Monday, September 24, 2007

The Baseball Gods

From time to time you will hear about the baseball gods, who apparently control luck, show favor upon some teams and not upon others, and other such godly tasks. As playoff time approaches and fans everywhere seek favor for their teams with the gods, the unanswered question is “Who are these gods anyway?”

Luckily, I have uncovered a new ancient text that sheds light on this important issue. Why one of the baseball gods bestowed upon me the honor of finding this information I cannot say. I know little about mythology; I did take Classics 224, but that was titled something to the effect of “ancient Greek civilization”; the gods were discussed, but not exclusively. Perhaps if I would have taken the mythology-focused course, Classics 222 (better known as “who screwed who 222”), I would be better suited to this responsibility. Hopefully what follows would not make Professor Tran cry.

Nonetheless, it is my responsibility to share the identities of the gods with the world. Each god had a counterpart in Greek mythology, with whom they share at least one characteristic, even if it is a bit of a stretch.

The father of the gods is Zeus. Who was the father of baseball? There are a couple of people who have been bestowed with this title, but there is one to whom it is more universally applied. I do not believe he had the ability to shoot thunderbolts at his enemies, and I am unaware of any tales of his extramarital affairs. Nonetheless, the father is the father. Zeus is Henry Chadwick.

When Zeus overthrew his father Cronus and the Titans, it brought about a new era of order and prosperity. The old order was gone, and the threats to the new gods was gone. Likewise, when Father Chadwick and company established baseball as our national game, it became the unquestioned king of the ball and stick games. Thus, Cronus is town ball, the Massachusetts game, cricket, and other pretenders to the throne.

When Cronus castrated his father, out of the bloody mess emerged a goddess, a goddess of love. Our baseball god is a man, yet he served a similar function as one of the first sex symbols of the new national game. Some even credit him with the creation of Ladies’ Days, although this is probably not true. Nonetheless, he was a good pitcher, although not great enough that we don’t remember him too much for his pitching. He even carried the nickname “The Apollo of the Box”. Aphrodite is Tony Mullane.

There was another god who in some tellings was destined to be even greater than Zeus. His followers were often under a trance, worshiping him and the wine and pleasure that came with him. In baseball, there would arise a player so great that some would claim that he and not Father Chadwick should occupy the highest throne on Olympus. Alas, it was not to be, but his many followers and his indulgence in pleasure and sin were as prodigious as his home runs. Dionysus is Babe Ruth.

War has been a reality since the dawn of the gods and of civilization, and of course baseball like any team sport can be viewed as a bloodless, refined, civilized proxy for war. There was a god who loved war and bloodlust, wrecking havoc wherever he went and being despised by many despite his greatness. Likewise, there was a ballplayer whose burning desire to win knew no bounds of civility. Sliding into bases with spikes up and pummeling bothersome spectators was all fair game. Can there be any doubt that Ares is Ty Cobb?

Ares had a counterpart though, a goddess of war who focused on strategy, tactics, and civilized war in contrast to her brother. In baseball, a contemporary of Cobb was in many ways his opposite. A pitcher rather than a hitter; a gentleman rather than a ruffian who would spike his own mother if she was in his way (of course, there was some history there…); and yet, in his own way, with just as much of a will to win. No, he did not spring fully formed from Chadwick’s head, but he might as well have. Athena is Christy Mathewson.

We come to a goddess of the hunt, known for her virginity. The best example of hunting in baseball is the hitter, weapon in hand, staring down the pitcher and attempting to inflict harm upon him. There was one man whose single-minded drive to be a great hitter has been celebrated throughout the years. The virginity angle is a little awkward, but it can be said that you do not hear stories about him chasing women, drinking, or doing anything other than attempting to be the greatest hitter who ever lived. Better yet, he flew a fighter in Korea, engaging in an even more literal hunt. Artemis is Ted Williams.

Artemis’ twin brother is a little harder to relate to his baseball counterpart--a god of song, colonies, medicine, the sun, and more. But there is a player who is celebrated in several songs, who was a great player from a young age, and is forever linked with Ted Williams. Apollo is Joe DiMaggio.

A swift-footed messenger was a little late to the party, but with his cunning, he earned the respect of the other gods. In baseball, an entire race of talented players was cut off from the glory of the major leagues until a fast, fearless, daring player earned his opportunity and earned respect, however belated it was. Hermes is Jackie Robinson.

