archives

Satchel Paige

This tag is associated with 7 posts

Election Results: Negro Leagues #7

Anything you say, Mr. Williams, just don’t throw the ball at my head, please.

For those following our elections so far, we arrive at the fifth of the five men whom we couldn’t logically disentangle from one another. As more information flows into the Negro Leagues Database, more daylight may appear between these fellows. Or maybe another one or two players may join the melee. Right now however, the fifth man isn’t shrouded in the fog of mystery but rather in smoke. Congratulations to Smokey Joe Williams!

We’ve written before that Dick Redding is to Pete Alexander as Williams is to Walter Johnson. We’ve also written that Williams is to Alexander as Johnson is to Paige. Yet another analogy could be Williams:Cy Young::Paige:Johnson. Why does this analogy work well?

Like Young viz Johnson Williams came before Paige by about 20 years

Like Young viz Johnson, Williams was more of an iron man than even the redoubtable Paige

Like Young viz Johnson, the argument for which was the superior pitcher hinges on the latter-day pitcher’s per-game performance versus the earlier-day pitcher’s sheer number of innings.

The differences between Williams’ bulk and Paige’s don’t rise to the nearly absurd level of Young’s 7356 innings versus Johnson’s 5914, but it’s the same argument writ smaller. And like the MLB version of the argument, much depends upon how you treat the usage patterns of the day. In both cases, there’s good reason to choose Young or Williams and, in our opinion, better reason to choose Johnson or Paige.

But let’s not play the comparison game because we’re talking today about Williams, not about Paige. At 6’3″ Williams stood very tall for his day. Remember this is before the government started subsidizing the meat industry. The big, lanky righty (190 pounds) threw a full repertoire but his bread-and-butter pitch was, of course, his heater. Thus Smokey. Thus his other nickname Cyclone. Oh hey, that’s Denton True Young’s nickname too!

Williams pitched at the highest levels from 1907 to 1932. So far in the evolution of the Negro Leagues database, he’s chalked up more wins (138) and punch outs (1,342) than any other Negro Leagues pitcher. He’s third in innings and and starts and complete games, plus fifth in shutouts and ERA+. None of the other pitchers above him in ERA+ (including Satchel) come within 500 innings of Williams. Just as important to note, we don’t have full detail on all of Williams’ seasons, especially in the 1920s, so there’s more to learn about him.

In other words, he earned his nicknames and then some on the mound. Don’t forget also that he had a very potent bat and pulled down a lot of value with the stick. So much so that he often played the outfield. All of this adds up to why he’s part of this gang of five that we couldn’t unknot.

Next week, we’ll start electing from the next group of greats so stay tuned!

Advertisements

Election Results: Negro Leagues Election #1

Satchel Paige>>>>IN ACTION>>>>

It’s actually not all that hard to imagine what kind of player our inaugural Negro Leagues honoree was. After all, Satchel Paige pitched in the big leagues. In his forties!

Beyond that, however, we’ve previously discussed some very interesting parallels between Satchel and Lefty Grove: The blazing fastballs, the similar overall workloads through age 41, the ongoing dominance, and even the need to change their pitching styles in mid-career due to injury. Well, one place they weren’t alike was their nature. Grove bristled with competitive intensity, whereas Paige was a laid-back storyteller who enjoyed the limelight. Cocaine versus marijuana, if you want to make a somewhat inappropriate analogy.

Satchel’s story, unlike Lefty’s, doesn’t end with championships, strikeouts, and general moundsmanship. While we don’t take Paige’s incredible showmanship or his heavy influence on integration into account, Paige’s success in slingin’ it is plenty good enough. If you visit the Negro Leagues Database, and we hope very much that you do, you’ll see in the Statistics/Pitching section that Old Satch ranks numero uno for ERA+, and not by a little. By 30 frickin’ points! His 193 ERA+ tops George Walker’s 163, and Paige’s 1,028 innings blast Walker’s 228 out of the water. Thirty-three pitchers in the Negro Leagues database have 1,000 documented innings. None of them is closer than 43 points of ERA+ to Paige. It is this degree of dominance that makes him our top pitcher and our number one inductee.

It’s furthermore not difficult to imagine what Paige’s career would have looked like in white baseball. That’s because he had a career in white baseball, abbreviated though it was. He is among the best performing 40+ players in MLB history. Given the zillions of innings he logged, the length of his career, and an arm injury in mid-career, it’s frankly amazing he lasted that long and retained so much of his ability at an age when 90% of pitchers couldn’t get a AAA or even AA hitter out.

Satchel Paige…INACTION…

So what made us choose Paige over fellow legendary hurler Smokey Joe Williams? After all, Williams isn’t exactly chopped liver. The simple answer: Quality over quantity. When you get over 4,500 innings, it’s not like we’re talking about Dizzy Dean versus Tommy John. We estimate Paige throwing 250 to 500 innings fewer than Williams with a RA9 better enough that the bulk of Williams’ career doesn’t make up the difference. It’s not as though it isn’t close, of course, but Paige gets enough separation that we only have to split the hair 7 ways instead of 14.

Paige’s appearance here won’t shock anyone. He has the most name recognition of anyone who played a majority of his career in the Negro Leagues. (Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella surely have more “brand awareness” if you will, but they played a much smaller portion of their careers in the Negro Leagues.) It may shock some that we ranked him ahead of, say, Josh Gibson, but that only means that we put the likely best catcher of all time second to a guy who may have an argument as the best pitcher of all time, certainly for the top five among mounsdmen.

By making him our first honoree, we argue for Paige being the Negro League’s GOAT. We’ve mentioned it before, but only a handful of players reasonably merit inclusion in that conversation. Gibson, of course, is one. Here’s some others:

Oscar Charleston: The dominant player in the era paralleling Babe Ruth’s career whom we might liken to Tris Speaker with homers instead of triples.

