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eric has written 283 posts for the Hall of Miller and Eric

2018 Modern Era Committee Results: The Miller and Eric Reaction

Alan Trammell, BK, 1978We are the Stattler and Waldorf of Hall of Fame elections, and we had mixed reviews of the vote by the Hall of Fame’s Modern Era Committee.

Eric: I’m not sure whether I’d have rather the VC elect Jack Morris or Morris the Cat. At least I’m a fan of cats.

Miller: I saw a fascinating and uncommon Twitter exchange on Sunday. It went something like this:

Person 1: Jack Morris always came through in the clutch. If you needed a great game, you could always give him the ball and rest assured.

Person 2: That’s not right. Consider 1987 in the ALCS, his poor start in the 1991 ALCS opener, his 1992 ALCS stinker in game 5, and when he got his hat handed to him in the fifth game of the 1992 World Series.

Person 1: So I checked, and you’re right! It must be the kid in me who saw that amazing game to win the 1991 World Series. For some reason I blocked out all of those other games. I stand corrected.

Conversations like this hardly occur these days. The Morris argument generally falls along party lines. The stats community hates him because, you know, they look at the stats. And the anti-stats community loves him, basically because of misinformation, a refusal to look at his actual stats.

I’m not talking about the folks who say that one great game is enough. You folks have a right to that opinion. I disagree, but the “one game is enough” crew is making an argument based on something that’s completely true. Jack Morris pitched one of the best games in baseball history. I am absolutely okay respectfully agreeing with you if you’re in that camp.

Let’s be clear though. Nobody has a right to the opinion that Morris was a great clutch pitcher or a great playoff pitcher. There is absolutely clear, incontrovertible evidence that he wasn’t. Only eight of his thirteen postseason outings were even quality starts. Take away 1984 when he actually was great, and you have a pitcher with a 4.54 ERA in October. And that includes the 10-inning gem in 1991.

In 2017, facts seem to be a matter of opinion, but they’re not. Tomorrow, for example, is the five year anniversary of the horrific shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. I don’t mean to be remotely political when I say it’s not a matter of opinion whether or not that happened.

For my money, Jack Morris is about the equal of Catfish Hunter and Lefty Gomez. He’s better than Rube Marquard and Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers. And he’ll also be the best pitcher on the Cooperstown stage in 2018 (unless by some miracle Mike Mussina or Curt Schilling is elected). He’s better than Trevor Hoffman too.

Hoffman is another player who inspires a lot of incorrect opinions. Closer simply isn’t a position. It’s a role. You can have an opinion about Hoffman’s greatness or his suitability for the Hall, but not about his position. He’s a pitcher. Scott Rolen was a third baseman, Edgar Martinez a designated hitter (basically), and Hoffman a pitcher. Designated hitter became a position when it went into the rule book in 1973. Closer isn’t in the rule book, and there’s almost no chance it ever will be. It’s a role, a changing role.

But I digress. Facts matter. They’re real things. I’m sad today because the Hall elected just about the worst starting pitcher they ever elected. I’m sadder because they elected him, I believe, while ignoring facts about his career.

Eric, you have more positive things to say about Alan Trammell?

Eric: Facts do matter. “Alternative facts” kill democratic institutions given time and no resistance. But it’s interesting how time changes how clearly we see the facts. The MVP awards of 1987 seem so clearly screwy today. The rabbit ball of 1987 played havoc with our impressions, and the glittering homer and RBI totals of Andre Dawson and George Bell made them appear like a pretty good choice. We didn’t think enough about the gaudy league-leading homer totals’ relationship to Wade Boggs’ hitting 24 homers or Larry Sheets’ hitting 31. Larry Sheets! Thirty years later, RBIs have been thoroughly debunked as an appropriate tool for determining value, and we see the one-year homerfest for what it was. We see that the dudes who got screwed were Ozzie Smith and today’s honoree Alan Trammell.

I’m not one of the folks who accept these electoral results as a hostage swap. Your man’s-man with a big mustache for our legitimate Hall of Famer. The Hall’s job is to get this stuff right. Tram has had the same credentials since he quit. He was well-qualified then and was well-qualified when the electors met this past weekend. Morris has always been poorly qualified. Really, what more is there to say?

Are there possible positive and negative ramifications from this election? Let’s look at the positives first.

Trammell’s election could show a pathway for future candidates. He never topped 41%, but he reached that figure in his final election when he picked up 15% thanks to a lot of people saying “Oh, shit!” as they realized his time had run out. Maybe this means there’s some hope for guys who haven’t gotten enough traction with the BBWAA. If someone like Larry Walker, who as we write in mid-December has rallied a little with the electorate, can ramp up into the low 40s in the voting and go out on a positive surging note, perhaps he might have a shot in the VC. Jeff Kent might also tread this path, particularly with the benefit of less ballot clogging starting in 2020.

If the surge at the end is important, it might also mean that Lee Smith won’t be voted in. No offense to Mr. Smith or his fans, but his inclusion would lower the Hall’s already shaky standards, and it would open things up to a whole bunch of closers who absolutely don’t merit getting more than a passing mention in the Hall conversation.

I can also hope that Tram might make it easier for the VC to see Lou Whitaker’s value as a candidate. “Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker” is the closest the 1980s get to “Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance.” And they were on Magnum together, which is crucial. Maybe the screening committee feels the love in a couple years and sticks Sweet Lou on the Modern Era ballot, where the Trammell-Whitaker narrative could swing some votes? Hey, I can hope.

You seeing any other positive possibilities to Trammell and Morris?

Miller: Actually, the huge positive I see is in Ted Simmons. Forget that Trammell only got to 40%. Simmons never even got 4%. And he was just one vote short of election! No, I’m not happy trading Trammell getting in for Morris getting too, but it would have been more palatable had Simmons made it.

Eric: I want to address the negative possibilities here too. First that the BBWAA and the VC can now use Morris’ career as a bar to argue for others. I don’t mean that Dennis Martinez and Frank Tanana—two pitchers very similar to Morris—will suddenly develop an electoral base. But his election makes it more likely that Jim Kaat or Tommy John gets a plaque. They have better regular-season numbers, including more wins. Or perhaps the wins-influenced vote for Morris will make it less likely that contemporary starting pitchers, who rarely breach 200 wins, let alone 250, will get their due. I’m also concerned that Morris’ Game 7 heroics could lead to more “one-trick pony” candidates getting undue attention. If the rest of Madison Bumgarner’s is a long string of league average seasons that look like the long fade of Frank Tanana, will voters give him too much credit for his fabulous 2014 playoffs? If Jack Morris has a plaque for a long career and one great October game, wouldn’t Bumgarner make sense too? Heck, Bill Mazeroski is already in the Hall for the one thing he did well.

Looking bigger picture, I completely reject the ridiculous canard that “It’s the Hall of Fame.That idea is pretty much only ever trotted out when a famous player gets inexplicable support. Catfish Hunter: Famous! Jack Morris: Famous! Jim Rice: Famous for The Fear! Bruce Sutter: Famous for the splitter! It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card, nothing more, nothing less. Where’s the instruction in the Hall’s rules that tells voters to cast a ballot for the most famous?

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

Nada on fame. Nuthin’. If fame were so important to the equation, why haven’t people stumped for Bo Jackson, Moonlight Graham, Bob Ueker, or Chuck Conners? After all, there’s a whole museum surrounding the plaque gallery where famous events and personalities can get their recognition.

Miller: Meanwhile, after yet another miss, I’m actually not interested in writing about Marvin Miller. I can’t muster appropriate anger.

Eric: The sun goes up. The sun goes down. Marvin Miller gets the shaft in the VC. I guess this is how the Lords of the Realm get their revenge on a guy with the audacity to bring their employees into the late-twentieth century. How dare he!

* * *

Regardless of our opinions, the 2018 VC vote is in the books, and now we turn our attention to the BBWAA vote. Our coverage continues with Miller’s amazing daily ballot grading, a new feature this year that our readers have really enjoyed so far. On New Year’s Day, we flip the calendar while revealing our theoretical BBWAA ballots, share our thoughts on how managers improved or dis-improved their chances at future election in 2018, and, as the election approaches, make our predictions then review the results. Stay tuned because we’re all over this thing!

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Mount Rushmore: Philadephia Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies have found an awful lot of ways to break their phans’ hearts. Take, for example, going nearly 100 years before winning their first World Series (or its equivalent back in the day). Between 1916 and the second world war, they won 100 games. Total. Yeah, the Whiz Kids got to Series, and then what? Pbbbbt. That’s what. In 1964, they blew a 2,000 game lead with Jim Bunning losing, like, 15 games in the last three days. In 1972, the team went Carlton-and-120 as one of modern history’s worst teams. Even after they broke the world title seal in 1980, they soon turned into the Chris Schu/Steve Jeltz/Darrel Akerfelds Phils of the late 1980s. Then they went out of their minds in 1993, and everything lined up just right for a middling team of hairy veterans…up to the moment the World Series started. Phillies partisans will recall it as the World Series that Curt Schilling and Lenny Dykstra repeatedly tried to prevent Mitch Williams from losing. Soon Ed Wade would make the team mediocre, letting grumpy old Dallas Green boss everyone around and run Scott Rolen out of town in exchange for a set of John Wayne chaps and an autographed copy of William Jennings Bryan’s closing arguments in the Scopes trial. Pat Gillick finally saved the day, and a second title came along in the Chase Utley era, but it immediately preceded a nasty defeat at the hands of the Evil Empire, cemented by Shane Victorino popping up the first pitch he saw in the ninth to end it. Then came the Ruben Amaro, Jr. era, during which he forbade the arcane sophistry of practices such as multiplication and division. This paved the runway on which the Phils of the 2010s would bellyflop their Ryan Howard shaped plane. And so here we are in 2017. Matt Klentack and Andy MacPhail are on the scene and by all accounts turning things around. Let’s be honest, it’s just another way to give us Phillies pholks heartburn and agita.

Rushmore

Remember, our rule for this little series is that a team’s Mount Rushmore is composed of the four players with the highest WAR totals who also played all their games in a Phillies uniform. Poor Philadelphia. A symptom of the team’s seemingly endless run of mostly mediocrity is an alarming lack of players who stayed with them for a whole career. This is a 134 year old team, and—spoiler alert!—Mike Schmidt is the only Hall of Famer to play his whole career in the Quaker City. Between him and the other three guys we’ll talk about spans a yawning gap of quality befitting a 1960s expansion team, not one with this much history. Basically, the Phillies have consistently been run by short-pocketed owners who have swapped out their best players to relieve cashflow issues. Only more recently have the Phils run their team as if they were the only team in one of the biggest media markets in the game. Sadly they let Amaro run it.

Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. Schmidt’s amazing 107 WAR career leads our second place finisher by nearly 70 Wins. Charlie Ferguson was one of those 1880s hurlers who had a couple amazing seasons, could hit a little, and then burned himself out. Except in Charlie’s case, it was lung trouble, not arm trouble. He died of typhoid fever. I’m blaming it on throwing 1500 innings in four years.

Ferguson, himself, more than doubles up our third Philly, the unforgettable Pinky May. Wait, what? You never heard of him? Most baseball fans haven’t. He his for a 99 OPS+ over five seasons at third base for the club. He even made the 1940 All-Star team! He had a nice glove, an okay bat, sort of a Don Money kind of player. He debuted at 28 because he’d been trapped in the deep Yankee system, and he went into the Navy during the war and didn’t have a roster spot when he returned.

Our fourth is, wait for it, Larry Christenson. An eleven year Phil, Christenson started 220 games for them, was only a .538 pitcher for a team that won a lot of games during his tenure, posted a 99 ERA+, was worth -2.8 Wins Above Average, and just 10.6 WAR. Good hitter, though.

But wait a minute, true believers! Odubel Herrera is just a couple slivers of a win away from Christenson and could pass him as soon as the middle of April assuming that the Phils don’t ditch him, or he decides to suck. Mark it on your calendars.

 

 

One Phan’s Phearsome Phoursome

I did some of my growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania. I got there just after the Ron Jones era reached its crescendo. So despite some of what’s happened to them since then, my big four are pretty easy to pick. The mouth of Lenny Dykstra’s likeness would ooze with chaw spittle. Dutch Dalton’s sculpture would include an inset map of his gimpy knees. Various Larry Anderson quotes would appear beneath his face. Finally, Inky, Pete Incaviglia because…bearded, homeriffic reasons!!! And no, Mitch Williams is not welcome in my home.

Evaluating Negro Leagues Shortstops, Part Two

[Note: These MLEs were updated 12/7/17 to correct formula for Rrep, which was over crediting players by one to two runs per season.]

Last week, we dropped MLEs on you for John Beckwith, Grant Johnson, and John Henry Lloyd. In part two of our stop at shortstop, we look at three more greats: Dick Lundy, Dobie Moore, and Willie Wells. As ever, we’re using the routine we’ve developed and enumerated in our article Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters to create a way to put these players into a recognizable historical perspective.

Dick Lundy

King Richard could really pick it. But he brought a big bat to the throne as well. Lundy entered the highest levels of Negro Leagues competitions as an eighteen-year-old in 1916 and had established himself by age twenty as a slick shortstop and a threat at the plate. Some of that batting prowess should be scrutinized a little more closely.

Lundy’s home diamonds averaged a 105 park factor, but we’ll control for that. That said, back in the Hall of Merit days, that electorate explored Lundy in some depth and had concerns about his walk rate being too low for MLB success. We can happily report that in the Negro Leagues Database, his .320 batting average supports a .378 OBP, the implication of which is that his walk rate wasn’t a problem. The difference of 58 points between his OBP and his batting average is quite similar to notable hitters such as Tony Gwynn (50 points difference), Adrian Beltre (53 points), Robin Yount (57 points), Paul Molitor (63 points), and George Brett (64 points).

His isolated power of 134 is very close to a number of big name shortstops across history:

  • Travis Jackson: 142
  • Arky Vaughan: 135
  • Jim Fregosi: 133
  • Derek Jeter: 130
  • Alan Trammell: 130

If that ISO is indicative of the shape of his true talent, it’s plenty to fuel a great career. Even if he lost 20 percent of his ISO in the big leagues (108), he’d have some good company:

  • Bill Dahlen: 110
  • George Davis: 110
  • Pee Wee Reese: 108
  • Joe Sewell: 101

But we’re not literally asking the question, What precisely would Dick Lundy have done in MLB? What we’re asking is What would Dick Lundy’s known statistics look like in an MLB setting? These are subtly different questions. The first one asks us to make expert judgments with the intent of determining whether he could have played in the majors at a high level. The latter asks us, instead, to put a familiar lens to unfamiliar stats so that we can make better sense of them. This distinction is important because we have chosen to elect Negro Leagues players apart from big league players, just as the Hall has done. The Hall of Merit has seen things differently and chooses to lump them together. That presents its own set of theoretical issues and makes questions about items like Lundy’s bat take on a significance and urgency that Miller and I happily don’t have to address.

One final item about Lundy’s bat. As of this writing, his 129 OPS+ is 54th among all Negro Leaguers with 500 or more plate appearances. More impressively, that mark trails only three or four other shortstops. Now, that statement comes with some caveats.

  • It’s based on current data at the Negro Leagues Database, which goes only to 1945 at this time and doesn’t include much of Buster Clarkson’s, Hank Thompson’s, and Artie Wilson’s careers. And much of those careers took place outside of the Negro Leagues: specifically in the minors, the majors, and winter leagues.
  • “Three or four” depends on whether you think John Beckwith was a shortstop. His defense suggest he’d likely not have played there long in the big leagues, though we MLE’d him there for part of his career anyway.
  • Much of Willie Wells’ career took place in Mexico, which is not currently included in the Negro Leagues Database.

But the larger point is not that Lundy was or wasn’t at a particular rank on the totem pole but rather that he was pretty high up it. We are projecting him as a very good hitting shortstop, and shortstops who can hit don’t fall out of ash trees.

