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Hall of Merit
— A Look at Baseball's All-Time Best

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ranking the Hall of Merit Catchers - Discussion

We’ll be going position by position, starting behind the plate:

Johnny Bench
Charlie Bennett
Yogi Berra
Roger Bresnahan
Roy Campanella
Gary Carter
Mickey Cochrane
Bill Dickey
Buck Ewing
Carlton Fisk
Bill Freehan
Josh Gibson
Gabby Hartnett
Biz Mackey
Cal McVey
Louis Santop
Ted Simmons
Joe Torre
Quincy Trouppe
Deacon White

I expect the election to begin 4/27/2008 and wrap up 5/4/2008.

EDIT: Election will end 5/11/2008 8 p.m. EDT, unless another time is found to be more convenient for John and the ballot counters.

Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: April 21, 2008 at 06:57 PM | 121 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   101. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: May 08, 2008 at 07:13 PM (#2773880)
I did remember one of my major problems with White and McVey, and will put up that post probably tonight. The short form is that catchers in the NA played very large percentages of their teams' games - larger than even the most modern catchers, with all the equipment in the world, can match.


Unquestionably, Brock. In fact, I mentioned this years ago myself.

So if you just multiply their teams' schedules through to 162 games, you have badly overestimated the actual playing time that these guys would have had if their schedules had actually been that long. Since the whole point of the 162-game amortization is to give 162-game weight to NA seasons, you do have to make a discount for anything that is actually related to the schedule length. I believe that the reason that NA catchers played so many games was that the light schedule allowed them to take many many fewer injuries and have much longer to sit out and heal them, because they could sit out exhibition games, rather than the league ones.


Again, no disagreement and I have been factoring that in for a long time.

This hurts Deacon White a lot, because he's the poster boy for this. In the entire duration of the National Association, Deacon White missed exactly 3 games, 1 in 74 and 2 in 75. You know that ain't right, given the playing conditions and equipment of NA catchers. You have to make an adjustment for that, and it turns out to be a large one, at least in my methods, although I do take into account that White seems to have been the most durable of the NA catchers. As I said, I'll try to justify this in much better detail later, but I thought I should put it up ASAP, just on general principles.


Here's my problem again: White was the best catcher at his position numerous times, while never claiming that honor as a third baseman. Without a doubt, he was a far greater player as a catcher than a third baseman, just like Ernie Banks is in the HOF for his shortstop years and not for the many more games he played at first.

IMO, you are seriously underrating White.
   102. Paul Wendt Posted: May 08, 2008 at 07:17 PM (#2773887)
Brock:
18. Deacon White
My opinion, which you may not agree with, is that he is outmatched by this group, and doesn't really belong here.

x. Cal McVey
Not really a career catcher. The first great multi-position player that I know of. Should be compared to Martin Dihigo, rather than Josh Gibson. That is, I don't have him ranked 19th; I have him ranked as not-a-catcher.

x. Roger Bresnahan
Again, really a multi-spot star. I tend to think of him as the last of the great 1900s catchers, who needed all that speed. I'd compare him to Craig Biggio, rather than to a bunch of career catchers. Again, this ranking is as not-a-catcher.


52. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: May 04, 2008 at 07:48 AM (#2768333)

> 18. Deacon White
> My opinion, which you may not agree with, is that he is outmatched by this group, and doesn't really belong here.

Since White was a better player than Ewing, Brock, I disagree.

First of all, we take into account his NA years years. Secondly, White wrongly gets lumped in with the third basemen because his years as a catcher are not prorated due to the much shorter schedules (of course, his stats need to be somewhat regressed after proration).


Brock:
And I should say something about Deacon White, just because Grandma Murphy has always been a good guy whenever I've run across his work. Here are my problems: Including the NA, White played 458 games at catcher, but 826 at third. Yes, there are more games in the schedule later, when he was playing third, but the ratio is nothing like 826/458.

The latter is simply false. Maybe I'll get back to it.

Why analyse playing time? Here the point seems to be classification and nomination, the composition of the ballot. Brock seems to mean, we should be ranking Deacon White against Heinie Groh and Darrell Evans rather than against Louis Santop and Ted Simmons. On a larger view, White should be on the agenda now based on past comparison with Ezra Sutton and Ed Williamson rather than John Clapp and Buck Ewing.


Since the whole point of the 162-game amortization is to give 162-game weight to NA seasons, you do have to make a discount for anything that is actually related to the schedule length. I believe that the reason that NA catchers played so many games was that the light schedule allowed them to take many many fewer injuries and have much longer to sit out and heal them, because they could sit out exhibition games, rather than the league ones.