Martín Dihigo: Probably a centerfielder if he’d played a position in MLB, but not quite as good as Charleston. Thing is, he was also an outstanding pitcher! Not quite as good as the other two fellows listed here. But by putting them together, there’s a high-quality argument that the sum of the parts exceeds the whole.

Josh Gibson: Best Negro Leagues hitter, best Negro Leagues catcher, what else do we have to say?

John Henry Lloyd: The so-called “Black Wagner” marks the deadball era as his territory of dominance. His career trails Wagner’s a little bit chronologically, but the idea that Lloyd represented the best of the league from the shortfield post is born out by the numbers.

Willie Wells: A rough contemporary of Gibson’s and the other guy at the six who might lay claim to GOAT status. A good fielding, hard-hitting, fast running player who could do a lot of things very well.

Smokey Joe Williams: Our other GOAT pitcher candidate, and one we might call the deadball Paige. In essence Williams and Paige analogize well with Cy Young and Walter Johnson in the Negro Leagues pantheon. They aren’t temporal peers of those white fellas, but as the two greatest hurlers and who also can be said to represent a difference in not only epoch but also durability versus run prevention, it makes lots of sense.

You’ll soon be learning how we’ve prioritized these guys. Frankly, we’re not sure that it matters much. We can make it seem important, but in reality these are greats among greats no matter who asks. So we’ve made Satchel Paige our number one. Well, somebody had to fill that slot, and who better?

Congrats to Satch, the greatest pitcher and storyteller the Negro Leagues ever knew. Keep watching these parts each week for more Negro Leagues election action!

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.

Negro Leagues Legends Wrap Up

[This page is not being updated with the latest MLE information.]

So we’ve been taken a tour of the diamond, introducing all of the Negro Leaguers honored by the brick-and-mortar Baseball Hall of Fame and the online only Hall of Merit. In doing so, we created Major League Equivalencies (MLE), estimates of what a player’s achievements might reasonably look like in an MLB setting.

Today, we’re going to put these 36 players on the same page so that you can compare and contrast them all you want in one spot. This will also help you develop mental benchmarks for the players we’ll be translating going forward, the best of the rest among blackball stars. We’ll show you the career component stats we’ve presented in our previous posts, along with some commentary about how reliable our estimates might be given the information that’s missing and our confidence in the specifics underlying the numbers. And for the eagle-eyed out there, we’ll drop a couple hints about some players we haven’t talked about yet who might be challengers to these 36 players.

First we’ll recap by position, then we’ll run a table sorted by career MLE WAR. Italics indicate the player is already a member of the Hall of Miller and Eric.

Negro Leagues legends by position

CATCHER


NAME               PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
===================================================================
Roy Campanella   7315  218  - 3   -19    25    61  283  27.9  54.9
Josh Gibson      8010  577  - 7     0    26   - 6  591  61.3  88.7
Biz Mackey       7000  253  - 7     0    18    50  315  30.8  53.1
Louis Santop     6560  231  - 4     0     2    73  302  33.1  56.2
Quincy Trouppe   7140  248  - 8     1     0    49  290  28.8  52.0

Let’s remember that our MLE for Gibson has him transitioning to first base during his peak years. Aside from Josh, we could toss the other four catchers into a hat and pick any one at random to come up with pretty much the same player. Some of them hit more than the others. Some field better than the others. Some played at a time when runs were more plentiful or scarcer. One slight advantage accrues to Louis Santop whose 1918 and 1919 seasons are placed into the war-shortened MLB schedules of those years. For those who prorate up to 154 or 162 from there, he’ll pick up another 30 to 50 games. Also, let’s remember that much of Trouppe’s career remains to be updated once the Negro Leagues Database (NLDB) uploads data for the post-war seasons. As for our elections, initial research into the best of the rest at catcher suggests that however many catchers we choose, the four unitalicized names above will be the sole candidates to merit strong consideration.

FIRST BASE


NAME             PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
=================================================================
Buck Leonard   9830  537  -15     0    27   -95  453  47.1  80.5
Mule Suttles  10190  374    0     0    39   -98  315  31.1  63.9 
Ben Taylor    10130  344  - 8     0    67   -84  319  34.6  69.9

There’s a bit more separation here than at catcher. Buck Leonard wins in a walk, and Ben Taylor finishes a clear second. Like Santop above, his career includes those 1918 and 1919 seasons, giving him still another edge on Suttles. We should note, however, that several of Suttles’ and Leonard’s seasons remain outside the NLDB. Looking forward, a few candidates that dang near nobody has ever heard of could make some noise at first base and challenge for a ballot spot. Let’s just say, we’ll send you the bill.

SECOND BASE


NAME               PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
===================================================================
Frank Grant                      ?????
Jackie Robinson  6953  332   36     4    97    36  500  50.2  76.4

Jackie was awfully good, and Grant’s career totals so far consist of very, very few plate appearances, so we just can’t do too much with him just yet. But the pickings at second aren’t robust. Outside of Grant, candidates simply don’t fall out of trees as they do at shortstop and centerfield. One fellow appears like an outside shot to rise up in challenge, but we have some work to do before we decide whether he’s marvelous enough to make it.

THIRD BASE


NAME              PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
==================================================================
Ray. Dandridge  7690  212   18     1   144    10  385  41.0  68.0
Judy Johnson    5400    2    0     0    24    31   57   5.7  22.7
Jud Wilson      8400  456    0     0    43    24   24  51.2  77.9

There’s a clear winner and clear loser here. Then there’s Ray Dandridge. This is probably the maximum value Dandridge could end up with. But we’re still working through how to best evaluate the fielding contributions of players whose primary source of fielding data is the minor leagues. Stay tuned, but know that Dandridge’s value is more likely to decrease than increase. Among the unheralded players we’ll be looking at in the near future, at least one has a puncher’s chance of a candidacy, and maybe a couple depending on what data becomes available and when. More on that later.

