Posts Tagged ‘Early Wynn’

“The Biggest Upset Since Harry Truman”

November 24, 2014
Dusty Rhodes

Dusty Rhodes

The death of Alvin Dark got me looking at the 1950s Giants. So I was reading an article on Willie Mays the other day. That article got me thinking about the 1954 World Series, so I started doing some research on it. In doing so, I ran across another article that made the claim that makes the title of this article (see how A leads to B leads to C, etc.). In 1948 Truman was supposed to lose to Thomas Dewey and didn’t. In 1954 the New York Giants were supposed to lose to the American League record-breaking Cleveland Indians.

The Indians won 111 games in 1954, a record since surpassed. They did it primarily by beating up on the AL also-rans, but it was still a formidable team. Hall of Fame pitchers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn were the mainstays of the mound. Fellow Hall of Famer Bob Feller was in the twilight of his career, but still put up 13 wins, while Mike Garcia had 19. In the bullpen Don Mossi, Ray Narleski, and Hall of Fame pitcher Hal Newhouser provided relief work. Second baseman Bobby Avila won a batting title, Larry Doby led the AL in home runs and RBIs, and Al Rosen was fourth in the league in slugging and OPS, fifth in OBP and home runs. For manager Al Lopez it was a formidable team.

Their opponent was the New York Giants, led my Leo Durocher. Although not as seeming invincible as the Indians, the Giants were also good. They won 97 games with Johnny Antonelli, Ruben Gomez, and Sal Maglie on the mound. Hall of Fame reliever Hoyt Wilhelm provided much of the relief work as the premier right hander out of the bullpen. Marv Grissom complimented him from the left side. Outfielder and Hall of Famer Willie Mays led the National League in batting, slugging, triples, OPS, and OPS+ (just your typical Mays year). Don Mueller hit over .300, while Monte Irvin coming off a down year completed the outfield. Hank Thompson and Al Dark both had 20 home runs, and pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes had 15.

Game one is primarily famous for Willie Mays making the great catch in center field to keep the game tied. Rhodes later won it with a home run in the tenth inning. Game two was also close with the Giants winning 3-1 and Rhodes again contributing a home run. Moving to Cleveland for game three, the Giants took control and won game three 6-2. They were already ahead by six runs when Cleveland finally scored their first run. Game four was something of a foregone conclusion. The Giants put up seven runs before Cleveland scored and coasted to a 7-4 victory to close out the Series.

This brings up two obvious questions: “What went wrong for the Indians?” and “What did the Giants do right?” They are, of course, two parts of a single question, “what the heck happened to cause the Indians to lose and the Giants to win?”

The Cleveland pitching staff had a terrible World Series. They had a 4.84 ERA, gave up 33 hits and 21 runs (19 earned) in 35.1 innings. Garcia started one game and ended up with an ERA of 5.40. He gave up three earned runs and four walks in five innings (he did manage to strike out four). Lemon was worse. In two games he gave up 16 hits, 10 earned runs, and eight walks in 13.1 innings (with 11 strikeouts). The bullpen (and Early Wynn) did much better, although Newhouser gave up a run, a hit, and a walk without getting anybody out.

The hitting wasn’t much better. Of the starters, only Vic Wertz (who hit the famous ball that Mays caught) hit above .250 (Rosen hit right on .250). He and Hank Majeski tied for the team lead with three RBIs, while Wertz and Al Smith were the only players with more than one run scored (each had two). Larry Doby struck out four times

The Giants pitching did better. It’s ERA was 1.46, giving up six total earned runs (and three unearned–the Giants had seven errors) and 26 hits in 37 innings. Maglie’s 2.57 ERA was the team high. Neither Grissom nor Wilhelm gave up a run out of the bullpen.

New York hitting beat Cleveland to death. Dark, Mueller, Rhodes, and Thompson all hit over .350 while both Mays and catcher Wes Westrum both topped .250. Rhodes had seven RBIs, Thompson scored six runs, and both Mays and Mueller scored four runs. Irvin (who had a bad Series) and Westrum led the team with three strikeouts, while Mays walked four times. Rhodes OPS was 2.381 (Wertz at 1.493 topped the Indians starters).

There was no Series MVP in 1954 (it began the next year), but most people presume Rhodes would have won it. Maybe, but the entire Giants team did well (except Irvin and Whitey Lockman).

It was, besides being a huge upset, a fluke World Series. Cleveland had not finished first since 1948 and wouldn’t do so again until 1995. For the Giants, it was their first since 1950 and they wouldn’t be back until 1962 when they were no longer the New York Giants, but had become the San Francisco Giants. The next year it would be back to the normal Yankees-Dodgers World Series.

Bring on the Bullpen

October 17, 2011

Larry sherry

One of the things that I keep hearing the postseason announcers say is how important the bullpen is to teams, especially Texas and St. Louis. Well, there’s no arguing with them about the importance of the bullpen, but that’s been true for a long time. All the way back in 1959 there was a pretty obscure World Series played between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. That Series was important for a lot of reasons. The Sox were in their first World Series since the Black Sox Scandal. The Dodgers were the first champions from the West Coast. But it was also a landmark in bullpen use.

