archives

Smokey Joe Williams

This tag is associated with 3 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

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 Pitcher, Part III: Rogan, Smith, and Williams

[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: Updated 1/20/18 to include adjustment that accounts for general differences in pitcher-batting ability between MLB and Negro Leagues.]

We introduced you in our last two posts to eight of the eleven Negro Leagues honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Hall of Merit. This time we’ll close the loop with Bullet Rogan, Hilton Smith, and Smokey Joe Williams.

[In case you want a reminder of the method we’ve outline, it’s here.]

Bullet Rogan

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

[Note: Updated 1/23/18 to fix a tiny calculation error that amounts to a change of -0.2 RAA/WAA/WAR.]

Wilbur “Bullet” Rogan is perhaps most famous for, like Martín Dihigo being a double-threat: A great pitcher and a great hitter. While Rogan lacked the versatility of Dihigo, he was probably a better pitcher. Rogan started his career in the US Army, not with a Negro Leagues team. In 1915, he was promoted to the 25th Infantry Wreckers so that he could join their ballclub, which featured future Negro Leagues stars Dobie Moore and Heavy Johnson among others. The Wreckers, stationed in the Pacific, took on all comers, and they beat a lot of PCL teams and pretty much everyone else.

From our perspective in the 21st Century, we might ask why a ballplayer wouldn’t hook on instead with a Negro Leagues team. Part of the answer is that there were no official Negro Leagues at that moment. Instead, blackball was a group of loosely confederated indy teams some of which might travel the country as a pair barnstorming their way to a paycheck or go it alone and take on the local yokels. This probably sounds to you like an unstable business model. Yup. With no central authority, there were no guarantees of payment, or at least prompt payment. That combined with playing multiple games a day in dusty towns you never heard of made Army baseball an attractive option. If you could hack basic training and could stand the hierarchy, you played ball; got paid in full, on time; got room and board; and led a predictable life. In the Wreckers’ case, a predictably sunshine filled life on an island.

As soon as the Negro National League formed in 1920, members of the Wreckers bought their way out of their service commitments and signed on with league teams. In fact, all three of Rogan, Moore, and Johnson were scooped up by J.L.Wilkinson and his Kansas City Monarchs. Actually, Rogan had played briefly with one of Wilkinson’s touring teams in 1917 but had returned to the army shortly after. Anyway, so at age 26, Rogan entered the Negro Leagues, and within two seasons, he was a star. He led the Monarch’s pitching staff as the team rumbled along to several pennants and Negro World Series appearances. In the mid-1930s, just as Satchel Paige joined the team and Hilton Smith emerged as a star, Rogan wound down his career, as did his long-time teammate Andy Cooper. He left behind a stellar 145 ERA+ (1303 innings) and a super 160 OPS+ (1721 PA).

Bullet Rogan
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1915–1937
Destination: NL 1915–1936
Missing data: 1915–1919, 1926–1927, 1929–1932
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1915   21  200   18   2.3   4.2  |   67   0.6  |   4.8
1916   22  210   20   2.6   4.6  |   70   0.7  |   5.2
1917   23  220   21   2.7   4.7  |   73   0.6  |   5.4
1918   24  220   21   2.7   4.7  |   73   0.6  |   5.3
1919   25  240   21   2.7   4.9  |   80   0.7  |   5.6
1920   26  270   22   2.6   5.2  |   90   0.8  |   6.0
1921   27  300   24   2.5   5.6  |  100   0.9  |   6.5
1922   28  280   46   4.7   7.6  |   93   0.8  |   8.4
1923   29  300   56   5.9   8.9  |  100   0.9  |   9.8
1924   30  270   41   4.5   7.2  |   90   0.8  |   8.0
1925   31  260   39   3.9   6.6  |   87   0.8  |   7.4
1926   32  260   34   3.6   6.2  |   87   0.8  |   7.0
1927   33  270   30   3.3   6.0  |   90   0.8  |   6.8
1928   34  210   17   1.8   3.9  |   70   0.7  |   4.6
1929   35  200   17   1.6   3.7  |   67   0.6  |   4.3
1930   36  200   17   1.5   3.6  |   67   0.6  |   4.2
1931   37  180    8   0.8   2.6  |   60   0.6  |   3.2
1932   38  150  - 6  -0.6   1.0  |   50   0.5  |   1.4
1933   39    1    0  -0.1   0.0  |    0   0.0  |   0.0
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     4241  445  49.0  91.3  | 1414  12.6  | 103.9

