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Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Negro League Stars That MLB Kept Out — And Is Finally Recognizing

Let’s start with pitchers. Tall right-hander Satchel Paige is probably the most famous Negro Leagues player of all time, and with good reason: According to Seamheads, he was their all-time leader in pitching WAR with 39.3 in his career — or an average of 7.1 over a 162-game season.4 Paige was a true strikeout artist, whiffing 8.5 batters for every nine innings he pitched, easily making him the best of his era in that regard. He also had the best fielding-independent pitching (FIP) mark of any Negro League pitcher, which is why he compares well to the great Pedro Martínez and to Corey Kluber, Chris Sale and Jacob deGrom (among active pitchers).

On a per-game basis, however, there were some other pitchers who were close to (or even better than) Paige’s 7.1 WAR per 162 games. In fact, José Leblanc’s 7.8 rated higher, though he didn’t pitch as long — he died tragically after an on-field fight in 1922. Among more tenured Negro League pitchers, Ray Brown’s 6.8 WAR per 162 challenged Paige as well. Brown won 122 games in 14 seasons, best in the Negro Leagues, establishing himself as ace of the storied Homestead Grays … and as a talented outfielder, too, on days between starts.

On the batting side, the Negro Leagues’ most valuable position player was the brilliant Oscar Charleston — 48.9 total WAR — a blazing-fast outfielder who was also one of the greatest ever when it came to hitting for both average and power. Among current players, Charleston’s two most similar comparables are Mike Trout and Ronald Acuña Jr., while his most similar fellow Hall of Famer is Tris Speaker. His addition to the official ranks of MLB players instantly makes Charleston one of the greatest major leaguers ever to play the game — not that he needed the affirmation to cement his status as a legend.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: February 25, 2021 at 09:43 AM | 17 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: negro leagues

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   1. Rally Posted: February 25, 2021 at 09:56 AM (#6006689)
Similar players to Josh Gibson: Mickey Cochrane, Roger Bresnahan?

I mean, they were all catchers. But neither had anything close to legendary power, which is what Josh was best known for. Roger’s career high was 5, which somewhere along the way Josh probably matched in a single game. I’d go with Jimmie Foxx, Mike Piazza.
   2. . Posted: February 25, 2021 at 10:06 AM (#6006692)
Who's a better player -- the replacement player for the Negro Leagues, or the replacement player for the segregated "Major Leagues"???
   3. bachslunch Posted: February 25, 2021 at 10:25 AM (#6006694)
José Leblanc is an interesting story, given what I can find. He was killed by another baseball player in an on-field fight in Cuba, the perpetrator being one Antonio Susini, who hit him in the head with a baseball bat. He was sent to jail for murder, spending somewhere between 10-15 years in lockup. Incredibly, Susini garnered some sympathy despite this, and some folks even pushed to have him released:

https://agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/2014/09/the-fate-of-antonio-susini.html
   4. DL from MN Posted: February 25, 2021 at 10:56 AM (#6006699)
Josh Gibson is Jimmie Foxx if he had remained a catcher.
   5. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 25, 2021 at 11:07 AM (#6006706)
Who's a better player -- the replacement player for the Negro Leagues, or the replacement player for the segregated "Major Leagues"???

Depends on how big the Negro Leagues were at that point relative to MLB. You'd expect 10-20% of the best baseball players to be black in that era, so if the Negro leagues were fielding more than 25% as many teams as MLB, you'd expect the white replacement player to be better. Since the Negro Leagues generally ran 8 teams to MLB's 16, the replacement level was very likely lower in the Negro Leagues.
   6. DL from MN Posted: February 25, 2021 at 12:52 PM (#6006743)
If you go by MLE calculations for the 20s and 30s there were generally around 4 teams worth of NGL players who were as good as the players in the segregated MLB. Plus or minus a team depending on the season, there are some big error bars. I agree with #5 for the most part.
   7. kcgard2 Posted: February 25, 2021 at 04:05 PM (#6006790)
Even cursory glances at the stats will show that players on the back ends of NeL rosters were much worse than the segregated MLB rosters.
   8. Walt Davis Posted: February 25, 2021 at 04:35 PM (#6006794)
Among old-timey Cs, the closest to Gibson might be Hartnett who hit 236 HR. He's still well short but his 1930 season with an easy career high of 37 HR, 320 TB, 1034 OPS looks like what Gibson might have done (and would fit in with Piazza's best seasons).
   9. Jose Canusee Posted: February 25, 2021 at 05:46 PM (#6006807)
interesting graph, that Percy Forrest was in a league of his own...was he a manager or coach who happened to fill in as pitcher?
   10. sunday silence (again) Posted: February 25, 2021 at 10:50 PM (#6006830)

If you go by MLE calculations for the 20s and 30s there were generally around 4 teams worth of NGL players who were as good as the players in the segregated MLB.



