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Friday, May 10, 2013

Posnanski: Warren Spahn and the Brooklyn Dodgers

I thought this was sorta common knowledge…

Brilliant Reader Wendell has wandered through some baseball numbers and comes up with what seems a fascinating question, at least if you’re kind of a crazy baseball history buff.

From 1954-1957, Warren Spahn started 136 games—fourth-most in baseball. He pitched 1,081 innings—second only to Robin Roberts. He won 79 games, more than any pitcher over that time. Well, that was Warren Spahn, right? Hall of Famer. A workhorse. A constant force. He was a guy you could count on to take the ball and give you nine … Spahn led the league in complete games nine times in his career. I mean we’re talking about the guy at the heart of the Spahn and Sain and pray for rain poem.

OK, so, are you ready for the shocker?

Here is how Spahn’s starts break down by opponent from 1954-57:

Pirates: 28

Cardinals: 25

Redlegs: 25

Giants: 23

Phillies: 21

Cubs: 13

Dodgers: 2

Yeah. That’s right. Two. He made two starts against the Brooklyn Dodgers in four years. It’s even more striking when you break it down by inning:

Pirates: 215 2/3

Cardinals: 215 2/3

Redlegs: 198 1/3

Giants: 189 1/3

Phillies: 163

Cubs: 95 2/3

Dodgers: 3 2/3

Um … Spahn pitched just 3 2/3 innings against the Dodgers? Over four years? We’re talking Warren Spahn here? One of the most durable and workmanlike pitchers in baseball history?

Repoz Posted: May 10, 2013 at 05:25 PM | 31 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history

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   1. Hang down your head, Tom Foley Posted: May 10, 2013 at 05:35 PM (#4439933)
It's because Vin Scully used to get drunk with him the night before he was scheduled to start.
   2. BDC Posted: May 10, 2013 at 06:24 PM (#4439968)
Heck, we've just made Gil Hodges's HOF case: he scared Spahn away from Brooklyn.
   3. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: May 10, 2013 at 06:34 PM (#4439984)
not to be a killjoy but this is something that was widely discussed at the time and well known to anyone who has an awareness of spahn's career

it used to be a regular trivia type question back in the day

//end of old man harumph
   4. Slapinions Posted: May 10, 2013 at 07:11 PM (#4440024)
I second Harveys comment. This is trivia older than I am (and I'm pushing 40). Next up: a post about how Ty Cobb was (shocked gasp!) a meanie.
   5. vortex of dissipation Posted: May 10, 2013 at 07:29 PM (#4440038)
Joe does explain in the article that older people know about this, but that he's too young to have heard about it.

So, I did what I always do when a historical question like this comes up: I went to Bill James for an explanation. Not surprisingly, he had one -- it is something he has written about before. He says it’s fairly common knowledge for people over 60. I’m not there quite yet.
   6. The Yankee Clapper Posted: May 10, 2013 at 07:46 PM (#4440052)
Obviously Spahn was a racist who wanted to avoid being on the same field as Jackie Robinson.

But the right-handedness of the Dodgers was noted long ago - I suspect a search engine would have brought Posnanski up to speed if Bill James wasn't available.
   7. Moeball Posted: May 10, 2013 at 08:31 PM (#4440084)
I believe I've also read that some years in the late 1920s or early 1930s Connie Mack tried to steer Lefty Grove away from having to pitch against the Yankees, although I can't really be sure why. As a power lefty, wouldn't he have a better chance than most pitchers against Ruth and Gehrig?

Hmm...now that I look this up, I see Grove got hammered by the Yankees in '27 and '28 - his 1928 numbers are just bizarre...against the Yankees in 1928 Grove went 1-6 with a 5.44 ERA. Against the entire rest of the A.L., he went 23-2 with a 1.91 ERA. That would certainly explain not wanting to pitch against NY any more...It looks like in 1930 and 1931 his starts against NY were reduced but nowhere near the point that Spahn's were...
   8. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 10, 2013 at 09:28 PM (#4440143)
not to be a killjoy but this is something that was widely discussed at the time and well known to anyone who has an awareness of spahn's career

It was, but it doesn't exactly embellish Spahn's credentials that he was deliberately held out against Milwaukee's once and forever main rival. It'd have been one thing if it'd only been in the Ebbets Field bandbox, but he was also held out in games against the Dodgers in County Stadium, a notoriously pitcher-friendly park.
   9. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 10, 2013 at 09:45 PM (#4440159)
BTW, here are the Dodgers' OPS numbers against LH and RH starters between 1953 and 1957. It was a virtual wash, and even though it's a small sampling against LHers, the numbers don't suggest that there was any great platoon advantage to holding out Spahn against them.

