Joe

September 25, 2012

                I think it might be fair to say that Joe DiMaggio has never been a favorite of the sabermetric community.     DiMaggio was the hero of the New York sportswriters of the post-war generation (post-World War II.)  That crowd overlooked his human failings, romanticized his leadership qualities, and would insist with a straight face that DiMaggio never made a base running mistake in his career.

                They also disliked numbers.    It wasn’t that they rejected statistical analysis; there wasn’t any statistical analysis in their generation that was worthy of the name.   They disliked statistics.   It was fundamental to their world view that Joe DiMaggio was a far greater player than Ted Williams.   If it was necessary to site statistics to prove this, they would site them.   If it was necessary to dismiss statistics to prove this, they would dismiss them.    Most often, it was necessary to dismiss them.

                When statistical analysts came along, we tended to be Ted Williams men—or, even worse, Mickey Mantle men.   To the DiMaggio sportswriters, suggesting that Mantle was a greater player than DiMaggio was sacrilege.   We sacrileged away.    They saw Mantle as an uppity young’un, and saw us as the irresponsible advocates of the uppity young’un.   We just didn’t know how great Joe was, because we never saw him play.

                Missing in all this is that Joe DiMaggio was in fact a very great player—offensively and defensively—and that, on a superficial level, the stats do in fact understate his impact.   Among all the great players in history, I doubt there was any who was hurt as much by the parks he played in as was DiMaggio.   DiMaggio in his career hit 148 home runs at home, 213 on the road.    He hit .315 in his home parks (park—Yankee Stadium), vs. .333 on the road.    He hit more doubles on the road.     He drove in almost a hundred more runs on the road (818-720).

                In addition to this, DiMaggio lost three prime seasons to World War II, seasons in which he might very reasonably have put up the best numbers of his career.    If DiMaggio hit 46 homers and drove in 167 runs when he was 22 years old—which he did—might he not very plausibly have hit 55 homers and driven in 180 when he was 28, 29 or 30?    And that is without adjusting for the park.   When DiMaggio hit 46 homers and drove in 167 runs in 1937, he hit 27 homers and drove in 87 runs on the road.    Adjust that for the park, you get some big numbers. 

                I decided to re-create DiMaggio’s career batting records on the following assumptions: 

                1)  DiMaggio plays not in Yankee Stadium, but in a "neutral" park, neither particularly helpful to his numbers nor particularly harmful to them, and

                2)   DiMaggio plays through the war.  

                This leaves several issues.   We could project DiMaggio’s career numbers if he had played in St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park, which was the best park in the league for him.   In 127 career games in St. Louis DiMaggio hit .389 with 45 homers, 156 RBI, also 45 doubles, a slugging percentage of .759.   I decided not to do that.    We could also give him back some games he missed with injuries; since we’re operating on a counter-factual set of assumptions, we could at the same time throw in "what if he hadn’t missed so many games with injuries?"    I decided not to do that.

                I did, however—since this is essentially a pro-DiMaggio operation—give him a couple of other breaks.    First, I decided that he would continue to play for the Yankees.   It makes a difference; DiMaggio drove in phenomenal numbers of runs in part because he played for Yankee teams that were always first or second in the league in On Base Percentage.    DiMaggio also had very high ratios of plate appearances per game.   In his career he averaged 4.42 plate appearances per game, as opposed to 4.27 for Ted Williams, 4.18 for Willie Mays, 4.13 for Mickey Mantle, 4.23 for Hank Aaron, 4.20 for Stan Musial, and 2.86 for Aaron Ledesma.  Compared to Mantle, Mays, Aaron or Musial, DiMaggio got an extra 30 plate appearances a year because the Yankees could sustain an offense.

                In theory, if the Yankees had played in another park, their ability to sustain an offense might have been even greater, and DiMaggio might have had even more plate appearances per game.   I decided not to give him even more, but I decided to allow him to keep the 4.42 plate appearances per game, which is more than any other comparable hitter got.   Also, I decided to give him one extra year, on the speculative logic that, playing in another park, DiMaggio would have had better numbers, thus would have been under less pressure to retire in 1951, when his numbers took a sudden downturn.   I let him play through 1952.   This still gives DiMaggio only a 17-year career, which is still a fairly short career.   Willie Mays, missing a season to military service, still played in 22 seasons (1951-1973), Stan Musial the same (1941-1963), while guys like Cobb, Aaron, Yastrzemski and Brooks Robinson played 23 or more.

