Ashburn and the Bro’s

May 16, 2013

                So who was a better player, Richie Ashburn or Dom DiMaggio?   A May 11, 2013 New York Times article by Tom Clavin has this to say:

 

But Dom, who died in 2009, did not measure up in the eyes of Hall of Fame voters, or later with the veterans committee. When the committee voted the less-accomplished center fielder Richie Ashburn into the Hall of Fame in 1995, Williams, who was on the panel, said that Dom had been a better ballplayer statistically and that "if the game was on the line and you needed a clean hit or a hard-hit ball, he was as good as anybody."

 

Really?   Dominic was a good player, but if he was better than Ashburn I am afraid I had missed it.   In the Historical Abstract I had Ashburn rated as the #16 Center Fielder of all time, Dominic 24th.    Baseball Reference has DiMaggio at 31.8 Wins Above Replacement, Ashburn at 63.4—a whopping 2 to 1 advantage for Whitey.  Their fan EloRater has DiMaggio as the 197th best player ever, Ashburn at 86th.  

FanGraphs has different numbers; they have Ashburn at +57.5, Dominic at +34.5.   They’re similar players. ..small, singles hitters, center fielders, leadoff men. DiMaggio was a right-handed hitter, Ashburn left.    Retrosheet (Pete Palmer’s method) compares players not to replacement level but to average; they have Ashburn at +22.8, DiMaggio at +10.1.  Both men retired when they could still play, or at least still put up good numbers.    What exactly does Clavin mean by describing Dominic as "more accomplished" than Ashburn?   Ashburn had a higher batting average (.308 to .298), DiMaggio a higher slugging percentage (.419 to .396).  Their on base percentages were almost the same.   Ashburn stole more than twice as many bases.

In MVP voting, again, Ashburn did better than DiMaggio, Ashburn earning a career total of 0.62 Award Shares, DiMaggio 0.30.    DiMaggio did play in more All-Star games, 7 to 6, actually 7 to 5, because Ashburn played in two in one season.   

Dominic scored runs at a much higher frequency rate, but then, he had Ted Williams batting behind him, rather than Del Ennis, not that Del Ennis wasn’t pretty good.    Dominic is entitled to a break on his career numbers because he did give up three seasons to World War II; in my view he should be treated as if he had played those seasons and played at the same level as he did in surrounding seasons.    Other people have other opinions.  Using FanGraphs (Fangraphs?   fangraphs?). .. .using Tom’s numbers and this position, one can make an argument that DiMaggio is equal to Ashburn.    The three years that DiMaggio is missing from his career are the years when he was 26, 27 and 28 years old—the very heart of a player’s prime.   If we assume that DiMaggio’s 1943-44-45 seasons would have been as good as the surrounding seasons—which I am willing to assume—then DiMaggio’s career Wins Above Replacement would be about 48.  

If we assume that DiMaggio’s 1943-44-45 seasons would have been the best seasons of his career—which I think is a reach—then one could maybe get him to +54 or some similar number. .. .up close to Ashburn.

OK, Matty Alou is a similar player, too, so let’s throw him in the pot, not that anybody believes that Matty is the equal of the other two.   Matty is closer to Dominic than Felipe is to Joe.     And, to keep as much phony drama going as we can for as long as we can, let’s compare them age to age.

Richie Ashburn and Matty Alou were both in the major leagues when they were 21 years old.    Ashburn, however, was a major league regular at that age.   Ashburn had been a hot property since he was 16 years old.   Alou, on the other hand, spent most of his age-21 season at Tacoma, where he hit .306 with more power than he would have as a major leaguer—39 doubles, 8 triples, 14 homers.  He made his major league debut late in the season, and got three at bats:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

City

AGE

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1948

Ashburn

21

117

463

2

40

.333

.810

15

3

4

3

19

5

.785

1960

Alou

21

4

3

0

0

.333

.667

0

0

0

0

0

0

.619

 

               

 

 

   

 

 

 

1949

Ashburn

22

154

662

1

37

.284

.692

13

14

7

2

20

16

.551

1961

Alou

22

81

200

6

24

.310

.811

5

3

1

1

7

4

.639

 

Alou, as you can see, actually played better as a 22-year-old than Ashburn did, with an OPS 119 points higher.   Alou, however, had a problem.   The problem was called "Willie Mays".   Alou, a natural center fielder, found himself competing with Willie Mays for playing time or, since that wasn’t going anywhere, playing left field or right.    He didn’t have the power managers prefer in left or right, plus the Giants had both Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda and were trying to get them both in the lineup by playing one or the other in the outfield.

