Posts Tagged ‘Burleigh Grimes’

1934: The Gas House Gang

April 20, 2017

The Fordham Flash

Over the years, few teams have become as famous as the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals. The “Gas House Gang” is the subject of books, movies, lore, nostalgia, and more than a fair amount of mythology. Whatever one thinks of their skill, they rank as one of the more fun teams to study.

For the season the Cardinals batters were almost as formidable as the Tigers. They finished first in hits, runs, stolen bases, total bases, doubles, OBP, slugging, and batting average. They were second in the National League in both triples and home runs. They didn’t strike out a lot, but they didn’t walk much either. The staff was second in ERA and led the NL in strikeouts. They finished third in both hits and runs. All that got the team 95 wins.

The infield consisted of two Hall of Famers up the middle and a pair of solidly good players at the corners. Rip Collins played first. He hit .333 and led the team with 35 home runs and 128 RBIs. He walked more than he struck out, which was more common for sluggers in the era than it is today. His WAR was 6.3, which led all the hitters. John “Pepper” Martin played third. He was a leadoff hitter who stroked a .289 average and led the team with 23 stolen bases. His WAR was 1.7. He’d rocketed to fame in the 1931 World Series when he’d rattled then A’s, and now Tigers, catcher Mickey Cochrane with his base running. He’d been an outfielder then and had just moved to third. He was still new at it and fielding wasn’t his specialty. The Hall of Fame shortstop was Leo “The Lip” Durocher. He didn’t hit much, going .260 with neither power nor speed, but he was a good shortstop and with Martin at third, that mattered a lot. His WAR came in at 0.4. The other Hall of Famer was second baseman and player-manager, Frankie “Flash” Frisch. He hit .305, had 11 stolen bases, still played a good second, and struck out only 10 times all year (in 550 at bats). His WAR was 2.5 and he was considered a better player than manager (and hadn’t yet gotten a bad reputation for his years on the Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee). Unlike the Tigers, St. Louis had a reasonably deep bench for the 1930s. Burgess Whitehead and Pat Crawford both logged more than 60 games for the team. Whitehead played all the infield positions but first while Crawford periodically took over second and third. Whitehead hit .277, Crawford hit .271. Neither had any power, although Whitehead had five stolen bases in 92 hits.

In the outfield, Hall of Famer “Ducky” Joe Medwick held down left field. He was still a few years away from his Triple Crown year, but was already a feared hitter. He hit  .319 with 18 home runs, good for second on the team. His 106 RBIs were also second, and he led the Cards with 18 triples (same total as his home runs). All that gave him 3.1 WAR. He was joined in the field by the two members of the team without a nickname. Ernie Orsatti hit an even .300 with 0.2 WAR and Jack Rothrock hit .284 with 0.8 WAR. Rothrock’s 11 homers and 10 stolen bases were both good for third on the team. The backup outfielders were Chick Fullis and Buster Mills. Fullis hit above .250, Mills didn’t, but had the only home run between the two.

The catching staff featured two men who were very much alike in their statistics and not much alike as people. Virgil “Spud” Davis was in 107 games, hit .300 with nine home runs, and 2.4 WAR. Rookie Bill DeLancey was in 93 games, hit .316, had 13 homers, and 3.0 WAR. By the time the Series began, he was doing as much, if not more, catching than Davis. Unfortunately, he’d develop tuberculosis in 1935, play only one more complete season, and die in 1946. With the primarily right-handed Tigers staff, he did most of the catching in the Series (he hit lefty, Davis hit from the right side).

The staff consisted of an interesting mix of younger guys and old-timers. All together they made for an interesting, but not great, staff. The geezers were Jesse Haines and Dazzy Vance. Both were over 40 and well beyond their peak. Both made the Hall of Fame, but not for their 1934 campaign. After a good to excellent career, “Pop” Haines was mostly a reliever (he started six games). Vance, who was even older, was new to the Cards. He pitched 59 innings and still had, despite the age, some of the old Vance in him (Forty year old Burleigh Grimes also got into four games). He struck out 33 in those 59 innings. For Vance it was his only World Series. Jim Lindsey, “Wild” Bill Hallahan, and Bill Walker were all in their thirties. Lindsey relieved in 11 games and had posted an ERA north of six. Walker and Hallahan had 20 wins between them with Walker’s 3.12 ERA being the better of the two. His 2.9 WAR was third among pitchers. The two youngest were “Tex” Carleton and Paul “Daffy” Dean. Carlton had an ERA over four but got 2.2 WAR out of 16 wins. “Daffy” had 19 wins, a 3.43 ERA, and at age 21 put up 5.1 WAR. He was second on the team with 150 strikeouts.

