Moving on to Left Field

May 2, 2018
 

126.  Shortstops in Sequence

                At the turn of the last century the greatest shortstop in baseball was Honus Wagner, who held that spot for more than ten years. After Wagner it was Maranville, after Maranville it was Bancroft, and after Bancroft, Joe Sewell, and each of those held the #1 spot for about three years.  After Sewell it was Travis Jackson for about three years, and then Joe Cronin for about three years, and then for a long time it was Arky Vaughan.  After Vaughan the best shortstop in baseball was Luke Appling, and after Appling it was Vern Stephens.  After Stephens the best shortstop was Lou Boudreau, and then Reese and Rizzuto.  After Reese and Rizzuto the #1 shortstop was Ernie Banks, then Maury Wills, then Jim Fregosi, then Bert Campaneris, then Dave Concepcion.   After this two-decade run without a Hall of Fame shortstop, basically, then we get Robin Yount (after Concepcion), then Cal Ripken, then Alan Trammell, then Barry Larkin. 

                After Larkin we get the troika, A-Rod and Nomar and Dirty Rotten Jeter, all legitimate #1s although A-Rod was the best of them because of his big, big bat.   After A-Rod the best were Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes, and then we get to the current generation of shortstops, of whom Corey Seager may be the best.   (This was written before Seager’s injury, so maybe not; I don’t know.)

 

127.  The Top Left Fielders of the 19th Century

 

Rank

First

Last

1

2

3

4

5

Pts

1

Jim

O'Rourke

3

6

1

2

0

80

2

Ed

Delahanty

6

1

0

0

0

67

3

Harry

Stovey

1

5

4

3

0

67

4

Pete

Browning

3

2

1

2

0

52

5

Charley

Jones

2

3

2

1

0

51

6

Tip

O'Neill

4

0

0

3

0

46

7

Jesse

Burkett

0

3

5

0

0

41

8

Joe

Kelley

1

3

2

0

1

40

9

Tom

York

2

2

1

0

1

39

10

Abner

Dalrymple

2

0

2

1

2

32

11

Elmer

Smith

0

2

0

4

1

23

12

Fred

Clarke

0

0

1

2

1

9

 

                Joe Kelley was in mid-career in 1900, and had several pretty-good seasons in the 20th century. 

                Elmer Smith was basically finished by 1900, although he did play into the 20th century. He was one of those guys who started as a pitcher, moved to the outfield when he hurt his arm.  There were a lot of those in 19th century baseball. 

 

128.  The Crab

                At the opening of the 20th century the best Left Fielder in baseball was Jesse Burkett.   Jesse was an ornery, cantankerous player, which I think you can actually see in this photo of him; I imagine that I can, anyway:

  Jesse_Burkett

                He just kind of looks like he is trying to find a reason to pick a fight with the photographer.   The photo comes from his SABR biography by David Jones, which is excellent.   Quoting the paragraphs which explain why he was known as "The Crab":

On and off the field, "The Crab"--as his Cleveland Spiders teammates dubbed him--was cranky and unsociable, prone to challenging opponents with his fists and insulting fans and umpires with strings of expletives so creative that sportswriters of the day could only reprint his repartee by omitting all the bad language, which usually made his harangues incomprehensible. In 1906, one publication rendered a Burkett tirade this way: "Why you blank, blankety blank, do you know what I think of you? I think you are the blankest blank blank that ever came out of the blank blankest town in the blank blank land. You ought to be put in a museum." Burkett's most notorious achievement may have come in 1897, when he was ejected from both ends of a doubleheader.

                In 1921 Burkett was a coach with the New York Giants, who won the World Series, but Burkett was so unpopular with the players that they did not vote him a share of the World Series money.   Burkett was a leadoff hitter in the era when many players had high averages; he hit .409 and .410 in 1895-1896.   Ten players hit .400 in the 1890s—Ed Delahanty three times, Burkett twice, and Hugh Duffy, Willie Keeler, Sam Thompson, Billy Hamilton and Hughie Jennings once each.  At that time a foul bunt was just a foul ball; you could roll bunts foul as long as you could make contact.  Burkett has been described as the best bunter in baseball, understanding that other people were also described as the best bunter in baseball, but he was a good bunter in a game that allowed you to take more advantage of that than it does now.  When the rule was adopted that a foul bunt on the third strike was an out, Burkett’s average dropped 70 points. 