Dominic DiMaggio reached the majors at age 22, with the Boston Red Sox.  He didn’t have to beat out Willie Mays to earn playing time; he only had to beat out Doc Cramer.   He was able to take care of that in a half-season or so, so from ages 22 to 24 DiMaggio and Ashburn were regular players, whereas Alou was swimming upstream, his career still going nowhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

City

AGE

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1950

Ashburn

23

151

594

2

41

.303

.774

15

9

6

2

21

11

.653

1940

DiMaggio

23

108

418

8

46

.301

.831

10

7

2

3

12

10

.562

1962

Alou

23

78

195

3

14

.292

.739

5

4

1

1

6

5

.543

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1951

Ashburn

24

154

643

4

63

.344

.819

20

4

6

3

26

8

.771

1941

DiMaggio

24

144

584

8

58

.283

.792

15

10

4

5

18

15

.555

1963

Alou

24

63

76

0

2

.145

.335

0

4

0

1

0

5

.000

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1942

DiMaggio

25

151

622

14

48

.286

.801

17

9

7

2

25

11

.685

1952

Ashburn

25

154

613

1

42

.282

.720

15

11

6

4

21

15

.588

1964

Alou

25

110

250

1

14

.264

.610

4

7

2

1

6

8

.443

 

"Going nowhere" is actually too kind; his career was going somewhere.   In 1963 he went back to Tacoma for a month to get himself straightened out.    Meanwhile, back to Ashburn and DiMag; Ashburn outplayed the Little Professor at ages 23 and 24, but DiMaggio, who had a little more power, outhit and outplayed Ashburn at age 25. 

At age 22 both Ashburn and Alou played on pennant-winning teams, the 1950 Phillies (the Whiz Kids) and the 1962 Giants, who didn’t get a nickname because nobody realized they might win the pennant until the middle of September.   Both teams lost to the Yankees in the World Series.  

Ashburn in 1951 had an MVP-type season, hitting .344 and collecting 221 hits.    Through the age of 24, then, we have Ashburn with a career won-lost log of 108-55 (.660), DiMaggio at 55-36 (.608), Alou trailing a little behind at 18-21 (.462).   

DiMaggio then took a three-year break from his career to enjoy some recreational time in the United States Navy.   (I served my country; I’m allowed to joke about it.)    Alou, meanwhile, had one more horrible season, and then came alive when he was traded to Pittsburgh in 1966:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

City

AGE

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1953

Ashburn

26

156

622

2

57

.330

.802

17

8

6

3

23

10

.693

1965

Alou

26

117

324

2

18

.231

.573

3

12

3

2

5

14

.284

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1954

Ashburn

27

153

559

1

41

.313

.817

18

4

6

2

24

7

.789

1966

Alou

27

141

535

2

27

.342

.793

16

6

3

4

19

10

.665

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1955

Ashburn

28

140

533

3

42

.338

.897

20

1

5

2

25

3

.898

1967

Alou

28

139

550

2

28

.338

.785

17

4

2

5

19

9

.690

 

Alou won the National League batting title in 1966, while his brother finished second; not even the DiMaggios can match that one.   At ages 27 and 28 Alou played at a level comparable but not equal to Ashburn’s.    At age 28 both players hit .338 with about the same power.  Ashburn, however, drew 105 walks.    Matty drew 24 walks.   Ashburn was a very good defensive center fielder.   Matty Alou was not as good.

