Posts Tagged ‘Sam Mele’

The Best Team Never to Win (2)

January 26, 2017

Mel Parnell

Having decided the 1948-1950 Boston Red Sox are the best team to never win a pennant, I spent the last post detailing some of the players. In this one I want to look at more of the roster. I have the battery and the bench left.

Almost all the catching was done by two men: Birdie Tebbetts and Mike Batts. Tebbetts was the primary catcher for the entire period. He’d been around for a while (1936) and 1952 would be his last season. He started with Detroit and participated in the 1940 World Series (the Tigers lost). He’d missed the 1945 Series win because of military service. He came to Boston in 1947 and remained through 1950. His triple slash line for 1950 was ..310/.377/.444/.821. It was easily his best season in Boston, but it needs to be noted he only played in 79 games that year. He had 18 home runs over the period. His 68 RBIs in 1948 was easily his highest total. He had 3.2 total WAR for the three seasons. He’d been an excellent catcher while in Detroit, but age and injury diminished his skills by 1948. Mike Batts was the primary backup. His best year was 1948 when his triple slash line looked like this: .314/.391/.441/.832 in 46 games (his high in games played was 75 in 1950. He managed eight total home runs and topped out at 34 RBIs in 1950. As a catcher he was nothing special. His total WAR for the three seasons was 1.2.

As usual, the bench saw much change over three seasons. The following were the primary bench players in 1948: Sam Mele and Wally Moses in the outfield, and infielders Billy Hitchcock and Jake Jones (all the bench players with more than four games played). Hitchcock hit .298, both Mele and Moses had two homers, and Moses led the bench with 29 RBIs and five steals. Together they had -1.3 WAR. In 1949 Hitchcock and Mele were back. Tommy O’Brien replaced Moses and Walt Dropo replaced Jones and new guy Lou Stringer joined the team as the members of the bench with 40 or more at bats. Dropo, who only got into 11 games, I dealt with in the last post. The others saw Stringer hit .268 and O’Brien have three homers and 10 RBIs. Between them they came up with -2 WAR. In 1950, except for Billy Goodman who showed up in the last post, no backup infielder played in more than 25 games. The main bench consisted of O’Brien, Clyde Vollmer, and Tom Wright in the outfield (where Williams was injured for part of the season), along with Buddy Roser who was the third catcher. Wright hit .318 and Vollmer had seven home runs and 37 RBIs. Vollmer’s 0.3 was the only WAR in positive numbers. The above makes it plain that the bench wasn’t a major team strength.

You can get away with a weak bench, but you can’t get away with a weak staff. As you should expect, over a period of three years there were major changes in the pitching staff as well as stalwarts who were there all three seasons. In the brief look at the various pitchers which is going to follow this paragraph, I am noting all hurlers who started double figure games along with the top two or three men in the bullpen.

In 1948, six men started double figure games: Joe Dobson, Mel Parnell, Jack Kramer, Ellis Kinder, Mickey Harris, and Denny Galehouse. Parnell and Harris were the lefties. Kramer led the team with 18 wins while Parnell’s 3.14 set the ERA pace. Only Harris, at 7-10 put up a losing record. Kramer, Galehouse, and Harris all gave up more hits than innings pitched, while Dobson’s 1.341 WHIP led the starters. Parnell, Kinder, Galehouse, and Harris all walked more men than they struck out. Parnell’s 139 was the top ERA+ and only Dobson (at 3.6) and Parnell (at 3.4) had pitching WAR above 2.0. Earl Johnson, Dave Ferriss, and Tex Hughson were the only other pitchers to appear in 10 or more games. Johnson’s 4.53 was the only ERA under five and all of them gave up more hits than they had innings pitched. Hughson’s 1.448 was the best WHIP and Hughson’s 0.0 WAR was best of the three.

