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Artie Wilson

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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.

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Thinking About the Negro Leagues: 5 Questions

This is not an announcement of action. But Miller and I are trying to wrap our very limited brains around the very complex question of whether we can do a high-quality job of electing Negro Leaguers to the Hall of Miller and Eric. So this is the first in a series of articles about how dudes like us could go about this process, what hurdles we’d face, and what degree of rigor we think we could bring to the job. If by the end, we feel pretty good about things, we may take on the challenge. If not, well, we may have to leave it go. We don’t like lousing things up.

Here are five questions we’ve been asking ourselves. We’ll explore them in greater depth in the weeks to come, but these are the big-picture items that we’re wrasslin’ with right now.

  1. How many Negro Leaguers should we elect?

The Baseball Hall of Fame is our guide for all other electoral questions, so this one’s easy. They’ve elected 29 Negro League players, 5 executives, and 1 manager. That’s our goal. Next!

  1. Who qualifies as a Negro Leaguer?

Things were so easy in our first question…. See, this stuff gets sticky fast. Take Larry Doby and Minnie Minoso, two candidates very close to the borderline at their respective positions. They played most of their careers in MLB, had some seasons in the Negro Leagues, and spent some time in the minors as well (Doby very little, Minoso, a couple seasons). Does that mean we should only count them as Major Leaguers? We don’t think so. The larger point isn’t who was a Negro Leaguer and who wasn’t, but rather who had his career disrupted or distorted by the color line? That’s every player who only played in the Negro Leagues and every player whose path from the Negro Leagues to the Majors went a little sideways because of their skin color. Other folks in this camp include Elston Howard, Toothpick Sam Jones, and Luke Easter.

It turns out that, like nearly everything in human life, players fall onto a continuum of experiences. After experience in the Negro Leagues, Bus Clarkson, Willard Brown, and Artie Wilson, for example, got cups of coffee in the big leagues but spent nearly all their post-Integration careers in the high minors. Others like Marv Williams never got to MLB and bounced up and down the minors. Since many teams were slow to integrate, and since it appears that most integrated teams may have informally kept the number of black players artificially low well into the 1950s or 1960s, we can’t even say that Negro Leaguers got the same opportunities as their white counterparts to participate in the baseball market, suppressing their ability to get MLB jobs.

Even before the Integration generation, there are strange exceptions. Dark-skinned Latino players who competed against Negro Leaguers but rarely played in the Negro Leagues themselves. Careers like Dobie Moore’s, Bullet Rogan’s, and Heavy Johnson’s that included playing top-level baseball in the army. There’s weirder stuff yet, such as Quincy Trouppe taking a year off after a boxing injury.

So earlier our rule of thumb helps here: Who had their career disrupted or distorted by the color line? Dobie Moore played top-level baseball in the army for good money prior to the formation of the first Negro National League and came over to the new league as soon as the war was over. He was playing at the or at a top level available to him. Same goes for Trouppe, really. He was an amateur and met Joe Louis just before the Brown Bomber went pro. Boxing was more lucrative in 1937 in depression-era America, especially with Louis paving the way for black athletes to earn bigger paychecks as pugilists. Trouppe’s decision to box in the offseason was radically different than one faced by his white MLB counterparts whose incomes were very safe. Trouppe was playing summers for an All-Star independent team in Bismarck, North Dakota. Independents could fold up shop at any time. Even were Trouppe with a league team, the Negro Leagues frequently had capitalization issues and were more vulnerable to bad economic times. MLB players were not in danger of such instability, so Trouppe’s boxing dalliance makes sense as a young man trying to find the best way to earn a living. We have to answer the question, then, should we give Trouppe some credit for a hypothetical 1937 season?

Oh, and I have no idea what to do with Bobby Estalella.

  1. In which case, how do we integrate Negro League data with Major League data?

Over at Baseball Think Factory’s Hall of Merit, you’ll see a lot of discussion about Negro Leaguers, which includes translations of stats into Major League contexts. Yours truly (as Dr. Chaleeko) did a lot of that work with Chris Cobb doing the most important thinking and work with big assists from KJOK, Brent, and other members of that online community.

And we did all that work before WAR was a thing and before Gary Ashwill had published out more than 10% of his body of work.

So those translations are old and in need of updating. We need a new protocol for translation to get into the WAR era. With translation, however, comes a host of necessary calculations:

  • Park effects
  • League-quality conversion factors
  • League-level origination and destination information
  • Possibly even information about standard deviation.

That’s big-picture stuff, and there’s tons of nitty-gritty details too.

But what should be clear is this: Our goal must be to get as accurate a look at how a Negro Leaguer would have performed in MLB as possible because in some cases we must meld big league and Negro League information to evaluate the career of a player.

  1. What qualifies as a Negro League?

The short answer: any league that allowed dark-skinned people to play in it. In addition to the Negro Leagues themselves, prior to Integration that includes various Caribbean winter leagues, the Mexican league of the 1930s and 1940s, the integrated California Winter League of the 1920s, and occasionally the minors. There existed minor blackball circuits as well, and only in a precious rare instance do we include them. In addition, and especially prior to 1920, there were loose affiliations of independent teams that barnstormed and scheduled games against one another. Even thereafter, in the heart of the Great Depression when the leagues broke apart for a couple years, surviving independent teams continued to loosely affiliate in this way. All these and some others count.

  1. What sources of information can we trust?

This is one of the key questions, and we fortunately live in a time when Negro League information has become more plentiful and more trustworthy. Here’s a list of helpful sources we’ve already discovered.

There are more but that’s a great starting list. That said I’m not so willing to trust some sources:

  • The Bill James New Historical Baseball Abstract: At about 17 years old, the statistical information James used is out of date, and he relies heavily on anecdotal research, which is often at odds with the statistics that we now have (and which he didn’t in fairness). It’s good, however, for jumpstarting some outside-the-box thinking about certain players.
  • Various sources by John Holway: I don’t mean to be a jerk about this, but Holway seems to have fallen too deeply in love with his subject. I appreciate his passion, but he often makes claims that feel hyperbolic, decontextualized, and less objective than feels safe for me to rely on.
  • The opinions of former players: Just like with Major League players, only worse. There’s lots of grade inflation. If someone says that so-and-so was the greatest fielder he’d ever seen, that probably means the guy was above average with the glove. If they say he was about average, that probably means he was below average. That sort of thing.

This article shows you why I’m skeptical of anecdotal information about the Negro Leagues.

We’ll be investigating most of these questions and some important details within them in future posts. They will be our pathway toward making our final decision about whether or not to pursue this wing of the HoME.

 

 

Institutional History

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