SHORTSTOP


NAME                PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
====================================================================
John Beckwith     7530  403  -17     0   -64    36  358  34.6  58.8 
Grant Johnson     9080  157  - 5     0    66   108  327  34.4  65.7
John Henry Lloyd  9490  410   40     0    39   112  601  67.7 102.5
Dick Lundy        9380  227   19     0    35   126  407  41.0  71.5
Dobie Moore       5380  239  - 1     0    99    75  412  43.8  62.2
Willie Wells     10780  229   20     0   100   149  497  50.6  85.9

Quite a melee here! Beckwith trails considerably due to his stone glove, while Lloyd and Wells are clear yesses. In between them is a very competitive trio. Dobie Moore lacks career length, but like Jackie, he packed a whale of a punch into his short tenure. He also would pick up some value due to the shortened war schedules of 1918 and 1919. But so would Dick Lundy! However, Grant “Home Run” Johnson gets even more with several turn of the century seasons that require proration. Once you account for all this, it’s a very close ranking. Well, lucky we get to pick 29 guys, because it’s possible that five of these six could end up with a plaque. Then again, two or three other, less well-known names are emerging in our research into the best of the rest. At a minimum, John Beckwith should be worried about losing his seat on the bus.

LEFT FIELD


NAME             PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
=================================================================
Monte Irvin    7817  356   36   -13    76   -43  412  42.5  70.1
Minnie Minoso  9952  360   18     5    21   -75  325  32.4  62.7

We really see Irvin more as a centerfielder, but his MLB career in left field gets him plunked here. Both he and Minoso have several seasons of missing data that could provide a little more jet fuel for their candidacies. Then again, Minoso is so close to the borderline that not-so-hot performances in the missing years could also set him back. Which leads to the larger point that Minoso probably shouldn’t be considered a Negro Leagues at all candidate because he played just a handful of his seasons in them. However, because we ran the numbers, we felt it was important to show his totals. In the future, left field looks like it has some depth among the also rans with the possibility of a couple borderliners. We’re just starting to pick at these guys, and while it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if we don’t elect a single Negro Leagues left fielder (if we call Irvin a centerfielder), some names could bubble up high enough to make a play. Sometimes betting against heavy odds pays off.

CENTERFIELD


NAME                  PA  Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR
======================================================================
Cool Papa Bell      10370  209   57     0   -13   -34  430  22.1  55.7
Willard Brown        9560  176    9   - 7    18   -41  155  15.6  49.4
Oscar Charleston     9910  626   37     0    31   -75  619  62.8  95.5
Larry Doby           7530  332   16    22    22   -19  375  38.5  62.4
Pete Hill           10330  419    5     0    26   -69  381  43.7  81.7
Alejandro Oms        9970  409    0     0   -12   -49  348  35.0  71.1
Turkey Stearnes     10500  600    6     0    35   -54  587  57.8  91.6
Cristobal Torriente  8380  486   20     0   -18   -57  432  46.8  76.1

Charleston and Stearnes, news at 11:00. But beyond them a bed vein of center field treasure. Pete Hill, Cristobal Torriente, and Alejandro Oms have compelling cases. Larry Doby and Cool Papa Bell are lagging behind, but in both their cases, some missing seasons could improve their odds. Then there’s Willard Brown. Need to reiterate here that his MLE is highly provisional. We have the missing seasons, and we have the fact that outfield defense is more difficult to figure than infield defense when most of the data comes from minor league seasons. Don’t count Brown out quite yet, but his case needs a lot of help. Again, this is a very deep position, and we have a ton of other quality candidates to check in on. We’ll give you pole to pole coverage, don’t worry.

RIGHT FIELD


NAME              PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR
===================================================================
Martin Dihigo*  10700 526    0     0    120  -65  581  59.0  94.1
Bullet Rogan*    9780 539   20     0     22  -99  481  50.1  83.0  
*Assumes the player did not have a pitching career

Again, we’re seeing Dihigo as more of a centerfielder than we are a right fielder, but that’s just the way his record fell out. With the exception of shortstop and catcher, you can put him at any old position you want, including on the mound, and he’s a Hall member in the making. That said, he’s probably a better hitter candidate than pitcher candidate, but he’s hardly a slouch on the mound. Rogan is more limited as a position player, really only a right fielder. But he sure could hit. He plays up better as a pitcher, but as you can see, he’s got some serious sting in that bat. Looking into the future, there are very few high quality right field candidates in general, so we think we’ll be lucky if even one strong candidate emerges.

