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Friday, June 03, 2011

BPP: Any player/Any era: Gavvy Cravath

One of my baseball books suggests Cravath was born 55 years too soon, that he could have played into his 40s had the designated hitter position existed in his day. That’s an interesting thought, which I’m happy to expand on here.

Era he might have thrived in: The DH position debuted in 1973 when the New York Yankees made Ron Blomberg baseball’s first full-time hitter. Seeing as Cravath was born in 1881, moving his birth date up 55 years would seem insufficient to extend his career much or boost his Hall of Fame case. He’d perhaps be little more than a glorified version of another slow-moving slugger Frank Howard, who was born in 1936 and got just one season at the end of his career to DH. But if Cravath had been born in say, 1951, he might have been baseball’s first superstar DH.

...Cravath’s 119 home runs were a record when he retired at the dawn of the Live Ball Era in 1920, even if Babe Ruth quickly set this aside. But in the modern era, Cravath could make the majors as a full-time DH in his early 20s, last 15 or 20 seasons, and maybe hit 400-500 home runs. I’m guessing his 1915 season alone, when he clubbed 24 homers, unheard of for those days, might be good for 50 today. And seeing as Cravath played until he was 40, when few lasted that long, I wonder if he’d have even greater durability with modern medicine. The man exuded strength, becoming a no-nonsense judge after baseball. Even his name sounds tough.

Thanks to Soto.

Repoz Posted: June 03, 2011 at 01:26 PM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. Tuque Posted: June 03, 2011 at 01:57 PM (#3844172)
Oh...I thought this was a story about a cravat that was gayyy.
   2. Rancischley Leweschquens (Tim Wallach was my Hero) Posted: June 03, 2011 at 02:10 PM (#3844180)
I’m guessing his 1915 season alone, when he clubbed 24 homers, unheard of for those days, might be good for 50 today.

Today, there are very few stadium with a right field 280 ft away from homeplate like Baker Bowl where Cravath hit most of his homeruns... In 1915, Cravath hit 19 out of his 24 homeruns at Baker. The year before, all of his homeruns had been hit at Baker. In fact, Cravath hit 92 of his 119 homeruns at home... Cravath was not a power hitter. He just made good use of the short fence at Baker.

[Edit: Sorry for the poor syntax. English isn't my first language...]
   3. Ron J Posted: June 03, 2011 at 02:17 PM (#3844184)
Preaching to a crowd that knows this better than most, but the author's central point is off the mark.

Cravath didn't fail to make it back to the majors after washing out the the first time around. Minneapolis simply didn't want to sell him and didn't have to.

He also probably wouldn't have washed out in his first try given a modern ball. Before the Shibe ball, Cravath's style of hitting (opposite field power) simply couldn't work. Cravath gained far more than most from the first lively ball experiments.

He also took unusual advantage of the Baker Bowl (his home/road home run splits are huge -- which isn't a surprise given that the right field fence was about 3 yards past the infield -- with a wall very nearly twice the size of the monster).
   4. Rally Posted: June 03, 2011 at 02:28 PM (#3844194)
I doubt he hits 40 or 50 homers in a modern game. He played in the Baker Bowl, a ridiculous hitter's park. He wasn't a big guy by modern standards at 5'10, 186.

I seriously doubt that he plays much beyond 40 in a different era, just because there is no era in baseball history where 40 year old players are anything but extremely rare. This year there are no regular hitters over 40. We have a 44 year old defensive wonder (Omar), a 43 year old pinch hitter (Stairs). The oldest everyday players are 39 (Chipper, Ibanez, Posada), no 38 year old regulars. There are 8 at age 37, all but one of whom appear to be on the decline (Helton's having a nice year). The oldest players who appear to still be at the tops of their games are 35 (Ortiz, Konerko, Berkman, and Polanco).

One difference I can see is that playing in a modern era he likely gets is chance in MLB much earlier than he did instead of spending so many years in a top minor league.
   5. depletion Posted: June 03, 2011 at 02:47 PM (#3844212)
He wasn't a big guy by modern standards at 5'10, 186.

Willie Mays is at 5'10, 170# on baseball-reference. Didn't seem to hurt his power.
   6. Ron J Posted: June 03, 2011 at 02:48 PM (#3844213)
#2 He adapted to the conditions of the Baker Bowl to be sure. But he showed a breadth of offensive skills in his great years in Minneapolis. I'm pretty sure that given a normal park and the clean ball (IE conditions of 1920 on) he'd hit a lot of doubles and home runs. The precise mix would probably depend on the park.