Then there are those who go to the underworld, whether as punishment or as a neutral afterlife destination. Ruling over them was a god who was an Olympian in his own right, but was born to rule the underworld. In baseball, Hades was sent below as punishment, and so the parallel is note quite exact. The Greeks apparently could not anticipate the pathetic nature of the baseball counterpart. Nonetheless, he exists, and Hades is Pete Rose.

Another god was in charge of fire and forging of weapons. He made a brilliant set of armor for Achilles, arming him for battle. Likewise, a baseball Hephaestus forged weapons for ballplayers. There is no more important tool than a ballplayer’s sword, which he uses to inflict damage on the opposing pitcher, and there is no bat more synonymous with baseball than Louisville Slugger. Hephaestus is John Hillerich.

Unfortunately, the scroll ends there, so we don’t know who the baseball equivalents of Hera, Poseidon, and others are. Nevertheless, maybe next time you sacrifice a chicken to the baseball gods to help the Cubbies, you’ll have a better idea of who it is you are dealing with. Just don’t make Ares mad.

Monday, September 17, 2007

1877 NL

The National League entered 1877 with just six teams after the expulsion of two of its largest markets, New York and Philadelphia. The season would go forward with the six teams, making it the smallest major league ever (a distinction it shares with the 1878 NL and the 1882 American Association). Incidentally, it is along with the 1878 NL the only league in which all of the team nicknames included colors.

There were a number of significant rule and procedure changes enacted for the NL’s second season. For the first time, scheduling was handled by the league office rather than being the responsibility of team management. The schedule was reduced to 60 games from 70 due to the smaller number of teams, but each season series now consisted of twelve games rather than ten.

On the field, home plate was made part of fair territory. But most significant was the elimination of the fair-foul hit (much of the information on this topic comes from the article “The Lost Art of Fair-Foul Hitting” by Robert H. Schafer in The National Pastime #20). Prior to 1877, a ball that hit initially in fair territory was a fair ball, no matter where it bounded after that. In 1877, the new rule defining fair and foul was essentially the modern rule that we are all familiar with.

Before the rule change, a small group of batters had shown proficiency in intentionally batting the ball so that it hit near the plate in fair territory, then bounced off wildly into foul territory. If executed successfully, it almost always resulted in a base hit and often a double. Ross Barnes even hit a fair-foul home run in 1872, the only homer he hit that season.

While the rule changes did bring the treatment of fair and foul closer to modern standards, one antiquated rule that remained in effect was that a foul ball fielded on the first bounce was treated the same as a caught pop-up was. Some observers felt that maintaining this rule while eliminating the fair-foul hit swung the scales too far in favor of the defense, but it would remain in effect off and on for the foreseeable future.

The National League had quite an odd season indeed. The Hartford Dark Blues played all of their home games in Brooklyn, looking to make a better profit; it didn’t work. The Cincinnati Red Stockings, in the midst of another awful season, folded in June; although the franchise was quickly reorganized, they sold Charley Jones, Jimmy Hallinan, and Harry Smith to Chicago during the brief outage. The outcry forced William Hulbert to return Jones to Cincinnati, but the additions did not help the defending champion White Stockings, who tumbled to fifth place, fifteen and a half games off the pace after winning the pennant by six games in 1876.

On August 8, Mike Dorgan of St. Louis supposedly became the first to use a rudimentary catcher’s mask during a game. The innovation was initially mocked, but within a couple short years had become standard equipment, as catchers moved up close to the plate and provided a target for the pitcher. At around that time in the season, Louisville had established themselves at the top of the pack, with a 3 1/2 game lead over Boston on August 13 (the source for the information on the Louisville saga presented here is an article by Daniel E. Ginsburg entitled “The Louisville Scandal” in SABR’s Road Trips). At that point, the Grays embarked on an eastern road trip to Hartford and Boston, going 0-7-1 and yielding the lead to the Red Stockings, who would go on to capture the pennant by seven games over Louisville.

It would later come out that four Grays were involved in a game throwing conspiracy (the exact details have never been fully exposed, in regards to who was the mastermind, if all the players fingered were actually complicit, etc.). They were reserve Al Nichols, shortstop Bill Craver, star left fielder George Hall, and the only man who appeared in the pitcher’s box for Louisville all year, Jim Devlin. There was immediate suspicion and all four were promptly banned for life when the scheme was uncovered.