PITCHER


                          PITCHING          |   BATTING  | TOTAL
NAME                  IP  RAA   WAA     WAR |  PA    WAR |  WAR 
=================================================================
Ray Brown            3940  160  18.0   57.9 | 1314   7.6 |  65.5 
Andy Cooper          3100  320  33.5   65.0 | 1034  -4.9 |  60.0
Leon Day             2860   68   8.2   37.2 |  954   5.3 |  42.5
Martin Dihigo-a*     4335  297  32.1   75.9 | 1446  12.4 |  88.2
Martin Dihigo-b*     3865  267  29.1   67.9 | 1289  10.4 |  78.3
Rube Foster          3420  159  20.9   54.6 | 1140   5.0 |  59.6
Willie Foster        3220  363  37.7   70.3 | 1075  -0.1 |  70.3
Jose Mendez          2420  317  39.7   62.3 |  807   1.3 |  63.9
Satchel Paige        4825  686  70.9  119.8 | 1584   1.5 | 121.4
Bullet Rogan*        4241  447  49.3   91.5 | 1414  12.6 | 104.1
Hilton Smith         3260  261  28.6   61.2 | 1088   5.5 |  66.7
Smokey Joe Williams  5210  545  63.7  114.6 | 1732   8.2 | 122.8
a: MLE created from scenario where Dihigo follows normal pitching career arc
b: MLE created more directly from Dihigo’s stats, which are heavily influenced by his two-way play
*Assumes the player did not have a position-player career

The only guy here whose case is on life support is Leon Day, but even has a ray of hope since one of his biggest seasons isn’t yet accounted for in the NLDB. As we’ve noted before, Andy Cooper’s MLE feels a little puffy. He’s missing a few tail-end seasons that we’ve had to fill in with league-average performance that may be making him look as though he finished stronger than he did. He’s also going to face a tough challenge and needs some good news to appear on the NLDB. Jose Mendez has a very short career, especially for his time, but man it’s a dandy. Pound for pound he might be the best guy on this list, but there’s just not enough bulk for him to get in the ring with Satchel or Smokey Joe.

Every one else is in the great middle until you reach Rogan, Williams and Paige. These three appear to be the cream. I’ve argued before that Paige is the clear choice as the #1 Negro Leagues pitchers, and quite possibly the best pitcher between the world wars. Joe Williams comes up behind him in overall value, but I would caution against getting too onto that bandwagon. The difference in pitching WAA is huge between them. Williams makes up some of the difference in bulk value that’s below average and above replacement, but a huge part of his run at Paige is from batting. Now if we only looked at this table, we’d think nearly every Negro Leagues pitcher was a star hitter too. They played the field and swung the bat a lot more than their more specialized MLB counterparts. It’s an open question whether their outstanding hitting bats would remain so potent in organized baseball. I’m guessing probably not, and that right there puts more separation between Paige (who wasn’t a great hitter anyway) and Williams who benefits more from his bat.

Most of the Negro Leagues pitchers we honor will come from this list. Maybe all of them. But there’s a whole lot of pitching talent that we haven’t begun to scratch the surface of understanding yet. Tons of talent, so much that we’re worried it will feel like a volley of cannonballs, so we’re going to alternate between pitchers and hitters. We don’t want to nuke you into a winter’s worth of pitching headaches.

We’re a zillion words into this post, so we’ll leave you with one final table. This time we’ll just list out all the guys above in order by their WAR, separating hitters and pitchers. By the way, in the hitters table, the position will reference the spot on the field where our MLE says they would have played the most, which doesn’t necessarily correspond to where we lumped them above.

Negro Leagues legends ranked by MLE WAR

HITTERS


RK  NAME           POS     PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
===========================================================================
 1  J. H. Lloyd     SS   9490  410   40     0    39   112  601  67.7 102.5
 2  O. Charleston   CF   9910  626   37     0    31   -75  619  62.8  95.5
 3  M. Dihigo*      CF  10700  526    0     0   120   -65  581  59.0  94.1
 4  T. Stearnes     CF  10500  600    6     0    35   -54  587  57.8  91.6
 5  J. Gibson     C/1B   8010  577  - 7     0    26   - 6  582  60.4  87.8

 6  W. Wells        SS  10780  229   20     0   100   149  497  50.6  85.9 
 7  B. Rogan*       RF   9780  539   20     0    22   -99  481  50.1  83.0   
 8  P. Hill         CF  10330  419    5     0    26   -69  381  43.7  81.7
 9  B. Leonard      1B   9830  537  -15     0    27   -95  453  47.1  80.5
10  J. Wilson       3B   8400  456    0     0    43    24  523  51.2  77.9 

11  J. Robinson     2B   6953  332   36     4    97    36  500  50.2  76.4
12  C. Torriente    CF   8380  486   20     0   -18   -57  432  46.8  76.1
13  D. Lundy        SS   9380  227   19     0    35   126  407  41.0  71.5
14  A. Oms          CF   9970  409    0     0   -12   -49  348  35.0  71.1
15  M. Irvin        CF   7817  356   36   -13    76   -43  412  42.5  70.1

16  B. Taylor       1B  10130  344  - 8     0    67   -84  319  34.6  69.9
17  R. Dandridge    3B   7690  212   18     1   144    10  385  41.0  68.0
18  G. Johnson      SS   9080  157  - 5     0    66   108  327  34.4  65.7
19  M. Suttles      1B  10190  374    0     0    39   -98  315  31.1  63.9 
20  M. Minoso       LF   9952  360   18     5    21   -75  325  32.4  62.7

21  L. Doby         CF   7490  332   16    22    22   -19  375  38.5  62.4
22  D. Moore        SS   5380  239  - 1     0    99    75  412  43.8  62.2
23  J. Beckwith     3B   7530  403  -17     0   -64    36  358  34.6  58.8 
24  L. Santop        C   6560  231  - 4     0     2    73  302  33.1  56.2
25  C.P. Bell       CF  10370  209   57     0   -13   -34  430  22.1  55.7

26  Campanella       C   7315  218  - 3   -19    25    61  283  27.9  54.9
27  B. Mackey        C   7000  253  - 7     0    18    50  315  30.8  53.1
28  Q. Trouppe       C   7140  248  - 8     1     0    49  290  28.8  52.0
29  W. Brown        CF   9560  176    9   - 7    18   -41  155  15.6  49.4
30  J. Johnson      3B   5400    2    0     0    24    31   57   5.7  22.7