Not to disparage black ball players, but don't you also have to account for large numbers of white player in the PCL and Int'l league who are probably also MLB ready or at least at replacement level?
   11. sunday silence (again) Posted: February 25, 2021 at 10:51 PM (#6006831)

Even cursory glances at the stats will show that players on the back ends of NeL rosters were much worse than the segregated MLB rosters.


That would seem to be an impossible thing to prove by looking at stats alone. Right? This is insane thinking.
   12. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 26, 2021 at 07:45 AM (#6006852)
I don’t think you could “prove” it, but I assume they looked at the variance of statistical performance in the NeL and compared that to MLB, taking into account differences in season length. And you’d start from the assumption that the very best players in each league were of comparable quality, or something like that.

The percentage of African American players in MLB peaked at around 20% in the early 80s, so I think it would be hard to argue that the replacement level talent in the NeL’s was better than that of MLB unless the number of teams was a similar percentage, maybe a bit higher if you want to assume there was still some anti-black bias in the signing and promotion of black players at that point.
   13. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 26, 2021 at 08:06 AM (#6006855)
Good article showing racial demographics of MLB by year.. African Americans were a bit less than 20% of MLB at the peak, and a bit more than 20% if you just look at non-Latino players.
   14. DL from MN Posted: February 26, 2021 at 08:45 AM (#6006858)
white players in the PCL and Int'l league who are probably also MLB ready or at least at replacement level?


There were probably many PCL/IL players who were replacement level, that's kind of the definition of the term, but few who would have been above average starters - Gavy Cravath, Lefty Grove, Lefty O'Doul, the DiMaggios. I don't think there was much more than a full team's worth of talent in both leagues at any given time.

Looking over the Negro Leagues talent a significant percentage of the best players were Cuban (Martin Dihigo, Alejandro Oms, Cristobal Torriente, Jose Mendez, Minnie Minoso, Silvio Garcia, Luis Tiant, Dolf Luque, Carlos Moran, Pelayo Chacon, Lazaro Salazar) or other Latinos (Perucho Cepeda, Tetelo Vargas). Sometimes there were two Cuban Stars teams in the NGL - one in the east and one in the west.
   15. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: February 26, 2021 at 10:53 AM (#6006874)
But neither had anything close to legendary power, which is what Josh was best known for.


The stats we do have on Josh Gibson show him hitting 113 HR in 1957 AB, which is 17.32 AB per HR. That's good power, but not legendary. It slots in between 57 (Carlos Pena) and 58 (Bob Horner) among MLB players. Gibson actually had a .345 batting average, so more of an outstanding contact hitter who also had very good power.
   16. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 26, 2021 at 11:45 AM (#6006880)
#15 I don’t know enough about NeL stats, but you’re using the BB-Ref ones while other sites show something much different. Seamheads shows Gibson with 239 HR in 3,328 AB, or 13.9 AB/HR, including 195 in 2,850 AB (14.6) in the NeL itself (the rest came in Latin America). Both of those would be top10 all-time in MLB, and top-5 at the time Gibson was playing.

Ultimately you’d have to look at how Gibson’s power compared to his league/teams, which I’m sure others have done. At a quick glance, if you look at his BB-Ref numbers, he was leading his teams in HR by significant margins. According to BB-Ref’s numbers, Gibson hit more than 10 HR four times — in those four seasons, none of his teammates hit more than 5 HR in a season.
   17. Walt Davis Posted: February 26, 2021 at 04:45 PM (#6006927)
Good gravy -- Seamheads gives Gibson 1,042 RBI in just 3,873 PA. Aaron holds the count record at 2297 but that took nearly 14,000 PA. Even Babe managed just 2,214 in 10,600 PA.

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