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eric has written 316 posts for the Hall of Miller and Eric

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Centerfielders, Part III

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

Henry Kimbro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmie Lyons

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

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

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

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

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

Spottswood Poles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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Evaluating More Negro Leagues Centerfielders, Part II

This week we get into some centerfield names you might recognize. Or at least two. You probably don’t know much about centerfielder Charles Earle, but you’ve probably heard the name Bobby/Roberto Estalella. His grandson caught in the majors about twenty years ago, and his story was chronicled by Bill James in the New Historical Baseball Abstract. And you’ve no doubt heard about Sam “Jet” Jethroe who won Rookie of the Year honors in 1950. Speaking of honors, you’ll probably deserve a frickin’ medal, or at least a merit badge, if you make it through our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters, wherein you’ll learn the many secrets of this alchemy.

Charles Earle

Sometimes known as Frank as well, Earle was a smallish outfielder who captained the Brooklyn Royal Giants throughout the 1910s. His lifetime slash line of .295/.375/.390 is right out of deadball-outfielder central casting and looks like a pretty typical seasonal line for Tommy Leach or George J. Burns.

Earl must’ve been a tough cookie. He survived a case of typhoid fever, which severely emaciates the body, in the early 1900s and nonetheless made his way to the black majors just a few years later.

Charles Earle
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1906–1919
Destination: NL 1907–1919

Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos   RAA  WAA Rrep RAR   WAR
==========================================================================
1907  23  NL RF   510  - 6    1      4     - 6   - 7  -0.9   16    9   1.2
1908  24  NL CF   560   12    1      0     - 3     9   1.1   17   26   3.4
1909  25  NL LF   590   23    1      2     - 7    19   2.2   18   37   4.5
1910  26  NL LF   600   19    1      2     - 7    15   1.6   19   33   3.8
1911  27  NL LF   610  - 3    1      2     - 7   - 7  -0.8   19   12   1.2
1912  28  NL LB   600  - 8    1      2     - 7   -12  -1.2   19    7   0.7
1913  29  NL LB   600    4    1      2     - 7     0   0.0   19   18   2.1
1914  30  NL RF   590   10    1      5     - 7     8   0.9   18   26   3.1
1915  31  NL RF   590   20    1      5     - 7    18   2.2   18   37   4.5
1916  32  NL CF   580   24    1      0     - 3    21   2.6   18   39   4.9
1917  33  NL CF   590    9    1      0     - 3     5   0.7   18   24   3.0
1918  34  NL CF   430    8    0      0     - 2     6   0.7   13   19   2.4
1919  35  NL CF   100    2    0      0     - 1     1   0.1    3    4   0.5
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 6950  113    7     22     -67    75   9.3  217  292  35.2

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 157th 
Rbat: t-224th
WAA: t-278th
WAR: 182nd

So now you probably wonder, why am I sticking this guy in centerfield? Well, primarily because he has 62 known games in center versus 60 in left and 59 in right. Turns out, however, that when you then create seasonal playing time adjustments, he becomes a left fielder. The playing time allotment here reflects that of a left fielder, therefore, instead of centerfielder. In MLB, a player of his type might well, however, be a centerfielder. Earle had some speed, and, because he pitched a good deal in the Negro Leagues, he probably had a good enough arm to play center. That’s not a question for us to answer, so we just do our best with what we gots.

Bobby Estalella

Here’s a strange case. Estalella, grandfather of the big league catcher of the same name, played in the majors in the mid-1930s and the 1940s. He also played in the high minors, in the Mexican League, and in his native Cuba. He hit wherever he played and clearly had enough talent to stay in the majors. But he never stuck until the war and then was gone after it.

On pages 195 and 196 of his New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James makes the assertion that Estalella’s skin tone probably had a lot to do with it. It’s not easy to say without seeing color photos from the time, but James suggests that the centerfielder straddled the line of acceptability. His many ups and downs certainly align with that idea.

As a player, Estalella hit well. He made constant contact, drew a good number of walks, hit for above-average power (hit hit 30+ homers thrice in the minors), and kept his average in the .280 to .300 range. He struggled to find a position, however. His 5’8″, 180 pound frame probably belief his athleticism. He started out as a third baseman and played all three outfield spots (more centerfield in the majors than anything else). He had about average speed, but his outfielding seems unremarkable at best.

Perhaps Estalella had a few things going against him:

  • His skin color
  • His lack of an obvious defensive position
  • A bat (decent power, lots of walks) that wasn’t appreciated at the time and that was smothered by Griffith Stadium in his early MLB seasons.

Whatever the case may be, this obvious MLB talent didn’t get his shot at MLB and played alongside Negro Leaguers in Mexico and Cuba, so we decided to run his numbers.

Bobby Estalella
Major League Stats | Minor League Stats | Bio
Career: 1934–1951
Destination: NL 1935–1949
Missing data: Minor League data from 1934–1938, 1940, 1948, 1950, 1951
Year Age Lg Pos  PA  Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA  WAA  Rrep RAR  WAR
================================================================================
1935  24 AL  3B   630   19     0     0     0      3    21   2.0   20   41   3.9
1936  25 AL  3B   540   15     0     0     0      2    17   1.5   17   34   3.0
1937  26 AL  LF   610   17     0     0   - 2     -6     9   0.8   19   28   2.6
1938  27 AL  LF   590   17     0     0   - 2     -6     9   0.8   18   27   2.5
1939  28 AL  LF   324    8    -1     0   - 1     -3     3   0.3   10   13   1.2
1940  29 AL  LF   630   16     0     0   - 2     -6     7   0.7   20   27   2.6
1941  30 AL  LF   340    5     0     0   - 1     -3     0   0.0   11   11   1.1
1942  31 AL  3B   517   18     1     0   - 6      0    13   1.4   16   30   3.2
1943  32 AL  LF   424    9    -1     0   - 2     -4     2   0.3   13   15   1.8
1944  33 AL  CF   574   16     0     0   - 1     -1    14   1.5   18   32   3.6
1945  34 AL  CF   527   25    -1     0     0     -1    23   2.6   16   39   4.5
1946  35 AL  LF   610   22     0     0   - 2     -6    13   1.4   19   32   3.6
1947  36 AL  LF   550    6     0     0   - 2     -5   - 2  -0.2   17   15   1.7
1948  37 AL  LF   350    3     0     0   - 1     -3   - 3  -0.3   11    8   0.8
1949  38 AL  RF    21  - 1     0    -1     0      0   - 2  -0.3    1  - 2  -0.2 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 7237  195    -6    -1   -23    -39   125  12.6  226  351  36.0

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 132nd  
Rbat: 127th
WAA: 206th 
WAR: 173rd

Go take a look at Estalella’s record, first the majors then the minors. You can see from looking at his numbers how chopped up his career actually was. Seems very unlikely to me that a white kid with the same abilities waits until he’s 24 to make the big leagues and has as many partial seasons as “Tarzan.” Also, I suspect that a white guy with the same abilities would find a defensive position more quickly because he’d have signed with a team (major or minor) earlier in his life and would have gotten more defensive instruction.

Would a normal career path have made him a Hall-level player? I’m not so sure, but it can’t be dismissed out of hand. Estalella knew no English when he arrived in America so coaching was difficult. If he’d worked out the fielding kinks sooner, maybe he earns back a bunch of those negative defensive runs. Maybe his offense isn’t constantly adjusting to new pitchers. There’s lots of what-ifs here, so we can’t rule out a player of Hall-level ability. But what we know so far looks like a Hall of the Very Good player to me.

Sam Jethroe

The Jet earned his nickname. Dude could fly. In his brief MLB career, he stole 98 bases in three years. Twice he led the NL (35 each time). He finished second the third year. His known SB% of  82% would look great in any era, and in his own time, rates were ten or fifteen points lower than in our time. He stole 21 more bases than the second-best thief, Pee Wee Reese. He racked up 15 runs on the bases in his brief MLB career. Only Reese had more running value from 1950 to 1952 than Jethroe, and only by a sliver of a run.

Jethroe slowed down in 1952 after his heroics won him the Rookie of the Year in 1950 and he followed with an even better 1951 campaign. His bat cratered in 1952, however. Well, it’s hard to blame the guy because he was thirty-five years old. Sam Jethroe didn’t get his shot at the big time until age 33. But we have a lot of data showing that he was a guy you wanted on your team. He had enough power to keep pitchers honest, he legged out plenty of extra base hits, and he drew his share of walks. His glove may be a matter of conjecture. In the majors, it was below average for a centerfielder. In the Negro Leagues, the little we know suggests he was pretty good. It wouldn’t be zany to think that data on him in the Negro Leagues (from early in his career) would look better than the MLB data from late in his career. We’ve given him half-credit for his earlier defense since it’s based on a very small sample, and kept his defense at the levels he showed in MLB for the back end of his career.

Sam Jethroe
Major League Stats | Minor League Stats | Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1942–1958
Destination: NL 1942–1958
Missing data: 1948 (Negro Leagues)
Year Age Lg  Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA  Rrep RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1942  25 NL  CF  580    8    4    0     2   - 1    14   1.6   18   32   3.7
1943  26 NL  CF  590   11    4    0     2   - 1    17   1.9   18   35   4.1
1944  27 NL  CF  580   20    4    0     2   - 1    25   2.7   18   43   4.7
1945  28 NL  CF  590   18    4    0     2   - 1    23   2.4   18   42   4.4
1946  29 NL  CF  580    7    4    0     2   - 1    12   1.4   18   31   3.5
1947  30 NL  CF  590   18    4    0     2   - 1    23   2.4   18   42   4.3
1948  31 NL  CF  600   15    4    1     3   - 1    22   2.3   19   41   4.3
1949  32 NL  CF  660   15    4    1     3   - 1    22   2.3   21   43   4.5
1950  33 NL  CF  641    6    5    1    -2   - 1     9   0.7   23   32   3.1
1951  34 NL  CF  645   19    8    2    -4   - 1    22   2.2   24   46   4.7
1952  35 NL  CF  687  - 9    2   -1    -5   - 1   -13  -1.5   24   11   1.0
1953  36 NL  CF  480   16    3    1    -3   - 1    17   1.7   15   32   3.2
1954  37 NL  CF  450    5    3    1    -2   - 1     6   0.6   14   20   2.1
1955  38 NL  CF  357    6    2    1    -2   - 1     7   0.7   12   18   1.9
1956  39 NL  CF  460    9    3    1    -3   - 1    10   1.0   14   24   2.6
1957  40 NL  CF  390    3    3    1    -2   - 1     3   0.3   12   15   1.6
1958  41 NL  CF  290  - 5    2    1    -2     0   - 4  -0.4    9    5   0.5
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                9183  163   62    9    -5   -13   216  22.2  296  511  54.0

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 40th   
Rbat: 153rd
WAA: 100th  
WAR: t-59th

Sam Jethroe was unusually durable as well as unusually fast, and our MLE picks up that fact. It’s what explains the very wide gap between his WAA and WAR. Two major league players whose careers his might resemble are Johnny Damon (with more batting value) and Vada Pinson (with more running value). They each had a broad base of skills, did a good job staying in the lineup, could really run, and played forever.

* * *

When next we meet our centerfielders, we’ll encounter Henry Kimbro, Jimmy Lyons, and Spotswood Poles, three pretty slick guys.