Harry the Hat Walker played a critical role in the careers of both Ashburn and Alou.    In 1947 Harry Walker was the Philadelphia center fielder, and led the National League in batting (.363), on base percentage (.436), and triples (16).   He was the same kind of player as Ashburn and Alou—a left-handed, singles-hitting center fielder/leadoff man.   1947 was his first really good year, and, as it turned out, his last one.   In the spring of 1948 he held out for more money, so the Phillies put Richie Ashburn in center field.   Walker, even though he was coming off a superb season, never got his job back.

When Matty Alou was traded to Pittsburgh in 1966 Harry Walker was managing the Pirates.   Walker convinced Alou to use a heavy bat, as Nellie Fox had done (and Ashburn) and chop down on the ball.   Alou essentially duplicated what Harry the Hat had done in 1947:  traded to a new team, he came out of nowhere to win the National League batting title, in his case at .342.

And then, in a sense repeating what he had done twenty years earlier, Walker overplayed his hand again.  He started taking credit for what Alou had done, too much credit.  There’s an ethic here; the manager is supposed to give all the credit to the player, the player is supposed to give some of the credit to the manager, the hitting coach, and his new girlfriend (unless he is married, in which case he isn’t supposed to mention the girlfriend.)   Harry wasn’t shy about taking his share of the credit for what Alou had done.   Here’s a paragraph from Sports Illustrated in 1966, from an article praising Harry Walker for his good work as Pirates’ manager:

Manager Harry Walker has an incessant tongue, and he admits it. Last year. Walker's first as Pittsburgh manager, the Pirates lost 24 of their first 33 games and were in last place, lower than—yes—even the Mets. Whereas Danny Murtaugh, who had retired as manager after the 1964 season, always let the Pirates play their own game and rarely blasted them verbally. Walker hounded them. He chattered away, Bill Mazeroski says, about "little things we never heard before, and the guys couldn't understand this."

 

For a time the situation bordered on a rebellion.

 

                Harry was the younger brother of Dixie Walker, Jackie Robinson’s racist teammate from 1947—consistent with the theme of the ball-playing families, I guess.   Harry Walker’s father and uncle had also played in the major leagues.    Harry Walker, Matty Alou, Dominic DiMaggio—all younger brothers, all similar players.   In all three cases the older brother was a better hitter with more power.    Based on this, we can observe that if Richie Ashburn had had an older brother, he would have had 4000 hits and 800 homers.

                Harry should have understood the ethic, but—like Dixie—he had trouble adapting when the world wanted to get better.   In 1947 a manager could ride his players, "hound them", in the words of the Sports Illustrated article, and "blast them", and take credit in the newspapers for what they had done.   By 1966 these things were on the way out.   Harry didn’t get the memo.   By the summer of 1967 the team once more "bordered on a rebellion", and this time Harry was fired.

                In 1946 Dom DiMaggio returned from his three-year Carnival Cruise, so from ages 29 to 31 all three players were mainstays of their organizations:

 

              

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

City

AGE

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1968

Alou

29

146

558

0

52

.332

.758

18

4

4

4

22

8

.722

1956

Ashburn

29

154

628

3

50

.303

.768

19

6

3

4

22

10

.686

1946

DiMaggio

29

142

534

7

73

.316

.820

14

8

6

2

20

10

.661

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1969

Alou

30

162

698

1

48

.331

.780

22

5

3

6

25

11

.695

1957

Ashburn

30

156

626

0

33

.297

.754

17

8

5

3

23

11

.671

1947

DiMaggio

30

136

513

8

71

.283

.766

12

10

5

3

17

13

.575

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1958

Ashburn

31

152

615

2

33

.350

.881

22

1

3

4

26

5

.831

1948

DiMaggio

31

155

648

9

87

.285

.785

17

10

5

5

22

15

.600

1970

Alou

31

155

677

1

47

.297

.685

13

15

4

5

17

19

.475

 

                At ages 29 and 30, then, Matty Alou was the best player of the three—not by much of a margin, but he was the best.   Alou had 231 hits in 1969.  Let me make an argument, then, on behalf of Matty.

 

                Matty Alou was a career .307 hitter.    Once Matty Alou finally got the opportunity to play, he was as good a player as Ashburn or DiMaggio.   His career won-lost record, as we will see, is actually very similar to Dominic DiMaggio’s.    DiMaggio in his career won 0.30 MVP Award Shares; Alou won 0.26.   Baseball Reference has DiMaggio at 30.8 Wins Above Replacement, Alou at 23.3.  

 

                On what basis, then, does the Fan EloRater place DiMaggio as the 197th best player of all time, and Matty Alou at 545th?   What’s the basis for that?

 

                The basis for it is the perception that DiMaggio was cheated out of three prime seasons by World War II—but what about Matty?   Matty was cheated out of five prime seasons by being forced to compete for playing time with Willie Mays.   When he came to the majors he hit very well for his first two seasons—and then his playing time went backward.    He hit .310 as a rookie, and got less playing time his second year.   He hit .292 his second year, and got less playing time his third year.

                Yes, he went through a frustration cycle, but. . .wouldn’t you?    Wouldn’t anybody?    At the bottom of it, he is not an obviously inferior player to Richie Ashburn or Dom DiMaggio.

 

                OK, that’s the argument.   Do I believe it?

                Well, no, but. …there’s nothing there that isn’t true.   Missing playing time because you are blocked behind an all-time great is not the same as being denied the opportunity to play because of your race or because your country needs you.   Yes, he was frustrated, but baseball is a frustrating game.   Willie Mays was so frustrated, as a rookie, that he reportedly asked Durocher to take him out of the lineup.   The game measures how well you cope with that.   Matty didn’t cope for a couple of years.    I’m sorry, but that’s the game.  

                OK, through age 31 Ashburn has a career won-lost contribution of 251-102, a .712 percentage.    DiMaggio had a career won-lost contribution of 114-73, .610, and Alou was at 126-92, .578.    They were entering. .. .that stage of their careers. After the 1970 season Matty Alou, aged 31, was traded to St. Louis for a pitcher, Nelson Briles, and for Vic Davalillo, who was another similar player, another little leadoff hitter/center fielder.    At age 32 Richie Ashburn had his first subpar season, and after that year he was traded to the Cubs for John Buzhardt, a pitcher, and an aging Alvin Dark.    And Dom DiMaggio had his best seasons.

                Well, actually. ..they weren’t his best seasons.    DiMaggio had his best numbers in 1949 and 1950, but he was playing in a super-heated offensive environment in those years.   By modern value systems, DiMaggio in 1949-1950 was still very good, but he was not the player he had been in 1946-1948.    Alou, meanwhile, was traded in mid-season, 1972, and again in mid-season, 1973:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

City

AGE

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1949

DiMaggio

32

145

605

8

60

.307

.824

16

9

5

4

21

12

.628

1971

Alou

32

149

609

7

74

.315

.767

17

8

3

5

20

13

.604

1959

Ashburn

32

153

564

1

20

.266

.667

11

14

3

4

14

19

.428

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1960

Ashburn

33

151

547

0

40

.291

.753

16

6

2

5

18

10

.645

1972

Alou

33

108

404

3

31

.314

.742

10

7

3

3

13

9

.579

1972

Alou

33

32

121

1

16

.281

.688

4

1

1

1

5

2

.687

1950

DiMaggio

33

141

588

7

70

.328

.866

14

10

5

2

18

12

.600

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1951

DiMaggio

34

146

639

12

72

.296

.788

14

12

4

5

18

16

.527

1973

Alou

34

123

497

2

28

.296

.694

11

11

4

4

14

15

.496

1973

Alou

34

11

11

0

1

.273

.606

0

1

0

0

0

1

.087

1961

Ashburn

34

109

307

0

19

.257

.679

6

7

1

3

7

10

.402

 

 

                But, again defending Alou, even though he was traded in mid-season, Alou was as good a player at age 32 as DiMaggio, and better than Ashburn, was as good as Ashburn or DiMaggio at age 33, and was better than Ashburn at age 34.    At age 35 all three of them played their final seasons, although DiMaggio got three at bats at age 36:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

City

AGE

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1952

DiMaggio

35

128

486

6

33

.294

.747

11

9

3

3

14

13

.527

1962

Ashburn

35

135

389

7

28

.306

.817

11

4

1

3

12

7

.619

1974

Alou

35

48

81

0

3

.198

.476

0

3

0

1

0

4

.062

1953

DiMaggio

36

3

3

0

0

.333

.667

0

0

0

0

0

0

.363

 

                Both DiMaggio and Alou walked away from the game when they could still play, and at essentially the same age.    DiMaggio quit in early 1953 in a dispute with Lou Boudreau, who was his manager.   DiMaggio had an injury in spring training, wasn’t ready to play on opening day, and Boudreau put Tommy Umphlett in center field.    Umphlett started out well, hitting .339 through his first 15 games, and Umphlett was a good defensive center fielder.   When DiMaggio was ready to play he asked to get back in the lineup, but Boudreau decided to keep playing Umphlett, so DiMaggio decided to retire. 

                Ashburn hit .306 for the 1962 Mets with a .424 on base percentage, but he also decided to retire after the season.   What people always say about that is that Ashburn was embarrassed to be a part of that awful team, and I’m not saying that is untrue, but Ashburn had played on last-place teams in 1958 and 1959 and on a team that missed finishing last by one game in 1960, and he didn’t retire after those seasons.    Do you know where Richie Ashburn played his last major league game?

                Second base.

                It was the only time in his career that Ashburn had played second base, other than one inning a couple of weeks earlier; he had been an outfielder since he came to the majors.    He couldn’t throw any more, and at the end of the year Casey Stengel was just using him to pinch hit, even though he was the best offensive player on the team.   On September 30, the last game of the season, Stengel put him in the lineup for the first time in three weeks—at second base.   In the 7th inning Ashburn made an error on a ground ball, setting up two un-earned runs.   In the top of the 8th Ashburn hit a one-out single—and then was picked off of first base as a part of a triple play.    Stengel took him out of the game at that point.   A more humiliating end to a Hall of Fame career is difficult to imagine the season would be difficult to imagine—a costly error at an unfamiliar defensive position, picked off base in a triple play, then taken out of the game so that Solly Drake could play.   Both Ashburn and DiMaggio retired after they were embarrassed by their managers.

 

                Let’s summarize the Win Shares and Loss Shares for the three players:

 

 

MATTY ALOU

Batting

 

Fielding

 

Total

YEAR

City

W

L

 

W

L

 

W

L

W Pct

1960

San Francisco

0

0

 

0

0

 

0

0

.619

1961

San Francisco

5

3

 

1

1

 

7

4

.639

1962

San Francisco

5

4

 

1

1

 

6

5

.543

1963

San Francisco

0

4

 

0

1

 

0

5

.000

1964

San Francisco

4

7

 

2

1

 

6

8

.443

1965

San Francisco

3

12

 

3

2

 

5

14

.284

1966

Pittsburgh

16

6

 

3

4

 

19

10

.665

1967

Pittsburgh

17

4

 

2

5

 

19

9

.690

1968

Pittsburgh

18

4

 

4

4

 

22

8

.722

1969

Pittsburgh

22

5

 

3

6

 

25

11

.695

1970

Pittsburgh

13

15

 

4

5

 

17

19

.475

1971

St. Louis

17

8

 

3

5

 

20

13

.604

1972

St. Louis

10

7

 

3

3

 

13

9

.579

1972

Oakland

4

1

 

1

1

 

5

2

.687

1973

New York

11

11

 

4

4

 

14

15

.496

1973

St. Louis

0

1

 

0

0

 

0

1

.087

1974

San Diego

0

3

 

0

1

 

0

4

.062

 

 

 

 

       

 

 

 

 

 

143

94

 

34

42

 

177

135

.567

 

 

 

.604

 

 

.449

 

 

 

 

 

 

DOM DiMAGGIO

Batting

 

Fielding

 

Total

YEAR

City

W

L

 

W

L

 

W

L

W Pct

1940

Boston

10

7

 

2

3

 

12

10

.562

1941

Boston

15

10

 

4

5

 

18

15

.555

1942

Boston

17

9

 

7

2

 

25

11

.685

1946

Boston

14

8

 

6

2

 

20

10

.661

1947

Boston

12

10

 

5

3

 

17

13

.575

1948

Boston

17

10

 

5

5

 

22

15

.600

1949

Boston

16

9

 

5

4

 

21

12

.628

1950

Boston

14

10

 

5

2

 

18

12

.600

1951

Boston

14

12

 

4

5

 

18

16

.527

1952

Boston

11

9

 

3

3

 

14

13

.527

1953

Boston

0

0

 

0

0

 

0

0

.363

 

 

 

 

       

 

 

 

 

 

141

93

 

46

34

 

186

127

.594

 

 

 

.603

 

 

.570

 

 

 

 

 

 

RICHIE ASHBURN

Batting

 

Fielding

 

Total

YEAR

City

W

L

 

W

L

 

W

L

W Pct

1948

Philadelphia

15

3

 

4

3

 

19

5

.785

1949

Philadelphia

13

14

 

7

2

 

20

16

.551

1950

Philadelphia

15

9

 

6

2

 

21

11

.653

1951

Philadelphia

20

4

 

6

3

 

26

8

.771

1952

Philadelphia

15

11

 

6

4

 

21

15

.588

1953

Philadelphia

17

8

 

6

3

 

23

10

.693

1954

Philadelphia

18

4

 

6

2

 

24

7

.789

1955

Philadelphia

20

1

 

5

2

 

25

3

.898

1956

Philadelphia

19

6

 

3

4

 

22

10

.686

1957

Philadelphia

17

8

 

5

3

 

23

11

.671

1958

Philadelphia

22

1

 

3

4

 

26

5

.831

1959

Philadelphia

11

14

 

3

4

 

14

19

.428

1960

Chicago

16

6

 

2

5

 

18

10

.645

1961

Chicago

6

7

 

1

3

 

7

10

.402

1962

New York

11

4

 

1

3

 

12

7

.619

 

 

 

 

       

 

 

 

 

 

238

101

 

65

47

 

302

148

.671

 

 

 

.702

 

 

.577

 

 

 

 

 

 

                In summary, then:

 

1)  Alou’s won-lost contribution is 177-135, .567; DiMaggio is 186-127, .594; Ashburn is 302-148, .671.

 

2)  DiMaggio and Alou are dead even as hitters; DiMaggio has an edge because he was a better center fielder, and because we give him credit for his missing seasons.

 

3)  DiMaggio and Ashburn are pretty much even as defensive players, but Ashburn was a far more effective hitter, when his numbers are put in context. 

 

                In my opinion, Richie Ashburn is an absolutely legitimate Hall of Fame player.    My rule is, if you have 300 Career Win Shares OR if you are +100 (100 more wins than losses), then you’re a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate.    If you have both, you’re an absolute Hall of Famer; if you have neither, you’re not a legitimate candidate.

                Ashburn has both.   DiMaggio has neither.

                Hey, if Phil Rizutto can go in the Hall of Fame, Dom DiMaggio can go in the Hall of Fame.   If Lloyd Waner can get in the Hall of Fame, Dom DiMaggio can get in the Hall of Fame.   If Rick Ferrell can get in the Hall of Fame, pretty much anybody can get in the Hall of Fame.

                But Ashburn’s advantage over DiMaggio isn’t that his career was longer or that he played more games or that DiMaggio missed three seasons due to the war.   Ashburn’s advantage is that he was a better player.   I’m completely willing to give Dom DiMaggio extra credit for what he could have done in World War II, and I’d be  happy to see him go in the Hall of Fame if that was in the cards.   

 

                Comparing my ratings to those of other people who do this kind of thing. . . Retrosheet (Pete Palmer) has Richie Ashburn at 22.8 games (68 Win Shares) above average; I have him at 77 Win Shares above average.    Retrosheet has DiMaggio at 10.1 games (30 Win Shares) above average; I have essentially matched that.   But Retrosheet has Matty Alou at 6.2 wins (19 Win Shares) below average; I have him at 5.3 Win Shares above average.  That’s a very big discrepancy.

