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

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

1872 National Association

All of the text in the discussion portion is courtesy of jimd, who did an outstanding job; and he makes an interesting case for a defensive spectrum shift as well. It’s one that seems obvious to me now, but which I had never thought of, we’ll save that for later.

Here’s a look at the standings:

Boston           39  8 .830   --  Boston           141  19 .883  --  
Philadelphia     30 14 .682  7.5  Philadelphia     127  33 .796  14 
Baltimore        35 19 .648  7.5  New York         119  41 .745  22
New York         34 20 .630  8.5  Baltimore        116  44 .727  25  
Troy             15 10 .600 13.0  Troy             107  53 .670  34
Cleveland         6 16 .273 20.5  Bro. Atlantics    72  88 .451  69
Bro. Atlantics    9 28 .243 25.0  Cleveland         71  89 .443  70
Was. Olypics      2  7 .222 18.0  Middletown        60 100 .372  81
Middletown        5 19 .208 22.5  Bro. Eckfords     50 110 .312  91
Bro. Eckfords     3 26 .103 27.0  Was. Olympics     16 144 .100 125
Was. Nationals    0 11 .000 21.0  Was. Nationals     0 160 .000 141

There’s more to this though. There were clearly 5 teams that stood out from the pack. What would the standings look like if we considered only these teams ‘major league’? Also, what would the standings look like for the middle four teams? The last two don’t really matter since they couldn’t beat any of these teams. The only two wins for the Olympics came against the Nationals.

BAL. TOP TIER   W   L  PCT GB  BAL. AAA         W   L  PCT GB
Boston        119  41 .744 --  Bro. Atlantics 103  59 .633 --
Philadelphia   89  71 .559 30  Cleveland      100  62 .616  3
New York       73  87 .456 46  Middletown      73  89 .452 30
Baltimore      68  92 .423 51  Bro. Eckfords   48 114 .298 55
Troy           51 109 .318 68

When we compute adjusted Win Shares, we’ll use the top tier standings above for the players on those teams, as a way of letting the air out of their stats. For 2nd tier teams, we’ll give them credit for the wins they would have had under a balanced schedule, if they were the 6th team in the league.

I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to work this out, although it may require more editing than it’s worth. But, there are some players of consequence on those teams, guys like Jack Burdock, Deacon White, Ezra Sutton, Jim O’Rourke and John Clapp, so we’ll have to figure something out. I’m open to ideas here. But if we can find a sound way to let the air out of their stats, it’ll help to ease the concerns of some about the quality of the competition.

There’s a lot more about the season in the discussion portion.

Ft. Wayne failed to finish in 1871.  Chicago and Rockford dropped out in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire.  Only 6 teams returned from that inaugural season, but there was no shortage of teams willing to join the Association for the second go-round. 

The big names were the Brooklyn teams, the Atlantics and the Eckfords, and the Washington Nationals.  Despite having national reputations during the 1860’s, they had stayed on the sidelines during the first season, which had cost them some of their top players.  Meanwhile, Baltimore put together an entry from scratch, officially called the Lord Baltimore’s, but nicknamed the Canaries after their yellow hose.  And representing Middletown, CT, were the Mansfields, named in honor of a general who had been killed in action at the Battle of Antietam 10 years earlier.

There wasn’t much of a pennant race.  Philadelphia took the early lead, winning their first 6 games.  A loss to New York on June 1st dropped them behind Boston, then 9-1.  Boston never looked back, even taking a vacation in mid-July when their record was 22-1.  They didn’t play as well afterwards (17-7, probably due to a tougher schedule), but that didn’t matter.

Even worse news was that teams were dropping out because they couldn’t compete: the Washington Olympics in late May, the Nationals in late June, Troy in late July, the Mansfields and Cleveland during August.  The Brooklyn teams did not quit, but were not competitive.  Initially, everybody was supposed to play each other 5 times, but with so many teams gone, the survivors added more games amongst themselves.