Dick Lundy
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1916–1937
Destination: NL 1917–1937
Missing data: 1927, 1929
Honors: Hall of Merit

Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp  Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
============================================================================
1917 18 NL  SS    20    0    0    0      0     0    1   0.1    1    1   0.1
1918 19 NL  SS   100    2    0    0      0     1    4   0.4    3    7   0.8
1919 20 NL  SS   480   10    1    0      2     7   21   2.4   15   36   4.3
1920 21 NL  SS   510   21    1    0      2     7   32   3.5   16   48   5.4
1921 22 NL  SS   480   19    1    0      2     7   29   2.9   15   44   4.5
1922 23 NL  SS   530   25    1    0      2     7   35   3.4   17   52   5.0
1923 24 NL  SS   450   14    1    0      2     6   23   2.2   14   37   3.6
1924 25 NL  SS   570   25    2    0      2     8   37   3.8   18   55   5.6
1925 26 NL  SS   590    7    2    0      2     8   19   1.8   18   37   3.6
1926 27 NL  SS   560   26    2    0      2     8   37   3.8   17   55   5.6
1927 28 NL  SS   540   19    2    0      2     7   30   3.1   17   47   4.8
1928 29 NL  SS   580   19    2    0      2     8   31   3.1   18   49   4.9
1929 30 NL  SS   540   12    2    0      2     7   23   2.1   17   40   3.6
1930 31 NL  SS   580    7    2    0      2     8   18   1.6   18   36   3.2
1931 32 NL  SS   570    3    2    0      2     8   15   1.6   18   33   3.4
1932 33 NL  SS   510   12    0    0      2     7   20   2.1   16   36   3.7
1933 34 NL  SS   540  - 5    0    0      2     8    4   0.5   17   22   2.4
1934 35 NL  SS   480  - 1    0    0      2     7    7   0.8   15   22   2.3 
1935 36 NL  2B   500    4    0    0      2     3    9   0.9   16   25   2.5
1936 37 NL                  DID NOT PLAY
1937 38 NL  SS   250    7    0    0      1     3   12   1.2    8   20   2.0
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                9380  227   19    0     35   126  407  41.0  292  700  71.5

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 39th
Rbat: 100th
Rfield: 51st (shortstop only)
WAA: 26th
WAR: 26th

Dick Lundy’s offense ranks as one of my biggest surprises so far in this journey through the Negro Leagues. Thus the long passage above about it. Two hundred plus runs is a lot to project for a shortstop with a 129 OPS+ in leagues of lesser quality. It would rank in the top ten among all big league shortstops. But let’s keep in mind this is a model of Lundy’s career, and we’re projecting it to be quite long. Luke Appling had about 1,000 more PAs than Lundy, posted a 113 OPS+, and picked up 235 Rbat. Same thing with Harry Hooper who had about 1,000 more PAs, turned out a 111 OPS+, and end up with 192 Rbat. In 200 fewer PAs, Joe Judge racked up 189 Rbat and a 114 OPS+. In 700 fewer PAs, Ed Konetchy hit for a 123 OPS+ and notched 211 Rbat. Jimmy Sheckard batted a couple hundred fewer times than our projection for Lundy with a 121 OPS+ and 225 Rbat. Joe Cronin OPS+ed 119 in 500 fewer PAs than this MLE with 242 Rbat. So Lundy’s Rbat is consistent with a long-career player with an OPS+ between 5 and 15 percent lower than his known OPS+ on the Negro Leagues Database. It is, of course, entirely possible that we’ve overshot him too. But we did the same thing for Lundy that we’re doing for all Negro Leagues position players.

As for his glove, well, it looks a little less sterling than reports had credited him. His known DRA boils down to about 7 Rfield per 154 games, and our method reduces that to 2.48 per 154. The overall picture we get is sorta like what Robin Yount would have looked like if he’d stayed at shortstop and traded some of his high baserunning value into the fielding runs column. Lundy probably wouldn’t have hit with Yount’s power (certainly not Yount’s peak power), but the offensive contribution would turn out someone similarly.

Dobie Moore

This fellow’s kind of like the seamier side of Roy Hobbs. Early in the 1926 season, the thirty year old Moore eschewed a night on the town in KC with teammates and instead ended up in the company of Ms. Elsie Brown who may or may not have mistook him for a prowler, who may or may not have operated a brothel, whom he may or may not have hit, and who may or may not have been his girlfriend. Witnesses’ stories didn’t match up, so we don’t know precisely what occurred, but the result either way was the end of Moore’s career. A bullet from Ms. Brown’s gun struck his leg, blowing two of his bones into six pieces. Perhaps Moore might have returned to the game after that, but when he then leapt off a balcony to avoid mortal disrepair, he landed on said leg, doing emphatically career-ending damage. Thus did the curtain close on a great baseball player’s tenure.

These salacious details aside, Dobie Moore could really play. Per the Negro Leagues Database, from 1920 through 1925, he was third among all Negro Leaguers in Wins Above Replacement. His batting average was the eleventh highest in the leagues, his slugging percentage fourteenth. Finishing third in games and fourth in plate appearances, he placed second in hits, doubles, and triples to the incomparable Oscar Charleston, not to mention tenth in homers. His 91 fielding runs led all Negro Leaguers at any position during that same stretch and puts him second all-time to keystone man Bingo DeMoss who racked up 101 in 200 more games. If you asked someone in the Negro Leagues who the best player in the game was in the early 1920s, Charleston would have been the answer. But Dobie Moore was second with a bullet.

Moore reached the Negro National League in 1920 with the famed Kansas City Monarchs, and that’s where his statistical record begins. He was twenty-four, pretty late for a great player. Turns out that Moore, like Bullet Rogan, had spent the previous five seasons playing for Uncle Sam in the 25th Infantry Wreckers. This is the African American team that walloped all comers from military teams to PCL stalwarts. Moore was one of several Wreckers who made the jump to overt professionalism, and his KC teammates Bullet Rogan and Oscar “Heavy” Johnson did so as well with outstanding results. In our MLE, we take Moore’s career back to 1916, his age-twenty season, based on historical records supplied by researchers contributing to the Hall of Merit project. The MLE, therefore, gives him career-average performance rates in those seasons as we do for all missing data. Given the shortness of Moore’s career, we’re unlikely to elect him out of the gate, so we can return to that question later if we find that approach problematic.

Dobie Moore
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1916–1926
Destination: NL 1916–1926
Missing data: 1926
Honors: Hall of Merit
Year Age Lg Pos  PA  Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
=======================================================================
1916  20 NL  SS  100    4    0       2    1    7   1.0    3   11   1.4
1917  21 NL  SS  500   22    0      10    7   36   4.7   16   54   6.7
1918  22 NL  SS  470   20    0       9    7   34   4.3   15   51   6.1
1919  23 NL  SS  520   22    0      10    7   37   4.7   16   56   6.7
1920  24 NL  SS  590   24    0      11    8   41   4.9   18   62   7.0
1921  25 NL  SS  480   21    0       9    7   35   3.7   15   52   5.3
1922  26 NL  SS  610   36    0      11    8   54   5.3   19   75   7.2
1923  27 NL  SS  660   30    0      12    9   49   5.0   21   72   7.0
1924  28 NL  SS  620   33    0      11    9   51   5.4   19   73   7.5
1925  29 NL  SS  630   18    0      11    9   36   3.6   20   58   5.5
1926  30 NL  SS  170    6    0       3    2   11   1.2    5   17   1.8
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
                5350  239   -1      99   75  412  43.8  167  579  62.2

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 340th 
Rbat: 92nd
Rfield: t-16th (shortstop only)
WAA: 23rd  
WAR: t-41st

If we’re looking a comparable player in terms of value, Jackie Robinson is your closest analog. Different players, though. Moore wasn’t much (that we can tell) on the bases, and Robinson was a baserunning machine. Dobie’s offensive game was built around line drives and contact, and Jackie walked a lot more. But both men could really pick it in the field, and Moore played a more premium position. In general, Moore was legitimately a great player. The question is whether he had enough time in the league to collect the value necessary to get our vote. We suspect deeper inquiry will be necessary.

Willie Wells

A complete player, Wells could do darn near anything on the field with skill. In the field, he must have been like Ozzie Smith in the sense that he was slightly built (5’8″, 160 pounds), covered a lot of group, and made up for an OK arm with a quick release. Not that he’s in Ozzie’s class, but he seems like the same kind of player in the field. At the plate, it’s a whole ‘nuther story. Wells more than held his own. With a keen eye and surprising power for a shortstop, he notched a 129 OPS+ in currently known Negro Leagues seasons. He didn’t necessarily do any one thing supremely well, but like many great players did numerous things well or very well.

For a long-tenured player and one of renown, it’s surprising how much of his data has not yet made it into the Negro Leagues database. Some of that data is coming down the pike, but Wells also played several years in Mexico later in his thirties. As you’ll see, it doesn’t matter where he played, he racked up a lot of value.

Willie Wells
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1924–1945
Destination: NL 1926–1945
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit

Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
======================================================================
1926  20 NL  SS  550   12   1       5    8   26   2.7   17   43   4.5
1927  21 NL  SS  620   18   1       6    9   34   3.4   19   53   5.4
1928  22 NL  SS  630   34   1       6    9   50   4.9   20   69   6.9
1929  23 NL  SS  630   19   1       6    9   34   3.1   20   54   5.0
1930  24 NL  SS  640   15   1       6    9   31   2.7   20   51   4.5
1931  25 NL  SS  620   10   1       6    9   26   2.7   19   45   4.7
1932  26 NL  SS  620    0   1       6    9   15   1.5   19   34   3.6
1933  27 NL  SS  590  - 4   1       6    8   11   1.2   18   29   3.4
1934  28 NL  SS  620  - 4   1       6    9   11   1.1   19   30   3.1
1935  29 NL  SS  620   22   1       6    9   38   3.7   19   57   5.7
1936  30 NL  SS  620    9   1       6    8   25   2.5   19   44   4.5
1937  31 NL  SS  590   19   1       6    8   33   3.4   18   52   5.4
1938  32 NL  SS  620   25   1       6    9   41   4.2   19   60   6.3
1939  33 NL  SS  610    8   1       6    8   23   2.4   19   42   4.4
1940  34 NL  SS  550   13   1       5    8   26   2.7   17   43   4.6
1941  35 NL  SS  500   10   1       5    7   23   2.5   16   38   4.2
1942  36 NL  SS  450    8   1       4    6   19   2.2   14   33   3.8
1943  37 NL  SS  400    9   1       4    6   19   2.2   12   32   3.7
1944  38 NL  SS  250    4   0       2    3   10   1.1    8   18   2.0
1945  39 NL  SS   50    1   0       0    1    2   0.2    2    4   0.4
----------------------------------------------------------------------
               10780  229  20     100  149  497  50.6  336  833  85.9

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 9th 
Rbat: 100th 
Rfield (shortstop only): 15th 
WAA: 18th  
WAR: 14th

Wells was a great player. He’s not among the four players who I think have a defensible part in the GNLOAT conversation (Greatest Negro Leaguer of All Time), but like Bullet Rogan, Smokey Joe Williams, Cristobal Torriente, Turkey Stearns, Pete Hill, Buck Leonard, and Martin Dihigo, he’s in the next tier. If Charleston, Gibson, Lloyd, and Paige are comparable to Mays, Ruth, Young, Johnson, Wagner, Cobb, and fellows like that, then the Willie Wells tier of Negro Leaguers is analogous to players like Schmidt, Musial, Williams, Gehrig, Clemens, A-Rod, Hornsby, Speaker, Aaron, and those fellows.

* * *

Next time, we’ll take a stroll into the green side pastures of the outfield to look at corner outfielders, including Monte Irvin and Minnie Miñoso. We’ll also examine two multipositional stars of two different sorts whom we’ve already had one look at: Martin Dihigo and Bullet Rogan. Then it’s onto the the Negro Leagues’ very deepest position, centerfield.

Evaluating Negro Leagues Shortstops Part 1

[Note: These MLEs were updated 12/7/17 to correct formula for Rrep, which was over crediting players by one to two runs per season.]

The Negro Leagues developed more excellent shortstops and centerfielders than any other positions. The best athletes gravitated toward those positions, especially with the smaller rosters and wide ranging quality of blackball teams. Generally, the best right-handed throwing athletes found their way to shortstop, and the lefties to centerfield. The Halls of Fame and Merit have honored six shortstops, and today we’ll look at John Beckwith, Grant “Home Run” Johnson, and John Henry “Pop” Lloyd. We refer you to our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters for all the gory details on how we arrive at our numbers.

John Beckwith

Discussions of John Beckwith seem to revolved around his personality problems. He had them, for sure. But let’s first look at his plusses on the field because that’s our primary interest here at the Hall of Miller and Eric.

Beckwith could really swing the bat; that’s why they called him “Boom Boom.” Our MLE shows the big righty as a world-class hitter with more than 400 batting runs in a relatively short career. He hulked over the men of his time at 6’3″ and 220 pounds. That bulk may have cost him some athleticism. He bounced between third and short and first for much of his career without much acumen for any of them. His best position was hitter. He doesn’t appear to have run well on the bases either. But man, could he hit, to the tune of a .344 average, a .580 slugging percentage, and a 166 OPS+ that ranks 11th all-time among players with at least 500 Negro Leagues plate appearances. He was one heck of a player even with his flaws.

Now for the personality. Like Jud Wilson, Beckwith was one of the the Negro Leagues’ four Bad Men. There’s an interesting comparison to be drawn between the folk music of white folks and that of African Americans. In songs like “Jesse James” and “Pretty Boy Floyd” white songsters celebrated these bad men as Robin Hood like figures. They tended to romanticize these criminals into heroes. African American folk songs such as “Stagger Lee” (also known as “Stagolee,” “Stackolee,” and many variants thereof) don’t do so. Its famous chorus tells it like it is, “He’s a bad man, O, Stagolee.” These songs demonstrate respect (if not admiration) for forceful men not by varnishing their stories but by just telling them.

This is how I see a certain strain of Negro Leagues lore, the part that retells the worst of what some men did in the pursuit of the game, a living, and a place in the history of their community. This isn’t to say that Beckwith or Wilson stampeding an umpire or beating an opposing player senseless makes them great ballplayers or anything less than appalling in their behavior. No, indeed. Instead, it may well describe their drive, what made them stand out from the crowd. It explained, in part, why they bucked the odds and competed at the highest levels.

Beckwith’s career is peppered with incidents that would make Milton Bradley blush. He was suspected of killing a man in Chicago, which forced him to switch teams in 1924. He hooked on in the east, beat up an umpire and had to jump town again. He went to Harrisburg, made some scenes, bounced around some more. Once when a teammate made a public demonstration of his frustration with a Beckwith fielding error, the burly brawler knocked him cold. Negro Leagues researcher James Riley goes to great pains to describe Beckwith’s issues, in fact,

The numbers he accumulated during his career are impressive but, unfortunately, his contributions to a team with his natural ability were offset by negative intangibles. Beckwith was moody, brooding, hot-tempered, and quick to fight. Combined with a severe drinking problem, and an often lazy, unconcerned attitude about playing, his character deficiencies often negated his performance value.

There’s a certain danger in talking about someone’s character, especially someone you’ve never met, and there’s more danger in taking third-party descriptions like this at face value. I don’t doubt that Beckwith wasn’t a great guy, and that he had some bad people problems. Was he a Milton Bradley? Was he a Mitch Melusky? Was he a Gary Sheffield? A Kevin Mitchell? I would bet no one really knows, especially given how different the baseball culture of today is compared to the baseball culture of the Negro Leagues. But the interesting line here is that these “character deficiencies often negated his performance value.” Hmmm. Rube Foster tried to sign this guy a bunch of times. Beckwith never lacked for work while his skills stayed sharp. Was he really a “lazy” player? He wasn’t much in the field, but was that because he was dogging it or because he wasn’t a good fielder?

John Beckwith
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1919–1937
Destination: NL 1920–1934
Missing data: 1927, 1929
Honors: Hall of Merit

Year Age Lg Pos    PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1920  20 NL SS    530   18    0    0    -2     7   24   2.7   17   40   4.6
1921  21 NL SS    530   28    0    0    -2     7   33   3.3   17   50   5.0
1922  22 NL SS    560   37   -1    0    -2     8   42   3.9   17   59   5.6
1923  23 NL SS    570   24   -1    0    -2     8   29   2.8   18   47   4.6
1924  24 NL SS    520   38   -1    0    -2     7   42   4.2   16   58   5.9
1925  25 NL SS    510   25   -1    0    -2     7   29   2.7   16   45   4.2
1926  26 NL 3B    540   29   -1    0    -5     4   27   2.7   17   44   4.5
1927  27 NL 3B    510   22   -1    0    -4     3   19   2.0   16   35   3.6
1928  28 NL 3B    540   10   -1    0    -5     3    7   0.7   17   24   2.4
1929  29 NL 3B    520   30   -1    0    -4     3   28   2.5   16   44   4.0
1930  30 NL 1B    460   53   -1    0    -7    -4   40   3.4   14   54   4.7
1931  31 NL 1B    510   44   -2    0    -8    -5   29   2.9   16   45   4.6
1932  32 NL 1B    510   37   -2    0    -8    -5   22   2.2   16   38   3.8
1933  33 NL 1B    520   11   -3    0    -8    -5   -5  -0.6   16   11   1.3
1934  34 NL 1B    200  - 1   -1    0    -3    -2   -7  -0.7    6    0   0.0
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 7530  403  -17    0   -64    36  358  34.6  235  593  58.8

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 113th
Rbat: 28nd
WAA: 43rd
WAR: 49th

Some notes, especially on fielding. With this post, I’m running a new version of fielding value for each player. I had been making educated guesses previous, but now I’m basing fielding on an objective system. You can read about that in the MLE methodology post cited in the intro to this post. I’m going to go back and change the fielding results for those players this will affect. It won’t affect most who had a significant MLB career because we’ve used their MLB rates wherever appropriate.

