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Evaluating Negro Leagues Pitcher, Part III: Rogan, Smith, and Williams

We introduced you in our last two posts to eight of the eleven Negro Leagues honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Hall of Merit. This time we’ll close the loop with Bullet Rogan, Hilton Smith, and Smokey Joe Williams.

[In case you want a reminder of the method we’ve outline, it’s here.]

Bullet Rogan

Wilbur “Bullet” Rogan is perhaps most famous for, like Martín Dihigo being a double-threat: A great pitcher and a great hitter. While Rogan lacked the versatility of Dihigo, he was probably a better pitcher. Rogan started his career in the US Army, not with a Negro Leagues team. In 1915, he was promoted to the 25th Infantry Wreckers so that he could join their ballclub, which featured future Negro Leagues stars Dobie Moore and Heavy Johnson among others. The Wreckers, stationed in the Pacific, took on all comers, and they beat a lot of PCL teams and pretty much everyone else.

From our perspective in the 21st Century, we might ask why a ballplayer wouldn’t hook on instead with a Negro Leagues team. Part of the answer is that there were no official Negro Leagues at that moment. Instead, blackball was a group of loosely confederated indy teams some of which might travel the country as a pair barnstorming their way to a paycheck or go it alone and take on the local yokels. This probably sounds to you like an unstable business model. Yup. With no central authority, there were no guarantees of payment, or at least prompt payment. That combined with playing multiple games a day in dusty towns you never heard of made Army baseball an attractive option. If you could hack basic training and could stand the hierarchy, you played ball; got paid in full, on time; got room and board; and led a predictable life. In the Wreckers’ case, a predictably sunshine filled life on an island.

As soon as the Negro National League formed in 1920, members of the Wreckers bought their way out of their service commitments and signed on with league teams. In fact, all three of Rogan, Moore, and Johnson were scooped up by J.L.Wilkinson and his Kansas City Monarchs. Actually, Rogan had played briefly with one of Wilkinson’s touring teams in 1917 but had returned to the army shortly after. Anyway, so at age 26, Rogan entered the Negro Leagues, and within two seasons, he was a star. He led the Monarch’s pitching staff as the team rumbled along to several pennants and Negro World Series appearances. In the mid-1930s, just as Satchel Paige joined the team and Hilton Smith emerged as a star, Rogan wound down his career, as did his long-time teammate Andy Cooper. He left behind a stellar 145 ERA+ (1303 innings) and a super 160 OPS+ (1721 PA).

Bullet Rogan
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1915–1937
Destination: NL 1915–1936
Missing data: 1915–1919, 1926–1927, 1929–1932
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1915   21  200   14   1.8   3.7  |   67   1.0  |   4.6
1916   22  210   15   2.0   3.9  |   70   1.1  |   4.9
1917   23  220   16   2.0   4.1  |   73   1.0  |   5.1
1918   24  220   16   2.0   4.1  |   73   0.9  |   5.0
1919   25  240   13   1.6   3.9  |   80   1.1  |   5.0
1920   26  270    7   0.8   3.5  |   90   0.9  |   4.4
1921   27  300   12   1.3   4.4  |  100   1.2  |   5.5
1922   28  280   46   4.7   7.6  |   93   1.8  |   9.3
1923   29  300   24   2.5   5.6  |  100   1.2  |   6.8
1924   30  270   34   3.7   6.5  |   90   1.6  |   8.0
1925   31  260   39   3.9   6.6  |   87   1.3  |   7.9
1926   32  260   38   4.2   6.8  |   87   1.2  |   8.0
1927   33  270   25   2.7   5.4  |   90   1.3  |   6.7
1928   34  210   15   1.6   3.7  |   70  -0.3  |   3.4
1929   35  200   13   1.2   3.3  |   67   0.9  |   4.3
1930   36  200   13   1.1   3.3  |   67   0.9  |   4.2
1931   37  180    4   0.4   2.2  |   60   0.9  |   3.1
1932   38  150  - 9  -0.9   0.7  |   50   0.8  |   1.4
1933   39    1    0  -0.1   0.0  |    0   0.0  |   0.0
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     4241  335  36.4  79.0  | 1414  18.7  |  97.8

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 19th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 18th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 12th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 7th

Enough of Rogan’s record is missing from his Negro Leagues seasons, that we were a little concerned. For missing-data seasons, we use the pitcher’s career performance rate, but Rogan’s rate was very, very high and caused us to wonder if he was being inflated due to the lack of data. It was high enough that halving the career rate of run prevention still led to what you see above. As more data rolls in, we’ll update our MLE accordingly. In addition, Rogan’s 1922 and 1925 seasons required us to use the manual override to keep his performance in line with league norms.

There’s not a ton to add to the story. Rogan was an excellent pitcher and great hitter for any batter, not just for a pitcher. You have to guess, though, that all of these great hitting pitchers in the Negro Leagues would probably have been lesser hitters than we translate, simply because they’d get fewer reps, fewer chances to play in the field between starts. When teams barnstormed and operated on shoestring budgets, they had to economize. One way to do so was to bring as few players as possible on the road. That meant rosters of 13 or so for traveling. Which, in turn, meant that pitchers had to be two-way players in order to spell on another and spell injured or tired position players.

We’ll see as we delve deeper into the candidate pool in posts down the line detailing other pitching candidates that these guys couldn’t all hit. But many could, and in this way, the Negro Leagues were 20 to 30 years behind the majors which saw a sharp reduction in pitcher batting as rosters expanded to cover longer schedules and specialization began to increase.

We’ll be providing an MLE down the pike for Rogan as if he had never pitched but only been a position player.

Hilton Smith

For many years, Hilton Smith was most famous for following Satchel Paige to the mound. The great Paige, having been advertised near and far as pitching on a given day would go three innings, and Smith would finish things off. At least, when the Kansas City Monarchs traveled. In league games, Smith was more likely to start and finish his own games.

Other circumstances conspired to reduce Smith’s visibility. Rather than rise up through main Negro Leagues, he got his start in the Negro Southern League, which was major only in 1932 as a haven for teams bailing on the failing major leagues. He was 25 and stuck with his Monroe teammates for a couple more years then was recruited to play for the semipro Bismarck super team that beat back all comers in the mid-1930s. When he joined the Monarchs for 1936, they were mostly a barnstorming team with relatively few documented games against top rivals, and he became Satch’s shadow. Paige left the Monarchs for the majors in 1948. Smith stayed behind and then retired after the season, leaving behind appearances in six East-West All-Star Games in his wake.

Hilton Smith
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1932–1948
Destination: NL 1932–1948
Missing data: 1933–1936, 1938, 1947–1948
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame
               PITCHING          |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1932   25  180   14   1.5   3.3  |   60   0.4  |   3.7
1933   26  210   15   1.8   3.8  |   70   0.5  |   4.3
1934   27  200   14   1.4   3.5  |   67   0.5  |   4.0
1935   28  220   15   1.5   3.8  |   73   0.5  |   4.3
1936   29  270   17   1.7   4.5  |   90   0.7  |   5.2
1937   30  260    6   0.7   3.3  |   87   0.5  |   3.9
1938   31  260   16   1.7   4.4  |   87   0.7  |   5.1
1939   32  260   17   1.8   4.5  |   87   0.1  |   4.5
1940   33  270   32   3.5   6.2  |   90   2.1  |   8.3
1941   34  210   23   2.6   4.7  |   70   1.7  |   6.3
1942   35  180    3   0.3   2.1  |   60   0.7  |   2.8
1943   36  160   19   2.2   3.7  |   53   0.3  |   4.0
1944   37   20    2   0.2   0.4  |    7   0.0  |   0.4
1945   38  180   15   1.7   3.5  |   60   0.1  |   3.5
1946   39  180   13   1.5   3.3  |   60   0.4  |   3.7
1947   40  180   12   1.3   3.1  |   60   0.4  |   3.5
1948   41   20    2   0.2   0.4  |    7   0.1  |   0.4
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     3260  235  25.8  58.4  | 1088   9.7  |  68.1

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 51st
Pitching Wins Above Average: 45th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 33rd
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 18th

We made the manual adjustment for Smith’s 1943 season run-prevention rates to keep him in line with league norms.

A word about 1932–1936. The Lester/Clark HOF study included his stats for Monroe in the 1932 Negro Southern League in Shades of Glory. That Monroe team took on the Crawfords for a Negro Championship. They report nothing else until 1937. Riley and other bio sources indicate that Smith went to Bismarck with Satch and others in 1934/1935 somewhere, then from there became a Monarch in 1936. Given that in 1937 and 1939, Smith appears to be a finished product at age 30, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that we include 1932–1936 in our MLE. So we did at his known career average.

Smith is another good-hitting Negro Leagues pitcher who adds a lot of value that way. I’m not sure what’s up with 1944. There’s some mention of an injury in 1943 in some sources, though I see no evidence of it in the stats. But in 1944, he does appear to have been unable to start as often as usual, so maybe he hurt himself in winter ball, affecting his summer performance. It seems to have affected his durability more than his effectiveness.

It is also possible that Smith spent part of 1945 in the war, though we can’t find corroboration. He is alleged to have tipped off J.L. Wilkinson, leading to Jackie Robinson’s signing with the Monarchs immediately after his discharge.

Smokey Joe Williams

In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill ranks Joe Williams 52nd among the greatest players in baseball history. I can buy that, or even a better ranking. Williams was an early link in a long historical chain of Texas fireballers that includes “The Ryan Express” and the “The Rocket.” He must have been extremely intimidating back in the 1900s and 1910s. He stood 6’3” tall, with a chiseled face that bore the high cheek bones, angular nose, and strong chin gifted him from the Comanche heritage of one of his parents. That great fastball, likened by a promoter to a pebble blown by a storm, must have erupted from his hand a lot closer to home plate than most hitters were used to during a time when the average American male was an inch and a half shorter back then than today. Cyclone Joe, as he was called earlier in his career, gained fame for his prodigious strikeout totals. His career variously included no-hitters and a 27-strikeout performance (at night, in 12 innings) among other gems. He beat PCL teams by the bushel in a California swing, went 20-7 against white major league teams (8-3 documented), and had a 140 ERA+ in Cuba. His ERA+ of 149 trails only Dave Brown (150 ERA+) among hurlers with 1000 innings in the Negro Leagues Database, and only Brown and Satch (193 ERA+) among players anywhere near 1000 innings. His 1240 strikeouts rank first in the Database. His 1862 innings are third in the Database, his 132 victories are third, his 196 complete games are third, and his 20 shutouts rank fifth. He could bring it.

Smokey Joe Williams
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1907–1932
Destination: NL 1907-1930
Missing Data: 1907–1908, 1925–1927, 1929
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP   RAA  WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1907   21  100  - 1  -0.1   0.8  |   33   0.3  |   1.1
1908   22  200    0   0.1   2.0  |   67   0.5  |   2.5
1909   23  250    3   0.3   2.8  |   83   0.8  |   3.5
1910   24  300   15   1.7   4.7  |  100   0.5  |   5.2
1911   25  310   32   3.6   6.7  |  103  -0.1  |   6.6
1912   26  300   52   5.7   8.7  |  100   1.2  |   9.9
1913   27  300    7   0.8   3.8  |  100   0.2  |   4.1
1914   28  270   10   1.2   3.8  |   90  -0.4  |   3.4
1915   29  250  - 3  -0.4   2.1  |   83   1.1  |   3.2
1916   30  250  - 7  -0.8   1.6  |   83   1.0  |   2.6
1917   31  300   23   2.9   5.8  |  100   1.4  |   7.2
1918   32  270   15   1.9   4.5  |   90   1.1  |   5.6
1919   33  280  - 1  -0.2   2.6  |   93   1.1  |   3.7
1920   34  300   29   3.5   6.4  |  100   0.6  |   7.0
1921   35  300   35   3.8   6.9  |  100   0.5  |   7.3
1922   36  250   41   4.2   6.7  |   83   2.0  |   8.7
1923   37  240   10   1.0   3.5  |   80   1.0  |   4.5
1924   38  200   27   2.9   4.9  |   67   0.5  |   5.4
1925   39  180   12   1.2   3.1  |   60   0.6  |   3.7
1926   40  150   13   1.4   2.9  |   50   0.5  |   3.4
1927   41  130   12   1.2   2.5  |   25   0.3  |   2.8
1928   42   50    3   0.3   0.8  |   18   0.1  |   0.9
1929   43   20    2   0.2   0.4  |    7   0.1  |   0.5
1930   44   10    2   0.2   0.3  |   17   0.1  |   0.3
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     5210  393  44.0  95.7  | 1732  14.9  | 110.6

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 4th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 10th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 6th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 5th

We employed the manual override on 1912, 1921, and 1922 to keep Williams’ MLEs in line with league norms.

In terms of their relative standings, he is precisely to Paige as Pete Alexander is to Walter Johnson. The thing about Johnson and Paige is that everyone in the greatest-ever conversation gets compared to them. Roger Clemens? How does he stack up to the Big Train? Joe Williams? How does he compare with Satchel? That’s not a dis on anyone, either. It’s simply an acknowledgment of how great those guys were. Similarly, whoever is juxtaposed to them in any serious discussion of GOATedness (that is, Greatest of All Time) must be an awfully good pitcher to even merit the comparison. Williams was a really great pitcher. Yet, he needs a strong bat to get within 15% of Paige. In terms of measuring his pitching performance, Williams finishes closer to Dihigo or Rogan (pending more info on the latter) than he does Paige.

That said, if you were GM for a big league club, and someone said they could clone Smokey Joe Williams and have him ready to pitch for you starting next year, you’d do it quicker than you can say medical ethics. He was the towering figure among moundsmen in the early Negro Leagues era, and anyone would take the kind of peak we are estimating in his MLEs.

And now, we’ve reached the end of our walk to the mound to meet with our Negro League Hall of Fame/Merit hurlers. We hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know them a little and learning about some of baseball’s best players who are virtually unknown historical figures. Often we talk about underrated players in MLB. Tony Gwynn and Tim Raines were the subject of such talk while I was growing up, and Miller and I write about underrated players like Dwight Evans or Bobby Grich all the time. But those guys are better known by many orders of magnitude compared to anyone in the Negro Leagues, with the possible exception of Satchel Paige. It’s more likely that the average fan on the street knows who Sean Casey is than Buck Leonard. Or Josh Collmenter than Josh Gibson (and certainly Kirk Gibson over Josh Gibson). Every Negro Leagues player is underrated, so we hope we’re able to give them a little spotlight time. If you’re interested to learn more, we recommend not only the amazing Negro Leagues Database and the equally amazing SABR Bioproject, but also books such as Shades of Glory and The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues.

Next time out, we’re going to document for you our MLE method for position players, then we’ll dive into the Hall of Fame/Merit players at each position en route to a first sweep through the Negro Leagues.

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Mount Rushmore: New York Mets

The Mets are second banana in the Big Apple, which gives their fans a certain gloomy mentality. But who can blame them. Though the team has made four World Series and won two of them, the in-between stages have come with their fair share of awful. The 1962 Mets set records for awful. After their surprising 1973 NL flag, the Mets drifted into the Craig Swan era. After their 1986 super team Bucknered the Red Sox, drugs and other issues turned into The Worst Team Money Can Buy then Dallas Green turning Generation K into Generation Nay. After their appearance in the Subway Series of 2000 came the Omar Minaya Mess.

Still, through it all, Mets fans have had a lot of fun and actually good players to root for. Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, Gary Carter, David Cone, and even those two years of Eddie Murray among many others. Homegrown stars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden shone brightly until a cloud of cocaine obscured them. But let’s not forget favorites  Marvelous Marv Throneberry and Ed Kranepool, loved for very different reasons. And, Mookie Wilson for hitting that lovely ten hopper.