The latter needs research. It may be so, in part. It isn't simply true. We know that teams did not travel with many players.
What is the general point, "anything that is actually related to the schedule length"? Does "actually" mean on the field rather than in the record books or the statistical analyses? Does it mean physiologically rather than culturally?

As you probably known, I would say first, the point is correctly weighting the successive seasons of a players career. When we classify someone as a thirdbaseman, or a 120 OPS+ batter, we should weigh his seasons equally, if he played full time, rather than weigh them by plate appearances, atbats, or games.
   103. Paul Wendt Posted: May 09, 2008 at 09:08 PM (#2774979)
[Brock Hanke wrote a while ago:]
>>And I should say something about Deacon White, just because Grandma Murphy has always been a good guy whenever I've run across his work. Here are my problems: Including the NA, White played 458 games at catcher, but 826 at third. Yes, there are more games in the schedule later, when he was playing third, but the ratio is nothing like 826/458.
<<
[I wrote yesterday:]
The latter is simply false. Maybe I'll get back to it.

====

826/458 = 1.8 but Brock's claim is simply false even at ratio 2.0, even if we interpret "nothing like" as "less than", and even if we interpret "schedule" literally and begin in 1877. (For 1877 a schedule committee prepared and the NL adopted a schedule of championship games to be followed by all clubs, replacing the system where every pair of clubs arranged and rearranged games by mutual agreement, or canceled them pending rearrangement by notice from either one to the other.)

For 1877 and 1878 there were 60 games scheduled for every club; for 1888 and 1889 in the National League and 1890 in the Players' League, there were 140. So the number of games scheduled by Deacon White's major leagues increased by the factor 2.33 during the period when they did schedule games, his last 14 seasons in the majors.

What if we start in 1871 and use the ratio 1.8?
In 1875, White's Boston team played 82 games, second to Hartford's 85. If we compare team games played in this and other early seasons with team games scheduled by the leagues in 1877 and after, the increase from 1875 to the end of White's career is 140/82 = 1.7. That does fall short of 1.8 = 826/458. In almost any context, I would say that 1.7 is "something like" 1.8, but never mind, set 1875 aside. Only for 1871-1874 and 1876-1878 is it true that the number of games increased in proportion 1.8 or more, from then until the end of White's career,

The N.L. adopted 126 games in 1886. If we make the comparison from the early years to 1886, 1874 drops out, for White's Boston team played 71 games and 126/71 is merely 1.77. Only for 1871-1873 and 1876-1878 is it true that the number of games increased in proportion 1.8 or more, from then until the end of White's career.

The N.L. adopted 112 games in 1884. If we make the comparison from the early years to 1884, then four 60- and 70-game seasons drop out. Only for 1871-1872 is it true that the number of games increased in proportion 1.8 or more, from then until 1884.

What do we get if we use games to count shares of full seasons? I call it Full Seasons Equivalent (FSE). For Deacon White here is the sum of his FSE games by fielding position for 1871-1890.

POS seasons
C_ 7.42
3B 7.11
OF 2.38
1B 1.48
2B 0.66
SS 0.076
P_ 0.023

Ignoring his play before 1871 and in the minors, that may be called his (major league) career FSE games played by position. Including 1869-1870, I add another 1.50 fse at catcher, total 8.92. In major league history through 2006, Chief Zimmer ranks 37 with 8.96 fse at catcher.

(In my desktop baseball database I have the queries (simple programs) to count fse games at LF, CF, and RF separately. I have used them several times for material posted here, concerning primary outfielders.)
   104. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: May 09, 2008 at 10:12 PM (#2775042)
POS seasons
C_ 7.42
3B 7.11
OF 2.38
1B 1.48
2B 0.66
SS 0.076
P_ 0.023


Then there's no question in my mind anymore (not that there really was any for me :-) that the idea that White should be classified as third basemen is flat-out wrong, especially considering his actual contributions at both positions beyond playing time.

Great stuff, Paul!
   105. Paul Wendt Posted: May 12, 2008 at 12:27 AM (#2777100)
I was wondering about the quantitative significance of Kelly's work as a catcher so I generated this list of all-time leaders.

mlb seasons at catcher (FSE) thru 1893
10.78 Pop Snyder
8.614 Charlie Bennett
8.579 Silver Flint
7.42 Deacon White (almost 9 from 1869)
7.27 John Clapp
6.16 Doc Bushong
5.93 Doug Allison (almost 8 from 1869)
5.70 Bill Holbert
5.70 Jack Clements
5.45 Buck Ewing
5.09 King Kelly #11

In 1893 Charlie Bennett and Mike Kelly played their last games in the majors and Buck Ewing played his last game at catcher. They were three of only 11 players with 5.0 seasons at catcher from 1871 (measured by FSE games).

Among the eleven only the lefty Jack Clements was active in 1894, although the rest of the top twenty was full of active catchers (six of nine, total 10 of 20, active in 1893).

They were all among the seven men with four full seasons at catcher, 1883 to 1893, or 98 to 154 games in contrast to the earlier 30 to 84 team games per season.

mlb seasons at catcher (FSE), 1883-1893
5.91 Charlie Bennett
5.70 Jack Clements
4.76 Wilbert Robinson
4.52 Buck Ewing
4.42 Jocko Milligan
4.12 Chief Zimmer
4.08 King Kelly

All seven were active in 1893.

--
Tidbits
(I don't recall reading that Clements was a good catcher. He was a good batter so he may be the one whose team --the Phillies under Harry Wright and Arthur Irwin-- would have gained most from making him an everyday batter.)

(White and Allison were regular catchers exclusively, and John Clapp mainly (and I won't continue) when one catcher sometimes worked all of a team's championship games barring injury.)
   106. Paul Wendt Posted: May 12, 2008 at 12:44 AM (#2777133)
There was a kind of generation gap or half-generation gap.
Kelly and Ewing were still 16th and 14th through 1900 (the 19th century career list). All six who had worked as catchers since 1893 were active in 1900. Probably that was partly the effect of improvements in equipment. The new glove (~1888) and the chest protector
   107. bjhanke Posted: May 15, 2008 at 09:02 AM (#2781593)
Hi. This is Brock again. I have not abandoned the discussion here, but I'm trying to redo the work I did several years ago on 1870s catchers, and it's taking longer than I thought. Just so you guys don't wonder where I went, I'll post up a couple of short things. First, Paul Wendt has my hand caught right in the cookie jar, although I'm not sure he understood exactly what I was trying to say. What I wanted to say was that the ratio of games scheduled while White was a catcher (1870-1879) to those while he was a third baseman (1882-1890, there are a couple of years in the middle when he was an outfielder and a first baseman) was not equal to the ratio of his actual games played. I should have looked the years up, but no, I had to rely on my memory, and it failed me. I forgot how many 60-game years there are early and how man 130-game seasons late. By the standards of what I was trying to compare, there were 1064 games scheduled by White's teams while he was playing third, and 533 while he was a catcher. The ratio of those is 2.0, whereas 826/458 = 1.8. So I was certainly wrong, and I thank Paul for catching it, so I don't still think this a decade from now.
   108. bjhanke Posted: May 15, 2008 at 09:16 AM (#2781594)
Oh, yeah. I have a question for you guys, since some of you seem to know a lot more about the details of early play than I do off hand or from my sources at home. I was looking over Deacon White's career (again) and noticed something that I should have noticed much earlier. There appears (I'm asking what the reality is, because I don't know) to be an injury in 1880 that, essentially, is the thing that ends White's career as a catcher. In 1879, he played full time catcher for Cincy, and then in 80, he plays 35 games as an outfielder. Following is 1881, where he's back to starter time, but moving among first, second, and right field. He's also now in Buffalo. After 1881, he's a third baseman, although he did play some catcher in 82 and 83. Does anyone know what happened there? Did he have some sort of injury that just made catcher impossible for him? It looks suspicious, but that's the start of research, not the end. And I don't have the resources to get to the end. Thanks in advance!
   109. DanG Posted: May 15, 2008 at 04:31 PM (#2781903)
There appears (I'm asking what the reality is, because I don't know) to be an injury in 1880 that, essentially, is the thing that ends White's career as a catcher.

From Baseball Library:

July 27, 1880: Jim "Deacon" White finally joins the Cincinnati Reds. He had signed a contract in mid-May but had delayed his departure from home to care for his sick wife.

Cincinnati was able to cover themselves at catcher by acquiring John Clapp for the year. Presumably, White was not in great condition upon his return. Since Jack Manning was impressing nobody in RF they apparently gave White his spot for the rest of the season. After the year the Reds were bounced from the league.

White caught on with Buffalo for 1881. They had a good young catcher in Jack Rowe and were solid at most every position. White was used wherever. After that year, they got rid of their weakest link, shortstop John Peters. The resulting position shuffling landed White at 3B, at age 34. He had played a total of ten games there in the previous 11 years.
   110. DanG Posted: May 15, 2008 at 06:00 PM (#2782054)
some sort of injury that just made catcher impossible for him?

Before Charlie Bennett, nobody caught many games in their 30's. White established a record for 30+ catchers with 59 games caught at age 31 in 1879. The first catcher to catch 60 games in a season at age 31 or older was Bennett in 1886. The first catcher to catch 70 games in a season at age 31 or older was Bennett in 1888; the second was Bennett in 1889; the third was Bennett in 1890. After that it became increasingly common.
   111. Paul Wendt Posted: May 16, 2008 at 05:28 AM (#2782888)
Brock and others,
You may find my treatment interesting or useful.
Length of Early MLB Seasons in Games
Beside listing the numbers of games scheduled each season, for every year 1865 to 1920 there are 5-year and 15-year forward-looking average numbers of major league games per season. So the 5-year average starts out at 0.0 in 1865 and 1866 whereas the 15-year average begins at 35 games per season in 1865
   112. Paul Wendt Posted: May 18, 2008 at 03:39 PM (#2784991)
[This is part of a slowly ongoing conversation with Brock Hanke during the last fortnight.]
The focus of that conversation is playing time for very early catchers. The featured application is to Deacon White whom Hanke ranks near the bottom of Hall of Merit catchers. One crucial point is that major league teams in the 1870s played many to some exhibition games during the season. Surely some regular players sat on the bench in favor of a tryout or the the team's "regular substitute". Some especially catchers probably rested from their rigorous jobs by playing an easier or safer position like right field. So their share of playing time in championship games presumably overstates their share of playing time in all games (not to mention their share in a hypothetical 162 game championship season).

But my theme here is broader: What is the extant record of in-season exhibition games? This note may be useful or interesting although it needs more research to confirm or correct some guesses & suppositions.

Regarding the historical data:

There are some boxscores for exhibition games but those are not comprehensive and not centralized. Only before 1871, I suppose, the New York Clipper may have covered professional-amateur and friendly professional-professional games adequately. The Sporting Life later covered many or all "city series" such as SL Browns v SL Cardinals, but those were pre- and post-season games, not in-season exhibitions. I guess that most of the available data on 1870s in-season exhibition games is scattered in local newspapers, such as a Rochester newspaper if Troy Haymakers played there against a Rochester team.

Maybe NL v IA games in the late 1870s and non-championship games between league clubs were covered more adequately. Even so, those will not be the bulk of exhibition games, not until league clubs were prohibited from playing outsiders during the season, which must be late in the heyday of in-season exhibitions. So if Boston played at Worcester (NA) in 1879, did Snyder catch for Boston or play right field or sit on the bench or stay home? If we learn that he played, that will leave open the thought, "Sure, he played at Worcester because that was a strong team and there was a regional rivalry. Boston was taking the Worcester game seriously."

In his game logs Frank Vaccaro covers many non-championship games, all whose reports he noticed by the way while logging the championship games. But his coverage is limited to date, site, teams, score, and usually innings and pitchers. I suppose much of that is from prose articles and/or line scores rather than box scores. If it was common practice to publish line scores with the batteries --runs by inning plus names of pitchers and catchers-- then we may be able to glean a lot about catcher workloads in the 1870s.

(From the logs I know that number one pitchers did work a lot of those games. And we know that teams did not travel with large squads, maybe no more than 9 or 10. But that is only suggestive.)
   113. Paul Wendt Posted: May 18, 2008 at 03:59 PM (#2785005)
if Boston played at Worcester (NA) in 1879, did Snyder catch for Boston or play right field or sit on the bench or stay home? If we learn that he played, that will leave open the thought, "Sure, he played at Worcester because that was a strong team and there was a regional rivalry. Boston was taking the Worcester game seriously."

On the Worcester side, Bennett and Bushong were already a tandem. They joined the National League in 1880 as part of the team and they worked 46 and 40 games behind the plate (85 team games). For 1881 Bushong remained to catch 76 games and Bennett moved to Detroit to catch 70 (another 84 game schedule).
The official statistics for NA 1879 list Bennett cf, c and Bushong c, cf. They played 42 and 46 of 51 games which makes them two of six regular players (42-50, next is 32). D.J. Sullivan and W.H. Winslow are listed with position catcher only, 3 and 4 games played.

