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Election Results: Negro Leagues #22

“You didn’t elect me already, you clowns?”

There’s no one in baseball history quite like our latest addition to the Hall of Miller and Eric. Imagine if someone had the playing career of Clark Griffith, the managing career of Joe McCarthy, the team-building skills of Branch Rickey, and the executive vision and due authority of Ban Johnson? That would be quite a man. In fact, it would be Rube Foster.

We thought for quite a while that we would elect Rube Foster as an executive rather than as a player. But we both feel that making it as a player feels like the highest honor among players, managers, and execs. That’s just our way of thinking, and that’s in spite of the fact that Foster is the Negro Leagues’ greatest manager, one of its greatest talent aggregators, and its most important executive. Realistically, however, we’re electing him for doing everything. He’s a combination candidate for us, and he could easily have gone in any of the three electoral categories. Your mileage may vary.

As a player, Foster was known as a big-game pitcher and the man who had the most on the ball on any given playing field. The big, tough Texan had a brilliant first decade in the game playing for champion teams left and right, and using his murderous screwball to high advantage. A broken leg cost him much of 1909, and one wonders whether complications from it might have haunted him in his second decade. He began migrating to the skipper’s chair in 1911 when he took over the reins of the Leland Giants (renaming them the American Giants, a nickname that stuck into the 1950s). He pitched less and less, and, while often pitching well, he pitched poorly at times as well. His weight increased tremendously as well, limiting his ability afield. So it’s that first decade that built his case with some additional insurance tacked on in the second decade.

As a manager, Foster was likely the first in blackball to adopt what he saw his crosstown Cubs counterpart doing. Frank Chance was known for drilling sound baseball fundamentals into his major league charges. In other words, he actually coached them, not just managed them. This was part of John McGraw’s wizardry as well, and it conferred great success upon them both because the rest of the league did very little skills development at the big league level. Playing like a team was a novel expression of baseball smarts, and those who first adopted it won big. The same was true for Foster whose teams dominated the scene for a decade thanks to his careful coaching and his ability to create a team wide strategic plan, communicate it, coach to it, and execute it.

Of course, if anyone knows one thing about Rube Foster, it’s that he’s the architect of the first viable African American baseball league, the Negro National League. Like Ban Johnson in white baseball, he had the far-sighted vision to make it happen, the back-office shrewdness to pull the right strings, and absolute authority to make decisions he deemed best for business. The NNL flourished for a decade until the Great Depression fell it after 1931.

By that time Andrew “Rube” Foster had died at age 51, he’d done damn near everything a person can do in baseball and for baseball. Tragically, he died in a sanitarium where his mental health had forced his commitment in 1926. He never recovered his mentality and died there having never seen the outside again. There is little information in the usual online sources regarding his early death nor the reason for his breakdown. His SABR fleetingly mentions an exposure to gas preceding his decline into psychosis.

Regardless of the tragic end, the brilliant career deserves celebration and a plaque in the Hall of Miller and Eric.

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Election Results: Negro Leagues #21

Today’s honoree is the last of the easy decisions we’ll have to make. Despite a considerable update from our friends at the Negro Leagues Database, little about our last nine slots has been clarified. If anything the crystal ball looks foggier then before. Except about our latest member of the Hall of Miller Eric, legendary centerfielder Pete Hill.

Preston “Pete” Hill was roughly contemporaneous with John Henry Lloyd. He patrolled mostly the middle pasture for more than twenty years as a standout star for the Philadelphia Giants, Rube Foster’s American Giants, and later the Detroit Stars.

Although often compared to Ty Cobb during his own time, latter day analysis shows the comparison to be, well, not believable. Instead, Hill was more like a Billy Williams kind of player. He had a powerful lefty stroke, stayed in the game for a very long time, and instead of high-high peaks was a steady high-level contributor. (This could be the effect of our career-smoothing MLE protocol, but a look at his stats doesn’t suggest an up-and-down sort of career.) Hill could really hit, and he was a pretty good glove in centerfield as well. Reports of his speed may be a little overcooked, but he helped there too. Additionally, while the ledger is far from closed on Hill, we have a lot of solid information on his career at this point, so we feel confident about what kind of player he was.

So please welcome Pete Hill into our hallowed Hall. We aren’t certain yet when our next honoree will be announced. We’re working behind the scenes to get this all figured out, but it’s tough sledding between those with a lack of data and those with a lack of performance….

