Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Hall of Merit > Discussion
Hall of Merit
— A Look at Baseball's All-Time Best

Monday, September 19, 2005

Vern Stephens

Vern Stephens

Eligible in 1961.

John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: September 19, 2005 at 12:24 AM | 26 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Related News:

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: September 19, 2005 at 12:43 AM (#1626546)
The greatest player on the Browns' only pennant-winning team.
   2. Mark Shirk (jsch) Posted: September 19, 2005 at 03:09 AM (#1626726)
I have Stephens just below Doerr and Gordon, but above Doyle and Sewell. War discounts are the primary resaon he most likely won't be on my ballot. WARP (which contains a war discount) likes the former pair better than Stephens as well.
   3. sunnyday2 Posted: September 19, 2005 at 12:21 PM (#1627070)
I love Vern Stephens though that probably means he'll be in the #15-25 range. I agree that he is among the Gordon-Doerr-Doyle-Boudreau good hitting middle IF group. At a glance he is perhaps more Doyle than Doerr--e.g. he is not usually regarded as a great fielder. His fielding numbers are not stellar. But the Sox moved Pesky, not Stephens, to 3B. Was that a mistake?

What always impressed me about Stephens is that if you stack him up head to head, season-by-season, with Lou Boudreau it is not obvious that Boudreau was more valuable. I think Boudreau was more valuable, in the end, because he was such a good fielder. But it is not a rout by any means.
   4. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: September 21, 2005 at 12:08 PM (#1632051)
Stephens fielding numbers on Prospects from 1944-51 are pretty darn good for a SS that could also hit like an OF.

His most similar hitters, when you look at similar OPS+ and SS are Cal Ripken (through and including his monster 1991) and Derek Jeter (through 2004). Stephens had a 124 OPS+, Ripken 126, Jeter 121.

Bill James wrote that the reports of defense being bad weren't there at the time, they came later. I haven't looked at his defensive WS, but the Prospectus numbers certainly back this up. So does the fact that Pesky moved to 3B, not Stephens. Pesky was a very good defensive SS in 1942 and 1946, in 1947 he wasn't and started seeing time at 3B, when Stephens came, the move was permanent.

Peak voters should be drooling over this guy, even with a war discount. I can see Doerr on the same planet, but he's in a 3rd world country compared to Stephens. Similar, but not as good of a hitter, also has a war discount (for two years, not three though), and played 2B, not SS. There isn't one SS on his 10 most similar list either, 6 2B, 3 3B and Joe Torre, and none of them are higher than 890.

For perspective, though age 28 (1949), he's ahead of Tejada through 2004, 125-109.
   5. sunnyday2 Posted: September 21, 2005 at 12:22 PM (#1632057)
It has never been trendy to tout Vern Stephens, for whatever reason. But my pecking order right now among the IFers:

2B- Gordon 13, Doyle 17, Doerr 19, Childs 27, Monroe 31, Dunlap 53, S. White 62, Lazzeri 75, Evers 81, Scales 97, Pratt 100

SS-Moore 1, Stephens 16, Sewell 33, Lundy 48, Bancroft 52, Maranville 79, Tinker 80, Bartell 92

3B- Williamson 10, Elliott 39, Traynor 43, McGraw 55, Dandridge 64, Leach 65, Lyons 96

I guess I should look at Johnny Pesky again.
   6. OCF Posted: September 25, 2005 at 03:06 AM (#1640914)
I've just worked my way through Stephens's record, and I'm duly impressed - just not impressed enough to put him on my ballot. Having a shortstop (or 3B) who hits like an outfielder has always been tremendously valuable. However, Stephens's totals are partly the result of being in an extremely favorable offensive environment, including that his stunning RBI totals are partly the result of batting behind Ted Williams.

My offensive system sees Stephens's 1949 as very similar in value to Johnny Pesky's 1946. Furthermore, if you apply a wartime competition discount so some of Stephens's years and assume that Pesky could have had 3 more good years if not for the war, the overall offensive value draws fairly close together.

I haven't decided yet whether to put Stephens above or below Pesky; that might be in my top 30 but not in my top 15.