PITCHERS


                          PITCHING        |  BATTING   | TOTAL
RK  NAME            IP   RAA  WAA   WAR   |  PA   WAR  |  WAR 
===============================================================
 1  J. Williams    5210  545  63.7 114.6  | 1732   8.2 | 122.8 
 2  Satchel Paige  4885  686  70.9 119.8  | 1584   1.5 | 121.4
 3  Bullet Rogan*  4241  447  49.3  91.5  | 1414  12.6 | 104.1
 4  M. Dihigo-a*   4335  297  32.1  75.9  | 1446  12.4 |  88.2
 5  M. Dihigo-b*   3865  267  29.1  67.9  | 1289  10.4 |  78.3

 6  Willie Foster  3220  363  37.7  70.3  | 1075  -0.1 |  70.3 
 7  H. Smith       3260  261  28.6  61.2  | 1088   5.5 |  66.7 
 8  Ray Brown      3940  160  18.0  57.9  | 1314   7.6 |  65.5 
 9  Jose Mendez    2420  317  39.7  62.3  |  807   1.3 |  63.9
10  Andy Cooper    3100  320  33.5  65.0  | 1034  -4.9 |  60.0 

11  Rube Foster    3420  159  20.9  54.6  | 1140   5.0 |  59.6
12  Leon Day       2860  368  8.2   37.2  |  954   5.3 |  42.5

See you next time when we get into the first five Negro Leagues pitchers who haven’t been elected to a Hall!

Evaluating Negro Leagues Shortstops Part 1

[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]

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

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

John Beckwith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Year Age Lg Pos    PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1920  20 NL SS     70    2    0    0     0     1    4   0.4    2    6   0.7
1921  21 NL SS    360   19    0    0    -1     5   23   2.3   11   35   3.5
1922  22 NL SS    470   31    0    0    -1     6   37   3.4   15   51   4.9
1923  23 NL SS    460   19    0    0    -1     6   25   2.4   14   39   3.8
1924  24 NL SS    520   38    0    0    -1     7   44   4.4   16   60   6.1
1925  25 NL SS    510   25    0    0    -1     7   31   2.9   16   47   4.4
1926  26 NL 3B    490   26    0    0    -4     3   26   2.6   15   41   4.2
1927  27 NL 3B    510   22    0    0    -4     3   21   2.1   16   37   3.8
1928  28 NL 3B    540   10    0    0    -4     3    9   0.9   17   26   2.6
1929  29 NL 3B    520   30    0    0    -4     3   29   2.6   16   46   4.1
1930  30 NL 1B    460   53    0    0    -6    -4   43   3.7   14   57   4.9
1931  31 NL 1B    470   40    0    0    -6    -5   30   3.0   15   45   4.6
1932  32 NL 1B    450   33    0    0    -6    -4   23   2.3   14   37   3.8
1933  33 NL 1B    430    9    0    0    -5    -4    0   0.0   13   13   1.5
1934  34 NL 1B    390  - 1    0    0    -5    -4   -9   0.9   12    3   0.3
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 6650  355    5    0   -49    24  336  32.1  207  543  53.3

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 181st
Rbat: 41st
WAA: 46th
WAR: 64th

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

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

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

Grant Johnson

[Updated 4/3/18 for minor park-factor correction.]

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

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

Year Age Lg Pos    PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1895  22 NL SS    450    8    0    0     3     6   17   1.3   14   31   2.5
1896  23 NL SS    510    8    0    0     3     7   18   1.5   16   34   2.9
1897  24 NL SS    500    1    0    0     3     7   10   0.9   16   26   2.3
1898  25 NL SS    570   11    0    0     4     8   22   2.1   18   40   3.9
1899  26 NL SS    570   18    0    0     4     8   29   2.7   18   47   4.4
1900  27 NL SS    520    9    0    0     3     7   19   1.8   17   36   3.4
1901  28 NL SS    520    8    0    0     3     7   18   1.8   17   35   3.5
1902  29 NL SS    510  - 1    0    0     3     7    9   1.0   16   25   2.9
1903  30 NL SS    520    8    0    0     3     7   18   1.8   17   35   3.5
1904  31 NL SS    550   14    0    0     4     8   25   2.8   18   43   4.9
1905  32 NL SS    560   15    0    0     4     8   26   2.9   18   44   4.9
1906  33 NL SS    500   16    0    0     3     7   27   3.2   16   43   5.2
1907  34 NL SS    560   14    0    0     4     8   26   3.2   18   44   5.6
1908  35 NL SS    480    7    0    0     3     8   17   2.2   15   33   4.2
1909  36 NL SS    460  - 7    0    0     3     7    3   0.3   15   17   2.1
1910  37 NL 2B    430    2    0    0     5     7    7   0.8   14   21   2.4
1911  38 NL 2B    340    7    0    0     4     0   11   1.2   11   22   2.3
1912  39 NL 2B    300    7    0    0     4     0   11   1.1   10   20   2.1
1913  40 NL 2B    280   14    0    0     3     0   17   1.9    9   26   2.9
1914  41 NL 2B    200    9    0    0     2     0   12   1.3    6   18   2.1
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 9330  168  - 4    0    68   110  342  35.9  299  641  68.0

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 39th
Rbat: 150th
Rfield: 15th (shortstops only)
WAA: t-38th
WAR: 32nd

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

John Henry Lloyd

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

Perhaps most importantly, the name suggested that Lloyd stood atop the black baseball pyramid, the number one player in the Negro Leagues. Indeed, we can defensibly include only four men in the GOAT discussion for the Negro Leagues. With apologies to Martin Dihigo, Bullet Rogan, Smokey Joe Williams, and Turkey Stearns, the big four are: Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and John Henry Lloyd. At risk of spoiling our centerfield MLEs for you, here’s how we see these players. All batters figures are in 162-game notation. [Note: The following chart is not being updated.]

