Posts Tagged ‘Roy Spencer’

Beat Down: the 1927 Pirates

January 14, 2016
Paul Waner while with Pittsburgh

Paul Waner while with Pittsburgh

So if the Yankees of 1927 are all that great and won the World Series, who’d they beat? The answer is the 1927 Pittsburgh Pirates. They’re not as famous as their American League counterparts and are probably most famous for losing the ’27 World Series, but they were a legitimately good team that, because of what happened in the Series, are very underrated.

The manager was former Detroit Tigers shortstop Donie Bush, who’d played with Ty Cobb in a couple of World Series’. He had what was, for the mid-1920s, a fairly typical National League team. They hit for good average, had a lot of doubles and triples, but few home runs. Part of the reason the team had lots of doubles and triples and few home runs had to do with Forbes Field, their home park. It was 360 feet to left, 376 feet to right, and 442 feet to dead center. The alley between left and center went all the way to 462 feet. That meant, no matter the power, hitters were going to lose a lot of home runs, but gap power could produce doubles and triples. The Pirates led the NL in runs, hits, batting average, and OBP. They were second in slugging, OPS, total bases, triples, and batter strikeouts while showing third in doubles. The pitching staff wasn’t as good. They were fifth in ERA, fourth in strikeouts and home runs (much of that attributed to the park), third in runs and walks, and second in hits.

Joe Harris, George Grantham, Glenn Wright, and Pie Traynor were the infield (first to third). Harris hit .326 with 27 doubles, nine triples, no power (2.8 WAR–BBREF version), but had World Series experience in 1925 for the Senators (against the Pirates). Grantham hit .305 with eight home runs, good for third on the team. His WAR was 3.5. Wright was a good hitting shortstop. He hit .281 and his nine home runs tied for the team lead. His 105 RBIs were third on the Pirates, as were his 96 runs. Hall of Fame third baseman Pie Traynor hit .342 with 106 RBIs (3.9 WAR) and was considered the premier fielding third sacker of the era. It was, in other words, a good infield, but lacked either a Gehrig or Lazzeri. Hal Rhyne’s .274 and 17 RBIs were high among backup infielders who played 15 or more games. Two future stars, Hall of Famer Joe Cronin and shortstop Dick Bartell also played in a handful of games for the ’27 Pirates (one for Bartell, 12 for Cronin).

Despite having three Hall of Famers in it, the outfield was a problem for the Bucs. Paul Waner held down right field. His triple slash line read .380/.437/.549/..986 with an OPS+ of 154 (highest on the team) and a team leading 6.9 WAR. He had nine home runs, 18 triples, 42 doubles, 237 hits, 131 RBIs, and 342 total bases. All led the team and all those big numbers helped give him the NL League Award (an early version of the MVP) for 1927. His little brother Lloyd Waner patrolled center field. He was a good defensive outfielder who led off. He hit .355, scored a team high 133 runs, had 223 hits, 198 of them singles. His 14 stolen bases was second on the team. Hazen “Kiki” Cuyler was supposed to be the normal left fielder. He played 85 games, hit .309, had a team leading 20 stolen bases, and missed the entire World Series. He and manager Bush didn’t like each other (to be kind about it). There are differing stories about what happened between them, but Bush was so upset at Cuyler by Series time that he benched Cuyler for the entire World Series. Clyde Barnhart replaced him for the Series and for a lot of the season. Barnhart hit .319 but had neither power nor Cuyler’s speed. Backup outfielder Frank Brickell played in 32 games but had only 23 at bats. He hit .286. Adam Comorosky also got into 18 games, but batted 68 times. He hit all of .230.

Catching duties were split among three men: Johnny Gooch, Earl Smith, and Roy Spencer. None had 300 at bats, but Gooch had the most. He hit .258 with 17 doubles, and 48 RBIs, while Smith had five home runs, hit .270, and put up a .722 OPS. Spencer hit. 283 in 92 at bats.

They caught a staff that was decent, but today is mostly forgotten. Lee Meadows, Carmen Hill, Vic Aldridge, and Ray Kremer were the only men to start double figure games. All were right-handed and Hill and Aldridge gave up more hits than they had innings pitched. Hill was 22-11 with a 3.24 ERA (4.7 WAR) and a 1.224 WHIP. Meadows was 19-10 with an ERA of 3.40 (4.6 WAR), and a 1.273 WHIP. Kremer’s ERA was 2.47 with a 19-8 record (6.5 WAR, good for second on the team to Paul Waner) and a WHIP of 1.143. Aldridge went 15-10, had an ERA of 4.25 (0.0 WAR–try doing that very often) and a WHIP of 1.345. Only four other men pitched in double figure games. Johnny Morrison had three saves, Johnny Miljus had an ERA of 1.90, and Mike Cvengros was the only lefty. The lack of a  lefty would hurt them in the Series.

Pittsburgh had a good, a solid team in 1927. They won the National League pennant by a game and a half (over St. Louis), but they were clearly outclassed by the Yankees. They were big underdogs in the Series.

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.