Election Results: Negro Leagues #20

Our latest honoree has dressed splendidly for his red-carpet moment.

More than a decade before Frank Baker took his famous sobriquet, our newest honoree had already been so dubbed. In fact, the moniker was applied during a minor league season, never mind the big time. Once he got to the top level of black baseball, this guy quickly established himself as the best shortstop, and likely the best player, in black America. Please welcome Grant “Home Run” Johnson to the Hall of Miller and Eric!

Johnson could do nearly anything on the field. He could hit, he displayed above average power in the deadball era, if not as much as his nickname suggests. He also played a strong shortstop and delighted Negro Leagues watchers by playing to the crowds. And he won over the ladies with his good looks. Our MLEs suggest that Johnson’s baseball-related activities (showmanship aside) imply a player worth 65 to 75 Wins Above Replacement, a total similar to a number of Hall of Fame shortstops.

With our twentieth Negro Leagues honoree, things start to get tight. We’re down to our final ten slots, and all the easy pieces have been taken off the board. What remains are great players, many of whom have some issue or another that confounds a slam-dunk election. Take, for example, our newest member of the HoME. Our estimates of Johnson’s value have risen and fallen as new information has become available about his play and as we’ve tightened up our methods. Right now, we believe we deliver the most watertight projection we can derive from the colander of Negro Leagues statistics, and we’re putting our foot forward with this election.

Specifically, what confounded us about Johnson is the lack of data for his candidacy. We have plenty of circumstantial narrative, and what data we have supports it. That’s the good news, and we have to lean heavily on it. Why? Because we have only 1,480 or so plate appearances of data on Johnson. That’s well below our comfort level, but high enough that we don’t feel completely out on a limb. Much of what’s missing from his career would comprise his record in the 1890s and early 1900s. In other words his peak and prime years. What we have during this time is skeletal, ten games here or there, but once we reach his early thirties, we have ample info. We can look at the high quality of his decline years and see that he must have had an awful lot of talent and the peak he came down from must have been high enough to make him a quality candidate.

We could be proven wrong.

Perhaps more data will emerge that makes the case against Johnson. Well, we can deal with that when it arrives. If it arrives. For now, however,  we roll out the red carpet for our newest member, Grant “Home Run” Johnson.

Now, normally this is the space where I tell you to watch for next week’s installment, all the while putting a cheeky pun hinting at our next honoree’s identity. No can do on that this week. We are refreshing our browsers frequently, waiting for the moment when the Negro League Databasers release their 1931 NNL update. That’s going to be a big, big deal for a few candidates still in the running, and we don’t know yet which will benefit the most and gain election. Guys like Alejandro Oms would benefit from more PAs at their usual performance level to push them over the line. Others like Heavy Johnson need a combination of PAs and performance to provide bulwarks for cases that seem a little to good to be true without more playing time. There’s fellows like Willie Foster who need a big showing because what we know about him statistically doesn’t at all match what we thought we knew. Then there’s guys like Ramon Bragaña who have plenty of data but need a big season to boost them up from looking like a compiler to looking like a candidate.

We’ll see what happens, and it’s possible that we may have to push back a week or two for our twenty-first election depending on how quickly we can process all the new info. As always, we’d rather make a great selection later than a hasty one now.

Election Results: Negro Leagues #19

Quincy Trouppe to Miller and Eric: “You don’t know squat…except about Negro Leagues catchers. :)”

Catch our latest Negro Leagues honoree if you can. Like many Negro Leaguers, his career ventured into every corner of North America, the corners of boxing rings, and the four corners of a Blackball memoir. Congratulations, Quincy Trouppe!

Now let’s start with a small but important point. Trouppe rhymes with toupee. It didn’t always, and that’s what’s important. Quincy changed his name in 1946 after playing in Mexico for several years. His name was originally Troup, but that was the name of the slaveholder that owned his family prior to the Emancipation Proclamation. Trouppe was his choice, not the master’s.

Choice is a theme throughout Trouppe’s career. Usually the choice to pack up and move on. He did early stints with the Detroit Wolves, the KC Monarchs, and other major squads. When the East-West League fell apart, he went to Bismarck, North Dakota with several other Negro Leaguers (including Satchel Paige) to play on integrated semipro teams. He played in the Denver Post tournament. But Trouppe had grown up with racialized fistfights, and he tried his hand in the late 1930s at the Golden Gloves scene in his native St. Louis. As Joe Louis and before him Jack Johnson had shown, pugilism could provide a substantial living for an African American man with limited prospects for education or work outside his own racially segregated community. Trouppe did OK, but baseball was his first calling, and he returned to it.