But the staff always came down to Paul’s older brother, “Dizzy” Dean. By 1934 he was already a legend. He was brash, he was opinionated, he was confident, and he was very good. He told the press “Me and Paul will win 45 games.” Some sources say he predicted 50 wins. When told he was bragging, whatever number he predicted, he responded, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” They won 49 (still a record for siblings). Diz won 30 in 1934, the last National Leaguer to do so. It got him an MVP Award. He struck out 195, walked 75, had an ERA of 2.66, pitched 313 innings, and produced an ERA+ of 159 to go with a team leading 9.1 WAR. By 1934 he was the heart, soul, and most particularly the voice of the Gas House Gang.

The Cards and Tigers would face off on seven consecutive days in October. The Series would produce one of the most famous moments in Series history in game seven. And it would also give baseball one of its most famous lines after game four.

(more…)

Building a Winner: Pivot Point

November 24, 2015
Whit Wyatt

Whit Wyatt

In many ways the key year in the Dodgers late 1930s, early 1940s turn around was 1939. It ushered in a series of major changes that led ultimately to the 1941 pennant. So let’s us take a look at the 1939 team.

Arguably the most significant change occurred in the dugout. Manager Burleigh Grimes was terminated at the end of the dismal 1938 campaign by new President and General Manager Larry McPhail. The addition of McPhail was in itself a significant change in Brooklyn’s front office. Grimes’ successor was player-manager Leo Durocher. “Leo the Lip” was loud, abrasive, fiery and hated losing (and I can’t believe I’ve never done anything on him). He brought a fire to the Dodgers that was lacking under Grimes (who could be fiery himself). A number of the players didn’t particularly like Durocher, but he had the respect of most of them. He and McPhail made for a strange and interesting pair leading the franchise.

The infield saw one change. Pete Coscaret went from being the backup to playing the most innings at second, while former starter John Hudson became the primary backup middle infielder. With shortstop Durocher now managing, Hudson saw more action than a backup might normally see (he got into 109 games). Dolph Camilli and Cookie Lavagetto continued to hold down the corners of the infield. Lavagetto hit .300 and was second on the team in home runs (10) and RBIs (87). Camilli led the team in both with 26 home runs and 104 RBIs (his WAR and OPS+ also topped the starters).

The outfield underwent a significant change in 1939. Of the 1938 starters, only Ernie Koy remained a primary outfielder. Gene Moore and Art Parks took over the other positions while Goody Rosen became a backup and Bud Hassett moved to the Braves. Of major significance for 1941, the Dodgers picked up a new backup outfielder when 28-year-old Dixie Walker was picked up on waivers from Detroit. He would, by 1941, become one of the more famous players on the pennant winning team. For 1939 he hit .280 with 83 total bases (0.3 WAR).

Although Babe Phelps remained the primary catcher, the staff he handled added two major pieces to the pennant winning puzzle. Holding on to Luke Hamlin and Fred Fitzsimmons as starters, and moving Tot Presnell from spot starter to a major contributor helped Brooklyn, but the two new guys were key. One was Whit Wyatt. He was 31, had spent several mediocre years in the American League, spent 1938 in the Cleveland minor league system (Milwaukee), and was purchased by Brooklyn for 1939. He went 8-3 in 16 games (14 starts) and made the All-Star game. By 1941 he was the Dodgers’ ace. The other new guy was Hugh Casey. Casey was 25, had a cup of coffee with the Cubs in 1935, and became a full-time player only in 1939 after being picked up by Brooklyn from Memphis. Although known today primarily as a reliever, he started 25 games in 1939 and posted a 15-10 record, a 5.3 WAR, and managed to lead the National League in hit batsmen with 11.