He basically hit like Frank Robinson after age 31 (yes, substantially weaker league. Still, players who put up 150+ OPS+ in their 30s are rare) and all other things being equal it would be surprising to me if he wasn't a very effective hitter in his 20s.
   7. DanG Posted: June 03, 2011 at 02:52 PM (#3844218)
Mr. Womack would benefit greatly from reading Gavy Cravath's SABR bio.
   8. DL from MN Posted: June 03, 2011 at 03:17 PM (#3844259)
> adapted to the conditions of the Baker Bowl

Nicollet Park in Mpls also had a short porch in RF. He didn't have to adapt much.
   9. Starring RMc as Bradley Scotchman Posted: June 03, 2011 at 03:21 PM (#3844270)
Cravath’s 119 home runs were a record when he retired at the dawn of the Live Ball Era in 1920

Roger Connor, Sam Thompson and Harry Stovey say hi.
   10. bjhanke Posted: June 03, 2011 at 04:17 PM (#3844337)
Gavy's worst problem wasn't the Baker Bowl. It was defense. He's very likely a closer match to Dick Stuart than anyone in the Majors in his time, except maybe Buzz Arlett. I've checked the defensive numbers for his MLB tenure (you can't really check Arlett because he was in MLB for so little time, but Gavy was there for a while). And the numbers are legitimately lousy. He was apparently even worse than Frank Thomas and, since the times he played in featured bunts, he wasn't a first baseman in his day. He had to play the outfield. That's important in looking at any PCL slugger from his period. They did not have the first base option available because, at the time, people thought a first baseman had to field bunts. Dick Stuart would have been an outfielder. To overcome your glove, if you're Dick Stuart and have to play the outfield, you have to hit like Harry Heilmann, or at least Babe Herman, just to stay on a roster.

So the questions when projecting him into more modern times are how long it would have taken him to get to the bigs as a first baseman in the other time, how bad he would have been there, and how long he could have lasted as a career DH. To answer those, you start by adjusting for the ballpark effects of the Baker Bowl, which, as noted by several above, was heavily biased in Gavy's favor. Then you adjust for the dreadful defense, and figure out how long it would take the adjusted numbers to get him to the bigs, and how long he would have lasted as his defensive value collapsed to "unplayable." My guess is that he would have had a short, young career, and then his defense would have gotten to the point where he could play nothing but DH, and then he would have had to retain status as an A hitter just to stay on the roster, like David Ortiz. At the first real sign of offensive decline phase, he'd be gone, which is pretty much what happened to him in his own time.

- Brock Hanke
   11. Rally Posted: June 03, 2011 at 06:16 PM (#3844468)
Willie Mays is at 5'10, 170# on baseball-reference. Didn't seem to hurt his power.


I seem to recall a discussion on Willie not too long ago...

My unprovable estimate on what Mays would hit today is that his stats would not look much different at all. He'd be doing it though against a larger talent pool with more highly developed athletes. While his OBP/SLG might look about the same, he'd have a lower OPS+.

GuyM came up with a promising component-based pitcher-as-hitter translations, and while we could (and did) argue all day about the legitimacy of such, the results pass the smell test.

Willie's size during much of his career was probably more than that, Steve Treder said that 170 was probably his weight when signing as a teenager, after spending some time in the army he came back with more muscle and was closer to 185. Of course, he's not the only one with a questionable weight on BB-ref. It would be great from a researcher's standpoint if player weight was a seasonal entry instead of one number to display for a 20 year career. What was Barry Bonds' weight? Obviously to answer that you'd need to know when.

Going by listed weight, Willie was the lightest player from 1951-1970 to hit 250 or more homers (25 players total). So we know he was an outlier in terms of power per pound in his own time. We know he actually hit 35-50 baseballs over the wall per year, in parks no smaller than used today. We know that in a few cases he faced the same pitchers that would later pitch to modern sluggers like Mark McGwire (Don Sutton and Nolan Ryan to name two).

Willie just didn't play long enough ago for me to think that the game would have changed enough to drastically affect his power. If you want to knock his numbers down a bit, well, maybe he hits 30-45 per year instead. But if you base it on weight and think he'd only hit 15-20, I just can't buy that.