Jorge Pascal also called to him, to the tune of much dinero. The Mexican millionaire, trying to raise up the profile of La Liga Mexicana de Beisbol, brought Trouppe as well as numerous other more well known black ballplayers. Trouppe hit well and played a lot of third base in addition to catching, which may have saved his legs in the long run. One story goes that in order to buy Trouppe out of wartime industry obligations, Pascal traded Uncle Sam thousands of factory workers. Once his days in la liga were done, Trouppe was back stateside, catching for and managing the Cleveland Buckeyes to their first Negro World Series title as well as a second, losing appearance. He played in the high minors, acquitting himself well, and he fulfilled a dream by getting into several games with the Indians at age 39.

Trouppe was a smart and literate person. He penned an influential memoir of his playing days, Twenty Years too Soon, and his son would later carry on the literary torch in the family to become a leading US poet. Pere Trouppe’s intelligence manifested itself on the ballfield in his approach to batting. He worked the strike zone effectively and selectively. His stateside OPS+ of 120 is weighted heavily toward OBP, but in Mexico—during the heart of his career—he showed increased power and higher averages in the high heat south of the border. As for defense, Indians teammate Bob Feller praised Trouppe’s catching and especially his handling of the game. DRA suggests that Trouppe was slightly above average in so far as handling base stealers and wild pitches is concerned.

The overall package is a durable catcher with old-player offensive skills, good defensive skills, and a long career. Think Wally Schang with more durability. A catcher with that bat is an awfully valuable player to have on your squad. We think he’s a great player to have in the Hall of Miller and Eric!

Welcome, HoME Quincy Trouppe!

Join us again next week to see what holdout we’ve got a plaque in store for.

Election Results: Negro Leagues #18

Sometimes things are simple. Our newest honoree’s story is just that. He hit and hit and hit and hit like the dickens. That’s pretty much all he needed to make it to the Hall of Miller and Eric. So put your wings together for our latest Negro Leagues inductee, Turkey Stearnes.

Alright, let’s talk Turkey. That means talking about his bat. He held down centerfield just fine and did well enough on the bases, but it’s the bat that counts most for him.

Currently, Stearnes ranks 11th among players in OPS+ at the Negro Leagues Database. Five of the guys ahead of him have fewer plate appearances. He’s third in homers and slugging percentage, fourth in doubles, and twelfth in batting average. He could rake.

His MLE shows a hitter with nearly 500 batting runs above average. What kind of hitter is that? We peg him at roughly 492 runs. The ten hitters surrounding him are Jesse Burkett, Eddie Mathews, Johnny Mize, Billy Hamilton, and Paul Waner to the north with Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, Sam Crawford, Reggie Jackson, and Al Kalline to the south. That’s a pretty great set of hitters from a variety of eras and styles of play. Stearnes could mash.

So if Stearnes is so good, how come he waited around this long into our process for his plaque? Data. As has been the case with some earlier Negro Leagues honorees, Stearnes’ performance data is a bit scant by comparison to other players in the running. Scanty enough that we felt like he had to wait behind those with a more fleshed out profile. The 1929 NLDB update included some additional info from the early 1930s that put just a little more meat on Turkey’s bones. It’s enough to get his DATA+ score from the 70s into the low nineties, where 100 is average. He’s no longer in that inchoate territory where we’re pretty sure he’s great but we have to trust the lore for corroboration.

We’ve heard that later this summer the 1931 Negro National League will hit the NLDB, and we hope that Stearnes will get more data from that update as well. What we’ve got is all great, but more, in the case of these players, is always better.

Next time: Catch up with us to see whether our nineteenth inductee steals one via the HoME’s electoral contingent.

Election Results: Negro Leagues #17

Dobie “Black Cat” Moore

Though it’s about twenty or thirty years too late, a Howlin’ Wolf tune seems appropriate here:

Well, I ain’t superstitious
Black cat just cross my trail
Well, I ain’t superstitious
Oh, the black cat just cross my trail
Don’t sweep me with no broom
I might get put in jail

Such is the well-worn story of our newest member of the Hall of Miller and Eric, shortstop Dobie Moore.

