Posts Tagged ‘Clyde Milan’

Run Like the Wind

April 9, 2012

Ty Cobb sliding into third. The lack of fans in the stands may indicate this picture is staged

When I think of the Deadball Era in baseball I generally think of three things: pitching, low scores, and base running. Our image of the era is of low scoring games with lots of stolen bases, gap power, and great pitching. As a rule that’s true, but there is another element that needs to be considered. The baserunners weren’t very good.

Here’s a set of numbers for you: 185/182, 258/168, 276/157, 273/151, 194/131, 213/193, 247/184, 176/174. Those are the stolen base numbers for each American League team one hundred years ago (1912). The first number is the number of successful steal, the second number is the number of caught stealing. Percentages are as follows (teams in the same order): 50.4, 60.1, 63.7, 64.4, 59.7, 52.5, 57.3, 50.3. Not real good, are they? Now the kicker. These aren’t in order of finish in the league, but are in hitting order. Boston finished first and is listed first (50.4% success rate), but Washington, which finished second is listed fourth (64.4%). Detroit,which finished sixth is listed third  (63.7%). So there’s not much correlation between stealing bases at a successful rate and winning a pennant. Boston finished next to last (the 50.3% belongs to St. Louis which finished seventh) while Detroit finished second in success rate, but ended the season deep in the second division.

Selected players? Well, here’s a handful of well-known names. Tris Speaker stole 52, but was caught 28 times (a 65% success rate). Ty Cobb stole 61 and was caught 34 times (a 64% success rate). Sam Crawford was 42 and 13 for a success rate of 76%. Eddie Collins is 63 and 22 for a 74% rate. And Clyde Milan, who led the AL in stolen bases was 88 and 31 for a success rate of 74%. Milan, Collins, Cobb, and Speaker were the top four in the AL in stolen bases for 1912. And before anyone asks, the caught stealing stats are incomplete for the National League in 1912.

How’s this stack up against more modern players? using only three, Rickey Henderson had a 80.1% success rate, Luis Aparicio a 78.4% success rate, and Tim Raines as 84.7% success rate for their careers. All are better than the 1912 guys, but Crawford is close with the 76%.

For the entire AL in the entire season the numbers are 1822 stolen bases and 1340 caught stealing for a 52.6% success rate. Ninety years late (2002) the numbers are 1236 and 579 for a 68% success rate. True the total numbers are down but we are in a power era when stolen base totals tend to decrease. As a check, I looked at 1911 and 1913. The stats were incomplete but what stats there were indicated that 1912 wasn’t out of line for the era. I acknowledge that this is only a three-year look at incomplete stats and that a more in-depth study might yield different results.

What do I make of all this? A couple of things jump out at me. First, the guys who steal a lot of bases aren’t that much worse than their modern counterparts, but are below the newer guys when it comes to success. Second, the guys who aren’t great base stealers in 1912 are really, really awful. Take, for instance, the pennant winning Red Sox. Four of their primary starters actually had more caught stealing than successful stolen bases and one guy was at 21/20. A lot of other teams have similar numbers. Also, and this is a bit of a stretch, but you have to conclude that Deadball Era catchers had much better arms than we’ve been led to believe or a lot of pitchers had really first-rate pick-off moves. Further study could indicate how correct these conclusions are for the entire era.


1910: Senators Postmortem

August 31, 2010

By the first of September, the Washington Senators were hanging on to sixth place and were on the verge of elimination from the pennant chase. Under manager Jimmy McAleer they would ultimately finish seventh, 36.5 games out of first. Their record was 66-85.

The team averages of .236 and .289 slugging weren’t absolute bottom of the barrel in the American League, but they were close. But the team finished fourth in walks, so their on base percentage wasn’t as bad as you might expect from a seventh place team. Center fielder Clyde Milan finished fifth in stolen bases, led the team with 71 walks (good for second in the AL), and was fourth in the league in runs scored. Another positive for Washington was that Milan was the youngest of the starting position players (24). The rest of the starters provided three men with .250 plus batting averages, no one with more than 19 doubles, and only two men other than Milan with more than 50 runs scored. 

One of the running themes of the teams that finish in the bottom half of each league is that they have awful benches. The Senators were no exception. Of the seven bench players with 20 or more games played, three hit above .250, but three were under the Mendoza line (one hitting .149). They mustered one home run and Wid Conroy, who played the most games (105) of any bench player, led in RBIs with all of 27. He also got the home run.

The pitching was a mixed bag. Walter Johnson was Walter Johnson. He led the league in starts, games, complete games, strikeouts, and was second in shutouts. His record was 25-17 with an ERA of 1.35. For the first time he put up more than 300 strikeouts, 313, more than 50 ahead of Ed Walsh in second place. In doing so he became only the second man (Rube Waddell) to lead the AL with 300 or more strikeouts. Unfortunately the rest of the staff wasn’t Walter Johnson. Combined the non-Johnson staff went 41-68 with 362 strikeouts (only 49 more than Johnson alone).  Dixie Walker (obviously not the 1940s outfielder) went 11-11 for the second best record among the starters. All the rest had losing records. Again on the positive side, each had more innings pitched than hits allowed and more strikeouts than walks.

So Washington looks like a team that isn’t very good, but could improve. Milan is doing well and should have several years left (He would play until 1922 and steal 495 bases). Johnson is beginning the run that will make him arguably the greatest of all pitchers. The rest of the staff has potential, but isn’t any great shakes. As for the rest of the hitting, well maybe. Or maybe not.

Opening Day, 1910: Washington

April 22, 2010

Walter Johnson

When George Washington died in 1799, former Revolutionary War leader Lighthorse Harry Lee (who became most famous for being the father of Robert E. Lee) gave this eulogy, “Washington, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” In baseball this was frequently paraphrased, “Washington, first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” The 1909 season ended with the Senators in last place, 56 games out and 20 games out of seventh. There was little prospect for 1910 to be significantly better. 

At the end of the 1909 season, the Senators canned manager Joe Cantillon, replacing him with Jimmy McAleer. Now there was an upgrade. McAleer was the just fired manager of the Browns who managed to finish exactly one spot ahead of Washington in the standings, seventh (OK, they were 20 games closer to first, but still ya gotta wonder). 

The infield underwent change at the corners and up the middle (except at shortstop). Former backup Bob Unglaub replaced Jiggs Donahue at first and Kid Elberfeld came over from New York to play third. Former starter Wid Conroy now became the man off the bench. George McBride stayed at short and Red Killefer (Bill’s brother) became the new second baseman. Killefer came over from Detroit late in 1909 and moved into the starting job when the new season began. Germany Schaefer, who had done a lot of the 1909 work at second, went to the bench. 

The outfield saw one new man and one change of position. Jack Lelivelt moved from right field to left and Doc Gessler, another player who came over in mid-1909 (this time from New York) took the right field slot. Lead off hitter Clyde Milan remained in center. Conroy, the backup infielder, doubled as the fourth outfielder. 

The catcher was Gabby Street. He was a standard no hit, great field catcher of the era. Much later he went on to win a World Series as a manager with the Cardinals in 1931. Rookie Eddie Ainsmith was his backup. 

The pitching staff was uneven. Walter Johnson was the ace. His 1909 was forgettable, but when you’re Walter Johnson there’s always the possibility that the next year will be great. Bob Groom, Dolly Gray, Tom Hughes, and Charlie Smith were the other 1909 starters. Groom led the American League in walks (105) and Smith was traded during the season. Johnson was back, as were Groom and Gray. Dixie Walker (not the 1940s outfielder), who had pitched four games the previous season, took over one starting slot. Doc Reisling, who pitched 10 games in 1909, took the other. Besides Johnson, it wasn’t a particularly distinguished staff. 

The Senators, like most lower division teams, did a lot of tinkering with their roster between 1909 and 1910. They managed to find a couple of players who were pretty good (Milan and Street) and then there was Johnson. Every fourth day they were guaranteed of being competitive. It was the other three days that were the problem.This concludes a team by team look at the Major Leagues in 1910.

I intend to continue looking at 1910 for the balance of the season, but will concentrate on major events (there’s another no hitter, Cy Young wins his 500th game, etc) and a once monthly review of the standings and such. That will give all of us a break from the events of 100 years ago.