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

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

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

Year Age Lg Pos    PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA   WAA Rrep  RAR   WAR
===========================================================================
1906  22 NL SS    500  - 3    0    0     2     7    6   0.8   16   22   2.7
1907  23 NL SS    570    6    0    0     2     8   17   2.1   18   34   4.4
1908  24 NL SS    530   16    0    0     2     8   26   3.3   17   43   5.5
1909  25 NL SS    580   41    0    0     2     8   51   6.0   18   69   8.2
1910  26 NL SS    590   28    0    0     2     8   39   4.3   18   57   6.4
1911  27 NL SS    600   39    0    0     2     8   50   5.1   19   69   7.1
1912  28 NL SS    610   32    0    0     2     9   43   4.3   19   62   6.3
1913  29 NL SS    580   30    0    0     2     8   40   4.3   18   58   6.4
1914  30 NL SS    590   15    0    0     2     9   26   3.0   18   44   5.2
1915  31 NL SS    570   22    0    0     2     8   33   3.9   18   51   6.1
1916  32 NL SS    600   23    0    0     2     9   34   4.2   19   53   6.6
1917  33 NL SS    590   14    0    0     2     9   25   3.1   18   44   5.4
1918  34 NL SS    470   13    0    0     2     7   22   2.6   15   36   4.4
1919  35 NL SS    450   14    0    0     2     6   22   2.6   14   36   4.4
1920  36 NL SS    480   14    0    0     2     7   23   2.6   15   38   4.3
1921  37 NL SS    440   14    0    0     2     6   22   2.2   14   36   3.6
1922  38 NL 1B    350    9    0    0     2   - 3    7   0.7   11   18   1.7
1923  39 NL 1B    260    5    0    0     1   - 2    3   0.3    8   11   1.1
1924  40 NL 1B    290   11    0    0     1   - 3    9   0.9    9   18   1.9
1925  41 NL 1B    200    2    0    0     1   - 2    0   0.0    6    7   0.6
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 9850  344    0    0    40   115  499  56.3  307  806  92.4

Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960)
PA: 24th
Rbat: 42nd
Rfield: t-45th (shortstop only)
WAA: 13th
WAR: 14th

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

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

In our July, 2018 update, we added Lloyd’s 1906 season back in. He was a below average hitter but well above replacement overall. Our new baserunning estimates don’t show Lloyd a much of a baserunner. The data on stolen bases is known to be a little suspect, so it’s possible we don’t have a complete picture at this time of his ability to steal above the league’s rate. And, really, we just threw a dart and picked 40 runs when we made our initial estimate because of his reputation for speed.

* * *

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

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

[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]

[Note: All MLEs here updated 1/1/18 due to changes in approach to pitcher batting.]

[Note: All MLEs here updated 1/20/18 due to additional changes in approach to pitcher batting.]

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

Rube Foster

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

Rube Foster
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 19021917
Into: NL 19021917
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1902   22  150   17   2.0   3.5  |   50   0.2  |   3.7
1903   23  280   30   3.1   6.0  |   93   0.4  |   6.4
1904   24  360   12   1.4   5.0  |  120   0.4  |   5.5
1905   25  330   20   2.3   5.6  |  110   0.5  |   6.1
1906   26  320   19   2.4   5.4  |  107   0.4  |   5.9
1907   27  320   17   2.3   5.3  |  107   0.4  |   5.7
1908   28  320   39   5.5   8.4  |  107   0.4  |   8.9
1909   29  210   37   4.9   6.8  |   70   0.3  |   7.2
1910   30  220   26   3.0   5.2  |   73   0.3  |   5.5
1911   31  210  -23  -2.4  -0.1  |   70   0.3  |   0.2
1912   32  220  - 6  -0.6   1.7  |   73   0.3  |   2.1
1913   33  220  -16  -1.7   0.6  |   73   0.4  |   1.0
1914   34  150  - 7  -0.8   0.7  |   50   0.3  |   1.0
1915   35   60  - 4  -0.6   0.0  |   20   0.1  |   0.2
1916   36   20    0   0.0   0.2  |    7   0.0  |   0.2
1917   37   30    0  -0.1   0.2  |   10   0.0  |   0.3
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     3420  159  20.9  54.6  | 1140   5.0  |  59.6

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 45th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 60th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 40th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 33rd

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

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

Willie Foster

[Note: Updated 1/14/18. Presence of highly skewed league data caused z-score translations to be appear artificially low. Fixed.]

[4/3/18, updated to fix a minor park-factor issue.]

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

Willie Foster
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 19231937
Destination: NL 19231937
Missing data: 1926, 1929–1930, 1932
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1923   19   40    7   0.7   1.1  |   13   0.0  |   1.1
1924   20  150   23   2.5   3.9  |   50  -0.1  |   3.8
1925   21  150   37   3.7   5.1  |   50   0.0  |   5.1
1926   22  260   34   3.6   6.2  |   87  -0.1  |   6.2
1927   23  270   36   3.9   6.6  |   90   0.0  |   6.6
1928   24  270   28   2.9   5.7  |   90   0.0  |   5.7
1929   25  270   31   2.9   5.8  |   90   0.1  |   5.9
1930   26  270   30   2.7   5.6  |   90   0.0  |   5.6
1931   27  260   19   2.1   4.7  |   87   0.0  |   4.7
1932   28  270   30   3.2   5.9  |   90   0.0  |   6.0
1933   29  240   21   2.5   4.8  |   80  -0.1  |   4.7
1934   30  230   24   2.5   4.8  |   77   0.0  |   4.8
1935   31  170   21   2.1   3.8  |   57   0.0  |   3.8
1936   32  170   14   1.4   3.1  |   57   0.0  |   3.2
1937   33  200   10   1.1   3.0  |   67   0.0  |   3.0
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     3220  363  37.7  70.3  | 1075  -0.1  |  70.3

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 54th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 14th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 15th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 17th

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

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

José Mendéz

[Note: Updated 1/1/18 due to transcription errors.]
[Note: Updated 1/6/18 with improved STDEV information about the Cuban Winter Leagues of the mid-1910s. Had previously only included ERA qualifiers, now includes all pitchers as other seasons do, except for excluding pitchers whose VER low-innings/VERY high RA9 skews entire league.]

