Archive for May, 2010

More Miscellaneous Stats

May 4, 2010

Yesterday I wrote about the idea of decade lists. These are a list of stats showing who led the majors in a particular stat for a decade. Baseball Digest just published its list for the period 1900-2009, each decade divided using the ending zero as the first year of the decade and the ending nine as the last. Yesterday I looked at the hitters, today I want to comment on the pitchers. This particular set of stats shows the following categories: wins, strikeouts, ERA, innings pitched, shutouts, saves. Now some thoughts on them:

1. You can see the evolving role of both the starter and reliever over the decades. This is the number of wins that leads each decade beginning in 1900: 236, 265, 190, 199, 170, 202, 191, 186, 162, 176, 148. Notice how there are two major drop offs. One is between 1910-19 and 1920-29, the end of the deadball era. The other is between 1970-79 and 1980-89, when relievers become much more common. You can also see this in the increasing number of saves. The lowest number to lead a decade is 21 (Joe McGinnity) in the first decade published and peaks with the last decade published when the lead number is 397 (Mariano “Hey, I finally got a commercial”  Rivera). The same thing happens with shutouts. They peak with Walter Johnson’s 74 in the teens and bottom out with Roy Halladay’s 14 in the just concluded decade.

2. As with the hitters, you can see the advent of the “lively ball” era. There is a drastic drop in wins, shutouts (Johnson also leads the decade of the 1920s, but with only 24) and a huge rise in ERA.

3. Again as with the hitters, there are some pretty surprising pitchers who rise to the top of these lists. Burleigh Grimes leads all pitchers in wins during the 1920s. Who woulda thunk it? Dazzy Vance leads the same decade in strikeouts. I would have never pegged Early Wynn as the 1950s strikeout king. With just over half a decade of play, Sandy Koufax is still third in strikeouts in the 1960s (just over 150 out of first).

4. These lists do only traditional stats. There’s no WHIP, no adjusted ERA, etc. SportsPhd just did a nice article on why “Wins” is a stat that’s less than trustworthy on determining pitcher’s ability. I suggest you read it. It helps explain why this list isn’t necessarily the best list available. My previous comments about breaking lists into decades stands here also.

I’ve always liked to study baseball statistics. I find them individually interesting and note that they can be enlightening. This list is good in that it helps readers see, in simple columns of figures, the changing nature of the game. That’s probably something this list does better than simply giving you an idea of which player dominated which decade.

Some Miscellaneous Stats

May 3, 2010

I just got my latest copy of the magazine Baseball Digest. In the back there are several pages dedicated to stats. These are done by decade and show the top ten players in a number of hitting and pitching categories per decade. Each decade is done from the zero through the nine, thus the first is 1900-1909, the last 2000-2009. There are some interesting stats available.
First, there’s nothing particularly magical about a decade. Most good players have careers that stretch across more than one, and thus a list like this skews the numbers. But it does provide a handy way to group the stats. I don’t propose to put the list here; you can go to the magazine website and probably find it (I didn’t check). But I’d like to comment on some that I find interesting, the hitters first.

1. You get a feel for just how much Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb dominated the first two decades of the 20th Century. The categories listed are runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, stolen bases, RBI, batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage. Between 1900 and 1909, Wagner is first in all but triples, where he come in second, and in home runs where he comes in tied for fifth. Some of the numbers are fairly close, for instance he leads Nap Lajoie in batting by only .006, but in other areas he’s hugely ahead (almost 200 hits, over 200 runs). Cobb’s the same in the period 1910-1919. He leads all categories except doubles where he is second and home runs where he fails to make the top ten. Again he’s sometimes close (.030 in slugging %), but in other cases he’s way ahead (120 hits, 150 runs). No one else can compare with the two of them in the first twenty years of the century. No one else, even Babe Ruth in the 1920s, is as dominant as Wagner and Cobb.

2. The offensive explosion of the 1920’s is really noticable. In runs, Babe Ruth is first and he’s 300 ahead of Cobb and 350 ahead of Wagner. In the 1920’s Wagner’s 1014 runs scored would rank third as would Cobb’s 1051. Doubles, home runs, RBIs are very much the same.

3. You see how quickly integration of the Major Leagues affects baseball. By the 1950s black players are already getting into the top 10 lists although few of them played the entire decade. Minnie Minoso is on the list in hits, doubles, stolen bases, RBIs, triples, and on-base percentage. Hank Aaron is third in batting, Willie Mays fourth, and Minoso (again) is eighth. The decades of the 1960s and 1970s are full of black players who make the lists. You can see the gradual shift away from black players occur as they begin to be a lesser percentage of the lists in the 1990s and 2000s, the same time as Hispanics increasingly take center stage.

4. There are some really surprising people who are very high up on some of the lists. In the 1900-1909 period, Roy Thomas is second in OBP (.417 to .411). I kind of vaguely knew who he was, but this list made me take a look at him and begin a reevaluation of his abilities. Harry Davis’ career ends at about the same time the A’s become a dominant team, so he’s generally overlooked as a major player in Athletics history. Did you know in the period 1900-1909 he leads the majors in home runs, is in the top five in both RBIs and slugging percentage?  Want to know a secret? Neither did I. There are lots of these. Tris Speaker is second in doubles in the 1920s (to Rogers Hornsby) and I never think of him as a 1920s player. Vada Pinson, who is totally overlooked today is second in the 1960s in doubles, third in hits, eighth in stolen bases, and fifth in runs. Willie Stargell who isn’t exactly obscure, but isn’t the first name you’d think of, leads the 1970s in home runs (by four over Reggie Jackson). Who knew? I would have guessed Jackson.

5. Some players get shafted by the way the decades are compiled. Jackie Robinson, whose career is 1947-1956, ends up with numbers compiled almost equally in two half-decades. He makes the lists once (1940s stolen bases he’s 10th).  

There are other things, but I wanted to give you only a flavor of the lists. See if you can find them. My guess is they are on-line somewhere, not just on the magazine website. I’ll do pitchers later.

Stuffy McInnis, Deadball Star

May 1, 2010

Stuffy McInnis with the 1925 Pirates

As I’ve pointed out before, most of the Hall of Fame caliber players from the Deadball Era are largely forgotten today. Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner may be exceptions, but by and large it’s true. It’s even more true of the stars of the era who didn’t make it to Cooperstown. Here’s one.

John (Stuffy) McInnis was a great fielding, good hitting first baseman for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in the second decade of the 20th Century. Coming out of Gloucester, Massachusetts at age 19, he was the junior member of the A’s famous “$100,000” infield in both age and entry to the Major Leagues. For those curious, the rest of the infield is Eddie Collins at second, Jack Barry at short, and Frank Baker at third.

McInnis arrived in Philadelphia as a shortstop in 1909. Mack had Barry at short, so McInnis had to find another position. By 1911 he was the primary first baseman, replacing aging Harry Davis. He stayed with Philadelphia through 1917, seeing the glory years of the 1910, 1911 and 1913 World Series triumphs, the heartbreak of the 1914 World Series flop, and the disastrous 1916 campaign.

In 1918 he was traded to Boston for three players one of which was longtime Red Sox stalwart Larry Gardner. The Sox promptly won the World Series. In 1915 and 1916, the Red Sox won the World Series, then dropped back to second in 1917, thus a good team was already in place. So it’s not like they picked up McInnis and came out of nowhere to win. (Having that Babe Ruth guy helped a lot.) McInnis was a fielding upgrade over the previous first baseman, and had roughly the same numbers at the plate. Remember, this is the Deadball Era and first basemen are not yet primarily sluggers. In the Series, McInnis knocked in the only run in a 1-0 Red Sox game one victory, then scored the winning run in game three.

In 1922 he went to Cleveland, beginning the nomad phase that went on for the rest of his career. In 1923 and 1924 he was with the Boston Braves (now of Atlanta). In 1925 and 1926 he played for Pittsburgh, helping the Pirates to a World Series victory in his first year there. He took over as manager for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1927, playing in one final game. They finished last and he was let go by the Phils.

He managed in the minors and at colleges after his playing career ended, ultimately retiring from Harvard in 1954. He died in 1960.

The first thing you notice about McInnis is his fielding numbers. For any era they are impressive, for baseball’s Stone Age they are mind-boggling. Between 1912 and 1924, the seasons he is generally his team’s regular first baseman, he finished first in fielding six times, second five times, and fourth the other two years, including his rookie year at first base in 1911. His fielding prowess is reflected in a range factor almost half a run higher than anyone else who played significant time at first (OK, I know you don’t figure range factor for first basemen, but  did it on a lark and discovered McInnis.). In 1921 in 1651 total changes over 152 games he made one (count ’em) error, a record that stood until Steve Garvey rang up no errors in 160 games in 1984 (and Garvey only had 1319 chances that season).Thank of that if you will. On 1921 fields with 1921 equipment, over 1651 chances Stuffy McInnis got 1650 of them right (the error was a dropped throw). Only Wally Pipp at New York (1713 chances) and Earl Sheely at Chicago (1756 chances) handled more balls and Pipp had 16 errors (one every 107 chances) and Sheely had 22 (one every 80 chances). In the National League New York’s George Kelly had comparable chances  (1667) and he committed 17 errors (one every 98 chances). Other McInnis seasons are comparable.

McInnis is credited with inventing the “knee reach”, or what we know as the first baseman’s split, when catching the ball. Don’t know if it’s true, but if he did it makes him an even better fielder. I’ve played a little first base and know how difficult it is to reach for a ball that’s beginning to change direction on you.

As a hitter McInnis was no slouch either. He hit .308 for his career, almost all singles. In today’s world of power hitting first basemen he would be in trouble, but in the context of his time he can be rated a solid, but not spectacular hitter. Of 2406 hits, 1973 (83%) were singles. His isolated power is 072. For his entire career he hit 20 home runs with a high of four in 1913. He didn’t have a great deal of speed, swiping a high of 27 bases in 1912. What he did do was put up a lot of runs. On four occasions he had 90 or more RBIs, and averaged 60 runs scored per year in his 14 full seasons. In a low scoring era that’s not bad, but not absolutely in the top echelon.

What McInnis did best was win. Five times he went to the World Series. Four times his team won (1911, 1913, 1918, 1925). He was on one other team that won a Series (1910) but did not play. Twice he went to teams that won the World Series in his first year with them (the latter two championships). Again, he’s not the primary reason his new team wins, but he seems to have provided part of the spark that put the team over the top.

It’s obvious I like McInnis. He’s a good solid player, who helps his team win. Is he an overlooked Hall of Famer? I might vote for him if I was on a veteran’s committee, but he wouldn’t be at the top of my list. Is he an overlooked star of his era? Yep.