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Centerfielders, Part I

[All MLEs updated 7/4/18 to include (a) new 1938 and 1947 data (b) new baserunning-runs estimates (c) new, more objective playing-time estimates]

And so we’ve reached centerfield. We’re ready to play. Today. Lots of depth in the Negro Leagues in centerfield, as we’ll be seeing over the next few weeks. In this outing we’ll start with a few guys who might not be household names, but are pretty good players anyway. We’ll get to some interesting names in subsequent posts. Speaking of interesting, if you love things like watching paint dry, we suggest taking a gander at Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters, after which you’ll know where our estimates come from.

Bernardo Baró

Kind of a sad story this one. Baró was a tough case, high-strung and prone to nasty, often violent, outbursts. On the field, it appears the 5’6″ lefty had doubles power, a dash of speed, and just enough range to hang in center. Maybe a lesser version of Edd Roush, if I had to put a guess on it.

Baró’s career ran into a snag in 1924. He sustained a compound fracture of his ankle while chasing down a foul fly. His speed diminished when he returned in 1925 after missing much of the previous season following surgery on his leg. He went to first base for a little while then out to right field where he finished his career.

During the 1929 season, Baró suffered a “mental collapse,” which James Riley reports included a straightjacketing. He recovered enough to return for 1930, but retired part way through the year. In June he died in his native Cuba at the age of 34. He was elected posthumously to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame.

Bernardo Baró
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1915–1930
Destination: NL 1915–1930
Missing data: 1929–1930
Honors: Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame

Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos   RAA  WAA Rrep RAR  WAR
=============================================================================
1915  19  NL RF   170    2    0    - 1     - 2     0  -0.1    5    5   0.6 
1916  20  NL LF   230    8    0    - 3     - 3     3   0.4    7   10   1.3
1917  21  NL LF   530    6    1    - 6     - 6   - 5  -0.6   17   12   1.5  
1918  22  NL CF   380    2    1      0     - 2     1   0.1   12   12   1.5
1919  23  NL CF   490  - 1    1      0     - 3   - 4  -0.5   15   11   1.4
1920  24  NL CF   520   16    1      0     - 3    14   0.5   16   30   3.4
1921  25  NL CF   580   29    1      0     - 3    27   0.0   18   45   4.6
1922  26  NL CF   550   41    1      0     - 3    39   1.2   17   56   5.3
1923  27  NL CF   530   15    1      0     - 3    13   0.9   17   29   2.9
1924  28  NL 1B   140    5    0      0     - 1     4   0.4    4    8   0.8
1925  29  NL 1B   560  - 3    1      0     - 5   - 8   1.4   17   10   1.0
1926  30  NL RF   560  - 1    1    - 4     - 5   -10   1.6   17    8   0.8
1927  31  NL RF   550  - 4    1    - 4     - 5   -12   2.8   17    5   0.6
1928  32  NL RF   520    4    1    - 3     - 5   - 4   0.8   16   12   1.3
1929  33  NL RF   300    4    0    - 2     - 3     0   1.1    9    9   0.9
1930  34  NL RF   200    4    0    - 1     - 2     1   0.9    6    7   0.6
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 6810  129    9    -25     -55    58   5.6  212  270  28.5

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 166th 
Rbat: 202nd
WAA: 367th
WAR: 250th

You can really see how badly Baró’s ankle injury affected his performance. Sadly he had basically come into his own and his peak and prime likely lay ahead, but the injury shattered not only his leg but his career.

Jerry Benjamin

This little spark-plug of a player patrolled centerfield for the long Homestead Grays dynasty. Unlike, say, his teammates Josh Gibson or Buck Leonard, Benjamin’s game played up in the difficult Grays home parks of Forbes Field and Griffith Stadium. At 5’9″ and 165 pounds, Benjamin had outstanding speed, which he put to use on both sides of the ball. Playing many home games in parks known for suppressing homers and increasing triples, his speed gave him additional extra-base power and the ability cut down on opponents’ extra bases.

Benjamin didn’t excel at any one aspect of batting, but he translates as a couple runs better than average a year. His walk rate was not unusually high, and while he wasn’t a pushover at the plate, he didn’t hit a lot of homers. He appears to have picked up about a run a year above average in the field and may have had more baserunning value than batting value. He also had a knack for staying in the lineup. Altogether, it’s a good package, and a fine complementary player who ably supported the big wheels in the order and on the mound.

Jerry Benjamin
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1933–1948
Destination: NL 1933–1948
Missing data: 1934, 1948
Year Age Lg Pos  PA  Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA  WAA  Rrep RAR  WAR
================================================================================
1933  23 NL  CF   460    5     2     0     1     -1     6   0.6   14   20   2.3
1934  24 NL  CF   500    3     2     0     1     -1     4   0.4   16   20   2.0
1935  25 NL  CF   630    4     2     0     1     -2     5   0.5   20   25   2.5
1936  26 NL  CF   640    4     2     0     1     -2     6   0.6   20   26   2.6
1937  27 NL  CF   630    2     2     0     1     -2     3   0.3   20   23   2.4
1938  28 NL  CF   610    2     2     0     1     -1     3   0.4   19   22   2.4
1939  29 NL  CF   590  - 7     2     0     1     -1   - 5  -0.6   18   13   1.4
1940  30 NL  CF   590    0     2     0     1     -1     2   0.2   18   20   2.2
1941  31 NL  CF   620  - 2     2     0     1     -1     0   0.0   19   19   2.1
1942  32 NL  CF   610  - 1     2     0     1     -1     1   0.2   19   20   2.4
1943  33 NL  CF   500   10     2     0     1     -1    11   1.3   16   27   3.1
1944  34 NL  CF   440    5     2     0     1     -1     7   0.7   14   20   2.2
1945  35 NL  CF   390    5     1     0     0     -1     6   0.6   12   18   1.9
1946  36 NL  CF   310  - 2     1     0     0      0   - 1  -0.1   10    9   1.1
1947  37 NL  CF   220  - 3     1     0     0      0   - 2  -0.2    7    5   0.5
1948  38 NL  CF   140  - 1     0     0     0      0     0   0.0    4    4   0.5
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 7880   24    28     0    10    -17    46   4.9  246  291  31.4

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 93rd   
Rbat: t-539th
WAA: t-397th 
WAR: 224th

The structure of Benjamin’s value reminds me of a better-fielding version of Denard Span or Al Bumbry without all the planning early in his career. That’s a really nice player to have in, say, 1943 when your roster is studded with big names like Gibson and Leonard as well as first rate players such as Howard Easterling, Sam Bankhead, late-career versions of Cool Papa Bell, Jud Wilson, and Vic Harris, and a strong pitching staff that includes Ray Brown, Johnny Wright, Roy Partlow, and Edsall Walker. Truly great teams are usually great not merely because they have big-time players but also because up and down the roster, their players are average or above. Benjamin is exactly the kind of reliable, skilled player that a smart GM would put around his stars to lengthen the roster and go from good to great.

Gene Benson

In terms of how they built their value, Benson is cut from the same mold as Jerry Benjamin. But they have one key difference: They swapped baserunning for fielding. Benson doesn’t appear to be much on the bases. Then again, he played most of his career for the Philadelphia Stars whose stolen base totals are consistently underreported. Benjamin’s baserunning exploits were more frequently reported. However, the difference between Benson’s and Benjamin’s gloves almost exactly offsets the different in their legs.

Benson is usually noted for two things. First, that he showed Jackie Robinson the ropes on a winter barnstorming tour of South America, giving the integrator-to-be encouragement and confidence boosts while also helping him understand the baseball life a little better. Second, Benson’s reputation as an outstanding defensive outfielder included the basket catch, which Willie Mays would make truly famous in 1954.

As best I can tell, every source agrees that Benson retired at age 34 after the 1948 season. I don’t know precisely why. Was he injured? Had he lost a few steps? Or did Integration change his outlook on baseball? Maybe someone out there knows. I sure don’t.

Gene Benson
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1934–1948
Destination: NL 1934–1948
Missing data: 1935-1936, 1948
Year Age Lg  Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA  Rrep  RAR  WAR
===========================================================================
1934  20 NL  CF  320    1    0    0     2   - 1     2   0.2   10   12   1.2
1935  21 NL  CF  540    3  - 1    0     3   - 1     3   0.3   17   20   2.1
1936  22 NL  CF  600    2  - 1    0     3   - 2     3   0.3   19   21   2.2
1937  23 NL  CF  580  - 4  - 1    0     3   - 2   - 3  -0.3   18   15   1.6
1938  24 NL  CF  610  - 9  - 1    0     3   - 1   - 8  -0.8   19   11   1.2
1939  25 NL  CF  620  - 1  - 1    0     3   - 1     0   0.0   19   20   2.1
1940  26 NL  CF  610    1  - 1    0     3   - 1     2   0.2   19   21   2.2
1941  27 NL  CF  550    0  - 1    0     3   - 1     1   0.1   17   18   2.0
1942  28 NL  CF  590  - 7  - 1    0     3   - 1   - 5  -0.6   18   13   1.6
1943  29 NL  CF  600    5  - 1    0     3   - 1     7   0.8   19   25   2.9
1944  30 NL  CF  610    7  - 1    0     3   - 1     9   1.0   19   28   3.1
1945  31 NL  CF  600   14  - 1    0     3   - 1    16   1.6   19   34   3.6
1946  32 NL  CF  560   18  - 1    0     3   - 1    19   2.2   17   37   4.2
1947  33 NL  CF  560    9  - 1    0     3   - 1    10   1.1   17   28   2.9
1948  34 NL  CF  300    3    0    0     2   - 0     4   0.4    9   14   1.4
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                8250   42  -12    0    46   -16    60   6.4  257  317  34.2

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: t-76th   
Rbat: t-444th
WAA: t-336th  
WAR: 193rd

Gene Benson appears to serve exactly the same kind of function as Jerry Benjamin on a championship roster: He’s a highly skilled supporting cast member. We show a very flat rendition of players in our MLEs. Peaks are smoothed over, runs for skills-based abilities like running and fielding are allocated evenly over time, and playing time is fairly evenly distributed as well. Bro when I look at a guy like Benson, I can’t help of think about Garry Maddox or players like him. Guys who could really go get it in centerfield, and who also could occasionally cough up a decent offensive season. If Benson turns out to be faster and a better baserunner than our current data can reveal, then Maddox with a little less glove and a little more bat would be a pretty good modern-day comp.

Irvin Brooks

Alright, now seriously. Be honest. Raise your hand if you knew anything about Irvin Brooks before you started reading this article. I see one, two hands (thank you, Gary and Kevin). Otherwise, I don’t know if I believe you. This fellow had flown completely under my personal radar (not that it’s especially well tuned), and he turns out to be one of the little discoveries that makes this project fun.

Hailing originally from Key West, Brooks eventually made his way north where at age 26, he fell into a starting role with the Brooklyn Royal Giants that would last until his early forties. Brooks could hit and appears a little above average in the field. We’re showing him as a centerfielder. DRA suggests he was a little above average in centerfield, and although he spent time in right field and elsewhere, we thought in an MLB content, he would appear at the most difficult fielding position he could handle. Which it so happens is centerfield.