                OK, now we have to decide what to give DiMaggio on a per-at-bat basis.    We can start with DiMaggio’s career batting stats on the road: 

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

856

3461

742

1154

203

58

213

818

16

6

392

206

.333

.405

.610

1.015

 

                We could use that to represent his neutral-park batting stats, and, actually, we will circle back to numbers very similar to those at the end of the process, but there are a bunch of other things to worry about.   Let’s assume that an average park has a park factor of 1.00, and thus that the eight parks in the American League in DiMaggio’s time had a total park factor of 8.00.    The Yankee Park Factor in DiMaggio’s years was usually around .86, which means that the other seven parks totaled up to about 7.14.    That means that the average "road" park for DiMaggio had a Park Factor of about 1.02, meaning that it inflated offense by about 2%.   We’re giving DiMaggio a logically indefensible little break by assuming that his "road" park is a neutral park.   We have to factor his ability to hit in Yankee Stadium back into it.

                We do that by dividing his Yankee Stadium performance by 7, and adding that back into his "road" performance, as if Yankee Stadium was his eighth road park.   This produces the following batting line:

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

982

3941

835

1305

230

68

234

921

18

6

449

229

.331

.404

.602

1.006

 

                OK, so that’s park-neutral batting for Joe DiMaggio; his batting average drops to .331, but his OPS is still over 1.000.   The only real players in major league history who have a career OPS of 1.000 are Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds, Jimmie Foxx, Albert Pujols, Hank Greenberg, Rogers Hornsby and Ed Sanicki.

                At this point, however, we have DiPrived DiMaggio of his home field advantage.    This is what DiMaggio should hit in a neutral road park (mostly.   Technically, he still has a home field advantage in 1/8th of his games.)   We have to give him back his home field advantage.  

                In DiMaggio’s era the home team typically hit about 12 points higher than the road team.    If DiMaggio was at home in half of his games, that would be 6 points.   Since he already has some little remnant of his home field advantage embedded in the stats we showed above, we’ll improve him by five points.  

                We can improve his average by five points by removing 67 at bats from the batting line shown above.    Since DiMaggio had 4.42 plate appearances per game, that requires that we also remove 15 games.  Also, we’ll assume that of the 67 batting outs removed from DiMaggio’s line, 5 were strikeouts.   That makes DiMaggio’s batting line as follows:

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

967

3884

835

1305

230

68

234

921

18

6

449

224

.336

.410

.611

1.021

 

                So that’s what we’ll allow DiMaggio to do per plate appearance, and don’t worry, I’m also tracking the stuff like Hit By Pitch and Sacrifice Bunts, I’m just not showing you that data.  

                We can break this down into eleven outcomes, which are as follows:

 

                Strikeout

                Hit Batsman

                Walk

                Home Run

                Triple

                Double

                Single

                Sacrifice Bunt

                GIDP

                Ground Ball Out

                Fly Ball Out

 

                My task is actually a little more complicated than this because I have to get RBI and Runs Scored right, as well.   In order to do that, I have to make a certain number of the singles RBI singles and a certain number of them non-RBI singles, a certain number of them lead to runs scored and a certain number not lead to runs scored, a certain number of two-run homers and a certain number of grand slam homers, etc.    That gets boring, so I’ll condense this a little bit.

                Per 10,000 plate appearances, our park-neutral DiMaggio would have 513 strikeouts, 67 hit by pitch, 1,031 walks, 537 home runs, 156 triples, 528 doubles, 1,774 singles, 11 sacrifice bunts, 179 double play grounders, 2,512 other ground ball outs, and 2,692 fly ball outs.  

                Except that our re-constructed DiMaggio does not have exactly 10,000 career plate appearances.   How many does he have?

                DiMaggio had 7,673 plate appearances in real life.    Let’s say that he played 150 games a year during the war (1943-1945) and that he played another 120 games in 1952; we’re giving him an extra 570 games.    At 4.42 plate appearances per game, that’s another 2,519 plate appearances.   That’s 10,192.

                OK, well. . .we’ll adjust that and show you the totals later.     My next task was to create a spreadsheet on which all of these events were listed one at a time—the right numbers of homers, the right number of doubles, the right number of strikeouts, etc.    That was easy.   Then I had to try to sort those so that they represent what Joe DiMaggio’s career might plausibly have looked like, if

                1)  He had not played in the toughest park in the league for a right-handed power hitter, and

                2)  He had been able to play through the years 1943-1945 without DiSruption.  

                Here’s what I came up with:

Joe1

 
 

COMMENTS (11 Comments, most recent shown first)

grising
Sorry, it's hard to make out some of the stats. But they're impressive. in 1939, for example, DiMaggio would have hit .405 if Yankee Stadium had represented 1/8 of his stats, instead of 1/2.