Clearly, Beckwith was challenged defensively. Specifically regarding  defense at first base, Boom Boom snapped an ankle in 1930, limiting his mobility severely, and his baserunning shows a marked decrease after that season. I haven’t made any specific changes to his defensive rating at this time, though one could argue for that. Also, I considered capping Beckwith’s defense at -50 runs. Before PBP, virtually no throwing infielders drop below that mark. On the other hand, once PBP comes around, some players do drop below that threshold. At this point, we’ll have to consider that as an open question for his candidacy.

I mentioned a couple guys above that I think have a certain aptness to them as latter-day versions of Beckwith: Gary Sheffield and Kevin Mitchell. Both came up as shortstop/third-base types, struggled defensively no matter where they played, were righty hitters who smoked the ball, and had really questionable attitudes. Body-type wise, and career-length wise Mitchell might well fit the bill better than Sheff, but the latter’s controversial ping-ponging from team to team fits well in its way.

Grant Johnson

Johnson got his nickname, “Home Run,” reportedly by hitting 60 homers for a semipro team in 1894. Later, in the second act of his career in the Negro Leagues, he’d go by “Dad.” The Hall of Fame overlooked him, much to their detriment. The smart middle infielder kept himself in good shape and played a long time at a high level at the top levels. He went on into his fifties among the lower-tier leagues and teams. His play among the top teams and in winter ball featured high averages, decent line-drive power for the deadball era, and a discerning batting eye. While not a top run producer, he hit more than enough to be an asset in a championship lineup. While not a prolific base stealer (we’re showing as an average baserunner), he nonetheless had enough speed and quickness to make an outstanding fielder on either side of second base. He shifted to second while teamed with the younger John Henry Lloyd, making them probably the best keystone combo in Negro League’s history or very high on the list. Sadly, however, Johnson appears to have received scant attention from the Hall voters, and his absence is glaring. He played a very long time ago, and the lore from his days didn’t travel nearly as well as that from those still alive to tell the tales.

Grant "Home Run" Johnson
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1895–1914
Destination: NL 1995–1914
Missing data: 1895, 1896, 1898
Honors: Hall of Merit

Year Age Lg Pos    PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1895  22 NL SS    480    9    0    0     3     6   18   1.4   15   33   2.6
1896  23 NL SS    480    7    0    0     3     7   17   1.4   15   32   2.7
1897  24 NL SS    480    1    0    0     3     7   10   0.8   15   25   2.2
1898  25 NL SS    540   10    0    0     3     8   21   2.0   17   38   3.7
1899  26 NL SS    540   17    0    0     3     8   28   2.6   17   45   4.2
1900  27 NL SS    500    9    0    0     3     7   19   1.7   16   35   3.2
1901  28 NL SS    500    8    0    0     3     7   18   1.8   16   34   3.5
1902  29 NL SS    500  - 1    0    0     3     7    9   1.0   16   25   2.9
1903  30 NL SS    500    8    0    0     3     7   18   1.8   16   34   3.4
1904  31 NL SS    520   13    0    0     3     8   24   2.7   17   40   4.6
1905  32 NL SS    530   14    0    0     3     8   25   2.7   17   42   4.7
1906  33 NL SS    480   16    0    0     3     7   26   3.1   15   41   5.0
1907  34 NL SS    540   14    0    0     4     8   25   3.1   17   42   5.4
1908  35 NL SS    550    8    0    0     4     8   20   2.5   18   37   4.8
1909  36 NL SS    500  - 7    0    0     3     7    3   0.3   16   19   2.3
1910  37 NL 2B    480    2    0    0     6     7    8   0.9   15   23   2.7
1911  38 NL 2B    360    7    0    0     4     0   12   1.2   12   23   2.5
1912  39 NL 2B    250    6    0    0     3     0    9   0.9    8   17   1.7
1913  40 NL 2B    200   10    0    0     2     0   12   1.3    6   19   2.1
1914  41 NL 2B    150    7    0    0     2     0    9   1.0    5   13   1.6
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 9080  157  - 5    0    66   108  327  34.4  291  618  65.7

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 49th
Rbat: t-162nd
Rfield: 29th (shortstops only)
WAA: 44th
WAR: 36th

Johnson’s fielding numbers are good. We’re seeing him as an average baserunner, and the kind of player whose ability to stay at a key position throughout a long career makes him a star. Alan Trammell with a better glove and less value on the bases isn’t a bad comparison. Since we easily elected Tram, Johnson’s got a great shot with us.

John Henry Lloyd

They called him “The Black Wagner.” Honus was still in fine form when Lloyd made the scene, and the comparison made great sense. Like Wagner, Lloyd hit a lot more than most shortstops and stood out defensively. Like Wagner, Lloyd was 5’11”, though the former had about 20 pounds on the latter. Both came across to observers as rangy, and contemporaries told the same story about Lloyd in the field that they did about Wagner: often when he threw the ball to first, it came with lots of dust because he shoveled balls out of the dirt with his big hands.

Perhaps most importantly, the name suggested that Lloyd stood atop the black baseball pyramid, the number one player in the Negro Leagues. Indeed, we can defensibly include only four men in the GOAT discussion for the Negro Leagues. With apologies to Martin Dihigo, Bullet Rogan, Smokey Joe Williams, and Turkey Stearns, the big four are: Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and John Henry Lloyd. At risk of spoiling our centerfield MLEs for you, here’s how we see these players. All batters figures are in 162-game notation.

The Best of the Best
                 WINS ABOVE AVERAGE | WINS ABOVE REPLACEMENT
NAME               CAREER   BEST7   |   CAREER   BEST7 
============================================================
Oscar Charleston      66      47    |    103      61
Josh Gibson           63      37    |     92      52
John Henry Lloyd      71      39    |    110      58
Satchel Paige         69      32    |    118      50

I don’t claim to have an answer for you. This list boils down to the questions of peak versus career, pitchers versus hitters, and one’s interpretation of the defensive spectrum. Still, no matter how you slice it Lloyd belongs in this argument and has some bona fides for winning it. Really, what more do we need to know about him?

John Henry Lloyd
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1906–1932
Destination: NL 1907–1925
Missing data: 1927, 1929
Honors: Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit

Year Age Lg Pos    PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1907  23 NL SS    550    8    3    0     2     8   22   2.8   17   39   5.0
1908  24 NL SS    530   19    3    0     2     8   32   4.1   17   49   6.3
1909  25 NL SS    580   47    3    0     2     8   61   7.1   18   79   9.3
1910  26 NL SS    590   34    3    0     2     8   48   5.2   18   66   7.4
1911  27 NL SS    600   40    3    0     2     8   54   5.5   19   73   7.5
1912  28 NL SS    610   31    4    0     2     9   46   4.5   19   65   6.5
1913  29 NL SS    580   32    3    0     2     8   46   4.9   18   64   7.0
1914  30 NL SS    590   19    3    0     2     9   33   3.8   18   52   6.0
1915  31 NL SS    570   26    3    0     2     8   40   4.7   19   58   6.9
1916  32 NL SS    600   29    3    0     2     9   43   5.3   19   62   7.7
1917  33 NL SS    590   18    3    0     2     9   32   3.9   18   51   6.2
1918  34 NL SS    470   17    3    0     2     7   28   3.3   15   43   5.2
1919  35 NL SS    530   20    2    0     2     8   32   3.8   17   49   5.8
1920  36 NL SS    600   23    1    0     2     8   34   3.8   19   53   6.0
1921  37 NL SS    500   18    0    0     2     7   27   2.8   16   43   4.4
1922  38 NL 1B    450   13    0    0     2    -4   11   1.1   14   25   2.5
1923  39 NL 1B    300    7   -1    0     1    -3    4   0.4    9   14   1.4
1924  40 NL 1B    200    9   -1    0     1    -2    6   0.7    6   13   1.3
1925  41 NL 1B     50    1   -1    0     0     0    0   0.0    2    2   0.1
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 9490  410   40    0    39   112  601  67.7  296  897 102.5

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 35th
Rbat: 26th
Rfield: 46th (shortstop only)
WAA: 12th
WAR: 12th

Lloyd did everything well. He hit very well, he ran the bases very well, his fielding numbers are nicely above average at shortstop and at first. An often overlooked attribute that separates GOAT players in any baseball setting from the second-tier candidates is durability and its cousin longevity. Lloyd has them in spades and kept his game at a high level deep into his career. Our MLE gently decrements him into retirement, but his actual numbers remained playable into his forties.

Let’s talk about 1906 for a brief moment. In that, Lloyd’s real rookie year, he would project as a slightly below average hitter, and in 1907, as we see above, he projects as an above average batter. He truly hits his stride in 1909 at age 25. We could have also projected 1906, and probably tagged on an extra one to three WAR with below average hitting and above average running and fielding. This is just what we did this time around, and we could easily see it either way. Heckuva’ player.

* * *

Next time we continue with part two of our short stop at shortstop with Dick Lundy, Dobie more, and Willie Wells.

Evaluating Negro Leagues Third Basemen

[NOTE: These MLEs were updated 12/7/17 to include an improved conversion of DRA to Rfield and a correction to the formula for Rrep which had been adding a run or two per annum.]

We make our way to the left side of Negro Leagues infields today to have a look at third baseman selected for honor by the Halls of Fame and/or Merit. Later in the next few months we’ll examine those candidates who haven’t achieved baseball immortality. We refer you to our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters for all the gory details.

Ray Dandridge

If you knew only two things about Hall of Famer Ray Dandridge, it’s probably that he had bowlegs and that he had one heckuva glove. These two attributes may well have a causal relationship. If doctors could have straightened Dandridge’s legs out, he’d have picked up half a foot in height, but you sometimes hear that bowleggedness helps athletes. Bowlegs lower the center of gravity, potentially creating more balance, stability, and agility. Combine that with the athleticism needed to play third base well at the highest level, and Ray Dandridge’s defensive reputation makes a lot of sense.

History also remembers Dandridge as a line-drive machine who hit .300 annually. That’s what his Hall of Fame plaque tells us. It’s a true story. Between his Negro Leagues and Mexican Leagues careers, he hit well over .300 and in the years for which we are running MLEs, he hit .339 (summer leagues only). You can rack up a lot of value hitting .339.

Still, the last time I’d worked with Dandridge’s numbers, at the Hall of Merit, I found his case less than compelling. He appeared to be a guy with an empty batting average, mediocre speed, and a great glove. It appears now that I may have been mistaken. Or am I?

Ray Dandridge
Negro Leagues Stats | Minor Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1933–1953
Destination: NL 1934–1951
Missing data: 1939, all winter league data
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame

Year Age Lg Pos    PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1934  20 NL 3B    190    5    0    0     3     1   10   1.0    6   15   1.6
1935  21 NL 3B    300    0    1    0     5     1    7   0.7    9   17   1.7
1936  22 NL 3B    400    2    1    0     7     2   11   1.1   12   24   2.4
1937  23 NL 3B    500   20    1    0     9     2   32   3.3   16   47   4.9
1938  24 NL 3B    490   20    1    0     9     1   31   3.3   15   47   4.9
1939  25 NL 3B    460   13    1    0     8     1   24   2.5   14   38   4.0
1940  26 NL 3B    470   13    1    0     9     1   23   2.5   15   38   4.0
1941  27 NL 3B    610   13    2    0    11     1   27   2.9   19   46   5.0
1942  28 NL 3B    540    7    1    0    10     0   18   2.1   17   35   4.1
1943  29 NL 3B    590   19    1    0    11     0   31   3.6   18   50   5.7
1944  30 NL 3B    500   15    1    0     9     0   25   2.7   16   40   4.4
1945  31 NL 3B    540   16    1    0    10     0   27   2.8   17   44   4.6
1946  32 NL 3B    580   22    1    0    11     0   34   3.8   18   52   5.9
1947  33 NL 3B    570   15    1    0    10     0   27   2.8   18   45   4.6
1948  34 NL 3B    620   24    2    0    11     0   37   3.8   19   56   5.9
1949  35 NL 3B    350    7    0    0     6     0   14   1.4   11   25   2.6
1950  36 NL 3B    150    2    0    0     3     0    4   0.4    5    9   0.9
1951  37 NL 3B    100    0    0    0     2     0    2   0.2    3    5   0.5
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 7960  212   18    1   144    10  385  41.0  248  633  68.0

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 89th
Rbat: 109th
WAA: 25th
WAR: 32nd

I’m of two minds about this MLE.

First off, Dandridge’s defensive reputation is neither confirmed nor disconfirmed by the currently available Negro Leagues statistical record. What we know: Dandridge picked up about 7 runs of defensive value per 162 games at third base in his Negro Leagues career, which so far spans 130-odd games of data and about 1100 innings. [On the other hand, he played a terrible shortstop.] The trouble for us is that most of his career took place in Mexico, where we have no fielding stats.

We do know, however, what his raw fielding stats looked like in the American Association and the Pacific Coast League from age 35 onward. Here are some fielding numbers from those seasons for Dandridge, the other third basemen on his teams, and his leagues’ third basemen at large:

YEAR  AGE     G@3B   FLD%    A/G    DP/G
===================================================
1949  35
Dandridge      83    .981    2.0    0.37     
Teammates      68    .921    1.8    0.26
League       1325    .947    1.8    0.20

1950  36
Dandridge     136    .978    1.9    0.20
Teammates      22    .953    1.9    0.18
League       1248    .942    1.8    0.21

1951  37
Dandridge     103    .961    2.0    0.23
Teammates      47    .946    1.5    0.17
League       1247    .945    1.9    0.20

1952  38
Dandridge     144    .975    2.0    0.25
Teammates      11    .880    1.6    0.00
League       1232    .942    1.8    0.21

1953  39
Dandridge      22    .921    1.5    0.18
Teammates     358*   .944    2.0    0.18
League       1477    .943    1.9    0.19
*includes stats for multiple teams

Basically, until he was 39, Dandridge was better than his teammates and his leagues. These were AAA leagues that included many soon and recent big leaguers such as Andy Carey, Don Hoak, Billy Klaus, and lots of others.

ERRORS: Dandridge was far less error prone than his peers. From age 35 to 38, “Scoops” made around 42 fewer errors than the league. Let’s assume that each error carries approximately the same run value as a single. Singles are worth about half a run to the offense, and outs are worth about -0.09, which means each error is worth about 0.59 runs because roughly speaking it turns an out into a single, and that means Dandridge might have saved 24.8 runs’ worth of errors.

ASSITS: In Win Shares Bill James showed that third base putouts have very little meaning in determining the quality of a fielder’s play. Assists, however, represent how many balls a guy can actually get to and turn into outs. Dandridge racked up about 0.15 more assists per game than his peers between ages 35 and 38. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s about 67 more assists than the league. Like with errors, these assists represent ground balls that didn’t go through for hits and each represents -0.59 runs for the offensive team, so chalk up another 39.5 runs to Ray above the league’s average hot corner man.

DOUBLE PLAYS: Finally, double plays turned will also represent skill. Each deuce is worth about -0.37 to the offense. Dandridge participated in 23 more double plays than the league average third baseman, which means 8.5 additional runs saved.

TOTAL: Totaling up all those contributions, his defense over four years was worth 72.8 runs above average, or 18 a year. We’re speaking in rough terms here. But even if you want to discount it 20% for occurring at AAA, that’s still 14.5 runs per season…as a late-career fielder.

CONTEXT: Dandridge probably didn’t face an unusual number of righty hitters, except in 1952. These are approximate innings thrown by lefties on his teams plus the percentage of MLB at-bats taken by righty hitters (MLB because minor league splits aren’t available,  at-bats because BBREF doesn’t list innings by lefties and righties in its splits):

  • 1949: 7.9% / 62%
  • 1950: 18.8% / 64%
  • 1951: 28.5% / 62%
  • 1952: 47.5% / 60%

In other words, in the first three of these seasons, Dandridge probably played behind considerably fewer lefties than his league mates did, which means that his very strong fielding rates occurred in all likelihood despite fewer opportunities.

When we take these latter-career performances into account, we must revise upward from his so-so DRA showing in just 136 Negro Leagues games. Brooks Robinson was about a +18 fielder in the same age range we’re talking about with Dandridge. I’m not about to claim that the latter was as good as the former. There’s not enough proof, and I’m using some general-application thinking and not getting down to his specific context. But how about we call Dandridge a 12-runs-per-season fielder across his career? Doesn’t seem like crazy talk, so that’s what I’ve done. It yields 144 fielding runs, which would be about eighth among all retired third basemen from 1920 through today. Want it to be 10 runs per 154, then it’s about 122 runs and ninth among that group. Dude could pick it.