If you wanted to name the four greatest Mets ever, you could do a lot worse than Tom Terrific, Captain America, Dr, K, and the Straw Man. Longtime members of the team who led it to glory, or at least the NLCS. But for our purposes in the Rushmore series, we’re asking which fellows that only played for the Amazin’ Mets make the cut.

Mount RushMets

It turns out that among all players to play only for the Mets, David Wright leads the way in career value. With 50 WAR to his credit, it’s not really that close. He’s been the face of the franchise for the better part of the decade. If back and neck issues end his career after another the next back surgery he undergoes, we’ll close the books on a guy who is close to a HoME level player and any Mets current Mets fan can proudly call one of their own.

Jacob DeGrom is the next highest man on this list at just over 17 WAR, which goes to show you how poor of a job the Mets have done over the years at retaining their most valuable players. Because DeGrom is a Met, his arm will probably fall off next year. Matt Harvey‘s already has. His face would currently appear on the cliffside with his 10 WAR.

That leaves our final spot on Mount Mets to…Juan Lagares! That’s what an 84 OPS+ and a glove of 100,000 caret gold can do for you.

My Mets

I did part of my growing up in Orange County (New York’s Orange County, that is). I was 11 when the Mets won the 1986 World Series. What an exciting team! All that young talent. And then I watched as it all got pissed away. It wasn’t only that coke did in Gooden and Strawberry. Gary Carter got old, fast. Keith Hernandez wasn’t far behind. Kevin Elster didn’t quite pan out. Dykstra for Samuel. Davey Johnson out, and Buddy Harrelson in. Frank Cashen retired and Al Harrazin taking over. The whole thing went sliding away into 59-103. So my Mount Rushmore is dominated by those mid-1980s players that the rest of the league loved to hate. I actually hate some of them in an off-the-field kind of way. Lenny Dykstra, for example, appears to have practically no moral fiber in him, but I loved to watch him play, and his run in the 1986 postseason was truly amazing to watch.

El Sid, Sid Fernandez, is up there too. Look, dude, was el plumpo, but had that crazy delivery where the ball appeared to shoot out of his elbow. He didn’t throw all that hard, but because hitters couldn’t see the ball coming out of his hand, his fastball seemed to have five more MPH on it (he was always called “sneaky fast”). Better yet, his breaking stuff came out of nowhere to paralyze hitters. He was one helluva pitcher, and he could hit a little too, which made it fun because he’d be this big, blue blotch running around the bases in his warmup jacket.

I watched Vin and Joe on game of the week religiously, and the Mets were on all the time in those days. It feels in memory as though Vin Scully was always saying with sinewy warning, “Here comes Keith Hernandez.” Which in his delivery sounded like Keither Nandez. Watching Hernandez tearing in on a bunts like Pickett’s Charge was amazing. I always wondered whether he had any fear of the opposing hitter swinging away and lining one of his eye socket. Of course, the one stat we can always remember Hernandez for? The Game Winning RBI! He was routinely among the leaders, as his 1985 Topps All-Star card proves.

Finally, and by no means least most, Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco. They are really one person in my mind because one of them pitched in nearly every Mets game, often going more than an inning, setting one another up, depending on the match up, and both pretty goofy. McDowell putting his uniform pants on his head is a classic, and I love that Orosco was the guy who put black shoe polish in Kirk Gibson’s hat, famously pissing the outfielder off so much that the Dodgers won the World Series (or something like that).

Love ’em or hate ’em, that was one fun team to root for. Now as a Phils Phan, I disavow this time in my life, but, hey, we all make mistakes as kids….

Evaluating Negro Leagues Pitchers, Part II: Foster, Foster, Mendéz, and Paige

Now that you’ve seen our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Ray Brown, Andy Cooper, Leon Day, and Martín Dihigo, you’re hungry for more. Right? Well, this is your day, because we’re going to share our translations of Rube Foster, his half-brother Willie Foster, José Mendéz, and the great Satchel Paige.

Rube Foster

Andrew “Rube” Foster was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown as a manager. Well, that’s a bit like calling Leonardo Da Vinci a painter. Foster was Clark Griffith, John McGraw, and Ban Johnson, all rolled up into one stocky man. Yes, Foster managed the great Chicago American Giants teams, to the tune of 700-392-27 (.641) and three pennants. Yes, he was 308 games above .500. As a manager he was stern, innovative, and a shrewd judge of talent, probably a lot like two MLB’s most successful mangers of the 1900s, John McGraw and Frank Chance. But Rube Foster is also known as “The Father of Black Baseball” because he was the architect of the Negro National League, the first Negro League with any staying power. However, that’s still not the whole story because Rube Foster was also an excellent pitcher, and a pretty fair hitter to boot. He caught his nickname when he beat Rube Waddell in a black-on-white game, and his repertoire included a screwball that he allegedly taught Christy Mathewson. I don’t think it will spoil anyone to tell you that he’s a mortal lock for the Hall of Miller and Eric. The question is in what capacity: player, manager, or pioneer/executive?

Rube Foster
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 19021917
Into NL 19021917
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1902   22  150   17   2.0   3.5  |   50   0.0  |   3.5
1903   23  280   30   3.1   6.0  |   93   2.1  |   8.2
1904   24  360   12   1.4   5.0  |  120   1.9  |   6.9
1905   25  330   20   2.3   5.6  |  110   1.2  |   6.8
1906   26  320   19   2.4   5.4  |  107   0.8  |   6.2
1907   27  320   17   2.3   5.3  |  107   1.5  |   6.8
1908   28  320   39   5.5   8.4  |  107   0.6  |   9.0
1909   29  210   37   4.9   6.8  |   70   1.0  |   7.8
1910   30  220   26   3.0   5.2  |   73  -0.6  |   4.6
1911   31  210  -23  -2.4  -0.1  |   70   0.1  |   0.0
1912   32  220  - 6  -0.6   1.7  |   73   0.3  |   2.0
1913   33  220  -16  -1.7   0.6  |   73  -0.1  |   0.5
1914   34  150  - 7  -0.8   0.7  |   50   0.9  |   1.6
1915   35   60  - 4  -0.5   0.1  |   20   0.1  |   0.2
1916   36   20    0   0.0   0.2  |    7  -0.1  |   0.0
1917   37   30    0  -0.1   0.2  |   10  -0.1  |   0.2
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     3420  159  20.9  54.6  | 1140   9.6  |  64.2

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 45th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 60th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 40th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 22nd

In 1909, Rube Foster took the actor’s advice and broke a leg. We’ve taken down his innings to reflect that. We also adjust his RA9 that year because it translates to considerably lower than the qualified league leader in the NL. Our adjustment is 10% above the leader in the NL for reasonableness. The injury ruined an otherwise banner year, and it also appears to have permanently damaged his career. Although he came back successfully in 1910, his performance then declined drastically and never rebounded. If it wasn’t the broken leg, or compensation for its effects, then it could have been simple wear and tear. He also had a tendency toward putting on a lot of weight, which can’t have helped.

In general, however, Foster’s pitching career looks a bit like a couple of his MLB contemporaries and near contemporaries such as Ed Walsh (who pitched better and hit worse), Clark Griffith, and Ted Breitenstein. He’s got a really great peak, though it’s done in a bit at the career level by his weak finish.

Willie Foster

The younger half-brother of Rube, and a fine pitcher in his own right. The lefty was the main hurler for the Chicago American Giants in the latter half of the 1920s and beyond. Umpire Jocko Conlon said that Foster’s vast repertoire reminded him of Herb Pennock, only with a fastball that was actually fast. Foster was, like his brother, smart, and he attacked hitters weaknesses by throwing all of his many pitchers from the same motion. In all, his record in the Negro Leagues database includes a 149 ERA+ that ranks ninth of all pitchers with 200+ innings. His documented record currently stands at 67-39, for a .623 winning percentage that’s 21st all-time, but with ten pitchers ahead of him with considerably fewer decisions. The whole enchilada is worth 20.3 WAR in 963 innings, slotting in at 10th in the database despite only the 7th most innings among those ten.

Willie Foster
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 19231937
Destination: NL 19231937
Missing data: 1926, 1929–1930, 1932
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1923   19   40    1   0.1   0.5  |   13   0.4  |   0.5
1924   20  150   17   1.8   3.3  |   50  -0.2  |   3.1
1925   21  150   37   3.7   5.1  |   50  -0.1  |   5.0
1926   22  260   43   4.7   7.3  |   87  -0.3  |   7.0
1927   23  270   34   3.7   6.4  |   90  -0.2  |   6.2
1928   24  270   26   2.7   5.5  |   90   0.2  |   5.6
1929   25  270   24   2.3   5.1  |   90  -0.2  |   5.0
1930   26  270   23   2.0   5.0  |   90  -0.2  |   4.8
1931   27  260   16   1.8   4.4  |   87  -1.6  |   2.8
1932   28  270   24   2.6   5.3  |   90  -0.2  |   5.1
1933   29  240   17   2.0   4.3  |   80   0.7  |   5.0
1934   30  230   16   1.6   4.0  |   77   0.0  |   4.0
1935   31  170    5   0.5   2.3  |   57   0.0  |   2.3
1936   32  170    8   0.8   2.5  |   57  -0.3  |   2.2
1937   33  200  - 2  -0.2   1.9  |   67   0.2  |   2.0
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     3220  289  30.1  62.9  | 1075  -2.3  |  60.7

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 54th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 30th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 24th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 30th

Foster’s 1925 season comes in at a RA9 that’s considerably lower than the qualified league leader in the NL. So we adjust Willie to 10% above the leader for reasonableness, as we have elsewhere.

Better than Mordecai Brown. That’s a reasonable place to start talking up someone’s case for induction. Brown tossed 3171 innings with 32 WAA and 55.1 WAR in 14 seasons. Foster hit a tad better. Another guy in this neighborhood is Clark Griffith who checks in with 3386 innings, 28.7 WAA and 57.7 pitching WAR plus 4 hitting WAR to make about 62 total. Both Brown and Griffith also have reasonably similar peaks to our MLE for Foster.

José Mendéz

To put it mildly, José Mendéz was one hell of a pitcher who threw hard. Like so many pitchers, however, he shone brightly then flickered then flamed out. Mendéz is known in his home country of Cuba as “The Black Diamond” (El Diamante Negro), a nickname he gained in 1908 when, as a relatively unknown player, he tossed 25 consecutive shutout innings against the Cincinnati Reds who were touring the island. From 1907 to 1914, his seasonal ERA+ figures look like a list of area codes with 641, 323, 291, 271, 338, and 446 splashed among them. He was wiry, listed at 5’10” and 152 pounds. Perhaps his slight build couldn’t keep up with the demands of a major league workload, but in 1915, his arm gave out and didn’t revive for years. By the time it did, he was 34, and could only manage a partial season’s work. He played out the string, moundwise, taking most of his appearances at shortstop and outfield. He wasn’t a great hitter by any measure. But he had one last magical moment in him. In 1923, at age 38, he took the mound in the tenth and deciding game of the Negro World Series, pitted against the Hilldale Club from the Eastern Colored League. Hilldale’s lineup included Hall of Famers Louis Santop, Biz Mackey, and Judy Johnson, and hard-hitting regulars George “Tank” Carr and Clint Thomas. Mendéz appeared in four games in the series, the first three in relief. But in the rubber game, he started and went the distance, keeping the Hilldales at bay as the Monarchs captured the title. Four years later, José Mendéz died of tuberculosis. He was 43. Mendéz was in the first class of Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame honorees and was often thought of as the or among the greatest Cuban pitchers of all time.

José Mendéz
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 19071925
Destination: NL 19071922
Missing Data: 1926/1927 Cuban League
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit, Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
                PITCHING         |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1907   22  270   39   5.4   7.9  |   90  -0.7  |    7.2
1908   23  270   33   4.6   7.0  |   90   0.4  |    7.4
1909   24  290   53   7.1   9.7  |   97   0.3  |   10.1
1910   25  300   46   5.5   8.3  |  100   0.0  |    8.4
1911   26  310   57   6.4   9.4  |  103   0.3  |    9.7
1912   27  260   17   1.8   4.4  |   87   0.1  |    4.5
1913   28  250    5   0.6   3.1  |   83  -0.5  |    2.6
1914   29  170   23   2.8   4.4  |   57   0.6  |    4.9
1915   30   50    1   0.1   0.6  |   17   0.0  |    0.6
1916   31    0    0   0.0   0.0  |    0   0.0  |    0.0
1917   32    1  - 1  -0.1  -0.1  |    0   0.0  |  - 0.1
1918   33    9    0   0.0   0.0  |    3   0.0  |    0.0
1919   34  140   17   2.2   3.5  |   47   0.3  |    3.8
1920   35   65  - 5  -0.6   0.1  |   22   0.0  |    0.1
1921   36   16  - 1  -0.1   0.0  |    5   0.0  |    0.1
1922   37   19  - 2  -0.2   0.0  |    6   0.0  |    0.0
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     2420  276  34.8  57.9  |  807   0.9  |   58.7

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 141st
Pitching Wins Above Average: t-23rd
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 32nd
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): t-34th

Mendéz was so dominant in 1908–1910, that we had to use the manual adjustment to keep him in line with MLB league norms.

I strongly suspect that he would have thrown more innings in the majors at his peak than we show in our MLE, but I’m sticking to the protocol. Here’s a couple of similar players, pitching only for WAA and WAR:


NAME         YEARS   INN   WAA   WAR
=====================================
Ed Walsh        14  2964  36.3  63.2
Rube Waddell    13  2961  34.9  61.0
José Mendéz     16  2420  34.8  58.7
Johan Santaña   12  2026  32.3  50.7
Mordecai Brown  14  3171  32.0  55.1
Sandy Koufax    12  2324  30.7  53.2
Nap Rucker      10  2375  29.7  47.9
Noodles Hahn     8  2029  29.6  45.9
Dizzy Dean      12  1969  26.8  42.7
Addie Joss       9  2327  25.2  45.9

If our MLE protocol is close to “accurate,” at least in the aggregate, Mendéz probably resembles other high-quality peak-oriented candidates who we’ve either elected, kept on a while, or are likely to have strong consideration for on a future ballot.

The story behind these numbers is exactly what you might think. Mendéz was amazing, then he got hurt, he slowly regained some arm strength, and had one more partial season of effective pitching, then trailed away. I’ve eliminated three seasons on the back end of his career that look similar to the three from 1920 onward. As I said before, I suspect that in MLB he would have thrown 300 innings annually during his prime, as Walsh and all the other highest-quality hurlers did. Between his summer and winter seasons, Mendéz twice threw 200+ documented league innings in addition to whatever other non-league innings he threw.

If you had to name one MLB pitcher whose career is reminiscent in its shape to Mendéz’s it might be Jose Rijo. Knock out his age 18–22 years. From 23–29, Rijo dominated the league with a 147 ERA+ peak from 1988–1994 (1315 innings, 35.6 WAR). Then came the endless string of surgeries and rehabs before his brief return in 2001 and 2002. The record suggests that Mendéz’s peak lasted a season longer. Rijo with more innings is a great candidate. But Mendéz is showing more innings by dint of his era and was more productive overall than Rijo. Still the trajectories they took look very similar.

He might have a little bit of a combo case. As manager of the KC Monarchs from 1920 to the late 1926, he helmed a dynasty. His managerial record in all high-quality competition (including postseason and versus white MLB squads) was .571, and he finished 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, and 2nd. He won one of the two Negro World Series he managed. Information on his 1926 team is not yet available.

