The 1935 Cubs (Six Prime 40-WAR Players, Part 5)

Welcome to part five of my series on teams that had six 40-WAR players, age 30 or younger, with at least 1.0 WAR that year. (Series recap at bottom.) You might have thought I’d curb the verbiage for the 1935 Cubs, the fulcrum of a might-have-been dynasty that couldn’t even win one lousy title. But I have to clear my historical decks to get ready for live action again. And aren’t the final-stage shortfalls more interesting than the happy winners? So put on your waders, climb into the data dump, and see what’s worth salvaging!

 

1935 Cubs: 100-54 (MLB #1), lost World Series to Tigers, 2-4
Next 5 years: .557 W% (NL #1, MLB #2); 1938 pennant, lost WS 0-4 to Yankees

 

CHC 1935: 1st, 100-54 Career WAR Future WAR HOF? CHC WAR% CHC:
Yrs; Reg
1935 Age 1935 WAR WAR-
Next 5
Yrs CHC-
Next 5
Billy Herman 54.7 38.3 VC 73% 11, 10 25 6.9 23.4 5
Stan Hack 52.5 44.6 100% 16, 14 25 4.4 18.6 5
Lon Warneke 46.2 21.8 67% 10, 5 26 4.2 14.8 1
Larry French 44.3 22.9 49% 7, 7 27 4.0 18.9 5
Chuck Klein 43.6 4.8 VC 16% 3, 2 30 2.8 6.1 1
Augie Galan 40.9 35.2 37% 8, 6 23 5.1 10.0 5
GROUP TOTALS 282.2 167.6 2 59% 55, 44 26.0 27.4 91.8 22
Gabby Hartnett 53.4 14.3 BW 100% 19, 16 34 5.0 13.3 5
*Kiki Cuyler 46.7 3.8 VC 55% 8, 7 36 0.3 3.8
Charlie Root 38.0 8.5 100% 16, 15 36 2.5 9.3 5
Phil Cavarretta 34.4 33.3 98% 22, 15 18 0.8 0.7 5
Bill Lee 32.5 26.4 86% 11, 9 25 3.1 20.2 5
Billy Jurges 30.7 21.9 56% 10, 9 27 2.5 12.4 3
Freddie Lindstrom 28.3 0.0 VC 2% 1, 1 29 0.5 -0.3
*Woody English 24.8 1.9 99% 10, 8 29 0.5 1.9 1

* Not a Cubs regular in ’35.

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How were they formed? Out of 13 Cubs with 1+ WAR in ’35, only Chuck Klein and Larry French had real pasts with other teams. Four of the focus group came up with the Cubs during 1930-34 — Lon Warneke, Billy Herman, Stan Hack and Augie Galan — with several other good players coming from that fertile period. French came by trade from Pittsburgh in fall ’34 (along with Freddie Lindstrom) — a big Cubs win, as Guy Bush and Babe Herman were almost done, while French had six good years left. Klein came the year before, a “trade” that was all about the Benjamins. Klein’s MVP days were behind him, but he was still a good player, and the Cubs actually received more talent when they dealt him back to Philly two years later than they’d given to land him.

Most other ’35 regulars were Cubs products: Billy Jurges, Big Bill Lee, Phil Cavarretta, Frank Demaree and Roy Henshaw debuted from 1931-34, Gabby Hartnett much earlier. Charlie Root had a winless Browns cameo before Chicago bought him from the PCL in 1926. He won 201 games for the Cubs, and pitched in their four Series from 1929-38, though without much success; he’s best known now for serving Babe Ruth’s called(?) shot.

How did they win? 1st in scoring, 1st in run prevention. Most such teams win easily, but this race went down to the wire, as the Cards were 2nd in both measures — and the Giants spent more days in first place than those teams combined, leading from April to late August. The reigning Redbirds staged an August coup, going 22-7 to bring a 1-game lead into their closing 30-game(!) home stand. For insurance, they’d host the last five games against Chicago, and held a 12-5 edge in that matchup so far. But the Cubs had their own 20-game home stand, and won the last 18 to reach the Gateway City 3 games up, then clinched straightaway by beating the Dean brothers. The Cards wound up 19-11 on that home stand, yet were brushed aside by Chicago’s 21-game win streak, the modern record for wins without ties.

On defense, the Cubs ranked 1st in WAR and double plays, 2nd in efficiency. It’s rare that a team with the 2nd-best WHIP leads in DPs, but Jurges and Herman were glove wizards, each around #20 in all-time dWAR at his post. Paired from 1931-38, they were tabbed the decade’s best DP combo by Bill James, who scored them at +35 over expected DPs for 1935, one of the best figures ever.

