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August 10, 2005

An Objective Hall of Fame

Part Two, 1937-1940

by Clay Davenport

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Let's jump right back into our attempt to construct an Objective Hall of Fame. Be sure to check out the first part of this series for more information. The information presented below is the player's name, position, Career MVP WARP3, (year elected by real HOF).

Objective Hall Class of 1937:

Alexander, Speaker, Lajoie, and Mathewson were all players that the real Hall recognized within its first three years, so it is no surprise to find them here. The outlier is Amos Rusie, who had to wait until 1977 for the real Hall to recognize his performance. He barely qualified; without an ill-fated comeback attempt in 1901, he wouldn't have had the ten seasons required for Hall of Fame consideration. As if the short career wasn't enough of a handicap, he had his best years in 1893 and 1894, the two biggest years for offense that the major leagues have ever known. As was the practice in the day, he was worked long and hard from a young age, and his arm was shot by the time he was 28.

You can get a good idea about his workload by looking at his translated pitching stats. Normal pitching loads have varied wildly over time. The translations have been set up so that the top five pitchers in the league (in innings pitched) will have 275 innings--a tad high by recent standards, but in keeping with most of the twentieth century. Rusie's translated IP are over 289 every year from age 19 to 23. He had a great fastball--legend has it that his fastball was responsible for moving the mound back in 1893, lest he kill somebody--and his 362 translated strikeouts in 1893 set a record that stood until the 1920s, and is still the ninth-best mark. His career has a lot in common with other O-type stars who burned brightly and briefly, like Dizzy Dean and Dwight Gooden.

Objective Hall Class of 1938:

Speaking of overworked pitchers...no one in history was worked harder, relative to their time, than John Clarkson. His 1889 season translates to an incredible 392 innings, the highest such number ever (after all, he did pitch 200 more innings than anyone else in the league); his 1885 season translates to 351 innings, fifth-highest ever; and his 1887 checks in at 317, good for 47th. I don't think it's any coincidence that those are all odd years, and that his career followed an up-and-down pattern, with WARP3s in successive years of 12.7, 4.6, 16.3, 2.7, 16.9, 7.3--almost like he's the subject of an "I've got good news and bad news" joke. It's a testament to his right arm that he was able to come back at all.

Walsh is probably best known today for having the best career ERA of all time, which testifies to where and when he played as much as it does to him--which isn't to say he wasn't a great pitcher. Walsh was a spitballer, and like some of the split-fingered fastball phenoms of the 1980s he was pitched into the ground--368 translated innings in 1908 is the second highest total ever, and he had four more seasons over 300, all in a six-year span. After 1912 his arm was done. He spices his record with a +42 in fielding, which ranks eighth among pitchers; while I'm confident he was a good fielder, I think his primary pitch had a lot to do with it.

Ed Delahanty's 621 score includes about 15 extra points for his early death, not that he needed them to make the Hall; the fact that he was already 35 means that he didn't lose all that much. In another era Delahanty would have been recognized as a premier slugger, not just one of a bunch of 1890s guys with a high batting average.

Kid Nichols was the beneficiary of a more enlightened usage pattern than Rusie, Clarkson, and Walsh; despite the scary-looking 453 innings in 1892, that was actually a moderate amount of work for a pitcher of that era, and he was able to pitch effectively for 15 years. Nichols had the distinct advantage of pitching for the Boston teams of the 1890s, who were renowned for their defense, and that shows up in his WARP ratings; he loses 178 runs to his defense (the difference between the RAA and PRAA columns in the all-time data on the advanced pitching stats), more than any other pitcher in history. Al Spalding is second on that list, although I have serious reservations about the statistic in the one-pitcher days of the 1870s, and he's followed by Jim Palmer, Mordecai Brown, and Whitey Ford.