Satchel Paige

Thousands of players appeared in the Negro Leagues. Excluding those who only got their starts there (such as Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, or Willie Mays), the one single player that virtually anyone with a little bit of baseball history in their noggins has heard of is Leroy Robert Paige, better known as Satchel. It’s difficult to describe Paige in a paragraph or two. There’s a slightly clownish showman side to him, the guy who in his forties entered the majors and threw the puff ball and the hesitation pitch. There’s a magical-mystery side to him, an image he honed in his autobiography and his seven rules for living. Then there’s the mythological aspect, much of which has some basis in facts, much of which Satchel encouraged with his many stories oft retold and oft amended. And these all bleed into his showman persona—sitting down his fielders and striking out the side, for example. There’s also a little bit of sly trickster to him, for he was well known for his nights on the town. The least recognized part of the great Satchel Paige is probably his important impact on integration by becoming the first black baseball player to draw integrated crowds to see him pitch. Lastly, comes his actual play. Of course, everything else depended on his ability to throw that fastball and command it so effectively. Without that fastball and without honing it everything that followed was impossible. As you’ll see below, his performance record, and, therefore, his MLEs more than measure up to the hype. There’s good reason that everyone knows Satchel Paige. He has a defensible argument for being the best pitcher ever, and he most certainly has a fantastic argument as the best pitcher between the wars. The question isn’t whether he was as good as his legend says, instead the question is just how high up the list of all-time greats he can go.

Satchel Paige
Negro Leagues Stats | Major Leagues Stats | Bio 
Career: 19281953
Destination: AL 19281953
Missing Data: 1929, 1937, 1939, 1940, 1946–1947, 1950
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |  BATTING     |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |    PA   WAR  |   WAR
=========================================================
1928   21  180   25   2.6   4.4  |    60  -0.1  |   4.2
1929   22  200   30   3.0   5.0  |    67   0.1  |   5.2
1930   23  200   23   2.1   4.2  |    67  -0.1  |   4.1
1931   24  220   40   3.9   6.2  |    73  -0.6  |   5.5
1932   25  270   65   6.5   9.3  |    90   0.4  |   9.6
1933   26  280   30   3.0   5.9  |    93  -0.9  |   5.0
1934   27  270   66   6.5   9.2  |    90   0.1  |   9.4
1935   28  270   52   5.2   7.9  |    90  -1.8  |   6.1
1936   29  270   26   2.3   5.3  |    90   0.2  |   5.4
1937   30  260   33   3.1   5.9  |    87   0.2  |   6.0
1938   31  190   18   1.7   3.7  |    63   0.1  |   3.9
1939   32   10    1   0.1   0.2  |     3   0.0  |   0.2
1940   33  190   27   2.7   4.7  |    63   0.1  |   4.8
1941   34  250   25   2.6   5.2  |    83   0.4  |   5.6
1942   35  250   35   4.0   6.5  |    83  -0.5  |   5.9
1943   36  260   25   3.1   5.6  |    87   0.2  |   5.7
1944   37  240   35   4.2   6.5  |    80   0.2  |   7.0
1945   38  180   21   2.6   4.3  |    60   0.4  |   4.7
1946   39  180   29   3.4   5.1  |    60   0.1  |   5.2
1947   40  120   21   2.4   3.5  |    40   0.1  |   3.6
1948   41   73   10   1.0   1.6  |    25  -0.2  |   1.4
1949   42   83    9   0.9   1.7  |    18  -0.1  |   1.6
1950   43   89   11   0.9   1.8  |    30   0.1  |   1.9
1951   44   62    0  -0.1   0.4  |    17  -0.1  |   0.3
1952   45  138   17   1.9   3.4  |    44  -0.2  |   3.2
1953   46  117   15   1.6   3.0  |    30  -0.4  |   2.6
1965   58    3    1   0.2   0.2  |     1   0.0  |   0.2
--------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     4855  691  71.4 120.6  | 1594   -2.3  | 118.3

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 8th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 6th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 3rd
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 3rd

For the record, we used the manual adjustment on Satch’s 1933 and 1934 seasons.

Our MLE shows Satchel as just a smidgen ahead of Pete Alexander for third on the total WAR list. Turns out that Old Pete could hit and Satchel couldn’t.

This might look at first like a very aggressive MLE. Probably you’re asking why Paige is so far ahead of his closest temporal peers and how much confidence we have in saying that he was the 3rd most valuable pitcher prior to expansion. The reason is pretty simple actually, and it’s easiest to see if we digress for a moment for a mini-essay on Lefty Grove and Satchel Paige.

Robert Moses Grove pitched in the AL from age 25–41. Taking the ages they had in common in MLB (per our MLE), Grove tossed 3940 innings in his entire career. We’ve pegged Paige at 3563 during the same span. Lefty was done after age 41. Paige, however, had five years left in the tank and 489 innings. Those frames get him to 4055 innings. But Satch was in the Negro National League at age 21, blowing batters away. From age 21 to age 24, we’ve estimated him at 800 more innings, slowly inching up from 180 to 220 innings before becoming a number one starter at age 25.

But what was Grove up to from age 21 to 24? Pitching for the best team in the minors, the Baltimore Orioles. Lefty was sold to the A’s after four years dominating in Charm City. Jack Dunn waited and waited for his price and eventually Connie Mack met it. Grove went 96-34 (.738) in 1061 innings in those four seasons. He was always younger than the league, and in the first three years, he was three full years younger than the average player in the IL. Despite that, he saved roughly 180 runs more than the average IL pitcher during that time. That’s an average of 45 runs a year. In 1921–1924 in MLB, nine pitchers reached or exceeded 45 RAA in one season (keep in mind RAA is park and defense adjusted, we’re not including that info for Lefty). The O’s were a dynasty and probably played great defense, and we don’t have park factors, so let’s say that it’s really 40 a year for Lefty. Now let’s knock it down by 20% since the O’s were a AAA club. That’s still 32 RAA a year. A total of 25 pitchers in all of MLB from 1921–1924 did that well in a given season, or eight per year. In a league with 16 teams, that means that only half the aces in the league reached that level of run prevention. Lefty Grove was an MLB pitcher who was kept down by the way talent was acquired and developed at the time.

So if we think that Grove was MLB ready, how many innings might he have thrown in the AL in 1921–1924. We’ve already said that the IL was a AAA-level league with an 80% discount on runs, and MLB innings are more pressure packed. Let’s simply apply that same percentage to his innings. Right, so he goes from 1061 to 850, or basically the same that we’ve estimated Satchel throwing. Add those 850 to Grove’s 3940, and you get 4790, which is just 65 fewer than we’re calling for Paige.

Folks, these are the two best pitchers between the world wars. In the Negro Leagues database, Satchel Paige is the Leagues’ best pitcher by ERA+. Not just by a little, but by a lot. His ERA+ of 191 in documented games totaling 973 innings is 27 points higher than the second-best ERA+. The nearest ERA+ for a pitcher within 100 innings of him is Dave Brown (1008) at 150. You know who’s the best MLB pitcher with a substantial career by ERA+ from 1893–1960? Lefty Grove, edging out Walter Johnson 148 to 147. Narrowing down to 1915–1953 (a span that gives the pre-war debutants a chance and that ranges to the end of Paige’s career, Grove’s 148 ERA+ is seven points better than Pete Alexander’s 139. You want to narrow it down to between the wars and Integration (1920–1945)? Grove completely dominates. That 148 ERA+ is 18 points higher than anyone within 500 innings of Grove (Carl Hubbell, 130). Everyone between them is a partial career except Dizzy Dean, who trails Grove by 18 in ERA+ and 2000 in innings pitched. When we go into the shape of their respective careers, there’s even a similar mid-career transformation from thrower to pitcher due to injury.

So do we think that putting forth the idea that Paige would have finished around 8th in innings from 1893–1960 is buying into the hype? Not likely, because the hype is real, and a pitcher of Paige’s ilk is very difficult to find a comp for. We didn’t try to pattern Paige’s career after Grove’s. It just worked out that way, but it is very telling. The fact that Paige continued to tack on value after Grove was a goner is telling too. Here’s an interesting table:

Starting pitchers, ages 40+
NAME              AGES    IP  ERA+  WAR
========================================
Jack Quinn       40-49  1428  122  25.9
Phil Niekro      40-48  1977  103  25.6
Cy Young         40-44  1226  124  23.6
Nolan Ryan       40-46  1271  116  22.7
Roger Clemens    40-44   850  146  22.3
Randy Johnson    40-45  1013  116  20.8
Warren Spahn     40-44  1163  104  12.5
Red Faber        40-44   779  112  12.2
Pete Alexander   40-33   665  128  11.5
Satchel Paige    41-46   476  124  10.3
Dennis Martinez  40-44   616  115   9.8
Dutch Leonard    40-44   465  114   8.9
Kenny Rogers     40-43   636  106   8.5
Connie Marrero   40-43   583  111   8.0
Ted Lyons        40-45   410  134   7.7
Tom Seaver       40-41   415  122   7.6
Sad Sam Jones    40-42   500  107   6.7
Early Wynn       40-43   571  106   6.6
Eddie Plank      40-41   367  125   6.5
Johnny Niggling  40-42   479  113   5.9
Jesse Haines     40-43   370  107   5.2
John Smoltz      40-42   312  113   5.0

Paige is the only pitcher of the bunch who didn’t pitch in his age-40 season. That’s because Jackie Robinson broke the color line when Satch was 40. In fact, Bill Veeck didn’t even sign Paige until July 7th of 1948. Paige was also out of the majors at age 43. Not for lack of performance either. He was coming off a 3.04 ERA in 83 innings of 132 ERA+ relief for Cleveland. Paige’s 4–7 record may have been the impetus to release him after the season, baseball wasn’t so smart about stats back then, or perhaps the culprit was that Veeck had sold the Indians, and Paige had no advocates among the new ownership. Satchel barnstormed throughout 1950, and when Veeck returned to the majors in 1951 with the Brownies, he once again signed Paige halfway through the season. Satch spent three more productive years in the bigs. The fact that Veeck acted as Paige’s patron belies the bigger point: Other teams ignored him despite the fact that he still had above-average MLB stuff. They likely did so in large part because of the race climate during baseball’s Integration period. Most teams hadn’t really integrated yet, and those that had (like the Giants, Dodgers, and Indians) won a whole lot of pennants before the rest of the league caught up. So Paige lost about three season’s worth of playing time compared to the other old pitchers in our table (1947, half of 1948, 1950, plus half of 1951).

So is 4855 innings and third in WAR reasonable for Satchel Paige? It’s up to you to decide for yourself. But even if you knock him down some, you’ll find that he’s still Grove’s only competition for the best pitcher between the wars, and that his MLE career overall has more bulk to push him well above Lefty.

That’s it for part two of our look at Hall-honored Negro Leagues pitchers. Next time we’ll wrap them up with Bullet Rogan, Hilton Smith, and Smokey Joe Williams.

Evaluating Negro Leagues Pitchers, Part I: Brown, Cooper, Day, Dihigo

We recently described to you our method for creating Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues pitchers. Today we start unveiling the results. This is the first of three posts in which we’ll share MLEs for Hall of Fame and Hall of Merit Negro Leagues pitchers in alphabetical order.

Today we’re going to cover Ray Brown, Andy Cooper, Leon Day, and Martín Dihigo.

Each MLE should not be too literally interpreted. There’s a lot of moving parts, and, yes, human error creeps in sometimes. We suggest looking first at the player’s career numbers than at the seasonals, the latter of which are more volatile and more likely to look funny to you. We’ll include information about some of the thornier issues in each man’s record along the way as well as provide some sense of what these players would like compared to MLB players. The reason for the latter is not to demean their actual performance in the leagues they played in, but rather to give you a sense of what their performance reminds us of and as a sanity check to be sure that we’re doing our job correctly. We invite you to tell us what you think in the comments so we can refine these estimates.

Ray Brown

Ray Brown was a durable righty in the 1930s and 1940s whose record on the Negro Leagues Database currently stands at 111-37 (.750) and a 145 ERA+ that sits eleventh among pitchers with at least 200 innings in the database. His 35.2 WAR rank second in among hurlers and his 1310 innings place ninth. Brown threw the kitchen sink at hitters and was most well known for his curveball. The mainstay of the dynastic Homestead Grays, he was known as a tough competitor but pleasant and quiet. He was also a favorite in Cuba and Puerto Rico where he racked up impressive records and was known as Jabao (freckled one). Not much is known about him personally because he died in 1965, just before intensive research got underway to interview Negro Leagues players before they passed on.

Ray Brown
Negro Leagues Stats | Minor Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1932–1951
Destination: NL 1932–1951
Missing data: 1950–1953, any Cuban or Puerto Rican winter seasons
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1932   24  210  - 7  -0.7   1.5  |   70   0.5  |   2.0
1933   25  240  - 7  -0.7   1.7  |   80   0.7  |   2.4
1934   26  230  -20  -2.0   0.5  |   77   1.3  |   1.8
1935   27  220    2   0.2   2.5  |   73   0.8  |   3.3
1936   28  270   26   2.8   5.5  |   90   0.6  |   6.1
1937   29  260    5   0.6   3.2  |   87   0.9  |   4.2
1938   30  260    9   1.0   3.6  |   87   1.4  |   5.0
1939   31  260   21   2.3   4.9  |   87   0.4  |   5.3
1940   32  270   27   2.9   5.7  |   90   1.1  |   6.8
1941   33  250   29   3.3   5.7  |   83   0.9  |   6.6
1942   34  250   22   2.7   5.1  |   83   0.4  |   5.5
1943   35  160   22   2.6   4.1  |   53   0.3  |   4.5
1944   36  260    3   0.3   3.0  |   87   0.5  |   3.4
1945   37  210  - 3  -0.4   1.8  |   70   0.5  |   2.3
1946   38  200  -15  -1.7   0.3  |   67   0.6  |   1.0
1947   39  162  - 2  -0.2   1.5  |   54   0.5  |   2.0
1948   40  113    2   0.3   1.4  |   38   0.4  |   1.8
1949   41   68    2   0.2   0.9  |   23   0.2  |   1.1
1950   42   34    1   0.1   0.4  |   11   0.1  |   0.6
1951   43   13    0   0.0   0.2  |    4   0.0  |   0.2
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     3940  117  13.5  53.6  | 1314  12.1  |  65.7

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 26th
Pitching Wins Above Average: t-119th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 40th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 20th

At this time, Brown’s best MLB comps are Red Ruffing and Burleigh Grimes. They also had the same strengths and weaknesses: Long careers, good-to-great great bats for a moundsman, and pretty good on the bump, itself, but not exactly Lefty Grove either. Ruffing is the upside, Grimes is the downside. Though he looks like more Ruffing than Grimes, lacking Old Stubblebeard’s tendency to ying and yang between good and poor seasons, and being at least twice as good a hitter. More like Ruffing in that sense as well.

I expected Ray Brown to come out looking like a higher-tier pitcher than he has. But there’s a couple things of interest here that appear to militate against that:

  1. Brown pitched in front of several teams with HUGE DRA totals, which he is debited for (though we cap at +/- 0.50 runs per nine innings).
  2. Because we use for our innings estimates the workload of a typical MLB pitcher, Brown may show fewer MLE innings than he might have racked up in MLB. He doesn’t appear to have much of an injury history and may well have been able to shoulder an ace’s load.
  3. He’s getting hurt by his 1934 season, which was short 22.33 IP and bad (60 ERA+). We haven’t manually adjusted for that here, but even just making him a league average pitcher for that year would add 4 WAR to his career MLE total. It’s possible that step is in order to bring him closer to the historical consensus.
  4. Brown was excellent in winter league play but because that data (especially the league-wide pitching data) is not available yet on the Negro Leagues Database, we haven’t included it. Brown seems unlikely to be elected in our first round of HoME Negro Leagues elections, but he will surely make it into the subsequent rounds. It may be that taking an independent dive into his Cuban seasons could help, though Puerto Rican information remains sketchy at this time.

