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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Gavvy Cravath

“Cactus Gavvy” gets his own page. Go to town, Phillybooster!

John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: December 22, 2004 at 01:36 AM | 312 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   301. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: January 19, 2020 at 04:50 PM (#5917404)
   302. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: January 19, 2020 at 05:26 PM (#5917410)
Chris Cobb,

I didn’t use any of Cravath’s PCL stats at all. I only gave him MLB career avg stats because we don’t have leaguewide stats to compare his line to for any of his MiL performances. The assumption is not that his 1903 stats would result in this 4 WAR, but rather I’m only assuming he would be in the majors. Given his Age (22) and his lack of college commitment, that’s not really that far fetched. Twent-two is an entirely normal age for a ball player to not only debut but also play a full season. Had Cravath played in the East or Midwest, there’s little doubt he would have been in the minors earlier instead of the local semipro/industrial leagues he came out of.

But the larger point of your post, IMO, is that everyone should read the fine print and ask these very kinds of questions. And that everyone should feel free to make their own adjustments to my work to reflect their opinions.
   303. Chris Cobb Posted: January 19, 2020 at 10:08 PM (#5917487)
Thank you for this clarification of the basis for Cravath's MLEs. They make much more sense now!

With respect to league-wide statistics for Cravath's PCL years, it might be possible to construct a set of league-wide statistics that are pretty close to complete from Baseball References minor league season pages. I haven't yet tried to compile the numbers to see if they are close enough to comprehensive to be used for the purpose of establishing league-wide averages.

Whether or not it's possible to estimate league-average numbers, however, it is very possible to put Cravath's individual performance into the context of the range of performances by the other players in the league and in the context of how those performances translated to actual performance in the major leagues.

From a quick perusal of this thread (long dormant and recently revived), it doesn't look like anyone has yet taken advantage of Baseball Reference's minor-league statistics to put Cravath's PCL years in some context. (I confess I haven't closely reviewed the methodology Gadfly used in his extensive posts on Cravath), so I may do some more posts that pull together that data, which can enable us to look at two things:

(1) how Cravath's performance compared to the top performers in the PCL in each season and

(2) how the players who moved from the PCL to the majors during this period performed once they reached the majors.

These contexts appear to me to provide a decent framework for estimating the major-league-equivalent value of Cravath's performance during his PCL years.
   304. Chris Cobb Posted: January 21, 2020 at 08:58 PM (#5918039)
I only gave him MLB career avg stats because we don’t have leaguewide stats to compare his line to for any of his MiL performances.

It turns out that we do have league-wide stats for Cravath's AA seasons: they were posted early in the Cravath thread by Gary A (post 33, March 29, 2005 -- almost 15 years ago. wow!):


He doesn’t say whether pitchers are included or not; my expectation is that pitchers are included. (Given that pitchers in the early PCL not infrequently outhit position players, it’s probably appropriate to include them.)

I've also dug a little bit more into the PCL numbers in Baseball Reference, and I think that it should be possible to construct complete or nearly complete leaguewide statistics for Cravath's PCL seasons with a bit of detail work. Would there be interest in having those numbers? The completeness of the data can be cross-checked for the 1905 season, for which team-based batting stats for the entire season from the Reach Guide were posted by Kelly in SD in Cravath threat post 35 (also March 29, 2005). There aren't crosschecks for the other years, but if 1905 is close to complete, the other seasons probably would be as well.
   305. DL from MN Posted: January 21, 2020 at 09:37 PM (#5918060)
I would love to have those numbers, great work.
   306. Chris Cobb Posted: February 04, 2020 at 09:00 PM (#5921664)
I’ve finished compiling league-wide data for the PCL’s 1905 season.

I started with 1905 as a test case to assess the completeness and accuracy of Baseball Reference’s minor league data set. In post 35 on this thread, Kelly in SD posted team-by-team data for the 1905 PCL from the 1906 Reach Guide. While the Reach Guide’s data itself may be imperfect, it offers a complete contemporary record to which the newly compiled data can be compared.