Brooks had a little pop in his bat and eventually learned to take some walks. He’s a 126 OPS+ hitter according to the Negro Leagues Database and checks in with 118 Rbat from us.

Irvin Brooks is sometimes listed as Chester, which may create confusion. Irvin was his given name and Chester his middle name per the Negro Leagues Database.

Irvin Brooks
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1917–1933
Destination: NL 1917–1930
Missing data: 1927, 1929, 1932
Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA  Rrep  RAR  WAR
======================================================================
1917  26 NL  CF  510  - 5    0     1   - 3   - 8  -1.0   16    8   1.0
1918  27 NL  CF  430  -12    0     1   - 2   -15  -1.8   13  - 1  -0.1
1919  28 NL  CF  480    4    0     1   - 3     2   0.2   15   17   2.1
1920  29 NL  CF  540   15  - 1     1   - 3    12   1.4   17   29   3.3
1921  30 NL  CF  550   41  - 1     1   - 3    39   3.9   17   56   5.7
1922  31 NL  CF  560   29  - 1     1   - 3    27   2.5   17   44   4.2
1923  32 NL  CF  220   12    0     0   - 1    11   1.0    7   17   1.7
1924  33 NL  CF  510   12    0     1   - 3    10   1.0   16   26   2.7
1925  34 NL  CF  450    5    0     1   - 2     3   0.3   14   17   1.6
1926  35 NL  CF  450    2    0     1   - 3     0   0.0   14   14   1.5
1927  36 NL  CF  340    5    0     1   - 2     4   0.4   11   14   1.5
1928  37 NL  CF  250    1    0     0   - 1   - 1  -0.1    8    7   0.7
1929  38 NL  CF  250    5    0     0   - 1     4   0.4    8   12   1.1
1930  39 NL  CF  110    3    0     0     0     3   0.3    3    6   0.6
----------------------------------------------------------------------
                5650  118  - 5     9   -31    91   8.5  176  267  27.5

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 294th   
Rbat: 214th
WAA: t-290th  
WAR: 263rd

Couple things. First, you can plainly see that 1923 is something of a dividing point. Brooks broke an ankle, and it’s clear that he couldn’t return to his previous level of production. Second, Brooks kicked off at 26. Supposedly Rube Foster found him in a spin down south (probably in the Florida Hotel League). I see a lot of discoveries attributed during that time to Foster. He had a strong nose for talent, which fueled the success of his teams. It’s interesting to see that Brooks had some trouble adjusting to top-level pitching after coming north. Were he a white man, Brooks would likely have been discovered long before, and the apprenticeship he served in 1917 and 1918 would have come in the white minors at ages 20 and 21 or thereabouts. It’s pretty easy to imagine three to five years of higher level play on Brooks’ resume were he on the more fortunate side of the color line.

* * *

Next week, we trot out the guy Irvin Brooks replaced in the Brooklyn lineup, a guy who may be known to readers of the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, and Sam “Jet” Jethroe.

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Pitchers, Part 7

Not even Yadier Molina takes as many trips to the mound as we are in this long series of articles on Negro Leaguers. Today we’ll get our signs straight with Eustaquio Pedroso, Cannonball Dick Redding, and Carlos Royer (we promised you Wee Willie Powell, but actually, we’d rather wait until more data for him becomes available). If you want to take a trip to the boring zone, we beckon you to read all about our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues pitchers.

Eustaquio Pedroso

Either he was a great hitting pitcher or a poor hitting corner man. Somehow that feels like a Groucho one liner when I hear it in my head. Pedroso veered back and forth between the mound and the corners being great at neither, but at least average as a pitcher and a batter, iffy in the field, and overall a below-average position player. So let’s focus today on his pitching.

We’re seeing Pedroso as a pretty durable righty (5’11”, 200 pounds) with a few very good years, some averageish years, and some horrid years. Ultimately he’s not a great candidate, but as a two-way guy, he’s interesting.

Eustaquio Pedroso
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1907–1926
Destination: NL 1907–1922
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1907   20  100    0   0.0   1.0  |   33   0.2  |   1.1 
1908   21  200  - 5  -0.6   1.3  |   67   0.4  |   1.7 
1909   22  260   10   1.3   3.8  |   87   0.5  |   4.3 
1910   23  250   24   2.9   5.3  |   83   0.4  |   5.7 
1911   24  310  -24  -2.4   0.9  |  103   0.6  |   1.5 
1912   25  300   14   1.5   4.6  |  100   0.5  |   5.1 
1913   26  300   12   1.4   4.4  |  100   0.6  |   5.0 
1914   27  310   15   1.8   4.8  |  103   0.7  |   5.5 
1915   28  300   13   1.6   4.5  |  100   0.6  |   5.1 
1916   29  250    1   0.1   2.5  |   83   0.5  |   3.0 
1917   30  200    4   0.5   2.4  |   67   0.4  |   2.8
1918   31  180  - 1  -0.1   1.7  |   60   0.3  |   2.0
1919   32  200  - 7  -0.8   1.1  |   67   0.4  |   1.5
1920   33  100  -11  -1.2  -0.1  |   33   0.2  |   0.0 
1921   34   20  - 8  -0.7  -0.5  |    7   0.0  |  -0.5
1922   35   10  - 4  -0.3  -0.2  |    3   0.0  |  -0.2
------------------------------------------------------- 
TOTAL     3290   35   4.9  37.4  | 1096   6.4  |  43.8
 
Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 51st 
Pitching Wins Above Average: 283rd
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 105th  
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 79th

Worth noting before we move on: Pedroso didn’t pitch from 1918 to 1920, or at least not in the data on the Negro Leagues Database. If he hurt his arm or what have you, we may want to consider ending his career before or during his stretch. He did actually pitch from 1921 to 1926, but he stank it up.

Cannonball Dick Redding

I’ve probably only mentioned 154 times now that I am a participant in the Hall of Merit project over at Baseball Think Factory. Dick Redding has been eligible for election over there for roughly 80 years. In that time, many voters have check his box, but not me. For years, he looked to me like a low WAA, high-innings pitcher, and that’s not a pitcher that excites me. Early Wynn and Red Ruffing required great bats to get my vote.

I think I’m going to change my mind about Dick Redding.

After doing all the stuff I do to adjust this that and the other, Redding comes out looking like a heavy favorite to get a vote. To be fully transparent, he’s not a competitor for the best Negro Leagues pitcher ever. He’s got Satch, Smokey Joe, and Bullet Rogan clearly in front of him. Only Martén Dihgio is close behind. That’s true also when we remove batting and look only at pitching WAA and WAR. This list is ranked by Wins Above Average:

  1. Paige: 70.9 WAA, 119.8 WAR
  2. Williams: 63.7 WAA, 114.6 WAR
  3. Rogan: 49.0 WAA, 91.3 WAR
  4. Redding: 42.4 WAA, 91.5 WAR
  5. Mendéz: 39.7 WAA, 62.6 WAR
  6. Foster: 37.8 WAA, 70.4 WAR
  7. Dihigo: 32.1 WAA, 75.9 WAR

Redding wasn’t a pathetic hitter at all, in fact he translates to a bit above average for a pitcher. He simply doesn’t derive enough value from it to catch up to Rogan.

So what I’m saying is that I’ve been missing the boat for 80 electoral “years” at the Hall of Miller and Eric, but, for me anyway, Dick Redding’s ship has come in.

Dick Redding
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1911–1931
Destination: NL 1911–1931
Missing Data: 1927, 1929
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1911   21  250   29   3.2   5.7  |   83   0.2  |   5.8 
1912   22  260   45   4.9   7.5  |   87   0.1  |   7.6 
1913   23  250  - 3  -0.3   2.2  |   83   0.2  |   2.4
1914   24  270  -12  -1.4   1.3  |   90   0.2  |   1.5
1915   25  300   12   1.5   4.4  |  100   0.1  |   4.5
1916   26  310   18   2.4   5.3  |  103   0.2  |   5.5
1917   27  300   19   2.4   5.3  |  100   0.1  |   5.3
1918   28  270   34   4.5   7.0  |   90   0.1  |   7.0
1919   29  280   42   5.5   8.1  |   93   0.1  |   8.2
1920   30  300    6   0.7   3.7  |  100   0.2  |   3.8
1921   31  300   35   3.8   6.9  |  100   0.2  |   7.1
1922   32  250   41   4.2   6.7  |   83   0.3  |   7.0
1923   33  210   20   2.0   4.1  |   70   0.2  |   4.3
1924   34  200    5   0.6   2.6  |   67   0.1  |   2.8
1925   35  210    3   0.3   2.5  |   70   0.2  |   2.7
1926   36  200    0   0.0   2.1  |   67   0.2  |   2.3
1927   37  210   22   2.3   4.4  |   70   0.2  |   4.6
1928   38  210   43   4.6   6.7  |   70   0.2  |   6.9
1929   39  180   16   1.5   3.4  |   60   0.2  |   3.6
1930   40  170    1   0.1   1.9  |   57   0.2  |   2.1
1931   41   10  - 5  -0.4  -0.3  |    3   0.0  |  -0.3
------------------------------------------------------- 
TOTAL     4940  371  42.1  91.3  | 1586   3.3  |  93.0
Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 8th 
Pitching Wins Above Average: 11th 
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 7th 
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 7th

Yeah, those hypothetical career rankings indicate a pretty good pitcher….

Redding is to Smokey Joe Williams almost exactly as Pete Alexander was to Walter Johnson. Williams, as you saw a couple paragraphs ago was a cut above everyone but Paige, but specifically, above his near contemporary Redding, just as Alexander was close but clearly behind the Big Train. Williams began his career the same year as Walter Johnson (1907), and Redding began his the same year as Alex (1911). Johnson was a strong hitter for a pitcher, and so was Williams who often took turns in the outfield. Alexander, like Redding, was a decent hitting pitcher, but not nearly as good as Johnson.

That last paragraph is a fun analogy, but it’s an important reminder of how strong Redding appears to be in his MLE.

Carlos Royer

This 5’9″ righty was one of the great players of the early Cuban leagues. Which also means that our stats on him aren’t nearly as complete as we’d like. Right about half his likely MLE-length career resides in the Negro Leagues Database. So the MLE below must be considered provisional. 

Royer debuted at age 16 in 1890, making him a near contemporary of a lot of famous pitchers. He was three years younger than Amos Rusie and four years younger than Kid Nichols. The NLDB picks him up at age 28 when he threw 291 innings with a 21-12 record between the Cuban Winter League and its playoffs. He started all but one of Havana team’s games. The next winter he fashioned a 13-3 ledger in 142 innings, making all but four of the team’s starts. Whether his arm gave out or age simply caught up with him, Royer took fewer starts as the nineteen aughts wore on, yielding to younger talents such as José Mendéz, and eventually hung it up at age 36.