1953 - .852 vs LH, .837 vs RH (+.015)
1954 - .777 vs LH, .796 vs RH (-.022)
1955 - .810 vs LH, .803 vs RH (+.007)
1956 - .730 vs LH, .764 vs RH (-.034)
1957 - .738 vs LH, .711 vs Rh (+.027)
   10. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: May 10, 2013 at 10:03 PM (#4440179)
I believe I've also read that some years in the late 1920s or early 1930s Connie Mack tried to steer Lefty Grove away from having to pitch against the Yankees, although I can't really be sure why. As a power lefty, wouldn't he have a better chance than most pitchers against Ruth and Gehrig?


Where you reading Dick Thompson? That was one of his arguments for Wes Ferrell' greatness; he pitched against New York while Grove didn't.
   11. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: May 10, 2013 at 10:05 PM (#4440180)
BTW, here are the Dodgers' OPS numbers against LH and RH starters between 1953 and 1957. It was a virtual wash, and even though it's a small sampling against LHers, the numbers don't suggest that there was any great platoon advantage to holding out Spahn against them.

1953 - .852 vs LH, .837 vs RH (+.015)
1954 - .777 vs LH, .796 vs RH (-.022)
1955 - .810 vs LH, .803 vs RH (+.007)
1956 - .730 vs LH, .764 vs RH (-.034)
1957 - .738 vs LH, .711 vs Rh (+.027)


There's an assumption above - the same quality of lefties versus all teams. All teams did try to hide lefties against the Dodgers, and when they did start a lefty, it was more likely to be a quality arm and less likely to be a marginal arm (because a marginal arm against that lineup in that park seemed suicidal). So Warren Spahn's usage was common for the era, though extreme for such a high profile pitcher.

Starts by LH vs BRK in those years:

1953: 24
1954: 18
1955: 11
1956: 14
1957: 6

Please note that even that 1953 total of 24 - so big in comparison w/ the others - was very small in the context of the 1953 NL. The other seven NL teams averaged 62 starts by lefties against them.
   12. vortex of dissipation Posted: May 10, 2013 at 10:16 PM (#4440189)
Who were the other elite lefties in the NL during that time span, and what were their usage patterns and results against the Dodgers?
   13. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: May 10, 2013 at 10:45 PM (#4440208)
Votex - I have info through 1956 with me... (and I did a Play Index search of best NL lefties by WAR from 1950-57)

Johnny Antonelli, from 1953-56: 8 of his 106 starts came against the Dodgers (would've been 15 is used evenly against them).

Curt Simmmons: 16 starts versus BRK out of 167 from 1952-56. And in my notes I also say he threw 2.2 IP against them in 1957.

Harvey Haddix: 12 of his 134 starts versus the Dodgers, 1952-56

Ken Raffensberger: 15 of his 122 starts versus BRK, 1950-54

Preacher Roe: Dodgers pitcher. Never mind.

Paul Minner: 14 of his 171 starts versus BRK from 1950-56. From 1953-56, it was 2 out of 87 starts. 2 out of 87 in an eight-team league!

Joe Nuxhall: 5 of his 101 starts against BRK from 1952-56.

So the six best non-Spahn, non-DOdger lefties in the NL had 70 of their 801 starts against the Dodgers from 1950-56. So they were dodging the Dodgers in those years. Spahn, if you're curious, had 21 out of 201 starts against BRK in that period.

But virtually every single guy mentioned had more starts in 1950-52 than 1953-56. Spahn, for instance, had 8 starts against them in 1950, 5 in 1951, 4 in 1952, and then 3 in 1953, none in 1954-55, and 1 in 1956. I could look up just 1953-onward of all the above against the Dodgers, but I've got some other things I have to do.
   14. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 10, 2013 at 11:04 PM (#4440226)
There's an assumption above - the same quality of lefties versus all teams. All teams did try to hide lefties against the Dodgers, and when they did start a lefty, it was more likely to be a quality arm and less likely to be a marginal arm (because a marginal arm against that lineup in that park seemed suicidal). So Warren Spahn's usage was common for the era, though extreme for such a high profile pitcher.