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

José Mendéz
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 19071925
Destination: NL 19071922
Missing Data: 1926/1927 Cuban League
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit, Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
                PITCHING         |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1907   22  270   38   5.3   7.8  |   90   0.1  |    7.8
1908   23  270   39   5.5   7.9  |   90   0.1  |    8.0
1909   24  290   52   6.9   9.5  |   97   0.2  |    9.7
1910   25  300   46   5.6   8.4  |  100   0.1  |    8.5
1911   26  310   42   4.7   7.7  |  103   0.2  |    8.0
1912   27  260   26   2.8   5.4  |   87   0.2  |    5.5
1913   28  250   40   4.7   7.1  |   83   0.2  |    7.3
1914   29  170   21   2.6   4.2  |   57   0.1  |    4.3
1915   30   50    2   0.3   0.7  |   17   0.0  |    0.8
1916   31    0    0   0.0   0.0  |    0   0.0  |    0.0
1917   32    1  - 1  -0.1  -0.1  |    0   0.0  |  - 0.1
1918   33    9    0   0.0   0.0  |    3   0.0  |    0.0
1919   34  140   18   2.3   3.6  |   47   0.1  |    3.7
1920   35   65  - 3  -0.4   0.3  |   22   0.0  |    0.3
1921   36   16  - 1  -0.1   0.0  |    5   0.0  |    0.0
1922   37   19  - 2  -0.2   0.0  |    6   0.0  |    0.0
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     2420  317  39.7  62.6  |  807   1.3  |   63.9

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 141st
Pitching Wins Above Average: 11th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: t-20th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 22nd

Mendéz was so dominant in 1908–1910, that we had to use the manual adjustment to keep him in line with MLB league norms. [Note: We had to do the same in 1911 and 1914 after some of our updates.]

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


NAME         YEARS   INN   WAA   WAR
=====================================
Ed Walsh        14  2964  36.3  63.2
José Mendéz     16  2420  39.7  62.6
Rube Waddell    13  2961  34.9  61.0
Johan Santaña   12  2026  32.3  50.7
Mordecai Brown  14  3171  32.0  55.1
Sandy Koufax    12  2324  30.7  53.2
Nap Rucker      10  2375  29.7  47.9
Noodles Hahn     8  2029  29.6  45.9
Dizzy Dean      12  1969  26.8  42.7
Addie Joss       9  2327  25.2  45.9

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

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

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

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

Please note that the 1/14/18 update gave Mendez a big boost in 1913 due to one pitcher whose numbers in less than two innings were so bad that the entire league was thrown way out of whack, leaving Mendez’s season pedestrian. Now it resembles the rest of his peak, as it should have from the start.

Satchel Paige

[Note: Updated 1/13/18 to include just-released 1946 data, which ends up in a 30 inning decrease; also required using the manual RA9 lever on a couple seasons. Overall, very minimal career-level movement.]

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

Satchel Paige
Negro Leagues Stats | Major Leagues Stats | Bio 
Career: 19281953
Destination: AL 19281953
Missing Data: 1929, 1937, 1939, 1940, 1947, 1950
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |  BATTING     |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |    PA   WAR  |   WAR
=========================================================
1928   21  180   25   2.6   4.5  |    60   0.1  |   4.5
1929   22  200   31   3.1   5.1  |    67   0.1  |   5.2
1930   23  200   23   2.1   4.2  |    67   0.1  |   4.3
1931   24  220   40   3.9   6.2  |    73   0.1  |   6.2
1932   25  270   65   6.5   9.3  |    90   0.1  |   9.3
1933   26  280   30   3.0   5.9  |    93   0.0  |   5.9
1934   27  270   66   6.5   9.2  |    90   0.1  |   9.4
1935   28  270   52   5.2   7.9  |    90   0.1  |   8.0
1936   29  270   27   2.4   5.4  |    90   0.1  |   5.5
1937   30  260   34   3.2   6.0  |    87   0.1  |   6.1
1938   31  190   18   1.7   3.7  |    63   0.1  |   3.8
1939   32   10    2   0.2   0.3  |     3   0.0  |   0.3
1940   33  190   28   2.8   4.8  |    63   0.1  |   4.8
1941   34  250   26   2.7   5.3  |    83   0.1  |   5.4
1942   35  250   35   4.0   6.5  |    83   0.1  |   6.5
1943   36  260   25   3.1   5.6  |    87  -0.1  |   5.5
1944   37  240   35   4.2   6.5  |    80   0.0  |   6.5
1945   38  180   27   3.3   5.0  |    60   0.0  |   5.0
1946   39  150   25   2.9   4.3  |    50   0.0  |   4.3
1947   40  140   15   1.7   3.0  |    47   0.1  |   3.1
1948   41   73   10   1.0   1.6  |    25   0.1  |   1.7
1949   42   83    9   0.9   1.7  |    18   0.0  |   1.7
1950   43   89   12   0.9   1.8  |    30   0.1  |   1.8
1951   44   62    0  -0.1   0.4  |    17   0.0  |   0.4
1952   45  138   17   1.9   3.4  |    44   0.1  |   3.5
1953   46  117   15   1.6   3.0  |    30   0.0  |   3.0
1965   58    3    1   0.2   0.2  |     1   0.0  |   0.2
--------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     4845  695  71.7 120.7  | 1591    1.4  | 122.1

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

For the record, we used the manual adjustment on Satch’s 1933, 1934, 1944, 1946, and 1947  seasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ye Olde Phillips Milk of Magnesia Relief Award?