Actually, I'll take Eddie Joost's 1949 season ahead of either Stephens 1949 or Pesky 1946. It's just that Joost doesn't have the career value to back that up.

Here's an interesting exercise: suppose that you had some ink spills in your encyclopedia and all you could tell about Joost was this:
1. That he was born in 1915.
2. That he played his first major league game in Sept. 1936.
3. His full season-by-season totals from 1947 through 1955.

- But no career totals and no way to reconstruct anything - including where he was - for the years before 1947.

Would you think Joost was probably a great player and a likely HoM candidate?
   7. OCF Posted: September 25, 2005 at 03:07 AM (#1640915)
About 5 years ago, I did a little study, prompted by a discussion I was having with someone about Tommy Davis.

I found every 20th-century major league hitter who had 145 to 159 RBI in a season. There were 35 such examples: 21 in the years 1922-1953; 13 in the years 1970-1999, and Tommy Davis, 1962.

The 1922-1953 players averaged .346/.435/.647.
The 1970-1999 players averaged .305/.390.630.

The key in all of this was slugging percentage: there were many, many instances in which ~150 RBI came with a slugging percentage of about ~.650.

I was NOT trying to evaluate quality of seasons, or to account for general hitting environment. Andres Galarraga, 1996, was a perfectly valid data point on the list. What I was trying to do was to explain the RBI totals from the batting statistics.

And of course, my point was that Tommy Davis in 1962 had the single lowest SLG, at .535, on this list. Davis also had the fewest HR (27), the third-most hits (230), the most singles, the lowest secondary average, the most games. But who else out of that list of 35 seasons had a low slugging percentage? Here are the bottom four:

.535 Tommy Davis, 1962
.539 Vern Stephens, 1949
.548 Al Simmons, 1932
.567 Don Mattingly, 1985

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that besides SLG, RBI depend on team and batting order context. The context for both Davis and Mattingly involves an extreme base-stealer (Wills, Henderson) and an intervening batter with high OBP and low power (Gilliam, Randolph). Simmons had the context of an extremely high-scoring team, with lots of high OBP's and very long innings. And I think you know about the context for Stephens.
   8. DavidFoss Posted: September 25, 2005 at 04:48 AM (#1641011)
And I think you know about the context for Stephens.

Was it Stephens-Williams or Williams-Stephens in the line-up. Yes, Stephens had help from Fenway and all those walks from his teammates, but he had over a hundred walks himself. 159 RBI still impresses me.

Stephens just missed your list in 1950 with 144 RBI and a .511 SLG. That 1950 Sox team scored 1027 runs despite Williams' injury. Stephens' .361 OBP was the worst of all regulars.
   9. DavidFoss Posted: September 25, 2005 at 04:58 AM (#1641019)
This talk of Tommy Davis reminded me that retrosheet has play-by-play of the entire 1960s now. The Dodger lineup was usually Wills, Gilliam, WDavis, TDavis, FHoward.

Its an interesting season. The Dodgers only scored 781 runs. Still, TDavis was highly durable, playing 163 games. He had Howard on deck to keep pitchers from pitching around him. Wills set the SB record, Gilliam led the lead in sacrifices.

Here's TDavis's splits for the year:

1962 TDavis Splits
   10. EricC Posted: September 26, 2005 at 01:52 AM (#1642416)
Would you think Joost was probably a great player and a likely HoM candidate?

The most similar players, so far, to Joost age 31+, as my system sees it: Rizzuto, Bob Elliott, Stanky, Cronin, and Hack. So, if I didn't know about his poor record before 1947, I would think that Joost was probably at least a borderline candidate.
   11. Mark Shirk (jsch) Posted: September 26, 2005 at 02:18 AM (#1642442)
Not that I disagree with you Eric, but prior to age 31 is generally a player's peak. So Joost could be missing the peak years of these players. However, those are some impressive names.
   12. EricC Posted: September 26, 2005 at 10:26 AM (#1642796)
So Joost could be missing the peak years of these players.

Except that he did play parts of 8 seasons during those years, 602 games with an OPS+ of only 74.
   13. OCF Posted: September 26, 2005 at 02:58 PM (#1643013)
Thanks, EricC and jschmeagol - between the two of you, you've made my point. Joost's late career is consistent with the late careers of possible HoM candidates, but we can't extrapolate back from that to find a late-20's peak, because such a peak simply isn't there.