At the conclusion of the season, the disgraced Louisville franchise exited the league, as did Hartford/Brooklyn, who did not find greener pastures in New York, and St. Louis, leaving uncertainty hanging over the NL as it scrambled to find enough teams to play ball in 1878.


It would be interesting to see a breakdown on the runs/runs allowed of Louisville before and after the road trip, as Boston comes out far superior to the Grays in component stats, although I suppose that when you have just one pitcher and he’s on the take, it can do a lot of damage to your runs allowed in a short period of time.

So I looked it up. From the eastern trip to the end of the season, the Grays were outscored 86-68 in 20 games. In the eight game eastern trip, they were outscored 38-11 (.110 EW%). If you throw out the last 20 games, they 271 and allowed 202 in 41 games, for a .645 EW%, which while still well behind Boston, shows them to be a much stronger club.

In 1877, the league hit .271/.289/.338 for a .092 SEC, 5.67 runs/game and 24.06 outs/game.


The Red Caps won their fifth pennant in six years after finishing fourth in the inaugural season. A big lift was getting Deacon White back from Chicago, as he is my choice for National League MVP. Tommy Bond was the league’s top pitcher, brought over from Hartford to replace the slightly above average trio employed in 1876, and Jim O’Rourke went from having a fine 1876 to being the NL’s second best position player in 1877.


The Grays were done in by their ace pitcher and by their top position player (Hall). Of the tainted four, only Devlin had been with Louisville in 1876; Hall and Craver were added from the expelled Philly and New York entries. Al Nichols had played for the Mutuals in ’76, and did not play at all in ’77 until added by the Grays in early August after Bill Hague was sidelined by illness.


The Dark Blues were badly hurt by the loss of both of their highly effective pitchers, as Candy Cummings went to Cincinnati and Bond was the league’s best pitcher in Boston. Rookie Terry Larkin was average as their primary pitcher, and John Cassidy went from playing in twelve games to being the league’s best right fielder. But every other position save first base suffered a noticeable WAR dropoff, and the Dark Blues lost four games relative to the pennant winner.


The Brown Stockings were also crippled by pitcher musical chairs as George Bradley jumped to Chicago, leaving them with a pair of rookie sub-replacement level pitchers in Tricky Nichols and Joe Blong. John Clapp was once again excellent behind the plate, but Joe Battin tumbled from being the circuit’s top third baseman at 153 ARG and +3.1 WAR to a 77 ARG, +.4 WAR campaign. He would not again appear in the major leagues until 1882. The Brown Stockings also lost their top 1876 WAR performer, Lip Pike, to the Red Stockings. On the bright side, Mike Dorgan was the top rookie performers in the game.


The defending champs took a precipitous dive, much of it traceable to Al Spalding’s decision to give up pitching. George Bradley, signed as Spalding’s replacement and +5.4 WAR with St. Louis in 1876, dropped off to +1, although even a repeat of his good year would have failed to match Spalding’s ’76. Deacon White went back to Boston, and had an MVP season, while Spalding was barely replacement level in taking his spot. Ross Barnes, MVP in ’76, is often cited to have struggled due to the elimination of fair-foul hits. While Barnes was a fair-foul fiend, the more likely culprit in his collapse was a serious, “malaria-like” illness that slowed and then shelved him, threatening his baseball career. To add insult to injury, the White Stockings were the last team in major league history to go the entire season without hitting a home run.


If you can ignore the stats and what you know about their 1876 performance, and just look at the names, the Red Stockings look to be a fairly solid team. Candy Cummings, Levi Meyerle, Charlie Gould, Bobby Mathews, Charley Jones, and Lip Pike are all big names. The Red Stockings may have therefore been the first team to field an early 2000s Mets or current Giants-like team that would have been pretty darn good five years earlier. Cummings at 29 was on his last major league legs, as were the 32-year old Meyerle (who would have a brief fling with the questionably major Union Association in 1884), and the 30-year old Gould. Pike at this point was 32 and had one more good season left in him. Jones and Mathews were the only two that had good days in front of them, although Mathews was awful in ’77. Bobby Mitchell, the #3 pitcher, was the first left-handed pitcher in the major leagues.

The Red Stockings were the only team in the NL not to have a winning record at home (12-17); only the champion Red Caps managed a winning record on the road (15-13).