No account of Moore fails to leave out the destruction of his career in a most scandalous manner: His leg shattered by gunfire and a hobbled leap from an upstairs window to escape further flak. Like the narration of any good blues song will tell you, the coup de grace of Moore’s career arose from the traducing of some romantic or monetary boundary. Or as Curtis Mayfield would later intone, “his misery was his woman and things.”

And now let’s leave that tawdry episode alone because it overshadows everything else about Moore to such a degree that his on-the-field abilities and performance almost take a backseat.

Dobie Moore, pound for pound, ranks among the Negro Leagues’ greatest superstars. The fact that we have waited to elect him has little to do with the quality of his play. Instead, it’s to do with the truncated nature of his career. We’ve talked about its closing act above. It shut the book on him at age 29, limiting his overall value. Despite his legitimately great peak, he’s got half a career.

In addition, his opening argument begins, of all places, in the Army. The 25th infantry, the Wreckers, were basically baseball Hessians: Baseball sell-swords, er sell-bats, who signed up with Uncle Sam for the expressed purpose of constituting a first-rank ballclub. This is the bunch that fellow Hall of Miller and Eric member Bullet Rogan started with, as did Oscar “Heavy” Johnson, a high-quality candidate for the HoME. This team spat out several other Negro Leaguers as well, and it played a steady diet of teams from the minor leagues, other service branches, independent teams, and others.

Such was the nature of Moore’s service contract that he easily bought his way out of it in 1920 to join the Kansas City Monarchs in the fledgling Negro National League of Rube Foster and C.I. Taylor’s fashioning. Moore saw in its professionalized nature that he could draw a steady paycheck, just like in the army, and probably also thought he could have a little more freedom. Of course that freedom eventually did him in…. But the point is that he spent several years in the Wreckers, and that the Wreckers represented an attractive economic alternative to riding buses down dusty back roads 200 days a year. In other words, it counts toward his career.

The trouble with the Wreckers is that there are few stats available to us, and that what’s there has no real context. We can’t grab the numbers and do our usual thing with them, so we have to estimate those years. Moore’s 1920 to 1926 figures are so good that it’s possible we overestimate his early years. On the other hand, ballplayers who are this good from 24 to 29 rarely suck in prior seasons. Guys who regularly pop out several MVP-level seasons arrive from a well-established foundation of performance.

Our MLE shows him as an All-Star player from age 24 to 28, that is five or more WAR every year. It’s not hard to find players who match this criteria. Just start with your favorite HoMErs.

  • Henry Aaron: Great from age 21 onward
  • Willie Mays: Great at 23, in the army prior
  • Barry Bonds: Great from 22 onward
  • Frank Robinson: Great from Day one (I cheated a little, his age 27 season was just 4.8 WAR)
  • Alex Rodriguez: Great from age 20 onward
  • Lou Gehrig: Great at 23
  • Ron Santo: Great at 23 (sucked at 22, though)
  • Johnny Bench: Great from 20 onward (giving him a little break on our qualifications for being a catcher)

That said, Mike Schmidt sucked at 23 and then dominated the world until age 38, so counter examples certainly do exist. But great players hardly ever just happen. It’s highly likely that Dobie Moore was a great player before he reached the Negro National League.

The upshot: Great player, short career, but enough for us to push him over the line and wish that he’d been around a little longer.

Meet us here again next week when we carve out a spot for our next Negro Leagues inductee.

Election Results: Negro #16

Good story, but the ending was a little rough.

Everyone loves a great story, and a movie should be made about the guy we’re talking about today. Here’s the pitch:

  • Our hero rises to the very heights of the Negro Leagues
  • then just as quickly has it all snatched away
  • save for one final golden moment
  • then manages his way to a championship
  • and was dead before he reached fifty.

The name of this flick should be his excellent nickname because this gem of a baseball story belongs to “el Diamante Negro,” José Méndez.

Indeed, Méndez’s high-octane speedball and vicious curve brought him to the pinnacle of the sport. By the early 1910s he had established himself as Smokey Joe Williams’ chief rival as the game’s best black pitcher. From his sensational rookie year in 1907 through 1914, he ran off a string of utterly outstanding seasons. His ERA+es on the Negro Leagues Database read like apartment numbers: 641, 287, 291, 187, 271, 338, 233, 263.