                Compared to replacement level. . .let us say that replacement level is .300.    Baseball Reference has Ashburn at 63.4 Wins Above Replacement.  FanGraphs has him at 57.5.    Assuming Replacement Level is .300, I have him at 55.7.  

                Baseball Reference has DiMaggio at 31.8 Wins Above Replacement.   FanGraphs has him at 34.5.   I have him at 30.7.

                Baseball Reference has Alou at 23.3 Wins Above Replacement.   FanGraphs has him at 20.4.    I have him at 26.7.   

                So I am essentially in the ballpark with everybody else in terms of Wins Above Replacement, but for some reason my methods are more favorable to Matty Alou than are the other three systems. 

 

 

                OK, one more thing before I go.   In the report I did a couple of days ago about Doc Cramer, I failed to report his Team Success Percentage, which was an oversight.   Team Success Percentage works in this way.    The success of each team in each season is assessed on a one-to-five scale based on the team’s record compared to their record in previous seasons.    If the team exceeds expectations based on their previous seasons, that’s a "5"; if they have a disappointing year, that’s a "1".   In 2012 Washington was a "5", Boston was a "1".

                But Philadelphia in 2012 was 81-81, while Pittsburgh was 79-83—yet Philadelphia’s season is scored a "1" (very disappointing), while Pittsburgh’s season is scored a "4" (fairly successful.)   It has to do with expectations based on previous seasons.    Philadelphia was 97-65 in 2010, 102-60 in 2011; we would expect them to go 93-69 in 2012.   They missed that by 12 games, so that’s a very disappointing season.    Pittsburgh was 57-105 in 2011, 72-90 in 2012; we would expect them to go 73-89 in 2013.   They beat that by six games, so that’s a pretty decent.   Nobody would argue the point, I don’t think, that Philadelphia’s season was disappointing, and Pittsburgh’s wasn’t bad.  

                We take those 1-to-5 grades, weight them by the playing time for the player, and look at the career average.   It is a way of asking objectively, "Did this player’s teams meet their expectations?"   An average Team Success Percentage is .500; actually it’s a little over .500, but let’s say .500.

                Doc Cramer’s career Team Success Percentage was .550.   So. ..say what you want about Doc Cramer or the teams that paid him good money to make 500 outs a year, but the fact is that he played generally, most of his career, for teams that met and exceeded expectations.

 

                Matty Alou’s Team Success Percentage was .644, which is extremely good.   Alou played on eight teams that exceeded expectations, whereas he played on only two teams that failed to meet expectations—and neither of those was terrible.    

 

                Dom DiMaggio’s Team Success Percentage was .685, which, of course, is even better.   DiMaggio played for 11 major league teams.   Four of them—the Red Sox of 1942, 1946, 1948 and 1949—had outstanding seasons relative in baseline expectations.     Those four teams averaged 96 wins.   The only time in his career that the Red Sox fell significantly short of reasonable expectations was in 1952, when Ted Williams was in Korea, the team had many injuries, and they finished just under .500.  

 

                Richie Ashburn’s Team Success Percentage was .289, which is exceptionally poor.   Through his first five seasons, 1952, this figure was .616, as the Phillies, long the doormats of the National League, won the pennant in 1950 and were competitive in 1949 and 1952.    From 1953 to the end of his career, however, Ashburn played on almost nothing except disappointing teams.

 
 

COMMENTS (8 Comments, most recent shown first)

ajmilner
In the top of the 8th Ashburn hit a one-out single—and then was picked off of first base as a part of a triple play.

Someone therefore hit into a triple play with one man out. Would've liked to have seen that.
5:16 PM May 25th
 
bjames
Responding to Goldleaf. .. .there is no comment here about Ashburn losing ability in his last month, so I'm not sure what you're referring to. You could be referring to the comment that Ashburn couldn't throw anymore, which is based on comments Ashburn made repeatedly on the air over the years, that at the end of his career his arm was gone. I BELIEVE that Phillies fans can confirm that Ashburn said that repeatedly over the years.
4:58 PM May 19th
 
KaiserD2
I had the same thought as "those," having studied 1948 so intensely. In general those players probably did better in their late 20s-early 30s than would normally have been expected because, I suppose, they had pent-up enthusiasm and hunger.

