Some Notes on Walter Johnson

You probably have a decent, but somewhat vague, idea of exactly what the Big Train accomplished in baseball. You can look through his career numbers, but it’s worth spelling out some of his more remarkable stats to highlight his uniqueness and some of the best arguments his backers can make for declaring him the greatest pitcher ever.

Johnson threw 110 shutouts, including 8 years with 7 or more shutouts. He had 12 years of 20 or more wins, including 69 wins in 1912 and 1913 combined. His 1.59 ERA for the decade of the 1910s, when he averaged 7 shutouts a year, was good for a cumulative ERA+ of 183, which, as his Baseball-reference Bullpen entry notes, would rank as ten of the top 100 single seasons for ERA+ if you divided it into 10 individual years. In the 1910s, Johnson had an average of 343 innings pitched per year. And, he recorded 20 saves. (He finished in the top 10 in the A.L. for saves 11 times.)

He was first in the A.L. in strikeouts 12 times. His 2.17 career ERA is first among starting pitchers who spent a sizable amount of their careers after the deadball era ended, with Pete Alexander’s 2.56 the next closest among starters.

Johnson had 5914 1/3rd innings pitched, the equivalent of 30 seasons at 200 innings a year, which strikes me as similar to thinking of how matching Rickey Henderson’s 1406 steals would require 50 steals a year for 28 years. His two years of >300 strikeouts, in 1910 and 1912, were the last in MLB until Bob Feller came along, and he was the last to do it twice until Sam McDowell and Sandy Koufax in the mid-1960s.

As for hitting, the Big Train hit at least .270 four times in the 1920s, peaking at .433(!) in 1925, when he went 42-97, slugging .577, with an OPS+ of 163. That, I would guess, is a record for starting pitchers, or at least a record for starters older than 35. Then, in 1927, at age 39, he hit .348 over 46 at-bats. He slugged above .400 five times, twice in the 1910s.

Johnson’s career spanned 1907 through 1927: in that time, the Senators’ cumulative winning percentage was .492, quite a bit better than I would have guessed. The Senators won .506% of their games during the 1910s, his prime, and won 90+ games 4 times in the Big Train’s career. But, they were .325% in his rookie 1907 season, and .276% in 1909, which are probably the two worst records posted by a team with a great, great player who was playing relatively well. The 1935 Braves, at 38-115, had Babe Ruth for a couple months, but he hit .181 in 72 at-bats.

Published in: Uncategorized on January 24, 2015 at 9:48 am  Comments (3)  

The 20 Leading Singles Hitters in MLB History

I’ve classified the hitters who rank in the top 20 for career singles hit (seasons played in parentheses, followed by the number of singles hit). These three are the sluggers:
Hank Aaron  (23) 2294
Carl Yastrzemski (23) 2262
Stan Musial (22) 2253

These are the “singles hitters”:
Pete Rose (24) 3215
Eddie Collins (25) 2643
Cap Anson (27) 2614
Willie Keeler (19) 2513
Rod Carew (19) 2404
Tony Gwynn  (20) 2378
Nap Lajoie  (21) 2341
Ichiro Suzuki (14) 2311
Omar Vizquel (24) 2264

These are the hitters who, while not great sluggers, mixed all four kinds of hits in relatively even measure:
Ty Cobb (24) 3053
Derek Jeter (20) 2595
Honus Wagner (21) 2424
Tris Speaker (22) 2383
Paul Molitor (21) 2366
Jesse Burkett (16) 2273
Sam Rice (20) 2271
Wade Boggs  (18) 2253

I don’t have a great argument to make here, but it’s interesting to notice things like Jeter having more singles than either Willie Keeler or Rod Carew, and Aaron, Yastrzemski, and Musial being separated by only 41 singles-and, Aaron leading the group of three in singles hit.

Published in: Uncategorized on January 13, 2015 at 9:41 am  Comments (1)  

.400 Hitters Before the 1900s

These are the 15 pre-1900 seasons in which a batter hit .400 or better (ranked from highest to lowest average):
Hugh Duffy
Tip O’Neill
Ross Barnes 
Willie Keeler
Tuck Turner 
Sam Thompson 
Fred Dunlap 
Jesse Burkett (1896)
Ed Delahanty (1899)
Jesse Burkett (1895)
Ed Delahanty (1895)
Ed Delahanty (1894)
Billy Hamilton 
Pete Browning 
Hughie Jennings

How many of these 12 names do you recognize? Seven of them are Hall of Famers. I had never heard of Turner before looking this up.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 19, 2014 at 9:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap’s 1884 Season

In 1884, Dunlap hit .412, and slugged .621, for a 1.069 OPS, good for an 256 adjusted OPS+ ranking. That ranks second only to Barry Bonds’ 3 best seasons in MLB history, and is sandwiched between Bonds’ 3 seasons and 3 Babe Ruth seasons. Dunlap hit 13 homers, 8 triples, and 39 doubles, in just 101 games: he scored 160 runs, or 1.6 per game.

