Tag Archives: Ty Cobb

The magic of Walter Johnson

The season is about to start, but it’s never too late to look back on baseball’s awesome history.

At left, Johnson and Ty Cobb (on right).  At right, Johnson pitching 1912-1915 (Photos courtesy of baseball-fever.com)

I cannot imagine being a major league player just before Walter Johnson’s time.  You’re doing just fine, hitting for a high average and punishing baseballs–in fact, destroying them.  You are racking up triples and doubles. The league is very healthy and even though runs scored per game has gone down in recent years, you and your team, the Detroit Tigers, are killing it. (You’re also very racist, but we’ll talk about that another time).

Then, in 1907, during a game against the worst team in the league, this lanky 6 foot 1 19-year-old takes the mound.

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An important point about steroids and the dreaded “era”

Yes, you heard it today by now, Mark McGwire admitted to steroid use.  This isn’t that important, a reporter spotted andro in his locker years ago and andro is an anabolic steroid that was not illegal when he was taking it.  He also admitted to taking HGH.  But someone made a great point today and I can’t remember where I read it.

After all is said and done about the “steroid era,” wherever we decide it began and ended, all the stats will be adjusted for in the minds of fans just as the stats of the deadball players are today.  I mean, what do you think of when you think of a .400 hitter?  Nap Lajoie?  Ty Cobb?  Nope.  Ted Williams, right?  Right.  Maybe it’s better that way.  There were certainly some athletes who cheated directly and there were other athletes who bent-but-didn’t-break the rules.  There were also some athletes who cheated and didn’t become successful.  But all hitting, across the boards, has been better since 1993.  It’s probably not a fluke.  It might not even have to do anything with the players taking steroids, but it’s been fun to watch, so why not accept it?

Thought that was maybe the most salient point of the afternoon.

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All-Modern Day Deadball All-Stars pt. I

All-Modern Day Deadball All-Stars–hitting by year

The last post got me thinking, what players in the modern day would have thrived in the Deadball era.

Deadball era hitters were known for low home run totals, high batting averages, bad Isolated Discipline (on-base percentage – batting average) and low strike out rates.

I went on Baseball-Reference’s Play Index (jeez is that thing fun to play with) and set the first parameters for career: BA >= .315, OBP >=.370, HR <= 400, minimum 3,000 plate appearances.

The list is surprisingly thin and chock full of first basemen of all things. Turns out a number of them were hurt because of late-career declines, so I scrapped that and started looking under single season for the same parameters, with HR <=20, between 1961-2009 (expansion era).

And that’s when the hits just kept coming.

Here’s what came up (slash stats are batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage/no. of home runs):

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Tony Gwynn would have been a deadball era treasure

If you ever wanted to know what a deadball hitter looked like back in the day, you may have seen one without knowing it.

Baseball-Reference posted an interesting article today about Gwynn and his strikeout rate.  A strikeout, as postulated by many and included in Moneyball, is the worst possible outcome for an at-bat in a vacuum. (The worst in a non-vacuum is a double- or triple-play, but since there are only five types of outcomes of an at-bat–strike out, walk, groundball, flyball or line drive–with varying results, we’ll stick to the vacuum for now).

Anyway.  B-R posted on the blog today that Gwynn had struck out once every 7.237 hits.  Gwynn was pretty amazing.

In that post, B-R showed the batters with the same or higher strike out-to-hit ratio listed in order of career hits. The list is pretty short, but only Gwynn and Nellie Fox played after 1950.  There were only four players with as good of a strike out-to-hit ratio and more career hits than Gwynn:

  1. Ty Cobb (4,189)
  2. Tris Speaker (3,514)
  3. Eddie Collins (3,315)
  4. Paul Waner (3,152)
  5. Tony Gwynn (3,141)

Waner played in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, but what odd company for Gwynn.  Sometimes you see a player who hits a lot of high home runs and flyballs and you wonder how that player would have fared back in the days of the Polo Grounds and unbearably huge outfields.  Gwynn was a callback to the early era of hitters who didn’t hit for home runs–instead, they got a lot of doubles and triples.  Tony probably would have been a great hitter in any era.  How cool is that.

Note that Gwynn played in an era of more aggressive pitchers–pitchers average a lot more strike outs today than they did in the deadball years, so his achievements are all the more amazing.

Man, Gwynn could have stayed in for another 15 games and passed Waner on that list …

Oh well, here’s a post to Gwynn.  Maybe more on him later.

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