Milk of MagnesiaHow do you spell relief?
M O R D E C A I  B R O W N
At least in the Deadball era, Frank Chance did. As has been chronicled elsewhere, Brown was both the Cubs’ ace and their closer. He led the league in saves four times, all consecutive. In 1910 he became baseball’s all-time saves leader with 1910 with 39. He extended that total to 49 before retiring and held the record until 1926 when Firpo Marberry broke it. He also held the single-season record (13, later tied by Chief Bender) from 1911 through 1923 until it was also broken by Marberry. He finished nearly every game he relieved in.

He wasn’t alone.

On the South Side of town, Big Ed Walsh led his league fives times in saves. Joe McGinnity led three times. Chief Bender and Bob Shawkey twice. Imagine Justin Verlander leading the league in saves.

And time went on. John McGraw, Bucky Harris, Joe McCarthy, and other managers began experiments that eventually led to the emergence of relief aces such as the Yankees’ Johnny Murphy. But Connie Mack continued using aces like Lefty Grove and as bullpen stoppers well in the 1930s, and other managers even past World War Two. Grove was the active saves leader from 1937–1939. Hal Newhouser racked up 18 saves from 1942–1950. Bob Feller picked up 10 saves from 1946–1948. Virgil Trucks notched 13 saves from 1949–1956 while also finding time to start 194 times. In fact, when you think about the teams who dominated baseball after the War—the Yanks, the Dodgers, the Indians—they were mostly those who were on the leading edge of the reliever evolution.

Thanks to play-by-play data that currently ranges back to the mid-1940s, we have a very strong sense of how post-War managers leveraged their bullpens. There’s a descriptive stat called Leverage Index (LI) that measures the relative urgency each pitcher entered the game with. A starter always begins at 1.0, exactly average. Most closers today are used with an LI of around 2.0, meaning that their point of entry is twice as urgent as the first pitch of the game.

So what about Brown and Grove? Or Big Ed Walsh, Christy Mathewson, or Walter Johnson, all of whom were used in the hybrid starter/reliever ace way? Because we don’t have play-by-play information for them, we can’t say for sure what sort of leverage they pitched in. Which also means that value calculations aren’t capturing their full contributions.

Here’s what we can know. BB-REF has starter/reliever splits for most pitchers dating back to around 1916. I looked at starter/reliever splits for 42 pre-War pitchers for whom we currently have extensive splits. I chose only guys reasonably thought of as among the top 200 or so pitchers of all time. From Pete Alexander to Tom Zachary. They averaged about two and one-third innings per relief appearance. In other words, they usually entered in the sixth or seventh and pitched through the eighth or ninth (depending on whether their team came back or stayed ahead).

About 9 percent of their total innings came in relief. They finished three-quarters of the games they entered in relief and earned a decision or a save in about half of those appearances. Among the games they finished, they got a decision or a save 69% of the time. Their managers saved them for relatively high leverage situations.

I compared the information on these pre-War pitchers to a handful of well known relievers ranging from the 1950s through today. Let’s chart it:

NAME GROUP %DEC/SV %GF %GF DEC/SV INN/GIR %IP IN REL CAREER LI
TOP 200s PRE WAR

52%

75%

69%

2.3

9%

?

KINDER 1950s

48%

70%

68%

1.7

41%

1.9

PAGE 1950s

63%

76%

82%

2.1

65%

1.6

PAIGE 1950s

45%

71%

63%

2.1

66%

1.7

WILHELM 1960s

44%

64%

69%

1.8

83%

1.5

FINGERS 1970s

61%

78%

77%

1.7

88%

1.9

GOSSAGE 1970s

53%

71%

75%

1.6

86%

1.8

MARSHALL 1970s

54%

78%

69%

1.8

91%

1.7

SUTTER 1980s

66%

77%

86%

1.6

100%

2

ECKERSLEY 1990s

67%

81%

83%

1.1

25%

1.7

RIVERA 2000s

72%

86%

83%

1.2

96%

1.8

You can see all the strong historical trends at work here that lead to more specialization in relief pitching and our modern closer-centric bullpen. Fewer innings, higher leverage, more saves, more games finished. Not surprisingly, the relief appearances of pre-War aces look the most like Satchel Paige who came right after the War. Perhaps more surprisingly, they look a bit like Mike Marshall from the 1970s.

So what’s a nerd like me to do to give the pre-War guys something like approximate credit for their relief work? WAR has an LI component that’s used as a multiplier for any relief appearances starters get. For Play-by-Play era guys, it uses that calculation on runs given up in relief. Before that it defaults to 1.0 for all appearances.

That’s not real helpful.

For me, I make a rough estimate of a pre-play-by-play guy’s relief and starter innings. Then I allot his runs allowed to each role by the ratio of his estimated relief innings to his estimated starter innings. Then following BB-REF’s calculations, I use a conservative 1.5 leverage index for each relief appearance. If/when the heroic members of Retrosheet turn out play-by-play info for before the 1940s, we’ll update to the observed values.

To be honest, it doesn’t add up to a ton of value. On the other hand, for Mordecai Brown, even that little bit of value helps his borderline case. And for 1921 candidate Ed Walsh, it’s a little more icing on the top of his peak.

Institutional History

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: