TPA Ottoneu Draft – Monte Pfeffer’s Heifers

By Chris St. John

The Platoon Advantage (the site you are reading right now) started an ottoneu league with a few friends and here is my obligatory post about the draft. If I seem to post this begrudgingly, it is because I am. This is a mandatory post and my overlords here would fire me and sue me for all of the millions I am earning with this.

I picked my team name using the baseball-reference random page feature. It led me to a player named Monte Pfeffer with four career plate appearances and I liked the sound of it. I then found a rhyming word with Pfeffer and went with it. There is no historical information to confirm or deny the reports that Monte Pfeffer ever owned a heifer. Play-index bonus: Pfeffer is the only player to ever have a career in which he played in only one game, had four plate appearances, no walks and one hit by pitch.

I had never done an auction draft before, so I was a little worried about being behind in that area. Thankfully, this was a common theme throughout the draft room, which made me feel more comfortable. In order to have a plan of action, I googled “baseball auction draft strategy” and found the idea of nominating expensive players that I didn’t really want. This makes other teams spend more money so you are in a better position with the players you really want. This worked with my other strategy of taking really good young players, who turned out to be popular with everyone (imagine that).

The draft was definitely an experience. I spent about 10 hours in the draft room (over three days), excluding all of the time preparing beforehand. One reason it took so long to draft is because ottoneu teams have 40 spots to fill. However, this should still not take so long. The other problem was that each individual player auction took for…ev…er. Teams have 30 seconds to nominate a player. When a team is not in the draft room or is having an impossible time getting the drafting software to allow them to nominate anyone, this is a complete waste of 30 seconds. If this happens hundreds of times throughout the draft, you are wasting an hour or two just waiting on a team to be skipped. This could be fixed if a team was automatically skipped if they were not in the draft room or if the computer automatically nominated a player when the clock ran out.

The drafting software was buggy. There is a watch list that is useful to be prepared for the next nomination, but players who are purchased are not removed from the list until you refresh the page. The chat software was not reliable, so we used GChat instead. There were a few snafus with actual bidding as well. I remember one specific time when I tried to bid on Gary Brown. My bid went through with three seconds left. Then, my bid was deleted, the clock ran out and the other team got him instead. A few other players had problems with the screen freezing, but I never ran into that myself. There were also a few times where a drafter would bid on a a player, only to have his bid happen twice, basically overbidding himself. It would also be helpful if players were placed in a roster during the draft to show which teams need to fill which positions. This is a prominent feature on Yahoo and I use it often during the draft. Finally, there need to be sounds when a player is nominated and when your turn comes up. I missed a few of these because there was no notification.

I did enjoy the overall experience, though. I had a good time chatting with my league-mates and the auction was actually pretty fun. I kept myself busy the entire time, updating my spreadsheet with how much each player went for and finding who my next targets were. I will definitely not be doing another ottoneu league because I don’t have another 10 hours of free time to commit to a draft, but I do have a more open mind toward auction leagues in general.

I found out pretty early that people were willing to shell out big bucks for top players. In fact, at least 26 of the players chosen went for the highest values in the ottoneu points universe, led by Jacoby Ellsbury at $53. Here’s a chart of the average ottoneu price and how much each player went for in the auction:

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I used some different projections and the average market for different types of players to create a price that I would be willing to pay for each player. This helped me limit my spending early on. The only time I jumped in on an auction was with one of my cornerstone players. The early restraint allowed me to dominate those auctions and get the players I really wanted. I feel pretty good about my draft overall, but was a little aggravated at how much I had to pay for some of the players. The early overpay made me miss out on some players that I had valued far above average.

Finally, the part where I talk about my team. I’m fairly happy with it, though I don’t think I’m in a great position this year. I have a few young players who are still a year or two away from fully contributing and didn’t get the necessary depth to account for that. Here is my roster:

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Here’s how that breaks down in terms of cost:

I focused on young players and had some definite targets in mind, leading me to overpay for Stephen Strasburg and Mike Trout, most noticeably. I did miss out on some of the top pitching prospects, but I preferred to save my money until the end.

According to the average values, these are the players I most over and underpaid for:

I’m comfortable with most of the overpays, since Trout, Strasburg, Hosmer and Harper form a great future base. If they become what they are capable of, these could very well become huge discounts. Starlin Castro was my target at SS, but he went for $26. There were not many good young SS available after Cabrera, so I did overpay for him a bit. I’ll have to hope that his breakout last year was for real, even though I’ve already found that it probably isn’t.

