.6
28 Joe Tinker        93.8

Thank God that’s over! We’ve lobbed Hughie Jennings’ name back and forth so many times and drawn no conclusion thanks to his all-peak career. Now he won’t make so much noise at 29th and 92.8 CHEWS+. The Negro Leagues developed an amazing array of talent at shortstop, so much, in fact, that it pushes five players into the top 25 and as many old MLBers out of it. In fact, Fletcher dropped down ten ranks and hangs on by his finger nails as the only old MLBer to hang in with the top guys at the position. See also, centerfield.

Left Field

Negro Leaguers entering top 25: 
Modern players entering top 25: Albert Belle, Brian Downing, George Foster, Luis Gonzalez, Jim Rice, Willie Stargell 
Players exiting top 25: Bob Johnson, Joe Kelley, Joe Medwick, Zack Wheat

RK NAME             CHEWS+
18 George Foster    103.7
19 Luis Gonzalez    103.2
20 Bobby Veach      103.0
21 Willie Stargell  102.7
22 Sherry Magee      99.0
23 Jimmy Sheckard    95.7
24 Charlie Keller    93.0
25 Ralph Kiner       90.5
26 Jim Rice          90.1
27 Brian Downing     88.6
28 Zack Wheat        88.3

By the way, Albert Belle now checks in at 17, an eight-rank gain. What happened here? If you’ve followed us over the years, you may remember that Kiner, Keller, Kelley, and Medwick formed a rolling blockade just below the in/out line. Well, they’ve mostly cleared out and so have Zack Wheat and Bob Johnson. That allows their modern counterparts Belle, Downing, Foster, Gonzalez, Rice, and Stargell to enter the fray and ascend to places where they could easily draw votes. This probably represents the most shocking turning of the tables among the eight fielding positions. Interestingly, it has zero to do with Negro Leaguers but everything to do with segregation.

Center Field

Negro Leaguers entering top 25: Oscar Charleston (4), Willard Brown (8), Turkey Stearnes (13), Cristóbal Torriente (14), Bullet Rogan (16), Martín Dihigo (19), Pete Hill (20)
Modern players entering top 25: 
Players exiting top 25: Wally Berger, Max Carey, George Gore, Mike Griffin, Paul Hines, Jim O’Rourke

RK NAME             CHEWS+

18 Willie Davis     108.7
19 Pete Hill        106.3
20 Cesar Cedeño     104.7
21 Duke Snider      103.1
22 Bernie Williams  103.0
23 Brett Butler     102.4
24 Chet Lemon       102.3
25 Willie Wilson     99.2
26 Larry Doby        96.2
27 Dale Murphy       96.0
28 Kirby Puckett     94.8

Centerfield, the other position where the Negro Leagues churned out talent. You’ll notice that I put Rogan but not Dihigo here. The former fared a little better as a hitter, relative to history, than as a pitcher, so that’s where I stuck him. Getting Berger, Gore, and Griffin out of the way brings fresh air to centerfield, where suddenly the centerfielders you grew up with have a chance. I’m talking about Cedeño, Williams, Butler, Lemon, and even Willie Wilson. They’ve hung around our backlog for years, just a little too far from electable and not terribly easy to parse either. The other big deal? Duke Snider. Willie Wilson, Mickey Rivers, and the Duke? Snider takes a tumble, and in my eyes his case now resembles that of Bernie, Butler, and Chet the Jet.

Right Field

Negro Leaguers entering top 25: Heavy Johnson (10), Hurley McNair (23)
Modern players entering top 25: Bobby Abreu, Brian Giles
Players exiting top 25: Sam Crawford, King Kelly, Enos Slaughter, Willie Keeler

RK NAME             CHEWS+

18 Bobby Bonds      111.0
19 Reggie Smith     110.5
20 Vlad Guerrero    110.4
21 Bobby Abreu      108.7
22 Brian Giles      108.0
23 Hurley McNair    102.1
24 Harry Heilmann   101.3
25 Elmer Flick      100.1
26 Tony Oliva        98.8
27 Sam Crawford      96.0
28 Jack Clark        93.5

Crawford’s ousting from the top-25 list boggles the mind, and Keeler’s drop all the way to 34th does too. Let me explain why this happens because it also affects big names like Harry Heilmann in right field and loads of old timers across the defensive spectrum. Remember that our segregation adjustment is based on a rate of -10 runs above average per 600 PA. I italicized that because long-timers like Crawford and Keeler appear to get extra hard. In fact, their in-season and career-long durability, and Keeler’s batting order position, lead to more plate appearances, and, therefore, more PAs to adjust. Friends of the old timers might argue that we penalize players for their availability. I would counter this with a reminder that every plate appearances in a segregated league comes against a less talented league. If we don’t adjust every plate appearance, we have only taken partial measures, and we provide an undue advantage to durable players beyond the advantages they naturally accrue. Now, is it possible we will elect Crawford anyway? Of course! But it’s interesting to see how a new perspective changes his outlook.

Oh, by the way, in case you wondered, Mookie Betts slides over in/out line at 101.2 CHEWS+. And that’s only through last year. As I’m writing, Betts has earned about 4.0 WAR. Let’s say he gets to 5.5 by year’s end. He’d end 2021 somewhere around Bobby Bonds, Joe Jackson, and Ichiro Suzuki. And that’s just eight seasons in the books. He’s an odds-on favorite to climb into the top-ten. Getting near the top five right fielders will be hard. We’re talking Ruth, Aaron, Frank Robinson, Clemente, and Ott after all. You don’t just prorate someone into their company. But Betts has so many skills and talents that I’d be hard pressed to bet against him.

Next week, we’ll check in without our friends on the mound where we’ll see our conventional wisdom crumbling again before our eyes.

Discussion

19 thoughts on “The New Totem Pole—Not the Same as the Old One

  1. Two words: holy crap!

    Posted by BigKlu | August 26, 2021, 7:44 am
  2. On a completely unrelated note…*cough*….I can’t wait for the reworked top 100 lists from you both when HOME 2.0 is over.

    Posted by BigKlu | August 26, 2021, 9:13 am
  3. Thanks for sharing – really interesting. Two questions: 1) do these rankings reflect quality of data concerns (i.e. if there’s not a lot of data for certain Negro Leaguers) or is that not really a concern now except for special circumstances (like Luke Easter); 2) are there other players besides Frank Grant who are under serious consideration where there is not much of a statistical profile (Perucho Cepeda, Tetelo Vargas, etc.) Thanks again!

    Posted by theorioleway | August 26, 2021, 10:43 am
    • Oriole,
      1) Mostly the data is complete enough to give be us a very strong idea of the player. We could still see some changes, however. Later Cuban seasons, the California Winter league PRWL seasons, and the 1937 Santo Domingo league remain in the aether. But we know who the major candidates are and what would happen in their remaining data cam up great. In about 95+ percent of cases I feel confident in our results. As you note, however, there are a few special cases such as Easter.

      2) Grant is under serious consideration. Cepeda, with no current statistical record is a legend with little to no documentation, and that makes a s uneasy. He’s not under consideration. Vargas falls somewhere between Easter and Cepeda with wide swaths of his career mostly unaccounted for. He has an MLE, but he’s not a serious candidate. The other guy worth mentioning here is Pancho Coimbre. We have about five years data from his early to mid 30s and that’s it. So there’s MLEs for those years. Also, Connie Marrero merits mention. He’s one of the very best players who debuted on n his 40s in MLB history. Maybe the best. He has several high-quality Aminor league seasons prior to that. But his twenties are essentially years he worked on a plantation or pitched amateur ball. Not enough there to really say much. But for anyone looking for an unsung her, he’s a good one.

      Posted by eric | August 26, 2021, 11:01 am
      • I presume that Bud Fowler falls into the Frank Grant category (not much info)?
        v

        Posted by verdun2 | August 26, 2021, 11:30 am
      • Thanks Eric, those answers make sense to me. I also had an additional question upon further reflection regarding the segregation adjustment and your comments over Crawford and Heilmann. I could be wrong, but I believe you had Heilmann and Crawford ranked higher than Veach prior to the segregation adjustment. If that’s the case why is Veach ranked higher than those two after the segregation adjustment? I get that Guerrero and Abreu would rank higher than Heilmann and Crawford after the adjustment, but it seems that if Heilmann and Crawford rank higher than Veach based off their performances in their leagues before adjustment for time period, they should remain higher afterward. Veach was in the same time period, after all. As I write this, I realize that Crawford’s might actually fall below Veach since he played earlier than Veach did, but Veach and Heilmann were contemporaries. Let me know if this is too rambly and incoherent and I’ll try to restate in a clearer way.

