Stats in Wartime

Let me give you two lines of statistics. They will both be in the following order: BA/OBP/Slugging/OPS/OPS+/total bases/R/H/2B/3B/HR/RBI/BB/K/WAR/Offensive WAR.



As you may have guessed, these are two stat lines from the same player in two separate seasons (sort of consecutive). They represent the regular season output of Stan Musial in 1944 and then in 1946 (he missed all of 1945 to military service). Heck of a player, right? With all the work I just did on the 1944 Cards and Browns I couldn’t help notice a problem.

If you look at the numbers, it helps to know that Musial played 10 more games in 1946 than in 1944, thus accounting for the slightly higher 1946 raw numbers. But regardless of the 10 games or not, the seasons are essentially the same, aren’t they? My problem is that the two seasons, without reference to Musial, aren’t nearly the same. The 1944 season represents,arguably, the weakest season in 20th Century Major League Baseball history (OK, maybe ’43 or ’45, but it’s close). The number of quality players gone off to World War II is huge. Here’s a partial list of National League pitchers Musial does not have to face in 1944 because of the war: Johnny Sain, Warren Spahn, Hugh Casey. Larry French, Kirby Higbe, Lon Warneke, Johnny Vander Meer, Hal Schumacher, and a slew of others that aren’t as well-known.

My point here is that it’s really tough to compare Musial (or another player) when you throw in the Second World War effect on MLB. Even the so-called advanced stats don’t make much of a difference (Offensive WAR makes the most). I think that means we need to watch very carefully using the stat lines to look at players during the 1943-45 period. Because of the quality and quantity of players missing from rosters, the numbers don’t mean exactly the same. This also holds true to a much lesser extent for the period 1917 and 1918 (see the effect on Joe Jackson’s numbers by losing him to war work) and 1950-53 (see that same issue with guys who don’t have to face either Whitey Ford or Don Newcombe, just to change it up to remind you that pitchers are involved also). Please keep that in mind if/when you delve into the era.


4 Responses to “Stats in Wartime”

  1. William MillerW Says:

    Just wondering, and not trying to necessarily posit an argument here, but isn’t it just possible that the “War Effect” (I mean actual war, as opposed to the stat WAR) has always been overrated? A while back on my blog I stated that Hal Newhouser is one of the most underrated pitchers in the HOF. A reader took exception to that, stating that since a fair amount of his success took place during WWII, when many fine players were at war, his success should be discounted. Yet Newhouser was still as good in 1946 as he was in ’45, and was still excellent for a couple years afterward.
    Perhaps truly great players will rise significantly above the competition, regardless of the level of that competition.
    Just a thought,

    • verdun2 Says:

      I won’t argue with you on your point, because it is valid. Musial (and Newhouser) is going to be a great player anytime against any pitching because he’s Musial. But the quality of play in 1944 (and in another post I argued that Newhouser is still a great pitcher because of his post-1944 career) is so weakened that a great player could have a medocre year and still be a star (although there’s nothing mediocre about Musial’s ’44).

      I’ve been critical of WAR alot around here, but it’s been a critique of pitching WAR, defensive WAR, and the overuse of a single stat. Offensive War seems to be a pretty good stat. I note that it very much docks Musial for his 1944 (as does OPS+ to a lesser extent) so I take it that WAR has found some way to factor in quality of play for 1944 (although I have to admit I’m not sure specifically how it does that).

      Again, your point about truly great players is well taken and very valid.
      Thanks for reading and for the input, Bill.

  2. W.k. kortas Says:

    I agree with what Bill says about Hal Newhouser–it’s tough to brush him off as a war-time phenomenon when he had some top-shelf seasons after WWII. If you look at Musial’s page at B-R, there’s a big difference in his defensive WAR between ’44 and ’46–in ’44, they show him as a good defensive player, where in ’46 they show him as pretty brutal. I remember Bill James did a study on war-time players where he concluded that a pretty small percentage of the regular players were truly MLB everday calibre. I suspect the wartime effect is more pronounced for run-of-the-mill players than it is for guys like Musial.

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