The Ryan Howard pick was actually an accident. I nominated him for $2, thinking the bidding would bring his price up to $10 and someone else could have him. At that point, I already had Hosmer and Joey Votto at 1B, so another one was unnecessary. However, no one wanted him and I got him for the opening bid. This could be a great value next year if he remains healthy. Reynolds was one of the lone 3B left toward the end of the draft and I still didn’t have one. He had been a target all along and I waited for the right chance to grab him.

I’m happy with my team. I have Nick Markakis, a good group of prospects and a lot of talented youngsters who have already proven themselves in the Major Leagues. I may have trouble sticking to the top of the league this year, but feel like I have put myself in a good position to compete in the years to come.

What Is a Ground-Ball Pitcher?

Earlier today, Rob Neyer wrote a post about how to define a ground-ball pitcher. His conclusion:

More than 50 percent, and you’re a ground-ball pitcher. More than 55 percent and you’re an extreme ground-ball pitcher (if not quite Brandon Webb).

Well I wasn’t completely convinced, so I decided to do this for myself. I used Baseball Prospectus’s ground ball statistics and defined GB% as GB/Batted Ball (as they do). Here is a graph of GB% since 1950:

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The data from 2000-2002 only show outs, so those years are removed from this analysis. Throughout the 50s and 60s, GB% rose steadily. It held fairly constant until the early 80s, declined through the 90s and has been holding steady again throughout the 2000s. So the definition of a high ground-ball pitcher has changed throughout the years.

And how did I decide to define a high ground-ball pitcher? With z-scores, of course. For the more inquiring minds out there, here is a Q-Q plot for the 2011 data, including pitchers with more than 100 batted balls:

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Those three outliers are Jonny Venters, Brad Ziegler and Bobby Cassevah. The data do appear to have a normal distribution, so I’ll go ahead with the z-score analysis.

Very low to very high ground-ball pitchers are split up by standard deviation. Very low is 2 standard deviations below the mean and Very high is 2 SDs above the mean. Low and high are 1 SD above or below the mean. This table shows these percentages for pitchers for every year since 1950, excluding 2000-2002:

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And here are the most extreme ground-ball pitcher years. I filtered the results to show only pitchers with more than 300 batted balls, just to make it more interesting:

My conclusion? Over the past 25 years, a high ground-ball pitcher has a GB% over 54. An extreme ground-ball pitcher’s GB% is over 61.

If you have any questions, you can contact me in the comments below or on Twitter @stealofhome.

Which Free Agents Were Overpaid This Off-season?

By Chris St. John

This post has been in the work for five months. I wanted to see for myself how good each free agent signing was in terms of the market, so throughout the off-season, I kept track of how much money each Major League free agent signed for. I used each player’s past three seasons and included an aging curve to estimate how useful he will be to his team for the length of the contract. These are their stories (dun-dun):

I found the average of each player’s previous three years WAR from Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference and Baseball Prospectus. Then I used an aging curve to determine what a team might be expecting from the player in the future.

I split relief pitchers from all other players because their market is different than everyone else.

Buyouts are included in the guaranteed salary, but options are not. If a player has a 3 million dollar option with a 1 million dollar buyout, only the guaranteed buyout money is included in the average yearly figure. I also tried to exclude non-guaranteed contracts, though some may have slipped through the cracks (I barely caught Casey Blake’s).

This isn’t meant to be a highly precise representation of how teams valued players. If you read my work for any amount of time, you can tell that I shy away from factoring everything into an analysis. I prefer to do quick and dirty, in the ballpark type of stuff, while acknowledging the limitations of what I have done. So take this for what it is: a simple career average plus aging curve dollar per win graph.


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The trend-lines on the graph are equal to ($/WAR)*(Yearly War)+$500,000. I made 500k the y-intercept, since even a replacement player will make the minimum salary. I used average yearly values instead of overall values for this graph so Albert Pujols’s $240 million contract wouldn’t squeeze all of the $1 million contracts together.

A polynomial trend-line actually fits both data sets better, but non-linear dollars per win is an argument in itself. This data set is obviously not large or technical enough to draw those types of conclusions from.

Here are the top five overpaid and underpaid players by total salary. I excluded relievers from this section, because the high $/WAR figure creates large negative values for below-replacement relievers.

Jonathan Papelbon actually rates as an underpay according to this linear model. Since he is projected for 5.4 wins over the length of his contract and relievers are paid over $11 million per win, this gives him an expected salary of nearly $60 million. However, this excludes the increased injury risk of signing a reliever to a four-year contract. A polynomial model would show him as an overpay.

Relief pitchers were paid over double per win this off-season than other players were. We can not continue to view their contracts in the $5 million per win light, as that is simply not how the market works. Also, none of this takes into account team success. If the Tigers win the world series with Prince Fielder, does it make overpaying him worth it? He is certainly more valuable to them than he is to the Baltimore Orioles, a team that wouldn’t make the playoffs anyway.

I would loved to have done this with an interactive Tableau graphic, but have been unable to get those to work with the blogging software on this website.

As always, you can contact me in the comments or on Twitter @stealofhome.

The Path to Respectability: Pittsburgh Pirates

by Jason Wojciechowski

You’ve seen this a couple of times before, so you know how it goes. Today, we examine the mediocre team with the best stadium in the game, the Pittsburgh Pirates. They’re not the sad-sacks they used to be, what with some young stars and a well-regarded front office that’s causing better things to come, but they’re not really going to be competitive this year, either.

The Baseball Prospectus depth charts, the place I start, has the Pirates coming out 72-90 this year, fifth in the tall stack of the N.L. Central. Their lineup of position players doesn’t look terrible, with no Jimmy Paredeses hanging around, but the pitching, which features such luminaries as Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia, and Charlie Morton, is not impressive. Still, I think we’re better off trying to squeeze extra wins out of the position players than the pitchers because the former, at least, have some youth and upside to their credit.

As before, I cheat right off the top: we’ll count on five wins of run-distribution luck over the course of the season, leaving us needing to find eleven wins on the roster to get the team to the Holy Grail of Respectability, 88 wins.

The pitching, being the harder (and less interesting, frankly) task, is the place to start. I won’t insult you by using the phrase “oft-injured” in writing about Erik Bedard because you knew that already. Still, he sits at the top of the Pirates’ heap, quality-wise, and PECOTA loves him: the projection system says he’ll be worth 2.4 WARP if he can manage 126 innings. Bedard threw 129 last year, but was last over 100 in 2007. Still, with a career ERA of 3.70, he really has been good when he’s been able to take the mound. It’s complete folly, but here’s what I’m going to ask for from Bedard: 180 innings of baseball. If he does that and pitches at the same level of quality that PECOTA expects in 126 innings, he’ll be worth an extra win. (These innings can come at the expense of some replacement-level guy like Brad Lincoln.)

With that absurdity out of the way, we can move to Roy Halladay Reborn himself, Charlie Morton. Morton supposedly rebuilt himself as a pitcher last year, trying to emulate Halladay, and got good early results, but by the end of the year, he’d thrown just over 170 innings and been worth 0.1 WARP. His FIP looked good at 3.74, but when you throw in sequencing and all the other elements that go into BP‘s FRA stat, he wound up being essentially a replacement-level pitcher. PECOTA doesn’t like what it sees — it’s got him putting up a 4.83 ERA, good for a below-replacement performance in 156 innings. For the Pirates to be respectable, Morton doesn’t have to be good, the way everyone thought he had suddenly become in the first few months last year. He just has to be, well, respectable. If he can pitch like he did in 2009 (relative to his league, that is, since his numbers aren’t actually much different from 2011 on the surface), he can add a win to the Pirates’ totals.

That’s the front and the back of the rotation — two of the pitchers in the middle are Jeff Karstens and James McDonald. Karstens isn’t good: his career ERA is 4.52, and he’s never been below a 4.26 FIP in a single season. The hope, though, is that 2011, a career year by ERA, FIP, and FRA (and, consequently, WARP), represented an actual step forward. If he keeps his gains in walk rate (1.8 BB/9, a stellar figure) and continues suppressing BABIP, he can repeat 2011 and be worth half a win more than he’s currently being expected to contribute. Another half a win can come from James McDonald, who threw a great 64 innings in Pittsburgh in 2010 before having a poor 2011. His 2010 was surely fueled by an unsustainable homer rate (0.4 per nine despite being a big fly-ball pitcher), but McDonalds walks and strikeouts also took a step back in 2011. If he can return to 2010 form or something approximating it, he can get close to being a two-WARP pitcher.