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 19th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 8th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 7th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 5th

Enough of Rogan’s record is missing from his Negro Leagues seasons, that we were a little concerned. For missing-data seasons, we use the pitcher’s career performance rate, but Rogan’s rate was very, very high and caused us to wonder if he was being inflated due to the lack of data. It was high enough that halving the career rate of run prevention still led to what you see above. As more data rolls in, we’ll update our MLE accordingly. In addition, Rogan’s 1922, 1925, and 1926 seasons required us to use the manual override to keep his performance in line with league norms.

There’s not a ton to add to the story. Rogan was an excellent pitcher and great hitter for any batter, not just for a pitcher. You have to guess, though, that all of these great hitting pitchers in the Negro Leagues would probably have been lesser hitters than we translate, simply because they’d get fewer reps, fewer chances to play in the field between starts. When teams barnstormed and operated on shoestring budgets, they had to economize. One way to do so was to bring as few players as possible on the road. That meant rosters of 13 or so for traveling. Which, in turn, meant that pitchers had to be two-way players in order to spell on another and spell injured or tired position players.

We’ll see as we delve deeper into the candidate pool in posts down the line detailing other pitching candidates that these guys couldn’t all hit. But many could, and in this way, the Negro Leagues were 20 to 30 years behind the majors which saw a sharp reduction in pitcher batting as rosters expanded to cover longer schedules and specialization began to increase.

We’ll be providing an MLE down the pike for Rogan as if he had never pitched but only been a position player.

Fixing the issue with the skewed league data bumped Rogan up considerably because some seasons that showed up near average became above average.

Hilton Smith

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

[Updated 4/3/18 with additional 1937 data.]

For many years, Hilton Smith was most famous for following Satchel Paige to the mound. The great Paige, having been advertised near and far as pitching on a given day would go three innings, and Smith would finish things off. At least, when the Kansas City Monarchs traveled. In league games, Smith was more likely to start and finish his own games.

Other circumstances conspired to reduce Smith’s visibility. Rather than rise up through main Negro Leagues, he got his start in the Negro Southern League, which was major only in 1932 as a haven for teams bailing on the failing major leagues. He was 25 and stuck with his Monroe teammates for a couple more years then was recruited to play for the semipro Bismarck super team that beat back all comers in the mid-1930s. When he joined the Monarchs for 1936, they were mostly a barnstorming team with relatively few documented games against top rivals, and he became Satch’s shadow. Paige left the Monarchs for the majors in 1948. Smith stayed behind and then retired after the season, leaving behind appearances in six East-West All-Star Games in his wake.

Hilton Smith
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1932–1948
Destination: NL 1932–1948
Missing data: 1933–1936, 1948
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame
               PITCHING          |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
========================================================
1932   25  180   12   1.3   3.1  |   60   0.3  |   3.4
1933   26  210   13   1.5   3.6  |   70   0.4  |   4.0
1934   27  200   12   1.2   3.3  |   67   0.4  |   3.7
1935   28  220   13   1.3   3.6  |   73   0.4  |   4.0
1936   29  270   15   1.5   4.3  |   90   0.5  |   4.8
1937   30  260    6   0.7   3.3  |   87   0.5  |   3.8
1938   31  260   16   1.7   4.4  |   87   0.5  |   4.9
1939   32  260   24   2.6   5.2  |   87   0.5  |   5.7
1940   33  270   34   3.8   6.4  |   90   0.5  |   7.0
1941   34  210   24   2.8   4.8  |   70   0.4  |   5.2
1942   35  180    3   0.3   2.1  |   60   0.3  |   2.4
1943   36  160   19   2.2   3.7  |   53   0.2  |   4.0
1944   37   20    2   0.2   0.4  |    7   0.0  |   0.5
1945   38  180   13   1.4   3.3  |   60   0.3  |   3.5
1946   39  180    8   0.9   2.7  |   60   0.3  |   3.0
1947   40  180  -13  -1.3   0.5  |   60   0.3  |   0.9
1948   41   20    0   0.0   0.2  |    7   0.0  |   0.2
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     3260  201  22.2  54.9  | 1088   6.1  |  61.0