R

First

Last

YEAR

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SB

Avg

OBA

SPct

Score

1

Jesse

Burkett

1900

88

203

11

15

7

68

62

32

.363

.429

.474

29.6

2

Kip

Selbach

1900

98

176

29

12

4

68

72

36

.337

.425

.461

25.7

 

         

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

1

Jesse

Burkett

1901

142

226

20

15

10

75

59

27

.376

.440

.509

33.2

2

Ed

Delahanty

1901

106

192

38

16

8

108

65

29

.354

.427

.528

31.7

3

Jimmy

Sheckard

1901

116

196

29

19

11

104

47

35

.354

.407

.534

30.8

4

Fred

Clarke

1901

118

171

24

15

6

60

51

23

.324

.395

.461

29.4

5

Sam

Mertes

1901

94

151

16

17

5

98

52

46

.277

.347

.396

24.4

 

                Burkett was playing for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1900-1901. They were not a competitive team. 

 

129.  The Fred Clarke Era

                We will describe the years from 1902 to 1910 as the Fred Clarke Era, although Clarke was not a dominant player or a superstar.  The position was not weak because it was void of a superstar; there were several outstanding left fielders in those years—Sherry Magee, Jimmy Sheckard, George Stone, Topsy Hartsell, Sam Mertes and others.   Turkey Mike Donlin played left field sometimes, when he wasn’t suspended or playing center field.  Clarke was the only one to make the Hall of Fame because:

                1)  He kept himself in much better shape than the other guys did and avoided injury, thus was able to have a much longer period of success than most of them, and a longer period of success than any of them, and

                2)  Clarke managed the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1900 to 1915, a period of tremendous success for them, and probably would be in the Hall of Fame as a manager even if he did not have 2,700 hits, a .312 average and 500 stolen bases. 

                The National League in almost all of this era was divided into three super-teams and five perennial losers.   The three super-teams were the Pirates, the Cubs and the Giants.  From 1901 to 1913 the Pirates had a .618 winning percentage, were 458 games over .500, and won four National League pennants.   The Cubs has a .612 winning percentage, were 436 games over .500, and also won four pennants.   The Giants had a .597 winning percentage and were only 376 games over .500, but won five NL pennants.   Everybody else in the league was under .500 and nobody else won a pennant.   It was truly a haves-and-have-nots league.  Frank Chance skippered the Cubs and is in the Hall of Fame, John McGraw led the Giants and is in the Hall of Fame, and Fred Clarke managed the Pirates and is in the Hall of Fame. 

                Clarke was a major league manager from an early age; he had managed Louisville for three years before he came to Pittsburgh.  He saved his money, and bought a large ranch in central Kansas, where land was still cheap at that time.   Oil was discovered on his land, so that made him even richer.  He invested a little money in the team, and was part owner of the Pirates, which led to a famous incident in 1926 when Clarke, sitting on the bench and wearing a suit, second-guessed the manager.  This led to a nasty all-over-the-newspapers round of players choosing sides; the principle owner (Barney Dreyfuss) had to break off a vacation in Europe to come home and sort things out. The Pirates, who were in first place at the time of the incident and who had won the league in 1925 and would win it in 1927, collapsed down the stretch, and the manager either resigned or got fired.

                It is hard to explain, but baseball was in a transitional phase, and the Fred Clarke incident exposed the seams.  Up to 1920, teams didn’t really have front offices.   They had an owner, a traveling secretary, a bookkeeper, somebody who was in charge of selling tickets, and maybe one or two scouts, but the scouts worked for and reported to the manager.   In the 1920s the modern front office began to evolve, and the responsibility for acquiring players shifted from the manager to the General Manager.  Clarke was sort-of a front office guy and sort-of a coach, wearing a suit and sitting on the bench and probably playing golf with the owner, I don’t know.   What nobody understood, until the Fred Clarke incident, was that this placed the coach in a position to undermine the manager.   It wasn’t clear who outranked who in the dugout.   After the Fred Clarke incident everybody understood that. 