A.J. Burnett came over from the Yankees in a salary dump and promptly bunted a ball into his eye. He’s now being figured for 122 innings of 4.16 ERA ball, which comes out to about one WARP. If he can kick the quality up a small notch (to, say, 2008-2009 level, the pitching that netted him this big contract in the first place and then gave Yankees fans hope that he’d actually live up to it) and throw more innings than the Depth Chart has him throwing, he can certainly add half a win to the total. He doesn’t have to be great and he doesn’t have to throw 200 innings to accomplish this, note. Maybe 175 innings of four-run baseball would do.

Finally, in the bullpen, Daniel Moskos is slated to play a key role and pitching poorly in it, throwing 52 innings with below-replacement performance. PECOTA is justified in thinking that Moskos isn’t what he showed in 2011 because his minor-league numbers do not overwhelm, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that Moskos be just replacement-level in his innings rather than horrible. He’s got some bat-missing and worm-killing in his background, so adding a half win to his expectation should be reasonable.

On the pitching side, then, I’m asking that the Pirates step their game up by four wins. This leaves seven wins for the position players, a total that I think is eminently reachable.

First up is the young right-fielder Jose Tabata, who signed a 6+3 deal with the Pirates last August despite being in the midst of a disappointing year: the 22-year-old slugged just .362 in 2011 and lost 70 games due to injuries. Still, the Pirates apparently believe in Tabata, and he did put up a 1.5-WARP season in 102 games in 2010. The Depth Chart appears to be, weirdly, taking a huge chunk out of Tabata on defense despite his FRAA figures not suggesting that he’s Jack Cust in the field. If you add that defense back in and have his bat take a step forward such that his on-base percentage is not merely good, as it’s been, but a true asset (say .370), then, especially if Tabata can also have a small increase in power or base-stealing (or if his defense can be a plus in right-field and not merely average), he can be a two-win player, which is about two wins better than the current projection.

Moving to the other corner, Alex Presley is a gritty white guy who’s gone from “maybe he can be a fourth outfielder” to “hey, I guess he’s the starting left-fielder.” Asking a player like that to be better than his projections isn’t necessarily a recipe for achievement of one’s goals, but in this case, it’s a requirement. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to be better all by himself because Nate McLouth is also a Pirate. PECOTA is actually pretty optimistic about him, projecting a .269 TAv that beats Presley’s pretty handily. Taken together, Presley + McLouth project to basically one WARP in a 2/3 & 1/3 job share. If one of the two proves his worth or if each has a smaller improvement, two WARP instead of one is plausible. Good defense from either player, an on-base percentage from Presley that approaches league-average for his position, the return of McLouth’s power … there are any number of ways we can find an extra win.

Similar whole-position upgrades can be found at catcher and first base. Behind the plate, Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry both project to sub-.300 OBPs. Barajas hit .254/.306/.466 when he was a 29-year-old Ranger. He’s 36 now, so those days are over, but if he can catch a little lightning and Michael McKenry, who hit pretty well relative to his leagues all the way until AAA, can regain the stroke that had people talking about him as a possible major-league starter rather than an all-glove backup, then the catcher position can go the same place left field does: from about one WARP to two.

Meanwhile, it’s not entirely clear what’s happening at first. Garrett Jones, who’s played mostly outfield in his career but does have time at first, is marked down for 50% of the time at the cold corner, while new acquisition Casey McGehee is figured for most of the rest. McGehee was once known as a glove-man with an adequate bat, but then he was a good hitter with a mediocre glove at the major-league level. A horrendous 2011 with Milwaukee leaves significant doubt about what he is, and PECOTA splits the difference between 2010 and 2011, calling for a .311 OBP and .396 SLG. That’s essentially replacement level, leaving first base in the now-familiar position of being approximately a one-WARP spot for Pittsburgh. There’s upside in them hills, though, and it’s not hard to imagine McGehee, at least, tapping into that upside (in the form of a return to bashing) and turning first base into a solid two-WARP place.