I suppose the interesting question about Joost is how much of his career arc to ascribe to genuine late development and how much to the possibility that the late 40's AL - the Time of the Eddies, the great walkathon - uniquely favored his particular abilities in a way not seen before or since.
   14. OCF Posted: September 26, 2005 at 03:08 PM (#1643031)
- the Time of the Eddies, the great walkathon -

Selected yearly walk totals for four guys named Eddie, plus Ferris Fain, who strikes me as at least an honorary Eddie.

      Stanky   Yost    Joost    Lake    Fain
1945   148
1946   137                       106
1947   103              114      103
1948    61 (67 G)       119      120     113
1949   113       91     149              136
1950   144      141     103               80
1951   127      126     106              105
1952            129     122              108
1953            123
1954            131
1955             95
1956            151 
   15. DavidFoss Posted: September 26, 2005 at 03:14 PM (#1643038)
Wow... I never made this connection until now, but in some languages, a 'j' is pronounced like a 'y' and the 'oo' simply means a long 'o'.

Hmmm... :-)
   16. sunnyday2 Posted: September 26, 2005 at 03:42 PM (#1643087)
You mean that Eddie Joost and Eddie Yost are actually the same person? Now that would be an interesting career.
   17. Mark Shirk (jsch) Posted: September 26, 2005 at 03:50 PM (#1643111)
I think averaging 200 BB's a year over a five year period with two diferent teams is the kind of peak we are looking for at the HOM!
   18. Paul Wendt Posted: April 19, 2007 at 08:58 PM (#2339742)
[there is related material in Willie Randolph]

Revisionists cite the Red Sox lineup 1948-1950 as evidence that Vern Stephens was really a good fielder; ie they take the management decision as evidence of the player value.

It appears that Pellagrini and Pesky exchanged places for 20-odd games in 1947. When and why?
(David Foss says the club was already experimenting with moving Pesky in 1947. That is what I wondered about (not easy to check because 1947 still predates the Retrosheet era). David or anyone, do you know that it was experiment with moving Pesky or is that mere inference from Games Played by fielding position --all that it is for me?)

Why did Pesky and Stephens exchange primary places in 1951 and who was the priority? Eg, did Lou Boudreau play SS whenever he was able?

By 1952 Pesky was done and Stephens over the hill. Boston acquired George Kell and Stephens moved back to SS.


Steve Treder [quoted and replied] Posted: April 19, 2007 at 12:25 AM (#2338995)
> Baseballlibrary.com says that Pesky got married in the offseason and gained 30 lbs.
> I'm guessing that's one of the reasons they went out and got Stephens in the first place...
> they had already decided to move Pesky.

I don't buy that at all. Whatever Pesky was doing had nothing to do with getting Stephens. Stephens was a stud star, an obvious perfect Fenway fit. The only question was exactly how big of a package did the Red Sox need to present to the Browns. The Red Sox's acquisition of Stephens had nothing to do with any sort of problem with Pesky; whether Pesky was doing great or terrible had no bearing on the deal.


[I copied both of these items hours ago and can't remember my intent regarding the second. Never mind, this is a good place for it, if people really are interested in reviving (discussion of) Vern Stephens.]
   19. Mike Emeigh Posted: April 19, 2007 at 09:20 PM (#2339776)
It appears that Pellagrini and Pesky exchanged places for 20-odd games in 1947. When and why?


According to TSN, the move was made in an effort to get Pellagrini's bat untracked; the thinking was that a move back to his natural position might help him relax, while Pesky was less likely to be affected by the move. It happened in mid-May, and by June the swap was reversed because it *was* reportedly affecting Pesky's play.

-- MWE
   20. Paul Wendt Posted: April 20, 2007 at 07:52 PM (#2340576)
Thanks, Mike. I have never looked at TSN online. When it was $100 annually, $50 for SABR members, a friend told me that it is very difficult to read around 1900. I would use pre-WWI almost exclusively.

Regarding thirty pounds, I suppose poetic license. He is listed at 5'9" 168#; imagine what thirty pounds would be. The new Mrs. Pesky may have been a fine cook, but please.

--
Meanwhile Vern Stephens is one of very few ballplayers whom I met as an iron glove. Wherever I first read of him, he was portrayed as good hit no field. Sportwriting tends to err in the other direction, being too kind. Indeed, I guess that 10th and 30th percentile fielders are routinely called average. That Stephens was a very good batter may have contributed to his fielding rep, but it can't be the primary explanation of the conventional wisdom.

What did the writers think of him in his day? For his fielding, I don't know, but overall they thought very well of him. In his nine full seasons, old 21 to old 29, he was always at least on the bottom of someone's MVP ballot.

<u>Vern Stephen in AL MVP voting 1942-1950</u> (rookie thru age 29)
4 - 9 - 3 - 6 - 19 - 31 - 4 - 7 - 24

1942 (Joe Gordon 270 points) - Stephens 140, award share 0.42; just behind Pesky, breaking up the Red Sox - Yankees party as three from each team scored at least 0.25.
1942 0.42
1943 0.15
1944 0.57, close behind Newhouser & Trout
1945 0.28
1946 0.02 (6 pts)
1947 0.00 (1 pt)
1948 0.36, no one close to Boudreau; Stephens first year in Boston
1949 0.30
1950 0.02 (6 pts)
1951 -.-- 109 games played, which he would not match 1952-55
---- 2.12


1943
   21. JPWF13 Posted: April 20, 2007 at 08:22 PM (#2340617)
.567 Don Mattingly, 1985

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that besides SLG, RBI depend on team and batting order context. The context for both Davis and Mattingly involves an extreme base-stealer (Wills, Henderson) and an intervening batter with high OBP and low power (Gilliam, Randolph).


Mattingly had 367 PAs with men on base in 1985- a tremendous number he actually "only" hit .314/.384/.463 with RISP that year. The next year he had 30 fewer RBIs despite hitting .309/.374/.570 with RISP. In 1985 Henderson had a .419 OBP (80/10 in Steals and a .419 obp, beat that). In 1986 Henderson's OBP plummeted to .358

Tommy Davis hit .376/.410/.540 with RISP that year- the next year despite hitting pretty much the same overall OPS wise he hit "only" .307/.344/.436 with RISP
   22. DavidFoss Posted: April 20, 2007 at 08:41 PM (#2340638)
Tommy Davis hit .376/.410/.540 with RISP that year- the next year despite hitting pretty much the same overall OPS wise he hit "only" .307/.344/.436 with RISP

Similar OPS+, but the OPS dropped by over 90 points. Scoring was way down league-wide in 1963.
   23. Paul Wendt Posted: April 20, 2007 at 11:52 PM (#2340820)
Oops, I messed up quoting David Foss in #18. mea culpa. It's worth mentioning but not sorting out.

Some of the first articles above pertain to the parts of #18 and #20 quoted below (quoting myself).
Especially Joe Dimino #4. In fact, Marc sunnyday #3 and Joe Dimino #4 may be the "revisionists" whom I recalled only vaguely.

--
Revisionists cite the Red Sox lineup 1948-1950 as evidence that Vern Stephens was really a good fielder; ie they take the management decision as evidence of the player value.

Meanwhile Vern Stephens is one of very few ballplayers whom I met as an iron glove. Wherever I first read of him, he was portrayed as good hit no field. Sportwriting tends to err in the other direction, being too kind. Indeed, I guess that 10th and 30th percentile fielders are routinely called average. That Stephens was a very good batter may have contributed to his fielding rep, but it can't be the primary explanation of the conventional wisdom.
   24. jimd Posted: April 21, 2007 at 12:30 AM (#2340885)
On Vern Stephens' glove and (perhaps) the importance of first impressions.

Conventional interpretation of his fielding stats show him to be about average. Slightly positive on both range and errors. OTOH, the picture painted by BP's fielding stats is of a brutal fielder during his first two seasons in St. Louis (1942-43). Error-prone with range issues. However he developed into an average fielder (errors declined and range improved), and had a career year in the field in 1947 (the same year as Pesky's problems in Boston.) After the trade Vern reverted to being about average in 1948-49, and added another good year in 1950.

Now maybe he wasn't particularly graceful, or maybe he would mess up a play badly enough just often enough to recall those early years. But both conventional interpretation and BP's interpretation of his fielding stats do not support his reputation as an "iron glove" at SS, 1942 and 1943 aside. (If I have a chance, though I probably won't, I'll look at WS this weekend.)
   25. Paul Wendt Posted: April 21, 2007 at 01:46 AM (#2341081)
(If I have a chance, though I probably won't, I'll look at WS this weekend.)
Perhaps I can make that unnecessary.
jimd, if you have time and good insight or sources on catcher defense in the 1890s-1900s, please comment over at "Bresnahan"


<u>Bill James (NBJHBA)</u> ranks Stephens #22 shortstop. One of those bullshit things, haha
20th. 187 Johnny Pesky
21st. 393 Bill Dahlen
22nd. 265 Vern Stephens

The blurb on Stephens, like that on Zimmer (see Roger Bresnahan), is longer and more interesting than the NBJHBA norm. For example, "Stephens, a straight A student in high school, never made his high school lteam because he was too small". Growth spurt at age 18, then American Legion ball. As a holdout spring 1946, "Stephens accepted a bonus" and "actually played two games in the Mexican League" in Monterrey. His father and Jacques Fournier "headed to Monterrey" and "quickly persuaded Vern Jr. to return to the states". In order to avoid arrest for breaking his contract, "Stephens had to sneak across the border, wearing borrowed clothes as a makeshift disguise". . . .
"He has not been treated kindly, or even fairly by baseball historians; the word 'carefree' is one of the more pleasant ones to which his reputation has become accustomed". That must allude to booze among other things. The first five words of the blurb are "Speaking of drinking men . . .".
BJ turns to fielding in closing: "a well-liked player who could play shortstop because he had the best shortstop throwing arm of his generation".

<u>Bill James (Win Shares)</u> awards four gold gloves to Stephens (44-45, 48-49), four to Rizzuto (41-42, 47, 50), one to Pesky (46); 1943 to Appling. The numbers of win shares for Rizzuto and Pesky as league leaders are all greater than those for Stephens and Appling, as are those for Crosetti '39, Boudreau '40, and Carrasquel-Runnels-Hunter-Carrasquel '51-54. In the mid-30s Cronin/Rogell and mid-50s Aparicio, the league-leading shortstop has numbers in the same range as league-leading Stephens.

career fielding win shares per 1000 (estimated shortstop innings?)
7.14 Rizzuto (42nd)
6.49 Boudreau (45th)
6.39 Rogell (79th)
6.02 Pesky (189th in innings)
5.90 Cronin (21st)
5.89 Carrasquel (80th)
5.88 Crosetti (49th)
5.47 Aparicio (1st in innings)
5.40 Appling (4th)
5.35 Stephens (65th)
5.02 Joost (74th)

Pesky aside, those are 10 of the 82 shortstops with 10000 estimated innings.

In the contemporary NL, Marion 7.32 (48th), Durocher 6.23 (56th), Reese 6.04 (12th), Jurges 5.79 (46th), Logan 5.66 (61st), Eddie Miller 5.60 (59th), Dark 5.08 (58th)
   26. Paul Wendt Posted: April 21, 2007 at 02:02 AM (#2341113)
and Bartell 5.74 (34th)

Here are the shortstops with 3000 innings and 7 WS/1000 but the long timespan makes this apples and oranges
7.73 Allen (Sam Crawford's manager)
7.68 Jennings (Sam Crawford's manager)
7.32 Marion
7.28 Tinker
7.24 Maxvill
7.17 Burleson
7.14 Rizzuto
7.04 Fletcher --four gold gloves v Maranville & Bancroft

contemporary to Allen and Jennings, Ed McKean scores 3.28.
Ivan DeJesus 3.95 is the other 100000-inning man below 4.00.

I wonder whether this measure is biased downward for those who spent time at other positions

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
Darren
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Syndicate

Page rendered in 0.4719 seconds
49 querie(s) executed