For Cravath, to get him as a dominant slugger, 40 homers or so, in todays game means you have to assume he hits more than he actually did. That to me is too much of a stretch. What I see is a relatively small player (compared to today) who adapted well to a favorable ballpark, and could hit flyballs to an opposite field with a fence only 270 feet away.

Retrosheet only has splits for his last 3 years, but they are extreme: Home, 301 AB, 18 HR, 302/379/585. Road: 383 AB, 3 homers, 245/352/371.

I generally take the view that while the overall talent pool was much weaker in early baseball, some of the stars would still be fine players today, if not standing out so much. I find it impossible to believe that Baseball Prospectus line about Honus Wagner = Neifi Perez, in that not a single player back then would actually be able to play today. But Cravath to me looks like one of the players who would not translate to the modern game. Without the perfect park situation, his batting would be unremarkable. If his fielding were that bad he'd have a hard time justifying a major league spot.

My verdict: AAAA slugger. Puts up nice numbers over a long career in the minors. Gets a few chances here and there. Statheads bring him up as a better alternative every time their time sinces some mediocre veteran to play 1st or DH. Comps: Val Pascucci, Kila Kiaahue, Shelley Duncan.
   12. JoeHova Posted: June 04, 2011 at 03:52 AM (#3844953)
The man exuded strength, becoming a no-nonsense judge after baseball.

"No-nonsense judge" has always been an interesting saying to me. It seems redundant. Are there judges out there who are renowned for nonsense? And I don't mean ideological nonsense, but hi-jinks and stuff (well, I guess there have been a few judges who made news for making guys wear sandwich boards saying "I'm sorry I stole that car" or whatever but I think they make the news because that's so rare).
   13. JoeHova Posted: June 04, 2011 at 03:54 AM (#3844954)
Also, where does "Gavvy" come from? I see his name was Clifford Carlton. Gavvy doesn't seem to follow from either of those. Did Gavvy mean something back in the 19th century?

edit: never mind, I see that it's a shortened version of the Spanish word for seagull, one of which Cravath apparently killed in a hitter's version of the Randy Johnson thing from a few years ago.
   14. jwb Posted: June 04, 2011 at 07:03 PM (#3845240)
If his fielding were that bad he'd have a hard time justifying a major league spot. . .

Comps: Val Pascucci, Kila Kiaahue, Shelley Duncan.
I was thinking of Jake Fox or Jack Cust, but we're on the same train of thought.
   15. GregD Posted: June 04, 2011 at 07:57 PM (#3845303)
"No-nonsense judge" has always been an interesting saying to me. It seems redundant. Are there judges out there who are renowned for nonsense? And I don't mean ideological nonsense, but hi-jinks and stuff (well, I guess there have been a few judges who made news for making guys wear sandwich boards saying "I'm sorry I stole that car" or whatever but I think they make the news because that's so rare).
If the phrase has any meaning, I assume it refers to how much nonsense the judge tolerates, not personally dishes out. The litigators here can weigh in, but my sense as a lawyer's spouse is that some judges run unbelievably tight ships and some judges let lawyers get away with a lot more.
   16. Rally Posted: June 04, 2011 at 08:19 PM (#3845358)
"Also, where does "Gavvy" come from? I see his name was Clifford Carlton.

If he played today we could call him C.C.
   17. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: June 04, 2011 at 08:53 PM (#3845403)
AROM

As for his nickname, there are different versions but the one most think is accurate is the seagull story. Where Cravath hit a seagull with a batted ball, fans cried out "Gaviota", and non-Spanish speakers thought it was some kind of term of endearment.

Seems like a stretch but that's the version told most often.
   18. Greg K Posted: June 04, 2011 at 09:02 PM (#3845418)
If he played today we could call him C.C.

Or CCC. If he was a pitcher you could call him CCCP.
   19. cardsfanboy Posted: June 04, 2011 at 09:34 PM (#3845471)
I was thinking with the way that nicknames are created by combining the first letter of the first name with something from the last name, that C-Ton would be his nickname.
   20. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: June 04, 2011 at 09:43 PM (#3845494)
Nah, I like "Gayyy Cravat".
   21. Walt Davis Posted: June 05, 2011 at 01:46 AM (#3845742)
Oh...I thought this was a story about a cravat that was gayyy.

Are there cravats that ... oh nevermind.

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