Now here’s the troubling part for me. Either Dandridge’s offensive game was much better than I’d have thought, or there’s something about his batting style that happened to play up in the leagues he played in. For starters, Dandrdige’s OPS+ in the Negro Leagues was 112, which ain’t amazing and boils down to an average or slightly below-average big-league hitter. However, his Mexican League seasons are good, and his first minor league season is solidly above average. He did slip below average in 1950 upon turning 36. What makes this difficult is that his Negro Leagues record is less comprehensive than his Mexican League record, and the latter all occurred in his peak and prime years. Meanwhile the minor league record starts during his baseball sunset. But taken together this all ends up looking like a guy who averaged a little more than 10 batting runs above average over his career and racked up nearly 200 batting runs. He did it by hitting .330 with lots of 30+ doubles a year and by walking juuuust enough (around 6% of his plate appearances) to avoid becoming an OBP suck if he hit .280 or .290. In fact, Dandridge’s real-life batting average slipped below .300 only twice during the years we are giving him MLEs for, and just once below .285.

But see, I’ve got this thing about .300 hitters who don’t walk much. So I looked up the batting runs for retired players from 1920 to 2017 who hit .300, walked less than 700 times, and hit fewer than 100 homers in at least 5,000 trips to the plate. Let’s throw out Tris Speaker and George Sisler who did much of their damage in the 1910s. That leaves these guys:

  • Earle Combs: 242 batting runs in 6513 PA
  • Riggs Stephenson: 211 runs in 5134 PA
  • Tommy Holmes: 156 runs in 5563 PA
  • Edd Roush (age 27 on): 155 runs in 5336 PA
  • Sam Rice (age 30 on): 149 runs in 8734 PA
  • George Kell: 131 runs in 7529 PA
  • John Stone: 111 runs in 5008 PA
  • 13 other guys ranging from 13 runs (Lloyd Waner at 13 runs to Pie Traynor at 95)

So, you see, this kind of hitter existed for sure, and some even were outstanding hitters. Thing is, do I believe that Ray Dandridge would likely have been the 31st best hitter (by batting runs) in baseball for 70-something years if plopped into MLB? The bell that goes off for me is seeing George Kell’s name. Dandridge is precisely the same player: just one season’s difference in PA, both annual .300 hitters, walked at damn near the same frequency, hit for very similar power (most of it tied up in doubles), didn’t lose too much value to the DP despite a righty bat, better than average baserunning. This really makes me uneasy for the accuracy of this particular player.

Finally, Dandridge surprised me on the bases. I’d long imagined him to be a roughly average runner, but he stole at a considerably higher clip than his leagues (about 50% more often, adjusted for his team’s tendencies to steal). This is generally consistent with a player who runs up 20 or so Rbaser in a career.

I’m not yet ready to cast a ballot for Dandridge. I think there’s more detective work to be done on him. It’s possible he’s a nearly uniquely valuable hitter who is simply a better version of George Kell. Or our method may be overcompensating in some way. Or perhaps there’s another explanation yet. Maybe guys who rely on contact can fare better in leagues where the quality of play may open more holes for balls to fall in. I don’t know.

Judy Johnson

Judy Johnson is the one Negro Leaguer in the Hall of Fame that I’m certain doesn’t belong there. As you’ll soon see in the MLEs, he’s the same as dozens of others with substantial major league careers at the hot corner.

Johnson’s election came via the panel of former Negro Leaguers who elected the first nine, a kind of all-time team. Judy’s backers cited his batting average, outstanding defense, character, and leadership. In reality, Johnson may simply have been the nicest and most watched third baseman among the panelists. Ray Dandridge spent most of his career outside the Negro Leagues, in Mexico or the minors. Jud Wilson was a mean, angry son’a’gun, didn’t have a great glove, and, anyway, played as much or more at first base. John Beckwith played a lot of third, but about as much at shortstop, and he was crazier than even Jud Wilson. The guys making the decisions were well into retirement, at least in their fifties, probably their sixties, and fellows from the earlier than the mid/late 1920s and 1930s didn’t get as long a look because the voters on hand hadn’t played against them or else saw them in their latter days.

So Judy Johnson stood out because they needed to elect a third baseman to complete the team. And what’s the difference? In the 1970s when precious little Negro Leagues data had been researched, let alone published out. How would anyone really have known whether he’d earned immortality on the field or merely in the mind?

Today the data indicate that Johnson was a fine ballplayer, but not overly different from someone like Willie Kamm or Billy Werber .

Judy Johnson
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1921–1936
Destination: NL 1922–1934
Missing data: 1927, 1929
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame
Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
=======================================================================
1922  22 NL  3B  150  - 1    0       1    1    1   0.1    5    5   0.5
1923  23 NL  3B  250    0    0       1    2    3   0.3    8   11   1.1
1924  24 NL  3B  320   12    0       1    2   16   1.6   10   26   2.6
1925  25 NL  3B  480   11    0       2    3   16   1.5   15   31   3.0
1926  26 NL  3B  520   11    0       2    4   17   1.8   16   33   3.5
1927  27 NL  3B  550    6    0       2    3   11   1.2   17   29   3.0
1928  28 NL  3B  550  -12    0       2    3  - 6  -0.6   17   11   1.1
1929  29 NL  3B  550  - 4    0       2    3    2   0.2   17   19   1.8
1930  30 NL  3B  550  - 7    0       2    3  - 1  -0.1   17   16   1.4
1931  31 NL  3B  550  -10    0       2    3  - 5  -0.5   17   12   1.3
1932  32 NL  3B  550    0    0       2    2    5   0.5   17   22   2.3
1933  33 NL  3B  250  - 3    0       1    1  - 1  -0.1    8    7   0.8
1934  34 NL  3B  130  - 1    0       1    1    0   0.0    4    4   0.4
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
                5400    2    0      24   31   57   5.7  168  226  22.7

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 333rd   
Rbat: t-896th
WAA: t-373rd   
WAR: 335th

Basically, Johnson appears to be a slightly above average guy, the sort who supports the better players on a championship team or who is the best player on a poor team. His bat was nearly dead average, I gave him average speed based on a stolen base record that’s at 89% of his leagues and with a nudge for likely underreporting of steals as noted by others.

Jud Wilson

His nickname “Boojum” was an onomatopoeia for the sound made by the outfield wall when one of his signature line drives ricochetted off of it. The man could hit blindfolded and his stat lines suggest a player somewhere in between Wade Boggs and Edgar Martinez. He hit for very high averages (lifetime .352), he drew a lot of walks, racked up doubles, and had enough home run power that opposing teams pitched him carefully. Like them, especially Edgar, he also got a late start in the big leagues.

On the other hand, Wilson was known as one tough cookie with a fuse that would light in a hurry even if it were underwater. He fought opposing players, teammates, umpires, whoever. One story has him dangling little Jake Stephens by the ankle out of a hotel window in the midst of a dispute of some sort. But Wilson ultimately liked to take his anger out on the baseball, which he did splendidly.

Wilson’s defense is an interesting sort of mess. On one hand he played more first base than third. On the other hand, he played better at third than at first. His career in top-flight baseball started at age 26, and he played first base. He became a regular at third at age 32. Moving the wrong way on the defensive spectrum is, um, highly irregular. So for this purpose we’ve started him at third and kept him there until the point in his career where he returned to first base, age 38.

Jud Wilson
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1922–1944
Destination: NL 1922–1937
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit

Year Age  Lg Pos   PA  Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA  Rrep RAR   WAR
========================================================================
1922  26  NL  3B  560   18    0       3     4   25   2.4   17   42   4.1
1923  27  NL  3B  590   22    0       4     4   30   2.9   18   48   4.8
1924  28  NL  3B  570   35    0       4     4   43   4.3   18   60   6.2
1925  29  NL  3B  590   24    0       4     4   32   3.0   18   50   4.8
1926  30  NL  3B  540   39    0       3     4   46   4.7   17   63   6.4
1927  31  NL  3B  580   53    0       4     4   60   5.9   18   78   7.9
1928  32  NL  3B  530   38    0       3     3   44   4.3   17   61   6.0
1929  33  NL  3B  570   35    0       3     3   42   3.8   18   60   5.4
1930  34  NL  3B  600   42    0       4     3   49   4.2   19   67   5.9
1931  35  NL  3B  550   47    0       3     3   54   5.4   17   71   7.3
1932  36  NL  3B  550   22    0       3     2   28   2.8   17   45   4.6
1933  37  NL  3B  550   19    0       4     2   25   2.8   17   42   4.8
1934  38  NL  1B  570   24    0       0   - 5   18   1.8   18   36   3.7
1935  39  NL  1B  560   27    0       0   - 5   22   2.2   17   40   4.0
1936  40  NL  1B  400    8    0       0   - 4    5   0.5   12   17   1.7
1937  41  NL  1B  100    2    0       0   - 1    1   0.1    3    4   0.4
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 8400  456    0      43    24  523  51.2  262  785  77.9
Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: t-67th
Rbat: 25th
WAA: 18th
WAR: 19th

Wilson’s overall defense in the Negro Leagues at third base comes in at about 3 runs saved per 154 games. I knocked it down to 2 per 154, then beginning at age 34 decremented by a run per year until he switches positions at 38. His defensive reputation suggests he played the ball of his chest as necessary, so he’s no Brooks Robinson. But he made enough plays to show up as a mild positive. At first base he looked like a net-neutral glove.

Overall, a lefty Edgar Martinez who could stay on the field is a pretty good comparison if you want a mental visual. Edgar racked up about 70 more batting runs in 274 additional plate appearances to what we’re MLE’ing Wilson at. But Martinez loses that and more in the positional exchange between third base and DH, costing him 9 WAR versus Wilson’s career total of 77. But this is hair splitting. Same kind of player, even if Wilson’s bat didn’t quite match Edgar’s. You get the picture.

* * *

So, the hot corner. Pretty interesting bunch of guys. Next Wednesday it’s on to our first batch of shortstops. We’ll check in with one of Blackball’s baddest dudes, John Beckwith, the criminally under recognized Grant “Home Run” Johnson, and the great John Henry “Pop” Lloyd.

Evaluating Negro Leagues First Basemen and Second Basemen

[NOTE: These MLEs were updated 12/7/17 to include an improved fielding conversion from DRA to Rfield and to correct a formula error that was adding 1 to 2 runs per season to a player’s Rrep.]

The Negro Leagues developed their fair share of outstanding catchers. Negro Leagues first basemen, haven’t gotten quite as much attention. There’s actually more depth at first base than at catcher, even though the Hall-recognized talents aren’t quite as numerous. Second base is even more obscure than first base for reasons we’ll talk about below. For today, we’ll stick with those on the right side of the infield who’ve gotten bronzed by the Halls of Fame and/or Merit, and we’ll investigate other candidates down the line. We refer you to our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters for all the gory details.

First Base

Buck Leonard

Buck Leonard was a quiet, educated man, much like the major leaguer he was nearly always compared to. Pick up any Negro Leagues book, and Leonard is mostly referenced in tandem with his longtime teammate Josh Gibson. Together they formed the Negro Leagues’ equivalent tandem to Ruth and Gehrig. In reality, while Gibson might well have been Blackball’s greatest hitter, Leonard didn’t hit quite enough to equate to The Iron Horse. Don’t get me wrong, the records we have indicate that Leonard could really pound the ball, but he was perhaps more like mere mortals Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews than Larrupin’ Lou. (Context is everything, and Gehrig almost doubles the Rbat of those two in the same number of plate appearances.) That’s OK, though, because Leonard’s talent and results speak for themselves. As they should.

Buck Leonard
Negro Leagues Stats | Minor Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1933–1955
Destination: NL 1933–1950
Missing data: 1946–1950
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit

Year Age Lg Pos    PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1933  25 NL 1B    630   30   -1    0     2   - 6   24   2.7   20   44   5.0
1934  26 NL 1B    650   26   -1    0     2   - 6   20   2.0   20   41   4.1
1935  27 NL 1B    650   37   -1    0     2   - 6   32   3.2   20   52   5.3
1936  28 NL 1B    650   30   -1    0     2   - 6   24   2.4   20   45   4.5
1937  29 NL 1B    650   48   -1    0     2   - 6   43   4.3   20   63   6.5
1938  30 NL 1B    630   56   -1    0     2   - 6   51   5.2   20   71   7.4
1939  31 NL 1B    630   47   -1    0     2   - 6   42   4.3   20   61   6.4
1940  32 NL 1B    630   35   -1    0     2   - 6   30   3.1   20   49   5.2
1941  33 NL 1B    630   33   -1    0     2   - 6   28   3.0   20   48   5.2
1942  34 NL 1B    630    8   -1    0     2   - 6    3   0.4   20   23   2.7
1943  35 NL 1B    630   21   -1    0     2   - 6   16   1.8   20   35   4.1
1944  36 NL 1B    630   28   -2    0     2   - 6   21   2.3   20   41   4.5
1945  37 NL 1B    610   33   -2    0     2   - 6   27   2.8   19   46   4.8
1946  38 NL 1B    520   28   -2    0     1   - 5   22   2.5   16   39   4.4
1947  39 NL 1B    380   20   -1    0     1   - 4   16   1.7   12   28   2.9
1948  40 NL 1B    380   20   -1    0     1   - 4   16   1.7   12   28   2.9
1949  41 NL 1B    200   11   -1    0     1   - 2    9   0.9    6   15   1.5
1950  42 NL 1B    100    6    0    0     0   - 1    4   0.4    3    5   0.8
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 9830  514  -15    0    27   -95  430  44.8  306  737  78.1

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 26th
Rbat: 20th
WAA: t-22nd
WAR: t-18th

Leonard appears to have been a very good fielding first baseman, with below average (but not Lombardiesque) speed. He was extremely durable (just like Gehrig), and that Rbat total ain’t exactly shabby. That said, Leonard’s MLEs probably show as well as anyone’s that when we look season-by-season, we must remember that any protocol worth using has a lot of checks and balances that move the player toward his career mean performance. If you expected a high-flying peak from Leonard, well, MLEs are designed to shave the tops off the mountains and raise the valley toward the peak. That’s because the much smaller sample sizes we have to work with can’t be taken at face value and simply prorated willy-nily out to 154 or 162 games. Trust us, you’d get an even more unrealistic view than you do here. With Leonard, you might see Eddie Murray or Rafael Palmeiro’s longevity, durability, and consistency mixed Eddie Mathews’ bat. The line graph of his career WAR values might in reality look more jagged. But it’s all OK. We accept short-term imprecision for a great sense of the span and scope of a player.

Mule Suttles

George Suttles could really hit. He’s one of three guys in the Negro Leagues database with 100+ homers (though more could emerge as more seasons come online). His slugging percentage ranks 9th in the NLDB. In all, his .317/.384/.547 slash line rolls up to a 150 OPS+ that currently ranks 19th all-time. He appears to have been pretty durable, had average speed, and wielded a very slightly above average glove.

Suttles was known for his tape-measure circuit clouts, and they got him all the way to Cooperstown and to the Hall of Merit. Our MLEs indicate that the rest of his game didn’t do much to flesh things out. His walk rates weren’t problematic but weren’t special either, and while his hitting would have made him a great infielder or centerfielder, at first base it doesn’t play up as much.