The next season, 1949, saw Kramer, Parnell, Kinder, and Dobson remain from 1948. They were joined by Chuck Stobbs and Mickey McDermott, both lefties. Parnell and Kinder had great seasons. Parnell won 25 games, Kinder 23. Parnell’s ERA was 2.77, but he still walked more men than he struck out (1.327). His 8.2 WAR was second on the team to Ted Williams, while Kinder had 4.3 WAR. Of the others, only Kramer had a losing record, but only Dobson had an ERA under four. Additionally Kramer gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. Together they produced 2.1 WAR. The bullpen featured Hughson and Johnson, while adding Walt Masterson. Only Masterson had an ERA under 5.25. All three gave up more hits than they had innings pitched, Hughson’s 1.584 was the top WHIP, and together they managed all of 10.4 WAR.

By 1950 only Parnell and Dobson were left from the 1948 starters. Stobbs, who’d come in 1949 was still there, and Willard Nixon had come aboard as a new right hander. Among the bullpen men, Masterson and McDermott did the bulk of the work. The big change was that Kinder was now doing half of his work out of the bullpen (23 starts in 48 games pitched). Parnell (at 5.6) and Dobson (at 3.9) led the team in WAR and produced winning seasons with 18-10 and 15-10 records (Parnell listed first). Parnell’s ERA was 3.61 and Dobson’s was 4.18. Both Stobbs and Nixon had ERA’s north of five while Dobson and Nixon continued the trend of giving up more hits than they had innings pitched. Kinder did the same, but at 1.401 had the best WHIP. All the starters, except Kinder walked more men than they struck out. Both McDermott and Masterson put up ERA’s over five and both walked more opponents than they struck out (at least McDermott gave up fewer hits than he had innings pitched). Kinder’s WAR was a respectable 3.5, but Stobbs, Nixon, McDermott, and Masterson together totaled -0.3.

So there’s the team that played in Boston in the American League between 1948 and 1950 inclusive. They didn’t win, although they did come close, especially in 1948. Next time some thoughts on what went wrong.

 

 

50 Years On: the Team on the Rise

August 6, 2015
Al Worthington baseball card

Al Worthington baseball card

Between 1936 and 1964 the New York Yankees absolutely dominated the American League. They won every pennant but a handful. Detroit won two (1940 and 1945), Cleveland had two (1948 and 1954), St. Louis (1944), Boston (1946), and Chicago all got one (1959). All the others belonged to New York. That streak came to an end fifty years ago at the hands of a very unlikely franchise; a franchise that seldom won much of anything, the Washington Senators/ Minnesota Twins.

The 1965 Twins were new to Minnesota, having moved from Washington in 1961. They finished seventh in 1961, moved to second in 1962, dropped back to third the next season, then slid all the way to sixth in 1964. In 1965 they finally broke through, winning the AL pennant by seven games over the White Sox with the Yanks collapsing all the way to sixth, 25 games out of first. That was fifty years ago and that makes it as good a time as any to look at both teams.

The Twins went 102-60 in 1965. It was a pitching era dominated by great hurlers, especially in the National League. That being said, Minnesota won with their hitting. The team led the AL in runs, hits, doubles, and average. It came in second in triples, total bases, OBP, slugging and OPS. They were fourth in home runs and stolen bases. By contrast, the pitchers ranked in the middle of the pack in most stats. Their high was third in ERA (and in earned runs allowed) and the low was seventh in strikeouts. They did manage to finish second in saves, which was still a new stat and not viewed the same way we view it today.

The manager was Sam Mele. He was Minnesota’s first manager, taking up the reigns in 1961. He lasted through 50 games in 1967. His overall record was 524-436 and the Twins were his only managerial stint. After being fired, he ended up working for the Red Sox until his retirement.