                The commissioner a year or two later made the rule that (a) the owner could not manage the team, and (b) the manager had to be in uniform, except that Connie Mack would be allowed to manage in a suit as long as he owned the team.   Everybody thinks that these rules were aimed at Judge Emil Fuchs in Boston, after Fuchs (the owner) took over the Braves and made a pretty disastrous effort to manage them, and the rules were aimed at Fuchs, but they were also in response to the Fred Clarke thing with the Pirates.  Anyway, the left fielders of 1902 to 1910:

R

First

Last

YEAR

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SB

Avg

OBA

SPct

Score

1

Fred

Clarke

1902

103

145

27

14

2

53

51

29

.316

.401

.449

30.7

2

Jimmy

Sheckard

1902

89

133

21

10

4

37

58

25

.265

.348

.371

28.3

3

Ed

Delahanty

1902

103

178

43

14

10

93

62

16

.376

.453

.590

28.2

4

Jesse

Burkett

1902

97

169

29

9

5

52

71

23

.306

.390

.418

28.1

5

Topsy

Hartsel

1902

109

154

20

12

5

58

87

47

.283

.383

.391

25.3

 

         

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

1

Jimmy

Sheckard

1903

99

171

29

9

9

75

75

67

.332

.423

.476

28.7

2

Fred

Clarke

1903

88

150

32

15

5

70

41

21

.351

.414

.532

28.6

3

Sam

Mertes

1903

100

145

32

14

7

104

61

45

.280

.360

.437

28.4

4

Jesse

Burkett

1903

73

151

20

7

3

40

52

17

.293

.361

.377

25.8

5

Topsy

Hartsel

1903

65

116

19

14

5

26

49

13

.311

.391

.477

25.6

 

         

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

1

Sam

Mertes

1904

83

147

28

11

4

78

54

47

.276

.346

.393

27.6

2

Topsy

Hartsel

1904

79

135

17

12

2

25

75

19

.253

.347

.341

24.3

3

Jesse

Burkett

1904

72

156

15

10

2

27

78

12

.271

.363

.343

23.8

4

Mike

Donlin

1904

59

121

18

10

3

52

28

22

.329

.382

.457

23.6

5

Jimmy

Slagle

1904

73

125

12

10

1

31

41

28

.260

.322

.333

23.4

 

         

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

R

First

Last

YEAR

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SB

Avg

OBA

SPct

Score

1

Topsy

Hartsel

1905

88

147

22

8

0

28

121

36

.276

.411

.347

27.6

2

Sam

Mertes

1905

81

154

27

17

5

108

56

52

.279

.351

.417

26.9

3

Sherry

Magee

1905

100

180

24

17

5

98

44

48

.299

.354

.420

26.3

4

George

Stone

1905

76

187

25

13

7

52

44

26

.296

.347

.410

25.7

5

Fred

Clarke

1905

95

157

18

15

2

51

55

24

.299

.368

.402

25.1

 

         

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

1

George

Stone

1906

91

208

25

20

6

71

52

35

.358

.417

.501

31.6

2

Sherry

Magee

1906

77

159

36

8

6

67

52

55

.282

.348

.407

30.4

3

Topsy

Hartsel

1906

96

136

21

9

1

30

88

31

.255

.363

.334

26.1

4

Fred

Clarke

1906

69

129

14

13

1

39

40

18

.309

.371

.412

25.4

5

Jimmy

Sheckard

1906

90

144

27

10

1

45

67

30

.262

.349

.353

23.0

 

         

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

1

Sherry

Magee

1907

75

165

28

12

4

85

53

46

.328

.396

.455

33.6

2

Fred

Clarke

1907

97

145

18

13

2

59

68

37

.289

.383

.389

28.3

3

George

Stone

1907

77

191

14

13

4

59

59

23

.320

.387

.408

27.9

4

Topsy

Hartsel

1907

93

142

23

6

3

29

106

20

.280

.405

.367

26.7

5

Jimmy

Sheckard

1907

76

129

23

1

1

36

76

31

.267

.373

.324

23.0

 

         

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

R

First

Last

YEAR

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SB

Avg

OBA

SPct

Score

1

Sherry

Magee

1908

79

144

30

16

2

57

49

40

.283

.359

.417

29.2

2

Matty

McIntyre

1908

105

168

24

13

0

28

83

20

.295

.392

.383

28.6

3

Fred

Clarke

1908

83

146

18

15

2

53

65

24

.265

.349

.363

27.8

4

George

Stone

1908

89

165

21

8

5

31

55

20

.281

.345

.369

25.2

5

Jake

Stahl

1908

63

134

27

16

2

65

31

30

.252

.321

.374

22.2

 

         

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

1

Fred

Clarke

1909

97

158

16

11

3

68

80

31

.287

.384

.373

27.8

2

Sherry

Magee

1909

60

141

33

14

2

66

44

38

.270

.340

.398

26.1

3

Jimmy

Sheckard

1909

81

134

29

5

1

43

72

15

.255

.346

.335

23.2

4

Patsy

Dougherty

1909

71

140

23

13

1

55

51

36

.285

.359

.391

22.1

5

Bob

Bescher

1909

73

107

17

6

1

34

56

54

.240

.335

.312

19.9

 

