Posts Tagged ‘Walt Dropo’

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.

 

 

The Best Team Never to Win

January 24, 2017
Marse Joe while with the Yanks

Marse Joe while with the Yanks

The Cubs have, over the last 60 years, been historically bad. Most years they weren’t in contention by the end of the first couple of days and went downhill from there. But there are a lot of other teams that didn’t win much, so I decided to look for what I considered the best team that never won.

Let me take a minute to define my terms. I’m looking for the team that was good, really good, but never won a pennant. As we move toward the modern era we get more teams making the postseason, so I decided that teams making a playoff could count, but they weren’t allowed to win even one round during the postseason. I did not sit down and laboriously go through stat after stat trying to find the team with the most runs, or the highest team WAR, or WHIP. I looked primarily at overall record and I decided that teams that were good, but unsuccessful, over a period of years were more what I was looking for than some one year wonder of a team. A team like the 1988 Mets didn’t win, but with essentially the same team, they’d won the World Series in 1986, so they weren’t eligible for this project. Several teams made the initial couple of cuts, but I found myself coming back over and over to a team that was very, very good, had an MVP performance, a Hall of Fame manager and a couple of Hall of Famers and still just couldn’t quite get over the top: the 1948-1950 Boston Red Sox.

Before getting into the specifics of the team, let me give you a brief look at the people involved. The primary manager was Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy. He’d won a pennant with the Cubs in 1928 then led the Yankees through most of the 1930s and into the 1940s, when he resigned in 1946. He remained out of the dugout until 1948 when he took over Boston. He remained at the helm until June 1950 when he left managing for good. His replacement was Steve O’Neill. O’Neill managed the Detroit Tigers to the 1945 World Series championship (over McCarthy’s old team, the Cubs), then was let go after falling off by 1948. He remained with Boston through 1951.

In what’s about to follow, I want to point out the statistics I quote will not be yearly, but will note the best number in the three year run. For example if Joe Klutz has his best batting average in 1948, his best OBP in 1949, and his highest slugging percentage and OPS in 1950 then his triple slash line will look something like this (year substituted for actual number): 1948/1949/1950/1950. His home run number might be 1950 and his RBI number from 1948. I’m doing this to give you some flavor of how good the players were over a period of years rather than going through each individual yearly. On the other hand cumulative stats will be for the three-year span. Hopefully, I’ll do this well enough to make sure I distinguish which stat type is which (confused?). I think it’s more in line with the length of time involved with this team.

The infield was essentially five guys. Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr held down second for the entire period. His triple slash line (again, the best number in the three years, not necessarily from the same year) was .309/.393/.519/.891. He hit 72 total home runs, his highest RBI number was 120 (1950), and he led the American League in triples with 11 in 1950. His highest hit total was 172 and he totaled 14.1 WAR over the period. He was also generally first or second in most of the major fielding statistics. Johnny Pesky and Vern Stephens held down the left side of the infield. Pesky spent ’48 and ’49 as the primary third baseman and moved to short in ’50. Stephens obviously went the other way. His triple slash line reads .312/.437/.388/.825 (all from 1950 in this case). He totaled six home runs, his highest RBI total was 69 and he managed a high of eight stolen bases over the period. He scored 347 total runs, had 185 hits in 1949, and totaled 10.7 WAR in the three-year stretch. Although his fielding numbers aren’t as good as Doerr’s, Pesky still shows up as a very good defensive player. Stephens wasn’t exactly a bad fielder, but his primary job was to wield the lumber. His triple slash line for the period peaks at .295/.391/.539/.930 with 98 home runs. He led the AL in RBIs in both 1949 and 1950 with his 159 in 1949 being the highest number. In 1948 he also managed to lead the AL in grounding into double plays. His WAR for the period was 15.1.

The other two guys were at first. Billy Goodman did more work at first than anyone else, but he wasn’t really a first baseman. He also spent a lot of time at second, third, and in the outfield (ultimately he played more games at second than at any other position). He hit well, winning the 1950 AL batting title. His best triple slash numbers were .354/.427/.455/.882 (all from 1950, a year he played no games at first). He hit five total homers in the period, had 68 RBIs in 1950, scored 91 runs (also in 1950–obviously his career year), and managed 5.2 total WAR. His replacement at first was Walt Dropo. He didn’t play at all in 1948 and had a cup of coffee in ’49. In 1950 he took over as the everyday first baseman. He led the AL in RBIs with 144, won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, had a triple slash line of .322/.378/.583/.961, led the league in total bases with 326, and posted 2.6 WAR. He also hit 34 home runs, had 180 hits, and scored 101 runs. All those were to be career highs. For his career he would put up 3.2 WAR, 2.6 of that in 1950.

