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Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Wiz Kids, Part VII: Focus on the Opposition … the New York teams 

The Phillies two strongest foes in 1950 were the two New York teams, the Giants and Dodgers. Little would their fervent fans would realize, but both teams would depart their long-time home in just seven years, just one year removed from a period of time where they would dominate the National League. The Dodgers, the winners of 1947 and 1949 NL pennants, would go on to win the NL pennant in 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956 before the team left for Los Angeles. The Giants meanwhile, would win the 1951 pennant in dramatic style before winning the ’54 pennant and World Series. They to would leave for the West Coast, arriving in San Francisco for the 1958 season. Aside from the Wiz Kids in '50, these two teams dominated the NL from 1947 to 1956.

The Brooklyn Dodgers.

Roy Campanella. Jackie Robinson. Pee Wee Reese. Duke Snider. Not many starting lineups can boast four Hall of Fame baseball players, but the 1950 Brooklyn Dodgers did. Campanella, Robinson, Resse and Snider combined to form the core of a lineup that was more fearsome than any other fielded in 1950. The Dodgers scored 847 runs that season, 62 more than the Boston Braves, 112 more than the Giants and 125 more than the Phillies. They were easily the most impressive team in the NL offensively. The Dodgers led the NL in nearly every category, from home runs (33 better than the second-place Cubs), to batting average (.272, .007 better than the Phillies), to OBP (.346, .007 better than the Braves), to slugging percentage (.444, .038 better than the Pirates), to stolen bases (77, 6 better than the Braves). They were a fearsome offensive machine that got on base, advanced runners and blasted home runs.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Gross Productive Average (GPA): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Walks per plate appearance (BB/PA): BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. The formula I use for this article is taken from Bill James Historical Abstract circa 1988, when he developed special formulas for Runs Created based on stats that the MLB kept (e.g., caught stealing wasn't a stat baseball kept track of until 1951). The formula is: [(H + BB + HBP - GIDP) times (Total Bases + .26 * (BB + HBP) + .52 * SH)] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH).
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
Base Runs: Developed by Dave Smyth as an alternative to Runs Created. Here is the formula: (A: H + BB + HBP – HR ; B: (.8 * 1B) + (2.1 * 2B) + (3.4 * 3B) + (1.8 * HR) + (.1*(BB + HBP)); C: AB – H; D: HR) Then simply divide B into B + C, then multiply A to the result and add D.
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.

In particular, Duke Snider had an amazing season: 31 home runs, 31 doubles, 10 triples, .321 Batting Average, 107 RBIs, 109 Runs Scored. A sabremetric look at his numbers says a lot more: Snider had a .309 Gross Productive Average (GPA) and a .232 Isolated Power (ISO). Snider led the Dodgers in Runs Created (RC) and Base Runs (BsR):

Runs Created:
Snider: 133
Robinson: 116
Hodges: 116
Furillo: 98
Reese: 90
Campanella: 83

Base Runs:
Snider: 118
Robinson: 107
Hodges: 100
Furillo: 93
Campanella: 83
Reese: 77

The Dodgers best hitter in terms of raw power was catcher Campanella, who had a .270 ISO (31 home runs despite having just 75% of the AB’s as guys like Snider). Their top hitter overall was Jackie Robinson, who led the team with a .315 GPA. #42 only had 14 home runs, fifth on the team, but he did lead the Dodgers in doubles with 39 and drew 80 walks with only 24 strikeouts. Yes, Jackie Robinson struck out in just 4% of his plate appearances. I wonder if anyone was ever as difficult to strikeout as Jackie Robinson*.

* Ok, I checked it out and I think I found someone a little more difficult to K: in 1941 Joe DiMaggio struck out just 13 times in 621 plate appearances. That’s 2%. Still, Jackie Robinson did pretty good in '50!

The Dodgers, however, struggled in many other aspects of the game. In terms of pitching, the Dodgers really struggled. While it is true that the Dodgers led the NL in strikeouts (5.00 per nine innings, 0.45 better than the Reds, 1.03 better than the Phillies), they were fifth in the NL in allowing walks (3.83 per nine innings) and worst in allowing home runs (1.06 per nine innings). Given that the top slugging team in the NL was themselves, that means they must have been very susceptible to the long-ball.

As a consequence they rank sixth in the NL in terms of Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA:

Phillies: 3.89
Cardinals: 3.95
Braves: 4.04
Giants: 4.14
Reds: 4.17
Dodgers: 4.20
Cubs: 4.23
Pirates: 4.50
League: 4.14

This isn’t to say that the Dodgers didn’t have talent. They had Don Newcombe, the firey power pitcher who was every bit as good as the Phillies Robin Roberts:

Roberts: 3.55
Newcombe: 3.45

Roberts / Newcombe
HR/9: 0.86 / 0.74
K/9: 4.32 / 4.38
BB/9: 2.28 / 2.52

Newcombe was helped by the fact that he got to face the light-hitting Phillies instead of the Dodgers like Roberts, and that Roberts threw nearly forty more innings than Newcombe, which means that his arm was much more tired. Roberts would later out-duel Newcombe on the final day of the 1950 season to capture the pennant for the Phillies. (see, Part XII of this series.)

The rest of the Dodgers pitching staff was a bust. Preacher Roe, the former Phillie, was nowhere near as good as his 3.30 ERA indicated: his FIP ERA was 4.07. Roe surrendered 34 home runs in 250 innings, 1.22 per nine innings. He was largely saved by good defensive work. After Roe and Newcombe, the quality of the Dodgers staff fell off quickly: poor Ralph Branca, who would go down in infamy as the man who surrendered Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” the next year, in particular struggled in 1950.

The Dodgers pitchers weren’t helped by the fact that the Dodgers fielding wasn’t great: the team Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) was just .703, which ranked them fourth behind the Giants (.729), the Phillies (.719), and the Reds (.708). The Dodgers appeared to have a strong middle defense with Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson, but looked weak everywhere else.

The Dodgers reliance on slugging as opposed to pitching and defense would come back to haunt them: they went 23-21 in one-run ball games while the Phillies went 30-16. The inability to win close games led to the Dodgers offensive output being wasted: of their 89 victories in 1950, 29 of them were by five runs or more. Their inability to scatter those runs more consistently throughout the season led to feast-or-famine games. Had the Dodgers equaled the Phillies .652 winning percentage in one-run games in their 44 one-run contests, the Dodgers would have won 95 games in 1950 and won the NL by four games.

However, that is pure speculation. The Dodgers did fall short to the Phillies.

The New York Giants.

The New York Giants, in contrast, were a team built around pitching and defense. The Giants led the National League in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) by a wide margin:

Giants: .729
Phillies: .719
Reds: .708
Dodgers: .703
Cardinals: .702
Braves: .701
Pirates: .701
Cubs: .694

The Giants prowess in defense helped obscure the fact that the Giants pitching was good but not great. While the Phillies ERA does rise from 3.50 to 3.89 once you make it defense neutral, it remains the best in the NL by a pretty wide margin. The Giants, in contrast, see their team ERA spike from 3.71 to 4.14, a 0.43 increase. 4.14 is actually the NL average for ERA in 1950, so the Giants fall from the top to the exact middle. In short, the Giants go from having the second-best ERA in the majors to having an average pitching staff once you make their stats defense neutral.

The Giants had some good pitchers in 1950. Larry Jansen was a formidable pitcher, hurling a 3.41 FIP ERA (a 3.01 “real” ERA) in 275 innings of work. Jansen’s 275 innings were fifth-most in the NL, and his 1.07 WHIP was best in the NL. Sal Maglie, who led the NL in ERA in 1950, also turned in an excellent season. Maglie was stingy with surrendering home runs (0.61 per nine innings), but clearly benefited from his defense: his league-leading 2.71 ERA hides a 3.72 FIP ERA.

After Jansen and Maglie the quality of the Giants pitching tails off.

Offensively, the Giants weren’t much to speak of. They hit roughly the league average in GPA: .250. Their Isolated Power was .134, below the NL average of .140 that season. They scored 4.77 runs per game, slightly better than the league average of 4.66 … The Giants probably played above their heads: according to the Base Runs formulas, the Giants over-performed: scoring 735 runs when Base Runs had them at 705. Runs Created actually suggests they slightly under-performed by three runs, however.

The Giants offensive weapon was Eddie Stanky, their second-baseman. Stanky might have been the most under-rated player in the NL in 1950, drawing 144 walks in addition to getting 158 hits and scoring 115 runs. Stanky got on base 314 times in 1950, which led the league, and his OBP was a Barry Bonds-like .460. Not even Richie Ashburn (on-base 245 times with a .402 OBP) could do that. Stanky had 121 Runs Created and 114 Base Runs, roughly 16% of his team’s total in both stats. Without Stanky setting the table for the Giants middle order of Bobby Thomson, Hank Thompson and Monte Irvin, the Giants would have been pretty punch-less on offense.

The next season the Giants continued to be a defense oriented team with decent pitching, but dramatically improved offense, which featured Irvin, who led the league in RBIs with 121 (and had 127 Runs Created), and Rookie of the Year Willie Mays, who hit 20 home runs and had 69 RBIs. After losing to the Phillies 4-0 on August 11, 1950, the Giants swept the next three games against the Phillies and won 39 of their final 47 games. They miraculously closed the gap despite the fact that the Dodgers really didn’t play bad baseball (27-24, .529) over the final two months of the season. The season culminated in Bobby Thomson’s home run and the Giants went into the history books.

I'll comment on the World Series tomorrow if they actually get to play and post Part VIII of the series.

Previous Installments of the Wiz Kids:
Part VI: Curt Simmons.
Part V: Robin Roberts.
Part IV: The first half of the 1950 season.
Part III: Jim Konstanty.
Part II: Eddie Sawyer.
Part I: The Path to 1950.

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