         

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

1

Sherry

Magee

1910

110

172

39

17

6

123

94

49

.331

.445

.507

29.1

2

Jimmy

Sheckard

1910

82

130

27

6

5

51

83

22

.256

.366

.363

24.1

3

Bob

Bescher

1910

95

147

20

10

4

48

81

70

.250

.344

.338

23.9

4

Birdie

Cree

1910

58

134

19

16

4

73

40

28

.287

.353

.422

22.8

5

Fred

Clarke

1910

57

113

23

9

2

63

53

12

.263

.350

.373

21.1

 

                A few notes about the other guys:

                Jimmy Sheckard was one of those weird players who could do anything, but who would be great at one thing one year and great at something else another year.  At various times he led the league in runs scored, triples, homers, stolen bases, walks, on base percentage, and slugging percentage, although mostly he just led the league once in each thing; he did lead twice in walks and twice in stolen bases, and also twice in sacrifice hits.  The other guys I can think of who were like that are Wally Moses, Tommy Harper and Toby Harrah; there is probably somebody more recent who has had a career like that, but I don’t know who.   Sheckard was a really good player, but perhaps short of greatness. 

                Sam Mertes and Sherry Magee were power-hitting left fielders in a time when the position was mostly dominated by lead-off men.   Magee led the league in RBI three or four times and some people think he should be in the Hall of Fame, but you know. . .so did George Foster.  

                George Stone was a tremendous player in the Ty Cobb mold, generally, but he got hurt after just a couple of good years.

                Topsy Hartsel was a leadoff man who walked all the time and hit for a decent average—and you have to remember that at that time, walks were not even counted.   Hartsel did not know that he had walked 121 times in 1905, because no one did at the time.

 

130.  How Defensive Win Shares are figured for Outfielders

                I had a request from a reader to explain how Defensive Win Shares for Outfielders are figured.  I can’t do that, but I thought I would take a minute to explain why I can’t do that. 

                Defensive Win Shares are a cohesive system, in which we analyze the entire defensive performance of the team in order to know how much credit is given to each position.  We don’t evaluate outfielders separate from the rest of the team, and we don’t do that because it can’t be done accurately.   The entire system would require like 100 pages to explain, and to do just the outfielders (or just the shortstops, or just the second basemen) you would have to do most of that.

                But I’ll take a minute to explain what I can.   Figuring Defensive Win Shares for Outfielders requires that we find the answers to five questions:

                1)  How much credit goes to the team as a whole, including the credit for their hitting, base running, fielding and pitching?

                2)  Of the total credit to the team, how much goes to the defensive side (pitching and fielding) as opposed to the offensive?

                3)  Of the total defensive credit to the team, how much should we give to the pitchers, and how much to the fielders?

                4)  Of that credit which is given to the fielders, how much is given to the outfielders (as opposed to the infielders and the catcher?)

                5)  Of that credit which is given to the outfielders, how much goes to this particular outfielder?

                The questioner to whom I am responding said that he knows the system has changed since I explained it years ago, but that’s not true.  I can’t evaluate everyone by Win Shares and Loss Shares because the library—that is, the numbers for every player every year—does not exist.  Anyway, Step One above is quite simple; the credit given to the team is simply based on how many games they have won.   Step Two is not difficult; we divide credit between offense and defense based on the number of runs scored and allowed compared to the league norms, adjusted for the park.

                But Step Three is complicated.  Suppose that two teams in the same league are even in terms of runs scored, runs allowed, wins, losses and park factor.   One team, however, has 1100 strikeouts, 450 walks, 130 home runs allowed, 100 errors, 130 double plays, 85 stolen bases allowed, and a .695 Defensive Efficiency Record, while Team B has 1000 strikeouts, 550 walks, 150 home runs allowed, but only 70 errors, 150 double plays, 55 stolen bases allowed, and a .710 DER.   Obviously, more of the credit goes to the pitching on Team A than on Team B, while the fielders on Team B get more credit than the fielders on Team A.   There’s probably some other stuff in there that I have forgotten, too; you have to look for everything that says "fielding" and everything that says "pitching", and then you balance them as best you can. 

                Step Four is as complicated as Step Three.  You’re asking "How much of the credit goes to

                a) The catchers,

                b) The infielders, and

                c)  The outfielders. 

