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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Johnny Callison's Arm 

As part of my series on The Wiz Kids, the 1950 Phillies team that stunned the National League by taking the N.L. pennant and advancing to the World Series, I began to think a lot more about the Phillies history and realize that there are a lot of interesting stories out there that I don’t believe have been explored. Rather than do a full Wiz Kids style workup on the ’64 or the ’80 teams, I decided that I’d tackle a few smaller subjects that I think might be interesting for people to talk about. Today’s topic: Johnny Callison’s fielding skills, with a particular focus on Callison’s arm.

Johnny Callison was born March 13, 1939, in rural Arkansas. Heavily recruited, he signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1957 and broke into the majors a year later in 1958 at the age of just 19. Compared often with Mickey Mantle, Callison was dealt just two years later to the Phillies in a deal where the Phillies stole Callison by giving up pinch hitter Gene Freese. After two unspectacular seasons in 1960 and 1961, Callison put together four terrific seasons from 1962 to 1965 when he was an All-Star three of those years and the runner-up for the MVP award in 1964. Here is a quick look at Callison’s offensive stats during that time-frame:

1962: 23 / 83
1963: 26 / 78
1964: 31 / 104
1965: 32 / 101

1962: .363 / .491 / .286 / .191
1963: .339 / .502 / .278 / .218
1964: .316 / .492 / .265 / .218
1965: .328 / .509 / .275 / .247

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)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.

Runs Created / RC27
1962: 106 / 6.48
1963: 106 / 6.05
1964: 100 / 5.49
1965: 102 / 5.79

Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF). If you use ESPN’s version be advised that it is pitifully is out-of-date, however. James adjusted RC after the 2004 season ended.
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game. ((Runs Created / Outs) * 27) = RC/27

Callison was an All-Star in 1962, 1964 and 1965. He won the MVP award at the 1964 All-Star game when he won the game with a three-run home run, and was the runner-up to the Cardinals Ken Boyer in the MVP voting in 1964, an award he almost certainly would have won had the Phillies out-lasted the St. Louis Cardinals for the pennant instead of their epic collapse. You certainly cannot fault Callison for the Phillies collapse that season either: he did hit .275 during the Phillies ten-game losing streak and scored seven runs to go along with ten RBIs. He did everything the Phillies asked of him that season.

After the 1965 season Callison slumped badly. He hit just 11 home runs with 55 RBIs in 1966. He never again approached the success he had from ’62 – ’65, and was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in 1969, where he played for two seasons before going to the Yankees and retiring after the 1973 campaign. The promise that he had shown at the plate from ’62 – ’65 was never realized.

Callison recently passed away and I thought it was interesting in his obituary that the writer noted that he had led the National League in assists four times: specifically during this ’62 – ’65 time period when he was so dominant at the plate. Here are some of Callison’s stats from that time period:

Assists / Range Factor / League RF
1962: 24 / 2.31 / 1.79
1963: 26 / 2.06 / 1.75
1964: 19 / 2.09 / 1.72
1965: 21 / 2.10 / 1.75

Fielding Percentage: (Putouts + Assists) / (Putouts + Assists + Errors). How often the player successfully handled the ball.
Range Factor: (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / IP. Essentially measures how much a player is involved in defensive plays.

Callison’s 24 assists in 1962 was a big jump from the 10 he had in 1961, but part of that was a product of Callison’s shift to playing right field full-time: in 1962 Callison played 151 games in right field. In 1961 Callison played 90 of his 124 games in left field and just 35 in right field. Because left field is so much closer to second and third bases, left fielders don’t have to be as sure-armed as a right fielder, who has to get the ball from the first-base side of the field to second and third to cut off runners trying to advance.

From 1962 on, Callison was almost exclusively a right fielder, and a pretty good one. Here are Callison’s Fielding Percentage stats:

Fielding Percentage / League FP
1962: .980 / .974
1963: .994 / .977
1964: .988 / .973
1965: .982 / .975

He was, generally speaking, a pretty sure-handed, smooth, fielder. How good was he? Well, he led all N.L. right fielders (whom I am defining as anyone who played more than 100 games in right field) in Range Factor in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1965*. He led all outfielders in assists. He had a strong arm and seemed to get to the ball a lot, which is all you can ask of your outfielders.

* Well … technically, Roberto Clemente tied Callison that season.

How much of an impact did Callison’s fielding have on the Phillies defense? It is a difficult question to answer. Johnny Callison definitely did not make the Phillies a great defensive team: the flaw the 1960s Phillies teams had was that they did not play particularly good defense. The 1964 team, for example, finished seventh in Defense Efficiency Ratio despite nearly winning the N.L. pennant. The 1965 team finished dead-last in terms of DER and rebounded the following season, when Callison began to struggle as an outfielder. Callison is a great example of how defense is a team effort and no one player can compensate for organizational weakness.

Callison’s production very quickly ceased after 1965:

Assists / Range Factor / League RF
1966: 12 / 1.86 / 1.78
1967: 12 / 2.03 / 1.81
1968: 10 / 1.81 / 1.82
1969: 12 / 2.21 / 1.75

After exceeding the league averages in Range Factor from ’62 to ’65, Callison struggled to keep pace with his old ways from ’66 to ’69. He logged 90 assists from ’62 to ’65, and just 46 from ’66 to ’69. After being consistently better than the league average in Range Factor during that time period, he was barely better in ’66 and actually under-performed in ’68. Like with his batting, Johnny Callison atrophied as a fielder and became a bit of a liability.

In the end, I think that Johnny Callison ought to be remembered as a terrific baseball player who played some of the best outfield that anyone has seen between the years 1962 and 1965. I hope Phillies fans will remember the threads he contributed to the tapestry of the team’s history.

Range factor for Callison is dubious considering that the Phillie staff had two strikeout artists in Jim Bunning and Chris Short, as well as having Ray Culp, thus limiting the balls that were put in play. With Callison's speed, I suspect that he would have as great or greater range than the average right-fielder.
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