Then something went wrong with the great pitcher’s arm. He gamely tried to find his fastball, but it was gone. He pitched another few years, adapting to life without the blistering heat by taking lighter workloads and getting craftier on the mound. He enjoyed occasional journeyman success but few glimpses of his old self. He transitioned to a utility man, seeking a way to stay on the field.

Méndez also became a manager. Starting in 1920, he skippered the Monarchs for several seasons, winning three pennants and a World Series. It’s that World Series, in 1924, that cemented his legend. The now thirty-nine-year-old went the distance in the deciding game, a shutout win over the powerful Hilldale Club.

His final game appears to be in Cuba in 1927. For all his exploits he was named to the Cuban Hall of Fame in 1939 and the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. But for all those exploits, the athletic Méndez couldn’t outrun bronchopneumonia and died at in 1928. He was only 43 years old.

In terms of his career path and value, Méndez ends up looking something like Pedro Martinez and Ed Walsh thrown into a blender. He’s got plenty of peak dominance, and that peak is long enough that he doesn’t suffer from Dizzy Dean’s lack of shoulder seasons. He might have been the best thing going for a short time, but there’s not enough there for anyone to mistake his case for an inner-circle pitcher.

So join us in welcoming José Méndez to the Hall of Miller and Eric!

Next time, we’ll make a leap of faith, electing a player known as much for his off-the-field escapades as his dominating on-field presence.

Election Results: Negro Leagues #15

It’s no stretch to call Buck Leonard the best first baseman in Negro League history.

Often times the lore of the Negro Leagues is at odds with what the stats tell us. That’s the case with Cool Papa Bell’s speed, and perhaps with Willie Foster’s performance. In those two cases the difference from the lore has meant the sinking of two players’ candidacies. In this case it turns out to be only a difference of degree.

Our newest Negro Leagues honoree was commonly referred to as the lesser half of the Negro Leagues version of Ruth and Gehrig. Josh Gibson played the Ruthian part. Leonard’s actual performance, however, appears to reside in a lower echelon than Gehrig’s…which almost every Hall member’s does, by the way. It’s no slap to be not-Gehrig. A more apt comparison might be Leonard’s McCovey to Gibson’s Mays. Or maybe Leonard’s Simmons to Josh’s Foxx. In other words, Leonard turns out to be more of a long career guy with a moderate peak rather than the out and out basher that Gehrig was.

Leonard’s place among first baseman feels more like that of Eddie Murray or Rafael Palmeiro. These guys always played at roughly an All-Star level, they never got hurt, and they were eerily consistent. That’s the picture we get of Buck Leonard.

Offensively, Leonard wasn’t a smasher of towering moonshots, but he had good power of a more line drive variety. He also had fine plate discipline, which rounded out his offensive game. He doesn’t appear to have hurt his value nor helped it on the base paths. In the field, he’s got a very nice glove that burnished his value.

Regardless whether you want to believe the stats or the stories, Buck Leonard has what it takes to make the Hall of Miller and Eric. He’s a strong selection no matter whom he follows in the lineup.

Join us here in a week where you’ll discover what a true gem of player our next selection is.

Revisions to our MLE process for Negro Leaguers

We didn’t have to do something, but we did. Longtime readers know that we’re not the kind to sit on our laurels—we always seek improvement, even if we can’t present our findings to you immediately. In the background, we tinker a lot with everything. See, Miller, who should have been a philosopher according to Eric, has this thing about seeking the objective truth about baseball players. That’s something of an unstated goal for us. Yeah, we know it’s not possible, and we know that choosing to use certain stats creates conflict with that ideal since every stat trucks in bias of some sort. But we do our best to sand down some of those biases as we keep trudging along the road to a happy Hall.

That same tenacity motivates our Negro Leagues efforts. While Eric’s protocols drive our results, Miller’s ever on him to explain and improve. It also turns out that a fellow named Kris Gardner relates to that search for truth about baseball, and he approached Eric about taking a fine-toothed (and more statistically savvy) comb to the routine to see where we could nip and tuck to improve the results. The resultant dialogue, much of which can be read in a thread at Baseball Think Factory’s Hall of Merit discussion boards (starts at post #68 here and goes on for a while intermittently onto the second page of comments), is probably not for the weak of mind, heart, or stomach, but it does show how picky we’re ready to be to improve what we share with you. We thank Kris for his feedback, and appreciate the time he took to examine our work closely and thoughtfully. Although we haven’t ultimately taken every suggestion (some because it’s not possible, some because we don’t agree entirely with him), we’ve taken a couple that make a big difference and will change, in some cases considerably, the MLE numbers we’ve shared in the past.