Carlos Royer
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio 
Career: 1890–1910
Destination: NL 1894–1910
Missing data: 1890–1901
Honors: Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1894   20   80    0   0.0   0.9  |   27   0.0  |   1.0
1895   21  160    3   0.3   2.1  |   53   0.0  |   2.1
1896   22  200    6   0.5   2.8  |   67   0.0  |   2.8
1897   23  290    8   0.7   3.9  |   97   0.1  |   4.0
1898   24  310   10   1.0   4.3  |  103  -0.1  |   4.2 
1899   25  310    5   0.4   3.8  |  103   0.1  |   3.9 
1900   26  290   11   1.0   4.2  |   97   0.1  |   4.2 
1900   27  290   16   1.6   4.7  |   97   0.0  |   4.7 
1902   28  280   17   2.0   4.8  |   93   0.0  |   4.8 
1903   29  270   36   3.8   6.6  |   90   0.1  |   6.7 
1904   30  260   20   2.4   4.9  |   87   0.0  |   4.9 
1905   31  250    5   0.5   3.0  |   83   0.1  |   3.1 
1906   32  180  -22  -2.5  -0.7  |   60   0.0  |  -0.7 
1907   33  180    1   0.1   1.8  |   60   0.0  |   1.8 
1908   34  160   11   1.4   2.9  |   53   0.0  |   2.9
1909   35  120   23   3.1   4.2  |   40   0.0  |   4.2
1910   36   80   12   1.5   2.2  |   27   0.0  |   2.2
------------------------------------------------------- 
TOTAL     3710  159  17.7  56.5  | 1237   0.3  |  56.8 

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 32nd  
Pitching Wins Above Average: 81st
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 37th  
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): t-40th

Royer was a star in the 1890s, so we treated him like a top-of-the-rotation pitcher from 1897-1901, which is where all the innings are coming from. This is a very good but not great pitcher as we now estimate him. Perhaps if additional data arrives that fills in some of the front-half of his career, we’ll get a better idea of his performance. As it stands now, we have two big years plus the backside of his body of work.

* * *

Next time, we dust off our rhythmic hand clapping for centerfield. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and we’ll start with Bernardo Baro, Jerry Benjamin, Gene Benson, and Irvin Brooks.

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Left Fielders, Part 3

[All MLEs updated 7/4/18 to include (a) new 1938 and 1947 data (b) new baserunning-runs estimates(c) new, more objective playing-time estimates]

Here’s our last go-round on left fielders. If you’ve been following along, you’ve seen that the Negro Leagues didn’t exactly churn out amazing left fielders. We’ll see in a few weeks that they did rather better with right fielders, and centerfield is one of the leagues’ core positions (shortstop and pitcher being the others). Indeed, left field is the only position on the diamond where the Negro Leagues failed to generate even one strong candidate for the Hall of Miller and Eric (let alone any other Halls). Then again, a player’s position is sometimes a matter of opinion, so your mileage may vary. For example, Minnie Minoso played third base in the Negro Leagues and transitioned to left field in organized baseball because he was blocked by Ken Keltner and Al Rosen. Monte Irvin is often thought of as a left fielder due to playing several years there in the NL, but he began as a shortstop and centerfielder in the Negro Leagues, and given his fielding stats in the NL would almost certainly have been a fine centerfielder in the majors.

A question to ponder is why the Negro Leagues’ cup didn’t runneth over in the portside pasture. The answer, as I have come to puzzle it out, is the opposite of the answer to why the leagues developed so many good shortstops and centerfielders. We’ve noted in prior articles in this series that among position players, star power in the Negro Leagues truly clustered around the most athletic positions. This is what happens when there’s a high degree of variance among the abilities of players. Think back to our little league years. Our coaches’ Sorting Hats, if you will, probably had a decision tree that goes something like this:

1) Is this kid a righty or a lefty? 

A righty can play any position on the diamond, but lefties only play the outfield, first base, and pitcher.

2) Do any of the lefties have a real good arm?

Those that do can play right field, centerfield, and pitcher. Those that don’t can play first or left field. Or left bench.

3) Do any of the lefties with the good arms know where the ball is going?

Them’s pitchers.

4) Are any of the lefties with the good arms who aren’t pitchers excellent athletes?

Welcome to centerfield. The less athletic kids with arms will play right field. Of course the lefty pitchers-to-be can also play the outfield. This is little league, after all.

5) Now back to the righties. Do any of them have good arms?

Right field, centerfield, shortstop, third base, catcher, pitcher. The weaker arms will play first, second, or left.

6) Do any of the righties with good arms know where the ball is going?

Them’s also pitchers.

7) Among the ones left, are any good athletes?

Shortstop and centerfield for you!

8) Or bad athletes?

We’ll make a catcher or first baseman of you yet!

9) Average athletes?

If you have reflexes, you’ll be at third, otherwise right field.

10) Any good athletes among the iffy arms?

Second base. Remand the remainder to first base and left field…or catcher if desperate for a backstop.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the Negro Leagues were like little league, this is just a thought experiment. But the point is that Blackball didn’t have a very efficient player-development model. It didn’t have farm clubs (though it did have leagues that weren’t major in quality, they weren’t farm clubs, nor many if any dedicated scouts. So combined with the wide variation in talent, managers on the top teamswould have likely resorted to similar logic. Thus, many of the best players in Negro Leagues’ history tend to be shortstops, centerfielders, and pitchers. And some who could all three.

But, as a general rule, they were not left fielders.

As we look at the little thought experiment above, it becomes clear why players with more limited skills would fall into the lap of left field. No arm, no speed or athleticism, iffy baseball brain (the play is always in front of you, so you don’t have to anticipate as much) leads to left. Obviously, every Negro Leagues left fielder wasn’t a lame-o ballplayer. To start on a top-level team, you have to be a good ballplayer. But you don’t have to be a very complete player.

There’s also an additional wrinkle, however. When you read about the Negro Leagues, one of the things you see quickly is that their observers put much more stock in defensive ability at first base than folks did in watching MLB. This is particularly true after the introduction of the live ball. Basically, no one talks about the amazing defensive wizardry of Gehrig, Foxx, and Greenberg. We laugh that High Pockets’ Kelly’s defense was listed by supporters on the VC as a defining trait. First base pushed further away off the end of the defensive spectrum from left field after the home run came along. The long, slow elimination of knee-jerk sacrifice bunting began, which meant that every first baseman needn’t summon the courage of Keith Hernandez on every play. Simultaneously, second basemen’s ability on the pivot became much more important as the number of bunts decreased. What had been a hitter’s position (second base) began to become a fielder’s. Third base and second base basically flip-flopped on the defensive spectrum, but when you think about it, MLB didn’t suddenly replace the offense of a Hornsby or Collins with that of Joe Dugan. Some of the offensive switch probably got taken up by first basemen too. And why not? They now had less onerous defensive responsibilities, so anyone could play there. Guys like Jimmie Foxx might have been second basemen a generation or two prior. If Laughing Larry Doyle could make a career at second base…. But now guys like Foxx played about 60 feet to the glove side of second.

But the funny thing is that the Negro Leagues continued to revere first-base defense. The first thing Jim Riley says about Buck O’Neil in the Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues is “A smooth fielding first baseman…”. Dave “Showboat” Thomas gets a similar treatment from Riley. But in 1945 nationally known African American sports writer and announcer Joe Bostic brought two players to the Dodger’s spring training camp and demanded they be worked out. One was thirty-something pitcher Terris McDuffie and the other was Thomas. In “Baseball’s Great Experiment,” Bostic recalls why he chose Thomas:

“You’d be surprised at the number of players who were actually afraid to buck the establishment…. I had settled on Thomas because Thomas was the best fielding first baseman I knew in America at that time, bar none. Thomas, I knew, would dazzle them, and he had a good bat.”

Who in their right mind, in 1945, would bring a player to a big league camp because he was the best fielding first baseman around? Thomas was not a good hitter, he couldn’t run much, and he was thirty-nine years old. Thirty-nine! The only person who would think this a good plan was someone who came from a baseball culture that placed a premium on defensive prowess at first base. In that case, it made great sense to Bostic and little sense to white baseball. All of which is a long way of saying that, in my opinion, the Negro Leagues might have had a slightly divergent defensive spectrum in the 1930s. [Though the emergence of George Crowe and Luke Easter suggest that this view was either not hegemonic or had begun to fall out of favor by the mid-1940s.]

So why was left field a cold spring of Negro League talent? Because when you’re driving around the country on a thirteen-person bus, playing every day and often twice, someone’s got to be the left fielder. And if you want to win those games, the best players have to play the most demanding positions. That’s why today, we’ll look at two final players you probably don’t know much about as well as a lightning round with lots of guys in the slightly-better-than-average category.

If you enjoy seeing sausage made, follow the link (get it!) and grind (!!!) through our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters. It’s the wurst. [I’m killin’ me here.]

Art Pennington

I have zero idea where to put Pennington on the diamond. I’m just guessing at left field, and he could be reasonably pinned to any number of positions. I’m pretty sure he’s an outfielder, though. But even then, hard to say which outfield slot because the data is either mixed or undifferentiated (aka: he’s listed merely as OF). What can I tell you about the player known as “Superman”? For one he was an above average and sometimes good hitter. About an average runner. I can’t tell you anything about his fielding abilities because we have so little data on him.

Generally, though, the transition to organized baseball looks better on paper than in context. He struggled in the PCL in 1949 and never saw the high minors again. Thereafter he played primarily in B and C level leagues. He posted some outstanding minor league numbers in the 1950s those leagues. For example .339/.443/.492 in 1958 in the Florida State League as a 35-year-old. But that translates to roughly average hitting at the big league level because the FSL was a D league.

That said, we have some gaps in his minor league record. For example, he had a good partial season in the Western International League in 1949, and what appear to be three fine years in the 3-I league from 1952 to 1954. However, only the 1954 season has complete league and player totals to work with. The others lack at least one major category of stats (usually walks) and lack league wide numbers. So the back half of Pennington’s career feels a little patchy. On the other hand, I can’t imagine he’s too too much better or worse than where we’ve pegged him.

Art Pennington
Negro Leagues Stats | Minor Leagues | Bio
Career: 1944–1959
Destination: NL 1941–1959
Missing data: 1949–1951, 1955–1957

Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA  WAA Rrep RAR  WAR
=============================================================================
1944  21  NL LF   400    7    0     0     0    -4     4   0.4   12   16   1.8
1945  22  NL LF   600   12    0     0     0    -6     6   0.6   19   25   2.6
1946  23  NL LF   570   20    0     0     0    -6    15   1.7   18   33   3.8
1947  24  NL LF   640   17    0     0     0    -6    11   1.1   20   31   3.2
1948  25  NL LF   640   25    0     1     0    -6    19   2.0   20   39   4.2
1949  26  NL LF   570   10    0     1     0    -6     5   0.5   18   23   2.4
1950  27  NL LF   600    7    0     1     0    -6     2   0.3   19   21   2.2
1951  28  NL LF   590    6    0     1     0    -6     1   0.1   18   20   2.1
1952  29  NL LF   610    7    0     1     0    -6     2   0.2   19   21   2.3
1953  30  NL LF   580    8    0     1     0    -6     3   0.3   18   21   2.1
1954  31  NL LF   590   13    0     1     0    -6     8   0.8   18   27   2.8
1955  32  NL LF   580    8    0     1     0    -6     3   0.3   18   21   2.2
1956  33  NL LF   580    6    0     1     0    -6     1   0.1   18   19   2.1
1957  34  NL LF   590    4    0     1     0    -6    -1  -0.1   18   18   1.9
1958  35  NL LF   450    0    0     1     0    -5    -4  -0.5   14   10   1.0
1959  36  NL LF   190  - 2    0     0     0    -2    -4  -0.4    6    2   0.3
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 8780  148    2     7     0   -86    72   7.6  274  346  36.8

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 55th
Rbat: 178th
WAA: t-310th
WAR: 167th

I wouldn’t call this MLE complete. It’s pretty provisional. We may never get much better info for Pennington, which could keep it provisional forever, and sometimes we can do only what’s possible. More so, however, I’m not sure whether he’d hang around for 8,600 plate appearances. That’s a lot for a left fielder with a decent but not amazing bat.