Two comments on the substance:

Unless Matty Alou was hurt in 1965, he has to take most of the blame for not becoming a star that season and winning the Giants the pennant in the bargain. All the playing time he could have ever wanted was his for the taking. Cepeda spent the year on the bench hurt. Felipe Alou had been traded (the move that really cost the Giants that pennant.) Matty was now competing for playing time with his younger brother Jesus (who hit .298 but drew 13 walks in 567 plate appearances) and Lenny Gabrielson, who had a .770 OPS that year. (Jim Ray Hart also played a few games in the outfield--he was a better hitter than any of them). But Matty had a dreadful year, hitting .231 and slugging .299. His turnaround in 1966 must have been one of the most remarkable in baseball history, all the more so since it was anything but a one-year fluke. Perhaps Harry Walker really was a genius. Perhaps some of today's players should try 40-ounce bats.

As for the Hall of Fame, I agree that Ashburn, based on comparability, obviously deserves to be in. My own idiosyncratic criteria, however, would make him a marginal candidate They are based in large part on one question from Bill's Keltner test: if this guy were the best player on your team, could you win the pennant? Ashburn by that standard is marginal. He had three seasons with 28 win shares, and while teams have won the pennant with their best player at that level, it's uncommon. (My admittedly arbitrary standard of greatness is 30 win shares.) Ashburn had the third-highest win shares on the 1950 Phillies, behind Robin Roberts and Del Ennis. He's like Pete Rose in that respect: the Reds never won the pennant in a year when Rose was their best player. (Interestingly, Dom DiMaggio reached 28 win shares only once, and Matty Alou had 27 once and never exceeded 23 in any other season.)
DK
8:16 AM May 17th
 
Steven Goldleaf
BTW, according to the NY Times, he wasn't exactly taken out of the game for Solly Drake. It was Sammy Drake, who was the other baserunner picked off in the triple play. Both Drake, who had singled pinch-hitting for the pitcher, and Ashburn, who had singled in the leadoff position, ran on contact on a Joe Pignatano blooper that Kenny Hubbs nabbed. Stengel seems to have double-switched, putting Drake in the game in the 9 hole and the new pitcher, Ken MacKenzie, in Ashburn's leadoff spot.
8:08 AM May 17th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Bill--where did you get your information about Ashburn's loss of ability in his final month of his career? I'm going to try to do a SABR bio on Ashburn and never came across this tidbit. Stengel pretty much benched him, pinchhitting him most days, but there's also a week (Sept 8-15 or so) where he didn't play him at all, so I'm wondering if he was injured. Another oddity is that for the first 4 months of the year, Ashburn was in CF every game, pretty much, then not so much. I had assumed that he was being rested throughout the season in deference to his age, but no--he was in the lineup every day, and then suddenly not at all, and as you probably know he missed qualifying for the OBP title (which didn't exist, of course) by only a handful of ABs--and had he gotten up to the plate 5 or 10 more times he would have led the NL in OBP in his final year.
7:34 AM May 17th
 
those
Bill, is there any reason to believe that DiMaggio's stats in other years would have been affected had he played during the war years? That is, that he would conceivably had learned something earlier, and stayed sharper, without the career interruption?
2:23 PM May 16th
 
tigerlily
Great article Bill. Keep 'em coming! Regarding the Elo Rating - the voting seems to be very political and is not a reliable indicator of the relative merits of the top players in baseball history. I just went to Elo - the Top 10 players currently listed is a reasonable list. But... after that - Charlie Gehringer is 11th, George Sisler is 16th, Frankie Frisch is 20th. Ichiro (49) is ahead of Pujols (51). ARod is currently 172nd and Bobby Bonds (159) is considered a greater player than his son Barry (226).
12:18 PM May 16th
 
wovenstrap
According to a book on Google Books, to continue the theme, Ashburn did in fact have an older brother named Bob.
11:03 AM May 16th
 
 
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