Counting Stars

August 4, 2020
                                                            Counting Stars

            I got involved in a Twitter discussion this morning about Yogi Berra and the number of star players the Yankees had in the 1950s, and, because I didn’t feel like doing actual work, I did a quick and dirty follow-up study of the issue.

            Suppose that we said that any season in which a player earns 30 Win Shares is a Superstar Quality Season, 25-29 Win Shares is a Star Quality Season (with Superstar seasons also counted as star quality seasons), and 20-24 Win Shares is a High Quality Regular season (with Superstars and Stars also counted as High Quality Regulars.)   That was my initial definition, but it really bothered me that Billy Pierce never had what qualified as a star-quality season.  Few other pitchers did, so modified the rules to count 29 as a Superstar season by a catcher or pitcher, 24 as a Star quality season by a catcher or a pitcher, and 19 as a High Quality Regular season by a catcher or a pitcher.  

            Using those standards—take it for what it is worth—but using those standards, my assertion that Cleveland had far more "Star" seasons than the Yankees is clearly true.   Cleveland beat the Yankees in Star-Quality seasons during the 1950s, 27 to 19. 

 

            In terms of Superstar seasons, the Yankees dominate.  There were 28 Superstar quality seasons in the American League in the 1950s, of which the Yankees had 13—7 by Mantle, 5 by Yogi Berra, and 1 by Phil Rizzuto.   The Indians were second with 7:

NY

13

 

Mantle 7, Berra 5, Rizzuto 1

Cle

7

 

Doby 3, Rosen 2, Avila 1, Colavito, 1

Chi

3

 

Fox 2, Minoso 1

Bos

2

 

Ted Williams-2

Det

1

 

Kaline

 

Phil

1

 

Shantz

 

Was

1

 

Sievers

 

 

            But in terms of star seasons, the Indians lead easily, with 27:

Cle

27

 

Doby 5, Rosen 5, Lemon 3, Wynn 3, Al Smith 2, Colavito 2, Minoso 2,

      

   

Avila 1, Score 1, Woodling 1, Garcia 1, Francona 1

NY

19

 

Mantle 8, Berra 7, DiMaggio 1, Rizzuto 1, McDougald 1, Allie Reynolds 1

Det

13

 

Kaline 3, Kuenn 2, Hoot Evers 1, Kell 1, Wertz 1, Houtteman 1,

      

   

Maxwell 1, Bunning 1, Yost 1, Gromek 1

Chi

11

 

Minoso 4, Fox 4, Eddie Robinson 1, Landis 1, Pierce 1

Bos

8

 

Williams 5, Jensen 1, Runnels 1, Tom Brewer 1

Was

6

 

Sievers 2, Vernon 1, Yost 1, Busby 1, Pascual 1

Phi

4

 

Joost 2, Shantz 1, Fain 1

KC

2

 

Cerv 1, Vic Power 1

StL

1

 

Ned Garver

 

            By my count there were 91 Star Quality seasons in the American League in the 1950s.  Baltimore did not have one.

            And in terms of Quality Regular Seasons, the Indians again lead easily:

Cleveland

51

New York

43

Chicago

34

Detroit

30

Boston

30

Washington

24

Baltimore

7

Philadelphia

7

St Louis

2

Kansas City

2

 

            A total of 230 "Quality Regular" seasons in the league—about three per team per season.   The most by any team in a season was 8, by Cleveland in 1952. 

            I won’t do the National League, but I’ll do the Dodgers.  I credit the Dodgers with 8 Superstar seasons, more than any team except the Yankees (Duke Snider, 4; Jackie Robinson, 2; Roy Campanella, 2.)   I have them with 25 Star-Quality Seasons, two less than the Indians but 6 more than the Yankees (Snider, 7; Robinson, 4; Hodges, 4; Campanella, 3; Gilliam, 2; Newcombe, 2; Reese, 1; Wally Moon, 1; Charlie Neal, 1.   They had 52 Quality Regular Seasons, one more than the Indians, and they also had 8 in 1951 and 8 in 1953.  