The results of my compilation closely match the 1906 Reach Guide data. Kelly’s post gives the following league-wide statistics:

42350 At Bats
9696 Hits
.229 Batting Average

My compilation found these league-wide statistics

42386 At Bats
9655 Hits
1577 Doubles
260 Triples
108 Home Runs
.228 Batting Average
.285 Slugging Average

The hit totals differ by only .4%, the at bat totals by a much smaller percentage. I think we can be confident, then, that this is a sufficiently accurate representation of play in the league for it so serve as the basis for MLEs for Cravath’s pre-major league play, once an appropriate competition adjustment is established. A number of players moved between the PCL and the majors each year during this period, so it should be quite possible to establish league quality with some accuracy.

Here’s the method I used. I pulled the batting data from each of the six PCL 1905 team pages and added them together. These lists include all the players on the team EXCEPT for those who played on two or more teams during that year, so they include 90% of the relevant players. To find data for the players who played on multiple teams, I compared the complete team rosters on the team page to the batting list. I then went to the player page for all players who appeared on the roster but not on the batting list for each team and obtained their seasonal batting statistics from those pages and added them to the league totals.

Since data on batters’ bases on balls was not recorded, OPS+ cannot be calculated, but Cravath’s BA+ and SLG+ for 1905 turn out to be 114 and 129, respectively. (Pitchers' hitting is included in these numbers.)

For a brief comparison, the three players from the 1905 PCL who played the most games in the majors in 1906, Pug Bennett (2B), Joe Nealon (1B), and Tommy Sheehan (3B), had the following outcomes (note that BA+ and SLG+ in both contexts include pitchers):

1905 – BA (BA+) SLG (SLG+) // 1906 – Games – BA (BA+) SLG (SLG+)
Bennett – .303 (133) .367 (129) // 1906 – 152 – .262 (107) .318 (103)
Nealon – .286 (125) .403 (141) // 1906 – 154 – .255 (105) .353 (114)
Sheehan – .229 (100) .284 (100) // 1906 – 95 – .214 (88) .289 (93)

These aren’t quite enough data points to establish a solid conversion rate, but it seems to suggest that Cravath’s range for BA+ would be something like 90-100 and for SLG+ would be 100-120 (pitchers included on both).

I'll proceed with assembling the data for the rest of the 1903-7 period. If there's interest, I can post each year with some commentary, or just do one summary post of the six-year data set.
   307. DL from MN Posted: February 05, 2020 at 10:10 AM (#5921836)
Each year with commentary please.
   308. Rob_Wood Posted: February 05, 2020 at 11:58 AM (#5921944)
Ditto. And thanks for doing this/sharing it with us. (A league with a .228 batting average and .285 slugging percentage makes me shudder a bit.)
   309. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: February 05, 2020 at 05:02 PM (#5922081)
If the league has a .228 AVG and a .285 SLG, you'd have to imagine that the BB/9 rate would be lower than in MLB since there's no reason not to come after each hitter. You'd also think that the rate of SH would be higher runs are so precious and it's a singles-oriented offensive game.

One thing's for sure, extra-base hits would be rarer and, therefore perhaps, more exciting than in the big leagues.

I'm not entirely sure whether we should hold the fact of the scant number of players who went to MLB from the PCL at the time against Cravath. It's entirely possible that many/most MGRs didn't have a talent hawk in the far west or were only beginning to explore that opportunity. I haven't done the research, but if you put a gun to my head I'd wager that the number of west-coast players in MLB in Cravath's time was extremely low regardless of which minor league they played in out there. In fact, I'd guess that non-TX players west of the Mississippi were rare as well, though not nearly so much as the west coasters.

OK, someone go prove me wrong! :)
   310. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: February 05, 2020 at 07:53 PM (#5922117)
OK, I decided to answer my own dang question.