7:54 PM Aug 6th
 
grising
I have a park-factor method that is similar but better. Joe D played in an 8-park league, so I proportionally decrease his home stats from 1/2 to 1/8 of the total, and I increase the 7-park road stats to 7/8. (I didn't add any seasons.):
Park G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1936 141 710 683 155 226 50 14 39 139 6 21 49 0.330 0.350 0.616 0.966
1937 149 682 628 138 219 37 14 52 171 2 49 38 0.348 0.396 0.702 1.097
1938 143 666 604 125 185 22 11 34 131 6 58 20 0.307 0.368 0.544 0.912
1939 114 520 453 120 184 32 9 35 146 4 58 20 0.405 0.473 0.744 1.217
1940 137 601 538 103 187 31 7 30 131 4 59 41 0.348 0.412 0.599 1.012
1941 129 589 509 124 186 44 10 29 115 4 73 14 0.366 0.446 0.660 1.106
1942 154 689 610 139 192 29 14 25 117 1 76 35 0.315 0.390 0.528 0.919
1946 132 568 499 86 157 23 5 32 114 2 64 27 0.313 0.392 0.570 0.962
1947 142 611 557 96 179 27 10 22 93 4 51 35 0.321 0.377 0.522 0.899
1948 152 677 599 112 195 31 7 46 166 2 72 29 0.325 0.398 0.629 1.027
1949 78 342 286 64 103 14 6 17 83 0 54 21 0.361 0.463 0.630 1.093
1950 146 644 556 128 176 41 9 43 143 0 88 43 0.317 0.410 0.651 1.061
1951 103 446 377 71 99 22 4 9 59 0 63 36 0.263 0.369 0.415 0.784
1718 7743 6897 1459 2286 402 120 410 1606 33 786 406 0.331 0.400 0.603 1.003

7:46 PM Aug 6th
 
wdr1946
DiMag hit in his peak years .381 and 46 home runs as a right-handed batter in the old Yankee Stadium. I think Bill James has underestimated the peaks which DiMag might well have achieved in a favorable ball park- he surely would have hit over .400 and 55-60 home runs, given some reasonable breaks. I also think that in the DiMaggio-Ted William debate, DiMaggio was the more valuable player, as great as Ted obviously was, and the Yankees would have been nuts to trade him straight up for Teddy (although Ted was four years younger). The Yanks won ten pennants in thirteen years with Dimaggio. Would they really have won eleven if they had had Ted Williams (given the same age and health)? How plausible was that? Of course both had 24 tammates, but the Red Sox were pretty good, possibly as good as the Yanks on paper, in the late 1930s and 1940s, but won only one pennant.
8:31 AM Oct 3rd
 
studes
Bill inspired Craig Wright to write an article about Ed Sanicki in his most recent Diamond Appraised. He was the first player to hit home runs for his first three hits, I think.
2:53 PM Sep 30th
 
jemanji
Hm. A little surprising that his theoretical slash line here is effectively the same as his road slash line. The 547 homers and 2171 RBI are cool to look at.

Seeing as he played in the middle of the diamond, leaving 1B, LF etc wide open for ANOTHER cleanup hitter ... I wonder if Joe D would be a *reasonable* selection for 1st overall pick, all time. That if you had the #1 pick of all history's players, and were talking about a 15-year window, whether you'd be doing fine to take DiMaggio.​
7:53 PM Sep 28th
 
jimgus
Isn't it interesting that, of the nine guys (not counting Ed) that have a career OPS over 1.000, three of them (Gehrig, Foxx, and Greenberg) play the same position in the same league at essentially the same time.
So the questions is: Should this cause one to discount their achievements and status as a few of the best of all time at their position? In other words, is their greatness a legacy of their ability or their timing? It's a meaningful question.
Oh, about the article... I LOVE Joe D. Either he or Lefty Grove is my favorite player ever. So anytime I find a bit of analysis that presents his great career in an even greater light, I am pleased. Nice work, Bill.
Incidentally, there IS quite a bit of anti-Joe backlash these days, isn't there? So, here's a question about that: Would you rather be Joe D and be lauded during and just after your playing career but largely dismissed near the end of your life, or would you rather be Teddy Ballgame and be derided during your career, but ultimately lionized toward the end of your life (and achieve what you always said was all that you ever wanted)?
Man, I should have put this in "Reader Posts." :-)
9:38 AM Sep 28th
 
yorobert
first thing i checked was to see if he had more career homers than strikeouts. he does. nice.
12:52 PM Sep 26th
 
rtallia
A great "what if....", though my favorite remains "what if Lou Gehrig doesn't get sick?"...will always wonder about that final RBI total....
10:54 AM Sep 26th
 
ErnieSS
Yeah, I looked up Sanicki too.
DiMag's career numbers in this exercise are huge...3,000 hits, 500 homers, 2,000 RBI. IHowever, it is interesting to see that, even with the neutral-park advantages, his 1941 numbers pale in comparison to the Splinter's.
3:58 AM Sep 26th
 
georownd
Ok - I fell for it - I looked up Ed Sanicki...
12:20 AM Sep 26th
 
izzy24
Thanks for the article, Bill. Alternate Reality Dimaggio's RBI numbers are insane.

What all time great do you think would suffer the most from this kind of study? I would assume Mel Ott's home run numbers would drastically drop, but his other numbers might improve.
9:34 PM Sep 25th
 
 
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