The result of all this was a third place finish and a winning season for the Dodgers; their first in several years. Much of the “Daffiness Boys” syndrome was gone and they were emerging as a legitimate contender in the National League. By this point half the infield was in place, much of the pitching staff was available and the first of the outfield was on board. With Leo Durocher piloting the team, and McPhail ready to make the necessary acquisitions, they were finally moving in the right direction.

As an aside, there was also one other notable addition to the Dodgers, although it didn’t change the play on the field. The 1939 season saw Brooklyn pick up a new play-by-play radio announcer. Red Barber joined the team in the booth in 1939.

 

Building a Winner: Worse

November 20, 2015
Dolph Camilli

Dolph Camilli

As bad as the 1937 Brooklyn Dodgers were, the 1938 version was even worse. They dropped all the way to seventh in 1938 going 69-80 to finish 18.5 games back (which is actually closer than in 1937–the ’37 Giants  won 95 games, the ’38 Cubs only 89). Their Pythagorean said they should have finished 74-75, so they underperformed. In hitting they finished sixth in most categories but first in stolen bases and walks. In fact they had 611 walks and only 615 strikeouts for the season (and if you exclude pitchers they actually walked more than they struck out), which helped them to second in OBP. The pitching was also bad. The staff consistently finished about sixth in most categories coming in high in shutouts (3rd) and having the third lowest walk total. Even Hilda Chester might have had trouble rooting for this team.

But a couple of significant changes occurred. First, Dolph Camilli came over from Philadelphia. He posted 24 home runs and 100 RBIs, both of which easily led the team. His 118 walks also led the team (as did his 101 strikeouts). His OPS and OPS+ also led the Dodgers, while his WAR was second on the team (but first among position players). He replaced Bud Hassett at first, but Hassett moved to the outfield replacing Heinie Manush (who got into 17 games), so effectively Camilli replaced Manush. Manush hit for a much higher average in 1937 than did Camilli in 1938, but had only about half the WAR and drove in 73 with four home runs. The other big infield change saw Leo Durocher take over at short. Durocher’s numbers weren’t better than Woody English who’d held down shortstop in 1937, but Durocher became team captain and brought a new competitive attitude to the team. Also in the infield Cookie Lavagetto moved from second to third and John Hudson replaced him at second. Lavagetto replaed Joe Stripp making Hudson essentially Stripp’s replacement. Hudson’s OPS+ and WAR weren’t very good, but they were better than Stripp.

The outfield was entirely different. The aforementioned Hassett was now on one corner. Goody Rosen took another and former college football standout Ernie Koy had the final position. Koy almost hit .300 and his 11 home runs were second on the team, as were the 76 RBIs.

The bench was long in 1938. Merv Shea and Gilly Campbell were the backup catchers while former backup Roy Spencer got into only 16 games. The 1937 starting shortstop Woody English now rode the pine and Pete Coscaret was pushing Hudson for more time at second. Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler was, along with Tuck Stainback, the primary backup outfielder. He was 39 but could still hit in the .270s. Other than Cuyler they didn’t do much.

The battery consisted of Babe Phelps behind the plate and nine primary pitchers. Phelps hit .300 with no power and 1.7 WAR (that was eighth on the team). The primary starters were three holdovers from 1937: Luke Hamlin, Fred Fitzsimmons, and Van Mungo (of Van Lingle Mungo song fame). Fitzsimmons’ 4.4 WAR led the team and Hamlin’s 3.4 was third. The new guy was Bill Posedel who poured kerosene on an already combustible staff by going 8-9 with an ERA north of five. The bullpen (those with 20 or more games pitched) saw Fred Frankhouse as a leftover from 1937 and Tot Presnell, Vito Tamulis, and Max Butcher as the new guys. Both Tamulis and Presnell posted ERA+ number above 100.

Part of the problem lay with manager Burleigh Grimes. Essentially everyone knew he was a lame duck and his authority in the clubhouse waned. He’d been a good pitcher for a long time (eventually making the Hall of Fame) but wasn’t much of a manager. He came immediately into conflict with Durocher who, it was assumed, was manager-in-waiting. It didn’t help team chemistry.