 Andy Cooper

One of a pair of brothers to pitch in the Negro Leagues, Cooper had the profile of a big-league lefty: a wide repertoire of pitches all of which had wrinkle to them, thrown with pinpoint control, at a variety of speeds. And, of course, a good move to first. In other words, a classic finesse pitcher. Stylistically, players like Jimmy Key and Mark Buehrle spring instantly to mind. He made his bones with the Detroit Stars in the 1920s Negro National League but eventually signed on with the famous Kansas City Monarchs, forming an impressive trio with Hilton Smith and Satchel Paige at one juncture. He also managed the team.

Andy Cooper
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1920–1939
Destination: NL 1920–1936
Missing data: 1926–1927, 1929–1932
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame
                PITCHING         |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1920   24  140  - 1  -0.1   1.3  |   47  -0.5  |   0.7
1921   25  220    3   0.3   2.6  |   73   0.3  |   2.8
1922   26  250   43   4.4   6.9  |   83  -0.2  |   6.7
1923   27  210    3   0.3   2.5  |   70  -0.4  |   2.1
1924   28  200   19   2.1   4.1  |   67  -0.1  |   4.0
1925   29  210   32   6.0   8.0  |   70   0.4  |   8.5
1926   30  200   26   2.8   4.8  |   67   0.0  |   4.8
1927   31  210   20   2.0   2.1  |   70   0.0  |   4.2
1928   32  210   10   1.0   3.2  |   70   0.5  |   3.7
1929   33  200   15   1.4   3.5  |   67   0.1  |   3.6
1930   34  200   16   1.4   3.6  |   67   0.1  |   3.7
1931   35  220   18   2.0   4.2  |   73   0.0  |   4.3
1932   36  210   19   2.0   4.2  |   70   0.1  |   4.2
1933   37  210   20   2.4   4.4  |   70   0.0  |   4.4
1934   38  170   21   2.2   4.0  |   57   0.1  |   4.1
1935   39   30    8   0.8   1.1  |   10   0.0  |   1.1
1936   40   10    3   0.3   0.4  |    3   0.0  |   0.4
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     3100  274  28.6  60.2  | 1034   0.3  |  60.5

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)

Innings pitched: 65th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 36th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 32nd
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 31st

Cooper’s 1925 translated RA9 is considerably lower than the qualified league leader in the NL. So we adjust him to 10% above the leader so we aren’t overshooting.

Cooper might look better in this MLE than he does on the Negro Leagues database. Part of the reason could be that our protocol substitutes the pitcher’s MLE-career average performance in instances where we have no data available to us. Much of the heart of Cooper’s career is missing, so he either looks worse on the Negro Leagues Database than he ought to, or he looks better in our MLE. We won’t know until we know. So the combination of lopping off a couple of lesser end-of-career seasons, giving him MLE-career average performance in missing seasons, and giving him more innings in his salad days makes him come forward a bit.

On the other hand, I translated him in 2005 at the Hall of Merit for 500 more innings than this MLE and a .560 win% (223-176). We didn’t have team and league stats at that time, nor did we have WAR. But if .560 represents his true performance level, then that’s 22 WAA in shorthand (10 runs per win, 22 wins or so above .500). So I’m coming in higher now than previously, but by enough to be covered by things like park factors and team defense. Another poster on BTF chipped in that they figured 223 Win Shares, if you remember them from early 2000s. Divide Win Shares by 3 for wins, and that’s 74, and maybe nip off some wins for sub-replacement performance since Win Shares doesn’t really deal with replacement much, if at all, and you’re in the same neighborhood we’ve arrived at here.

Overall, Andy Cooper has long particularly reminded me of Andy Pettitte: Long-career lefties who didn’t have great fastballs, who played on the dominant team of their times (the Monarchs being the Yanks of the Negro Leagues), who weren’t notably durable in-season but who generally stayed in the rotation, who had a big year or three, who were generally not All-Star type pitchers but nonetheless were above average for a long time in run prevention, and who were not typically the ace of their staff. Mark Buehrle might also fit this description. We’ve projected Cooper as a #3 starter for most of his career based on the number of starts he had on his real teams, but on virtually any other team he would have been a solid number two man. In that way, we could be coming in low on him bulk-wise.

Two final notes. First, some of the biographical data indicates that Andy Cooper might have hurt his arm in late 1930, though that’s contradicted by his participation and performance in the California Winter League that winter. Still, I hedged on 1931 and took his innings down a bit. Second, Cooper had an excellent record during a brief run as the Monarch’s manager in the late 1930s, winning three pennants.

Leon Day

Day struck out lots of hitters and was selected for seven East-West All-Star Games as the main man in the Newark Eagles’ rotation. In 457 innings, he struck out 299 hitters in the Negro Leagues, a rate of 153 per year, good for 19th among documented Negro Leagues seasons. He served two years during World War II, spent a couple seasons in Mexico, and in his final years toiled in the minor leagues.

Leon Day
Negro Leagues Stats | Minor Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1934–1953
Destination: NL 1935–1953
Missing Data: 1946, 1949, 1950
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE  IP   RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1935   18   50    1   0.1   0.6  |   17   0.0  |   0.6
1936   19  100    7   0.7   1.7  |   33   0.4  |   2.1
1937   20  170  - 4  -0.4   1.3  |   57   0.7  |   2.0
1938   21  140  - 1  -0.1   1.3  |   47   0.1  |   1.4
1939   22  260   17   1.8   4.5  |   87   0.9  |   5.4
1940   23  230    9   1.0   3.4  |   77   0.8  |   4.2
1941   24  210   10   1.1   3.2  |   70   1.1  |   4.3
1942   25  180   25   3.1   4.8  |   60   0.8  |   5.6
1943   26  220   36   4.5   6.6  |   73   0.1  |   6.7
1944   27                        |             |
1945   28                        |             |
1946   29  260  - 4  -0.5   2.2  |   87   0.9  |   3.0
1947   30  180  - 9  -1.0   0.9  |   60   0.6  |   1.5
1948   31  210  -10  -1.1   1.1  |   70   0.7  |   1.8
1949   32  260    1   0.1   2.8  |   87   0.9  |   3.7
1950   33  160    2   0.2   1.8  |   53   0.6  |   2.4
1951   34   40    0   0.0   0.4  |   13   0.1  |   0.6
1952   35  160  - 6  -0.7   0.9  |   53   0.6  |   2.2
1953   36   30  - 5  -0.5  -0.2  |   10   0.1  |  -0.1
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     2860   68   8.5  37.4  |  954   9.3  |  46.7

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)

Innings pitched: 90th
Pitching Wins Above Average: t-194th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 104th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 71st

Day hurt his arm in the offseason of 1937 and missed some time in 1938, which we’ve accounted for. He also missed 2 years and one September to the war. The tough spot in this MLE is 1937. In his SABR bio, Day and the author claim it as an outstanding year, something like 13-0. But on the Negro Leagues Database, we only have a few starts from him. Those starts are good not great, and when translated are roughly average. It is entirely possible that the Database simply doesn’t yet have his complete numbers for 1937. Day’s bio also says that he had a dead arm in 1946 after a two-year army layoff. Despite that he pitched the whole year. His performance in Mexico in 1947 and 1948 certainly suggests he had lost something. The apparent rally in 1949 and 1950 is probably only because our protocol uses his career average due to no data for those seasons. He pitched reasonably well in the minors at ages 34 and 35, but at 36 was very clearly done.

As a hitter, he was excellent. Not as good as Ray Brown, but really good. In fact, in 1943, he spent a little time with the Philadelphia Stars in addition to the Eagles, but he didn’t pitch once for them. He was too busy in their lineup at second base.

These MLEs suggest that value-wise, he comps to a pitcher such as Howard Ehmke, only with a good bat. Or perhaps Red Lucas who had a great bat. Style-wise, not so much. Generally, that feels too flat for me, but until we see the rest of the data on him, we can’t say with certainty.

Martín Dihigo

Last licks today for Martín Dihigo (pronounced Mar-TEEN DEE-go), a most interesting case. He’s famous for playing all the hell over the diamond, but he also had a substantial pitching career, and a good one. His evolution to starting pitcher, however, was slow. From 1923 (age 18) through 1931 (age 26), his appearances at pitcher amounted to 17% of his total games played, and he appears to have been used as a #4/5 or swing starter since he was incredibly useful elsewhere on the diamond. Then there’s a three-year blank spot where he toured with a team out of the Dominican, with no stats available. When he returned to the Negro Leagues in 1935–1936, he pitched in almost 30% of his games played, still holding down a regular job as a position player too. Beginning in 1937 he went down Mexico way, and in La Liga, he pitched in 40+% of his games, and, yes, continued to play the field as a regular until the very end. Which means that there’s two ways we can approach Dihigo’s career with MLEs. The first is that he was a pitcher all the way and would have followed a typical pitcher’s path in terms of workload. The other is just to run the numbers as is.

We’re presenting both versions so you can get an idea of the spread of potential we’re talking about here.

Martín Dihigo
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Typical pitching arc
Career: 1924–1947
Destination: NL 1924–1947
Missing data: 1929, 1932–1934
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit, Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame, Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame
               PITCHING          |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP   RAA   WAA   WAR |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1924   19   50    6   0.6   1.1  |   17   0.1  |   1.2
1925   20   75    4   0.4   1.2  |   25   0.2  |   1.4
1926   21  100  - 7  -0.7   0.4  |   33   0.7  |   1.0
1927   22  200  - 3  -0.4   1.7  |   67   1.1  |   2.8
1928   23   50  -14  -1.3  -0.8  |   17   0.2  |  -0.5
1929   24  180   11   1.0   2.9  |   60   0.6  |   3.5
1930   25  200   44   4.0   6.1  |   67   0.9  |   7.0
1931   26  220   15   1.6   3.9  |   73   1.1  |   5.0
1932   27  210   15   1.6   3.7  |   70   0.8  |   4.5
1933   28  210    9   1.1   3.1  |   70   0.8  |   3.9
1934   29  200    8   0.8   2.9  |   67   0.8  |   3.7
1935   30  190    0   0.0   1.9  |   63   1.0  |   2.9
1936   31  200   15   1.5   3.6  |   67   0.8  |   4.4
1937   32  260   20   2.2   4.8  |   87   1.1  |   5.9
1938   33  260   39   4.4   6.9  |   87   1.1  |   8.1
1939   34  260   19   2.0   4.7  |   87   1.0  |   5.6
1940   35  190    8   0.9   2.8  |   63   0.7  |   3.5
1941   36  190    8   0.9   2.8  |   63   0.7  |   3.5
1942   37  250    9   1.0   3.5  |   83   0.9  |   4.3
1943   38  220   33   4.0   6.1  |   73   0.1  |   6.2
1944   39  230   28   3.2   5.5  |   77   0.2  |   5.6
1945   40  210    3   0.3   2.4  |   70   0.7  |   3.2
1946   41  130  -25  -2.5  -1.2  |   43  -0.4  |  -1.6
1947   42   50    7   0.7   1.2  |   17  -0.2  |   1.0
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     4335  252  27.4  71.3  | 1446  15.1  |  86.4

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 18th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 39th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 14th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 9th

In both the versions we’re presenting, Dihigo’s 1930 translated RA9 is considerably lower than the qualified league leader in the NL. So we adjust him to 10% above the leader for reasonableness.

Worth noting that in this and the following MLE, we have given Dihigo 50 innings in 1928 because, well, he stank it up. Seems unlikely that he would have been given a long leash while allowing that many runs.

Here we have a player with a good if not phenomenal peak plus lots of bulk, and, of course, an excellent bat. This version of Dihigo looks like a little peakier version of Ted Lyons but with three times the bat. Heckuva package.

Martín Dihigo
As-is estimate
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE  IP   RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1924   19   50    6   0.6   1.1  |   17   0.1  |   1.2
1925   20   75    4   0.4   1.2  |   25   0.2  |   1.4
1926   21  100  - 7  -0.7   0.4  |   33   0.7  |   1.0
1927   22  150  - 3  -0.3   1.3  |   50   0.8  |   2.1
1928   23   50  -14  -1.3  -0.8  |   17   0.2  |  -0.6
1929   24  150    9   0.9   2.4  |   50   0.6  |   3.0
1930   25  150   33   3.0   4.5  |   50   0.7  |   5.2
1931   26  140    9   1.0   2.4  |   47   0.7  |   3.0
1932   27  150   11   1.1   2.7  |   50   0.5  |   3.2
1933   28  130    6   0.7   1.9  |   43   0.4  |   2.4
1934   29  140    6   0.6   2.0  |   47   0.5  |   2.5
1935   30  150    0   0.0   1.5  |   50   0.7  |   2.3
1936   31  170   13   1.3   3.0  |   57   0.6  |   3.6
1937   32  260   20   2.2   4.8  |   87   1.0  |   5.8
1938   33  260   39   4.4   6.9  |   87   1.0  |   7.9
1939   34  260   19   2.0   4.7  |   87   0.9  |   5.5
1940   35  190    8   0.9   2.8  |   63   0.6  |   3.4
1941   36  190    8   0.9   2.8  |   63   0.7  |   3.5
1942   37  250    9   1.0   3.5  |   83   0.8  |   4.3
1943   38  220   33   4.0   6.1  |   73   0.1  |   6.2
1944   39  230   28   3.2   5.5  |   77   0.2  |   5.6
1945   40  210   11   1.2   3.3  |   70   0.8  |   4.1
1946   41  130  -25  -2.5  -1.2  |   43  -0.4  |  -1.6
1947   42   60    8   0.9   1.5  |   20  -0.2  |   1.3
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     3865  233  25.5  64.4  | 1289  12.2  |  76.5

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 28th
Pitching Wins Above Average: t-45th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 12th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 11th

Still kind of like Ted Lyons, only a little flatter peak this time. Same great bat as before, just in slightly less playing time.

Again, the difference here is all in the innings pitched. In the first version, we see a rough estimate of what he might have done with a more typical MLB career arc as a pitcher. The second version is much less interpretative and shows us how his pitching career was bifurcated between his American (through 1936) and Mexican (after 1936) experiences. Either way, he appears very strong, and it’ll be very interesting to see how his MLEs as a position player come out by comparison.

OK, that’s it for part one. Next time out, we’ll have a go at messers Foster, Foster, Mendéz, and Paige. And if you’re worried that you don’t see enough peak value in these performers, wait til part two. You won’t be disappointed.

Q&A with Jay Jaffe, author of the Cooperstown Casebook

jay-jaffe-and-the-cooperstown-casebook-e1506200532676.jpg

Jay Jaffe and his new Cooperstown Casebook

This week we officially kick off our coverage of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s annual voting season. With the Modern Baseball Era Committee’s ballot coming soon, we’ll start things off by chatting with one of the baseball world’s most listened-to voices on the subject of the Hall, Jay Jaffe.

If you haven’t read The Cooperstown Casebook, you should. You’ve probably seen author Jay Jaffe’s work on SI.com and Baseball Prospectus or remember him as the Futility Infielder. Or you’ve seen his mustache at MLB.com and MLBTV, especially during Hall of Fame voting season. That’s because Jay (a good follow @Jay_Jaffe) has influenced the Hall conversation like few others thanks to his widely known JAWS. Frankly, I totally stole the blueprints for my own Hall sifting tool from Jay. [Tips hat, sheepishly.]

The Cooperstown Casebook especially shines when Jaffe goes in-depth. Essays on the Hall’s history have an easy-going style that make them both interesting and edifying. In player case studies we learn about the often subtle barriers (statistical, structural, and societal) that keep high-quality players out of the Hall—and let so-so players in. Together these longer pieces lay the groundwork for both informed fandom and the player capsules in the book’s second half.