The changes primarily affect the details but not the bigger picture about players. Ray Dandridge is still a slick-fielding, somewhat above-average hitter. Josh Gibson still hits like the dickens, and Old Satchel is still a long career filled with great seasons. But overall, you’ll notice that most players trended downward for reasons we’ll explain in a moment. You’ll probably notice that pitchers stayed about the same, just a couple-three wins shy of our previous estimates.

Overall, we feel strongly that these changes have improved our MLEs. They’ll never be watertight, but that’s a goal not a requirement, and we’ll keep looking for ways to improve as time marches on. For now, though, we’ll summarize the significant changes in our routine and then present some of the changes so that you have a sense of what to expect. We will NOT be updating our older posts about MLEs. It would take approximately seven thousand years, and our wives would kill us. But know that the All Career MLE Lines spreadsheet on our Negro Leagues clearinghouse page contains the most up-to-date career lines for all players we’ve worked up estimates on. For those intrepid readers who’d like more detailed information on a player, please contact Eric, and he’ll help you out.

BATTERS

There are three major changes to our batting MLE protocol that you need to know about. They each have their own effects, but one of them swamps the others.

  1. Eliminating the length-of-schedule buffer in the Quality of Play adjustment. We used to regress back toward the mean by one-third for reasons to do with the effect of shorter schedules on standard deviations and things like that. As you can see, we couldn’t even explain it all that well. So that’s gone. Nixing that adjustment exerts a noticeable downward influence on the MLEs we’ve previously published. What batter doesn’t enjoy what amounts to a ten to fifteen percent upward adjustment? That’s the big mover that’s whacking away at batter value.
  2. Incorporating the park factors and strength-of-schedule adjustments from the Negro League Database. Our friends Kevin and Dan have graciously shared their adjustments with us to help us sharpen up our estimates. We can’t thank them enough for doing so because it really makes the work better. Instead of Eric’s home-cooked park adjustments, for most players we now have a highly rigorous number that’s actually based on home-road information instead of guesstimates. We still have to do some guesstimating for parks in minor leagues and in La Liga Beisbol de Mexico, but what can we tell you. This has noticeable effects for players in extreme hitters and pitchers parks, including, most notably, Chicago’s Schorling Park. More on that below when we talk about pitchers.
  3. New moving-average routines for batting performance. Previously we used a five-year rolling average that valued season n at .6, seasons n +/- 1 at .15, and seasons n +/- 2 at .05. Kris Gardner recommended something a little different and a lot smarter. Research on Fangraphs indicates that the most important indicators of underlying batting performance stabilize around roughly 200 PA. So our new method first asks: Did the player reach 200 PA in season n? If so, we use his performance straight up. If not, we look at the two adjacent seasons to see if we can bring them into the sample, at full strength, and reach 200 PA in so doing. If so, great, and we proceed. If not, we look at the next season outward (n +/- 2), and we use that at 60% strength. If we reach 200 PA, we proceed. If our sample still doesn’t add to 200 PA, we add PAs at the player’s career average until we arrive at 200 PA, and then we go forward with the rest of the MLE. This doesn’t make huge shifts, but what it does do is allow peaks and valleys to stand on their own a little more and give us results that may look a little more like a real career than a heavily regressed one. We won’t get too carried away here. The regression element is still pretty obvious for a lot of long-career players, but the effect is generally a wee more realistic.

PITCHERS

The pitchers only have two major points of revision to our model, and they have moved considerably less than our batterly friends. We never used any kind of schedule buffer for pitchers like we did for batters, so we don’t have to worry about that at all.