Mule Suttles
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1923–1944
Destination: NL 1923–1941
Missing data: 1926-1927, 1929, 1931
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
=======================================================================
1923  22 NL  1B  510   11    0       2   -5    8   0.8   16   24   2.3
1924  23 NL  1B  610   20    0       2   -6   16   1.7   19   35   3.7
1925  24 NL  1B  590   18    0       2   -6   14   1.4   18   33   3.1
1926  25 NL  1B  580   21    0       2   -6   18   1.8   18   36   3.7
1927  26 NL  1B  580   25    0       2   -6   21   2.1   18   39   4.0
1928  27 NL  1B  620   41    0       2   -6   37   3.7   19   57   5.7
1929  28 NL  1B  590   29    0       2   -6   26   2.3   18   44   4.0
1930  29 NL  1B  490   31    0       2   -5   29   2.5   15   44   3.8
1931  30 NL  1B  580   23    0       2   -6   20   2.0   18   38   4.0
1932  31 NL  1B  580   17    0       2   -6   14   1.4   18   32   3.3
1933  32 NL  1B  590    7    0       2   -6    3   0.3   18   21   2.5
1934  33 NL  1B  600   13    0       2   -6   10   1.0   19   28   2.9
1935  34 NL  1B  580   23    0       2   -6   20   2.0   18   38   3.8
1936  35 NL  1B  590   32    0       2   -6   29   2.8   18   47   4.7
1937  36 NL  1B  580   22    0       2   -6   19   1.9   18   37   3.8
1938  37 NL  1B  520   20    0       2   -5   17   1.8   16   33   3.5
1939  38 NL  1B  470   17    0       2   -5   14   1.5   15   29   3.1
1940  39 NL  1B  330    4    0       1   -3    2   0.3   10   13   1.4
1941  40 NL  1B  200  - 1    0       1   -2  - 2  -0.2    6    4   0.5
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
               10190  374    0      39  -98  315  31.1  318  632  63.9

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 20th   
Rbat: 34th
WAA: 49th  
WAR: 36th

Mule actually played about one-third of his games in left field, but we’ve chosen to put him at first base the whole way. He broke in as a left fielder then became a regular first baseman after just two years in the pastures. He was also a better first baseman than left fielder. In all, it matters very little, a run here or there. Forgiving the interpositional comparison, the record this MLE presents looks a great deal like Zack Wheat or Billy Williams, though each of them have advantages in other areas (fielding, DP avoidance, running, run context) that give them noticeable advantages over Suttles. Still, with several seasons missing from the very heart of Suttles’ career, while he doesn’t currently appear to be our strongest candidate, he could yet make up a great deal of ground provided his missing seasons are superior to his career average, raising his overall career average and replacing seasons estimate at that average with the real deal.

Ben Taylor

Ben Taylor’s triple-slash line of .335/.397/.463 looks worse than Mule Suttles’ at first glance. But in context, they result in a very similar 148 OPS+. Taylor played more than half his career in the deadball era. His calling cards were line-drive power that fueled a high average, deft glove work at first base, durability, and steady leadership. He was an occasionally successful player-manager in addition to his feats at first.

The Taylor baseball mirrors the Alous or Delahantys. In addition to Ben, his three brothers Steel Arm Johnny Taylor, C.I. Taylor, and Candy Jim Taylor all played in the Negro Leagues. Johnny was a pretty good pitcher, C.I. a terrible hitting infielder who managed 14 seasons and had the best record among western teams in 1915. Candy Jim also played the infield, and he could swing the bat a little, but he shone best in the dugout. Despite a .502 winning percentage, he ranks near the top of the Negro Leagues career lists in games and wins. More important, in his 21 years, he won three pennants and two titles.

But Ben’s lefty bat and glove led them all and put him in position to be honored by the Hall of Fame.

Ben Taylor
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1909–1928
Destination: NL 1910–1928
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame 

Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield  Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
========================================================================
1910  21 NL  1B  350    2    0       2   - 2    2   0.2   11   13   1.5
1911  22 NL  1B  500    5    0       3   - 4    5   0.5   16   20   2.1
1912  23 NL  1B  610   29    0       4   - 4   28   2.8   19   47   4.8
1913  24 NL  1B  590   15    0       4   - 4   14   1.6   18   33   3.6
1914  25 NL  1B  610   28    0       4   - 4   28   3.2   19   47   5.4
1915  26 NL  1B  610   27    0       4   - 4   27   3.2   19   46   5.5
1916  27 NL  1B  610   18    0       4   - 4   18   2.2   19   37   4.6
1917  28 NL  1B  610   15    0       4   - 5   14   1.7   19   33   4.1
1918  29 NL  1B  500   21    0       3   - 4   20   2.4   16   35   4.3
1919  30 NL  1B  550   15    0       4   - 5   14   1.6   17   31   3.8
1920  31 NL  1B  630   23    0       4   - 5   22   2.4   20   41   4.7
1921  32 NL  1B  650   37    0       4   - 6   35   3.5   20   55   5.6
1922  33 NL  1B  610   37    0       4   - 5   35   3.3   19   54   5.2
1923  34 NL  1B  640   31    0       4   - 6   29   2.8   20   49   4.8
1924  35 NL  1B  630   19    0       4   - 6   17   1.7   20   36   3.8
1925  36 NL  1B  600    4    0       4   - 6    1   0.1   19   20   1.9
1926  37 NL  1B  420    8    0       3   - 4    7   0.7   13   20   2.1
1927  38 NL  1B  290    7    0       2   - 3    6   0.6    9   15   1.5
1928  39 NL  1B  120    2    0       1   - 1    1   0.1    4    5   0.5
------------------------------------------------------------------------
               10130  344   -8      67   -84  319  34.6  316  635  69.9

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 21st 
Rbat: 42nd 
Rfield (first base only): 5th  
WAA: t-43rd  
WAR: 29th

Taylor gains about 10 wins on Suttles through his glove, his durability, and his longevity. In addition, first base during most of his career was more defensively important than during Mule’s career, so he also picks up about 15 runs for his position. Throw in the deadball run-scoring context making his runs worth just a little more to his teams, and that’s how he erases a gap of 30 runs of batting value and turns it into a 10-WAR advantage over Suttles.

Broadly, this profile should feel very familiar: Long career, extreme durability, good bat, good glove, mild peak. If you said Eddie Murray and Rafael Palmeiro, you win our prize: The rest of this article. They each have an interesting third item in common: Baltimore. Murray famously played his best baseball in Charm City. Raffy spent seven seasons there and got his 3000th hit as an O. And Ben Taylor ended his career as a Baltimore Black Sox, also managing the team. He liked it so much that he made his home there, where he passed away at age 51.

Second Base

Frank Grant

Well, actually, we don’t have an MLE for Ulysses Franklin Grant. He was one of the earliest Blackball stars, and despite a showy 153 OPS+ at the Negro Leagues Database we have a total of 37 games and 169 plate appearances of data to work with. Granted they show a Nap Lajoiesque .347/.426/.490 slash line, but there’s simply too little starter dough to bake bread with. And we’d rather bake a loaf than pinch one.

What we can tell you is that Grant also played in the white minor leagues (note to readers: the picture on his BBREF page is of Fleet Walker, not Grant, himself). In the minors, his currently known record is impressive. It’s three seasons with averages of .331,  .346, and .333 in 1896, 1888, and 1890 respectively. His slugging percentages were .480, .530, and .460. He placed 4th in the 1886 international league in batting average and third in slugging (among players with 50 or more at-bats). That same year, he finished sixth in the Eastern League in hitting and sixth in slugging. In 1888, that .346 average rated sixth best in the International Association, his .530 SLG placed third. He finished second in homers and 10th in runs scored. In 1890, more of the same. He was sixth in batting and fifth in slugging in the Eastern Interstate League, leading it in homers and placing in the top ten in doubles, hits, and runs. He also pillaged and plundered the Atlantic Association. Ever heard this before? Fifth in hitting, with in slugging.

Those long-forgotten minor circuits weren’t without merit. They each featured future or former or would-again-be major leaguers (things were more fluid between the majors and minors at the time). Some of them also featured other talented blacks such as Sol White. Grant, himself, was always young for the league or on par. As blacks were increasingly unwelcome in organized baseball, he migrated to the proto-Negro Leagues and then the Negro Leagues. In all his career spanned his 1886 debut in the minors until at least 1907 when he wrapped up his known Negro Leagues career.

Grant reputedly wore wooden shinguards during some of his minor league games. As a second baseman, he was often at the site of contact with opposing baserunners, whose spikes too often came in too high. After baseball, he waited tables for 37 years.

In so far as Grant’s candidacy for the Hall of Miller and Eric is concerned, we’ll simply have to assess him through the historical narratives.

Special Guest: Jackie Robinson

With 1945 stats available now at The Negro Leagues Database we finally have all of Jackie Robinson’s seasons not only known but with all the context necessary to analyze them more fully.

You likely know already that Jackie was among the most complete players to grace the field. He did absolutely everything on the diamond well. And typically much better than well. As you’ll see just below, Robinson’s lack of experience playing high level baseball didn’t at all hamper him as he played his first professional games.

I don’t know if it’s possible, but Jackie Robinson the athlete and ballplayer may well be underrated by nearly all baseball watchers. The societal importance of his breaking the color line is so huge that it dwarfs what an amazing, multifaceted talent he was. Many people who grew up during my times consider Bo Jackson the epitome of athleticism. And Bo Jackson struggled to make himself into an average or good ballplayer. Jackie Robinson was great the moment he laced up his spikes for the 1945 season. His SABR bio provides some wider context for this argument. In high school and junior college he was a four-sport star: baseball, basketball, football, and track. At UCLA in 1940 and 1941, he was again a four-sport star. He averaged more than 11 yards per carry as a running back. With the roundball, he led the Pacific Coast Conference in scoring two years straight. He won the NCAA’s national long-jump title. He also won swimming titles, nearly won tennis titles. Oh, and he played shortstop for the Bruins. By the time he picked up a glove again in 1945, he hadn’t regularly played baseball for three years and certainly not against top-level competition. The rust showed with the Kansas City Monarchs. He only managed to hit .384/.445/.606 in 111 PAs for a 207 OPS+.

Hey, look, maybe Bo Jackson was the greatest athlete ever. Real codgers might point to Jim Thorpe. Or maybe it’s someone else who’s come since. But for my money, no one tops Jackie Robinson. Was he as athletic as Bo or Thorpe? Well, physical ability is not the only thing that makes an athlete great. The smarts, the drive, the discipline to improve, and that innate something that helps people figure out how to play games well and adapt their brains and bodies to each sport are incredibly important. Jim Thorpe was a lousy baseball player. Bo Jackson was no Hall of Famer on the diamond (might have been on the gridiron, though). But Jackie was a no-doubt Hall of Famer even without his amazing contribution to American society.

Jackie Robinson
Negro Leagues Stats | Major League Stats | Minor League Stats | Bio
Career: 1945–1956
Destination: AL 1945–1956
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit, Hall of Stats, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA  Rrep RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1945  26 NL  2B  570   32    3    0     8    5    48   5.0   18   66   6.9
1946  27 NL  2B  530   38    3    0     8    5    54   6.0   17   71   7.9
1947  28 NL  1B  643   13    1    0    -2   -7     6   0.6   26   31   3.1
1948  29 NL  2B  623   14    1    3     5    4    28   2.8   25   53   5.4
1949  30 NL  2B  661   48    6   -1    10    7    70   6.9   27   97   9.6
1950  31 NL  2B  614   34    2    1    10    7    53   5.1   23   76   7.5
1951  32 NL  2B  640   45    3    0    16    7    71   7.2   24   95   9.7
1952  33 NL  2B  625   40    5    0     6    7    57   6.0   24   81   8.5
1953  34 NL  LF  575   35    6    1    12   -3    51   4.8   22   73   7.0
1954  35 NL  LF  534   24    0   -2     0   -3    20   1.9   18   38   3.7
1955  36 NL  3B  446    1    5    2     5    0    13   1.1   15   28   2.6
1956  37 NL  3B  492    8    1    0    19    6    29   2.8   16   45   4.8
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                6953  332   36    4    97   36   500  50.2  255  754  76.4

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 157th 
Rbat: t-46th 
WAA: 18th  
WAR: 19th

Not to disrespect a guy who used fewer PA than 156 other people to pound out more value than all but 18 of them, but in any just universe, Robinson’s contributions look very different. By which I mean better. Of course, there’s the matter of his late entry into organized baseball, but setting that aside a moment, look at 1947 and 1948. Those are his worst two seasons from 1945 until 1953. Coincidence? I think not. Hard to image the unbelievable stress and grind of being the first, of enduring the hate spewed at him as well as the micro-aggressions. Without getting deep into a discussion of white privilege, as a caucasian, upper-middle-class male in 2017, I can’t imagine the background stress that African Americans face on a daily basis in my own time. Now transport all that to the wide open racial hostility of 1947, and Jackie must have aged three years for every one he lived.

It’s no stretch to say that Robinson faced a uniquely difficult situation in 1947. I tend to  view the baseball world as full of highly adaptive individuals. Players aren’t robots, but one of the skills that the ladder of player development appears to select for is the ability to quiet the mind and body in high-pressure game situations. Jackie faced all of those, of course, just like everyone else. And on top of that faced a constant barrage of scrutiny and hate. Being the first means most folks are either rooting for you, waiting for you to fail, or hating on you. An entire multimillion-person bloc of society has its hopeful, expectant eyes on you. Your safety from spiking, beanballs, and other forms of foolish baseball intimidation is not guaranteed, and you must endure them and stand back up afterward and keep going. That’s not baseball in the normal sense. That’s not pressure in the normal baseball way.

So if his performance in 1947 and 1948 looks a little odd compared to the rest of his career, I think we can cut Jackie a break.

 

* * *

Next time out we’ll look at third base and John Beckwith, Ray Dandridge, Judy Johnson, and Jud Wilson.

Evaluating Negro Leagues Catchers

[NOTE: These MLEs were revised 12/7/17 to incorporate a new means of converting Negro Leagues DRA to Rfield and to correct a formula for Rrep that was adding 1 to 2 runs per season to each player’s totals.]

Now that you know how we will create Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters, we can start our tour around the diamond. Like we did for Negro Leagues pitchers, we’re going to profile a small batch of players each week who are honorees of the Halls of Fame and/or Merit. We’ll start with catchers today: Josh Gibson, Biz Mackey, Louis Santop, and Quincy Trouppe. Plus a surprise guest.

Josh Gibson

The Negro Leagues’ greatest hitter. A player with the kind of prodigious power possessed by Mickey Mantle. Gibson was a legend everywhere he played. Far from a one-dimensional slugger, however, Gibson had a keen batting eye and the ability to hit for very high averages as well. He also made himself into a good catcher.

Josh Gibson stood 6’1″ tall, but he was no Satchel Paige beanpole. Instead, he looked like a tank, broad and brawny. He often wore the sleeves of his shirt rolled up or cut off so that his tree-trunk arms looked all the more intimidating. Think Jimmie Foxx or Ted Kluszewski (6’2″ 225) who was a college football hero in addition to beating the cover off the ball for a few years in Cincinnati.

Gibson died early on January 20, 1947, about three months prior to Jackie Robinson’s debut. Josh was 36 then and not as mobile as he had once been thanks to nagging leg injuries. He’d done his share of drinking and drugs and his body gave out. He left behind a career littered with bold-faced milestones and double the number of legends. He cranked out a 202 OPS+ in more than 2000 document plate appearances, to lead all known Negro Leagues players with a substantial career by more than 10 points over the second finisher. Thus far he has 151 documented homers on his ledger, second only to Oscar Charleston, who batted twice as many times. Gibson is second in batting average and OBP by a couple-few points, but his SLG outranks the second-place finisher by sixty. His isolated slugging percentage was over .300. There’s little more to say here. You’ll see that his MLE numbers will speak for themselves.

Josh Gibson
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1930–1946
Destination: NL 1930–1946
Missing data: 1946
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit, Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame

Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
=======================================================================
1930 18 NL C      30    3    0      0     0    3   0.2    1    4   0.3
1931 19 NL C      90    5    0      0     1    5   0.5    3    8   0.8
1932 20 NL C     320   10    0      0     2   12   1.2   10   22   2.2
1933 21 NL C     390   24    0      0     3   26   2.8   12   38   4.3
1934 22 NL C     420   20    0      0     3   23   2.2   13   36   3.6
1935 23 NL C     490   35    0      0     3   37   3.6   15   52   5.2
1936 24 NL C     530   35    0      0     4   38   3.7   17   54   5.4
1937 25 NL C/1B  540   56    0      0     3   59   5.9   17   76   7.7
1938 26 NL C/1B  550   46    0      0     2   48   4.9   17   66   6.8
1939 27 NL C/1B  550   50    0      1     2   52   5.3   17   69   7.1
1940 28 NL C/1B  560   60    0      1     1   62   6.3   17   79   8.2
1941 29 NL C/1B  570   40    0      2     0   41   4.3   18   59   6.3
1942 30 NL 1B    610   29   -1      5    -6   28   3.2   19   47   5.4
1943 31 NL 1B    630   46   -1      5    -6   44   5.0   20   64   7.3
1944 32 NL 1B    620   37   -1      5    -6   35   3.7   19   54   5.9
1945 33 NL 1B    560   38    0      4    -6   36   3.7   17   54   5.6
1946 34 NL 1B    550   35    0      4    -5   33   3.7   17   51   5.7
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
                8010  568   -7     26    -6  582  60.4  250  832  87.8

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 90th
Rbat: 17th
WAA: 13th
WAR: 14th

Need to explain a few things here.