Related to McGehee potentially hitting is that he’s also slated to be a third baseman, especially if Pedro Alvarez stinks up the joint like he did last year (.191/.272/.289 — no, really). PECOTA, probably wisely, isn’t buying that Alvarez will be that bad — the man is the former number two overall pick, after all (I’m not sure if the current state of PECOTA knows about that), and he did hit quite well all the way up the minor-league chain, and he’s still just 25 — the current projection for Alvarez calls for 1.7 WARP in 461 PAs. The thing is, Alvarez has to be better than solidish/averageish for the Pirates to ever get anywhere, so starting to tap into his potential and performing a win above that projection is a good start. Simply taking most of the 650 PAs at third will take care of a good chunk of that (since the playing time he’s replacing as far as the Depth Chart is concerned is that of McGehee, with his replacement-level projection), but an uptick in hitting from his league-average TAv projection to something a bit above that (.270? .275? These are reasonable figures for a hitter with the physical tools Alvarez is supposed to possess) is probably necessary as well.

If Alvarez can add one win, then the sum of what we’ve got so far is +10 (which is +15 counting the run-distribution luck), so we’re just one win shy of the 88-win goal. For that win, we turn to top catching prospect turned third baseman turned second baseman Neil Walker. Walker hit quite well in his full-season debut in 2010 (.296/.349/.462), though FRAA dinged him massively (-16!) for his defense, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise given that he’d never played second base. FRAA showed ten runs of improvement in 2011, but the bat slipped quite a bit. If 2012 can serve as a consolidation season for the 26-year-old, it’s easy to see him cracking the two-WARP barrier with a combination of an adequate glove, a solid bat, and good durability.

As I noted at the beginning of this post, you have to squint a little harder to see the Pirate pitching staff improving than you do the offense, which has prospects and former prospects and guys who’ve hit at high levels running all up and down. The hurlers have, basically, mediocre players and injured players. I can absolutely see the Pirates being a fun team for nine half innings each day, but I might swap over to another game when it’s time for Charlie Morton or Kevin Correia to take the mound. This team won’t win 88 games, but there’s something for all my Yinzer friends to get excited about.

The Meddler, Part 2: Heyman lets Torii Hunter slander Lew Ford

By The Common Man

Yesterday, as you’ll recall from TCM’s post this morning, Jon Heyman said some things that were basically untrue.  Today, he opened his laptop again and relayed information that was patently, blatantly false in his post contending the Twins were consistently intimidated by the Yankees in their playoff losses.  Take it away, Jon:

Ex-Twins star Torii Hunter said some Twins players were beaten before they started, which finally confirms what has long been suspected: that the Twins are intimidated by the Yankees….  Hunter recalled one 2004 ALDS game the Twins lost where they had a runner on third with one out, down a run against the great Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, and Twins manager called on a young righty hitters to bat against Rivera, and Hunter recalled that hitter turning down the pinch-hit assignment. “You need a righty hitter against Rivera with his cutter,” Hunter recalled. But according to Hunter, Ford shook his head no. So Gardenhoire used another kid, Jason Kubel, a lefthanded hitter, who Hunter recalled getting jammed. “Kubel wasn’t afraid, but he’s a lefty hitter,” Hunter said.

That’s a really compelling story, undone only by the small problem that it never happened.  At least not like Torii Hunter said it did.  Kubel never pinch hit against Rivera in 2004 (his first year in the Majors), and Lew Ford started three of the four games, and in the one he didn’t start, Rivera faced six batters, and none of them were (or should have been) pinch hit for.

Also, at no point in the article does Heyman ever point out that, in each series in which they were supposedly psyched out, the Twins faced a demonstrably better club in the Yankees.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Heyman writes, “How else to explain four wipeouts in the ALDS since 2003, two in three games and two in four, generally following seasons where both teams won fairly similar numbers of regular-season games?”  Really John?

Year Twins Wins Yankees Wins
2003 90 101
2004 92 101
2009 87 103
2010 94 95

Now, team wins is a dumb way to determine which is the better team, as it doesn’t account for strength of schedule, and the Yankees have always had more of a gauntlet than the Twins.  But come on.  COME ON!  How can anyone look at that and think the quality of the teams was at all similar?
Torii Hunter owes Lew Ford an apology for throwing him under the bus and either lying or being completely wrong about the details of his story.  And so does Jon Heyman, who is a reporter and should know that he needs to check his facts in every damn story.  Do better, Jon.  This reeks, and it’s your second day in a row reporting misinformation.