It took until 1976 for Roger Connor to get inducted to the Hall, long after contemporary first basemen Cap Anson and Dan Brouthers (inducted in 1939 and 1945, respectively); he didn't have Anson's eye-popping totals or Brouthers' batting average. But he rates with me as the best player of the group, with big-time power (652 translated home runs, in the context of the homer-happy 1990s, ranks 21st on the all-time list, and he did hold the career home run record before Ruth) and an outstanding glove, ranking 14th among first basemen in FRAA.

Objective Hall Class of 1939:

The decision I made, to weight peak performance very heavily, does more to help Hughie Jennings than anyone else. For five years, 1894 to 1898, Jennings was one of the best players the game has ever seen, combining high offense with some of the best fielding numbers this system has ever recorded (there are nine shortstop seasons in history that rate at +30 or better, and Jennings has two of them). In his best five years, Jennings has 57.7 WARP3, with a single-season high of 13.7; his next best five years have just 13.8, total. No one else in history, not even Koufax or Dean, have that kind of disparity between their best seasons and the rest of their career.

Dan Brouthers was basically the Frank Thomas of his day--a huge guy who could hit a ton but had serious deficiencies in the field. As a minor leaguer, he was the baserunner in a home plate collision that killed--as in dead--the opposing catcher. I doubt that makes Ray Fosse feel any better.

Radbourn is widely perceived to be in the Hall because he had one good season, which isn't fair at all. Yes, he had one season, 1884, that stood far above everything else he did; yet if he had only gotten 6.0 WARP3 for that season, less than half of the 14.9 he actually had that year, his career would still have made it into this objective Hall.

Elmer Flick is about as forgotten as any Hall of Famer, real or virtual, can be. He had a short career, basically over at 31, and was one of those players who did everything really well but nothing spectacularly well--good but not great batting average, onbase, power, stealing, fielding. Translated, he's similar to Bobby Abreu.

Ah, Bill Dahlen...the first guy on my list who isn't in the real Hall. Dahlen's a popular guy for that--as at least one writer I know put it, he's more famous for not being in the Hall than he would be in it. All of the people who would put him in it are relying on him being a good defensive player, because his offense--a .267 EQA, some nice translated power and walks coupled with a very low batting average--won't cut it. Yes, WARP thinks he has good defense--+163 FRAA is good for 12th alltime, while his 631 FRAR is sixth. An OK hitter with an exceptional glove can make this Hall; it's how many wins you're worth, not how they got them, that counts.

Objective Hall Class of 1940:

One of the entertaining things about doing translated statistics for the 19th century--expanding all of those seasons, including the National Association, out to 162 games--is seeing what it does to Cap Anson's statistics. Anson ranks first in translated at-bats, hits, outs, and RBI, is second in unadjusted EQR, fifth in EQR, sixth in runs, eighth in walks, tenth in doubles, and 15th in home runs. His RBI are particularly noteworthy, with the top RBI season of all time (180 in 1886) and four of the top 20. He belongs.

Remember when I said that Hoss Radbourn would still make the Hall, even if he only had a third of his best season? That's not true with Galvin, whose candidacy rests entirely on his 1884 season. By a strange twist, Galvin's season gets rated higher than Radbourn's, a consequence of how their respective defenses were rated. I'm sure it was a great season, but I don't know that I've captured the defenses accurately here and I really don't think it deserves to rate as the second best season ever.

An awful pitcher in his debut, Jesse Burkett converted to left field and never looked back. He put up 100+ translated EQR for ten consecutive seasons and 200+ translated hits for seven straight, and the Hall rightly took him in early.

Billy Hamilton was a practically perfect leadoff man. High batting average. Gobs of walks. Stolen bases by the truck. All of that explains why he scored runs at a nearly 2:1 pace to his RBI. The only thing he wasn't was a great defender, but his hitting more than made up for it.

Stan Coveleski was another spitballer, one of the pitchers grandfathered in when the pitch was banned in 1920. He was coming off of four great seasons, but never quite had another as good afterwards. Interestingly, it was his hitting that dragged him down, as he went from being above average to below-average right then.

We'll pick up there soon....

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