  • First off, Josh Gibson was not a regular first baseman in the Negro Leagues, but I have little doubt that in MLB he would have transitioned to first base. Jim Riley describes Gibson’s last couple of seasons like this, “Although he could still hit, his power had diminished and his defensive skills eroded. Once a superb physical specimen, Gibson could no longer get down in a catcher’s squat and resort to trying to catch by standing up and just stooping down.” In other words, he would never, ever have played catcher in MLB in that time. However, his bat remained potent enough to have a starting job. No catcher in MLB prior to Johnny Bench hit like Josh Gibson, and catching would limit his playing time. In fact, the best hitting catcher before Bench was probably Jimmie Foxx. The Beast started out as a backstop (just like Bryce Harper today), but he was rapidly moved out to third and then quickly settled in at first base. There’s virtually no way in hell that a major league team wouldn’t put Gibson at first base, and there is literally no precedent before Bench for a player with Gibson’s bat playing enough at catcher to be considered a career-long backstop. Gibson performed well at first base in 202 innings there (albeit early in his career), and given the Foxx precedent It makes sense that he would have transitioned to first base by his 30s, and that’s baked into the MLE you see above. However, we’ve made that transition a long-time process. From age 25 to age 29 we gradually increase his time at first base from 8% to 17% to 25% to 33% to 42% before finally switching him over to first base full time at 30 years old.
  • This MLE is almost certainly too puffy by three to five WAR. We don’t have all the info necessary to calculate his batting numbers for 1946 so we used his career average rate of production. The Lester/Clark study whose results are printed in the endpapers of Shades of Glory shows that Josh’s production was, indeed, below his norms. (Which means that this MLE is probably a couple-few WAR too high.) But he was still an above average hitter. As those seasons filter in on the Negro Leagues Database, we will update our MLEs appropriately. For now, those last two years don’t manifestly change our perception of Gibson as a hitter.
  • Defensively, Riley and the SABR bio both mention Gibson’s dedication to becoming a better catcher. We, therefore, give him a defensive profile that moves from below average to slightly above at catcher between ages 18 and 29.
  • On the bases, we made him a very slightly less than average baserunner. He did steal a few in his earlier seasons and was reasonably athletic during his 20s, so this is a way to hedge.

Biz Mackey

Other than providing the inspiration for Biz Markie’s stage name, most folks probably haven’t heard of James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey. Too bad, because Mackey was one heck of a catcher. In fact, he may be most famous to fans these days as the guy who tutored Roy Campanella on the fine art of wielding the tools of ignorance.

As a ballplayer, Mackey hit for high averages, walked a fair amount, and had good pop for a catcher not named Josh. His OPS+ in the Negro Leagues of 140 (in 3750 PA) ranks 33rd among players with a substantial career. He ranks 6th in career doubles, 10th in triples, and 10th in homers, though he was more a compiler than a power hitter. His bat deserted him in his mid-30s, but he still had some defensive value to keep him in the lineup.

As a catcher, Mackey was known as one of, if not the, best in the Negro Leagues. He ranks 3rd in career games and 4th in career innings. As a testament to his arm, he only 15th in steals against. His 31 DRA rank third in history among catchers. He was known for his snap throws to any base, his handling of pitchers and for calling pitches that attacked hitters’ weak points.

And, as the saying goes, he was huge in Japan. He made multiple trips there as part of touring blackball squads in the late 1920 and early 1930s. Mackey was apparently well liked by the Japanese and the tours are credited with having supported the explosive interest in the game there.

Biz Mackey
Negro Leagues Stats
Career: 1920–1941
Destination: NL 1920–1936
Missing data: 1927, 1929, 1932
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
=======================================================================
1920  22 NL  C  290   10    0       1    3   13   1.5    9   22   2.5
1921  23 NL  C  380   17    0       1    3   21   2.1   12   33   3.3
1922  24 NL  C  430   30    0       1    3   34   3.2   13   48   4.5
1923  25 NL  C  440   25    0       1    3   29   2.8   14   43   4.2
1924  26 NL  C  580   25   -1       1    4   30   3.0   18   48   4.9
1925  27 NL  C  490   11    0       1    3   15   1.4   15   30   2.9
1926  28 NL  C  580   21   -1       1    4   26   2.7   18   44   4.6
1927  29 NL  C  490   17    0       1    3   21   2.1   15   36   3.7
1928  30 NL  C  560   17   -1       1    4   21   2.1   17   39   3.9
1929  31 NL  C  490   20    0       1    3   24   2.2   15   39   3.6
1930  32 NL  C  470   29    0       1    3   33   2.8   15   47   4.1
1931  33 NL  C  440   25    0       1    3   29   3.0   14   43   4.4
1932  34 NL  C  410   13    0       1    3   17   1.7   13   30   3.0
1933  35 NL  C  400    0    0       1    2    3   0.4   12   16   1.8
1934  36 NL  C  250  - 3    0       1    1  - 1  -0.1    8    7   0.7
1935  37 NL  C  200  - 2    0       1    1  - 1  -0.1    6    5   0.6
1936  38 NL  C  100  - 2    0       0    1  - 1  -0.1    3    2   0.2
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
               7000  253   -7      18   50  315  30.8  218  533  53.1

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 152nd 
Rbat: 82nd
Rfield (catcher only): 34th 
WAA: 51st  
WAR: t-66th

Now you might say, gee guys, if Mackey was so great defensively, how come his MLE is only tied for 13th among catchers in Rfield? The answer is that MLB ain’t quite so simple. See, everyone on the list above Mackey with two exceptions played in the deadball era or the 19th Century, and no one in Mackey’s own era shows up at all. The two exceptions are Del Crandall, whose career started a decade and a half after Mackey’s wrapped up, and Ed Bailey (ditto). Our MLEs actually do show Mackey as the best defensive catcher of his time. Here’s the list of catchers with substantial careers (3,000+ PAs) who debuted within five years of Mackey and their Rfield and their DRA:

  • Muddy Ruel: +20 Rfield, 32 DRA
  • Gabby Hartnett: +12 Rfield, 53 DRA
  • Shanty Hogan: +11 Rfield, -7 DRA
  • Jimmie Wilson: +8 Rfield, 1.1 DRA
  • Cy Perkins: +5 Rfield, 33 DRA
  • Bob O’Farrell: +5 Rfield, 21 DRA

Of course, with Negro Leaguers, we only have DRA. So from an Rfield perspective, Mackey would be the best. From a DRA perspective, Mackey would be second best to Gabby Hartnett. Either of those seems consistent with reputation for outstanding defense.

Offensively, while 57.3 WAR might look skimpy at first blush, it would rank second behind Yogi Berra during this period among backstops.

Louis Santop

A triple slash of .327/.389/.460 looks like a good player, but not a superstar. Unless of course you compile it in the deadball era, like Louis Santop did. The big Texan’s .849 OPS results in a 147 OPS+, which ain’t half bad.

Santop was known as “Big Bertha,” reference to the big German long-range artillery guns from World War I. Santop used a huge 42 ounce bat, and he could hit ’em a long way. A superstar of the Negro Leagues in the decade before the long ball took America by storm, Santop was known for his tremendous shots. He had a very strong arm, liked a good time, and played to the crowds.

From the dawn of time to the end of Santop’s career in 1926, he led all catchers in OPS+, with the exception of Biz Mackey who had only just gotten underway and would ultimately finish behind Santop. He trailed only Mackey in doubles, triples, and homers, though Biz appeared 250 more times at the plate. Defensively, he comes in about average in 2500 innings. He also played a lot of right field and wasn’t great, but for our purposes, we’ll have him at catcher throughout his career.

Louis Santop
Negro Leagues Stats
Career: 1910–1926
Destination: NL 1911–1926
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit

Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
======================================================================
1911  22 NL  C  200   12    0       0    3   15   1.5    6   21   2.2
1912  23 NL  C  450    7    0       1    6   13   1.3   14   27   2.8
1913  24 NL  C  450   21    0       1    6   27   2.9   14   41   4.5
1914  25 NL  C  480   17    0       1    7   24   2.7   15   39   4.5
1915  26 NL  C  470   16    0       1    7   23   2.7   15   38   4.6
1916  27 NL  C  480   26    0       1    7   33   4.0   15   48   6.0
1917  28 NL  C  490   13    0       1    6   19   2.3   15   35   4.3
1918  29 NL  C  370   15    0       1    5   19   2.3   12   31   3.7
1919  30 NL  C  390    9    0       1    4   13   1.5   12   25   3.0
1920  31 NL  C  470   21    0       1    5   25   2.8   15   40   4.5
1921  32 NL  C  480   26    0       1    4   31   3.1   15   46   4.6
1922  33 NL  C  490   24    0       1    4   28   2.6   15   43   4.1
1923  34 NL  C  430   11    0       1    3   13   1.3   13   27   2.6
1924  35 NL  C  460   19    0       1    3   22   2.2   14   36   3.7
1925  36 NL  C  300  - 5    0       1    2  - 3  -0.3    9    6   0.6
1926  37 NL  C  150    0    0       0    1    1   0.1    5    6   0.6
----------------------------------------------------------------------
               6560  231   -4       2   73  302  33.1  204  507  56.2

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 190th 
Rbat: t-98th 
WAA: 45th  
WAR: t-52nd

He doesn’t look like a huge superstar hitter in MLEville. Regardless, however, he’s basically got the same overall value as Yogi Berra. The fact that Mackey has more runs above average yet a couple wins fewer than Santop is perhaps not as shocking when you think about when they created that value. In the deadball era, the scarcity of runs made each one more valuable than a run in Mackey’s heavier hitting era. We can particularly see this in comparing their RAA and WAA. We estimate Mackey’s performance as equivalent to creating 32.7 WAA of value via 334 RAA. That means the ratio of runs to wins in Mackey’s era was about 10.2 to 1. But Santop created 313 RAA and 34.3 RAA of value, a ratio of about 9.1 to 1.

Santop’s data set is nearly complete if not already there, and Mackey’s is pretty close. We can say with a fair degree of confidence that these guys had somewhat similar careers, and that either of them could have started for a first-division team in either league and been a core member of a championship squad.

Quincy Trouppe

Trouppe’s got one of the weirdest career paths in the Negro Leagues. He is variously reported to have been playing for top level teams in 1931 at age 18, but the Negro League Database’s information starts at 1932 when the 19 year old Trouppe split a season between Detroit and Homestead in the short-lived East-West League. In 1932, he plays for the Chicago American Giants of the NNL, and then there’s a gap for 1934. He barely registers in 1935 and 1936, is a blank for 1937 and 1938, and only shows up for 5 games in 1939. Then…that’s nearly it. We don’t pick him up again until 1945 unless we scoot over to BBREF, where we can spot his minor league seasons and a six-game cup of coffee with the Indians in 1952 to close out his career.

But we do know a little more than what it looks like we know. Taking things in chronological order…:

  • In 1934, he followed the loot (and Satchel Paige and several other stars) to Bismarck North Dakota, where the maverick owner of a semipro-league team stockpiled black talent and whupped the rest of the circuit something fierce for several years. Trouppe did play a couple games here and there for the Monarchs in 1935 and 1936.
  • Quincy Trouppe rated as a Golden Gloves boxer prior to his baseball career, and in 1937 decided to pursue boxing professionally. Why not? At the time, Joe Louis reigned in the ring and pulled down a pretty purse with each fight. There was a good living to be made. But after just a year, Trouppe traded his boxing gloves for a mitt and hooked on with an independent squad.
  • In 1939, Trouppe played a few contests with the St. Louis Giants in the Negro American League, and that’s where the Negro Leagues Database loses the scent. Trouppe departed during the season for Mexico to play for Monterrey of the Mexican League. He stayed there for three seasons and then went over to the Mexico City Diablos for another three campaigns. From partway through 1939 to 1944 he didn’t play any ball stateside.
  • Trouppe returned to the US in 1945. He won a Negro World Series with Cleveland where he stayed three years then played a year with the Chicago American Giants.
  • Nineteen forty-nine saw Trouppe go to Drummondville in the Canadian Provincial League. He was one of many Negro Leagues expats north of the border.
  • Next, he traded in the cold weather of Canada for another two summers in the Mexico, this time in Jalisco. By the end of those two seasons, he was 38.
  • Finally in 1952, Quincy Trouppe hooked on with organized baseball. He played 84 games for Indianapolis of the American Association and the aforementioned six with the Indians. Then he called it quits.

Trouppe’s stats in the Negro Leagues Database aren’t great, and they represent mostly scraps of his earliest work. In Mexico, he hit like the dickens. Defensively, we just don’t have much, though he was reputed to own a strong arm and handle pitchers well. It will be very helpful when his late 1940s stats come online.

Quincy Trouppe
Negro Leagues Stats | Major League Stats | Minor League Stats
Career: 1931–1952
Destination: AL 1933–1952
Missing seasons: 1934–1936, 1946–1949
Honors: Hall of Merit

Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA  WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
=========================================================================
1933  20 AL  C   50    0    0    0     0    0    1   0.1    2    2   0.2
1934  21 AL  C  100    2    0    0     0    1    3   0.3    3    6   0.6
1935  22 AL  C  200    1    0    0     0    1    2   0.2    6    8   0.8
1936  23 AL  C  300   -1    0    0     0    2    1   0.1    9   10   0.9
1937  24 AL  C  430   13    0    0     0    3   16   1.5   13   30   2.8
1938  25 AL  C  480   21    0    0     0    3   24   2.2   15   39   3.5
1939  26 AL  C  480   28    0    0     0    3   31   2.9   15   46   4.3
1940  27 AL  C  500   26    0    0     0    3   30   2.8   16   45   4.4
1941  28 AL  C  600   25    0    0     0    4   29   2.9   19   48   4.8
1942  29 AL  C  500   43    0    0     0    3   46   4.8   16   62   6.6
1943  30 AL  C  460   24   -1    0     0    3   27   3.0   14   41   4.7
1944  31 AL  C  460    8   -1    0     0    3   10   1.1   14   24   2.7
1945  32 AL  C  470    1   -1    0     0    3    3   0.4   15   18   2.1
1946  33 AL  C  440   14   -1    0     0    3   16   1.8   14   30   3.3
1947  34 AL  C  440   17   -1    0     0    3   19   2.1   14   33   3.6
1948  35 AL  C  400   17   -1    0     0    3   19   1.9   12   31   3.1
1949  36 AL  C  370   15   -1    0     0    3   17   1.7   12   29   2.9
1950  37 AL  C  250    9   -1    0     0    2   10   1.0    8   18   1.8
1951  38 AL  C  150    4    0    0     0    1    5   0.5    5   10   1.0
1952  39 AL  C   60    1    0    0     0    0    1   0.1    2    3   0.3
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
               7140  269   -8    1     0   49  311  31.2  223  534  54.4

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 139th 
Rbat: 71st 
WAA: 49th  
WAR: 58th

The vast majority of plate appearances we have records of for Trouppe are his salad years in the Mexican League. (I have this data separately from the Negro Leagues Database, though it may at some point in the future appear there as well.) We have very little of his decline phase. And then there’s 1937, the boxing year. In a world without segregated baseball, Trouppe would never have even considered boxing. I don’t know this for a fact, but I’d wager that fewer than three baseball players in MLB attempted to become boxers in the midst of their careers and missed a whole year doing it. The economic incentives for a white guy simply wouldn’t work that way. But for a black man, it could make a lot more sense. So we’re treating 1937 as we would any season without data.

Trouppe was said to be slow of foot by Jim Riley. That’s an interesting thing to read. He was down in Mexico for a very long time and before that appeared in relatively few games. So only his Bismarck teammates and guys who had consistently played with or against him in Mexico would have seen him run in his prime. My supposition is that Riley was talking to guys who saw Trouppe play upon his return to the states in 1945, when he was 32 years old. Catchers’ legs don’t age well, and it’s not at all unlikely he would have slowed up a lot by then. We debited him Rbaser on a very gentle scale up to age 29 but after turning 30, we increased the debit ten times. It still isn’t a big huge negative number, but it’s got some baseball logic to it.

Lastly, his fielding. Trouppe played all over the diamond, but by the time of his return to the states, he was a catcher. In the big leagues, he caught. So we’re simply making him a catcher all the time. We’re giving him a completely average glove. There’s nothing that says he wasn’t a good receiver, but there’s nothing that says he was a good one either, so we’re just splitting the difference.

Special Guest: Roy Campanella

Here’s a man who needs no introduction. But we will anyway. Campy came to the Dodgers’ attention because he was in the midst of replacing Josh Gibson as the best catcher in the Negro Leagues. He started playing for league teams at age 15, and, you guessed it, didn’t hit so good. But by age 19 or 20 might well have been an above-average player thanks to the tutelage of Biz Mackey and his Campanella’s own inherent hitting talent. As Gibson’s career began to dissipate, Campy was primed to take over the top spot. Instead Branch Rickey intervened, of course. So below we’ll show you our MLEs for his pre-MLB seasons. Note that each of his MLB seasons is just as you see it on BBREF except for 1948, which we melded together with his time in the American association that year. For baserunning, double-play avoidance, and fielding, we have simply used his career MLB rates.