The Meddler

By The Common Man

It’s not exactly a hatchet job that Jon Heyman did on Ichiro Suzuki yesterday, but it’s close. At least Heyman’s clear that Ichiro works hard and prepares himself well. But other than that, whoo boy. It’s an article that goes out of its way to essentially call Ichiro a meddling prima donna who maneuvers behind the scenes to get coaches reassigned, players he wants inked, and blows off reporters before games (guess which one is probably the reason Heyman wrote this column). However, to make his case that Ichiro is the great Seattle puppet master, Heyman has to stretch and distort facts wildly to fit his narrative, use remarkably vague unnamed sources, and dredge up something that may have been an issue years ago but, by Heyman’s own admission, isn’t a current problem.

Heyman writes that “Ichiro’s ‘absurd’ influence [over Mariners owner Hiroshi Yamauchi] was either unknown, underestimated, or deemed unimportant when Mariners longtime stars Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay Buhner were on the team.” Yet, Griffey was long gone by the time Ichiro debuted in 2001, and Buhner sat out most of the season before coming back and playing 19 games in September. How much influence could these “longtime stars” have had that kept Ichiro in check or allowed him to machinate unnoticed when neither was in the clubhouse? Sure, Griffey came back in 2009 and 2010 for a farewell tour with the Mariners, but that would mean that Ichiro’s influence or lack thereof has been a non-factor for the last three seasons. And if that’s the case, then why is this an issue even worth dredging up?

Heyman also criticizes Ichiro because he “pushed for the signing and eventual extension [sic] of Kenji Jojima [sic], who it turned out wasn’t very good, and several more personnel preferences…. Ichiro turned out to be a far better player than he was baseball scout.” Now, Heyman doesn’t give us any other names, but it’s hard to see how the acquisition of Johjima could possibly be a strike against Ichiro. Johjima was signed to a three year, $16.5 million contract in 2006. According to Baseball Prospectus, Johjima was worth 3.0 and 2.4 WARP respectively in 2006 and 2007, and Fangraphs figures his performance was worth around $21.5 million.

Now, Johjima did fall apart in 2008, after he had signed a three-year, $24 million extension and had more than earned the money paid to him in the original three year deal. And while the extension turned out to be ill-advised, Johjima opted out of his contract after an embarrassing and injury-plagued 2009 and returned to Japan, forgoing another $16 million or so, which greatly limited the damage to Seattle. It’s hard to blame Ichiro for that, isn’t it? Especially since he was right about Johjima’s talents and apparently about his character (given that he was willing to return money he didn’t think he would earn). Perhaps even a cursory examination of Johjima’s Baseball Reference page to confirm the correct spelling of his name might have helped Heyman gain some informed perspective.

Heyman seems to be relying a great deal on his unnamed source, a “former Mariners person.” Who is this masked man (or woman)? A front office type? Coach? Manager? Player? Peanut vendor? Security guard? Super fan? What, exactly, is a “Mariners person?” If Heyman wants us to believe his contention that Ichiro is the man behind the curtain, especially when he’s tossing around such flimsy, disprovable evidence like that above, he needs to be more clear about why we should trust this unnamed, undefined, unimpressive anonymous source. And based on the lack of actual true facts backing up these accusations, this post reeks of not actually being worth the bandwidth it takes up.

That’s not to say there isn’t a kernel of truth in Heyman’s post. Ichiro’s contract is up at the end of 2012, and the Mariners would be foolish to give him a lavish extension. That said, the M’s would also be fools to simply divest themselves of Ichiro when he has significantly increased the value of the Mariners brand at home and abroad. It’s said, rightly, that fans root for laundry, not players. For the most part, that’s true. Except when it comes to Ichiro and the Japanese people. And for the M’s to simply forgo the additional revenue they get from Japan due to his huge following would seem to be a miscalculation. The M’s and Ichiro have been tied together now for twelve seasons, and both have benefitted from that. And if a mutually agreeable contract can be worked out, The Common Man bets that they’ll continue to do benefit from each other into the future. That seems far more concrete than Heyman’s tale of the man-behind-the-man-who-wears-the-crown.

Negro League Database Diving

By The Common Man (with an assist from Bill)

This morning, Baseball Reference dropped a bombshell when they went live with their Negro League database that covers 1903-1948. This represents the most complete public airing of Negro League statistics that we’ve ever seen, and baseball fans everywhere should be incredibly grateful to the National Baseball Hall of Fame,, Sean Forman and his Baseball Reference team for making these publicly available. What a treasure trove of data.