Why is he so little known? He’s not in the Hall of Fame, he played in the 1880s for the most part, and his 1884 season was for the St. Louis Maroons of the Union Association. And, he did not hit better than .326, or a .452 slugging percentage, in any other season.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 2, 2014 at 9:36 am  Leave a Comment  

A Brief Comparison of the Two Bay Area Dynasties: the 1971-75 A’s and 2010-14 Giants

The A’s cumulative winning percentage was .594, a 95-65 average record. They won 21 postseason games, but all were in the three title years: they were swept in both the 1971 ALCS and the 1975 ALCS, which is, in a way, similar to the Giants not making the playoffs in 2011 and 2013. Their WAR leaders, as Baseball-reference has it, were, from ‘71-‘75, Vida Blue (8.6), Joe Rudi (6.1), Reggie Jackson (7.8), Catfish Hunter (6.9), and Reggie again (6.7). The A’s scored a total of 3,500 runs in the five years, and allowed 2793 runs, an average of 559 per year.

The Giants’ cumulative winning percentage was .538, an 87-75 average record. They won 34 postseason games. Their WAR leaders, as Baseball-reference has it, were, from ‘10 to ‘14, Aubrey Huff (5.7), Pablo Sandoval (6.1), Buster Posey (7.3), Posey again (5.5), and Madison Bumgarner (5.3). The Giants scored a total of 3,279 runs in the five years, an average of 656 per year, and allowed 3115 runs, an average of 623 per year.

Given the sizable regular season advantage, in terms of both run differential and won-loss record, that the A’s have on the Giants, it’s worth noting that the A’s lost eight World Series games, but the Giants lost just four. While the Giant got by with just one manager, Bruce Bochy, in their 5-year stretch, the A’s needed Dick Williams and then Alvin Dark to manage them to the playoffs five times.

Published in: Uncategorized on November 13, 2014 at 10:43 am  Comments (1)  

Comparing Orel Hershiser’s September and October, 1988, to Madison Bumgarner’s September and October, 2014

A while ago I did a brief post on this blog comparing Orel Hershiser’s scoreless streak in 1988 to Drysdale’s streak in 1968. Orel’s streak began with 4 scoreless innings in a 4-2 victory over Montreal on August 30: this table covers the rest of the streak:


Sept. 5 Atlanta (Road) 9 4 0 0 1 8 3-0
Sept. 10 Cincinnati (Home) 9 7 0 0 3 8 5-0
Sept. 14 Atlanta (Home) 9 6 0 0 2 8 1-0
Sept. 19 Houston (Road) 9 4 0 0 0 5 1-0
Sept. 23 San Francisco (Road) 9 5 0 0 2 2 3-0
Sept. 28 San Diego (Road) 10 4 0 0 1 3 1-2

Continuing from that list, here is a graphic from Baseball-Almanac of Orel’s postseason performances in 1988:

And here, from Yahoo Sports, is the game log tracking Madison Bumgarner’s performances in September and October of 2014:

One decent way to compare these two is to note that Orel gave up 7 runs in the two months, which equals the 7 runs Bumgarner allowed in the postseason. Also, Hershiser pitched on fewer than 4 days rest 7 different times in the two months, while Bumgarner did that once. It’s not discrediting Bumgarner’s achievement at all to note that it fell quite a ways short of what Hershiser did. Even staff aces aren’t expected to do as much in the 2010s as in the 1980s.

Published in: Uncategorized on November 1, 2014 at 6:59 am  Comments (3)  

A Short Post About the 1975 through 1989 Kansas City Royals

Over these 15 seasons, the Royals posted an 86-72 average won-loss record, for a .544 cumulative winning percentage.
In 8 of the 15 seasons, 1975-1989, the Royals got at least 90 wins, including a peak of 102 in 1977. They were in the playoffs 7 times.
They got 90+ wins each year from 1975 through 1978, and had just 1 year from ’75-’89 of fewer than 79 wins (not counting strike-shortened 1981): 1986, a 76-win season.
This excellence made them, I’d guess, the most successful expansion franchise in the majors for quite a while. Until when? Maybe when the Blue Jays won their two World Series in 1992 and 1993.
Compare the Royals’ showing over these 15 years to their 2014 record of 89-73, a .549 winning percentage, and their 2013 record of 86-76, a .531 winning percentage.
I’ve tried to make this post be about more than just the 1985 Royals, but I close by noting that Bret Saberhagen was apparently the last ’85 Royal in the majors. His last year, 2001, was spent with the Red Sox.

Published in: Uncategorized on October 18, 2014 at 5:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Comparing the Best Players on the Two Teams Without a World Series Appearance

These are the best players in Seattle Mariners history that people can think of as M’s-that is, they had at least a few of their prime seasons with the team, enough time for a sizable number of the team’s fans to develop strong memories of them. They are: Ken Griffey, Edgar Martinez, Ichiro, Jay Buhner, John Olerud, Adrian Beltre, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, Felix Hernandez, Omar Vizquel. And, for managers, Lou Piniella (the only M’s manager aside from Lloyd McClendon with an above .500 record) and Dick Williams.