Rogelio Valdéz

Valdéz emerged during Cuban baseball’s desegregation and starred for more than a decade. It might be hard to tell that he could hit, but, in fact, he was an above average hitter. That’s despite a .219/.319/.282 slash line. His .601 OPS results in a 111 OPS+. Talk about a deadball league. You’d have to be more scientific in your approach than a room full of physics Ph.D.s to score in that environment.

From the distance of a century and little international memory, we don’t have a good way to understand just how tough these early Cuban leaguers had it as hitters. But this guy does have the reputation of a defensive wizard, and DRA concurs. Add a touch of speed, and he’s an interesting player.

On the other hand, he had a little of trouble staying on the field, which gives his MLE the look of a supersub or highly active fifth infielder or fourth outfielder.

Rogelio Valdéz
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1902–1915
Destination: NL 1902–1915
Missing data: 1912, 1914
Honors: Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
Year Age Lg Pos  PA  Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR  WAR
===========================================================================
1902  20 NL  SS    60  - 1     0       1     1     1   0.1    2    3   0.3
1903  21 NL  SS   320    2     0       5     4    12   1.2   10   22   2.2
1904  22 NL  SS   390   18     0       6     6    30   3.4   12   42   4.8
1905  23 NL  SS   400    5     0       6     6    17   1.9   12   30   3.3
1906  24 NL  LF   440    9     0       8    -5    12   1.5   14   26   3.2
1907  25 NL  LF   460   10     0       8    -5    13   1.7   14   27   3.5
1908  26 NL  LF   330   13     0       6    -4    15   2.0   10   25   3.3
1909  27 NL  LF   440  - 3     0       7    -5     0   0.0   14   14   1.7
1910  28 NL  LF   450  - 7     0       7    -5   - 4  -0.5   14   10   1.1
1911  29 NL  LF   470  - 5     0       8    -5   - 2  -0.2   15   12   1.3
1912  30 NL  LF   440    3     0       7    -5     6   0.6   14   20   2.0
1913  31 NL  LF   380    8     0       6    -4    11   1.2   12   23   2.5
1914  32 NL  LF   430  - 1     0       7    -5     2   0.2   13   15   1.8
1915  33 NL  LF   240  -11     0       4    -3   -10  -1.2    7  - 2  -0.3
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 5250   42     5      87   -30   104  11.9  164  268  31.0

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 361st  
Rbat: 445th
WAA: t-216th 
WAR: t-227th

You can see the weirdness about his position. For whatever reason, despite being an excellent fielding shortstop, he was put out to pasture at age 24, where he shone as well. Meanwhile, at age 27, his bat went limp. I’d reckon there’s a lot of questions about him that we’ll probably never answer. It probably doesn’t matter, however, because even if they were all answered in his favor, he’d have a hard time amassing enough career value to be a strong contender for the Hall of Miller and Eric.

Lightning Round!

Valentín Dreke
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1919–1927
Destination: NL 1919–1927
Missing Data: 1926
Honors: Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
      Lg Pos  PA  Rbat  Rbaser  Rfield  Rpos  RAA   WAA  Rrep  RAR   WAR 
========================================================================= 
TOTAL NL LF  4370   75    -1       13    -43   44   4.3   136  180  18.2

Marcelino Guerra 
Negro Leagues Stats
Career: 1909–1924 
Destination: NL 1909–1924
Missing Data: 1911, 1919 
      Lg  Pos     PA  Rbat  Rbaser  Rfield  Rpos  RAA  WAA  Rrep  RAR   WAR 
============================================================================ 
TOTAL NL   LF    7470  -23     8      35     -71  -51  -5.4  233  181  21.0

George Shively 
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1911–1924 
Destination: NL 1911–1924 
      Lg  Pos   PA  Rbat  Rbaser  Rfield  Rpos  RAA   WAA  Rrep  RAR  WAR 
========================================================================== 
TOTAL NL   LF  5680  81     20       5     -61   45   5.6   177  222  25.8

* * *

Next week, it’s more pitchers, including one you might have heard of who is an important candidate. We’ll be looking at Eustaquio Pedroso, Wee Willie Powell, Cannonball Dick Redding, and Carlos Royer.

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Left Fielders, Part 2

[All MLEs updated 7/4/18 to include (a) new 1938 and 1947 data (b) new baserunning-runs estimates(c) new, more objective playing-time estimates]

Last week we looked at three left fielders you probably haven’t heard of. This week we’ll do the same thing with three more gentlemen whose names likely summon forth little in the way of memories. Nonetheless, it’s our privilege to give these good if not great players a little more time in the sun. And may a chance for someone to get to know them a little better after all. If you’d like to get to know how we go about creating the numbers you’ll see below, check out our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters. You may not see the sun for a while as you read it because it’s long and delightfully/insanely detailed, depending on your predictions toward twenty-something-step protocols. 

Blainey Hall

I don’t imagine a name like Blainey Hall put much fear in opposing pitchers. His .346 lifetime average against Negro Leagues and stateside winter ball opponents might have. Starting up in the teeth of the deadball era and then rolling into the liveball era, Hall pounded out a 149 OPS+. Sounds like a left fielder to me! So does the fact that he appears to have had below-average baserunning and a below-average glove.

Let me pause a moment. It could easily sound as though I’m conjuring up Luzinskiesque, Burroughsesque, or Kingmanesque commentary about his game. I don’t mean to do that. Hall shouldn’t be lumped in with the lumbering class. At bat, for example, he had a line-drive approach that better fitted the conditions he arrived in. He was clearly not a slow runner. He didn’t field like an Easter Island statue. Though at 5’7″ and 175 pounds, he probably didn’t look like a whippet out there. I simply have a picture in my mind of the ur-left fielder, and he looks a lot like Bull Luzinski. Which is patently unfair to Barry Bonds or Rickey Henderson or Stan Musial. But can you blame me?

Blainey Hall
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1914–1925
Destination: NL 1914–1925
Missing data: 1924

Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos  RAA  WAA Rrep RAR  WAR
=========================================================================
1914  25  NL LF   530   10    0     -1    -6     2   0.3   17   19   2.2
1915  26  NL LF   570   29    0     -1    -7    21   2.5   18   39   4.7
1916  27  NL LF   540   28    0     -1    -6    21   2.5   17   37   4.7
1917  28  NL LF   580   19    0     -2    -7    11   1.3   18   29   3.6
1918  29  NL LF   570    9    0     -1    -6     1   0.1   18   19   2.3
1919  30  NL LF   580   20    0     -1    -6    12   1.4   18   30   3.6
1920  31  NL LF   580   43    0     -1    -6    35   3.8   18   53   5.9
1921  32  NL LF   560   36    0     -1    -5    29   2.9   17   46   4.7
1922  33  NL LF   600   20    0     -1    -6    13   1.2   19   31   3.0
1923  34  NL LF   380    8    0     -1    -4     3   0.3   12   15   1.5
1924  35  NL LF   290    5    0     -1    -3     2   0.2    9   11   1.1
1925  36  NL LF   380    0    0     -1    -4    -5  -0.4   12    7   0.7
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 6160  227   -3    -16   -66   143  16.0  192  335  38.0

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 232nd 
Rbat: 101st
WAA: t-155th
WAR: t-158th

I’m thinking Hall’s kind of a Heinie Manush kind of player. Line-drive power, good average, not much home-run power, not great in the field, averagish on the bases. That 1920 season looks especially nice at the bat, and 43 Rbat would have shown third behind Rogers Hornsby and Ross Youngs.

Bill Hoskins

You’ve possibly heard of Dave Hoskins, a Negro Leaguer who pitched in MLB in the 1950s. This is his brother, and for my money, Bill was an easily superior player. Problem was, he was born five years earlier than Dave, which made Bill just a little too old to attract much attention from the majors.

Hoskins could really hit, had a little speed, and, contrary to James Riley’s notes, appears to have had a very good glove.

Bill Hoskins
Negro Leagues Stats 
Career: 1937–1946
Destination: NL 1937–1946
Missing data: 1938
Year Age Lg Pos  PA  Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos  RAA  WAA Rrep  RAR  WAR
===========================================================================
1937  23 NL  LF   330    7     0       1    -3     5   0.6   10   16   1.7
1938  24 NL  LF   400    9     0       2    -4     7   0.8   12   20   2.1
1939  25 NL  LF   460   17     0       2    -4    15   1.5   14   29   3.0
1940  26 NL  LF   520   18     0       2    -5    15   1.6   16   31   3.3
1941  27 NL  LF   540   24     0       2    -5    21   2.3   17   38   4.1
1942  28 NL  LF   530   11     0       2    -5     9   1.0   17   26   3.0
1943  29 NL  LF   500    8     0       2    -5     6   0.7   16   22   2.5
1944  30 NL  LF   520   24     0       2    -5    22   2.3   16   38   4.1
1945  31 NL  LF   480   16     0       2    -5    14   1.5   15   29   3.0
1946  32 NL  LF   410   18     0       2    -4    16   1.8   13   29   3.3
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 4690  152     4      20   -46   131  14.0  146  227  30.2

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 449th   
Rbat: 172nd
WAA: t-181st
WAR: 235th

The big question with Hoskins is why he gave up the game at age 32. No source I’ve seen puts him on any roster after that. Injury? Tired of the grind? I dunno, but it was an abrupt cessation of a career that had some legs.

Fats Jenkins

Five-seven 165 pounds doesn’t seem fat to me, but what do I know? I guess it was better than Clarence. Jenkins, whose nickname was a childhood legacy from when he had lots of baby fat, played like the opposite of a fat man. A lefty slapper without much power, Jenkins did what players of his type have done since baseball was a twinkle in Abner Doubleday’s eye: use contact skills and speed to move the ball around the field and take whatever the defense gives them; run well; field their position well to increase their value. It’s a good way to make a living, really.

Jenkins, however, had immense talent in pretty much every facet of life. He captained the Harlem Renaissance professional basketball team during the winters, coaching them to a 1939 National Championship. He narrowly missed being an Olympic boxer in 1920 and later refereed bouts. He coached sports teams. He played musical instruments and sang in quartets. He owned a successful business after his sporting days. About the only thing he could do was hit for power.