 
 

COMMENTS (21 Comments, most recent shown first)

djmedinah
Hi Bill,

Would it be possible to see the total number of Superstar, star, HQ, Regular, & poor seasons? I suspect that the ratio between these categories may be interesting mathematically. Thanks!
2:23 PM Aug 8th
 
evanecurb
Regarding Bill's comments on the 1959 Orioles,

Yes, speaking for all O's fans, we definitely count Pappas. As you say, for obvious reasons. Tough to imagine but the 1970 World Series could have been played with Robinson in right field for the Reds instead of the O's!
3:25 PM Aug 6th
 
bjames


evanecurb
Looking at the list of 1950s star seasons, would anyone have predicted that Baltimore would have the league's best won-lost record of the 1960s?

Actually, a lot of people would have--but for the wrong reason. The 1959 Baltimore Orioles pitching staff included three 20-year-olds who pitched extremely well. Milt Pappas, who turned 20 during the season, was 15-9 with a 3.27 ERA. Jerry Walker, who turned 20 just before the season, made 22 starts with a 2.92 ERA, and Jack Fisher, who also turned 20 during the season, got into 27 games/89 innings with a 3.05 ERA. Billy O'Dell, who was 26, had a 2.93 ERA, and the team was second in the league in ERA.

By the end of the 1959 season, a lot of people thought that these great young pitchers would carry the Orioles to the top of the league. It didn't really turn out that way, but the Orioles were good, anyway. Brooks Robinson was an Oriole regular in 1958, struggled, came back in the second half of the 1959 season and played well. He was the only player who was key to their later success who was part of the team in 1959, unless you count Pappas. For obvious reasons.
12:29 PM Aug 6th
 
evanecurb
Looking at the list of 1950s star seasons, would anyone have predicted that Baltimore would have the league's best won-lost record of the 1960s?
10:09 AM Aug 6th
 
KaiserD2
Bill is right about the Yankees in September--I once looked at it myself, and they outperformed their rivals in close races year after year in that month. Check retrosheet standings for September 1 in the years they won the pennant and I'm sure that's what you'll find. 1954 was an exception.

David K
8:02 AM Aug 6th
 
bjames

But how do we test this hypothesis? The thesis is that the players were well rested. I guess we could look at their records in September and October vs. other months to see if the effect of being well rested is present in those months. Looking only at World Series records, it's a pretty small sample size.


Right. I've looked at their records in September before (don't know if there are any October regular season games then, and they probably wouldn't be relevant anyway because the race was probably over.) I've looked at the September records; I can't quote them from memory, but I think the Yankees won the last 40-45 days of the schedule in a lot of seasons.
9:06 PM Aug 5th
 
wovenstrap
I don't disagree with that, Bill.
8:30 PM Aug 5th
 
evanecurb
Bill James said: "I think you can also make a pretty solid argument that Stengel's platooning and light use of his best pitchers made the Yankees stronger in September and October."

This is logical, and their record speaks for itself. The Yanks lost seventh games in '55, '57, and '60, so I think 7-3 in World Series, five of those wins in fewer than seven games, and every loss was in seven.

But how do we test this hypothesis? The thesis is that the players were well rested. I guess we could look at their records in September and October vs. other months to see if the effect of being well rested is present in those months. Looking only at World Series records, it's a pretty small sample size.
7:51 PM Aug 5th
 
bjames
8 guys overthinking the problem.
7:38 PM Aug 5th
 
DaveNJnews
Poor Ned Garver.
5:57 PM Aug 5th
 
bhalbleib
I think what I am seeing is that while the Indians (and the Dodgers) were better than the Yankees 1 through 15, the Yankees were better each and every year 1 through 25 and maybe even 1 through 30. For instance, the Yankees had such a great stockpile of talent in the OF that Bob Cerv, who appears on the Star season list as an A, was basically a great PH for the Yankees for 6 seasons before he finally got his chance to play when traded to the A's. He was the 25th player or even lower than that on the roster for the Yankees, but he was the starting LF in the All Star Game 2 years after traded to the A's (at age 33)
3:23 PM Aug 5th
 
