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Monday, March 10, 2014

HHS: Snuffy & the Wartime Peaksters

Plus their cut on Mayhem & Psychosis Vol 2 was boss!

In 1944-45, the height of the wartime talent depletion, some hitters had good years far above their career norms. Which ones were the most out of context?

This, of course, is “the Snuffy Stirnweiss question.” His first two full years in the majors, 1944-45, were both excellent offensive seasons for any hitter, and — because he was also a slick keystone fielder — rank second all-time in WAR for a player’s 2nd & 3rd years combined. In the rest of his career, Stirnweiss was a solid player, but a below-average hitter.

Do any other players fit that mold?

For this little study, I focused only on batting, as measured by Runs Created (RC). I set the threshold at 80 RC for a season in 1944-45, which takes in 53 seasons by 38 different batters. Eighteen of those 38 had their career high in RC in one of those years, including nine with their two best years.

For those 18 players, I found the percentage gap between their best RC year from inside and outside the period. For example, Stirnweiss had 122 Runs Created in 1944, while his best outside the period was 70 RC in 1947, a gap of 74%. I’ll call this Gap 1. Gap 2 is the same calculation between their best year and their second-best year outside the period.

...But the boys came home, the clock struck midnight, and Snuffy’s stick turned into a pumpkin. In ’46, playing 3B with Gordon returned, his BA sank to .251, while his OPS plunged by .204. The team still had faith, trading Gordon that winter. But two similar years followed; his steals withered and died. Snuffy still was a plus hitter for the position, his 89 OPS+ placing 6th among regulars for 1946-48, and his glovework made him 4th in 2B total WAR. But he turned 30 that fall; time marches on, and so did the Yankees. In ’49, Stirnweiss lost his job to Jerry Coleman, and he didn’t bat once in the Series. He was dealt to the Browns the next spring, and hit .216 in his final two years.

Snuffy’s post-war OPS+ wound up at 83 (in over 2,500 PAs), compared to 142 in his big years. And in the final analysis, there’s no one else like him. No other hit so well in the depths of wartime, yet was so ordinary outside that period in a substantial span that included prime age seasons.

Repoz Posted: March 10, 2014 at 06:27 AM | 4 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history

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   1. Chris Fluit Posted: March 10, 2014 at 09:07 AM (#4668922)
Fun article. There are also segments about wartime stars Dixie Walker and Phil Cavaretta (though Augie Galan and Jeff Heath didn't make his consideration set. I recall an old Cubs fan complaining that "Mark Grace was no Phil Cavaretta!" so I appreciate seeing Cavaretta taken down a notch.
   2. RMc is organizationalwide! Posted: March 10, 2014 at 10:15 AM (#4668944)
So...would you say that wartime big-leaguers were equivalent to AAA players before/after the war, or what?
   3. AROM Posted: March 10, 2014 at 10:39 AM (#4668954)
So...would you say that wartime big-leaguers were equivalent to AAA players before/after the war, or what?

I wouldn't say that. If there were a lot of players with cases like Snuffy, that would be true, but according to this article he was the only one to show such an extreme difference in his stats. The talent level was diluted, but not down to AAA levels.

Snuffy appears to just be the perfect storm - he played over his head for 2 years at the exact moment where the talent level around him was diminished. Doesn't hurt that he was 25 and 26 years old at the time either.

Most players who starred during war years don't show such a huge difference. Hal Newhouser had 2 great years, winning back to back MVPs. Then the war ended, and he went 26-9, led the league in ERA, and finished #2 in the MVP voting.

Stan the Man played in 1943-1944, and had OPS+ of 177 and 174. He missed 1945, came back in 46, and had a 183.
   4. bjhanke Posted: March 10, 2014 at 10:54 PM (#4669309)
AROM beings up a good point. The war years certainly had weaker talent pools than the years before and after. But because of the balata ball, MOST hitting numbers are pretty trustworthy, because the benefit is countered by the deficit. Wartime pitchers are a different question, although, as AROM noted, Hal Newhouser seemed to have weathered the return of all those good hitters pretty well. The arrival of black players in the NL in the late 1940s may be messing with numbers as well. And then there's the weird phenomenon of the years right after the war being the greatest years for taking walks of all time. I don't think that anyone has figured that out yet, although Bill James is probably right that it was corrected by a new generation of pitchers who lived by fastballs high in the strike zone (see Robin Roberts), giving up homers to control walks. There's a lot of weird stuff that comes along during and right after the war. It's a hard period to analyze. - Brock Hanke

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