Fats Jenkins
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1920–1940
Destination: NL 1920–1936
Missing data: 1921, 1923, 1927, 1929, 1939
Year Age Lg  Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA  Rrep  RAR  WAR
===========================================================================
1920  22 NL  LF  520   10    1     2    - 5     8   0.9   16   24   2.7
1921  23 NL  LF  540    8    1     2    - 5     6   0.6   17   23   2.3
1922  24 NL  LF  350    7    0     1    - 3     6   0.6   11   17   1.6
1923  25 NL  LF  550    8    1     2    - 5     6   0.6   17   23   2.3
1924  26 NL  LF  580   12    1     2    - 6    10   1.0   18   28   2.9
1925  27 NL  LF  600  - 3    1     3    - 6   - 5  -0.5   19   13   1.3
1926  28 NL  LF  580    5    1     2    - 6     2   0.2   18   20   2.1
1927  29 NL  LF  550    7    1     2    - 5     4   0.4   17   21   2.2
1928  30 NL  LF  580   13    1     2    - 6    11   1.1   18   29   2.9
1929  31 NL  LF  560   10    1     2    - 5     7   0.7   17   25   2.3
1930  32 NL  LF  570   15    1     2    - 5    12   1.1   18   30   2.7
1931  33 NL  LF  560    9    1     2    - 5     7   0.7   17   24   2.6
1932  34 NL  LF  560    4    1     2    - 5     2   0.2   17   19   2.0
1933  35 NL  LF  530    6    1     2    - 5     3   0.4   17   20   2.3
1934  36 NL  LF  500   10    1     2    - 5     8   0.8   16   23   2.4
1935  37 NL  LF  300    2    0     2    - 3     1   0.1    9   10   1.0
1936  38 NL  LF  200    1    0     1    - 2     0   0.0    6    6   0.7
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                8630  125   10    37    -84    87   8.7  269  356  36.3

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 63rd   
Rbat: 209th
WAA: 280th  
WAR: t-170th

Jenkins is in the Basketball Hall of Fame in the sense that the Rens were inducted as a team in the 1960s. He was probably better with the roundball than the horsehide, though I think it likely that today, due to his height, he’d have been an effective baseball player only.

* * *

Next week, it’s our last set of anonymous left fielders, with Art Pennington, Rogelio Valdés, and our ever popular Lightning Round, plus a little thinking on the question of why the Negro Leagues didn’t crank out many outstanding left fielders.

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Left Fielders, Part I

[All MLEs updated 7/4/18 to include (a) new 1938 and 1947 data (b) new baserunning-runs estimates(c) new, more objective playing-time estimates]

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

Alejandro Crespo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vic Harris

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Pitchers, Part 6

Today we’re toeing the slab once more with three Negro Leagues pitchers, ore maybe more accurately, two Negro Leagues pitchers and an MLB pitcher who got his start in Blackball. If you want to know how we come up with our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues pitchers then by all means set your kitchen timer for five days and read our primer.

José Muñoz

The medium-height righty from La Habana threw a good fastball and a tough scroogie. He spent five seasons stateside in the Negro Leagues, and played 11 seasons in the winter league of his homeland. He had a massive year in 1909 and several good ones around that.

But pitching is a gambling-man’s game. It’s baseball roulette. While we don’t have the specific story, Muñoz’s arm must have given out in a hurry because suddenly in 1913, he stank up the joint, and there’s no record of him after that.

Jose Muñoz
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1902–1913
Destination: NL 1904–1913
Honors: Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1904   23   20    0   0.0   0.2  |    7   0.0  |   0.2 
1905   24  200  - 1  -0.1   1.9  |   67   0.1  |   2.0 
1906   25  320  - 1  -0.1   3.1  |  107   0.0  |   3.1 
1907   26  320    0   0.0   3.1  |  107   0.0  |   3.2 
1908   27  270   10   1.3   3.8  |   90   0.0  |   3.9 
1909   28  290   41   5.3   8.0  |   97   0.1  |   8.1 
1910   29  220   12   1.4   3.5  |   73   0.0  |   3.6 
1911   30  180    9   1.0   2.8  |   60   0.1  |   2.9 
1912   31  260   14   1.4   4.1  |   87   0.1  |   4.1 
1913   32  180  -29  -3.1  -1.2  |   60   0.1  |  -1.1 
------------------------------------------------------- 
TOTAL     2260   54   7.1  29.4  |  755   1.5  |  30.1
 
Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 166th  
Pitching Wins Above Average: 222nd
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 152nd  
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 151st

Good pitcher. Great for a very short time. Not someone likely to draw our vote at the Hall of Miller and Eric.

Don Newcombe

With Newcombe it all comes down to the question of when you think he’d have made the big leagues. He played against top-flight Negro Leagues talent from the age of 18 with that huge fastball of his. In 1946, as a twenty-year-old, Newk pitched in the Dodgers’ chain in Nashua with Roy Campanella as his catcher and co-integrator.

In Jules Tygiel’s Baseball’s Great Experiment, he discusses that the Dodgers thought Newcombe needed more seasoning to hone his control, so the sent him back to New Hampshire in 1947, despite allowing only 2.32 runs a game in 1946 (2.21 ERA). Newcombe walked about a batter every other inning In 1947, just as he had in 1946, en route to a 3.79 RA9 (2.91 ERA). They bumped him up to Montreal in the International League, where his control was the same as ever (actually a little worse), and he posted a 3.95 RA9 (3.14 ERA). So they returned him to Montreal in 1949 where he forced their hand with basically the exact same control and slightly better results: 3.18 RA9 and a 2.65 ERA. His control instantly improved upon reaching Flatbush, and he posted excellent seasons for Dem Bums.

Rickey brought along Newcombe more slowly than he brought along Campanella. In fact, Dan Bankhead, not Don Newcombe, was the first African American to throw a pitch for the Dodgers. So it’s an open question, in my mind, whether as a white man Newcombe would have debuted earlier. And also how much earlier? So we present two scenarios below. The first in which Newcombe arrives as an 18-year-old in 1944; the second as a 20-year-old in 1946. As Harry Kalas used to intone: IBM presents, You Make the Call.

Don Newcombe
Negro Leagues Stats | Major League Stats | Minor League Stats | Bio
Career: 1944–1960
Destination: NL 1944–1960

               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1944   18   30    1   0.1   0.4  |   10   0.1  |   0.5 
1945   19  100   15   1.6   2.6  |   33   0.2  |   2.8 
1946   20  160   17   2.0   3.6  |   53   0.4  |   4.0 
1947   21  210   32   3.5   5.6  |   70   0.6  |   6.2 
1948   22  210   36   4.0   6.0  |   70   0.6  |   6.6 
1949   23  280   40   4.3   7.1  |   93   0.8  |   7.9
1950   24  267   10   1.0   3.6  |  110   0.7  |   4.3
1951   25  272   11   1.1   3.8  |  114   0.4  |   4.2
1952             MILITARY SERVICE  
1953             MILITARY SERVICE      
1954   28  144  -10  -1.0   0.4  |   55   0.5  |   0.9
1955   29  234    6   0.6   2.9  |  125   2.4  |   5.3
1956   30  268   17   1.9   4.5  |  128   0.9  |   5.4
1957   31  199   12   1.3   3.2  |   86   0.5  |   3.7
1958   32  168  -10  -0.8   0.9  |   73   1.3  |   2.2
1959   33  222   24   2.7   4.8  |  123   1.9  |   6.7
1960   34  137  -14  -1.4  -0.2  |   62   0.2  |   0.0
------------------------------------------------------- 
18-34     2900  187  21.0  49.2  | 1205  11.5  |  60.7
20-34     2770  171  19.2  46.2  | 1162  11.2  |  57.4
Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 87th | 102nd
Pitching Wins Above Average: 60th | 72nd
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 50th | 61st 
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 30th | 39th

In both scenarios, the additional heft brings Newcombe from a good pitcher to a contender for the Hall of Miller and Eric (or your favorite Hall). He’s a Wes Ferrell for the 1950s: Very good on the mound, though not great, and an outstanding hitter for a pitcher. Together that combo is electable. At the same time, that three-WAR difference, at the margins, could be the difference between election and dejection for Newk.

OK, maybe not dejection. He doesn’t know about me and Miller, and it’s even less likely he cares about us. But let’s say, instead, that it’s an empathic dejection on the parts of his fans. Newcombe, 91, is still alive. He’s the 44th oldest living major league ballplayer, and among the very oldest living Negro Leaguers.

OK, before we leave Newcombe, two interesting facts.

1) Don Newcombe, a great hitting pitcher, batted lefty despite throwing righty. I don’t recall the last pitcher who batted lefty but threw righty, but I’d reckon it’s much rarer among hurlers simply because if they get hit on their throwing arm or wrist, the damage has more potential to be season or career threatening. It appears via the BBREF Play Index that only 390 northpaws in history hit from the other side. But most interestingly, eight pitchers do so now, but the top three in career PAs are all in the New York Mets’ rotation: Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler. As Mel Allen used to say, “Hooooooow, ’bout that.”

2) Newcombe was a big, big guy. 6’4″, 220 lbs big. In 1950 that was kinda huge. When I was growing up, folks talked about six-footers being basketball material. Not so much these days when the high-sixes and sevens dominate the NBA and college ranks. Go on and google images of Newcombe. He’s got a big frame, fairly wide shoulders, and hips that could pull a plow. Here’s two shots that put him in context, one with Jackie and Campy, the other with Willie Mays. Newk was just huge. Here’s another good pic, and this one shows you how amazingly large Luke Easter was. He makes Newcombe seem small!

Juan Padrón

The tall righty (6’0″, 185) complemented a good fastball with good breaking stuff and a dominant changeup. There’s always been a little mystery around him. Twenty years ago James Riley shown him born in “Cuba” with no death date and with no death date but a note that said he’d been reported dead at age 39. Now the Negro Leagues Database reports Padrón’s birth as 1892 in Key West, with a death in 1981 in Grand Rapids at age 89. Big differences.

In fact, Riley also indicates that Padrón debuted in 1909 and pitched in Cuba during the winters of 1909 to 1919. He also says that Padrón could hit. It appears that neither of those three things are true. As the amazing Gary Ashwill points out, Riley somehow conflated the record of Juan Padrón and portions of the record of Luis Padrón.

No difference of opinion exists in one key place: Juan Padrón was an outstanding pitcher. He’s one of the best pitchers I hadn’t heard of before starting this project. Unfortunately, his W-L record doesn’t reflect that excellence because he played with some iffy teams.

Padrón’s record also doesn’t explain much of what happened to him. I can’t either. He pitched at the highest levels from 1915 to 1926, and suddenly, he fell off the map. To be honest, it looks like a classic case of a pitcher’s arm just giving out. He’s cookin’ with gas in 1925 (ERA+ of 170) then disappears after 1926. Riley indicates he began pitching semipro ball a few years later in Michigan, which seems plausible. His arm gave out, a few years later, it comes back a little but not enough to compete at the top level, so he makes his bread where he can. He ended up staying in Michigan.