In many ways, The Cooperstown Casebook extends the Hall conversation that Bill James tore open with The Politics of Glory. Bill’s biggest single theme: We must define the Hall’s actual standards then use sound reasoning and good information to elect players who meet those standards. Well, that’s exactly what Jay models. He quickly demonstrates how JAWS sharply defines the Hall’s standards, and then he uses JAWS to evaluate hundreds of players in or out of the Coop. He smartly combines familiar benchmarks with the most prevalent modern stats (WAR, OPS+, ERA+), pointing out where old-school and contemporary analysts converge and showing how their divergence explains some of the Hall’s sins of commission and omission.

We’re excited that Jay graciously took some time to answer questions about The Cooperstown Casebook and its subject. Before we dig in consider ordering a signed copy from Jaffe’s local bookshop and support an independent bookseller. Now let’s get to it!

Eric: Something cool about The Cooperstown Casebook was how many different perspectives you personally brought to the writing: Fan, critic, BBWAA member, researcher, analyst. Over the years, how have these experiences changed how you think about the Hall?

Jay: I’m not sure I’ve thought about it in quite those terms before, but I’d say that the different perspectives reflect my own growth and the expansion of my horizons. When I started writing about the Hall voting at Futility Infielder in the winter of 2001-2002, I was a moonlighting graphic designer, just a fan who wanted to share some of my knowledge and perspective while connecting with others.

Pretty quickly, once I brought the project to Baseball Prospectus in late 2003, I developed a more critical edge, and the backbone of this book is a few of the major beefs that I had with the Hall as it stood, namely the omissions of Bert Blyleven and Ron Santo and the mess that the Veterans Committee had made that had permanently compromised the Hall. Each of those topics has a chapter devoted to it in the first half of the book.

Eventually, I was able to devote myself to writing about baseball full time. Not only did I get to  sharpen my analytical and researching skills, I was given a platform to produce what might be the largest annual volume of Hall-related writing at SI.com — my editor, Ted Keith, let me run wild with the topic in December, basically. I was admitted into the BBWAA (for 2011) and was eventually able to participate in a committee that examined the case for changing the voting process; I was involved in drafting the final proposal that was submitted to the Hall of Fame board of directors. The proposal was tabled, but BBWAA voters do read my work and sometimes cite it when explaining how they filled out their ballots.

I’ve gone from being a total outsider to something of an insider, even if I don’t yet get to vote.

Eric: Change, itself, is a theme woven through the book. You show us numerous instances where changes to the electoral rules for the Veterans Committee’s (almost continual) and BBWAA (more frequent of late) affect individual candidates. What changes to the VC or the BBWAA rules do you think we might see in the not-too-distant future?

Jay: I don’t know that we’re going to see any big changes in the BBWAA process anytime soon. Our committee, which was concerned with the backlog of qualified candidates on the ballot, sought to increase the number of slots per ballot from 10 (where it’s been since 1936, when the majors were just 16 teams) to 12, a number that was a compromise; some of us wanted 15, some wanted unlimited space, some thought 10 was plenty, and we all knew that the Hall wouldn’t do anything too radical, hence 12 — and that was tabled.

The big change we’ll see over the next 10 years, guaranteed, regards the electorate, which will continue to evolve. Writers who are 10 years removed from active coverage will continue to be dropped from the voting, per a rule change from a couple years ago, and a wave of writers who entered the industry via Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs will get the vote, starting with the 2019 ballot (I’m 2021). The sabermetrics folks have already had a significant impact on the discussion such that many younger writers who have already gotten the vote don’t think twice about citing WAR or JAWS or Defensive Runs Saved and rolling their eyes at pitcher win totals or RBIs.

As for the small committees (now officially the Era Committees, not the Veterans Committee), who knows. They rejigger those things so often that it will be interesting to see if they can make it through the 10-year plan they laid out for 2017-2026 if they keep pitching shutouts. The last living player elected by the Veterans Committee was in 2001 (Bill Mazeroski), and we’ve seen three major waves of change plus endless tweaking since.

Eric: The rationales for changing voting rules seem to ping-pong between electing more or fewer players. After writing the Casebook, where do you fall on the number of total honorees? Too many? Too few? Just right?

Jay: I strongly believe that the Hall needs to be bigger, not to water the honor down but to make it equitable across eras. What I’ve shown with my research is that even when you consider just the writers’ votes and ignore the committee ones, when you consider the way that the majors have expanded, that players from 1969 onward are significantly underrepresented. It’s not just the so-called “Steroid Era” where we risk having a hole in the Hall because of voters’ reluctance to recognize some of the era’s greats, it’s voters holding players from the 1970s and ‘80s to too high a standard. I highlight a handful in my book — Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, plus Dick Allen if you dial back a few years — and there are others such as Dwight Evans, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Lee Smith and Dave Stieb, who don’t measure up via my JAWS system but whom people can make a case for.  

Eric:  Turning toward 2018’s vote, some BBWAA voters will face Sophie-like choices in 2018. Clearing Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vlad Guerrero, and Trevor Hoffman would open up a lot of room for down-ballot candidates. But Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones are 5% victims from central casting so every vote for them is vital. You’ll soon be a BBWAA voter (!!!), how would you weigh structural and strategic concerns like these against voting your top ten?

Jay: It’s not easy, because of the competing concerns. It’s important both to recognize obviously worthy candidates in a timely fashion and also to keep qualified but less obvious ones around so that the debate catches up to them. Chipper and Thome are obvious first-ballot guys (and to hell with anyone who withholds a first-ballot vote on the grounds that Willie Mays and Babe Ruth weren’t unanimous). Vlad and Hoffman are going in, probably this year, and I don’t begrudge that at all, but neither does particularly well via JAWS, which is what guides my process. Rolen and Andruw both do well via JAWS; I’d put them on my ballot at the expense of the previous pair.

That’s four spots out of 10, and from the holdovers I’d tab Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — warts and all for that latter trio, for reasons that I’ve laid out in dozens of places (including the book) but won’t rehash here — that would make for a full dance card.

Eric: Any predictions for this year’s BBWAA or VC votes? Could we see four even five honorees from the writers? Another player shutout for the Vets?

Jay: We won’t see five from the writers, but we may very well see four, and we’ll almost certainly get three (based on the perception that he was one-dimensional, I’d guess Thome is the odd man out up top, but not by much; he’ll be in within a year or two), and I’m hoping — hoping — that Edgar is close enough (say, 65% or higher) to set himself up for election in 2019, his final year on the ballot.

As for the VC, 2018 is the year that the first Modern Baseball Era Committee — yeah, that’s a mouthful — will vote. That committee is for players whose primary contribution came in the 1970-87 period, and while you’d think that the guys I just mentioned (Simmons, Grich, Whitaker and Trammell) would be prime candidates, the reality is that the first three all got less than 5% in their lone year on the BBWAA ballot. Of the trio, only Simmons has even gotten a second chance on an Era Committee ballot, because the screening committee that builds the slate takes into account the voting percentages from the writers — which makes it all the harder on guys who slip through the cracks, as you’re aware.

So, I’d guess that it’s here that we’ll see Morris elected, because the committee voters, half of whom are Hall of Fame players or managers, are going to look primarily at old-school stats such as pitcher wins. They’ll love saves, too, which means that Smith could get his day eventually (2020?). I’d hope that if Morris goes in (which I’d really prefer not to see, because his run prevention was just nothing special, as I spent most of his entire ballot run demonstrating), it’s with Trammell and Whitaker, because it’s those two guys to whom he owes the most. In terms of the offensive and defensive contributions that propped him up   

Eric:  In The Cooperstown Casebook you note instances of advocacy and outreach that supported vote increases: Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines, and Bert Blyleven. Jim Rice got help from former Red Sox VP of Public Relations Dick Bresciani. Each of these pushes, however, rested on a public platform or team apparatus. How can informed, reasonable fans like our readers advocate effectively for a player’s election in some small way?

Jay: Through blogging and social media. Space is cheap and often free online, so you have room to lay out your case and aggregate links to those of other doing the same via a page like BertBelongs.com (now gone) or Raines30.com. Then you can amplify the message via Facebook and Twitter. The latter, in particular, has given everybody a megaphone, and while that produces a cacophony that can be downright unbearable at times (even if we’re only talking about baseball instead of politics), you can boost the signal of a campaign if your arguments are strong enough AND you do so while avoiding going into attack mode. Pester voters with information if you want to make a case, sure, but don’t call them names if they disagree with you; that will only turn people off in the long run, even if your argument otherwise has merit.   

Eric:  On a personal level, a stat you created has its own page on baseball-reference.com. That’s a WOW!!! thing in baseball nerdom if ever there was one. How does it feel to have your work displayed prominently on every player’s page?

Jay: It’s pretty cool, I have to admit. B-Ref has been great for expanding the reach of JAWS, which in turn has helped my career immensely.

Eric:  Last licks. And a matter of urgent national gustatory importance. Eric’s an old Pennsylvania guy, and you’re a connoisseur of dark beers. What snacks do you think go best with Yuengling Porter?

Jay: Hmm. It’s been a loooong time since I’ve had a Yuengling Porter but I’d generally say for any porter that something salty to offset the sweetness is good. Pretzels seems like a perfect choice here.

Eric: As long as they are Snyders (of Hanover) Hard Sourdoughs. 🙂

We thank Jay so much. His book is now in its second printing (woo hoo!) and looks like it’s going to be fueling the Hall of Fame debate this December—and hopefully for a long time. Grab The Cooperstown Casebook before the voting starts for baseball immortality. That way you can more fully enjoy the annual horserace to the Hall. Visit the book’s website to preview excerpts or read outtakes from some player capsules.

Programming Note: The Hall of Fame horserace is our favorite time of year here at the Hall of Miller and Eric. Our coverage will continue throughout the voting season. Between now and January, we will:

  • dissect the Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot after it’s revealed
  • go position-by-potion across the diamond to see which active players helped their Hall of Fame case
  • review the players on the 2018 BBWAA ballot
  • reveal our own hypothetical ballots, and more.

So stock up on popcorn big, crunchy pretzels for our usual blend of fulsome analysis, rapier-like wit (so we say), chummy tomfoolery, foolish certainty, and fearless (aka: incorrect) predictions. It’s Hall of Fame season!

Major League Equivalencies for Negro Leagues Pitchers

How good was Satchel Paige? Was he really the best pitcher in Negro Leagues history? If his career had occurred in the majors, how would he compare to Walter Johnson? Was he more like Lefty Grove? Or did his career instead more closely resemble Ted Lyons’? These are rhetorical questions. We can never know with certainty just how great Satch was because he didn’t pitch in the majors during his prime. At the same time, this question is very much not a rhetorical question. With the breadth and depth of data we now have at our fingertips, we can craft a defensible and reasonable answer to these questions. Today, we’re going to show you our, admittedly imperfect, process for doing it here at the Hall of Miller and Eric.

Now, we need to warn you that this post is going to be absolutely saturated in details and technical process writing. It is not for the vainglorious. It’s not that the ideas are hard, but rather there’s enough minutia in implementing that the faint of heart may find themselves passed out in a statistical stupor.

We’ll try our best to keep it at least mildly interesting.

Creating Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro League Pitchers bears a distant familiar resemblance to what Dan Szymborski, a national treasure for baseball fans, does with ZiPS for minor leaguers. The idea originally arose in the 1985 Bill James Baseball Abstract, in an essay that represents one of James most important findings: namely that minor league performance does, in fact, predict major league performance, once we adjust for contexts such as park, league scoring levels, and the difference in quality of play between different minor league levels and the majors. Our Negro Leagues MLEs don’t follow Bill’s or Dan’s methods, but they are very much related and dependent on ideas created much earlier in the chronology of baseball analysis. Additionally, our work leans heavily on work at the Hall of Merit, especially by posters Chris Cobb and Brent who did extensive MLE work for Negro Leagues players during the HOM’s lengthy proceedings.

Before we get going, lets define our terms

This is just going to go down easier if we use the same lingo. And since I can’t hear you to agree to a particular jargon, you’ll just have to use mine. These terms will pop up a lot.

  • Originating League/Team: The team he actually played for
  • Destination League: The league we are translating his stats into and creating an equivalency for
  • Quality of Play (QOP):  Which assumes that MLB is 1.0, and everything else is discounted from it
  • Translated: Stats that been transformed from the originating league into the destination league’s run and league-quality context; an intermediate step en route to the fuller equivalent performance
  • Equivalent: Stats whose basis is in translated figures but that include further adjustments to place the player into a broader MLB context and ensure that small samples don’t overly skew the results.

There’ll be the usual alphabet soup along the way, and we’ll define the acronyms as we go.

Glad that’s over with.

The Process…in Prose

We’re going into gory details later, but for now, let’s look at the process in plain English.

Translating actual performance

First order of business: figure out how a pitcher’s performance in the originating would look in the destination league!

1) Determine the pitcher’s performance in his originating league.
2) Compare that performance to the originating league’s typical pitcher.
3) Place that relative performance into an MLB context.
4) Adjust the pitcher’s performance based on the quality of the originating league versus the destination league.

At this point, you have the pitcher’s actual performance, in his actual playing time, transformed to an MLB performance in that same playing time. Now we adjust for his team-based contexts.

5) If available, adjust for the pitcher’s strength of opposition. This would be equivalent to BBREF’s RA9opp.
6) If available, adjust for the pitcher’s defensive support. This would be equivalent to BBREF’s RA9def.
7) Adjust for the pitcher’s home park.

Now we’ve adjusted for nearly every context likely to influence a pitcher’s performance in a meaningful and/or measureable way. So now we start the process of fully re-contextualizing into MLB.

Playing time

If you want to know where the “human element” comes in, welcome to playing time. Unlike with hitters’ plate appearances, where teams have a strong tendency to stick with their original lineup during a game, pitchers’ innings are more elective and more variable. That is, the team decides how long to let him go during the game. Also, we know that in the Negro Leagues some pitchers were used very differently than in the majors. In barnstorming situations, a team’s best pitcher might pitch several times a week but go only three innings. That way the team could advertise their star, get a good draw, and save wear and tear on their arms. It’s not as clear that this occurred in league play, but we do hear quite a bit in the lore about how teams might hold out their best hurlers for big-gate weekend series—Sunday pitchers. Innings in the player’s originating league, therefore, are a bit sketchy as a primary flexion point for addressing the playing time issue.

We’ve opted instead to make Games Started a hinge on which our innings estimates swing. Because each Negro Leagues team didn’t always play the same length of schedule, we also have to make usage at the team level our key point of comparison, at least initially. What we’re going to do is use that information to create an initial innings estimate for each season.

8) Find how the pitcher ranked on his originating team in Games Started. We’ll call this his “slot.”
9) Assign innings based on that season’s MLB average for starters in that same “slot” if the pitcher is in slot 1 to 5. If he’s not, just assign him the innings he actually pitched that season.

If the average #2 starter threw 275 innings in 1932, that’s how many innings we’ll initially allocate for 1932 to a Negro Leaguer who was the #2 man on his staff in games started. This approach has the effect of “dollar-cost-averaging” a pitcher’s workload. These equivalencies will never indicate a league-leading workload. They are designed not to because: pitching. But over time, we’ll get pretty close because we also raise the floor a bit too.

Now we can create an initial estimate of his performance in an MLB context, with an MLB workload:

10) Create an equivalent performance level via a weighted average that includes the season in question and the translated performances of surrounding seasons.
11) Apply that equivalent performance to the innings assigned in step 6.

You might wonder why we do Step 10. We want to increase the sample we’re drawing from. Because Negro Leagues pitchers threw one-quarter to one-half the innings of their MLB counterparts (and sometimes less), we want to be sure that we aren’t allowing fluke seasons (good or bad) to overly influence our results.

We have just created an initial estimate of the player’s workload and performance for a given season. Next we tune up our initial workload estimate to reflect a realistic MLB career path as best we are able.