       1903      1904      1905      1906      1907      TOTALS  
ST  PLR   PA  PLR   PA  PLR   PA  PLR   PA  PLR   PA   PLR    PA
AK   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0    0      0
AZ   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0    0      0
CA   3  1163   3  1170   4  1759  10  2972  10  2114   30   9178
CO   0     0   0     0   0     0   3   507   3   316    6    823
HI   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0    0      0
ID   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0    0      0
KS   6  1418   6  1672   7  2023   6   909   7   804   32   6826
MT   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0    0      0
ND   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0    0      0
NE   2   632   1   617   3  1042   5  1501   6  1197   17   4989
NM   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0    0      0
NV   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0    0      0
OK   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0    0      0
OR   1   502   1   595   1   279   0     0   0     0    3   1376
SD   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0    0      0
TX   4   586   2   625   4   485   2   242   5   524   17   2462
UT   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0   1     5    1      5
WA   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0   0     0    0      0
WY   0     0   0     0   0     0   1    15   1     5    2     20
TOT 16  4301  13  4679  19  5588  27  6146  33  4965  108  25679
MLB    83549     91064     91352     89657     89746      445368
PCT       5%        5%        6%        7%        6%          6%

So, yes, it was quite rare from 1903-1907 for anyone to appear in MLB who was born in a state west of those touched by the Mississippi River. These 19 states (38% of the country's states, well, except that HI wasn't an official state yet) represented only 6% of all MLB PAs, including pitchers. This is not at all surprising to us I shouldn't think. But it makes the point that we probably shouldn't assume that the lack of MLB promotions says much about the level of play in the PCL.
1) MLB hadn't developed a strong network of scouts west of the Mississippi...heck the telephone hadn't gained ubiquity yet.
2) It was likely very long and very expensive to get a player east, certainly more so than from, say, GA.
3) The working agreements among minor and major teams weren't exactly well structured, so I'm not even sure whether a team could shelter a player on a MiL team if they didn't want to add him to their official roster. I mean, Jimmie Foxx, George Kelly, and Mel Ott were developed by sitting next to Connie Mack and John McGraw getting little bits of playing time from ages 17/18 onward until the manager felt they were ready to play. And that was as late as the 1920s.
4) A lot of these places may have been inhospitable to baseball due to desert climates or the great distances between towns.
5) Some of these places were young states and/or very recently established communities who, therefore, might not even be on a scout's radar.
6) It's possible that there just weren't as many white people for scouts to go see due to higher populations of Latinos and Native Americans. (Not trying to start a race flamewar here, merely observing that the color line may have had some effect here).

Basically, I theorize that finding baseball talent in the west for an MLB team wasn't all that far removed from the 1870s/1880s or from the process the Negro Leagues used through most of their history. It was inefficient at best, probably haphazard, and at worst the regions were simply ignored because who had the money or transportation (cars weren't yet ubiquitous) to go see players in these vast, open spaces.

One final thing to remember specific to Cravath is that he was born in Poway, California, which is between SD and LA (closer to the former) and east of both. That wasn't populated territory. Heck, LA in the early 1900s wasn't a big-whoop city. The Hollywood Hills were just some nice hills. Mack Sennett hadn't even started making films yet. SF was the big deal in CA, and Cravath played in LA.

OK, that's all I got.
   311. Chris Cobb Posted: February 05, 2020 at 08:44 PM (#5922133)
Regarding the movement of players between the West Coast and the Major Leagues in the first years of the PCL:

The birthplace of players is not particularly relevant as a measure of interchange between the leagues, because there was vigorous westward migration. Lots of players who were born in the east were playing in the PCL even in its first season. Just to give a quick example, here is the breakdown of the place of birth for the players on the Oakland Oaks in 1903.

West Coast States: 6
West of Chicago: 7
Eastern U.S. & Canada: 11
Unknown: 9

There are certainly players in this period who spent their whole career out west, but lots of players went back and forth between eastern leagues, both major and minor, and the PCL. There were lots of former major-leaguers in the PCL, and a fair number of players went from the PCL to the majors. I haven't yet put together a complete list of PCL-to-ML players for each of Cravath's PCL seasons, because tracking down the players who appeared on more than one team is time-consuming, but I've gathered data that's probably 80% complete for several seasons. So far I've found

8 1903 PCL players played in the majors in 1904
11 1904 PCL players played in the majors in 1905
10 1905 PCL players played in the majors in 1906

It's likely I am missing 1-3 per season from the 2-team players, whom I haven't yet checked. I don't have comparative data, of course, on the number of players who were being signed out of the American Association or the International League at this point in time, but given that the PCL is a six-team league at this point, a dozen players a year being signed into the majors shows pretty thorough penetration.