                So you’re asking questions like "How many double plays did they turn, relative to the number of  runners on base and the number of ground balls allowed?" and "To what extent is a good DER attributed to the outfield, rather than the infield?", as well as more prosaic questions like "what’s the fielding percentage of the infielders, compared to the league norm, as compared to the fielding percentage of the outfielders, compared to the league norm?"  Anything that helps you distinguish between defensive performance of the infield vs. the outfield.

                Having done all of that, you move on to Step Five, which is crediting that Defensive Credit which goes the outfield to specific outfielders, based on individual defensive statistics. 

                Many people who evaluate defensive statistics want to start with Step Five.  If two outfielders in the same league each have 270 putouts, 10 assists and 4 errors in 140 games, shouldn’t the two be rated the same?   But no, they should not, and here’s why.

                Defensive statistics tend to be about the same on a team level, whether it is a good defensive team or a poor defensive team.  One way or the other you have to get to about 27 putouts per team per game, regardless of how bad a defensive team you might be.   One team might give up 1300 hits and have 1200 strikeouts, so that the outfielder has 270 putouts out of 4500 balls in play, while another team might give up 1500 hits and have 900 strikeouts, so that it might be 270 putouts out of 5000 balls in play.  The three basic things you have to evaluate a defender are range, double plays and errors, but range is neutralized on a team level, one team the same as another, and double plays increase as runners on base increase, so that there is minimal correlation between raw double play totals and wins.   You can use things like Outfield Assists, but a bad team will actually have more Outfield Assists (on average) than a good team. 

                What is critical for evaluating a defense is not their successes, which are the same from team to team, but their failures, which are balls in play that DON’T become outs.  Unless you have some way of taking those into account, you’re not really evaluating the fielder; you’re just doing some multiplying and dividing. 

                At least, that’s the theory; our system has failures and anomalies, too, and there’s actually a lot about it that I don’t understand.   Also, since we have modern defensive metrics for modern players, these methods only apply to older players, so we’re dealing with archaic methods that have a constantly diminishing audience.   Most people in sabermetrics aren’t really interested.   So it’s a struggle, but I’m doing the best I can with it.  

 
 

COMMENTS (33 Comments, most recent shown first)

DaveNJnews
Before the Phillies had Bake McBride in right, they had Jay Johnstone.

I remember when the Phillies traded for McBride, my Dad saying, “Now Maddox only has to worry about left field.”
3:11 PM May 6th
 
klamb819
When I was covering the NFL (~1975-95), the problem with football's defensive stats gradually dawned on me: Defensive production can't be evaluated in isolation, but only in the context of a whole team. I never quite cracked the code on how to do that, but it gave me a different perspective on baseball.

I didn't think fielding stats could serve their purpose until somebody took the approach of looking at the whole defensive unit, and narrowing the focus to individual players from there. When the Win Shares book came out, with Bill figuring out how to do just that, I was far more excited than anyone should be about a (half) book full of formulas.

Bill is doing just fine without my validation, so the reason I'm bringing it up is to point out some auxiliary benefits that I hadn't foreseen.

I hope I'm remembering & interpreting these two things correctly. Please set me straight if I'm not.

1. It seems like taking a more collective approach also builds in some park adjustment that other fielding systems lack. I think the metrics on other sites penalize outfielders with both the largest & smallest areas to cover. Colorado outfielders obviously reach a lower percentage of balls in play. Cincinnati outfielders can't necessarily show the full extent of how much ground they can cover -- the fence takes away some outfield putouts, and forces outfielders to play closer to the infielders, who might take away still more POs.

2. It also seems that fielding Win Shares consider more than just putouts, assists and errors for outfielders. I don't see how other metrics can seriously assess an outfielder's fielding without accounting for bases they save (or don't) by cutting balls off after they hit the ground. That seems to be one of the more important things an outfielder does.

Finally, Win Shares makes the only coherent argument I've seen for the proportional share that fielding should get of a league's total value. The WAR metrics don't even accept the truism that defense is the flip side of offense, and so fielding+pitching should account for about half of the league's value. In fact, they tend to use "fielding" and "defense" interchangeably, which leads down a path of fundamentally misunderstanding the game.

I only wish it were easier to find updated Win Share figures for before 2002.​
11:25 PM May 5th
 
Manushfan
and don't forget later on they had SuperStar Bake McBride in Right.
9:31 PM May 5th
 
LesLein
I believe the Phillies acquired Maddox because they had Luzinski in left. In 1973 and 1974 Del Unser was their center fielder. Prior to the 1975 season they traded Unser in the Tug McGraw deal. They had a promising rookie shortstop named Alan Bannister. Bannister wasn't going to beat out Larry Bowa, so they used Bannister to plug the CF gap. That wasn't working out so they traded Willie Montanez for Maddox. They traded for Dick Allen to fill Montanez's position at 1B.