Roy Campanella
Negro Leagues Stats | Major League Stats | Minor League Stats | Bio
Career: 1937–1957
Destination: AL 1941–1957
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit, Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame

Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
==========================================================================
1941  19 NL  C   50    1    0    0     0    0     2   0.2    2    3   0.4
1942  20 NL  C  150    3    0    0     0    1     5   0.5    5    9   1.1
1943  21 NL  C  230    9    0    0     1    2    11   1.2    7   18   2.1
1944  22 NL  C  340   18    0    0     1    2    20   2.2   11   32   3.4
1945  23 NL  C  430   23    0    0     1    3    24   2.8   13   40   4.2
1946  24 NL  C  550   16    0    0     2    4    21   2.4   17   38   4.4
1947  25 NL  C  570    1    0    0     2    4     7   0.7   18   25   2.6
1948  26 NL  C  500   18    0    0     3    3    24   2.5   16   40   4.1
1949  27 NL  C  507   21    0   -1     1    4    24   2.4   20   44   4.4
1950  28 NL  C  494   21    0   -3     1    4    23   2.2   19   42   4.1
1951  29 NL  C  562   40    1   -4     2    5    45   4.5   21   66   6.7
1952  30 NL  C  533   13    1   -4     1    4    15   1.6   20   35   3.7
1953  31 NL  C  590   40    0   -1     7    5    52   4.9   22   74   7.1
1954  32 NL  C  446  -16   -2   -2     1    4   -14  -1.5   17    3   0.1
1955  33 NL  C  522   30   -1   -1     2    5    35   3.3   20   55   5.3
1956  34 NL  C  461  - 8   -1   -2    -2    5   - 9  -1.2   17    9   0.6
1957  36 NL  C  380  -12    0   -1     2    5   - 6  -0.8   14    8   0.7
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
               7315  218   -3  -19    25   61   283  27.9  258  542  54.9

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: t-126th 
Rbat: t-104th 
Rfield (C only): 21st 
WAA: 67th  
WAR: 56th

So that’s our five Hall of Fame/Merit catchers who played in the Negro Leagues. It’s incredibly cool that we have so much information and can paint a clearer picture than ever of what these guys’ careers looked like.

Next time, we’ll take off to first to check out Buck Leonard, Mule Suttles, and Ben Taylor, and we’ll make the turn and head to second where Frank Grant awaits us, along with another special mystery guest.

Major League Equivalencies for Negro Leagues Hitters

About a month ago, we told you about our Major League Equivalency (MLE) protocol for Negro Leagues pitchers. That 26-step protocol, swelled as it is by subroutines of all sorts, will seem genuinely straightforward compared to this what we’re about to unleash. But stick with it, the truth is out there, and we’re trying to use every tool we can to get at it. And, hey, we’d like to know if we can make it better, so your feedback is super helpful. On the other hand, this monster of a post is about 6,500 words, so if you want to just trust us, you can. But this sucker is here for your reference and ours if we ever need it.

As we go along, discovering  more nuances, nooks, and crannies, we may have occasion to edit this methodology. When we do, edits will appear in red, and those elements affected will be shown in gray to indicate that they are no longer up to date.

The Big Picture

Our goal in creating MLEs is twofold. First, we want every Negro Leagues player’s records to be recontextualized onto a level, neutral platform. That’s because in the Negro Leagues, the different teams, leagues, parks, seasons, whathaveyou, were not of uniform quality and behavior. In fact, they varied far more than the majors did. So just among the Negro Leaguers themselves, we need this to help us make wise electoral decisions. On top of that, however, we want to get a sense of how these guys compare to MLB players so that we can place their achievements into a context that’s more familiar to us.

We don’t have a lot of interest in creating component stat lines: homers, RBI, strikeouts, HPBs. That stuff is all fascinating in its way, but we don’t place specific importance on those figures here at the Hall of Miller and Eric. We prefer to look holistically at what the combination of those recorded events meant in context—value, if you prefer. So we’re after WAR, just as we are with pitchers.

The process of locating a Negro Leaguer’s value in his collected statistics (at the Negro Leagues Database and elsewhere) follows a similar path to what we did with pitchers, in as much as we find his rate of production, recontextualize it with z-scores, adjust for Quality of Play and park effects, then apply it to an MLB playing-time estimate. Simple enough, right? But we also want to pay attention to things like what position the player would have played in the majors, his fielding value, his baserunning value, and, depending on what seasons in MLB history we’re talking about, his double-play-avoidance value.

The work we do initially as we translate performance and arrive at an initial playing-time estimate requires very little manual intervention on our part. It’s when we get into running and fielding that we are forced to make some decisions on our own. That’s where the human element comes in and careful judgment becomes our watch-phrase.

But when we get done, we have an estimate of what kind of value a fellow would rack up in the big leagues. It’s not a perfect estimate, though it’s the best we currently know how to do. We would also express the caveat that MLEs are likely best absorbed first at the career level then, with careful discernment, at the seasonal level. Due to shorter schedules and concomitantly increased volatility in stat lines, and despite some effort on our part to dampen that volatility, year-by-year MLEs simply won’t be as reliable as a career value. Which itself is an estimate, not the holy gospel of the Negro Leagues.

But other than that, they are perfect indicators of performance and value….

Before we get going, let’s 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.

The Process…in Prose

So let’s begin by my explaining this protocol in English, then we’ll run through a real-life example from the career of the great Oscar Charleston.

Translating Actual Performance

1) Find the rate of player’s offensive performance.
2) Compare to his own league.
3) Place into MLB context.
4) Adjust for the quality of his league.
5) Adjust for his park.
6)Adjust for his strength of schedule.

Creating an Initial Estimate of Playing Time and Batting Runs Above Average (Rbat)

7) Express as RC, then figure his translated Rbat,then express the result per PA.
8) Create a rolling average of Rbat to create the final MLE rate of batting performance.
9) Estimate the player’s games played into an MLB schedule based on his in-season and career durability records.
10) Apply the destination league’s PA/game to those estimated games.

So, now we have an initial estimate of the player’s MLB Rbat for the season. But before we go any further, we need to fine-tune our playing-time estimate because everything else after this depends upon it.

Fine-tuning Playing Time

11) First, we look at any batting seasons at the beginning or end of a player’s career. If they are well below average, we will not consider them part of his MLE—either he’d have been in the minors or, at the other end of things, aged out of the game. A general rule of thumb is that after age 38, two seasons well below average batting is probably enough to retire someone.
12) Next, we look at the player’s biographical material. If there are any injuries that would keep him out of the lineup, we see if our PA estimate reflects it appropriately. Because of the less stable nature of the Negro Leagues, we also look for league/team jumping, and other oddball movements that would affect playing time but didn’t occur in MLB. We adjust accordingly.
13) Now we look for players with similar careers and styles to our man. We look for players at his position (or a similar one), roughly during his time, with similar offensive and defensive profiles (OPS+ and Rfield are good barometers here), and who fall roughly within a similar number of seasons as a regular. Once we have a bunch of them identified, 10–12 is best when possible, we look at their playing time, especially for and across the ages that we are including in our MLE. We look for a rough number of plate appearances to shoot for.
14) Armed with the information in #11, we adjust very early and very young seasons first to fit both general trends among all players and specific trends among comps. This should get us pretty close to our goal. Beyond that, we can add or trim as necessary to get to a career with a reasonable playing-time approximation.

So, now we have an initial estimate of the player’s MLB Rbat for the season and a more realistic estimate of his playing time. We can move on.

Estimating Baserunning

BBREF uses a regression-based formula derived from stolen-base information to estimate baserunning for seasons prior to 1953 (after which they have complete play-by-play data to rely on). But we don’t have quite the same level of information they do for our Negro Leagues players. We do, however, have enough to take a swing at it in a different way. We can do something along the lines of the investigations of prewar baserunning we did for Sam Rice and others. Here’s how we’ll do it.

15) For each season with the necessary information, find a player’s stolen bases per opportunity.
16) Find the same for his teams.
17) Find the same for his originating leagues.
18) Adjust his rate for his own team’s tendency to run or not.
19) Compare the team-adjusted rate to his league and figure his percentage of steals above or below league average.
20) Now, find MLB players from the PBP era with similarly long careers and find similar percentages of SB above the league. Because Negro Leagues boxscores may not always have carried stolen base info, it’s OK to pad this by as much as double for players with very speedy reputations, so, for example, 125% of league becomes 150%. (This is kind of a pain, so we’ve only used four to six at a time, 10 would be better.)
21) Find the average Rbaser/PA of those MLB comps and apply it on a per-season basis to the player’s estimated PAs.
22) If the candidate has a pronounced decline in his net steals versus the league, sculpt the trajectory of his running runs appropriately.

Estimating Double-Play Avoidance

We only estimate runs from double-play avoidance (Rdp) from 1948 onward because this is when BBREF’s data kick in.

23) Identify lots of MLB batters of the same handedness, similar Rbaser, and similar career length, and calculate their Rdp/PA.
24) Apply the group’s average in Step 17 to each season of the player’s career.

Estimating Fielding Runs

The samples in the Negro Leagues are pretty small, so we need to mix together the DRA information we see in the Negro Leagues Database with a good dose of real MLB careers. This will give us a value to plug into the column called Rfield on BBREF, though we aren’t using Total Zone or Defensive Runs Saved as they do because the Negro Leagues Database helpfully uses DRA (Defensive Regression Analysis) instead. But first, we need to determine our man’s position.

25) Determine the player’s position for a given season or career by examining where he played in the originating league and how well he played there. If he started at shortstop, was bad at it, then moved to another position and was average or good, we might consider putting him at the latter position all the time. This is a subjective judgment, and we should look at real big-league careers for examples.
26) Find the player’s DRA/G rate in his originating league at whatever position or positions he will be placed at in our MLE.

November 26th, 2017: Please note that we’ve created a more objective means to generate fielding estimates, so step 26 is now out of date. Here’s what step 26 looks like now:

26) Find the player’s career DRA/154 games.

26a) Find the fifty players with the highest number of appearances in the Negro Leagues at the player’s position (because the Negro Leagues Database lacks DRA for some seasons where it lacks games, only count the appearances in seasons that include DRA), and for each figure their career DRA/154 at that position.

26b) Find the standard deviation of DRA/154 among the 50 players in 26a.

26c) Repeat the process in steps 26a and 26b for the major leagues for the same period of time the Negro Leagues Database covers (1887––1945 as of this writing), substituting BBREF’s Rfield for DRA. (Technically, I used the BBREF Play Index, setting it to seek shortstops with more than 50% of their games at the same position, and returning their career Rfield. This will have to be close enough because otherwise, we’d be at it for weeks.)

26d) Divide the player’s DRA/154 (step 26) by the standard deviation of the Negro Leagues players at his position (step 26b) then multiply by the standard deviation result for MLB players in step 26 c. This is the player’s MLB career Rfield/154.

27) Apply that rate to the number of games in a season imputed by the estimated PAs we’ve assigned earlier in this process.
28) Check whether his defensive performance declined over time, and make any seasonal adjustments necessary to mirror that.
29) Double check against real MLB careers to see if the number of fielding runs generated are reasonable.

Determining Positional Runs

30) We do this exactly the same way that BBREF does here, based on the position we have assigned the player.

Calculating Runs and Wins Above Average

31) Now for each season we add the player’s Rbat, Rbaser, Rdp, Rfield, and Rpos to get his Runs Above Average (RAA).
32) To convert that to Wins Above Average, we follow BBREF’s instructions here.

Calculating Replacement Runs and Wins Above Replacement

33) We calculate replacement runs (Rrep) just as BBREF instructs us here.
34) Next we turn those Rrep into the player’s replacement-level wins per BBREF’s instructions here.
35) Finally, we add the WAA and replacement-level wins to get WAR.

The last thing we need to do is simply make sure that the MLE isn’t out of whack with real players and leagues. If we’ve estimated Josh Gibson for 1000 Rbat, we’re making a mistake. We are also making a mistake if we estimate him at 200. It’s always good to double check our work.

We’re now topping 1600 words. Are we there yet? No. Now we’ll get into the dirty-finger-nail details. Let’s take Oscar Charleston for a spin, and see how this all plays out in reality. There’s going to be a lot of moving parts, and if you’re following along at home, you’ll want to get another beer now.

A real example: Oscar Charleston, 1921

Now, we’ll run through this with Oscar Charleston’s 1921 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.

OSCAR CHARLESTON 1921
Originating league: Negro National League (NNL)
Originating team: St. Louis Giants
Destination league: 1921 NL

We have chosen our default destination league as the National League. We use the AL only when a player’s first appearance is in it.

1) Find the rate of player’s offensive performance

I’ve chosen to use Bill James’ Runs Created (the 2002 version) due to its relative simplicity. Not that any run estimators are all that simple, and we’re going to turn it into RC/PA. But first I need to address three small things: strikeouts, grounded into double plays (GIDP), and reached on error (ROE). BBREF creates estimates for these and/or simply includes them in its batting-runs estimate for players. Although we want to maintain some degree of compatibility with them, very little of the data we will work with includes this information. To keep things as simple as we can, we will not be assigning a player an estimate of what the average hitter in his league would accumulate in those categories. By not including them, we simply assume the player in question and every other player in the league are average in these categories. By doing so, when we place the player into an MLB context, we won’t need to make any further adjustments for the lack of this information. We just assume once again that he is average in these regards in MLB. For most hitters, these are not a huge source of credits or debits, but it will help or hinder certain types of hitters. Sometimes you go to translation with the data you have. It’s worth noting, however, that we will estimate player’s GIDP-avoidance value for seasons after 1948, as you’ll see below, so at least there they can recoup or de(?)coup some value.

We will only be using Charleston’s 1921 NNL season, and we will not include his play in five games against Major League players. That might sound odd, but with such small samples involving only two teams, and the MLB team not always comprised solely of MLB caliber players, it gets dicey fast.

 

Now we can run the RC2002 formula. BBREF does not include steals and caught stealing in batting runs (Rbat), nor intentional walks and sac bunts, so we don’t either. This has gone on plenty long, and you can find James’ equation at the link I shared.  Charleston bashed his way to 93 runs created in 339 PA, or 0.273/PA. Hitting .433/.512/.736 (249 OPS+) will do that.

2) Compare to his own league

As we did with pitchers, we’re using z-scores. Charleston’s 0.273 RC/PA came in a league with a 0.109 mean RC/PA. The league’s Standard Deviation in that department was 0.092:

( 0.276 – 0.109 ) / 0.092 = 1.78

3) Place into MLB context

The NL of 1921 had a mean RC/PA of .099 and STDEV of .083, therefore:

( 1.78 * .083 ) + .099 = 0.246 RC/PA

4) Adjust for the quality of his league

We rate the NNL of 1921 at just above AAA level, 0.85 of MLB. But we use it at two-thirds strength. I ran a wimpy little regression (says the untrained statistician) in excel that suggested the length of the schedule was perhaps responsible for a third or so of the variation observed in the Negro Leagues. Thus:

( ( ( 1 – 0.85 ) * 0.33 ) + 1 ) * 0.246 RC/PA = 0.221 RC/PA

5) Adjust for his park

Using the same park-factor calculations as we showed you in the article on our MLE process for pitching, we get a 1.13 park factor for the 1921 St. Louis Giants. We use it at half strength since teams typically play half their games at home.

( ( ( 1.13 – 1 ) / 2 ) + 1 ) * 0.221 RC/PA = 0.208 RC/PA

6) Adjust for his strength of schedule

If this information is available, we multiply by the strength of schedule discount if the player’s RC/PA is positive, or we divide if it is negative. We don’t yet have that information available, so we needn’t take action here.

We have now translated Oscar Charleston’s 1921 batting performance into a neutral 1921 NL context. Now we need to create an initial estimate for his playing time.

7) Express as RC, figure his translated Rbat, then express the result per PA

Charleston batted 323 times, so we multiply by his 0.208 RC/PA to get 70.6 RC. We turn that into Rbat by subtracting the number of runs an average 1921 NL hitter would accumulate in 339 PAs. The NL mean in step 3 was .099 RC/PA, which in 339 PA is 33.6. So Charleston picked up 37.1 Rbat in those 339 PA. That boils down to .109 Rbat/PA.

8) Create a rolling average of Rbat to create the final MLE rate of batting performance.

Same thing we did with our pitchers’ performance. 5-year rolling average centered on the year in question.