Now the leaders and trailers:
1. Deacon White, BOS (.377)
2. John Cassidy, HAR (.378)
3. Cal McVey, CHI (.368)
Trailer: Amos Booth, CIN (.172)
1. Jim O’Rourke, BOS (.407)
2. Deacon White, CHI (.405)
3. Cal McVey, CHI (.387)
Trailer: Will Foley, CIN (.205)
1. Deacon White, BOS (.545)
2. Charley Jones, CIN/CHI (.471)
3. John Cassidy, HAR (.458)
Trailer: Amos Booth, CIN (.197)
Once again, the Red Stockings swept the trailers in BA/OBA/SLG, but at least poor Redleg Snyder was spared from doing it all himself.
1. Charley Jones, CIN (.221)
2. Deacon White, BOS (.188)
3. Lew Brown, BOS (.167)
Trailer: Jack Burdock, HAR (.029)
1. Deacon White, BOS (70)
2. Jim O’Rourke, BOS (64)
3. Cal McVey, CHI (60)
4. John Cassidy, HAR (57)
5. George Hall, LOU (56)
1. Deacon White, BOS (213)
2. Jim O’Rourke, BOS (188)
3. John Cassidy, HAR (187)
4. George Hall, LOU (165)
5. Cal McVey, CHI (160)
Trailer: Will Foley, CIN (45)
1. Deacon White, BOS (+3.3)
2. Jim O’Rourke, BOS (+2.7)
3. John Cassidy, HAR (+2.4)
4. George Hall, LOU (+2.2)
5. Cal McVey, CHI (+1.8)
Trailer: Will Foley, CIN (-1.7)
1. Deacon White, BOS (+3.9)
2. Jim O’Rourke, BOS (+3.6)
3. John Cassidy, HAR (+3.3)
4. George Hall, LOU (+3.1)
5. Cal McVey, CHI (+3.0)
Trailer: Will Foley, CIN (-.6)
1. Tommy Bond, BOS (130)
2. Jim Devlin, LOU (111)
3. Bobby Mitchell, CIN (108)
Trailer: Bobby Mathews, CIN (73)
1. Tommy Bond, BOS (+3.4)
2. Jim Devlin, LOU (+1.5)
3. Terry Larkin, HAR (+.8)
Trailer: Bobby Mathews, CIN (-1.3)
1. Tommy Bond, BOS (+4.1)
2. Jim Devlin, LOU (+3.5)
3. Terry Larkin, HAR (+1.8)
Trailer: Bobby Mathews, CIN (-1.2)

My all-star team:
C: John Clapp, STL
1B: Deacon White, BOS
2B: Joe Gerhardt, LOU
3B: Cap Anson, CHI
SS: John Peters, CHI
LF: Mike Dorgan, STL
CF: Jim O’Rourke, BOS
RF: John Cassidy, HAR
P: Tommy Bond, BOS
MVP: 1B Deacon White, BOS
Rookie Hitter: LF Mike Dorgan, STL
Rookie Pitcher: Terry Larkin, HAR

I gave Clapp the edge over McVey at catcher because Palmer has him at +10 defensively versus McVey’s -10, and the offensive edge is meaningless. Peters was .1 WAR behind Ezra Sutton, but was +20 according to Palmer versus -5, so he gets the nod for the second straight season. Mike Dorgan in left is the choice as George Hall helped tank a pennant, and is thus utterly disqualified in my mind.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Welcome to the Club, Josh Newman

Depending on whose count you use, Josh Newman has just become the 47th or 56th Buckeye to play in the major leagues. The 47 figure from the SABR Collegiate Committee and as seen on Baseball-Reference, includes only players who are confirmed to have played for OSU. I was provided some additional names by an anonymous message board poster, which I have included on my website, but these have not been vetted, and probably never will be able to. Unless you can get a full list of all students registered at the school, some old-timers will inevitably come down to "We can't confirm that he went to OSU, but we can't say definitively that he didn't either." Anyway, congratulations to Josh.

Monday, September 10, 2007

1876 NL

I am not a historian by any means, so these yearly recaps will focus mostly on stats and not on interesting tidbits. I will try to write a little bit about the happenings in baseball that season, such as rule changes, special feats like no-hitters, firsts, and the like. These are largely drawn from David Nemec’s Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Major League Baseball, Total Baseball VI, the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, and The Ball Clubs by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella. For more general off-the-field history, the most valuable reference was Harold Seymour’s Baseball: The Early Years, although David Voight’s American Baseball, Vol. 1 is good too. For those of you with knowledge about the nineteenth century game, the narrative will surely be lacking.

The National League was founded at a meeting on February 2 by Chicago White Stockings president William Hulbert. For the previous five seasons, the National Association had been the alliance of professional clubs that would best fit the description of “major league”, although even the NL that supplanted it was far from having the order that we would picture from such a description today. More importantly, even later into the nineteenth century, there were very talented players and excellent teams outside the umbrella of the major leagues. Unlike today, when the thirty major league squads are clearly the best teams in the country, there were likely a large number of minor league teams that were on a fairly equal footing with the NL clubs. And of course it would be many years before the minor leagues were made subservient to the interest of the major league clubs.

Hulbert’s NL put control in the hands of what today we would consider team owners and presidents, unlike the National Association, whose full name was the National Association of Professional Baseball Players. The league also mandated a fifty cent admission charge and no alcohol sales at games. Of course, Hulbert had incentive to form the new league other than extolling the virtues of pleasant, sober crowds and responsible management. The White Stockings would have likely been expelled from the NA for signing players under contract with other teams. Specifically, Hulbert raided four-time defending champ Boston for Al Spalding, Deacon White, Cal McVey, and Ross Barnes. Spalding’s exploits in 1876 were not limited to the diamond; he founded what would become a very lucrative sporting goods retailer bearing his name as well.

The rules of the game had some significant differences from modern baseball. Notable was the square (diamond) home plate, a pitching box situated 45 feet away from the plate, the illegality of overhand pitching, maximums of nine balls and four strikes, batters calling for a high or low pitch, no free trip to first base for getting plunked by a pitch, the catcher standing rather than squatting behind the plate, and so-called fair-foul hits. If a ball hit in fair territory before passing the corner bases, and then went foul, it was fair. The aforementioned Barnes was a well-known practitioner of this art.

On April 22, the first NL game was played, and the Boston Red Caps, shorn of their stars, beat the Philadelphia Athletics 6-5 in Philadelphia. Joe Borden got the win for Boston, a second notable feat for him--in 1875, he tossed the first NA no-hitter. It was George Bradley of the St. Louis Brown Stockings who would get the NL’s first no-hitter, beating the Hartford Dark Blues 2-0 on July 15. On September 9, Candy Cummings of Hartford beat the Cincinnati Red Stockings twice in the NL’s first doubleheader.

The pennant race was not particularly notable, as Hulbert’s White Stockings went 52-14 to finish six games ahead of both the Brown Stockings and the Dark Blues. More significant may have been Philadelphia and New York’s refusal to make their respective late-season western road trips, given their being buried in the second division. Such practices were common in NA days, but Hulbert was able to engineer their expulsion from the league, demonstrating that the NL would have a much stronger central office than the NA, and that the rules were not just suggestions.


As you can see, the two W% estimators are often at odds with each other; I would again caution against reading too much into PW% here. They all agree that Chicago was the best and Cincinnati was hapless. One aside here is that a team like Cincinnati, with a .138 W% and .136 EW%, cannot possibly be evaluated successfully by the Win Shares methodology. While there are no such extreme modern teams, Win Shares were published for the 19th century. I would be very skeptical about using them at all, but I would heed them no attention for a team like the Red Stockings.

Here are each team’s primary players at each position along with some important sabermetric stats. If a team used multiple pitchers for serious innings, I have listed both of them. WAA is against an average hitter, regardless of position; WAR is against a replacement level hitter at the position of the player in question. T WAR for pitchers is their offensive WAR plus their pitching WAA. I may at times make reference to so and so being the MVP, or the all-star shortstop, etc. These are based on my choices, not official awards, as there were none.

In 1876, the league hit .265/.277/.321, for a .072 Secondary Average, with 24.22 outs/game and 5.90 runs/game.


The White Stockings were clearly baseball’s best team, and the four players they raided from Boston were a huge part of that. After finishing 35 games behind Boston in 1875, they finished 15 games ahead of them in 1876. White was the #2 catcher by WAR, McVey the #2 first baseman, Barnes the best player period, and Spalding the game’s top pitcher. The other Chicago regulars were holdovers from their 1875 team, with the exception of Bob Addy, picked up from a defunct Philadelphia outfit. In the over 130 seasons that have followed, only one NL entry has topped their winning percentage. With the flag, representatives of Chicago had won the first NL championship; twenty-five years later, another Chicago team known as the White Stockings would take the first AL pennant.


Of the eight NL teams, four made extensive use of multiple pitchers. But the Dark Blues were the only team with the luxury of two good pitchers in Bond and Cummings. RF Dick Higham will reappear in the narrative in later years, although not for positive reasons. Bob Ferguson is the holder of the best encyclopedia nickname ever, “Death to Flying Things”. Along with Chicago, Hartford was the only team to boast an above average hitter at each lineup position.



How would the Red Stockings have done with their four stars still in tow? Well, Deacon White was 2.5 WAR better than Lew Brown, Cal McVey 1.1 better than Tim Murnane, Barnes a whopping 4.6 better than John Morrill, and Spalding 5.4 better than his three-headed replacement. That’s 13.6 in total, and Chicago’s margin over Boston was 15 games, so it’s pretty clear that Hulbert’s raid was directly responsible for a pennant (not that this is a startling new insight).

According to The Ball Clubs, Joe Borden had been signed to a three year contract. The president of the Red Caps, seeking to get Borden to beg for a buyout of his contract, put him to work as a groundskeeper at the club’s field. His plan backfired when Borden went about his new job, leaving them with a very expensive groundskeeper, and forcing the Red Caps to offer Borden a generous buyout, which he accepted. Borden also earned the tongue-in-cheek sobriquet “Josephus the Phenomenal” during his Boston career.


I don’t have anything smart to say about them, but I think I’ve worked in the nickname for each of the teams somewhere except for the Grays. So there you have it. The format of [City Name] [Nickname] was far from standard at this time, but most teams did have at least an informal tag that was used. I have usually gone with the name that Nemec used, but one should always keep the fact that this is somewhat of a modern concept being forced upon a previous era. Reserve outfielder George Bechtel was expelled from the league by the Grays for attempting to throw a game and trying to bribe teammates to join him in that effort.


With just one above average hitter and one replacement-level pitcher who recorded all but one of the team’s decisions, the Mutuals can scarcely be blamed for failing to play out the string.


The other quitters are a little harder to figure, as both their expected and predicted W%s point to a bad team that should have ended up much better than 14-45. I imagine that their defensive innings were fun to watch, as #2 pitcher George Zettlein allowed the other team to put the ball in play at a very high rate, even for the time and place. David Voigt, in American Baseball Vol. 1, reports that “few pitchers were more accident prone than George Zettlein. He was hit hard and often by batted balls; once a reporter saw a line ball hit him with such force that the ball rebounded sixty feet. Somewhat stunned, Zettlein ‘shook his head, took a drink, and again went to work as if nothing had happened.’” And than down at third base was Levi Meyerle, a man who was born a century too early to benefit from the DH. The Athletics had ten catchers appear in games, which has to be some kind of record, although I am too lazy to check. Malone, Fisler, and Meyerle were holdovers from the first pro pennant winners, the NA’s 1871 Athletics.


The only above average hitter on this sorry bunch was Charley Jones, a colorful character with an unknown demise. Redleg Snyder at least had an appropriate sobriquet for a member of this organization, although this is not the same Reds franchises that survives to this day. In fact, only the Boston Red Caps (later the Braves, and of course now in Atlanta) and the Chicago White Stockings (later the Cubs), still play in the major leagues today.

Now let’s look at the league leaders and trailers in some useful categories:
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (.429)
2. George Hall, PHI (.366)
3. Cap Anson, CHI (.356)
Trailer: Redleg Snyder, CIN (.151)
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (.451)
2. George Hall, PHI (.476)
3. Cap Anson, CHI (.380)
Trailer: Redleg Snyder, CIN (.155)
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (.590)
2. George Hall, PHI (.476)
3. Lip Pike, STL (.472)
Trailer: Redleg Snyder, CIN (.176)
Redleg Snyder pulls off a dubious triple crown, although in a game with few walks and little power, it’s not surprising that the guy with the lowest BA would also have the lowest OBA and SLG.
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (.224)
2. George Hall, PHI (.209)
3. Lip Pike, STL (.177)
Trailer: Mike McGeary, STL (.018)
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (98)
2. Cap Anson, CHI (71)
3. George Hall, PHI (69)
4. Jim O’Rourke, BOS (66)
5. John Peters, CHI (66)
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (227)
2. Lip Pike, STL (192)
3. Dick Higham, HAR (165)
4. Jim Devlin, LOU (162)
5. Joe Battin, STL (153)
Trailer: Redleg Snyder, CIN (32)
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (+4.1)
2. Lip Pike, STL (+3.1)
3. Dick Higham, HAR (+2.4)
4. Jim Devlin, LOU (+2.2)
5. Joe Battin, STL (+1.9)
Trailer: Redleg Snyder, CIN (-2.1)
1. Ross Barnes, CHI (+5.3)
2. Lip Pike, STL (+4.1)
3. Jim Devlin, LOU (+4.1)
4. Dick Higham, HAR (+3.5)
5. John Clapp, STL (+3.3)
Trailer: Redleg Snyder, CIN (-1.2)
1. Al Spalding, CHI (173)
2. Tommy Bond, HAR (138)
3. George Bradley, STL (133)
Trailer: Dory Dean, CIN (68)
1. Al Spalding, CHI (+4.8)
2. George Bradley, STL (+3.2)
3. Tommy Bond, HAR (+2.5)
Trailer: Dory Dean, CIN (-2.7)
1. Al Spalding, CHI (+7.3)
2. George Bradley, STL (+5.4)
3. Jim Devlin, LOU (+4.2)
Trailer: Dory Dean, CIN (-2.1)

Hmm…Chicago had the highest individual player and pitcher WARs and they won the pennant. Cincinnati had the lowest individual player and pitcher WARs and they finished in the cellar. Funny how that works.

At this point, let me pick an all-star team, largely based on WAR, but maybe throwing a bit of the players’ defensive reputations if appropriate. The all-star pitcher would be the “Cy Young” winner, although Denton was nine so I don’t think they would have called it that.
C: Deacon White, CHI
1B: John Clapp, STL
2B: Ross Barnes, CHI
3B: Cap Anson, CHI/Joe Battin, STL
SS: John Peters, CHI
LF: George Hall, PHI
CF: Lip Pike, STL
RF: Dick Higham, HAR
P: Al Spalding, CHI
MVP: 2B Ross Barnes, CHI
Rookie Hitter: CF Charley Jones, CIN
Rookie Pitcher: Foghorn Bradley, BOS

The Anson/Battin split is because their numbers are nearly identical. Anson obviously has the name that is recognizable today, but in 1876 I have Anson at 152 ARG (52% above his contextual average), Battin at 153. So Anson winds up with 1.82 WAA and 3.07 WAR, and Batting has 1.85 and 3.09. Those differences are too small to be meaningful, so I checked Pete Palmer’s Fielding Runs figures on the two of them. I don’t have a lot of confidence in FR (or most other fielding metrics that don’t have the benefit of PBP data), mind you, even more so in the 1800s, but I’m sure they do a decent job of picking out the Meyerles. Battin is at +14 FR, Anson +13. They are fractions of a run apart on both offense and defense; I think that’s a tie.

The ESPN Encyclopedia gave their ex post facto Cy to George Bradley. The ex post facto awards are not an attempt on their part to say who should have won, but rather who likely would have won had the award existed. Anyway, Bradley certainly turned in a more dominant defense independent performance, as he had a 103/38 K/W in 573 IP, while Spalding was just 39/26 in 529 IP. It may well be that Bradley deserves more credit for his performance, but I have not attempted to go too deep with pitcher evaluation here.

Two of my all-stars will eventually be banned from baseball for life, raising legitimate questions about the quality of their effort in this year, but we’ll pretend not to know that. And the star of stars, MVP Ross Barnes, is about to have his career crash and burn, but we don’t know that either.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Early NL Series: Pitchers and Teams

We have looked at batter evaluation; now we need to tackle pitchers. Or we could run away whimpering and go hide in the closet. This at times seems like a very appealing option when you have to deal with the problems of evaluating early (in baseball terms) nineteenth century pitchers.

First, throw win-loss records out the window. Many pitchers are throwing most of their team’s innings, making them almost solely responsible for the team’s W% (insofar as the pitching staff can control it), which makes it impossible to compare win-loss records to those of the team. Of course, even if that was feasible, it would not be preferable. I am an advocate of looking at win-loss records intelligently, but only on a multi-season level (and still with many caveats), and we want to be able to evaluate single seasons.