The National League introduced a reserve system after the 1879 season, covering five players per team. I don't know whether negotiations with Worcester awarded the club reserve rights to any of its 1879 players. That is a complication in comparing the records of new entries before and during their first seasons in the NL. Of course, with or without reserve rights the fortunes of teams in transition must have differed greatly regarding their success in signing new players and retaining their choice of old ones.
   114. Paul Wendt Posted: May 18, 2008 at 04:01 PM (#2785007)
sigh. That one was intended for Charlie Bennett
   115. jimd Posted: May 19, 2008 at 11:17 PM (#2786694)
Welcome Brock. On our Catchers thread (follow the link) you might find some studies of interest on catching usage, as well as other discussion. I did one on catchers pre-1920 (posts 52-54). Kelly in SD did one on catchers 1901-1940 (posts 83-86).
   116. jimd Posted: May 20, 2008 at 12:56 AM (#2786860)
I think you should amortize 1870s catcher playing time out to maybe 90 games instead of 162 when you're doing Season Equivalents, and that this is the only decade and the only position to which that applies. It only applies to catchers, and it only applies to 1870s catchers, except for one season of Charlie Bennett (1882) when he actually played his team's entire schedule, albeit not all at catcher.

I would disagree with this position. Our studies showed that the median #1 catcher (number 8.5 in Games Caught in a 16 team MLB) played around 2/3rds of team games during 1913-1940, which was also true from 1871-1882. During the period between (1883-1906), less that half the catchers made it to that mark. This period was when it was really tough to be a catcher, because armor fell behind schedule length, not catching up until shinguards were introduced (Bennett and Ewing deserving extra credit).

Deacon White could be considered the Ivan Rodriguez of his era, annually leading the league in Games Caught during his prime, 1871 and 1873-1876. (In 1872 his team withdrew before the halfway mark and he apparently chose not to sign with another NA team when he was eligible to do so.)

Ivan Rodriguez
Games Caught AL 1996-1999 146 143 139 141 -- 569

Deacon White
Games Caught NA/NL 1873-1876 56 58 75 76 -- Scaled 151 132 141 145 -- 569

However, I believe this somewhat overstates the case.

Another iron-man catcher from later in this era:
Silver Flint
Games Caught NL 1880-1883 74 80 81 83 -- Scaled 143 154 156 137 -- 590

A 5% discount brings those numbers down to believability: 136 147 148 130 -- 561

Applying the same 5% discount to Deacon White: 144 126 134 139 -- 543
Numbers that would not look unusual as a sequence of league-leading GC during most eras.

Summing up, I think a 40% discount after scaling is a drastic overreaction. 5% seems much more appropriate. The fact that Deacon White also "DH"ed ("played RF" being the 1870's equivalent) when not catching is not germane to the discussion about normalizing the catching time. If Mike Piazza had played for the Angels instead of the Dodgers during the 1990's, there is a strong likelihood that he would have also DHed some of the time when not catching.
   117. jimd Posted: May 20, 2008 at 01:01 AM (#2786866)
Errata:

Deacon White
Games Caught NA/NL 1873-1876 56 58 75 63-- Scaled 151 132 141 145 -- 569
   118. jimd Posted: May 20, 2008 at 01:22 AM (#2786940)
Checking out a few more 4 year sequences from noted "iron-man" catchers, the 5% discount may not be necessary:

George Gibson
Games Caught NL 1907-1910 109 140 150 143 -- 542

Ray Schalk
Games Caught AL 1919-1922 129 151 126 142 -- 548

The above two are on a 154 game schedule and would get a 5% bonus if scaled to 162

Johnny Bench
Games Caught NL 1968-1971 154 147 139 141 -- 581
   119. DanG Posted: May 20, 2008 at 02:13 PM (#2787450)
jimd:

Just a couple brief notes.

The peak of catcher workload insanity:

Randy Hundley
Games Caught NL 1966-1969 149 152 160 151 -- 612

Also, Schalk in 1919 caught 129 of his team's 140 games. Normalizing to 154 games makes his total 142.
   120. Chris Cobb Posted: May 20, 2008 at 02:28 PM (#2787468)
I agree that a 40% reduction in Deacon White's workload is excessive.

However, I am skeptical that comparisons to "iron-man" catchers from later periods provide the proper baseline for adjustment. Those catchers were farther above average in durability for their time, at least in some cases, than White was for his time, I think, when it was not unusual for a catcher to catch most or all of his team's games.

The difficulty, then, becomes how to place value on a catcher's durability?
   121. jimd Posted: May 20, 2008 at 11:48 PM (#2788377)
when it was not unusual for a catcher to catch most or all of his team's games

One must be careful with definitions when it comes to the NA. There are a lot of teams that went kaput early in the season when they discovered they were overmatched or weren't making expenses. Often their catchers caught most of all of the team's games, but I don't count these very short seasons.

Between 1872-1876 there were 15 catcher seasons of 50 or more games, or about 3 per year. (In 1871 no team played more than 33 NA games.) White had 4 of them, Hicks had 3, half a dozen other players covered the other 8 seasons. Others may have caught all or most of his team's games, but he usually didn't do it again. So however one scales him, White was clearly the most durable catcher of his prime.
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