Previously, we’ve had to rely on incredibly incomplete data and oral histories (much of which have been wonderful to read and hear, though they are highly subjective) to try and understand the black game in the age of segregation. This shines a beacon on a terrifically understudied and little understood part of baseball’s history.

The Common Man and Bill spent much of the morning combing through the stats and passing little treasures back and forth. We have a lot more to do to get a more complete picture of the database, but here are our ten favorite things we learned this morning:

#10 The first player to hit 20 homers in a Negro League season was either Heavy Johnson or Candy Jim Taylor in 1923.

Johnson was a star who got a late start in organized ball, after spending much of World War I in Hawaii playing for the 25th Infantry Wreckers with Bullet Joe Rogan. In his first full season, he hit .390/.406/.720 in 226 plate appearances. The next year, he topped that, hitting .405/.460/.717 with the aforementioned 20 homers in 426 plate appearances. He continued to star for another 5 seasons in the league, though he’d never hit more than 5 homers in a season ever again.

Taylor was 36 before the Negro National League was founded in 1920, but had played professionally since he was 19. Taylor had little success in his first go arounds in the league in 1920 and 1922. But in ’23, at 39 years old, Candy Jim’s bat was extra sweet. In just 244 plate appearances, he also hit 20 homers with a .372/.438/.712 line. He would hit just four other homers in the rest of his career, but went on to be a successful manager of the St. Louis Stars, Richmond All-Stars, and Homestead Grays.

#9 Cool Papa Bell didn’t steal many bases.

That’s probably not an accurate statement. Bell probably stole a lot of bases that simply weren’t counted for one reason or another. There are definite holes still in the data, and the research teams are working to fill them. What we know is that he’s credited with 132 steals in 21 seasons, but that just doesn’t seem credible. We also see a season where he’s not credited with a single walk in 275 PAs. That’s probably a missing data too. As it is, at .316/.363/.420, he seems far more like the Lou Brock of the Negro Leagues (albeit a Lou Brock who is an excellent defender in center field, by all accounts) than Tim Raines or Rickey Henderson.

#8 The Homestead Grays really didn’t like to walk.

Speaking of holes in the data, as Bill pointed out to me, according to the stats we have available the Grays walked one time in more than 1900 plate appearances. The lone walk was credited to Josh Gibson, which raised his OBP from his .486 batting average all the way to a .489 OBP. This lax record keeping did not carry over to the pitching side, where Grays pitchers were hung with 198 BB in 636.2 innings. It’s a bummer, because it would be nice to see where all those walks went. But this is one of the major problems when you’re reconstructing stats from box scores and incomplete records.

#7 Josh Gibson was a freaking god.

We already knew this, yes. But we didn’t really have much beyond first-hand accounts to go on. But look, for instance, at Gibson’s 1936, when he hit .451/.526/.756. Or 1937, when he hit .392/.422/.907. Or even his .365/.500/.865 1939 campaign. Or maybe you’d prefer183 plate appearances of .486/.489/.862 (remember, that OBP is way low) in 1943. For his Negro League career, Gibson is credited as hitting .359/.413/.644 as a catcher in 13 seasons, before dying at 35 before the 1947 season. The highest MLB OPS by a catcher with more than 1500 career plate appearances is Mike Piazza’s .992. Gibson beats that by more than 60 points, and that’s with at least an entire season’s worth of walks not counted in Josh’s final record.

#6 Satchel Paige was too.

Another of the giants of the Negro Leagues, Satchel Paige, doesn’t look so great at first glance. His 1922 season, for instance, saw him allow 4.55 runs per 9 innings for the Birmingham Black Barons. And his RA ranged pretty consistently between 3.00-4.00. But look closer. Consider, for one thing, that Paige was working with bad fields in what was a high offensive era in the MLB history. And while it’s hard to see without a RA available on team pages, he looks to have consistently been the best pitcher on his own teams. Finally, consider his strikeout rate. As Bill pointed out this morning, he’s credited with striking out over eight batters per nine innings for his Negro League career. Meanwhile, in Paige’s prime from 1920-1936, when he struck out 8.1 batters per 9 innings, the Major League average for K/9 was around 3.3, and the highest mark of any Major League pitcher was Dazzy Vance’s 7.6 K/9 in 1924. In other words, Paige struck out almost three times as many batters as Major League pitchers on average, and K’ed more on average than any Major League pitcher could do at his best. That’s remarkable.

#5 There was a huge talent gap between the best and worst players in the Negro Leagues.