Juan Padrón
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio: There really aren't any online, the link to Gary's work above is the best
Career: 1915–1926
Destination: NL 1915–1926
Missing data: 1926
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1915   22  220   14   1.7   3.8  |   73  -0.4  |   3.4
1916   23  310   26   3.5   6.4  |  103  -0.5  |   6.0
1917   24  300   18   2.3   5.1  |  100  -0.7  |   4.7 
1918   25  270   15   1.9   4.5  |   90  -0.7  |   4.1 
1919   26  240  - 7  -0.8   1.6  |   80  -0.5  |   1.3 
1920   27  300   16   1.9   4.8  |  100  -0.5  |   4.5 
1921   28  250   30   3.2   5.7  |   83  -0.2  |   5.6 
1922   29  250   41   4.2   6.7  |   83   0.0  |   6.7 
1923   30  240   38   3.9   6.3  |   80  -0.1  |   6.2 
1924   31  270   34   3.7   6.5  |   90  -0.3  |   6.3 
1925   32  260   39   3.9   6.6  |   87   0.0  |   6.6 
1926   33   50    9   0.9   1.4  |   17   0.0  |   1.4 
------------------------------------------------------- 
TOTAL     2960  273  30.2  59.3  |  986  -3.8  |  56.7 

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 83rd  
Pitching Wins Above Average: 31st
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 32nd  
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 41st

One whale of a pitcher. In many ways, he’s Hippo Vaughn with an extra All-Star-level season in there. Vaughn is about one All-Star-level year from being a very serious contender for the Hall of Miller and Eric, so Padrón will clearly be a person of considerable interest to us.

* * *

Next week we put ourselves out to pasture. It’s our first step off the infield dirt as we graze on left fielders as we welcome Alejandro Crespo, Vic Harris, and Bill Hoskins to the fold.

Getting Real(er) About Negro Leagues Baserunning

This is the natural order of things. First you come up with an idea. Then you decide it’s pretty good; you really ought to do something with it. Then you start trying to do something with it, and you realize it’s a lot more complicated than you think. Then you wonder if it’s that good an idea. Then you decide it is and get back at it. Then you’ve got it all worked out just great, and things roll along merrily. Until you realize there’s something you could, or worse should, be doing better! Then it’s time for serious thinking about serious tinkering.

That’s why I’m running away from how I’ve calculated baserunning runs for Negro Leaguers as part of my Major League Equivalency routine (MLE). I found that I couldn’t defend to myself the level of subjectivity that had entered my basepath ballparking. And I’m my most sympathetic audience….

I had to find a means by which to increase the objectivity in my estimations, and today I’ll tell you where I’ve arrived. But first, where did I start?

Initially, I used a player’s stolen bases per opportunity, adjusted for his team, compared to his league. I’d wind my way around to a figure that said, Bob Smith stole 43% more often than his league, in the same opportunities. Then I’d take that and go onto the BBREF play index and see if I could dig up a handful of dudes in the Retrosheet era who did roughly as well and assign a value that I plucked out of the air around those dudes. A good start, but lacking in rigor and objectivity.

So I started with the Negro Leagues Database. Where else? Among the trad stats they display, only three jump to mind as potential speed indicators: steals, runs scored, triples. We lack caught stealing information and any other baserunning info, so those three are it.

Next I went to BBREF’s Play Index. (Side note: Subscribing to it will regrow your bald spot, pay off your mortgage, make your love life better, help you quite smoking, and give you that new-car look and feel. You should subscribe right now.) I grabbed every retired player whose entire career took place in the Retrosheet era and who had 500 or more PA. It’s more than 2,000 careers. Then I set up scatter plots and regression trend lines for three x/y combinations:

X: SB / [ (H – HR – 3B – 2B) + BB + HPB ] compared to the MLB average of the same
Y: Rbaser / PA
R-Squared: 0.46 (kinda correlated)

X: (R – HR) / [ (H – HR – 3B) + BB + HPB ] compared to the MLB average of the same
Y: Rbaser / PA
R-Squared: 0.41 (less kinda correlated)

X: 3B / H compared to the MLB average of the same
Y: Rbaser / PA
R-squared: 4.2E-06 (not correlated)

As I’ve said many times, I’m not a statistician, so if I’ve goofed something up, let me know.

I made an executive decision to only use SB/OPP. Here’s why: The regression suggests that about half of Rbaser/PA has explanatory power somewhere in SB/OPP, and that the same is true for R/TOB at about 40%. However, stolen bases put a runner into scoring position and likely affect R/TOB. There’s bound to be some entanglement there, so I’m just using SB/OPP.

But since only half of Rbaser/PA might be explainable by SB/OPP, I felt like I’d better try augment with something else too. I went back to my original notion of comping against baserunners with similar SB/OPP rates. I had used my hunt-and-peck method for similar MLB hitters, in part, because I’m also not a super database whiz, and I’m using Excel. I couldn’t figure out how to create dynamic ranges for different players that would allow me to compare any player to the MLB average of SB/OPP for his entire career (unweighted by PAs).

Well, it took a while, and it ain’t elegant, but I finally found a cooky work around using the MATCH and OFFSET functions with inputs of a player’s first and last seasons. Now that I had those functions in conjunction, I could calculate a tailored lgSB/OPP rate for anyone in my sample. And I did.

Fortified with that info, I could create a custom comp set for any Negro Leaguer…only comped to what? If I only used the Negro Leaguer’s SB/OPP vs lg I might get a whole lot or very few comps, and what comps I got might not actually be very like the Negro Leaguer at all! So I cheated a little. I used height and weight as my comping stats. Within two inches and five pounds of the player, and you’re in the mix. If not, sorry. (A couple guys so far still didn’t have enough comps, in which case, I added an inch and five pounds to the criteria.) Physical attributes are not a perfect criteria, but they often have a strong affect on speed. Just ask Cecil or Prince Fielder.

Now that I could create some robust comp sets, I took a Negro Leaguer’s SB/OPP vs lg, and located it or its nearest value within the comps. I took the six nearest guys above and below and found their median Rbaser/PA. Bad bing, bada boom.

I’ve allotted 50% of the Negro Leaguer’s Rbaser/PA value to the regression and to the comp set. It looks like this with the regression equation plugged in:

{ 0.5 * [ (0.0022 * player’s SB/OPP v lg) – 0.0024 ] } + ( 0.5 * median Rbaser/PA of comps )

Great, right! There’s just one more little hitch. See, not every city’s box scores included stolen bases for Negro Leagues games. Sometimes even in the same city one team’s boxes tended to report steals more often than others! So we do need to do a little bit of subjective work to establish a player’s SB/OPP because if he played with a team in a low-reporting area, it drives down his SB/OPP since we have hits, walks, and usually hit-by-pitched-ball stats.

The subjective element now is determining which teams had low-reporting and which did not. Then we adjust their home and road opportunities as appropriate. Um, I can’t say this is really scientific, but it’s as good as I can do for now. You start to get a feel for it when you see that a few teams stole more bases than they played games and others didn’t. Or you see teams with drastically low totals compared to others.

1) Guess whether a player was on a high- or low-reporting team

2) Guess which other teams were low-reporters and add their total games played up

3) Guess which other teams were high-reporters and add their total games up

4) Estimate SB OPPs in low-reporting road games by splitting total SB OPPs in half (home and road), then multiplying the road half by the ratio of low to high reporting road teams.

5) Subtract 4 from half the total SB OPPs to get the high-reporting road games.

6) If he played for a low-reporting team, then his total SB OPPs are equal to the result of Step 5. If he’s on a high-reporting team, then add the result of Step 5 to the home half of the SB OPPs.

7) Divide SB into the result of Step 6 to get his SB/OPP

8) Got to figure his league’s reporting-adjusted SB/OPP too, but the league’s OPPs may be different than the player’s. So, first take the league’s low-reporting games (Step 2) and add them to the player’s team’s games, then divide into the league’s total games, then multiply by half the player’s OPPs. If he’s on a high-reporting team, then divide Step 2 into the league’s total games and multiply by half the player’s OPPs.

9) Subtract 8 from half the player’s OPPs, and add the result to half the player’s OPPs to get his league’s total OPPs adjusted for the reporting of SB.

10) Multiply the league’s known SB/OPP times the player’s total OPPs to get the league’s unadjusted SB in the player’s OPPs.

11) Divide Step 10 into Step 9 to get the league’s SB/OPP.

Got all that?

Let’s look at Walter “Rev” Cannady as an example.

When I go through those 11 steps just above here, Cannady comes out at 177% of his leagues (18% v 10%). Plugging him into the regression equation, I get 0.0015 Rbaser/PA, which is about a run a year. Looking at his comps, they ring up at .0019 or 1.2 runs a year. Taking half of each and adding them, it’s .00168 Rbaser/PA, which is about 1.1 runs a year. Applying to Cannady’s estimated PA (10,130), we get about 17 runs for his career.

Earlier, I told you that I wanted to increase the objectivity and reduce the subjectivity. By comparison to hunting and pecking for comps with stolen base info based on partially known opportunities, that’s an improvement. Using regression and a more complete comp set, I have increased my use of objective measures.

Of course, I have added some other kinds of subjectivity as well. There’s plenty of guess work in trying to determine how steals came in games with reported steals and those with unreported steals. I think, however, that there’s a precision increase that probably offsets some of that subjectivity since we’re at least acknowledging the reporting issue and making a conservative to middle-of-the-road attempt to compensate.

The other added subjectivity is the choice to use height and weight as factors for comparison. That’s a subjectivity of choice (editorial subjectivity, if you will), but at least it’s got some reasoning behind it.

Overall, I’m getting mildly more conservative numbers for baserunning, and that’s probably a good thing. It takes a lot of the decision making out of my brain and puts it in Excel’s hands, and in this case, that’s surely a good thing.

I’m working slowly through the 100 or so MLEs I drawn up so far, and once I get through them, I’ll update those already on the site. All remaining players beginning with our left fielders next week will be based on this new baserunning protocol.

Evaluating More Negro Leagues Shortstops, Part 3

[All MLEs updated 7/4/18 to include (a) new 1938 and 1947 data (b) new baserunning-runs estimates(c) new, more objective playing-time estimates]

We return with Act III of our field guide to short fielders. This time we’ll talk about Hank Thompson, Dick Wallace, and Artie Wilson then wrap back to the beginning of the alphabet for someone we forgot previously. If you need something to take your mind off the woes of the world, we’d suggest Hungry, Hungry Hippos, but failing that you could spend weeks absorbed in the byzantine details of our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters.

Hank Thompson

I got to be honest. I should have run Thompson with the third basemen, but I goofed, and he’s here with the shortstops. Please forgive me, dear reader….

They called him “Machine Gun,” and, in fact, Thompson packed heat wherever he went. Perhaps in self-defense, in 1948 he shot and killed a man named Jim Crow (you can’t make this stuff up!). Thompson was a tough. He grew up fast and mean in Dallas, coming out of a broken home, reform school, and a lot of truancy to somehow become a star ballplayer.

I strongly recommend reading Thompson’s SABR biography (link below). He had one interesting career and life. An alcoholic by age 17, the disease of addiction probably cost him his baseball career, his marriage, his freedom, and his life. He got sober in prison with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous and straightened out, but he only got three years on the outside before dying an untimely death at age 43 due to a sudden heart attack.

On the field Thompson had good speed, good power, and a good batting eye. He’d have thrived in the 1990s/early 2000s when take-and-rake was all the rage. He had a good glove and the ability to play nearly anywhere on the field without embarrassing himself. There’s a little Tony Phillips here.

All of that talent led him to be the third black player to take the field in the 20th Century, to earn a couple MVP votes, to three times hit 20 homers for the Giants over an eight year tenure with them.