( Year N * 0.60 ) + ( Year N+1 * 0.15 ) + ( Year N-1 * 0.15 ) + ( Year N+2 * 0.05 ) + ( Year N-2 * 0.05 )

In Charleston’s case:

( .109 * 0.60 ) + ( 0.120 * 0.15 ) + ( 0.072 * 0.15 ) + ( 0.048 * 0.05 ) + ( 0.06 * 0.05 ) = 0.100 Rbat/PA

9) Estimate the player’s games played into an MLB schedule based on his in-season and/or career durability records.

We will credit the player all the games he actually played then apportion the rest of the destination league’s schedule based on his career games played per team game.

( ( 154 – team games ) * career games / total team games ) + games

The St. Louis Giants played 79 games, and Charleston appeared in 77 of them. At the career level, we only count those games in seasons we will include in his final MLE. We are not counting 1915 and 1916, so Charleston played 1132 games among his team’s 1233 contests, or 92%. Thus

( ( 154 – 79 ) * 0.92 ) + 77 = 146

We cap this at 95% of the destination league’s schedule to avoid having too many seeming iron men.

10) Apply the destination league’s PA/game to those estimated games

The 1921 NL had 4.26 PA per game per lineup slot, so 146 * 4.256 = 621 PA

If we stopped here, Oscar would have 62.3 Rbat, which is a healthy total. No we’re going to fine-tune our playing time estimates and then work on running, DP avoidance, and fielding.

11) First, we look at any batting seasons at the beginning or end of a player’s career. If they are well below average, we will not consider them part of his MLE—either he’d have been in the minors or, at the other end of things, aged out of the game. A general rule of thumb is that after age 38, two seasons well below average batting is probably enough to retire someone.

Charleston got a lot of playing time at ages 18–20. As we’ve demonstrated previously, almost no one appears very often at that age. But players do appear. Charleston’s equivalent production for those years isn’t bad, so we’ll include them, but instead of as a full-time player, we’ll give him a very small number of PAs at 18 and 19, with an increasing number at age 20, then roughly full-time play from age 21 onward.

Charleston also played deep into his forties. Most players start to sputter badly around 37 or 38. But his last productive equivalent year is probably age 37. So we’ll wind up his career at age 39 with sharp decreases in his playing time.

12) Next, we look at the player’s biographical material. If there are any injuries that would keep him out of the lineup, we see if our PA estimate reflects it appropriately. Because of the less stable nature of the Negro Leagues, we also look for league/team jumping, and other oddball movements that would affect playing time but didn’t occur in MLB. We adjust accordingly.

Charleston rarely missed a game, and we could find no evidence of extended absence due to injury. His 1919 season does have a weird two-team element to it that sheds light on how careful we need to be. The amazing Gary Ashwill told us that in 1919, Charleston played in 24 of the Chicago American Giants’ 24 league games through August 3rd. However, in the last days of July, race riots broke out in the city, and the American Giants’ home field (Schorling Park) was occupied by the Illinois state militia, forcing the cancelation of a series with the Atlantic City Bacharachs. The Giants were in Detroit when the riots erupted and stayed put but had no games scheduled elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Detroit Stars and Hilldale Club were about to kick off a series. So the three clubs ended up played a three-way doubleheader on August 3rd. Charleston played in the first game for his own team versus Detroit, then for Detroit in game two, while other Chicagoans played for Detroit as well. He played in three others for Detroit as well. Charleston rejoined his own club for a contest with the Stars on August 9th, and overall played 17 out of their final 18. If you just looked at the stats, it would appear that Charleston played 41 of 42 for Chicago and 5 of 41 for Detroit, or 46 out of a possible 83 games. Or perhaps you’d split the dfference and call it 46 of 63 or something. In fact, he played 24 of 24 for Chicago, 5 of 5 for Detroit, and 17 of 18 for Chicago, for a grand total of 46 of 47. Only in the Negro Leagues.

It would be good for us to quickly discuss winter league play here as well. We include it for sure, and we ultimately combine it with summer play. First, however, we work it through all the steps for translating offensive performance. Right before step 8, however, we combine any same-season stints by taking an average weighted by PAs. For purposes like this, we consider Opening Day of the Negro Leagues season as day one of a given calendar year. So the 1927–1928 winter ball season, or any winter ball played in the first three or four months of 1928 all counts toward 1927’s batting record.

13) Now we look for players with similar careers and styles to our man. We look for players at his position (or a similar one), roughly during his time, with similar offensive and defensive profiles (OPS+ and Rfield are good barometers here), and who fall roughly within a similar number of seasons as a regular. Once we have a bunch of them identified, 10–12 is best when possible, we look at their playing time, especially for and across the ages that we are including in our MLE. We look for a rough number of plate appearances to shoot for.

Charleston is a little difficult because the only centerfielders prior to the 1960s who hit like him are Cobb and Speaker. Charleston’s record doesn’t suggest that he was able to keep the high-octane performances of his twenties going into his thirties. More like Ken Griffey, Jr., in this regard than Cobb and Speaker. So centerfielders actually don’t provide a useable set of comps.

So we turned to heavy-hitting corner outfielders who aren’t on the Ruth level: Rbat greater than 300 but not above 600. Defensively, Charleston wasn’t great anywhere in the outfield, at least according to DRA. We take DRA’s arm runs out of the picture entirely because they aren’t all that trustworthy. But Charleston was a good first baseman. So, in general, we’re not overly worried about comping defensive performance, except we don’t want any slow-footed sluggers because Charleston was athletic, at least until he put on weight in his late twenties and thirties.

The list that BBREF’s Play Index spat back included: Al Simmons, Paul Waner, Sam Crawford, Jesse Burkett, Fred Clarke, Goose Goslin, Willie Keeler, Zack Wheat, Sherry Magee, Joe Kelley, Harry Heilmann, Joe Medwick, and Ed Delahanty. These guys had a median 9519 career PA. But we also need to account for differing schedules, especially prior to 1904. When we adjust everything to a 154 game slate, these come out at 9622 on average and a median of 9992. So our target looks like 9600–10000 PA.

14) Armed with the information in #11, we adjust very early and very young seasons first to fit both general trends among all players and specific trends among comps. This should get us pretty close to our goal. Beyond that, we can add or trim as necessary to get to a career with a reasonable playing-time approximation.

Among the comps we’ve selected, none played at age 18, four at age 19 (averaging 60 PA), seven at age 20 (average 145 PA, median 57). At age 21, they stepped up to about 350–400 PA, then from age 22 through 34 were full-time players. They began to sputter at 35, at age 36, as a group, their playing time is in full decline, and we can start to hear the death rattle at 37. Just three of them appeared after age 39. So this gives us a good idea of the shape of a career, and we’ll use Charleston’s actual production in concert with this information from comps and our info on very old and young players noted above to create estimates for his time. In 1921 specifically, Charleston was 24, and the 621 PA initial estimate we created is solid.

Now for baserunning.

15) For each season with the necessary information, find a player’s stolen bases per opportunity.

With no play-by-play information, we calculate opportunities as times on base minus extra-base hits. So for Charleston in 1921 we get:

32 SB / ( ( 123 H – 44 XBH ) + 41 BB + 5 HPB ) = 0.256 SB/OPP

16) Find the same for his teams.

By the same formula, the St. Louis Giants stole 0.161 bases per opportunity

17) Find the same for his originating leagues.

The league’s SB/OPP was 0.12.

18) Adjust his rate for his own team’s tendency to run or not.

( lgSB/OPP / tm SB/OPP ) * SB/OPP

For Charleston:

0.12 / 0.161 * 0.265 = 0.198 adjSB/OPP

19) Compare the team-adjusted rate to his league and figure his percentage of steals above or below league average.

0.198 adjSB/OPP / 0.12lgSB/OPP = 159%

Charleston stole 59% more bases than his leagues.

20) Now, find MLB players from the PBP era with similarly long careers and find similar percentages of SB above the league. Because Negro Leagues boxscores may not always have carried stolen base info, it’s OK to pad this by as much as double for players with very speedy reputations, so, for example, 125% of league becomes 150%. (This is kind of a pain, so we’ve only used four to six at a time, 10 would be better.)

Charleston was known as a fast player, at least early on, so we’ll give him a little padding. We located a few long-career players in MLB’s play-by-play era who stole 70% to 90% more than their leagues: Barry Bonds (+79%), Paul Molitor (+88%), Craig Biggio (+74%), and Omar Vizquel (+82%).

21) Find the average Rbaser/PA of those MLB comps and apply it on a per-season basis to the player’s estimated PAs.

We figured this and expressed it per 10,000 PA to give us some context. As it turns out, these guys averaged 35 Rbaser/10,000 PA. We decided to push up to +40 because these fellows’ lines include a lot of seasons after age 37 (when Charleston is going to get his last big hit of playing time) and Gant broke a leg in the middle of his career.

22) If the candidate has a pronounced decline in his net steals versus the league, sculpt the trajectory of his running runs appropriately.

That said, Oscar’s stolen base totals went into the toilet after age 31, so we’re going to need to stack up most of his baserunning value in the first half of his career then decrement him after age 31. When we did this, we got 37 total, and for 1921 he earns 3 runs on the bases.

Now for GIDP avoidance.

23) Identify lots of MLB batters of the same handedness, similar Rbaser, and similar career length, and calculate their Rdp/PA.

We only take this step for seasons after 1948. BBREF uses play-by-play data to determine how man double play opportunities a player had and then compares the player to the league’s average. We can’t do that, so we do our best. Handedness, speed, ground ball/fly ball rates, and strikeout rates are the main determinants for GIDP rates. Most of the time, we only have the first two, so we find comps with the same career length based on handedness and our Rbaser estimation. We see how many Rdp the comps had per PA.

24) Apply the group’s average in Step 23 to each season of the player’s career.

We don’t need to do this for Charleston since 1921 is before our 1948 cutoff. In fact, in most cases, we won’t need to do this. But if BBREF should add more PBP and calculate Rdp for pre-1948 seasons, we’ll follow suit.

Now, for fielding, things are going to get really mushy.

25) Determine the player’s position for a given season or career by examining where he played in the originating league and how well he played there. If he started at shortstop, was bad at it, then moved to another position and was average or good, we might consider putting him at the latter position all the time. This is a subjective judgment, and we should look at real big-league careers for examples.

Charleston was known to play a very shallow centerfield and was often compared to Tris Speaker. However, he put on weight and was essentially done as a top-flight outfielder by his late 20s. Seeing this, we’ve kept him in centerfield until age 28, shifted him to leftfield until age 32, then to first base for the rest of his career.

26) Find the player’s DRA/G rate in his originating league at whatever position or positions he will be placed at in our MLE.

For an outfielder, we probably need to disregard DRA’s arm value. In fact, Charleston’s arm value is negative, but he was known for having a rifle, so we need to build that into our estimate. In addition, Charleston’s career range value for centerfield is negative, but we are missing six seasons of defensive stats for him. When the numbers and the stories of a career don’t match, we can’t dismiss the narrative. So we’ve given Charleston an average of 0.05 fielding runs per game, which figures to around 6 or 7 runs in a full season. For a sense of scope, Andruw Jones and Kevin Keirmeier rack up 20+ runs in their best seasons. Let’s run through the rest of his career too.

We are going to place him in left field beginning at age 29. We learned earlier that Charleston was slowing down rapidly around this age due to putting on weight, so in leftfield, he’ll start out above average by about the same rate he was in center, then quickly drop down to below average in four years. Finally when he moves to first base, where he had decent DRA totals, we’ll make him a little above average. He ends up with +51 defensive runs.

November 26th, 2017: Please note that we’ve created a more objective means to generate fielding estimates, so step 26 is now out of date. Here’s what step 26 looks like now for Charleston:

26) Find the player’s career DRA/154 games.

Charleston’s career DRA/154 games in centerfield through age 29 (when we’ll move him to left field) was 14.8 runs.

26a) Find the fifty players with the highest number of appearances in the Negro Leagues at the player’s position (because the Negro Leagues Database lacks DRA for some seasons where it lacks games, only count the appearances in seasons that include DRA), and for each figure their career DRA/154 at that position.

26b) Find the standard deviation of DRA/154 among the 50 players in 26a.

That standard deviation is 17.01.

26c) Repeat the process in steps 26a and 26b for the major leagues for the same period of time the Negro Leagues Database covers (1887––1945 as of this writing), substituting BBREF’s Rfield for DRA. (Technically, I used the BBREF Play Index, setting it to seek shortstops with more than 50% of their games at the same position, and returning their career Rfield. This will have to be close enough because otherwise, we’d be at it for weeks.)

For MLB it is 3.14.

26d) Divide the player’s DRA/154 (step 26) by the standard deviation of the Negro Leagues players at his position (step 26b) then multiply by the standard deviation result for MLB players in step 26 c. This is the player’s MLB career Rfield/154.

14.8 / 17.01 * 3.14 = 2.73 runs/154 games

27) Apply that rate to the number of games in a season imputed by the estimated PAs we’ve assigned earlier in this process.

We mentioned just now that we’re giving him 0.50 Rfield per game, which in 1921 will net him 7 Rfield in 146 games.

With our new method, Charleston will get 2.73 runs / 154 games * 146 games = 2.6 Rfield

28) Check whether his defensive performance declined over time, and make any seasonal adjustments necessary to mirror that.

We covered all of this a little earlier.

29) Double check against real MLB careers to see if the number of fielding runs generated are reasonable.

Yes, we think so. From 1871–1960, among players who played at least 40 percent of their games in centerfield, +31 runs would place 24th between Steve Brodie and Terry Moore. The true greatest like Speaker, Carey, Ashburn have more than 80 Rfield, and many of the players with higher Rfield totals have many fewer PAs. Additionally, some 19th Century players, playing under shorter schedules, would rank higher than Oscar given a 154-game slate, or if they already rank higher, would put much more distance between them and him.

Now we’ve got all the difficult stuff out of the way, and we’re on the WAR express.

30) Figure positional runs. We do this exactly the same way that BBREF does here, based on the position we have assigned the player.

In 1921, Oscar accumulates -3 of these. Centerfield was a much more offense-oriented position then than now.

31) Now for each season we add the player’s Rbat, Rbaser, Rdp, Rfield, and Rpos to get his Runs Above Average (RAA).

In 1921, we estimate equivalent values of 62 Rbat, 3 Rbaser, 3 Rfield, and -3 Rpos, which total to 65 RAA. Recall that we didn’t calculate Rdp, but if we did, we’d include it here.

32) To convert that to Wins Above Average, we follow BBREF’s instructions here,

That reckons to 6.4 WAA.

33) We calculate replacement runs (Rrep) just as BBREF instructs us here.

21 of those Charleston in 1921.

34) Next we turn those Rrep into the player’s replacement-level wins per BBREF’s instructions here.

2.2 of those.

35) Finally, we add the WAA and replacement-level wins to get WAR.

And 17 hours later, we’ve got him at 8.6 WAR. That figure would have placed second in the 1921 NL and third in MLB among hitters. Here’s the leaderboard if we include pitchers:

  1. Babe Ruth: 12.6
  2. Red Faber: 11.0
  3. Rogers Hornsby: 10.8
  4. Oscar Charleston: 8.6
  5. Urban Shocker: 8.5
  6. Burleigh Grimes: 8.0
  7. Dave Bancroft: 7.4
  8. Sad Sam Jones: 7.3
  9. Carl Mays: 7.5
  10. Frankie Frisch: 6.9
  11. Harry Heilmann: 6.8

At the career level, among all hitters from 1871–1960, Charleston ends up with:

  • 9910 PA (22nd)
  • 626 Rbat (14th)
  • 62.8 WAA (13th)
  • 98.8 WAR (12th)

Given Charleston’s reputation as among the very elite of Negro Leagues players, this MLE could be conservative. And that’s OK if it is because we’re still missing a little bit of data for him (1929 summer plus some winter seasons), and because we’d always rather underpromise and overdeliver, at least metaphorically speaking. What I mean is that if we come in with numbers that are sky high, they aren’t going to be credible. We need to arrive at estimates that resemble real MLB players. It’s too easy to trumpet someone’s greatness on the basis of our figures then realize we’ve made an embarrassing error in logic or computation or data entry. When a player has less data attached to him than Charleston (for example, see our write up on Bullet Rogan), we can’t go all-in on half a career. We need to temper our estimates in the absence of data that could just as easily deflate them as inflate them. In general, we got to be careful. We want this to be about the players, not about us.

We’re exhausted from mansplaining all of this. We can only begin to imagine the depth of horror you’ve experienced reading along. If you have suggestions for improvements, we are all ears. We aren’t perfect at this, we’re just trying our best. Next, we’re going to evaluate position players whose Negro Leagues careers launched them into the Hall of Fame or Hall of Merit. We’ll begin with catchers, so fans of Josh Gibson, Biz Mackey, Louis Santop, and Quincy Trouppe should tune in for that one. And we’ll also give you a delightful bonus surprise.

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.

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….

Institutional History

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