The same list for the Expos/Nationals: Tim Raines, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Vladimir Guerrero, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Dennis Martinez, Steve Rogers (the classic Expos pitcher), Rusty Staub, Ryan Zimmerman. And, for managers, Felipe Alou and Frank Robinson. (You could add players such as Mark Langston and Marquis Grissom to both of these lists, but I had to stop somewhere.)

The Expos/Nationals have had one position player with a season WAR above 8: Gary Carter, once. Meanwhile, M’s position players have reached 8 WAR 8 times: A-Rod 3 times, Griffey 3 times, Ichiro once, and Brett Boone once.

Here is a proposed All-Star team for the Mariners:
catcher: Dan Wilson
third base: Beltre
shortstop: Rodriguez
second base: Boone
first base: Olerud or Alvin Davis
left: Ichiro
center: Griffey
right: Buhner
pitcher: Johnson or Hernandez

The same lineup for the Expos:
catcher: Carter
third base: Ryan Zimmerman
shortstop: Hubie Brooks
second base: Jose Vidro
first base: Andres Galarraga
left: Raines
center: Dawson
right: Guerrero
pitcher: Rogers or Pedro

I am not very familiar with the Expos/Nationals history, but even allowing for a couple mistakes in my selection of their All-Stars, it’s clear that if they played 50 games, the M’s All-Stars would beat the Montreal/D.C. All-Stars more than half the time. I think the biggest question, then, is: why haven’t the Mariners been in a World Series?

Published in: Uncategorized on October 12, 2014 at 4:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

BBA Award Ballots

This post gathers together the Baseball Bloggers Alliance History Chapter award voting for 2014 in MLB. My ballot for the Walter Johnson (Pitcher of the Year) award in the AL is:
1 Felix Hernandez
2 Corey Kluber
3 Chris Sale
4 Jon Lester
5 Max Scherzer

In the NL:
1 Clayton Kershaw
2 Johnny Cueto
3 Adam Wainwright
4 Cole Hamels
5 Doug Fister

Mark Aubrey with Baseball Nuggets handled the Willie Mays (Rookie of the Year) awards. He went with, in the AL:
1 Jose Abreu
2 Masahiro Tanaka
3 Matt Shoemaker

In the NL:
1 Jacob deGrom
2 Billy Hamilton
3 Yangervis Solarte

For the Connie Mack (Manager of the Year) awards, my choices are, in the AL:
1 Buck Showalter
2 Lloyd McClendon
3 Mike Scioscia

In the NL:
1 Bruce Bochy
2 Clint Hurdle
3 Matt Williams

For Goose Gossage (Reliever of the Year), in the AL, I have:
1 Wade Davis
2 Greg Holland
3 Zach Britton

In the NL:
1 Craig Kimbrel
2 Jonathan Papelbon
3 Mark Melancon

The Stan Musial (MVP) ballots, for the AL:

1 Mike Trout
2 Michael Brantley
3 Josh Donaldson
4 Adam Jones
5 Felix Hernandez
6 Alex Gordon
7 Victor Martinez
8 Jose Bautista
9 Jose Altuve
10 Robinson Cano

The following is Mark Aubrey’s ballot for National League MVP:

1  Clayton Kershaw
2  Giancarlo Stanton
3  Andrew McCutcheon
4  Anthony Rendon
5  Jonathan Lucroy
6  Buster Posey
7  Adam Wainwright
8  Jason Heyward
9  Anthony Rizzo
10 Josh Harrison

Published in: on October 10, 2014 at 5:15 pm  Comments (6)  

Some Measures of the Phillies’ Long Futility, and Brief Success

The Philadelphia Phillies appeared in the postseason once from 1916 through 1975, which I suppose is an unequaled streak of futility in MLB history. The Phillies’ record in those 60 seasons was 3973-5286, not counting being swept by the Yankees in the 1950 World Series. Their average season record from 1916 through 1975 was 66-88. The Phillies have lost 100 games 13 times, all 13 times coming before the 162-game schedule began in 1962. From 1916 through 1961 they finished 8th out of 8 teams 20 times, then escaped the cellar in the 7 years of a single-division, 10-team National League. When division play began, they finished 5th or 6th in the 6-team N.L. East each year from 1969 through 1973.

I don’t know how people rank the performance of the MLB franchises, but the Phillies, with the exception of two stretches in which they could have assembled dynasties if things had gone a little bit better, have been remarkably bad. In the first would-be dynasty, they went to the playoffs 6 times in 8 years, 1976 through 1983, with an average record of 88-67 in that time, and got to two World Series. In the second, they made it to the playoffs 5 years in a row, but now appear to be in another extended losing stretch.

The Phillies have won 100 games three times: in none of the three seasons did they make it to the Series. On the other side, as noted, they haven’t lost 100 games in a season in the 50+ years since they were first given 8 more games in which to get to 100 losses, which strikes me as one of the more surprising facts about the 30 MLB franchises.

Published in: Uncategorized on September 27, 2014 at 6:12 pm  Comments (1)  

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