Hank Thompson
Negro Leagues Stats | Major Leagues Stats | Minor Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1943–1957
Destination: NL 1946–1956
Missing data: 1947–1948

Year Age Lg Pos  PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA  WAA Rrep RAR   WAR
=============================================================================
1946  22 AL 2B    410    4    0    0     0     4     8   0.9   13   21   2.3
1947  23 AL 2B    510    7    0    0     0     5    12   1.4   16   28   3.1
1948  24 NL 2B    540   12    0    2     0     5    19   1.9   17   36   3.6
1949  25 NL 2B    610   16    1    2    -4     6    21   2.1   19   40   4.1
1950  26 NL 3B    604   19    0    1     9     0    29   2.9   21   50   5.1
1951  27 NL 3B    308  - 1   -1   -1    -1     0   - 4  -0.5   12    8   0.7
1952  28 NL CF/3B 484   11    2    2     3    -1    17   1.8   17   34   3.7
1953  29 NL 3B    454   27   -1    3     3     0    32   3.1   16   48   4.7
1954  30 NL 3B    557   19    3    1     4     1    28   2.8   19   47   4.8
1955  31 NL 3B    533    5   -1    1     3     1     9   0.9   18   27   2.8
1956  32 NL 3B    219    1    0    1     2     0     4   0.4    7   11   1.3
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 5229  120    4   12    19    21   176  17.9  174  350  36.3

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 365th 
Rbat: 212th
WAA: t-141st 
WAR: t-170th

In this MLE, we’re accounting for Thompson’s late-June mustering out of the service in 1946. We’re giving him a complete 1947 season. We’re also MLE’ing a complete 1949 season from his AAA and MLB numbers. We are not counting his brief stay in AAA in 1951 because it seems injury-rehab related.

Thompson was a very good ballplayer. If he’d been sober when he played, you wonder if he’d have had a very long career and one with a stronger peak. He coulda’ been a contenda’.

Dick Wallace

By the looks of it, a classic good-field/no-hit shortstop. Well, that was certainly true after age 33 when we have him racking up, er, down -143 batting runs. Before that, however, he was merely below average with only one truly bat season with the bat and a couple above-average campaigns. Wallace appears to have topped out as an All-Star level contributor but in his prime generally was in the three WAR zone. After age 32, he reached two WAR just twice before petering out.

Dick Wallace
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1907–1921
Destination: NL 1907–1921

Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
=======================================================================
1907  24 NL  SS  370     1    0      4    5    11   1.4   12   22   2.9
1908  25 NL  SS  580  -  4    0      7    9    11   1.4   18   29   3.7
1909  26 NL  SS  600  -  8    0      7    9     7   0.8   19   25   3.1
1910  27 NL  SS  610  -  2    0      7    9    13   1.5   19   32   3.7
1911  28 NL  SS  580  -  6    0      6    8     8   0.9   18   26   2.8
1912  29 NL  SS  620  - 16    0      7    9   - 1  -0.1   19   18   1.9
1913  30 NL  SS  600  -  8    0      7    9     7   0.7   19   25   2.8
1914  31 NL  SS  600  -  5    0      7    9    10   1.1   19   28   3.3
1915  32 NL  SS  600     7    0      7    9    22   2.7   19   41   5.0
1916  33 NL  SS  590  - 19    0      7    9   - 4  -0.5   18   15   1.9
1917  34 NL  SS  550  - 15    0      6    8   - 1  -0.2   17   16   2.0
1918  35 NL  SS  540  - 18    0      6    8   - 5  -0.6   17   12   1.5
1919  36 NL  SS  320  - 17    0      4    5   - 9  -1.1   10    1   0.1
1920  37 NL  SS  280  - 12    0      3    4   - 5  -0.6    9    3   0.4
1921  38 NL  SS  270  - 33    0      3    4   -26  -2.8    8  -18  -1.9
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
                7710  -155   -4     85  111    37   4.6  240  277  33.2

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 100th   
Rbat: D'ya have to ask?
Rfield: 15th (SS only)
WAA: 417th  
WAR: 201st

Dick Wallace looks like a complementary piece on a better team, not a core contributor. The MLE totals for Rbat, Rbaser, and Rfield you see above from age 24 to age 32 are near clones of J.J. Hardy’s totals in the exact same age range. After that, well….

Artie Wilson

History hasn’t been all that kind toward Artie Wilson. His major league trial with the Giants includes descriptions of how teams would bunch him on the left side because he couldn’t pull. How MLB turned its back on him for that reason, much like Silvio Garcia whom we met previously. Yet, Wilson had a long career in the PCL where he regularly hit .300 and was the same kind of player. AAA managers aren’t smart enough to align their defenses the same way that MLB managers did? Seriously? Nah.

In fact, Wilson appears to have had the same kind of game that Ichiro had in his prime. Slash the ball to the other side of the field, avoiding fly balls, using left-handedness and speed to beat out a lot of infield hits. Ichiro rarely pulled, despite the trope that “Ichiro could hit home runs…if he wanted to.” Didn’t hurt him too badly. Doesn’t seem much different that Rich Ashburn’s game either. The reality: He appeared just 19 times in 1951, receiving a mere 24 plate appearances. He pinch hit 11 times and started just two games, while making six other appearances in the field.

In other words, he didn’t get a full-on shot at a regular job.

Granted, he hit .182 (with two steals!), but I would bet that most players in the Hall of Fame had a stretch during their career where they went 4 for 22 or worse. That’s the nature of baseball! So Wilson didn’t make the very most of his chance, but he didn’t get much of a chance. The idea that he couldn’t pull may be true, but it’s unlikely to be the reason why he didn’t stick.

One reason that could be accurate? His glove. While the stats you see below show a good shortstop and a below-average keystone man, there’s some kind of transition between the two which I’m not at this time displaying. In which case, it’s possible his glove had eroded enough to warrant his not getting more of a chance. That’s possible. But is it likely? I can’t tell. Might could. James Riley says that Wilson was a “superior defensive shortstop who was a master at the double play,” but that doesn’t preclude a defensive collapse in his early thirties.

Artie Wilson
Negro Leagues Stats | Major Leagues Stats | Minor League Stats | Bio
Career: 1944–1962
Destination: NL 1944–1957
Missing data: 1947-1948
Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
==========================================================================
1944  23 NL  SS  300    8    1    0     1    4    15   1.6    9   24   2.6
1945  24 NL  SS  570    5    2    0     2    8    18   1.8   18   35   3.7
1946  25 NL  SS  550    9    2    0     2    8    21   2.3   17   38   4.3
1947  26 NL  SS  560    0    2    0     2    8    12   1.2   17   30   3.1
1948  27 NL  SS  550    3    2    1     2    8    16   1.7   17   34   3.5
1949  28 NL  SS  590    2    2    1     2    8    16   1.6   18   34   3.6
1950  29 NL  SS  590  - 8    2    1     2    8     6   0.6   18   24   2.5
1951  30 NL  SS  490  -14    2    1     2    6   - 3  -0.3   15   13   1.3
1952  31 NL  SS  580    3    2    1     2    8    17   1.8   18   35   3.8
1953  32 NL  2B  560   14    2    1    -5    5    17   1.7   17   35   3.5
1954  33 NL  2B  490   17    2    1    -4    4    19   1.9   15   35   3.5
1955  34 NL  2B  440    7    2    1    -4    3     9   1.0   14   23   2.4
1956  35 NL  2B  380    1    1    1    -3    3     3   0.4   12   15   1.7
1957  36 NL  2B  320  - 5    1    1    -3    2   - 3  -0.3   10    6   0.7
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
                6970   44   26   11    -1   83   164  17.0  217  381  40.2

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 155th   
Rbat: t-435th
WAA: 148th  
WAR: t-143rd

I’m quite anxious to see what Wilson’s 1947 and 1948 Negro Leagues seasons look like. Ages 26 and 27 are typically peak-level seasons, and Wilson has had a reported .400 average in the latter. If they are, indeed, substantially better seasons than his career average, then his profile may jump considerably. Until then, he’s a pretty good player, if not a great one.

Avelino Cañizares

According to James Riley, this Cuban was considered by contemporary observers to be one of the three important young shortstops of the mid-1940s along with Artie Wilson and Jackie Robinson. They may well have been right, though Cañizares seems clearly third among them.

Cañizares didn’t have any thunder in his bat at all, much like a right-handed Artie Wilson. But he appears to have walked enough to get himself within shouting distance of league average at the bat. He also had above-average speed. The hard question to answer is what his glove was like. Riley says nothing. The few online sources about him say nothing. With no information to go on, I’ve made him an exactly average fielder.

Avelino Cañizares
Negro Leagues Stats | Minor League Stats | Bio
Career: 1942–1964
Destination: NL 1944–1958
Missing data: 1942-1943, 1949-1953, 1955-1956
Honors: Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
Year Age Lg Pos   PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA  Rrep RAR   WAR
==========================================================================
1944  23 NL  SS  550    5    1    0     0    8    14   1.5   17   31   3.4
1945  24 NL  SS  580   10    1    0     0    8    19   1.9   18   37   3.8
1946  25 NL  SS  590   11    1    0     0    8    21   2.3   18   39   4.4
1947  26 NL  SS  560    2    1    0     0    8    11   1.1   18   29   3.0
1948  27 NL  SS  600  - 3    1    0     0    8     7   0.7   19   26   2.7
1949  28 NL  SS  580  - 5    1    0     0    8     5   0.5   18   23   2.4
1950  29 NL  SS  590  - 5    1    0     0    8     4   0.5   18   23   2.3
1951  30 NL  SS  580  - 5    1    0     0    8     4   0.4   18   22   2.3
1952  31 NL  SS  390  - 4    1    0     0    5     2   0.2   12   14   1.6
1953  32 NL  SS  580  - 8    1    0     0    8     1   0.1   18   20   2.0
1954  33 NL  SS  630  -17    1    0     0    8   - 7  -0.8   20   12   1.3
1955  34 NL  SS  570  - 8    1    0     0    7     0   0.1   18   18   1.9
1956  35 NL  SS  550  - 7    1    0     0    7     1   0.1   17   18   2.0
1957  36 NL  SS  500  -10    1    0     0    6   - 3  -0.3   16   13   1.4
1958  37 NL  SS  420  - 8    1    0     0    5   - 2  -0.2   13   11   1.2
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
                8300  -51   16    2     0  110    77   8.2  259  336  35.8

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 74th   
Rbat: well...
WAA: 293rd  
WAR: t-174th

As you might imagine, much of the value we are estimating for Cañizares stems from an ability to play an average shortstop so that he could accumulate positional value. While that may sound like a bit of a backdoor way of looking at value, being able to do better than fake a key defensive position does have tremendous value to a team trying to round out a competitive roster.

Now there’s two crosscutting variables in play here, in addition to the question of fielding. First is that I’m not entirely sure I believe that Cañizares would have lasted for 8,300 PAs. I’m guessing more like 6,500 to 7,500. However, it’s really hard to say because the statistical guts of his late-twenties and early thirties aren’t there. We either don’t have a record of where he played his summer ball, or we have incomplete minor league records. So at this point, I have to leave well enough alone. I’ve gotten as far as I can go without more data.

* * *

Next week, we’re going to take a look at an advancement (I hope) in estimating MLE baserunning. Then we’ll do the bump with Jose Muñoz, Don Newcombe, and Juan Padrón.

Institutional History

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