There was one significant off field addition also. In 1939 Larry McPhail became President and General Manager of the Dodgers. He would change the culture of the team greatly.

So where were we when 1938 came to a close? Much of the infield was in place. Camilli was at first and Lavagetto at third. Both were playing well. Durocher was at short, but would leave the position after the end of the season to become manager. Neither the 1941 outfielders nor the catcher were yet in place. The pitching staff was beginning to add the first parts of the pennant winning group in holdovers Fitzsimmons and Hamlin, but the mainstays of the 1941 staff were still missing. Much of this would change in 1939, making it a key year in the rebuilding process.

 

Building a Winner: Bad

November 18, 2015
Leo Durocher while with Brooklyn

Leo Durocher while with Brooklyn

There are a lot of ways to construct a winning team. You can create it internally through a farm system. You can trade for the right players. You can out right buy players from another team. In the last 50 or so years you can go through the free agent market. And of course you can use any combination of these to build your team. I want to take something of an extended look at how one team did it.

As a Dodgers fan I’m much more familiar with their doings than with other teams, so it’s reasonable for me to look at how the Dodgers built a winning team. In this case I’m going to single out the 1941 Brooklyn team that got to a World Series, then faltered, but laid the foundation for the team that was generally in contention through the remainder of the team’s time in Brooklyn (1957).

To start, here’s the main part of the roster of the pennant winning 1941 team. Infield (first around to third): Dolf Camilli, Billy Herman, PeeWee Reese, Cookie Lavagetto. Outfield: Pete Reiser, Joe Medwick, Dixie Walker. The catcher was Mickey Owen. Starting pitchers (guys with double figure starts): Kirby Higbe, Whit Wyatt, Curt Davis, Fred Fitzsimmons, Luke Hamlin. The bullpen (guys with 20 or more appearances from the pen): Hugh Casey and Mace Brown (and Casey also had double figure starts). And the bench (guys with 50 or more games played): Lew Riggs (primarily a 3rd baseman), Pete Coscarart (primarily a 2nd baseman), Herman Franks (a catcher), and Jim Wasdell (and outfielder). The manager is Leo Durocher. Keep all those names in mind as we go through the process of putting this team together. These are the guys we’re ultimately looking for in order to create a winning team.

Now here’s a look at the same team in 1937. The order is the same (infield, outfield, catcher, starters, bullpen, bench, manager): Bud Haslett, Lavagetto, Woody English, Joe Stripp, Heinie Manush, Tom Winsett, John Cooney, Babe Phelps, Max Butcher, Hamlin, Fred Frankhouse, Waite Hoyt, Van Mungo, Fitzsimmons, Roy Henshaw, George Jeffcoat, Jim Lindsey, Gibby Black (outfield), Jim Butcher (2nd, 3rd, and outfield), Roy Spencer (catcher), Lindsay Brown (Short). Burleigh Grimes is the manager.

The ’37 Dodgers finished sixth of eight teams in the National League. They were 62-91, 33.5 games out of first and 17.5 out of fifth place. They finished sixth in batting average, OBP, OPS, runs, and hits; seventh in slugging; dead last in home runs. At least they were third in stolen bases (all of 69) and second in doubles. The pitching was worse. They were seventh in ERA, runs, earned runs, complete games (which meant a lot more in 1937 than it does today, and last in shutouts. At fourth in strikeouts, they managed to get into the top half of the National League. And to top it off they were dead last in fielding percentage. In short, the Daffiness Boys stunk up the place.

Five years later they won the NL pennant. A lot of things changed. But a few things remained. Off the 1937 squad, Cookie Lavagetto remained. He’d moved from second to third. Although many of his traditional stats had regressed, he maintained an OPS+ of 110 (down one point from 1937) and his WAR (BBREF version) moved from 2.5 to 2.7. Luke Hamlin was still around also. His ERA was up, his wins down, his ERA+ was down 25 points, and his WAR had gone from 3.4 to a negative. Fitzsimmons was also there. By 1941 his ERA and ERA+ were much better although his WAR was unchanged. So even the holdovers from 1937, especially Hamlin, weren’t doing much to help the team make its five-year rise. To do well, an entire overhaul needed to occur. In the next few posts I want to look at that overhaul.

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.