        Posted by theorioleway | August 27, 2021, 10:46 am
        • Your question makes sense to me! Part of this is a positional effect. The rankings and CHEWS+ numbers I cited are based on their ranking both at position and overall. RF has been a breeding ground for HOFs since roughly 1900-1920. (Before that it was the vacation home for good-hitting catchers and pitchers.) LF by contrast was better during the dead all era and wasn’t that great after by comparison to RF. But also, a some guys played like 55% of their career in RF and 45% in LF. For example, Gary Sheffield or Brian S. Giles or Babe Ruth. RF, while certainly not as athletic as SS, does require a slightly broader range of skills than LF especially where throwing is concerned.

          Anyway, if you look at the corners that debuted since integration , this difference in talent becomes very apparent. In RF There’s, in no order, Aaron, F Robinson, Clemente, Sosa, Winfield, V Guerrero, Abreu, Gwynn, K Walker, Ichiro, Mookie Betts, Oliva, Dw Evans, Reggie, Little Reggie, Kaline, Daddy Bonds, and Sheffield. Since WW2, LF includes Yaz, Henderson, Barry Bonds, Manny, Billy Williams, Raines, Roy White, José Cruz, George Foster, Jim Rice, Minnie Minoso, Kiner, Cruz, L González, and Stargell. I’d take the RFs. As a group they rate out higher than the LFs. That is a big part of why it’s harder to stand out in RF.

          Two things:
          1) That’s why we vote for players not rankings. There are times when history plays tricks on us.
          2) i could be wrong!

          Posted by eric | August 27, 2021, 11:11 am
          • Thanks for the quick reply Eric – so to make sure I’m understanding correctly: Chews+ is standardized by position, and so because there have been better post-integration RF than LF, Heilmann’s Chews+ falls below Veach’s, even though pre-segregation discount, his was higher.

            Posted by theorioleway | August 27, 2021, 1:00 pm
            • I wanted to check back I about this. Yes, this is what I believe is happening for Veach. He has five seasons above 5.0 WAR (all-star level) once he emerges from my set of adjustments, including schedule adjustment. Plus three others above 4.0. Crawford has 3 above 5.0 and another six above 4.0. Heilemann has five seasons above 5.0 and just two others at 4.0. My system might be a touch peak-centric, but it’s not way over the line. I don’t have John McGraw as a top-ten 3B, for example. Nor Hughie Jennings a top-ten SS.

              That said, I think it’s helpful to note that Veach comes in at number 20 in LF, just a shade behind Luis Gonzalez and ahead of Willie Stargell. None of them is comfortably over the line. The are all on the bubble. Over in RF, Heilmann Is 24th, but he’s a borderline (101.3 CHEWS+), just ahead of Elmer Flick (100.1), Tony Oliva (98.8) and Crawford (96.0) who is 27th. It’s not like we’re talking big swaths of difference here, which is why positional ranking plays a big part.

              I want to come back to the matter of guys who split time among OF positions. Among the my 30 RFs that includes Ruth, Dawson, Sheffield, Shoeless Joe, Little Reggie, Giles. Among LFs, it’s Pete Rose (unless you put him at 1B), Al Simmons, and Brian Downing. It’s clearly true that RF “lucks out” in that more of the careers that are split between two positions break toward RF. If Ruth, Jackson, Sheffield, and Giles were LFs, then Heilmann and Crawford would improve their rankings by a three places. Veach’s ranking would like tumble. In fact, there’s a pretty argument right now that Veach isn’t as good a LF as Heilmann and Crawford are RFs because their numbers look a little better overall. It really depends on what your beliefs about the value of position is.

              Overall, I’d hope that we’d take both the statistical and positional differences into account in voting on Veach. However, for the exercise of ranking the man, he does rank better among LFs than HH and SC do among RFs.

              Posted by eric | August 28, 2021, 11:29 am
  4. Why is Gibson at 1B and not Catcher?

    Posted by Darren | August 26, 2021, 1:01 pm
  5. I really enjoy how your Hall of Fame is very flexible over time.

    Posted by Matt Maldre | August 26, 2021, 1:46 pm
  6. If you are making the segregation adjustment using runs, are you adjusting for offensive context when you convert to wins?

    Posted by Chris Cobb | August 27, 2021, 9:58 pm
  7. Tim Wallach! A Baseball Gauge HOF level career, it’s all about the fielding, netting ~50 wins at the Gauge, 39 at B-R, 32 at T-T. Excited to see how pitchers shake out this week!

    Posted by RYAN | August 31, 2021, 12:29 am
  8. Pitcher version get delayed, or just publishing issue?

    Posted by theorioleway | September 2, 2021, 1:24 pm

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