I liked the way Luzinski stood facing the left field foul line, telling Maddox what was expected.
3:09 PM May 5th
 
Marc Schneider
Talking about Greg Luzinski reminds me of the saying at the time that "3/4 of the earth is covered by water and the rest by Garry Maddox." So I guess the Phillies were lucky to have a guy like Maddox in CF.
10:10 AM May 4th
 
MarisFan61
(....and then of course it didn't depend on "intent"; a bunt was a bunt)
8:46 PM May 3rd
 
MarisFan61
.....we ought to mention, there are a couple of overlapping but separate things involved:

-- bunt, and
-- intentional

When the "intentional" thing was put into effect (in 1887, I guess), it wasn't only about bunts. It may not have been mainly about bunts.
It was any foul that the ump thought was intentional.

I think it wasn't until 1900 that there was a rule that was only about bunts.
8:46 PM May 3rd
 
W.T.Mons10
The rule making an intentional foul bunt a strike dates back to 1887, although enforcement was sporadic. In 1894 all foul bunts were made strikes, even with two strikes.

BTW, Richard Hershberger has a book coming out on the development of the rules which is very informative on matters like this. I guess it won't be out for some months, but look for it if that interests you.
8:34 PM May 3rd
 
MarisFan61
Bill: Why not tell us where in time is the chronological 'breakpoint' in the method?
5:30 PM May 3rd
 
evanecurb
Having played all three outfield positions at the amateur level, I've always believed that left field was the most difficult of the three outfield positions to play, because of these factors: (1) most batters are right handed, so there's a higher number of hard hit balls to left field than to right field, (2) the corner outfielders have a more difficult angle from which to see the ball than the center fielder, and are closer to home plate than the center fielder, so they have less time to react, (3) the hardest hit balls are the ones that are most difficult to field, not only because of the velocity, but also because of the trajectory and the exaggerated effect of the spin on the ball. I also think the importance of a strong arm in left field is underrated.
While the throws from left to the three bases are certainly the shortest of the three outfield positions, the fact that they are shorter throws gives the left fielder more opportunities for assists. I agree with the majority that centerfield is the most important outfield position, but I think your second best outfielder should go in left field, for all of the reasons cited above.
1:46 PM May 3rd
 
Manushfan
Sherry Magee is one of the few non Hof from that era the looks like a legit Hof, if that makes any sense? Not in a hurry to add more pre-Jackie guys, but-he's one I keep in mind.
1:08 PM May 3rd
 
MarisFan61
From looking into this, I saw that as early as the late 1880's, umps were given discretion to make it a 3rd strike on any kind of foul that they felt was intentional, whether bunted or not.
Don't know how often this was ever acted on.

Burkett and other players are quoted talking about how they were fairly easily able to hit fouls by holding the bat at a certain angle.
1:01 PM May 3rd
 
jwilt
About Jesse Burkett, you look at his batting averages and you can see exactly where the AL adopted the foul strike rule: from 1901-02 his batting average fell from .376 to .306.

Except that it didn't happen that way. The NL adopted the modern foul-strike rule in 1901, but the AL held off until after the 1902-03 peace settlement. Burkett's average fell 70 points the year before the foul strike rule took effect.

You can see this in his strikeout totals. He spent 1900 in the NL with no rule and struck out 35 times. In 1901 the NL went to the new rule, and his strike outs doubled to 70. Then he jumped to the AL with the old rule, and back to 25 Ks. Then the AL adopted the modern rule, and he's back to 47.

Burkett's 1901-02 has to be the only time in history a player's strikeouts fell by half, while his batting average also fell by 70 points.​
12:41 PM May 3rd
 
Riceman1974
Even The Bull's range factor can be misleading. How many ties did The Bull not even bother going after a shot to left-center knowing Maddox would get it? He knew he had to cover a smaller area of left than most other left-fielders because of the ridiculous range of his center-fielder, and it was in the team's best interest to let Gary go after it anyway. I assume it is possible that in a small handful of the 100-plus years of baseball history, a top LF was 50 runs better than the worst LF in a single season. But DRS seems to show vast discrepancies every year, usually around 40-plus runs yearly. This seems impossible to me. A cigar store Indian couldn't field that much worse, for sometimes the ball will bounce off it and hold the guy at third.
12:33 PM May 3rd
 
jwilt
Also, range factor is outs per game or outs per nine. It doesn't consider the number of times that Bonds cuts the ball off in the gap and holds the guy to a single while Luzinski first touches the ball after it's rolled around the warning track for 30 seconds.