12) Look in the pitcher’s biographical notes for anything that might have caused him to miss games or for his workload to be underreported and fix accordingly.
13) Compare our workload estimates for very young or old seasons to the workloads of actual major league pitchers from the player’s era. Adjust accordingly.
14) Adjust our pitcher’s “slot” given the new information and move his slot up or down.
15) Check against real careers to see if the sum of career innings is out of whack with real MLB pitchers. It should be decently close by now.

On the WAR Path

Now we’re on the BBREF expressway to WAR.

16) Find the pitcher’s MLE Runs Above Average (RAA).
17) Convert those RAA to Wins Above Average (WAA).
18) Figure the pitcher’s replacement runs (Rrep) and replacement wins.
19) Finally, add WAA to the replacement wins to get the final equivalent pitching WAR total.

Pitcher Batting and Total WAR

Finally, we need to also create a hitting estimate for the hurler. We’re going to do this somewhat differently from a position player. For one thing, we aren’t going to worry about baserunning or DP avoidance. Pitchers bat little enough that this stuff doesn’t matter enough to get into. Also, fielding is axiomatically included in their run prevention performance, so no fielding necessary. So it’s just batting runs. Rather than run them through the complicated process we have for regular hitters, we’re going to take a shortcut. In doing so, we will assume they only play pitcher.

20) Estimate the number of plate appearances (PAs) they would accumulate in the games they pitched.
21) Figure their offensive performance by converting their OPS+ to Batting Runs Above Average (Rbat) per PA.
22) Apply that Rbat/PA to our estimated PAs to get his equivalent Rbat.
23) Follow BBREF’s instructions for figuring the pitcher’s batting Positional Runs (Rpos).
24) Combine Rbat and Rpos to get batting RAA.
25) Calculate batting WAR (we can skip WAA because BBREF sets replacement level for pitcher-batters so that the average pitcher is a replacement-level hitter).
26) Add our pitching WAR estimate from step 19 to our batting WAR estimate in step 25 to get the pitcher’s total WAR contribution for the season.

That’s it! [Snort, snort.]

Now, all this may look quite daunting, after all it’s 26 steps. And it only gets more complicated in practice. But if you’re an Excel user, and you know how to write LOOKUPs, SUMIFs, and other formulas, then your computer will do the vast majority of the work for you. Once you’ve got some experience and a lot of league and team data in the bank, the typical pitcher requires one to three hours’ time to create an MLE.

A real example: Satchel Paige, 1942

Now, we’ll run through this with Satchel Paige’s 1942 season. This will reveal some nitty gritty details about what performance measures we use, and how we place players into an MLB run-context. I’ve only given you a framework, but you can use any old measurements or transformations you want to.

SATCHEL PAIGE, 1942
Originating league: Negro American League (NAL)
Originating team: Kansas City Monarchs
Destination league: 1942 AL

We choose to use the AL with Satch because he spent his entire MLB career there.

1) Determine the pitchers performance in his originating league.

Satch threw 72.33 frames and gave up just 23 runs for a 2.86 runs per nine innings (RA9) (NOTE: I’m not going to carry the extra decimals, so there may be a couple instances of rounding error).

2) Compare that performance to the originating league’s typical pitcher.

NAL pitchers gave up 4.95 RA9, which means Paige was 16.8 runs better than the league.

3) Place that relative performance into an MLB context.

We need a transformation that will take care of two things: the destination league’s run environment and the originating league’s standard deviation. Fortunately, z-scores do both. The Negro Leagues usually had a wider variance in performance than MLB, in large part due to shorter schedules. Z-scores will shrink those down to MLB size. But also, by definition, z-scores will re-center the pitcher on the destination league’s mean pitching performance. That means that instead of making some kind of run-context adjustment, we kill two birds with one stone. At this juncture, I also tell you that I’m not a trained statistician.

Anyway, I like to use RAA/IP for this purpose. Satch was at 0.23 RAA /IP in the 1942 NAL. It turns out that when you take the average of the averages of any given league, the RAA/IP is usually slightly negative, and so 0.23 – the NAL average -0.14 = 0.37. Divide that by the 1942 NAL’s STDEV, which was 0.50, and Paige comes out at 0.75 standard deviations above the NAL. Putting that performance into the 1942 AL, his 0.75 standard deviations * the AL’s 0.40 standard deviation = 0.30, which added to the AL mean of -.10 yields .20 RAA/IP.

4) Adjust the pitcher’s performance based on the quality of the originating league versus the destination league.

I’m rating the NAL of the 1930s and 1940s as equivalent to a AAA league, or a 20% QoP discount from MLB on runs created or allowed. Therefore: 0.80 QoP discount * Satch’s 0.20 RAA/IP from step 3 = 0.16 RAA/IP. (If a pitcher’s z-score-based RAA/IP is negative, we divide by the quality factor rather than multiply). In Paige’s own workload of 72.33 innings, we estimate that in MLB, he’d give up 11.5 fewer runs than the average pitcher. At this point, it is useful to flip the RAA/IP back into RA9, and Satch is at 2.90 (the AL was 4.30).

5) If available, adjust for the pitchers strength of opposition. This would be equivalent to BBREFs RA9opp.

If this information should become available, we will do it. For now, everyone’s SOS is 1.0, so Paige is still at 2.90.

6) If available, adjust for the pitchers defensive support. This would be equivalent to BBREFs RA9def adjustment.

We’ll do the same thing BBREF does, but we’ll use the Defensive Regression Analysis (DRA) values in the Negro Leagues database instead of Rfield (BBREF’s fielding runs above average). We first figure the pitcher’s Balls in Play (BIP) and determine his percentage of the team’s total BIP (tmBIP). Then we multiply that percentage rate times the team’s total DRA, which we assign to the pitcher’s innings and express per nine innings:

( ( ( BIP / tmBIP ) * tmDRA ) / IP ) * 9

But in reviewing team defense in the Negro Leagues versus MLB, it quickly becomes apparent that the smaller samples of Negro Leagues seasons require us to tamp down the fielding numbers a bit. So we’ll take that at half strength. In addition, I did a little noodling on BBREF, and it turns out that in only 40 team-seasons since 1901 has a pitching staff had a RA9def over 0.50, and in only 59 other team-seasons since 1901 has a staff had a RA9def below 0.50. Therefore, we’re also capping RA9def at +/-0.50 for MLE purposes.

Paige’s Monarchs’ 1942 defensive performance isn’t known, but if it were, we’d use the formula above.

We’re going to roll the park and defense adjustments up into one item in the next step.

7) Adjust for the pitchers home park.

We don’t yet have park factors for most Negro Leagues or minor league teams. So we’re going to do a little home cooking. According to a well-placed source with knowledge of how to do this effectively, we can use the following method, which, we have to apply to both hitters and pitchers due to lack of home/road RS/RA figures. I don’t swear it’s the best method, but until such time as the research community can give us PFs, this is pretty good, especially where the Negro Leagues had some very extreme parks.

YEAR ONE
Step A, find ratio of team’s R/G to league’s R/G: ( ( tmRS + tmRA ) / tmG ) / ( ( lgRS + lgRA ) / lgG )
Step B, calculate a corrective that recenters the factor due to the team in question’s own influence on Step A: ( #teams in league / ( #teams in league – 1 ) ) + Step A
Step C, apply corrective to Step A: Step A * Step B
Step D, “regress” to avoid overdoing it: ( .75 + ( .25 * Step C )

If the team doesn’t change parks, we use two and three-year park factors as appropriate. We follow the same procedure to find each season’s one-year park factor. For season two, our “regressed” factor is a little different:

( .50 * current year PF ) + ( .25 * previous year PF) + .25

Then for year three, the formula is below. Note that the .17 below is rounded, it’s .16 repeating, of course, because we’re dividing half the PF by three.

( .50 * current year PF ) + ( .17 * previous year PF ) + ( .17 * two years ago PF ) + .17

I’ll skip all the equations and tell you that the Monarchs PF for 1942 by this method is 1.07. When we apply the park factor, we need to so at half strength to account for playing only half of one’s games at home.

So now we’re going to follow BBREF’s method for applying these. They adjust the league average pitcher, not the pitcher in question, to account for these contexts, using the RA9opp we mentioned earlier as the basis. We’ll do the same with the 1942 AL’s RA9opp from Step 5.

( 4.30 RA9opp – .00 RA9def ) * ( ( ( 1.07 PF – 1 ) / 2 ) + 1 ) = 4.45 RA9

Now, Paige is 12.3 runs better than the AL. We’re going to need to switch back to RAA/IP soon, and his equivalent rate is 0.17 RAA/IP in the 1942 AL.

8) Find how the pitcher ranked on his originating team in Games Started. We’ll call this his “slot.”

In 1942, Paige ranked 1st on his team in starts, and Satch was number one in several surrounding seasons. By this point in an MLB career, he would be an established #1. That’s how we’re going to proceed. Like I said, the human element.

9) Assign innings based on that season’s MLB average for starters in that same “slot” if the pitcher is in slot 1 to 5. If he’s not, just assign him the innings he actually pitched that season.

The median MLB #1 starter in 1942 tossed 253 innings. That’s our initial estimate.

10) Create an equivalent performance level via a weighted average that includes the season in question and the translated performances of surrounding seasons.

We use formula that looks like this:

( .60 * year n RAA/IP ) + ( .15 * year n+1 ) + ( .15 * year n-1 ) + ( .05 * year n+2 ) + ( .05 * year n-2 )

For seasons where we have no data, we use the player’s known career RAA/IP. That career figure only includes those seasons that we will ultimately include in our MLE (and there’s no guarantee that all seasons will be included). We also do not include seasons that don’t make the final cut in our rolling weighted average. We wouldn’t do that for an MLB player, after all.

For Paige, this turns out to look like this:

( .60 * .17 ) + ( .15 * .03 ) + ( .15 * .07 ) + ( .05 * .30 ) + ( .05 * .17 ) = .14 RAA/IP

11) Apply that equivalent performance to the innings assigned in step 6.

253 IP * .14 RAA/IP = 36 RAA

There’s one catch here. Sometimes due to small samples or general strangeness, a pitcher’s RA9 may come in well under the RA9 of the qualified league leader in his destination league. If that’s the case, we do a manual override. Instead of using the MLE RA9 we’ve just calculated, we multiply the league-leading RA9 by 1.1. This is a conservative move designed to keep the MLE within the realistic bounds of the destination league.

12) Look in the pitcher’s biographical notes for anything that might have caused him to miss games or for his workload to be under-reported and fix accordingly.

There’s nothing for Paige in 1942. In other seasons, however, there are such incidents. He was severely injured in late 1938, for example, and didn’t pitch for almost all of 1939, though the arm came back very, very late in the year. Things like that.

13) Compare our workload estimates for very young or old seasons to the workloads of actual major league pitchers from the player’s era. Adjust accordingly.

This doesn’t apply to 1942 for Satch because even though he was long in the tooth, he was pitching in MLB until age 46. But my own research indicates that pitchers can last a little longer than hitters, but most fellows are cooked by their late 30s with innings declining by 20 to 40% annually beginning at age 39. Only really excellent pitchers last into their 40s. Or Jamie Moyer.

14) Adjust our pitcher’s “slot” given the new information and move his slot up or down.

No change here.

15) Check against real careers to see if the sum of career innings is out of whack with real MLB pitchers. It should be decently close by now.

Now, I can tell you at this point, that Satchel Paige is a very, very special pitcher. He was pitching in the majors, effectively, deep into his 40s. Taking all of the seasons I’ve worked up, I’ve got him at 4,855 innings. Between 1893 (when the mound moved to its current position) and 1960 (just before expansion and just after Pumpsie Green finally debuted for Boston), that total would place 4th:

  • Cy Young: 6331.67
  • Walter Johnson: 5914.33
  • Pete Alexander: 5190
  • Satchel Paige: 4855
  • Christy Mathewson: 4788.67
  • Eddie Plank: 4495.67
  • Eppa Rixey: 4494.67
  • Jack Powell: 4389
  • Red Ruffing: 4344
  • Early Wynn: 4230 (ended up at 4564)
  • Burleigh Grimes: 4180

We’ll discuss the feasibility of that innings total in a subsequent post, but it’s not at all unreasonable given his ability and the norms of the day for a long-career pitcher with his results.

16) Find the pitchers MLE RAA.

If we’ve made any changes to our innings allotments, we’ll need to update the MLE RAA we generated in Step 11. But we haven’t. Although, I will say that I like to round off seasonal innings to the nearest ten. It’s a lot easier for you, dear reader, and I, your trusty MLE man, to rapidly comprehend a series of innings that reads 230, 270, 250 than one that reads 234, 267, 252. Trust me that when you are scanning down a list of innings, you’ll appreciate it. Also, it doesn’t really affect the results much at all. In this case, Satchel is rounded down to 250 innings, which at 0.14 RAA/IP gives him 35 RAA.

17) Convert those RAA to wins above average (WAA).

We follow BBREF’s instructions here. Best of luck. We get 4.0 WAA for Paige. BBREF generally defines All-Star performance as 5.0 WAR over a full season of play. Since Paige gets to 4.0 just in terms of his performance versus average, not yet counting replacement, we are estimating 1942 as at least an All-Star type year.

18) Figure the pitcher’s replacement runs (Rrep) and replacement wins.

According to BBREF, the calculation, using the info we have, for replacement runs looks like this:

( lgRA9 / 27 * ( ( 20.5 – 1.8 ) / 100 ) ) * ( MLE IP * 3 )

For Satch the equation is

( 4.30 / 27 * ( ( 20.5 – 1.8 ) / 100 ) ) * ( 250 * 3 ) = 22 Rrep

Once again see here for converting runs to wins, which enables to figure Paige at 2.5 replacement wins.

19) Finally, add WAA to the replacement wins to get the final equivalent pitching WAR total. 

4.0 WAA + 2.5 replacement wins = 6.5 WAR, a strong season. That would typically be an All-Star campaign and in some seasons could draw Cy Young votes or even lead the league. From 1928, Paige’s rookie season, to 1953, where we draw the retirement line for him in our MLE, 6.3–6.7 pitching WAR was enough to lead the league in the 1940 NL, the 1941 NL, the 1943 AL, the 1948 AL, the 1949 AL, and the 1953 AL. In 11 other instances, even lower totals led a major league during that time. For example, Tex Hughson’s league leading 1942 total of 6.2 in the 1942 AL.

When we do this for all his seasons, we get 124.0 WAR for Paige’s career. That’s pretty great.

Now onto his hitting.

20) Estimate the number of PAs they would accumulate in the games they pitched.

OK, we’re kind of fudging this one, but logically, this little formula does the job:

( 8 / 3 ) * ( IP / 8 )

It basically assumes that an MLB pitcher in the Negro-Leagues era gets 3 plate appearances every eight innings. Every season from 1893 onward has a per-game average of at least 36 PAs per team. But pitchers either don’t always go all the way, and they are often pinch hit for the third or fourth time through the lineup. On the other hand, pitchers went a lot longer back in the Negro Leagues era. So, we figure that a typical starting pitcher would likely hit three times, and be pinch hit for in the eighth. On average. If not, that’s fine. The difference is minimal enough that we’re not going to split the hairs too finely. For Satch:

( 8 / 3 ) * 250 / 8 = 83 PA (rounded to the whole, of course)

21) Figure their offensive performance by converting their OPS+ to Rbat/PA.

OK, I found every pitcher  from 1890 to 1960 who batted 300 or more times in their career, and I put their OPS+ on the x-axis of a scatter plot and their Rbat/PA on the y-axis. The resulting regression equation (very strong r-squared of .92, as it should be) is

y = 0.0013x – 0.1307

We apply it to the pitcher’s quality-of-play-adjusted OPS+ this way:

( 0.0013 * ( OPS+ * QOP factor ) ) – 0.1307

If the OPS+ is negative, then we divide rather than multiply by the QOP factor.