The pitching staff was, as mentioned above, not the heart of the team, but it was sufficient to put a pennant on the flag pole in Minnesota. Four men started more than 12 games. Jim Kaat started 42 of them. He went 18-11 with an ERA of 2.83 (126 ERA+ and a BBREF WAR of 0.4). His WHIP was 1.248. He led the team with 154 strikeouts, but gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. He could also hit a little, racking up a home run, nine RBIs and a .247 average (an OPS+ of 63). The ace was another Jim, Jim “Mudcat” Grant. He was 21-7 with an ERA of 3.30 (ERA+ of 108 and a 2.7 WAR). Another Jim, this time Perry, started 19 games. He went 12-7 with a 2.63 ERA (136 ERA+ and 2.5 WAR). Veteran Camilo Pascual was 9-3 in 27 games, all starts, had an ERA of 3.35 (107 ERA+ and 0.7 WAR) and struck out 96. Dave Boswell was 20 and Jim Merritt was 21. Both started a few games and ended up with ERA+ numbers over 100.

The bullpen, which was set up differently in 1965 than today, was led by Al Worthington. He had 21 saves, a2.13 ERA, and a team leading ERA+ of 168. He got to the big leagues in 1953, didn’t do much as a starter, and by 1959 was in the bullpen. In 1965 he was 36 with three more good seasons still ahead of him (including an AL leading 18 saves in 1968).

Earl Battey did the bulk of the catching with Jerry Zimmerman as his primary backup. Battey was a decent catcher (his caught stealing rate was a league leading 48%) who hit reasonably well. In 1965 he hit .297, walked more than he struck out, had six home runs, and 60 RBIs. His 3.2 WAR was sixth on the team. Zimmerman hit .214.

The normal infield consisted of Don Mincher, Jerry Kindall, Zoilo Versalles, and Rich Rollins from first around the horn to third. Shortstop Versalles had a career year hitting .273 with a 115 OPS+ and 7.2 WAR. It got him the AL MVP award. He led off for Minnesota and stole 27 bases while being caught only five times. Hidden in an OBP of .319 are 122 strikeouts, about three for every walk he took. Mincher was a bopper who hit .251 with 22 home runs (fourth on the team). Both Kindall and Rollins were mediocre hitters, who by World Series time were spending a lot of time on the bench. Kindall hit all of .196 and was replaced by Frank Quilici, who at least hit .200 (actually .208). Rollins’ problem was simple; he had to make room for Harmon Killebrew. Killebrew was hurt during the year and Rollins replaced him. When “Killer” returned, Rollins was bench material. Killebrew was problematic at best at third. Never much of a fielder (to call the arm “scatter arm” is to do a grave injustice to “scatter armed” infielders everywhere), Killebrew played third like he should have been a first baseman (or an outfielder, or a designated hitter, or…), but the Twins needed the bat and Mincher was at first. Killebrew hit .269 with 25 home runs in 400 at bats. He had 75 RBIs and 72 walks (to go with 69 strikeouts) and put up an OPS+ of 145 to go with 4.3 WAR (third on the team). In other words, it was your normal Harmon Killebrew year.

The outfield was the domain of five men: Bobby Allison, Jimmie Hall, Tony Oliva, Joe Nossek, and Sandy Valdespino. Both Allison and Hall had power. Each hit at least 20 home runs (23 for Allison, 20 for Hall) while Valdespino was a superior fielder. The star was Oliva. He hit a league leading .321 to win his second consecutive batting title. His 185 hits also led the AL. He had 16 home runs and 98 RBIs to go 107 runs scored and 283 total bases. His OPS+ was 141 and his WAR 5.4. Other than the players listed above, no player appeared in more than 25 games.

The Twins made a run at the World Series title, ultimately losing in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In both 1966 and 1967 they finished second, then slid to seventh in 1968. They rebounded in 1969 to win the first ever American League West title. They would lose a playoff to Baltimore three games to none. They would repeat in 1970, again losing the playoff to Baltimore, then fall back to third and ultimately fail to make another playoff until the 1985 season when they finally won a World Series, the first since the team was in Washington all the way back in 1924.