The linear weights value for an average single (compared to an out) is about 0.7 runs. The difference between a single and a double is 0.3.

I still don't think it's outlandish to believe that the difference between a terrible LFer and a great one can occasionally be as much as 50 runs over a full season. Especially considering that left field is often someone who just can't field anywhere else, but also sometimes a displaced center fielder.

Just look at my favorite team, the Orioles. In 1988 they played a DH like Larry Sheets or Ken Gerhart in left. The next year they had acquired three or four CFers so a young Mike Devereaux or Steve Finely or Brady Anderson was often in left.
11:47 AM May 3rd
 
bjames
I deleted Dan Holmes' comments because he was talking about things that I discussed in the NEXT article in the series, thus, in essence, snarling the line. . ..Feel free to re-post the comments AFTER I have talked about those players.
11:43 AM May 3rd
 
MarisFan61
Robin: Don't you think that stat is distorted by 'team selectiveness'?
(Just made up that phrase.) :-)
What I mean is, it's a team decision that Luzinski takes as few balls as possible, on fly balls where either the LF or CF can get it, and Bonds, a normal amount if not more. Sure, the basic practice is "center fielder takes everything he can," but there's wiggle room. When the LF is Luzinski, the CF really takes everything he can; when Bonds, not.

BTW there's also some further distortion from pop-ups that either the shortstop or LF can take; there are lots of balls like that. Usually the LF calls off the SS, but when the LF is Luzinski, even if he can get there, I suspect the SS calls him off if he can.

How much should this alter how we view a calculation like that?
I don't think we know -- but it means we have to make at least some 'mental adjustment' when we see something like that. It doesn't tell a simple story.
11:28 AM May 3rd
 
FrankD
Great series. I really liked the quick snap shot on estimating defensive value. I have a question: I assume that with modern data, defensive contributions can be better estimated. Are the methods for deriving defensive contributions tweaked by using modern data and then comparing the evaluations using only statistics that were available in the past for the same modern players?
11:27 AM May 3rd
 
Robinsong
Baseball Reference reports range factor/9 innings. Greg Luzinski had a range factor per 9 of around 1.5 when he was in his mid 20s. Barry Bonds was around 2.5 per 9 when playing left field in his early 20s. So the difference is closer to 1 play per 9 innings or 160 per season. Still a lot of runs.​
10:47 AM May 3rd
 
MarisFan61
(Dan: You sure they are? Are you sure they had actually appeared, rather than that they didn't successfully get clicked onto the page?
The reason I wonder is, if anyone's posts were going to get deleted, I think I might be first, and mine never have been.
No smiley for this.)
10:42 AM May 3rd
 
thedanholmes
Why are my comments being deleted?
9:33 AM May 3rd
 
Manushfan
Toby Harrah had a really good run with the Rangers, and he's right, seemed to veer all over the place in what he did well year to year. Harper was so up and down for the Red Sox, same guy wearing that uni in '73 as in '74? Ouch.
9:04 AM May 3rd
 
cderosa
Thanks to Bill for a ver y enjoyable series.

I think of Ian Kinsler the way Bill described Sheckard: as a player who has done many things well but not all at the same time.

Chris DeRosa
8:41 AM May 3rd
 
bjames
jwilt
The difference in raw range factor among LFers can be something like 1.25 plays/game, or almost 200 plays/season. That was Luzinski's worse and Bonds' best.

You don't have to have much of a run value per play to get 50 runs difference out of 200 plays.

*******


But the reason there are differences that large in range factor, at least among outfielders, is that the denominator is "games", and many partial games are counted the same as complete games.
8:38 AM May 3rd
 
bjames
From shthar
I've seen Jim Traber play in left field. I dunno about 50 runs difference, but definately 50 hits.


This is one of the real issues. There is a difference between the MARGINAL impact of 50 hits--that is, 50 more hits in an environment in which there are already hits, walks and homers--and the proportional impact of 50 hits. 50 hits DO have a marginal impact of about 50 runs, but a proportional impact of maybe half of that. I am half convinced (but only half) that many of the analytical systems mix up offensive contributions which are proportionally evaluated with defensive contributions being marginally evaluated. However, Tango and Dewan insist that they are not doing this, and I've never been able to see clearly whether they are or are not.
8:31 AM May 3rd
 
Manushfan
Can always tell its the 1800's being discussed, two more guys I donno--Tom York and Charley Jones. Time for another Baseball Ref. dive. I like this series.
8:15 AM May 3rd
 
jwilt
The difference in raw range factor among LFers can be something like 1.25 plays/game, or almost 200 plays/season. That was Luzinski's worse and Bonds' best.