This is probably something we should have expected, especially in the early days of the Negro National League. There were huge stars, but there were also incredibly bad players. It’s similar to how the National Association was in 1871, or the National League in 1876, or the American League in 1901, or the Federal League in 1914. Some black players were slow to jump to the league, waiting to see how it fared before leaving secure jobs elsewhere. So we get players like Bingo DeMoss, a second baseman who played regularly from 1920-1928 and had a career .235/.296/.285 batting line, which would be the 42nd worst OPS of all time among players since 1900 with more than 2000 plate appearances. His .371 OPS in 1922 (he “hit” .149/.203/.168) would be tied for 9th worst since 1900 among players with more than 175 PAs, and he kept his job for six more seasons. (By the way, four of the seasons worse than Bingo’s belong to the immortal Bill Bergen.)

#4 Pop Lloyd was an ageless wonder.

Bill found this out and it’s amazing. From 1924-1929, his ages 40-45 seasons, Pop Lloyd hit .358, which is 14 points higher than his career batting average. And he wasn’t playing sparsely either. He was in the top 20 in the league for plate appearances in 1929, and was 7th in the league in batting average (.370), 5th in OBP (.430), and 8th in slugging percentage (.541). After that, he spent three more seasons traveling around and barnstroming, hitting .369/.409/.431 at 46 years old and .400/.438/.600 in 16 plate appearances as a 48 year old.  He seems to have stopped playing after that, perhaps after ascending to heaven in a chariot of fire.

#3 We don’t know nearly enough about these players.

Charles Smith was a mighty outfielder that Satchel Paige called one of the two best hitters in the Negro Leagues (probably after Gibson). He packed a wallop in 1927 and 1928 but barely played for Brooklyn the Eastern Colored League (he may have been barnstorming, or playing elsewhere for most of those seasons). In 1929, however, he settled in with the New York Lincoln Giants for the full season, and hit .465/.538/.994 with 19 homers in the American Negro League as a 28 year old. He never played in the Negro Major Leagues again. Instead, he barnstormed and hit .429/.531/.701.  Playing in Cuba in 1932, however, he caught yellow fever, and died. But what did he do in 1931? Where did he play? How did he do? What was he doing during those years when he could have been playing the Negro Leagues, but apparently chose not to?  Lost.

#2 There are probably still more Hall of Famers we could cull from this data.

This is the first time either of us have heard of Tubby Scales, a second baseman who played 19 seasons in the official Negro Leagues, and barnstormed with independent black ballclubs in several others. In 1923, a 22 year old Scales hit .408 to win the Negro League batting title, besting Heavy Johnson, Cristobal Torriente, Oscar Charleston, Bullet Joe Rogan, and Turkey Stearnes. For his career, he’s credited with hitting .316/.386/.510 in 1838 plate appearances (numbers brought down significantly by his final 5 years in Baltimore when he was between 41 and 45 years old). Plus, he must have been similarly successful as he toured the country. His .896 career OPS would rank 2nd among all 2B since 1900 with more than 1800 plate appearances, behind only Rogers Hornsby.

#1 The greatest season in baseball history might just belong to Bullet Joe Rogan.

Rogan is an incredibly deserving Hall of Famer, who won 117 games from 1920-1928 and had a career RA of 3.66. While probably not a better pitcher than Satchel, Rogan was a much better hitter, raking at a .343/.395/.522 for his career. Indeed, in 1929, unable to pitch anymore, he still played regularly in the outfield, getting 312 plate appearances and hitting .356/.443/.564 (his 1.007 OPS was 7th in the league). But his best season, and perhaps the greatest season in baseball history, was undoubtedly 1925. Rogan won 17 games (and lost only 2) for the Kansas City Monarchs, allowing just 2.31 runs per game in 171.1 innings (which seems to be a really low mark, from what we’ve seen). He completed 17 of his 18 starts, and had 5 shutouts. He also came to bat 160 times over the course of the season and hit .381/.442/.590 with 7 doubles, 8 triples, 2 homers, and 5 stolen bases. It looks like the Monarchs played between 85 and 90 games that season, to give you an idea of how his numbers might look extrapolated over a full year.


And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Common Man and Bill can’t wait to dig through these records more, and hope against hope that more data will come to light that will paint an even more detailed picture for historians and fans who are interested. And from the bottom of our cold, black hearts, we want to say thanks to everyone involved.