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 51st
Pitching Wins Above Average: t-56th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 40th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 30th

We made the manual adjustment for Smith’s 1943 season run-prevention rates to keep him in line with league norms.

A word about 1932–1936. The Lester/Clark HOF study included his stats for Monroe in the 1932 Negro Southern League in Shades of Glory. That Monroe team took on the Crawfords for a Negro Championship. They report nothing else until 1937. Riley and other bio sources indicate that Smith went to Bismarck with Satch and others in 1934/1935 somewhere, then from there became a Monarch in 1936. Given that in 1937 and 1939, Smith appears to be a finished product at age 30, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that we include 1932–1936 in our MLE. So we did at his known career average.

Smith is another good-hitting Negro Leagues pitcher who adds a lot of value that way. I’m not sure what’s up with 1944. There’s some mention of an injury in 1943 in some sources, though I see no evidence of it in the stats. But in 1944, he does appear to have been unable to start as often as usual, so maybe he hurt himself in winter ball, affecting his summer performance. It seems to have affected his durability more than his effectiveness.

It is also possible that Smith spent part of 1945 in the war, though we can’t find corroboration. He is alleged to have tipped off J.L. Wilkinson, leading to Jackie Robinson’s signing with the Monarchs immediately after his discharge.

Smokey Joe Williams

[Note: Updated 1/1/18 to fix transcription errors in the mid-teens.]

[Note: Updated 1/6/18 to correct calculations for Joe’s first two and last years.]

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

In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill ranks Joe Williams 52nd among the greatest players in baseball history. I can buy that, or even a better ranking. Williams was an early link in a long historical chain of Texas fireballers that includes “The Ryan Express” and the “The Rocket.” He must have been extremely intimidating back in the 1900s and 1910s. He stood 6’3” tall, with a chiseled face that bore the high cheek bones, angular nose, and strong chin gifted him from the Comanche heritage of one of his parents. That great fastball, likened by a promoter to a pebble blown by a storm, must have erupted from his hand a lot closer to home plate than most hitters were used to during a time when the average American male was an inch and a half shorter back then than today. Cyclone Joe, as he was called earlier in his career, gained fame for his prodigious strikeout totals. His career variously included no-hitters and a 27-strikeout performance (at night, in 12 innings) among other gems. He beat PCL teams by the bushel in a California swing, went 20-7 against white major league teams (8-3 documented), and had a 140 ERA+ in Cuba. His ERA+ of 149 trails only Dave Brown (150 ERA+) among hurlers with 1000 innings in the Negro Leagues Database, and only Brown and Satch (193 ERA+) among players anywhere near 1000 innings. His 1240 strikeouts rank first in the Database. His 1862 innings are third in the Database, his 132 victories are third, his 196 complete games are third, and his 20 shutouts rank fifth. He could bring it.