Standing split:  Big 5 vs. Little 6

Big-5          64-64   77-7
Little-6       7-77   19-19
Team by team breakdowns vs. Big-5 and Little-6
Troy lost a good chunk of its team to the new Baltimore team (Craver, Pike, and York).  They compensated by signing much of the disbanded Chicago team (Wood, Zettlein, and others).  They were the best of the teams that folded, but still couldn’t compete with the big 4.  After they folded, the Eckfords picked up some of their remains, presumably after 60 days, but it was too late for the Eckfords also; they would not return for 1873.
The Silver Sluggers for 1872:
1B - Denny Mack (PHI) .288/.360/.341 (age 21); Tim Murnane (MID) .359/.359/.367 (age 20) has slightly better stats, but played less than half the season, and of course, a much weaker schedule.
2B - Ross Barnes (BOS) .432/.454/.585 (age 22); Jimmy Wood (TRY/ECK) .308/.336/.503 (age 27) remains in his shadow.
SS - George Wright (BOS)  .337/.345/.471 (age 25); Mike McGeary (PHI) .360/.366/.418 (age 21) is close when stats are park-adjusted.
3B - Cap Anson (PHI) .415/.455/.525 (age 20); Davy Force (TRY/BAL) .418/.423/.493 (age 22) is 3rd in the league, but Anson is 2nd.
LF - Andy Leonard (BOS) .350/.350/.412 (age 26); Ned Cuthbert (PHI) .338/.353/.388 (age 27) is close when stats are park-adjusted.
CF - George Hall (BAL) .336/.344/.464 (age 23); Dave Eggler (NY) .338/.356/.407 (age 21); the rivalry continues.
RF - Levi Meyerle (PHI) .329/.329/.486 (age 26)
C - Scott Hastings (CLE/BAL) .362/.376/.412 (age 24)
P - Al Spalding (BOS) .354/.362/.443 (age 21)
This is Spalding’s biggest season statistically, both at the plate and pitching (188 ERA+).  However, WARP3 is not impressed with the quality of the opposition, and considers it a typical Spalding pitching season. Bobby Mathews is the strikeout king (55 K and 1.22 K/9IP) and George Zettlein again leads in least walks issued (.48 BB/9IP); this ignores a few backup pitchers who pitched less than 125 IP and would not be considered for any pitching title by their contemporaries.
The first base position league-wide is pretty weak at the plate.  There may be an argument for the defensive spectrum being different during this era.  Nowadays first-basemen wear huge leather baskets that make catching most throws routine.  In the 1870’s nobody is wearing gloves, except to protect hand-injuries, and those are men’s dress gloves with the fingers cut off.  You actually have to catch the ball with your hands, not a leather extension. Then again, maybe it’s just been a bad year or two.
Philadelphia has an unusual 3-position fielding rotation for C, 1B, and SS.  Mack is splitting his time between 1B and SS, McGeary between SS and C, and Malone between C and 1B.  I could just as well declare McGeary to be a close runner-up behind Hastings.  I suppose this was to keep the catcher fresh. 

Mack and Anson collected 39 walks combined.  This was more than any pitching staff except Baltimore issued; more than any team except NY drew.  Considering that a walk took about twice as many pitches as it does today, they were extremely patient hitters.
It’s worth noting that Philadelphia was the defending champ, upgraded by adding Anson and Mack from Rockford, McGeary from Troy, Treacey from Chicago (see 1871), and still couldn’t keep up with Boston.  Meyerle became human and got hurt, which didn’t help.  Boston only added Andy Leonard, from Harry Wright’s original Cincinnati Red Stockings, via Washington.  Philadelphia sure could hit, but Boston kept the opposition from scoring, only 53% of league average, 75% of the big-4 average.  Philly also played Boston even, splitting their 8 games, but couldn’t match Boston’s record against New York or Baltimore.

Boston’s 7 game sweep of the Canaries was a key to their pennant.

JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: February 11, 2003 at 05:43 AM | 1 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. jimd Posted: February 11, 2003 at 07:46 PM (#511544)
McVey had the worst season of his 9 year career .321/.324/.380, a 111 OPS+. I would guess he's playing through some kind of injury; his average is off and his power is way down.

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