In 1942, for Paige, this looks like

( 0.0013 * ( –17 OPS+ / .80 ) ) – 0.1307 = -.16 Rbat/PA

22) Apply that Rbat/PA to the our estimated PAs to get his equivalent Rbat.

-.16 * 83 = -13.1

23) Follow BBREFs instructions for figuring pitchers batting Rpos.

This boils down to

( ( PA / 4 ) * seasonal pitcher-batting adjustment ) / 150

That seasonal positional adjustment is located here.

For Satchel we get

93 / 4 * 59.2 / 150 = 8.2

24) Combine Rbat and Rpos to get batting RAA.

-13.1 + 8.2 = -4.9

25) Use BBREFs runs-to-wins instructions to create WAR (we can skip WAA because BBREF sets replacement level for pitcher-batters so that the average pitcher is a replacement-level hitter).

We get -0.5 batting WAR from this procedure for 1942. For his career, our MLE version of Paige was worth -2.3 batting WAR.

26) Add our pitching WAR estimate from step 19 to our batting WAR estimate in step 25 to get the pitchers total WAR contribution for the season.

6.5 pitching WAR + -0.5 batting WAR = 6.0 total WAR

[It’s actually 5.94, but we irresponsibly lost some information due to rounding.]

When we do this entire procedure for all of his seasons (sometimes having to make some judgment calls when data are missing), we get 118.0 WAR.

Taken all together, this puts Satchel Paige behind Walter Johnson and Cy Young and right on the heels of Pete Alexander in WAR. It’s certainly possible that we’re giving him too much credit—that we’ve got some horrible mathematical or logical problem in our routine. We could also have badly inputted formulae because it ain’t as easy as copy/paste in every instance. But on the whole, we are estimating that Satchel Paige is one of the best pitchers ever to take a mound whether in MLB or not. We’ll show you his entire career MLEs in a subsequent post. They represent a holy-moly pitcher.

What you shouldn’t do is take our word for holy gospel. Especially not on a season-by season basis. There’s enough missing data for virtually all these players or small samples at the seasonal level that we need to think of the totality of the career first and the shape of it or its component seasons second. With so many moving parts, we can’t guarantee that any single season is “accurate” or “correct” in the literal sense. Only that we’ve got a protocol that appears to work pretty well in testing among pitchers of varying quality in the Negro Leagues. We hope that you will agree that at the very least, we’re being thorough.

Please let us know if you have any suggestions for improvement. We aren’t all that mathy by training, more like logical. But we are prone to human error, and the process that got us this far is incredibly iterative. Mostly, though, we hope you enjoy the players we’ll present and the dreams of an integrated game that they represent, as well as the outstanding play that lies behind these estimates of greatness.

Next up the first four of our Hall of Fame/Merit pitchers: Ray Brown, Andy Cooper, Leon Day, and Martín Dihigo.

Mount Rushmore: Milwaukee Brewers

I’ve long been a sucker for the Brew Crew’s ball-in-glove logo. The visual pun tickles me. Although, much like the logo des les Expos, it took me years to figure it out. Although I don’t personally consume alcohol anymore, I nonetheless remember with a rosy hue the days of my imbibing and similarly visiting Milwaukee’s many breweries for tours and, of course, free tastings of beer.

Which reminds me of a story that has to do with Milwaukee, baseball, and beer. Each in its way.

When they graduate from college, the more well to do classically roam Europe to soak up the civilized life. Others, more impelled by their dreams of making a difference, find the summer internship that will launch their world-changing careers. Still others prefer to start the hunt for a job so that they might move out of their parents’ home. I chose to climb into a late-1980s four-door Jeep with two other smelly twenty-two year olds to unzip the DNA of America on the double helix of the blue highways of our fair nation.

We zipped right away from the east coast having grown up there and explored it extensively already and soon found ourselves in Iowa. In fact, in a flash of insight, we decided to stop in the farmy hamlet of Lost Nation, Iowa with the intention of finding suitable grounds for one of the many Wiffle Ball games we would that summer contest as well as the answer to the riddle of its name.

In my memory, the sunny, dusty little town lay about three hours from anywhere and ten minutes from nowhere. But this tiny town played hosted to our Wiffling exhibition with the good and quiet grace that so many small towns in the breadbasket of America  would show us that summer. In other words, they didn’t know we were there.

Until we revealed ourselves at the local bar. Wiffle Ball will work you up a good sweat, and we sought the cooling comfort of a pint of the local’s finest. Many small, midwestern towns boast truly broad streets, almost unfathomably wide by the standards of our east-coast experiences, and our eyes felt bleached from simply looking up and down the tarmac and around at the few blocks of buildings that counted for the town’s center. The mid afternoon sun seemed to glare off everything around us. So as we opened the door to the local beer joint, we were hardly prepared for the visual adjustment it required. Our eyes dilated crazily, and we put our hands to  our eyebrows, trying to suss out the place.

The cold air we’d hoped for was there, and a lot more locals than we’d figured. Midday in Lost Nation was a good time to drink with fellow farmers. An air-conditioning unit droned, classic rock blared from speakers stuck up in a couple corners, but the sound of pool balls cracking against one another stopped as we three sweat-drenched strangers elbowed up to the rail. The locals appraised us, while we tried to ignore the fact that they were appraising us. So we did what any intelligent individual would do: We ordered a beer. A bottled beer in this case because we didn’t like the frat-party swill on the tap.

Eventually, remembering our mission, one of us got up enough hoppy courage to approach a clutch of the townsfolk seated across the room. While the perspiration got by fun condensed on our skins, their raiments spoke the visual language of labor. Teeshirts whose many washings couldn’t scrub away not only the sweat of hard work but the stains of a work done with the Earth itself, the dirt, the loam, the manure, the bleach marks of fertilizers. Warily the table’s occupants summoned one of their number from elsewhere in the room. The thirty-something man who approached had the sun-cracked crows feet of a ballplayer from before the advent of flip-down sunglasses. You know, the way a thirty-five year old outfielder looks in his photos like a fifty-five year old. This despite a ball cap faded from fire-engine red to a pinkish tint he’d have never paid for. Facial hair covered his cheeks not fashionable in the way that younger people today enjoy that big-beard look, but in the way of those for whom shaving is an inconvenience best dispensed with, especially when the alternatives to hirsuteness are the seasonal burn of sun or wind. Where the legs of his jeans met the hips stood lines of bold relief where sun and dirt had faded and browned the crest of the wrinkles and left the troughs relatively blue. Grease and oil blackened spots on the outer thigh of the pant legs.

And so we asked how did Lost Nation get its name? There was no one answer. Might have been Carrie Nation comin’ through with her axe on her crusade to dry out the county or the country. There was also an old story about a local Indian tribe picking up stakes and disappearing one day. It was hard to know to for sure. But that led to one thing conversational thing or another, and soon the whole crew were introducing us to family members and making us feel at home.

The kicker was that they ordered us that beer on tap. We’d seen smelled the basements of enough fraternity houses to know that beverage’s quality by its prevalence among the drink-to-get-obliterated-and/or-laid crowd. But we couldn’t decline, even politely. But the first sip was fuller bodied than we could remember this brand ever tasting. It didn’t smell bad, and it had flavor notes going down that had never been there before in our experience. It was an enjoyably potable despite our recent experience with it. Of course, we’d never had it from the tap before. Nor had we ever drank it so close to its home. We expressed our amazement and delight, and our new friends gave us knowing smiles. And so, dear reader, if you drink, and if you enjoy a frosty beer, and if you are in Iowa, take a chance on Old Milwaukee, as long as it’s on tap.

Mount Rushmore

Of course all of that storytelling has more to do with Milwaukee brewers than the Milwaukee Brewers. So let’s get to the point here. Truth is, we kind of needed to fill some space. The Brewers’ history is relatively short, and their pockets shallow. They’ve developed some All-Star players and even a couple Hall-level talents, but not as many as you’d like. In fact, ever since Harvey’s Wallbangers in the early 1980s, they’ve been, mostly, really boring. They’ve also failed to retain virtually any of their signature talents over an entire career. Robin Yount is the one massive exception to that statement. It was Yount’s finally arriving as a complete player that ultimately drove those Wallbangers to the World Series. Harry Dalton did a great job stockpiling talented young veterans, and Paul Molitor’s emergence, of course, pushed the team a long way, but when your starting shortstop goes from banjo hitter with a glove to to a middle-of-the-order threat with annual 20-homer/10-triple/40-double potential, you start winning a lot more ballgames.

Sadly the aforementioned Molitor didn’t finish up with Milwaukee. Perhaps he was driven away by the stench of Bud Selig’s cigars, presumably lit from letters he wrote to fellow owners in support of collusion, if not $100 bills. But another Brewer’s infielder did stick around, Jim Ganter. Or “Gumby” if you prefer. He was cut from the exact same cloth as his direct contemporary, Glenn Hubbard: Great glove at second, not much help at the plate. As a lefty swinger, at least Gantner avoided a lot of double plays. But Ganter is exactly the kind of player that winning teams need. Not everyone in your lineup is a superstar, so you need regulars who can give you two wins while playing a lot so that some replacement-level scrub isn’t.

Now Teddy Higuera wasn’t boring. He was a Mexican breaking-ball artist who threw Uncle Scroogie as well or better than Fernando Valenzuela. Arm troubles ended Higuera’s career prematurely but Higuera had a great six-year run from 1985 to 1990 with 31.7 WAR and 20.6 WAA. The more ballyhooed Fernando’s best six years (not even consecutive ones) were worth 28.7 WAR and 15.2 WAR. Inning for inning, at their best Higuera outperformed the more famous Tinseltown lefty. It’s just sad that Teddy wasn’t discovered earlier (he was a 27-year-old rookie) and got hurt.

Lastly, we have an active player, Ryan Braun. His homophonically appropriate last name explains much of his success with 300 homers on his resume as of this writing. Braun arrived as a terrible third baseman (-32 Rfield, yes, -32) with a fielding percentage below .900. But he worked hard to make himself a good left outfielder. He has -13 career Rfield, which means that as an outfielder, he’s racked up +19 runs. This shouldn’t be terribly surprising. Braun is athletic and owns 192 steals at a decent 78% success rate, and he’s hit at least six triples in five different seasons. No matter how much you may dislike the whole mid-stream scandal, performance enhancing drugs will not turn you into an asset in the field. That’s because speed isn’t everything, so any increases in athleticism that could come from sports drugs aren’t causal here. Look at people like Lonnie Smith or Luis Polonia. Fast, athletic guys with tin gloves. Fielding requires the ability to take good routes to the ball, to keep your head in the game, and to make good real-time decisions. No steroid can make your smarts bigger.

My Brew Through

So what if I had my own Brewers mountain of Fame? I’m sure you know this is coming, but Stormin’ Gorman Thomas is number one on that rock. I’ll take Higuera after that since we don’t have any screwball-throwing pitchers in our midst these days. I’ve also always kind of liked Dan Plesac. He was just kind of crazy amazing in the late 1980s. OK, and last, Darryl Hamilton. For reasons I don’t quite know, I just always like the guy. As much as I find Thomas’ beer-league approach to the game a lot of fun, I also appreciated the quiet class that Hamilton brought. I also won a trivia contest in a 10th grade social studies class with him by answering a question about which centerfielder had just set an errorless-streak record. It was a substitute-teacher kind of day, but I’ll always be glad Darryl Hamilton helped our team win.

Honoring Negro Leaguers at the Hall of Miller and Eric

We’re doing this.

After hemming, hawing, testing, and analyzing all summer, we’re pleased to announce that the Hall of Miller and Eric will be opening its doors to Negro Leagues players. Actually, we wish we could have done it sooner, but the background information needed to make good decisions is vast, and we needed to make sure that we could do the process justice.

For other types of candidates, we’ve gone about the electoral process relatively quickly. This process, however, will require a more deliberate pace. That’s because we have decided to create our own major league equivalencies (MLEs) for the top-tier candidates. A finicky business, these MLEs, and each player requires a couple-few hours at a minimum. With hundreds of candidates available and 29 to elect, time is our greatest resource. Well, that, Excel, and the Negro Leagues Database at Seamheads.com.

We will discuss the MLE process in greater (read: excruciating) detail in other posts. No one will likely want to play along at home, believe us, but you may want to know exactly how we go about all this so that you can understand where we’re coming from. Especially regarding surprising or controversial candidates.

But let’s stop to say one thing about MLEs. Their purpose is not to take away from the accomplishments of these players in their original settings. The biggest reason to create MLEs for these guys is to put them all on the same level footing. Remember, the Negro Leagues don’t consist of just one or two leagues of similar caliber. They comprise leagues all over the hemisphere, independent teams, summer and winter ball, and more. Each of these leagues may have a different quality of play. Each time a team moves into or out of a league, the relative influence of its park may change. The Negro Leagues were frequently in flux, and MLEs put each player into a familiar context so we can compare Satchel Paige to Cyclone Joe Williams in an apples-to-apples kind of way, as well as comparing both to Walter Johnson or Lefty Grove .

Negro Leaguers: The big picture

We have several important goals for these elections:

  • Match the Hall of Fame’s 29 player honorees.
  • Learn more about the history and players of the Negro Leagues.
  • Give these guys some time and space to shine because almost all of them are virtually unknown except among a few diehard fans.
  • Bring the latest methods and most up-to-date data to the table.

You’ll notice that there’s one goal we haven’t mentioned here that we trumpet elsewhere in our rantings, ravings, and writings: Showing the Hall where it went wrong and how to repair it. Oh, we very much want to nail the best 29 candidates. And, oh, we both love to think we know what’s best, but in this case, the Hall’s electoral work hasn’t been nearly so spotty as the votes by the BBWAA and Veterans Committees. And even if it were, it would be hard to criticize the Hall’s process because the state of the Negro Leagues statistical record continues to evolve to this day. We immediately think that a couple or few Negro Leagues players already enshrined don’t belong in the Hall, and that perhaps some overlooked stars didn’t get their fairest of hearings, but it’s very hard to criticize the electors had virtually no statistical evidence to work from. And when they did have evidence, it was often a mess.

But in the mid-2000s, the Hall commissioned a big reconstruction of the Negro Leagues dataset. Led by Larry Lester and Dick Clark (no, not the Eternal Teenager), that group was probably the first to really bring a single set of rigorous criteria to the process, especially over a wide range of times and leagues. Those data fed the special 2006 Negro Leagues election that enshrined a boatload of players and contributors all at once. Eleven years later, Gary Ashwill, Scott Simkus, Kevin Johnson, and the site-runners at Seamheads.com have gifted us with the Negro Leagues Database. It includes not only a wide range of meticulously researched Negro Leagues games but also various winter and international leagues that featured these players. While it’s still incorporating data, it is moving closer and closer to the holy grail of the most complete record of the Blackball era possible. We benefit from it today, but our electoral forerunners did not. Therefore, let’s think of this not as a critique of previous electors’ work but rather a revised estimate.

The fine print

So whom exactly are we electing? Players must meet three eligibility criteria:

  1. Not already members of the Hall of Miller and Eric in any capacity
  2. Played at least one season in the Negro Leagues or related leagues outside of “organized baseball”
  3. Meet our usual eligibility requirements (basically, had a pulse).

In practice, we have three types of candidates available to us:

  • Negro Leaguers like Josh Gibson or Oscar Charleston who played their entire careers in the Negro Leagues and/or various summer or winter leagues in Caribbean and Latin-American nations
  • Negro Leaguers like Ray Brown or Buck Leonard whose careers overlapped integration and included seasons in the Negro Leagues as well as the minor leagues
  • Major leaguers like Satchel Paige, Larry Doby, and Don Newcombe whose careers began in the Negro Leagues.