You don't have to have much of a run value per play to get 50 runs difference out of 200 plays.
7:40 AM May 3rd
 
shthar
I've seen Jim Traber play in left field. I dunno about 50 runs difference, but definately 50 hits.
4:50 AM May 3rd
 
Riceman1974
And just to be clear, I've been around long enough to have seen Greg Luzinsky and Ron Kittle roam left field, and of course the likes of Bonds and Alex Gordon. I refuse to believe that there was a 50-run gap between even those extremes.
3:47 AM May 3rd
 
Riceman1974
Put me in as one of those who cares greatly about the defensive analysis of the older players, and were you to publish a 1,000-page tome explaining every intricate method of how to calculate win shares-loss shares I would buy it regardless of price. I got into sabermetrics specifically because I was fascinated by the comparison of modern players to players of yesteryear. It still fascinates me, comparing Trout to Cobb and Mantle, Verne Stephens to Arky Vaughan, Orator Jim to Steve Balboni.

I also think Win Shares is by far the best fielding analysis around. Not just because it is the only method that allows one to compare Speaker with Andruw Jones defensively, but also it's emphasis on wins and it's generally conservative analysis of fielding value. These new methods, DRS or whatever, make no sense to me. I just can't believe that the spread in fielding ability is as great as DRS claims. A 50-run spread between the best left fielder and the worst left fielder? I'm sorry, I just don't believe that's true. Win Shares (at least the old method), may have a spread of 5 WS between best and worst in LF, which I guess is roughly 15-18 runs. That makes sense.
3:38 AM May 3rd
 
Brock Hanke
I don't know nearly enough to present an opinion as to why the foul strike rule happened, but it may have strongly affected two careers: Sliding Billy Hamilton and John McGraw. Hamilton is the all-time superstar at fouling off pitches until you get a walk or something you can slap into the outfield. He hit for very high averages, took boatloads of walks, stole bases like they were made of gold, and had more runs scored than games played in several seasons. He retired after 1901. He was not finished. In fact, I believe that he went to the high minors and purchased a part of a team there and continued to hit just like he had in the majors. John McGraw, who was essentially Billy Hamilton lite, same approach but not nearly as effective, didn't retire after 1901, but that was the last year that he was a starter, and he finished with a sad run of "seasons" with 5 or fewer games played. The proof of concept guy is Roy Thomas, who was a rookie in 1899, and played after the foul strike rule happened. He was John McGraw lite. He hit only .290 for his career, but led the league in walks regularly, and scored as many as 132 runs in a season. He had absolutely no power; his 13-season career produced a total of seven home runs. He probably represents the maximum that you could get out of the Hamilton approach with the foul-strike rule in place. I've sort of always assumed - with no evidence whatsoever - that the foul strike rule was put in place in an attempt to speed up the games. Remember, no lights in ballparks at this time. If somebody fouls off 30 pitches in a game, that might be a problem, early or late in the season.
3:25 AM May 3rd
 
MarisFan61
(I don't find anything tying the rule change on a 3rd strike foul bunt to Burkett, nor to any single player.)
12:09 AM May 3rd
 
MarisFan61
Bill: I guess you're implying in that last paragraph that the method for defense is quite different for what you call "modern players"?

If so:
Is the 'breakpoint' on this the same as the breakpoint on what you referred to a few paragraphs earlier, i.e. the point at which it becomes possible to do Win and Loss Shares?
And, where in time does that break occur?

Of course if I gathered wrong in the first place, forget those next questions.

In any event I hope it's not really the case that there's "a constantly diminishing audience" for how you do the defense analysis on the earlier players, and I wouldn't understand at all why most people in sabermetrics wouldn't be much interested. I'm not in sabermetrics, and I'm intensely interested.

--------------------

Separate thing: The way you describe Burkett, with his being so disliked, I think it invites wonderment about whether it was mainly due to him that the rule on bunts was changed to make it a strikeout on a foul bunt on the 3rd strike. I'm going to try to look into that a little, but maybe you or someone else can save me from it by giving the answer....​
11:49 PM May 2nd
 
 
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