Smokey Joe Williams
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1907–1932
Destination: NL 1907-1930
Missing Data: 1907–1908, 1925–1927, 1929
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP   RAA  WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
=======================================================
1907   21  100   12   1.6   2.5  |   33   0.1  |   2.7
1908   22  200   22   3.1   4.9  |   67   0.3  |   5.2
1909   23  250    8   1.0   3.4  |   83   0.4  |   3.8
1910   24  300   17   2.0   4.9  |  100   0.4  |   5.4
1911   25  310   32   3.6   6.7  |  103   0.5  |   7.2
1912   26  300   52   5.7   8.7  |  100   0.4  |   9.1
1913   27  300   25   2.9   5.9  |  100   0.5  |   6.4
1914   28  270   34   4.2   6.7  |   90   0.5  |   7.2
1915   29  250   18   2.3   4.7  |   83   0.4  |   5.1
1916   30  250   31   4.2   6.5  |   83   0.4  |   6.9
1917   31  300   39   5.2   7.9  |  100   0.4  |   8.3
1918   32  270   28   3.7   6.2  |   90   0.3  |   6.5
1919   33  280   20   2.5   5.1  |   93   0.4  |   5.5
1920   34  300   30   3.6   6.5  |  100   0.4  |   6.9
1921   35  300   35   3.8   6.9  |  100   0.5  |   7.3
1922   36  250   41   4.2   6.7  |   83   0.5  |   7.2
1923   37  240   10   1.0   3.5  |   80   0.4  |   3.9
1924   38  200   29   3.1   5.1  |   67   0.3  |   5.4
1925   39  180   19   1.8   3.7  |   60   0.3  |   4.0
1926   40  150   18   1.9   3.4  |   50   0.3  |   3.7
1927   41  130   16   1.7   3.0  |   25   0.2  |   3.2
1928   42   50    4   0.4   0.9  |   18   0.1  |   1.0
1929   43   20    3   0.3   0.5  |    7   0.0  |   0.5
1930   44   10    2   0.2   0.3  |   17   0.1  |   0.4
-------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL     5210  545  63.7 114.6  | 1732   8.2  | 122.8

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 4th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 6th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 3rd
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 3rd

We employed the manual override on 1912, 1914, 1921, and 1922 to keep Williams’ MLEs in line with league norms.

In terms of their relative standings, he is precisely to Paige as Pete Alexander is to Walter Johnson. The thing about Johnson and Paige is that everyone in the greatest-ever conversation gets compared to them. Roger Clemens? How does he stack up to the Big Train? Joe Williams? How does he compare with Satchel? That’s not a dis on anyone, either. It’s simply an acknowledgment of how great those guys were. Similarly, whoever is juxtaposed to them in any serious discussion of GOATedness (that is, Greatest of All Time) must be an awfully good pitcher to even merit the comparison. Williams was a really great pitcher. Yet, he needs a strong bat to get by Paige. In terms of measuring his pitching performance, Williams finishes behind Paige, but he needs 400 more innings to do it.

That said, if you were GM for a big league club, and someone said they could clone Smokey Joe Williams and have him ready to pitch for you starting next year, you’d do it quicker than you can say medical ethics. He was the towering figure among moundsmen in the early Negro Leagues era, and anyone would take the kind of peak we are estimating in his MLEs.

Note: When we adjusted our league stats to remove pitchers with very low innings and very high RA9, several of Williams’ seasons drastically improved, and his MLE value along with them. He now looks to be right on par with Satch.

And now, we’ve reached the end of our walk to the mound to meet with our Negro League Hall of Fame/Merit hurlers. We hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know them a little and learning about some of baseball’s best players who are virtually unknown historical figures. Often we talk about underrated players in MLB. Tony Gwynn and Tim Raines were the subject of such talk while I was growing up, and Miller and I write about underrated players like Dwight Evans or Bobby Grich all the time. But those guys are better known by many orders of magnitude compared to anyone in the Negro Leagues, with the possible exception of Satchel Paige. It’s more likely that the average fan on the street knows who Sean Casey is than Buck Leonard. Or Josh Collmenter than Josh Gibson (and certainly Kirk Gibson over Josh Gibson). Every Negro Leagues player is underrated, so we hope we’re able to give them a little spotlight time. If you’re interested to learn more, we recommend not only the amazing Negro Leagues Database and the equally amazing SABR Bioproject, but also books such as Shades of Glory and The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues.

Next time out, we’re going to document for you our MLE method for position players, then we’ll dive into the Hall of Fame/Merit players at each position en route to a first sweep through the Negro Leagues.

Institutional History

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: