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Wertz and Cash

May 20, 2023

Re: playing density of Norm Cash: he was never on the DL - just platooned.  

1960 was Cash’s first year as a regular, so he was eased in with Steve Bilko’s 62 games at first-base.  

1961-1967: Cash averaged 150 G/year. That’s not high density, but more than a platoon. Bill Freehan, Jake Wood, Jim Price and particularly Don Demeter played a significant number of games at 1B.  

By 1968, the Tigers had four star OFs plus the best pinch hitter in the league who was also an OF - and all five of them remained with the team for the rest of Cash's productive seasons 1960-1973. So, for the rest of his career Al Kaline, Jim Northrup, Freehan, and Mickey Stanley filled in at 1B against left-handers. Sadly Mayo Smith used Dave Campbell at 1B for 13 G in 1969. From 1971 on, Ike Brown had a good share of those games along with Paul Jata (also sad) and Frank Howard in 1972 and a washed up Rich Reese in 1973.  

Jim Northrup is the only LHB among these subs and his career platoon split was less than Cash's.

Asked by: hotstatrat



I am not sure it is productive to get into any of this, but what the heck. . . .Norm Cash's career is always of interest to me.   


To keep this front and center, what this discussion is about is perceived value vs. actual value.  That’s the bridge we are trying to cross here, not Norm Cash vs. Gil Hodges or Norm Cash vs. Rocky Colavito or Al Kaline vs. Roberto Clemente, but perceived value vs. actual value.   We might lose track of that. 


I endorse what you are saying, Mr. Statrat, so why didn’t I just let you say it, without comment?  Why did I wait two weeks after you posted this to respond to it? 


Because you are responding to (a) something I wrote in an article and (b) a response to that, an argument against that, posted by another longtime reader.   I am quite certain that the other longtime reader did not understand at all what I was trying to say before.  Your rebuttal challenges his facts but accepts his assumptions.   Posting your rebuttal without comment, then, would simply lead us further away from what I was trying to say.  So let me back off and take a direct run at this. 


Going back ten years earlier, the Tigers destroyed a "Prague Spring" that they had going with a stupid decision to platoon their cleanup hitter, Vic Wertz.   Wertz drove in 133 runs in 1949 and 123 in 1950, hitting over .300 both years, and in 1950 the Tigers won 95 games and pushed the Yankees into the last week of the season.   Wertz was 25 years old in 1950.  In 1951 the Tigers manager, Red Rolfe, made a fantastically poor decision to sit Wertz down against left-handed pitchers.   


Rolfe was no doubt proud of himself because he knew that Wertz was not an especially productive hitter against left-handers.  Stats about what a player hit against right-handed and left-handed hitters were not published ANYWHERE in 1950, managers did not know them, and Rolfe knew this only because he maintained his own stats.   He put a lot of time and effort into maintaining his own personal records, so he knew that Wertz was somewhat weaker against lefties, and he made the decision to set him down against lefties.   Although Casey Stengel platooned with the Yankees in this era, Stengel quite certainly did NOT have any access to platoon data, and actually made public statements mocking Red Rolife for figuring all that stuff and relying on it.  


In any case it was a massive disaster.   Wertz was pissed off about being platooned, bitched about it to his teammates, and the clubhouse divided.  Rolfe lost the clubhouse.   They quit on him.   The team lost 104 games in 1952, literally one of the worst nose-dives in the history of baseball.   Rolfe was fired.  The Tigers FRONT OFFICE was in a chaotic period at the same time, and this re-set the Tigers' clock to zero.   Although they had a good farm system (producing Harvey Kuenn, 1952, Al Kaline, 1953, Frank Lary, Jim Bunning, and many others). . .although they had a good farm system,  they didn't get back where they had been in 1950 until 1961, which was Norm Cash's golden year.  


Why was it a foolish decision?  Because what Rolfe was risking was vastly larger than what he stood to gain.  Outstanding ballplayers are sustained at the level of excellence that they achieve by ego.   Ego may be thought of as a negative thing, but. . .self-concept.  Very good players are very good players in large part because they think of themselves as very good players.  Their world is ordered around that assumption.   They put in the work to sustain themselves at that level because they believe it will pay off.   When you tell a player at that level that he is NOT such a good player, that he is a player who isn’t good enough to play when the percentages are against him, that’s a serious, serious thing.  You’re messing with the team’s jewels here.   The damage you can do to your team by putting a gash in a star player’s ego is much, much larger than the benefit you can get by having the platoon advantage for 150 plate appearances a season.  What you can gain by having the platoon advantage for 150 plalte appearances a season is along the lines of 10, 12 runs a year. . . not a small thing, but not anything LIKE the damage you can do by telling a star player that he is not a star player.   When you have a 25-year-old player who can drive in 125 runs a year for you, you put him in the lineup and let him drive in 125 runs a year for you.   You don’t put that asset at risk so you can pick up 7 runs by platooning him with Bud Souchock. 


I know that people will say that if Casey Stengel could platoon Gene Woodling, who was probably just as good a hitter as Vic Wertz, or better. . . if Casey Stengel could platoon Gene Woodling, why couldn’t Red Rolfe platoon Vic Wertz?   If you think that that’s good logic, I don’t know if I can help you, but I’ll try.   Woodling was three years older than Wertz, and three years behind him, so six years behind him age for age.   Woodling was nearing 30 years old, and trapped in the minor leagues.  He hated being platooned, but he was a minor league player being promoted into a major league platoon player.   Wertz was an all-star being demoted to a platoon player.  It’s a completely different thing. 


The Yankees had talent crawling out of the walls.   The Yankees could give away guys like Jackie Jensen and Sherm Lollar and Gus Triandos and Vic Power because they had Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra and Bill Skowron to play instead.   The Tigers didn’t.   The Tigers had a good farm organization, but it wasn’t the same.   Platooning works a lot better when you have a robust stream of talent to work with.  


And, setting THAT aside, the Tigers were not the Yankees.  Casey Stengel could very credibly say to his players, "Look, you want to be a part of the Yankees, this is the deal."   The Yankees in that era took a lot of PRIDE in being a Yankee.   There was a swagger in being a Yankee.  A Yankee would make twice as much money as he would make anywhere else because of (1) the World Series money, and (2) the endorsement money/off-season opportunities money.   The Tigers were trying to get to that level, but they weren’t there.   Beat the Yankees a couple of times, and THEN you can start jerking players around.  


So by 1961 (a) the Tigers were back where they had been in 1950, (b) the Yankees were no longer platooning, and (c) Norm Cash hit .361 with 41 homers. 


Norm Cash’s 1961-1962 seasons are one of the greatest flukes in the history of baseball.  Norm Cash, despite what you have been told all of your life, was exactly the same player in 1962 than he was in 1961.  His home run rate was almost precisely the same in 1962 as in 1961 (.0769 home runs per at bat vs. .0766).  His walk rate (excluding intentional walks) was the same.   His strikeouts were the same.   His rate of grounding into double plays was the same, and his stolen base percentage was the same, and his Hit By Pitch rate, and his fielding percentage was the same, .992 both years.   He was exactly the same player.  


The only thing was that, by a kind of phenomenal fluke, Cash hit .372 on balls in play (BABIP) in 1961, and .216 in 1962.   His batting average dropped 118 points, entirely because his bloopers didn’t drop in and somebody was standing in front of his line drives.   All Year. 


People at the time did not see it that way.  It would be almost 40 years later that Voros McCracken would demonstrate that Batting Averages on Balls in Play were highly subject to year-to-year variation based on factors beyond the hitter’s control (or the pitcher’s.)   People at that time—and you cannot blame them for this, because you see what you have been taught to see, we all do, and you know what those around you know, we all do for the most part—but the baseball people at that time did not read it as a fluke, they read it as a dramatic dropoff in performance.  His managers began to take away his playing time. 


Ironically. . .I think this qualifies as an irony; not sure that the word "ironic" has an identifiable meaning anymore.  But ironically, the first player who benefitted from Cash’s periodic stints on the bench was Vic Wertz, back with the team after an epic ten-year journey involving injuries, polio, World Series stardom and 100-RBI seasons here, there and everywhere.   Old Vic Wertz had a good year as a pinch hitter for the Tigers, hitting .324 and starting 14 games in place of the "slumping" Norm Cash, all of those games against right-handed pitchers. 


Bob Scheffing, manager of the Tigers in their golden 1961 season, was fired on June 16, 1963 with the Tigers (24-36) just three games out of last place.   He was replaced by Charlie Dressen, who, like Red Rolfe, was very much a too-smart-for-his-own-damned good type of manager.  It was basically Charlie Dressen who made the decision to platoon Norm Cash, although Cash had platooned with Steve Bilko for most of 1960.   It was Bob Scheffing who made the decision to promote Cash to regular status in 1961—correctly predicting, when he did so, that Cash might win the American League batting championship soon—and it was essentially Dressen who made him a platoon player.  His playing time dropped by 20% after Dressen took over. 


I have written about this many times, I know, but I think the decision to make Cash a platoon player was a terrible decision that is one of the key reasons that the Tigers failed to dominate the American League in the years 1965 to 1968, when the league was there for the taking any time somebody wanted it, and the Tigers had more talent than anyone else.  Platooning Cash was not the WORST decision the Tigers made in 1963; the worst decision they made was trading Jim Bunning for Don Demeter.  NOBODY understands that decision, and it was mostly Don Demeter who played first against lefties in 1964 and 1965. 


At more or less the same moment, batting totals around baseball dipped sharply downward, which isn’t directly relevant but is part of the same discussion.  It is relevant to the issue of "How good a hitter was Norm Cash, really?".   What should have been his prime years were in a pitcher’s era.   But sticking with the decision to platoon Cash, and why it was a mistake.   Cash was simply too good a hitter to be platooned.   You platoon players when you have two hitters who are more or less even.  The Tigers did not have a right-handed hitting first baseman who was anywhere near as good a hitter as Norm Cash.   In 1965 they platooned Cash with Don Demeter, but Demeter (a) was not a first baseman and (b) had an OPS 100 points lower than Cash’s (.883 to .788.) 


Cash and Colavito.  Norm Cash and Rocky Colavito were almost exactly the same age, and they were acquired by the Tigers at essentially the same time.   But Cash had had very, very little major league playing time before coming to the Tigers, whereas Colavito had been a regular for years, had hit 40 homers twice in a row, driving in easily more than 100 runs a year.   Colavito was perceived as a huge star when the two men joined the Tigers, but in the four years that Cash and Colavito were Tiger teammates, Cash was a better hitter than Colavito all four years.  His OPS was higher than Colavito’s all four years, mostly quite significantly higher.   My point is, it would have made more sense to take 150 at bats a year away from Colavito, rather than Cash.  Colavito was the team’s cleanup hitter, period.  Cash hit 5th; even in 1961, Cash had almost all of his plate appearances in the five spot.  But per 700 plate appearances, Colavito scored 97 runs and drove in 111.  Cash drove in "only" 109, but scored 104. 


Not that I am advocating that you bench either one; Rocky Colavito was a formidable hitter.  In the four years they were teammates, Cash out-hit him by 20 points, matched his power and drew more walks.   With the arguable exception of Al Kaline, Cash was the best hitter on the team.   You don’t platoon your best hitter.  


Cash and Kaline.  I would not say that Norm Cash was a better hitter than Kaline.  He was as good a hitter as Kaline.  Cash’s career OPS was 6 points higher than Kaline’s.  In the 15 years that the two men were teammates (1960 to 1974), their OPS was nearly identical.  Treating 700 plate appearances as a "season", Kaline scored 99 runs per season and drove in 93; Cash scored 93 and drove in 99.  Kaline hit .290 with 25 homers, 93 RBI per 700 Plate Appearances; Cash hit .272 with 34 and 99.  Both men walked a lot, Cash a little bit more.   Both men had slugging percentages of .490, or each man had a slugging percentage of .490.  Each man made 457 outs per 700 plate appearances.  Although Kaline’s On Base percentage was 2 points higher, he actually made a tiny fraction more outs than Cash, because he grounded into double plays 30% more often.   Even their plate appearances over the 15-year span are nearly identical—7,820 plate appearances for Kaline, 7,772 for Cash.   Kaline missed a lot of games with injuries; Cash missed games because he was platooned. 


I am not suggesting that Cash was equal to Kaline as a player; I am suggesting that he was equal to him as a hitter.  The Pirates in many different ways are the National League version of the Tigers.  Kaline and Cash are like Clemente and Stargell.  Clemente was a greater player than Stargell, but Stargell—a left-handed slugger like Cash—was a greater hitter than Clemente, with both a higher on-base percentage and a higher slugging percentage than Clemente.    The thing is, the Pirates were never stupid enough to platoon Willie Stargell.   Well, they were, but not for a long period of time.  


To get back to the original dispute, what I was trying to say is that Cash was underrated, as a player, because he was platooned.  More specifically, what I can demonstrate to be true is that if that if a player’s playing time is reduced by 20%, his perceived value will drop by dramatically more than 20%.   I would generalize that if two players are of equal ability but one has 80% of the playing time density, he will have 64% of the perceived value.  The reason this happens is that perceived value is based to a significant extent on counting stats.  If a player has 560 plate appearances per season rather than 700, he becomes essentially ineligible for standards such as 100 runs scored and 100 RBI, and this causes him to lose all chance of being perceived as a star.  It becomes practically impossible for him to lead the league in any significant category.  


Norm Cash would likely have led the American League in home runs in 1965, had he not been platooned.   He hit 30 home runs in 467 at bats, and missed leading the league in homers by only two.  Even though he homered less frequently against left-handed pitchers in his career, it is extremely likely that, given another 100 at bats, he would have led the league in homers.  In 1971, given only 452 at bats, he drove in 91 runs.  Given another 100 at bats, it is overwhelmingly likely that he would have driven in 100. 


In a wide-ranging article about factors that cause a player to be underrated or overrated, I argued that playing time density is what we’re missing here.  Although no one comments on it, it may actually be that the largest factor there is in determining whether a player is overrated, underrated, or appropriately evaluate is playing time density.


In responding to this, a beloved longtime reader wrote that:


         I liked your over/underrated articles (but) there is one criteria that I value more than you do.  You seem to disparage density of playing time because players with more seasons/games/at bats add to their counting stats in ways that can be misleading.  But I think the adage that availability is an ability is true.   Sports is full of figures who would be Hall of Famers if only they could stay healthy. 


         Not wishing to dismiss the contribution of my longtime reader, I don’t think that he understood at all what I meant by the term playing time density.  If he did, he didn’t address it.   From my standpoint, I was trying to make an original point—a point that neither I nor anyone else had made before—and the reader responded to it as if it were merely a re-iteration of an older point.  I think. 

         Playing time density doesn’t have anything to do with how many SEASONS you play.  The fact that he referenced seasons played suggests that he didn’t understand what I was trying to say.   But also, as Mr. Stat-rat correctly pointed out, Norm Cash was ALWAYS available.   His team just did not choose to put him in the lineup.   He is immensely underrated, in my opinion, solely because of his playing time.   Not that I advocate Norm Cash for the Hall of Fame—I don’t—but Norm Cash was clearly a better player, in my opinion, than Gil Hodges, who is now in the Hall of Fame, or Tony Perez or Harold Baines.   Or quite a few others. 

         There are two reasons, however, that I could not rest comfortably on Stat Rat’s response.   One is that it leaves the door wide open to an obvious response—obvious, but false.   His comment, undefended, would not advance the discussion by one inch, because of the obvious false response.  The second problem is that his response builds upon and thus buttresses a false assumption of the earlier poster, that being that this is essentially about underrated players.  It isn’t.  It is 80% about OVERrated players.   The problem of playing time density is not so much that it causes anyone to be underrated.  It is, mostly, that it causes players with very high playing time density to be overrated.   If the earlier poster had understood that, he wouldn’t have offered this essentially irrelevant comment about potential Hall of Famers not staying healthy.  Responding to that, without other explanation, would simply solidify the false assumption. 

         Addressing the first part of that, the obvious false response would be that Cash was a platoon player because he couldn’t hit lefties, and that his value was diminished by the fact that he couldn’t hit lefties.   But that’s not really true.  Norm Cash’s platoon splits are almost the same as Carl Yastrzemski’s.  Cash’s career OPS was .900 against right-handers, .691 against lefties.  Carl Yastrzemski’s splits were .890 and .692.   Norm Cash’s OPS against lefties was .691; Roger Maris’ was .697. 

         All players have a platoon split.  The notion that only some left-handed hitters are "vulnerable" to lefties is basically a myth, a misunderstanding perpetuated by reliance on single-season platoon stats, which don’t really mean anything.  Cash was 77% as effective against a lefty as he was against a right-hander, which is a relatively low figure but not out of range.  Jim Thome was 74%, Johnny Mize 77%, Duke Snider 77%.   Ted Williams was 79%, Eddie Mathews 80%, Ted Kluszewski 82%, Willie Stargell 82%.  

         Cash’s platoon split was on the high side, but you have to attribute SOME of that to the fact that he was set down against lefties for almost all of his career.  Cause or effect:  did he not play against lefties because he had trouble with them, or did he have trouble against them because he didn’t play regularly against them? 

         We don’t know, but here are a few things that we do know. 

(1)        Willie McCovey was probably the only left-handed hitter ever who was a better hitter than Cash, but was nonetheless platooned for a significant portion of his career.   In the three years that he was a platoon player, Stretch had a .934 OPS against right-handed pitchers, but .505 against lefties (148 PA).  But his platoon splits normalized once he became an everyday player.  

(2)       David Ortiz, platooned by the Twins, had an immense platoon differential his last season in Minnesota, and an even larger one his first season in Boston.   But his platoon splits normalized once he became an everyday player. 

(3)       Left-handed hitters overall have a larger platoon differential than right-handers.   One presumes that the reason for this is that right-handed hitters have to deal with same-side deliveries three days in four, thus learn to adapt, while left-handed regulars face a same-side delivery only about one day in four. 

(4)        In 1966 Cash played everyday for the first time since 1962, and set career highs in games played and at bats.   His OPS against lefties that season was .963.  


Norm Cash was probably the best left-handed hitter ever who was platooned more or less all of his career.   I would not concede that there was ANY reason for his weakness against lefties, other than that he didn’t always play against them. 

Moving on to the other issue. . . this isn’t really about players being underrated because they missed some games.   That applies to Norm Cash, and maybe a few other guys.  Matt Stairs and Gene Woodling. 

But when you run down a list of players who won honors well beyond what would be expected based on their performance numbers, it is almost ALL guys who racked up 650-700 plate appearances a year in their prime seasons.  Simply being in the lineup every day will not cause a player to be overrated; he has to do that AND something else.   But if he plays every game and has one or two other things to sell, a player will often be dramatically overvalued, as measured by the comparison (studied earlier) of the player’s performance numbers and his performance in award voting. Gene Woodling was a far better player than Bobby Richardson, both playing for the Yankees when the Yankees were in the World Series every year.   But Richardson, because his playing time density was extremely high, was extremely overrated.   Woodling, because his playing time density was low, was very underrated.   Documented in the previous article.


COMMENTS (17 Comments, most recent shown first)

I have no idea what rabbit hole you have taken us this time. We were talking about the RF platoon in 1952, not pitching in 1950. Did you want Vic Wertz to pitch? Trade him for Bob Feller? If you good offense scores more than your weak pitching allows you win. And visa versa.
7:15 PM May 26th
Look at 1950. The Tigers were 3rd best in runs allowed.

In 1951 they gave up more runs than the year before when every other team in the league was giving up less than the year before.

Even if they had led the league in runs scored in 1951, their poor pitching and poor defense would have still kept them from getting the flag.
4:07 PM May 25th
In 1951 the Tigers were sixth in runs scored in the AL, out of 8 teams, with 685 runs. The Red Sox scored 804, the Yankees 798.

They allowed 741, fifth most, the Red Sox allowed 725, league average was 714.

They had trouble in both sides of the game, but they weren't going to win the pennant scoring 685 runs.

BTW, the week after Rolfe made the comment you quoted, the Tigers got off to an 0-8 start, scoring 14 runs in 8 games or 1.75 per.
7:43 AM May 25th
In 1951 the Tigers were sixth in runs scored in the AL, out of 8 teams, with 685 runs. The Red Sox scored 804, the Yankees 798.

They allowed 741, fifth most, the Red Sox allowed 725, league average was 714.

They had trouble in both sides of the game, but they weren't going to win the pennant scoring 685 runs.
6:55 AM May 25th
"I've never believed in the two-platoon system. But I'll be darned if I don't try it if that is the best way to get the maximum power out of our club. We simply don't have enough hitting the way we stand now. I don't remember when this club last got 5 runs or even five hits in an inning."

Associated Press, April 5, 1952

Guess that was a stat Rolfe didn't keep track of.

On September 13, 1951 against the Yankees in New York, Detroit scored 7 runs on 7 hits in a 4 inning explosion on the way to a 9-2 win. All the hits in the inning were singles - except for a 3-run home run by, yes, Vic Wertz.

Tigers scored 5+ runs in a game 74 times in 1951. They were 55-19 in those games.

The World Champion New York Yankees? They scored 5+ runs in a game 78 times. But they were 66-12 in those games.

Perhaps it was September that bothered Rolfe. Despite a 14-12 record for the month, the Tigers were 5-10 in which they scored 3 runs or less. Overall, they were 2-6 when Wertz didn't start in September.

The main problem with the '51 Tigers wasn't hitting. It was pitching.

Twenty-three year old Art Houtteman (19-12, 34 GS, 274 IP, 132 ERA+) was drafted by the U.S. Army and missed the whole 1951 season. Veteran Hal Newhouser went from 30 GS to 14; 213 IP to 96.

The 50 starts lost were mostly replaced by Bob Cain, Marlin Stuart and Virgil Trucks. And not as effectively.

The Tigers went from giving up 713 runs in 1950 to 741 in 1951. If the 28 runs doesn't seem like a lot, consider that the average A.L. club went from giving up 782 in 1950 to 714 in 1951.​
5:12 AM May 25th
Well, here is more than you ever wanted to know about Souchok. Basically, a chronic back problem slowed his early career, and he didn't debut until 1946 with the Yanks at Age 27. So he was 33 in 1952.

He was popular with the Tigers, who kept him until Age 36. Then his first team the Yankees hired him as a coach, and he later scouted for the Tigers into the 1990s.​
9:52 PM May 24th

The issue in 1951 which may have made Souchok more tempting against lefties than Wertz were at the end of the slashes you posted:

.222 / .311 / .316 / .627 in 132 PA

.239 / .315 / .521 / .837 in 131 PA.
(Note: bear in mind the above are not complete data on splits)

It was obvious to all that the Tigers, who finished 25 games back in 4th place, needed major thump to try and catch the Yankees and Red Sox, who they trailed in HRs, SLG, Runs, etc by a wide margin.

The right side of the slashes above are the story, with Souchok, who had 30 HRs the year before in AAA, having 8 HRs to Wertz's 3, and 15 Exbhs to Wertz's five, in the same relative sample against lefties. Even expanded to include righties Souchok HR% and ExBH% were well above Wertz, leading the team with anyone with more than 200 plate appearances. WhilecWertz got his HR strokecback in 1952, Souchok still again led the team in Exbh%

As far as fielding, well, stats that long ago are thin gruel, but I'll concede you can't tease out a discernible difference. They were both below average, at least by dWAR. If you read that long article, though, one of Rolfe's concerns seemed to be Wertz habit of getting injured out there, and he was working on transitioning him to first base, which was just dandy with Wertz.

I don't know where Souchok's career went off the rails, but clearly in 1951-52 he was teetering on being an elite power bat, particularly against lefties. Any manager on a power-challenged team would have to be looking for where he could get him at bats.
8:44 PM May 24th
As to the games Wertz did not start against lefties on May 9 and 11, it was not due to platooning, it was due to injury.

"""Wertz missing time in May due to an injured toe suffered in a May 4th games versus the Athletics and a sprained heel suffered in a May 10th tilt versus the White Sox. The injuries forced Wertz to sit-out seven games that month."'

From May 6 to May 14th he only played in one game, and only 4 innings in that the time Rolfe was fired Wertz had played in all but 8 of the team's games, explained by the seven injured misses above.
6:07 AM May 24th

My quotes were from the article, which I only spot checked. I stopped when I noticed that Baseball Reference splits didn't add up for 1952 due to incomplete records by about 70 or 80. Then I looked back and pretty much every year of Wertz was incomplete, some missing over 100 plate appearances, totalling many hundreds of missing splits from 1946 to 1952. I posted that in the board thread.

I think the real moneyshot, if you read that whole article, is that Rolfe never announced a platoon of Wertz, in fact was the guy who took him out of a platoon when he replaced O'Neal. There were a few brief periods in 1951 and 1952 when other guys got the lefty starts because they were the hot hand, or Wertz had nagging injuries or needed a mental health day, particularly in 1951 with his ugly divorce. Beat writers in Boston and New York wrote stories saying he was now being platooned, maybe to ff with the Tigers, I don't know.

If you look at the split data, such as it is, 25 percent or more of Wertz's at bats under Rolfe were against lefties, which is pretty close to what the league had back then. And by almost any measure, the three full years under Rolfe were among the best of his 17 year career, including his three highest WAR years and three of his top four plate appearance years.

As the article relates, Rolfe struggled with how to best utilize Wertz as related in his journal. Wertz spoke highly of him and stood up for Rolfe in the April "clubhouse rebellion" such as it was. The narrative that is out there, not just by Bill, that Rolfe installed a ridiculous platoon and an infuriated Wertz whipped the club into a frenzy resulting in Rolfe's firing.....little evidence for that. The anger in the clubhouse seemed to be more from Rolfe's brusque manner than his lineups.

Bill started out talking about retroactive assessments of players as to under and overrated. Then he jumped to the psychology of platooning on a player. Well, in my small coaching knowledge, a central goal is to put players in positions where they can succeed. Yeah, platooning was less common then, and maybe there was a stigma, but going through a career and slugging. 500, as Wertz did against righties, is better than watering it down with his .377 against lefties.
5:37 AM May 24th
A quick check.

In 1951, the Tigers were 21-24 in games when their opponents started a lefty.

Tigers were 15-14 with Vic Wertz starting in those games in right field.
Tigers were 6-10 with Bud Souchock starting in those games inright field.

Did Souchock hit better against lefties that year than Wertz? Yes.

.222 / .311 / .316 / .627 in 132 PA

.239 / .315 / .521 / .837 in 131 PA

(not all of Souchock's PA's were in games in which Wertz did not play)

Detroit general manager Charlie Gehringer was blunt in his analysis of the deal: "Vic is one of those outfielders who must hit .300 or be a liability. When he didn’t hit, he hurt us."

Was Souchock really that much better a fielder than Wertz? Was he even a better fielder than Wertz, period?

And, Tony, some of your numbers your cite are incorrect.

You stated: "As of June 3rd, Wertz had started against every lefty starter the 13-27 Tigers had faced."

According to BB-ref:

That 1-13 record? In two of those games, Wertz did NOT start.

5/9 ... Souchock started in RF. Tigers lost to Chicago, 8-5.
5/11.. George Lerchen started in RF. Tigers lost to Chicago, 6-5.

Overall in 1952, the Tigers were 6-14 when sitting Wertz against lefties up until the time he was traded on Aug. 14th.

Wertz started 4 games after June 3rd against lefties (Tigers went 1-3).

"On June 3, the Tigers front office made a blockbuster trade to shake up the team, bringing in two righty power bats, Dropo and Lenchak from the Red Sox. Wertz did not start another game against lefties under Rolfe, who was fired on July 3. "

Not true, either. Wertz started against Eddie Lopat and the Yankees in a 4-0 loss on June 10th. The Tigers had 4 hits in that shutout by Lopat. Wertz was 0 for 3. All three of his at bats with no one on base. So he could have hit 3 homeruns in the game and the Tigers still would have lost.
3:37 AM May 24th
The Browns?

Oh, that poor bastard.

1:08 PM May 23rd
Thanks, all, very much for this discussion.
12:47 PM May 22nd
"In a wide-ranging article about factors that cause a player to be underrated or overrated, I argued that playing time density is what we’re missing here"

Here is my favorite example of this concept:

AL Catcher (1948-1965):
Against RH: 5944 PA, .285/.349/.494
Against LH: 2268 PA, .279/.341/.442

NL Catcher (1949-1967)
Against RH: 4039 PA, .297/.367/.454
Against LH: 862 PA, .272/.326/.407

So Smoky Burgess is not quite the hitter Yogi Berra was, but it is not far apart (and even closer when you consider that Yogi's perceived power advantage is at least partially due to his home stadium), but Yogi got to hit against lefties and Smoky didn't.
11:38 AM May 22nd
PS: fun fact. One game after the Tigers traded Wertz to the St. Louis Browns in August 1952, the Browns came into Detroit for a three games series. Wertz had 12 plate appearance, two walks six hits, 2 home runs, and for the series slashed .600/.667/1.300/1.967.
6:16 PM May 21st
(I put it wrong -- it wasn't that Wertz benefited from Cash's being platooned but from his "periodic stints on the bench.")
3:15 AM May 21st
In addition to all else that's great here -- and of lesser importance than any of the rest, which is why I'm saying it, because the unimportance means that nobody else would mention it.... :-)

Great job about how overuse of the word "ironic" has put it beyond having any particular meaning any more.

That said, I think you used it exactly right.
It's so interesting and indeed ironic that the first player who benefited from the misguided platooning of Cash was the clearest guy who had recently suffered it.
12:44 AM May 21st

This research piece expands quite a bit on the Rolfe/Wertz platooning relationship. I didn't know it was such an interesting case history in management. It recounts the personnel and injury issues throughout the whole drama.


This piece had access to a journal Rolfe kept during those years. Clearly Wertz was a player that Rolfe had on his mind a lot, through a series of injuries, slumps and, in 1952, a draining and very public divorce with allegations of abuse. The three full years under Rolfe's management were the three best years of Wertz's career in WAR.

It may not be fair to paint Rolfe as somebody that decided to platoon Wertz due to pride in his own number crunching (if that is a fair characterization of your characterization.) Rolfe's predecessor, Steve O'Neill, sat Wertz against lefties for most of 1947, and after 1948, the 23 year old Wertz went to the Tiger's GM Billy Evans and demanded a trade to somewhere that wouldn't platoon him. That was all before Rolfe was on the scene. In 1949 Rolfe took over, gave Wertz 695 plate appearances and was a first time All Star. But his splits were still stark, .963 OPS against righties and .679 against lefties.

The end game was in 1952. As of June 3rd, Wertz had started against every lefty starter the 13-27 Tigers had faced. The Tigers were 1-13 in those games, and Wertz was hitting .143 and slugging .286 in those games. On June 3, the Tigers front office made a blockbuster trade to shake up the team, bringing in two righty power bats, Dropo and Lenchak from the Red Sox. Wertz did not start another game against lefties under Rolfe, who was fired on July 3.

The issue of a Tiger's team revolt WAS covered in the press -- but that was in April after their 0-8 start in an article by Gene Cobbledick, the awesomely-named editor of the Detroit Free Press. Wertz was not being platooned then, spoke in defense of Rolfe, and the revolt was blamed on Rolfe's sharp tongue and harsh methods.

In 1952 the Tigers did lose 104 games, as you say, but Rolfe was 23-49-1, his successor (pitcher) Fred Hutchinson 27-55-1. The Tigers lost 104 games because they sucked, not because of ham-handed failure to coddle a superstar's ego.

I also gotta say, Wertz splits were STARK for his career, .885 OPS against righties, .670 against lefties. He was not a plus fielder, -9.0 dWAR career. He wasn't fast, 9 SB and 19 CS in 17 seasons. He would probably be a platoon DH/1b candidate today.

Wertz was traded a month after Rolfe's firing. He played ten more years, making one All Star team after making three under Rolfe. He only topped 500 at bats four times in his 17 year career, and three of those were the three full seasons under Rolfe. His top three WAR years were under Rolfe.

So...the legend says Rolfe lost the clubhouse in an uproar after platooning their superstar. But I think one might also take that Rolfe actually was making a good analytical move, but way ahead of his time, got the very best out of a player with a good bat against righties but not much else who was going through a lot of injuries and was skewered as an easy target by all involved.
Last edited by TonyClifton; Today at 04:56 PM.
The artist formerly known as OBS2.0, nee OldBackstop.
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5:59 PM May 20th
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