A brief rundown of the Series is important here. The ChiSox won the first game behind Early Wynn, that year’s Cy Young Award winner (there was only one Cy Young Award that season), then the Dodgers won three in a row. The Sox came back in game five to win a 1-0 thriller that introduced the nation at large to a  struggling lefty named Sandy Koufax (who would later win three of those one-a-year Cy Young Awards). Then the Dodgers put away the Sox in game six to claim their second ever World Series victory and the first for any West Coast team.

Those barebones are true, but they don’t mention the bullpens. Both were important to the teams, especially Los Angeles. The 1959 World Series saw a record for bullpen use. For the first time ever no starting pitcher (on either team) pitched a complete game. Not one. In every game both teams made use of their bullpens to hold leads, keep the score from getting worse, shutting down the opponents, just all those things that bullpens are supposed to do.

The Chisox used Gerry Staley as their main man out of the ‘pen. He pitched four games in the Series picking up a win and a save. Dick Donovan also picked up a save, coupling it with a loss. But the big bullpen star was Dodgers right-hander Larry Sherry. Without him, the Dodgers simply don’t win. He appeared in five games (all but game one), getting a three inning save in game 2, and a two inning save in game 3. In game four he pitched the last two innings to pick up the win, and in the final game he entered the game with one out in the fourth and finished the game for the win.  And to top all that off, he pinch hit in game five, grounding out third to first. Needless to say (but of course I am going to) he was chosen the World Series MVP, the first reliever to gain the honor. In fairness to others, the award was only established in 1955.

So good bullpen use isn’t new. It goes back a long, long way. But its finest hour might simply have been 1959.

El Senor

May 6, 2011

 

Al Lopez calling out for a pizza at Chicago

Between the coming of Casey Stengel in 1949 and the end of the Yankees Dynasty in 1964, the Bronx Bombers won every American League pennant except two. Those were the 1954 pennant won by Cleveland and the 1959 pennant won by Chicago. Know what those teams had in common? Well, the both featured Early Wynn on the mound. They also had Larry Doby, although Doby, a center piece in 1954 only had a few games with Chicago in 1959. They also had Al Lopez as their manager. Between 1949 and 1964 Lopez was the only non-Yankees manager to win an AL pennant.

Lopez was from Florida and got to Brooklyn for a three game cup of coffee at age 19 in 1928. He settled in as the Dodgers’ front line catcher in the 1930s, playing a career high 140 games in 1934. Early on he earned the nickname “El Senor” (roughly, “The Man”). He stayed with Brooklyn through 1935, then went to Boston (the Braves not the Red Sox) and Pittsburgh before finishing up with Cleveland in 1947, the year before they won the last pennant before the Yankees dominated the next 16 years. For his career he hit .261, slugged .337 with an OBP of .326 for an OPS of .663 (OPS+ of 83). He hit 51 home runs, 206 doubles, and 1992 total bases. He scored 613 runs and knocked in another 652. By the time he was through he had caught more games than any catcher in Major League history, a record that lasted into the 1980s. As a backup catcher for the latter part of his career, he was considered especially knowledgable about the game and considered an exceptional handler of pitchers. I’ve discovered that backup catchers, particularly aging ones, frequently get labeled as knowledgable and a handler of pitchers. I’ve never known if that was true or simply way of justifying keeping a low-cost player who wasn’t going to appear in many games around.

For Lopez it was apparently true. In 1951 he took over managing the Cleveland Indians. In 1950 the Indians finished fourth. With essentially the same roster, Lopez guided them to second in his rookie year as manager. They stayed there the next two years, then swept to a pennant in 1954. They set an AL record with 111 wins (not bested until 1998). But there was a flaw in that stat. They beat up on the second division teams and had only moderate success against the second and third place teams. Of course in the World Series you don’t get to play a second division team and Cleveland was swept by the Giants led by Willie Mays and Dusty Rhodes.

Lopez stayed with Cleveland through 1956, never finishing below second. In 1957 he jumped to Chicago and again guided the White Sox to a second place finish (you starting to notice a pattern here?). The Sox were also second in 1958, then won their first pennant since 1918 in 1959. They lost the World Series in six games. The White Sox dropped to third in 1960, fourth in 1961, and fifth in 1962 before bouncing back to second in 1963. They stayed there until Lopez’s retirement after the 1965 season.   He remained retired until Chicago brought him back in 1968 for two short stints (they fired a manager, had Lopez replace him as interim, then fired the new guy and had Lopez finish out the season). He managed 17 games into 1969 then retired permanently. For his career he was 570-354 for a .617 winning percentage. Between his debut in 1951 and 1959 his teams never finished lower than second. He had three years outside the top two slots, then finished second three more times. In fifteen full seasons Al Lopez teams finished lower than second three times. That’s quite a feat in the American League when you are never the Yankees manager. He made the Hall of Fame in 1977 and died in 2005 at age 97.

I have, in previous posts, be critical of managers. I’ve said I have little idea how to judge the effect of a manager on a team. Given the talent of the 1927 Yankees I could have won a few games as manager (write in Ruth and Gehrig a lot and pitch Hoyt and Pennock a bunch). I could have eked out a few wins for the 1930s Yankees (pitch Ruffing and Gomez, bat DiMaggio and Gehrig three and four). Heck, I could have even managed the 1962 Mets to 140 or so losses (instead of 120). Talent seems to matter most. But somehow Lopez is different. He wins every time. Yep, he has good talent, but he also wins with weaker teams like the mid-1960s White Sox. In 1954 he acquires Hal Newhouser from Detroit, shifts him to reliever and gets one last good year out of the future Hall of Fame pitcher. Obviously I like Lopez a lot and think he made a major difference to his teams. For most of his career he was overshadowed by Stengel, which is too bad.

Go-Go

May 5, 2011

Minnie Minoso, Jim Landis, Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox in 1959

There are those times I look at a baseball team and wonder, “How the heck did this team win?”  Sometimes it’s obvious, other times obscure. For a good case of obscure I give you the 1959 Chicago White Sox, the “Go-Go Sox”.

First, a brief review of the players is in order. The infield consisted of, from first around to third: Earl Torgeson, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, and Bubba Phillips. During the year both Torgeson and Phillips had problems and by the World Series Billy Goodman was doing the bulk of the work at third while Ted Kluszewski had come over from Pittsburgh to hold down first. The outfield consisted of four players doing the bulk of the work: Al Smith, Jim Landis, Jim McAnany, and Jim Rivera (I always wondered how “Al” got into that mix). The catcher was Sherm Lollar. Norm Cash did much of the pinch-hitting work and stopgapped at first, Johnny Callison was the other outfielder, and Sammy Esposito did the back up work at second, short, and third.

How’d they do? well, they ended up sixth in runs (in an eight team league), sixth in hits, fourth in doubles, dead last in home runs, sixth in batting average, seventh in slugging, and sixth in OPS. The did finish first in steals and triples, and third in OBP. They ended up with an OPS+ of 91. Lollar led the team with 22 home runs and had the team high of 451 in slugging, a .796 OPS, and an OPS+ of 118. Aparicio led the American League in steals (56), and Fox hit .306, led the team in OBP (380), had 191 hits, and won the AL MVP award.

OK so the hitting wasn’t all that great so it has to be the pitching, right? Well, sort of. The team finished first in ERA and saves, runs and earned runs, which is good. It’s ERA+ was 155. But they gave up a lot of hits and were fifth in walks and fourth in strikeouts, which isn’t so good. In total, those aren’t bad numbers, but they are, at best, a mixed bag. The starters who gave the team these numbers were Early Wynn who led the team in wins and strikeouts and picked up the Cy Young Award that season (there was only one Cy Young Award in 1959). Bob Shaw, Dick Donovan, and the immortal Barry Latman completed the right-handed starters, and Billy Pierce was the sole lefty among the regulars. The bullpen was pretty good, especially for the era. Turk Lown led the team in saves (which wasn’t a stat yet), with Gerry Staley right behind. Ray Moore and lefty Rudy Arias were the only other pitchers with more than 25 games.

All this, plus a league leading  fielding  percentage, got them a five game victory over Cleveland, manager Al Lopez’s old team. I’m not sure how much credit goes to Lopez. He’d been there three years, finished second twice, then broke through. But then the Chisox had finished third the year before Lopez arrived.

They got to the World Series, won game one, lost the next three, won game five, then lost the Series in six games to a Los Angeles team that, frankly, wasn’t a lot better than they were. Kluszewski had a great Series hitting .391, driving in 10 runs, hitting three home runs, and tying (with Fox) for the team lead in hits with nine. Wynn and Shaw both won a game and Wynn led both teams with 19 strikeouts, but  posted an ERA over five. By way of trivia, game five had the largest crowd in World Series history (The LA Coliseum will do that for you), so more people watched the Sox win a World Series game (1-0) than any other team.

It was the high point for them. By 1961 they were back to fourth and didn’t make a World Series again until 2005. Today they are noted mostly for having “invented” the modern running game. In doing so they showed both leagues the advantages and disadvantages of that style game. Aparicio had 56 steals, but scored only 98 runs, and had the second lowest OBP of the starters. Those 98 runs would have led only two other teams in the AL, sixth place Baltimore and seventh place Kansas City (and he would have tied for the lead with last place Washington). But their defense, of course, was that they won. Other teams tried it, a few succeeded, but the power game coupled with good pitching still dominates.

As the above should tell you, I’ve never been a big fan of this team. Aparicio and Fox were good up the middle and Wynn had one last good season, but there’s not a lot else going for them. Kluszewski is old, Callison will hit his stride with Philadelphia. Cash will have a good year in 1961 but will do it with Detroit. All in all, I rate them one of the weaker teams to win a pennant in the modern era.

An aside before anyone asks. Minoso, pictured above, was with Cleveland in 1959. He came to Chicago in 1960. The picture is of the fielding awards ceremony in 1960 (making the date of the caption wrong—sorry).

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.