What about Run Average? Well, there are so many errors that even a die-hard RA supporter like me starts to get queasy about using it. Not to mention that fielding was a much bigger factor in the game then it is today. In modern times, when we evaluate a pitcher solely based on RA, we may overstate his value a bit--after all, some of the credit is due to the fielders. But in this time, we will be wildly overstating his value.

As for ERA, I oppose the practice of “reconstructing innings” when there is one error per game, as I think it muddies things up more then it clarifies them, by wiping out real events given up by the pitcher just because they were preceded by an error. How much worse then would it be when errors infest the game? So many innings were reconstructed to produce earned runs that we could be losing tons of information.

How about an Estimated RA, most often exemplified by Bill James’ Component ERA? It will allow us to use expected errors in place of actual errors, but it still will not alleviate the problem of over-crediting the pitcher.

So then we come to DIPS. But we quickly realize that the three true outcomes are a misnomer in this time; most home runs are actually in play. We can’t set them aside, and even if we did, they would have very little effect on the evaluation as there were only 533 home runs hit over the eight seasons in question, just 1.2% of all hits. And strikeouts and walks make up just 10% of all plate appearances, compared to, just picking a year out of the air, 17.4% in the 1939 NL. That doesn’t leave us with a large base to evaluate on.

And who’s to say that hits/ball in play were as bunched together as they are now? Given the greater importance of fielding, they may not have been. On the other hand, pitchers are throwing underhand from 45 feet, needing a large number of strikes to retire the batter, and without the wide variety of pitches we see today. So maybe we should expect all hurlers to be about equal in that regard.

If we try to test year-to-year correlations, though, we will have a lot of issues. Most obvious is the small sample size. Of course selective sampling is ever-present. We can’t really compare a pitcher to his teammates, since he often makes up such a large share of the team total. Even if we were able to and found a low year-to-year correlation on H/BIP, that would not necessarily render it meaningless or make a DIPS-like approach appropriate for evaluating value retrospectively.

So what to do? I have decided to go an extremely lazy route, and to evaluate pitchers based on Wins Above Average, based on runs allowed, except I have multiplied that result by the league percentage of earned runs for the given season. This is a terrible hodge-podge of an approach, as I don’t think that earned runs are particularly useful. But you have to account in some way for the fact that fielding was a much larger share of defense then it is today, and my guess would not be any more legitimate then the percentage of earned runs.

I have also chosen average as a baseline, rather then replacement, because I have decided to evaluate the pitchers first as hitters, versus a replacement level hitter, and then add on their pitching value. This is what I would do today for a position player, at least for simplicity’s (there are many knocks against offensive positional adjustments and I don’t disagree) sake; first find the batter’s offensive value versus an average player at his position, and then add in the runs he saved above an average fielder at his position.

For an example of how this works, let’s take a look at 1876 Hartford’s #2 pitcher, Candy Cummings of supposed curveball invention fame (the Dark Blues played 69 games; Tommy Bond started and completed 45 of them, Cummings 25). The Dark Blues context is 10 total RPG, so we would expect Candy to allow 5 runs per 9 innings. In fact, he allowed 97 runs in 216 innings for a 4.04 RA. This means that his Adjusted RA, which I will use pretty extensively instead of the actual figure, was 100*5/4.04 = 124.

In 1876, 39.6% of the league runs were earned. Cummings’ RAA is therefore (5-4.04)*.396*216/9 = +9.12. Converting this to WAA is as simple as dividing by 10, and so he is +.91 wins. If you want formulas:
ARA = 200*RPG/RA
RAA = (RPG/2 - RA)*LgER%*IP/9

Cummings was a “replacement-level hitter” for a pitcher (the phrase “replacement-level hitter” is silly, since what we really mean by a replacement level player is one who is replacement level in his total value; however, it is a necessary evil when one has taken the flawed offensive positional adjustment path), with +.01 WAR, so his total value is +.92 WAR.

As for teams, things are much more straightforward. Expected Winning Percentage based on runs and runs allowed can be calculated using Pythagenpat. I have also figured Predicted W%, based on Base Runs and Base Runs Allowed; this is a little more shaky since the Base Runs formula isn’t particularly accurate, and many of the defensive components had to be estimated. To find PW%, just use BsR and BsRA as you would R and RA. I have included those figures here, but I wouldn’t put much stock into it for this era.