  1. Incorporating the park factors and strength-of-schedule adjustments from the Negro League Database. A la the batters above, we have new and better data to work with. Now, about Schorling Park. See, this just happens to be about the most extreme park imaginable. To say it was where offense went to die makes an unfair comparison for graveyards. This place sucked the life out of run scoring to a degree that would make 1965 Dodgers Stadium blush. That’s why our friend Willie Foster looks really bad when he used to look really good. Foster did a lot of his best work in these friendly confines, and the very extremeness of the park’s run suppression change the contours of his career. Any decent pitcher should look like Cy Young in a park that crushes offense by 20 or even 30 percent. To understand what that means, imagine the league average were 4.5 runs per game per team. A 20 percent park factor discount means that before a guy even throws a pitch, the run environment is shaving 0.9 runs off of the league average. He steps on the mound in a place that turns a 4.5 R/G environment into a 3.6 R/G environment. Yeah, that’s even sillier than Coors field’s effect on offense. Now you can see why it is that Foster’s stats look a lot more pedestrian now. He spent 10 known seasons with the American Giants, and threw two-thirds of his innings for them. In nearly all his seasons, they played at Schorling Park. I hope that soon we’ll get additional data for Foster that will help clarify his performance, but for now, he looks like a product of his environment.
  2. New moving-average routines for pitching performance. It turns out that for pitchers, underlying performance stabilizes in around 30 innings (or about 120–150 batters). So that’s the sample we seek for them. We use the exact same method as we do for the hitters.

In addition to these global changes in our method, as of this writing, we have incorporated the latest NLDB data for the 1929 ANL season. This is par for our particular course, of course, because whenever the good folks of the NLDB post new data we go about the process of revising our estimates. Still seemed worth our mentioning it.

CONSEQUENTLY

So let’s take a moment to examine the top movers and how they are affected by these changes. Let’s start with batters where very few batters actually gained value, but a few lucky ones did.

Big Gainers

  1. Charlie Smith: +12
  2. Rap Dixon: +11
  3. Bill Riggins: +9
  4. Judy Johnson: +8
  5. Chaney White: +8
  6. Bingo DeMoss: +7
  7. Eustaquio Pedroso: +7
  8. Wilson Redus:  +7
  9. Grant Johnson: +7
  10. Art Penninton: +6

Biggest Losers

  1. Pete Hill: -14
  2. Bill Monroe: -14
  3. Willard Brown: -13
  4. Harry Buckner: -12
  5. Jules Thomas: -11
  6. Bullet Rogan: -11
  7. Silvio Garcia: -11
  8. Pelayo Chacon: -10
  9. Burnis Wright: -10
  10. Hurley McNair: -10

Here’s the hurlers:

Gainers

  1. Roy Partlow: +21
  2. Sam Jones: +10
  3. Carl Glass: +10
  4. Harry Salmon: +10
  5. Luis Tiant, Sr.: +9

Losers

  1. Joe Williams: -20
  2. Willie Foster: -19
  3. Reuben Curry: -15
  4. Satchel Paige: -14
  5. Andy Cooper: -14

To those who would bemoan the bouncing around they see: Sorry, man. Not much we can do about that. All we can say is that we believe that this revised method brings us a little closer to the “truth” than our previous protocol did. Nothing about the Negro Leagues is an exact science, and the data, unfolding slowly over time, will be in flux for years to come. Gary, Kevin, and their gang of boxscore and game account reapers at the Negro Leagues Database have a lot of ground left to cover—not to mention mortgages to pay and families to spend time with. So we ask your patience with the bounciness and further ask that you understand we are doing our best for you and for these players.

And now your current leaderboards:

BATTERS

  1. John Henry Lloyd: 92.4
  2. Willie Wells: 91.9
  3. Martín Dihigo: 88.0
  4. Oscar Charleston: 87.0
  5. Josh Gibson: 85.3
  6. Turkey Stearnes: 79.8
  7. Grant Johnson: 74.6
  8. Jud Wilson: 71.1
  9. Buck Leaonard: 70.7
  10. Critsóbal Torriente: 68.9

In other words, mostly the guys you’d expect with the intriguing addition of Home Run Johnson. He’s got fewer than 2,000 plate appearances supporting that MLE, so while I’m excited for him, I’m also not taking a nutty about it. He’s a strong latter-stages candidate but not yet a no-brainer.

PITCHERS

  1. Satchel Paige: 107.3
  2. Joe Williams: 102.6
  3. Bullet Rogan: 96.2
  4. Martín Dihigo: 90.9
  5. Dick Redding: 81.7
  6. Rube Foster: 64.4
  7. Roosevelt Davis: 63.0
  8. Bill Byrd: 62.0
  9. Conrado Marrero: 60.1
  10. Dave Barnhill: 59.8

Here again, we mostly have the gents you’d figure on. The lack of Willie Foster’s presence is explained several paragraphs ago, but Rosey Davis and Conrado Marrero are two interesting twists, as is the absence of José Méndez.