We expect to also elect managers and contributors to match the Hall’s numbers. They will come later, but you need to know that because at least a couple player candidates have strong candidacies in more than one domain. We will elect in their area of greatest strength.

The path to elections

Here’s how this is going to work. We’ve only run up MLEs on around 25 guys so far, and, as we noted above, they take a while. Still, we don’t think it’s cool to wait until we’ve completed every strong candidate. We’re solving this dilemma by slowing rolling out our findings and our elections. That gives us to do the job well and you time to enjoy learning about the players.

We’ll first describe our MLE methods to you in methodological posts that we hope won’t cause your eyes to roll back in your head. Once we do that, we’ll begin sharing our stat findings and some analysis of the player and his MLEs. We’ll start with players elected to either the Hall of Fame or the Hall of Merit and go position by position. Each week we’ll look at several players, which means that a couple positions will get split into two or three posts.

These nearly 40 men will represent the candidates for our first round of elections. We will sift through them, determining whether to elect them right away, keep them in contention, or write them off.

After that, we’ll once again go around the diamond, this time sharing MLEs for leading candidates at each position who haven’t made the Coop or the Hall of Merit. After we get through them, we’ll begin electing the remaining members.

If this sounds like a long process, you’re no dope. Truth is, for the fellows in our second round of elections, the process can’t be long enough. Many of their cases will rely on data not yet available to us on the Negro Leagues Database or in any other location. To paraphrase Lando Calrissian, We gotta give Gary, Scott, Kevin, and company more time! So this process does that very thing. We’re building it so that when the data arrives, it just slides right into place.

This also, however, brings us to a strange caveat that may not sound like a very Miller-and-Eric thing to do. We reserve the right to take back an election and exchange an honoree for someone else, under certain conditions. As you might imagine we have no way of knowing what newly added data might contribute to our understanding of a given player, whether to his credit or his debit, and so we will maintain an open-minded stance, just in case. We hope never to use this escape hatch, but it’s there if circumstances warrant it, and only to be used with extreme caution.

That’s the plan. We hope you enjoy this tour through the Negro Leagues. If you’re feelin’ it, we recommend picking up a book like Shades of Glory that succinctly and with good prose recounts the history of black baseball in America before Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough in 1947. Even if you don’t read up, we hope we can share some good stuff about guys who deserved better than they got and deserve the best we can do for them.

Mount Rushmore: Miami Marlins

For a team with two world titles in just a 25-year history, you’d think the Miami (nee Florida) Marlins would have a somewhat storied collection of heroes. Instead they merely have a collection of stories. Mostly with punch lines. Or a line of people you’d like to punch. For example, Wayne Huizenga, Jeff Loria, and Bud Selig.

On the field, however, the team has had one constant. No monument to great Fish would be complete without him. And I mean Billy the Marlin. He’s been there, grinding away since the very beginning. No symbolizes the Marlins like Billy. Well, that’s because he’s their only mascot, and mascots are symbols, but you get the point. Then there’s Mr. Marlin, Jeff Conine. Eight years he spent in (then) Marlin stripes. The Marlins have seven days of Mike Piazza’s career to trumpet. We could continue down this Merrie Melodies memory lane, but let’s cut to the chase.

Mount Rushmarlin

The way we’re playing this game, we ask, what four players who spent their whole career with the team would have their faces on its monument. Now Billy is not a player so that DQs him. Well, and that his nose would probably be impossible to carve into the hillside. But anyway, I kind of feel like a sandcastle would be more like it, don’t you?

Giancarlo Stanton and his 34 WAR are the Marlins’ all time leader in value. He’s the first fishy to hit fifty roundtrippers too. Actually, only 20 Marlins have even hit 50 in a season while wearing the south florida togs. Stanton’s one of only two fellows to hit 150 with the team, and the only to reach 250. He currently has a 104 homer advantage over Dan Uggla, and is on such a heater right now that it might be a 150 homer lead by the end of September. OK, maybe not.

Our second face in the sand: Christian Yelich. He’s still just 25 years of age, but this former first round pick (#23, not a bad job of scouting) has already racked up 17 WAR and counting. Dude isn’t amazing at anything on the field, but he’s good at everything: 120 OPS+, good for a couple runs of baserunning and DP avoidance each year, a slick left fielder. He may be a tad stretched in centerfield this year, but his lower than average defensive value is exactly matched by the extra positional value he picks up in centerfield, so he’s doing a good job faking it.

In fact, the entire Marlins outfield is in play here. Marcel Ozuna is our third man with 13 WAR. The Marlins wisely flipped the two of them in the outfield. Ozuna, whose speed has diminished quickly as his body fills out, wasn’t a credible centerfielder any longer, but his big bat plays in left field, and he’s a major defensive asset there with +11 defensive runs through August.

Of course, this being the Marlins, and until Jeffrey Loria’s out the door for good, and maybe even then, we can’t really expect these three to remain in the school. The same sadly can’t be said for Marlin #4, Jose Fernandez. The dynamic young hurler’s early demise makes him a forever Marlin with his 14 WAR. It’s entirely possible that by the beginning of next season, or sometime during 2018, the Marlins will do their usual file-sale thing, leaving Fernandez as the most value Miami-only player. That would be sadly symbolic in too many ways.

Enter Sandcastle Man

Now, here’s the part where I get to tell you whose face I would include were I the sandcastelan. I’d start with Dontrelle Willis, whose smile and enjoyment of the game always made him a good watch. Interestingly, Willis was a great hitter (for a pitcher), and his 4.1 offensive WAR scores 28th among all Marlins hitters. You know your team is young and conducts a lot of fire sales when…. Next up Quilvio Veras. I don’t know why, I just always liked Q’s game. Walks, steals, switch hitter, fun! Shame he was always hurt. Gotta take A.J. Burnett. Dude had nipple rings and the best curve since Bly. Finally, el Pulpo! Antonio Alfonseca and his six-fingered hands. I don’t think the extra fingers did a lot for his pitches because they were diminutive and did not touch the ball. I’d love to know how a regular-sized sixth digit would effect a pitcher’s arsenal. More important, however, he and I share a birthday. Go team Aries!

 

Mount Rushmore: Los Angeles Dodgers

Bud Selig used to talk about “crown jewel” franchises. The Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cardinals, probably the Cubs and the Giants, maybe even the Braves. And, of course, the Dodgers. Teams with long histories, lots of championships, or at least lots of World Series appearances, and generally a lot of great teams. A dynasty or three probably. Oh, and very large franchise valuations. Can’t forget that.

As the Dodgers close in on yet another NL West crown and make a run at the Cubs and Mariners here in 2018, it’s an interesting moment to reflect. Under the names Atlantics, Grays, Grooms, Bridegrooms, Superbas, Robins, and Dodgers, and in Brookly and Los Angeles, the club has won 6 World Series, captured 22 NL flags, and appeared in the post-season 30 times. They’ve won 10,758 games and lost 9,667 (through Friday, August 19th, 2018) for a .527 winning percentage. They could go oh-for-the-season for six years and still not drop below .500. The Dodgers broke the color line. They made the move that opened the west coast up to MLB and sparked expansion. That’s a lot of stuff. And in a way, if we had to pick four Dodgers to represent the history of the organization, we might choose Jackie Robinson and three non-players: Branch Rickey, Walter Alston, and Walter O’Malley.

We would certainly not choose Frank McCourt or Fox, ownership types who played fast and loose with the Dodger brand, and in the latter case sullied it with the kind of rich, entitled, and amoral behavior we’ve come to know all too well in recent times.

But the franchise is once again built the Dodger Way by using outstanding scouting and development to assemble a core of homegrown talent (Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Kenley Jansen) second to none in the game. But while today’s Dodgers do defy the O’Mally regimes distaste for free agents, they are making good use of their money by picking up another Dodger tradition. Like Branch Rickey toolkit they’ve dived into analytics to find edges beyond scouting. Despite losing out in the October scrum umpteen years running, they may be the best run franchise in baseball at this moment. It’s a good time to be a Dodgers fan.

Rush(hour)more

I find it difficult to imagine Dodger faces stuck up on a mountain in the Black Hills. Whether in Brooklyn or LA, this has always felt like a team of urbanites to me, whether of the working class type back east or the dazzling type in Cali. So let’s imagine instead that their faces appear on the hills behind the stage of the Hollywood Bowl or perhaps etched into the Echo Cliffs of Santa Monica. Or at least someplace fans could see them while stuck in traffic on the 5 or the 101.

Or maybe suspended from the Brooklyn Bridge because three of these guys spent most of their career winning pennants with Dem Bums.

Don Drysdale nearly all his work in LA. He was a durable horse while he lasted, but was done at 32. Nonetheless, he left behind 61 WAR as a pitcher plus another 6 as a hitter. His 1965 season is kinda famous among pitcher-hitting lovers for a .300/.331/.508 triple slash and a 140 OPS+. But the guy hit 29 homers in his career, so at least the 200 ISO in 1965 wasn’t exactly a stone-cold fluke. Combined, his 67.2 WAR just edge out this short-time teammate…

Pee Wee Reese didn’t get a great shake from the BBWAA. But then, they didn’t know much back in the 1960s and 1970s about the relative value of all the little things that Reese did well. Yeah, he only hit .269 (99 OPS+), but because that batting average was accompanied by 1210 walks and a .366 OBP, he ended his career 31 runs above the average NL batter. Reese then chipped in +43 runs of good baserunning and +117 defensively. A 99 OPS+ hitting shortstop with a gold glove? Heck if Ozzie Smith hit as well as Reese, he’d have been worth roughly another 15 wins and would have accumulated 90 WAR, about as much as Al Kaline or Wade Boggs. In the event, however, Reese had a brilliant career with three years in the middle stolen by Hitler that probably cost him 15 to 20 WAR. He ended up with 66.4 anyway.

P.W. Reese barely edges out Duke Snider, but alas, the Flatbush’s nobleman spent a couple seasons with the Giants and Mets. So our third face on the monument to Dodgerdom is Jackie Robinson, himself. I think it was Bill James who pointed out just what an interesting player Jackie was. Looking only from the baseball side, Robinson could do damn near anything on the diamond. He excelled at every position he played, especially second base, but also first base, third base, and left field. At the plate he racked up 261 runs above average in just ten seasons through a combination of a .300+ average, a .400+ OBP, and an isolated slugging percentage 13% above the league average. Robinson also ran the bases as well as anyone from his time (+30 runs in just ten years), and even had positive value for staying out of twinkillings as a batter. He was absolutely lethal in innings 7–9, hitting .344/.439/.523, all well above his career averages. Late and close: .341/.446/.545. For good measure, he even led the league in sacrifice hits twice. Robinson did not play catcher or centerfield, and he did not pitch in the big leagues. And he was a crummy pinch hitter in a mere 55 PA (.156/.264/.222). But he did everything else superbly despite having relatively little high-level baseball experience for a 26-year-old prior to breaking the color line. He played in 1945 with the famed Kansas City Monarchs, spent a year in the Dodger’s minor league chain, then debuted in 1947. That’s it. Remember, he was a football, track, and swimming star at UCLA. In fact, baseball was his fourth sport. So the next time someone talks about how amazing an athlete Bo Jackson was (and, yes, he certainly was), drop Jackie’s name into the discussion. Because it’s entirely possible that Jackie was a better athlete than Bo, who never had nearly the success on a baseball diamond that Jackie did.

Number four and climbing (just two WAR behind Jackie’s 60) is the best active pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw. In fact, on April 3rd of this year, Kershaw became a Hall of Famer. You might not have realized it at the time. Very little was said. When he threw his first pitch that day in Chavez Ravine against San Diego, Kershaw became active in his tenth MLB season. That qualifies him for the Hall of Fame, and, barring a gambling or steroids scandal, there is no way that Clayton Kershaw will fail to get his plaque. Sure, his record as of today is just 141–62, a very low total of wins for a Hall starter. Sure he’s only tossed 1901 innings so far. Sure his post-season resume isn’t amazing. But the same folks who vote for the Hall have voted him the Cy Young Award winner three times, its runner up once, its third place finisher another time. They voted him the MVP as well. Kershaw has led the league in wins twice, in ERA a startling four times consecutively, shutouts twice, and strikeouts thrice. He struck out 301 batters in a mere 232.67 innings in 2105 at age 27. He’s led in ERA+ three times, WHIP four times, and his career K/BB rate is an amazing 4.16. He’s racked up 57.3 WAR, which turns out to be about 6.8 per the 227 innings he’ so far averaging per season so far in his career. A mortal lock for immortality. Everything else no is gravy.

Kershaw is the best pitcher in Los Angeles Dodgers’ history, which will go down with Koufax fans about as well as a handful of gravel, but take an actual objective look. Koufax’s legacy rests on six seasons, for only four of which he pitched a full workload. Kershaw has six seasons at a full, modern baseball workload. But he’s also got another four seasons of outstanding pitching (plus one average one at age 20). Koufax had no other outstanding seasons. Look at the leaderboards and awards. Kershaw already matches Sandy’s three Cy Youngs and MVP, and actually has more Cy Young support than Koufax (who matches up with more MVP support). Koufax led in strikeouts four times, Kershaw so far “only” three, while finishing second by one in a fourth year. Koufax led in complete games twice and shutouts three times. Kershaw has matched both of those. Kershaw has led his league twice in games started, Koufax did just once. While Koufax led his league five straight times in ERA, he finished first only twice in ERA+. Kershaw, as mentioned, led in ERA four times, and is currently leading the NL while on the DL. He’s also won out in ERA+ three times and is currently leading the NL there as well. (As of this writing, he’s about 20 innings short of qualifying for the league lead and is expected back to the rotation shortly.) To put this comparison in perspective, Clayton Kershaw’s career ERA is 2.34 and his career ERA+ is 162 in 1901 innings. Koufax’s were 2.76 and 131. Yes, it’s true that Kershaw benefits from modern shutdown bullpens. And the Dodgers’ relief corps in Kofuax’s salad years weren’t exactly bums. During his six-year stretch of dominance, his bullpen blew only 9 potential wins, but the team saved him from 21 losses (per BBREF’s Wlst and Lsv stats on Koufax’s Advanced Pitching Stats page for Sandy). Compare over the same period to teammate Don Drysdale. Then pen blew 14 of his games, and he was spared a loss in 25 contests. Johnny Podres was with the club from 1961–1965, and the team blew 11 wins and picked him up 22 times. By the way, Kershaw in his career has had 27 wins blown by his pen and 26 times been saved by his team from a loss.

So basically, looked at with some distance, Clayton Kershaw owns the best pitching record the Los Angeles version of the Dodgers have ever had. You can quibble around the edges if you want to, but his main competitors are Sandy Koufax, whose case we’ve discussed at great length and Don Drysdale whose case against Kershaw would rest on simply having more seasons in the uniform, but whose performance record simply can’t stand up against the Claw’s. But there’s also Dazzy Vance to consider from the Brooklyn iteration. Vance racked up a few more WAR in his 11 years at Ebbets Field. He dominated leaderboards like few others. Seven straight strikeout titles. Four times leading in pitching WAR. Three ERA titles, twice leading the league in victories for iffy teams. Four shutout titles. Three ERA plus titles. Plus an MVP award. Kershaw may well have already bested Vance, but it’s a lot closer than the other two, and I’ll wait until the chickens have fully hatched to make this call definitely for Kershaw.

That said

If I were making my own little monument to the Dodgers, I’d have Kershaw up there for sure. And I’d have Jackie too. Dazzy Vance, totally. Then I’m caught between Jim Gilliam, the Tony Phillips of his day; Davey Lopes with his crazy-good baserunning; and Babe Herman who just had a lot of crazy about him. I guess I’ll take Lopes since he was the baserunning coach for my Phils during their run as the most amazing running team around in the late 2000s.

Institutional History

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