Not sure what this says about why Spahn shouldn't have been used more, at least in County Stadium, since Spahn was the quality arm to end all quality arms during that period.

-----------------------------------------------------

Who were the other elite lefties in the NL during that time span, and what were their usage patterns and results against the Dodgers?

In 1953 Curt Simmons and Harvey Haddix each went 3 and 2 against the Dodgers. Simmons had a 3.86 ERA against them and Haddix had an ERA of 3.12. By contrast, the Dodgers averaged 6.2 RPG over the course of that 1953 season.

After 1953, the non-usage of LHP against the Dodgers started to decline even more, as your numbers indicate. But it's not as if those admittedly small samplings demonstrate that good LHP were going to be facing a hopeless task against the Dodgers.

Oh, and to add to my point about Ebbets Field vs County Stadium: Between 1953 and 1956, the Dodgers faced Yankee LH starters 9 times, with these results:

1953
G2 at YS - Eddie Lopat, complete game win, 2 ER
G4 at BK - Whitey Ford, 1 inning for a loss, 3 ER
G6 at YS - Whitey Ford, 7 innings for a no decision, 1 ER (Allie Reynolds BS and then the win)

1955
G1 at YS - Whitey Ford, 8 innings for a win, 3 ER
G2 at YS - Tommy Byrne, complete game win, 2 ER
G6 at YS - Whitey Ford, complete game win, 1 ER
G7 at YS - Tommy Byrne, 5.1 innings for a loss, 1 ER

1956
G1 at BK - Whitey Ford, 3 innings for a loss, 5 ER
G3 at YS - Whitey Ford, CG complete game win, 2 ER

Every single start by a Yankee lefty in Yankee Stadium during those three Series justified Stengel's faith in them.

These games might suggest that Grimm and Haney were wise to hold out Spahn in Ebbets Field, but they sure don't indicate any real justification for doing so in a pronounced pitchers' park like County Stadium. But maybe Fred Haney was such a recognized genius of a manager that whatever he did with his rotation shouldn't be questioned.

   15. Steve Treder Posted: May 10, 2013 at 11:10 PM (#4440230)
I'm glad so many have chimed in here. This is an interesting topic of discussion, but the extent to which it's some kind of scoop is just nonexistent.
   16. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: May 10, 2013 at 11:15 PM (#4440232)
I wrote about teams using lefties against (or avoiding) certain teams in these articles at THT.

The second one is more on point for this discussion.
   17. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: May 10, 2013 at 11:18 PM (#4440234)
Every single start by a Yankee lefty in Yankee Stadium during those three Series justified Stengel's faith in them.

Which also caused him to minimize using Ford in Forbes Field in the 1960 World Series. That didn't work out too well.

In 1959, the Sox skipped Billy Pierce against the Dodgers in the World Series. Not only did that backfire and the Sox lost while sidelining their best pitcher but it was years out of date - the stadium & lineup werern't nearly as rough on lefties.

EDITED for stupidity.
   18. vortex of dissipation Posted: May 10, 2013 at 11:26 PM (#4440238)
Thanks very much for the info.
   19. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 10, 2013 at 11:27 PM (#4440239)
Every single start by a Yankee lefty in Yankee Stadium during those three Series justified Stengel's faith in them.

Which also caused him to minimize using Ford in Forbes Field in the 1960 World Series. That didn't work out too well.


It sure didn't, but that speaks to Stengel's stupidity in 1960, rather than to the Braves' wisdom in 1953-57. Same with Pierce in 1959. You'd think that someone might have noted the difference between Ebbets Field and County Stadium, or between Ebbets Field and Forbes Field, or between the LA Coliseum** and Comiskey Park.

**Where Sandy Koufax lost a 1-0 decision to Bob Shaw in game 5.
   20. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: May 10, 2013 at 11:37 PM (#4440247)
I know this is 'old news' for the old crowd, but the depth of analysis brought to this thread is tremendous for me, someone who wasn't up to speed on the details of this trivia. I feel uninformed as a Milwaukee native. thanks.

the only thing I can add is that, yes, Milw. Co. Stadium was a pitcher's park.
   21. Walt Davis Posted: May 11, 2013 at 04:00 AM (#4440329)
I didn't know this but then I'm spry compared to HW, Andy and Steve. :-)

Benefiting from all this was Duke Snider. 86% of his career PA were vs. RHP against whom he had a 949 OPS compare to 743 vs LHP. 45 more points of BA and a full 100 more points of ISO (BABIP identical!). 2.5 K/BB vs LHP but just a bit over 1 vs RHP. 374 of his 407 HR vs RHP.

From 53 to 56, his RHP OPS was 1070, second only to Williams, ahead of Musial although the data is incomplete for both those other guys (I assume that's what the "I" means). Most relevantly, over those years, he had 2352 PA vs RHP, second among LHB only to Gilliam (switch) at 2405 (lots of incompletes though). That's almost 600 PA vs RHP per season. I'm not sure he makes the HoF without that advantage.
   22. Walt Davis Posted: May 11, 2013 at 04:10 AM (#4440330)
This also reminds me of a time some of us here were trying to start a DM retro league, starting with 1977 I think. We never got the season started but got a ways in the player distribution stage. Anyhoo, we were debating enforcing some sort of platoon rule so you couldn't take advantage of absurd season splits and, basically, once your guy had more than 10% more PA in his favor than real life, you couldn't use him ... or something like that.

Anyway, I had Schatzeder. Apparently every team decided lefties couldn't hit him. In 1978, just his second year, 85% of the PA against were RHP. 1979 was better at about 81%, 80 was about 75% .. then being a pitcher he got hurt.

And I was left there wondering how I was going to force other managers to not start LHB vs. Schatzeder. In 78, his OPS against was actually worse against LHP so opposing managers would have no reason to sit their guys. It was just 91 PA against, that could have gotten used up in 10 starts if opposing managers didn't play along.

I know nobody cares about my fantasy team but this is a fantasy team that never was! Totally different.

Actually just a small reminder of how platoon-happy the world once was.
   23. McCoy Posted: May 11, 2013 at 09:12 AM (#4440354)
Ted had 1124 PA against righties from 1953 to 1956 and he had this line against them, .360/.515/.712 for a 1.226 OPS
Ted had 431 PA against lefties during those years and his line was .334/.460/.545 for a 1.005 OPS.
   24. Dan Posted: May 11, 2013 at 09:34 AM (#4440358)
Actually just a small reminder of how platoon-happy the world once was.


It is interesting that managers today will jump through hoops trying to maximize platoon advantages with relievers but that you'd never see something like Joe Maddon skipping Price vs a heavy RHH team in order to gain a start against the lefty heavy Yankees.
   25. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: May 11, 2013 at 11:19 AM (#4440405)

It is interesting that managers today will jump through hoops trying to maximize platoon advantages with relievers but that you'd never see something like Joe Maddon skipping Price vs a heavy RHH team in order to gain a start against the lefty heavy Yankees.


Wouldn't that screw up the rotation? Per Dag, starter leveraging ended around 1960. I think that was around the time where the schedule became more normal, with less days off. Years ago, I read a book by David Kaiser about the 1948 AL race and it seemed like there were more off days due to travel that made it less easy to create a five or four man rotation. Jet travel and groundskeeping advances changed things, IMO. (Fields drain more easily than they used to, but I'm not sure what the history of that is.)
   26. bobm Posted: May 11, 2013 at 11:46 AM (#4440428)
(Fields drain more easily than they used to, but I'm not sure what the history of that is.)

http://groundskeeper.mlblogs.com/2006/04/07/how-do-baseball-fields-drain-so-fast/

Here’s the short answer about how a field drains so fast:  About 20 years ago, "sand based field construction" was introduced to many sports including baseball due to the high occurrence of rain outs and poor playing conditions In many cases the fields became very unsafe for players not mention the lost revenues from ticket sales.  The concept of sand based fields has been around for many years in the golf course industry.  Golf Greens are designed specifically to drain using a protocol developed by the USGA.  Other sports have used the sand based protocol from the USGA Specification and have Modified it for other sport surfaces. 

The typical sand based field is composed of 4 layers. 

1.  Sub-grade -  this layer is normally 12 to 16 inches below the surface.  Its pretty much the native soil or fill that the field is built on.

2. Drain and Gravel Layer -  This layer is composed of two components.  One is drain pipe. The drain pipes are installed in the sub-grade layer and cross the ENTIRE field about every 20 feet. Each have a slight fall of about 1% that allows the water to naturally flow in the pipe. These pipes connect into a larger drain pipe that runs into the storm water system.  A special gravel is then placed around the pipe and about 4 inches of the gravel is spread over the entire field. Sometime this is layer can be about 3000 to 4000 tons of gravel.

3.  Sand or what we call in the  industry the "Root zone".  This layer is normally about 10 to 14 inches in depth and is composed of a specific blend of Sand and Peat Moss.  In some areas they just use straight sand depending on what type of turf.  This material is placed over the entire gravel layer.  Again the sand is designed to "bridge" with the gravel so it doesn’t fall through and make the field uneven. This layer is somewhere between 4000 and 6000 tons of sand!

4.  The grass -   Well this layer is normally just sod or sprigs and is placed directly on the sand.  SOmetimes it is even a sand basedgrass to keep the materials consistent.

These systems have pretty much become standard in sports-field and baseball field construction if you have the budget to build one.  Basically these fields are just one big 2 acre putting green that can drain 7 to 10 inches of rain water per hour!
   27. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 11, 2013 at 12:48 PM (#4440481)
Wouldn't that screw up the rotation? Per Dag, starter leveraging ended around 1960. I think that was around the time where the schedule became more normal, with less days off. Years ago, I read a book by David Kaiser about the 1948 AL race and it seemed like there were more off days due to travel that made it less easy to create a five or four man rotation. Jet travel and groundskeeping advances changed things, IMO.

1960 was also about the time that doubleheaders began to be phased out, not just the scheduled ones but all the makeup doubleheaders that were necessitated by rainouts. Those makeup doubleheaders were particularly rough on any manager trying to make a repeatable rotation, since there are probably at least 8 or 10 games a year per team that wouldn't have been played 50 or 60 years ago, games that begin as much as 2 hours late or have long rain delays after the game begins.

(Fields drain more easily than they used to, but I'm not sure what the history of that is.)

Beyond what bob just posted, there's also the vast improvement in ground covering, both in terms of speed and the quality of the tarpaulins. Up through the 50's, these were often made of canvas, and if there was more than one rain delay, then during the second one the ground crew would be trying to spread a tarp that was heavily waterlogged from the first time. By the time they finally got the infield covered, the field was almost virtually unplayable, and to resurrect it required many more minutes of work after the tarp had been removed. By contrast, today's lightweight tarps can cover the field in a matter of just a minute or two.

To give us an idea of just how much havoc this could create with a team's rotation, in September alone the 1955 Senators played 8 doubleheaders in just 20 days. That seems like a lot---until you consider that the Nats also had 24 scheduled off days and 12 rainouts.
   28. alilisd Posted: May 11, 2013 at 12:56 PM (#4440492)
I think the more interesting story here is Duke Snider. I always assumed his long road to the HOF was due to being overshadowed by Mays and Mantle, but it appears it could have been more related to his having such a favorable advantage in facing so many RH pitchers.
   29. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: May 11, 2013 at 01:03 PM (#4440496)
So, Andy. It's a tarp?
   30. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 11, 2013 at 01:16 PM (#4440509)
So, Andy. It's a tarp?

I guess you could say that the tarp is a TARP for troubled pitching assets. I'll let Gertrude Stein take it from there.
   31. McCoy Posted: May 11, 2013 at 01:33 PM (#4440528)
I think the more interesting story here is Duke Snider. I always assumed his long road to the HOF was due to being overshadowed by Mays and Mantle, but it appears it could have been more related to his having such a favorable advantage in facing so many RH pitchers.

I doubt it. His long wait had more to do with the voters having really high standards during this time more than anything else.

In Duke's first time on the ballot 15 future Hall of Famers got votes with Lou Boudreau being the only one to get enough votes that year to get inducted and it was his 10th year on the ballot. Duke was the only first timer from that year to eventually get into the hall. The next year Yogi Berra came up for the first time and even he didn't elected. In fact no one did.

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