The outfield belonged to four men: Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Al Zarilla, and Stan Spence. If you’re reading this you probably have a sense of Williams. He’s one of the dozen or so greatest players ever and he was excellent in the three years around 1950. His best triple slash line for the three years reads .369/,497/.650/1,141. He hit 96 home runs in the period, won the RBI title in 1949 with a career high 159, led the AL in runs, doubles, total bases at various times during the three year run. His WAR totals 21.5. He was injured for much of 1950, or his number might have been higher. He won the MVP Award in 1949. Stan Spence, on the other hand, is fairly obscure. He played both right field and first base in 1948, then was traded seven games into 1949. In 1948 he hit .235/,368/.391/.759 with 12 home runs and 61 RBIs. Zarilla was his replacement. He was with Boston in both ’49 and 1950 and had a better year in ’50. His triple slash line for 1950 is .325/.423/.493/.915. He had nine home runs both years, 145 total RBIs, had 32 doubles each year, and 4.6 total WAR. He was a decent outfielder, but is today probably most famous as the principal in the famous Dizzy Dean line “Zarilla slud into third.” Which leaves Dom DiMaggio, the center fielder. His triple slash numbers read .328/.4.14/.452/.866 (all are from 1950). He led the AL in stolen bases (15), triples (11), and runs 131) in 1950 (his best year) and put up 24 home runs, 384 runs, and 11.1 WAR over the period. His fielding stats show him as one of the best center fielders of the era.

Next time I want to look at the battery (both catchers and pitchers) as well as the bench. It’s a fine team. So I also want to look at what went wrong causing them to never reach the World Series.

 

 

 

 

 

The First Generation

February 23, 2011

I want to look at something I found that is just a bit unusual. I’ll be the first to admit that I looked at the initial generation of black players to make the Major Leagues as guys whose careers are incomplete. After all, so my argument went, they lost so much time to segregation that we only have a part of their career to study. Turns out that argument is only partially true. In the case of older players like Sam Jethroe or Luke Easter or Satchel Paige or Willard Brown it’s correct. But there is another group of first generation blacks who don’t fit at all into that argument. In what you’re about to read, do not forget that this is a  very small sample of players and is nothing like a definitive look at all the players of the era.

Among the players who first integrated the Major Leagues were a number of younger up and coming players. I looked at some of them with an eye toward determining if what we had was something like a full career. I took the players who integrated their teams prior to 1951 then eliminated those guys like Jethroe and the others mentioned above who I knew had established Negro League careers of long duration. I concentrated on their ages. There was some differences in the posted age of various players so I went with Baseball-Reference.com’s age (right or wrong, it is at least a starting point). By concentrating on the Rookies of the Year and a handful of other players who came quickly to mind I put together the following list of first generation players who were relatively young (At my age “young” is always relative) and spent time in the Negro Leagues before 1951: 20-Willie Mays; 21-Hank Thompson; 23-Larry Doby, Minnie Minoso,  Don Newcombe; 24-Jim Gilliam; 26-Roy Campanella; 28-Joe Black, Jackie Robinson; and 30-Monte Irvin. They average 24.6 years of age when they arrive in the Major Leagues, and if you leave out Irvin, the oldest, it’s 24.0. Now let’s be honest here. Obviously under a normal career progression, guys like Irvin are already passed their prime and both Black and Robinson are right in the heart of theirs. And Campanella is also different in that he’d been playing Negro League ball since age 16. So even within this group, a number have lost significant time to Negro League play, just not all. This list also leaves out players like Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks who come up later and, at least to me, aren’t quite members of that first generation of black Major Leaguers.

So I wondered was 24.6 “old” for a rookie in the 1947-1955 era? For comparison I took a like number of white players. I went to the Rookie of the Year list and took the white players from 1948 through 1955 trying to come up with 10 names, two of which were pitchers. Here’s the list: 21-Harvey Kuenn; 22-Roy Sievers, Herb Score; 23-Gil McDougald; 24-Bill Virdon, Wally Moon, Bob Grim; 25-Harry Byrd; 26-Alvin Dark, Walt Dropo.  The average age here is 23.8, or less than one year difference. And if you leave out Dropo (who with Dark is the oldest), you get 23.4.

The point of all this is not to compare the black players with the white players, although you can if you want. The point is that there is a group of Negro League players who arrive in the Major Leagues at about the same age as white counterparts so we may look at their Major League careers as being as substantially complete as those white counterparts. That doesn’t mean that special circumstances might have changed the age the player arrived in the Major Leagues, only that both groups arrive at roughly the same age. 

Of the black list above only Irvin and Joe Black are older than the oldest of the white players. Campanella is the same age as the oldest white player. As mentioned above, this doesn’t mean that the careers should be directly compared; only that the black players, like the white players, have careers that are substantially complete. It does mean that should you ask if Jim Gilliam was as good as Wally Moon (both were 24 when they arrived in the Majors), you can look over their career stats, and then make a judgement without wondering how much did Gilliam lose to his Negro League career. I think that’s worth noting. What you decide about either Gilliam and Moon is up to you.