1905 is an interesting year because there was a huge amount of documented hype around Joe Nealon, who was a young first-base star in San Francisco. There was a significant bidding/scouting war between several NL teams to sign him, with lots of coverage of the events in the local press in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, two of the teams in competition, as well as in the San Francisco press.

This post from Baseball History Daily gives a flavor of the attention being given to West Coast baseball by the Major Leagues by 1905: . They were definitely looking for top talent and aggressively pursuing it.

A final note on scouting: another factor that probably assisted major-league scouting of West Coast teams was the very long seasons played in the PCL. It was quite possible for major-league players, managers, and scouts to go out to see players in the West after the eastern seasons were over. Frank Chance, for example, who was born in Fresno, was out in the West in the off-season, and he played a bit in the PCL one autumn after the Cubs were done. This was before he became the manager of the Cubs, but that sort of experience would have given him plenty of opportunity to assess talent up close and bring his knowledge back.

As I do the seasonal data, I'll include as I can data about the players who went from that PCL season to the major leagues.

But if anyone is curious, all the information I am pulling together is available through Baseball Reference for anyone to look at. It's a little tricky to find, but if you go to Gavvy Cravath's page and click on the Independent and Minor League Stats tab, you can then go from his record into all of the PCL team and season data pages.

Ultimately, the number of players signed out of the PCL isn't our best guide to the strength of the league: it's a moderately useful indicator, at best. The best guide will be the performance of the players who entered the majors from the PCL, compared to their performance in the PCL. Once the seasonal data for the PCL data is compiled, we'll have a good basis for making those comparisons.

   312. Chris Cobb Posted: February 06, 2020 at 09:42 PM (#5922538)
Here's 1903, the first season for the Pacific Coast League and Cravath's first season in professional baseball.

1903 PCL Batting Statistics

168 Players recorded at least one at bat
42759 at bats
11132 hits
1788 doubles
384 triples
105 home runs
14003 total bases
.260 league batting average
.327 league slugging average

Gavvy Cravath, 1903
209 games
804 at bats
220 hits
51 doubles
13 triples
7 home runs
318 total bases
.274 batting average (105 BA+)
.396 slugging (121 SLG+)

This was the Pacific Coast League’s first season. It formed as an expansion of the former four-team California League northward. The new league’s six teams were based in Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Seattle. The 1903 PCL had no contractual agreements with other professional leagues, so it has no official “level,” being listed simply as “independent.” In 1903, it was much less of a pitcher’s league than it would become in 1905. Cravath was an above average hitter for the league, but he was not nearly the league’s best hitter. His batting average was just a little above average, while his 121 SLG+ was good for 6th among players with at least 400 at bats. The top 5 in slugging were

Harry Lumley .519 (159)
Truck Eagan .500 (153)
Pop Dillon .479 (146)
Carlos Smith .430 (131)
Doc Moskiman . 413 (126)

Cravath’s 7 home runs were good for second in the league, trailing Eagan’s 13.

Three position players were signed out of the 1903 PCL and played full seasons in the majors in 1904: Lumley and Dillon from among the top hitters, and also shortstop Danny Shay. Here’s how the three of them did:

1903 – BA (BA+) SLG (SLG+) // 1904 – Games – BA (BA+) SLG (SLG+)
Lumley – .383 (147) .519 (159) // 1904 – 150 – .279 (112) .428 (133)
Dillon – .365 (140) .479 (146) // 1904 – 135 – .258 (104) .317 (98)
Shay – .243 (93) .300 (92) // 1904 – 99 – .256 (103) .303 (94)

These numbers remind us that conversion factors don’t reveal what an individual player will actually do. Shay hit a little better in the majors than he did in the PCL, while both Lumley and Dillon hit quite a bit worse: Dillon’s power in particular did not translate to the major-league context. Still, when these numbers are paired with the 1905 numbers, it looks like players whose offensive game was based more on speed than on power saw their offensive production drop somewhat less than the production of the power hitters when moving from the PCL to the majors. Cravath seems to me more likely to translate to the major-league context in the manner of Lumley and Dillon (or Joe Nealon from the 1905 PCL) than in the manner of Shay.

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