KaiserD2
I also found that the Yankees under Stengel had remarkably few superstar seasons, even though they had one or two that fall under the radar for some other ways to measure seasons, such as irv Noren in 1954 (when he had an outstanding year in the field.) There is however another remarkable mystery about Casey's Yankees which some one really ought to try to investigate.
Pete Palmer provided me with his database of projected team runs for the whole history of MLB since 1901, based on linear weights. It has a pretty low standard error compared to actual runs. From 1947 through 1956, the Yankees had an incredible record of exceeding their projected number of runs by a significant margin. They exceeded it by 53 runs in 1947, 42 in 1948, 58 in 1949, 51 in 1950, 42 in 1951, just 6 in 1952, 22 in 1953, 69 in 1954 (when they had their best record in this stretch), 16 in 1955, and 67 in 1956. After that, they stopped exceeding their projection significantly. When you consider that 40 extra runs is equivalent to an extra superstar in the lineup, it's clear that this edge, wherever it came from, was a huge component of their success. It was more than enough to make the difference between winning and losing in 1949, 1950, and even 1955.
What this means is that the Yankees had an astonishing ability to bunch their hits and walks. I honestly have no idea how they could have done this, unless their pinch-hitting was phenomenally good (I haven't checked that.) Dick Cramer estimated that the odds of this happening by chance were 1 in 100,000. I did not encounter any other teams that had done anything remotely similar over a period of years.

David K
8:10 AM Aug 5th
 
wovenstrap
It seems like the method ignores too much about the organizational capacities of the teams. The Yankees may have had more $$$$ during those years and better scouting, etc. and so the fruits of that investment might manifest as an awful lot of B++ players (whose wings Stengel would then clip). A little bit like the Dodgers of today, so so so many quality players but I'm not sure that team pops in a statistical sense so much. Or does Kiké?
9:54 PM Aug 4th
 
GuillermoMountain
I assume these are players’ lifetime totals, as Berra, Mantle & Snider all have more than 10 cumulative...​
9:26 PM Aug 4th
 
shthar
What if we go by all-star game appearances by team?


5:05 PM Aug 4th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I think we're disagreeing only semantically. Did Stengel have fewer stars than Durocher? I don't think so. Because of how they manipulated and substituted (or didn't ) their players, Durocher was PERCEIVED as having more stars, but McDougald was every bit as good as Kessinger or Beckert (better probably), wouldn't you say? Skowron as good as Banks, Howard (in the 1950s) as good as Hundley--but the perception was that the Cubs were stars and these Yankees weren't. Do you really want to elevate the Cubs to stardom because of public perception? I don't.
4:34 PM Aug 4th
 
bjames


but did he really have fewer star players or fewer star seasons? Stengel discouraged the creation of superstars, as you just pointed out, deliberately, but does that mean he didn't HAVE the stars other teams had?


Yes, that is what it means, because the definition of a "star" relies upon public perception as well as performance. If you are not SEEN as a star you are not a star, for the same reason that if you are not elected President, you are not the President.
4:12 PM Aug 4th
 
Steven Goldleaf
"Stengel's platooning and light use of his best pitchers made the Yankees stronger in September and October." Which gets back to the point I tried to make on Twitter. The Yankees didn't actually have fewer stars in the 1950s--they had fewer star SEASONS because Stengel was manipulating his lineup, substituting far more frequently than his peers his bench for his front line players (except for Mantle and Berra), thus denying star status to the likes of Howard, McDougald, Bauer that they would have had given more playing time. You've made this point several times, most recently in your discussion of Stengel's extensive use of his bench, but also in your discussion of the opposite phenomenon, that of Durocher in 1960s making stars (seemingly) out of players like Kessinger, Beckert and Hundley simply by playing them more than their talents warranted, boosting their stats but not their abilities. Stengel wins this argument, by dint of winning where Durocher was losing, but did he really have fewer star players or fewer star seasons? Stengel discouraged the creation of superstars, as you just pointed out, deliberately, but does that mean he didn't HAVE the stars other teams had?
3:31 PM Aug 4th
 
SteveN
I'm surprised that the As show up so well. The team was pretty bad.
2:35 PM Aug 4th
 
bjames
If I was to invest more time in this, I would

1) Get rid of the special rule for pitchers and catchers, but
2) Use WAR as well, and make the rule that any season is a Superstar season if the player had 30 Win Shares or 7 WAR, either one,
3) Make a rule that an MVP season is always counted as a Superstar season,
4) Make a rule that a Cy Young season is always counted as a Star season, and
5) Count every team since 1900.

Responding to Evanecurb--I think you can also make a pretty solid argument that Stengel's platooning and light use of his best pitchers made the Yankees stronger in September and October.
2:32 PM Aug 4th
 
evanecurb
Fun method. I like it and it is consistent with something Bill said recently about Stengel. By substituting and platooning liberally, the Yankees’ players tended to have fewer all star type seasons than they likely would have had as regulars playing 150 games a year.
2:24 PM Aug 4th
 
 
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