Let’s start with el Diamante Negro. He’s just a couple WAR behind Barnhill, so no biggie. After all, he’s a peak candidate, not a career guy. Now, Davis has snuck up on us. He and Bill Byrd are very similar: two spit-ballers who debuted in the early 1930s and lasted into the 1940s. Byrd lasted longer, but Davis appears to have had more value above average and has more peak/prime value than Byrd who is something of a career candidate at this point. Trick is that we have less information about Davis than about Byrd, so we must be careful with him.

That takes us to Marrero. Eric originally ran up his numbers as an interesting aside to the Negro Leagues conversation, but the dude is for reals. Just look at his big league stats, all compiled when most ballplayers are in the wipe-the-drool-off-their-chin phase of a career. He was downright amazing in the International League for three years before that, and everything prior to the IL is a complete mystery. He pitched for the Cuban national team and won some huge international games for them, but the record runs dry as you move back further in time. That’s because he was a plantation worker playing in industrial/agri leagues prior to that, which is a not uncommon theme in Cuban players’ careers. Anyway, everything we know about him screams awesome, but we just don’t have a lot. Anyway, a bigger question is whether he rightly belongs in the Negro Leagues category. He was a light-skinned Cuban, the kind that had played in the big leagues for decades prior to Jackie Robinson. On the other hand, he wasn’t able to go pro until Jackie’s breakthrough, so maybe the color bar was inconsistently applied? We’re not sure, and behind the scenes we’re still trying to figure out whether he’s an MLB candidate or a Negro Leagues candidate for us.

So that’s the latest on our MLEs. We hope you continue to find them helpful and edifying. It’s sure a long, winding, and ultimately fun road for us.

Election Results: Negro Leagues #14

Jud Wilson: All squared up

We come to the end now of a skein of honorees whose achievements were too hard to separate from one another but who seemed to us to sit in a clump behind the Charlestons and Dihigos of the Blackball world. Because we went in alphabetical order, someone in the bunch had to come last, but that’s no slight on our fourteenth honoree. But I think he might get very angry about it anyway.

Put your hands together for Jud Wilson!

Wilson was a tank. He stood 5’8″ but weighed in at a muscular 190 pounds. He looked like he’d been built with Tinker Toys or an Erector Set. Unlike, say, Josh Gibson who had a neck and shoulders with that coat-hanger shape you see on a lot of athletic specimens, Wilson’s shoulders looked like he had football pads on: wide and as square as you could make them. His body barely tapered at all to the waist, so infielders must have felt some trepidation when he came charging into them like a running architectural column.

All this gave Wilson tremendous ability to drive the ball, which he did with great authority. Despite being a lefty, the comparisons to Edgar Martinez’s career are so obvious that they bear repeating. Both guys settled in late as regulars. The Mariners notoriously held Edgar back in deference to Jim Presley, and Wilson, for reasons to do more with the less organized talent flow of the Negro Leagues, didn’t reach the top level until age 26. But from those points in their respective careers, all they did was mash.

Both men could hit the long ball, but doubles were their specialty. Despite possessing the speed of a cement mixer, Martinez regularly stroked 40 doubles while punching about 25 roundtrippers a year. Wilson owns the third highest career doubles total in Negro Leagues history (as of this writing) but in 300+ fewer plate appearances than anyone above him on the leaderboard. And Wilson could hit the long ball: His 93 known homers are 7th all-time. Both, of course, hit for very high averages while drawing a lot of walks. In addition, both guys were better defensive players than it seemed at first blush, and, had the DH not existed, both would probably have split their careers between third base and first base. They both also lasted as effective hitters deep into their baseball golden years. In fact, the biggest difference between them is speed. Wilson probably had a little bit, and Edgar, thanks to a horrific hamstring injury, had none to speak of. And finally, both are, deservedly, in that Hall in upstate New York.

So please welcome Jud Wilson, the guy who was Edgar Martinez before Edgar Martinez was Edgar Martinez, our latest addition to the Hall of Miller and Eric.

Next week we’ll start sorting through a new clump of fellows. I’ll give you the hint that there are five or six (still am not sure about one of them). Start your guessing now!

Institutional History

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