Five focus players had 4+ WAR in ’35, matching the 1902 Pirates for the most in these 12 studied seasons, and the group produced 58% of the team total (27.4 / 47.1).

The rotation was deep and balanced. Six men started between 18 and 32 games, all with ERA+ from 101 to 133. The four who reached 200 innings all had ERA+ from 128-133, and ERA from 2.96-3.08. In the custom of that era, all six also worked in relief, with at least 7 outings each and an average of 12. The team’s other 5 pitchers combined for less than 120 IP.

Gabby Hartnett won the MVP, hitting .344 at age 34. Billy Herman placed 4th in the MVP vote; he led the team with 6.9 WAR, batting .341 with MLB-highs in hits and doubles. Augie Galan, LF and leadoff man, topped the majors with 133 runs in his first full year. Stan Hack had the first of a dozen straight “typical Stan Hack years.”

How long did they last? Klein and Warneke were traded in ’36; the other four stayed into ’41. The Cubs contended through ’39, winning the ’38 pennant with 10 regulars held over from ’35.

What brought them down? There was normal aging, and the new-talent stream dried up after the bonanza of 1930-34. Of those who debuted with the Cubs during 1935-40, no position player achieved 10 career WAR. That would prove problematic when the lineup sprung a few holes in the late ’30s, compounded by mishandling their surplus talent.

Even as the Cubs were building to their 1935 peak, a trade that Bill James called one of the worst ever might have directly cost them a pennant or two: In June of ’34, rookie Dolph Camilli was swapped for Don Hurst, whose stats were bloated by Baker Bowl. Skipper Charlie Grimm was furious that he wasn’t consulted. Hurst flopped, his career ending that year at age 28, while Camilli erupted into an elite hitter from 1936-1942, winning the ’41 MVP. In 1936-37, Camilli totaled 12.1 WAR — 10.5 more than the Cubby first basemen — and Chicago missed those flags by a total of 8 games. In the ’35 and ’38 Series, Cubs first basemen hit .128 with no RBI, walks or XBH.

Trying to fill that 1B void, they dealt Warneke — 6th in WAR for 1932-36, 3rd in Wins, and not yet 28 — for the soon to be has-been Ripper Collins, turning 33 after an injury-plagued second half, plus the never-was pitcher Roy Parmelee. This was a mirror of their trade for French two years earlier: Collins was adequate, but lasted just 2 years, while Warneke had several good years left.

(“First base void? What about Phil Cavarretta?” Young Phil’s grip on that job was shaky in the late ’30s, due to a light bat and a series of injuries. After a full rookie year, his playing time and production shrank steadily from 1936-40, averaging 82 games and a 91 OPS+, with a lot of time in the outfield. His best years came during and after the war.)

Another gaffe was the Dizzy Dean deal, just before Opening Day ’38. Although Diz had won just once after his toe was fractured (“hell, broken!”) in the ’37 All-Star Game, the Cubs sent a pile of cash and pitchers Curt Davis and Clyde Shoun, who each gave more future value than the Great Man himself. Dean pitched well but not often in the next two years, and lost Game 2 of the ’38 Series by serving an 8th-inning turn-around home run to punchless Frank Crosetti.

Ironically, they still had good pitching in 1938-39, boosted first by a random big year from Clay Bryant (19-11 in his lone season of 10+ starts), then by the upgrade swap of young Kirby Higbe — a 1939 rookie who led their 1935-40 crop with 19.5 career WAR — for Claude Passeau, who was even better. (Largely forgotten now, Claude tossed a 1-hit shutout in the ’45 Series, and was 1st in WAR/pitch from 1936-45, 3rd in wins.) But Bryant got hurt, and Dean couldn’t stay healthy. Hugh Casey had been lost to Rule 5 after just a brief look with the ’35 Cubs; their staff was so deep that they didn’t seem to need him. But after trading Warneke, Davis and Shoun at a loss, what could have been surplus pitching, used to help the slipping lineup, was needed at home instead.

The winter of ’38 brought an intriguing 3-for-3 challenge trade: SS Jurges, CF Demaree and C Ken O’Dea went to the Giants, for their counterparts Dick Bartell, Hank Leiber and Gus Mancuso. It looked like a Cubs win on paper, as the three they dealt all had off years in ’38, and they landed the best player of the deal: Bartell was a much better hitter than Jurges, and his emergent glove had led to a 5.7 WAR average in the past 3 years, trailing only Vaughan among shortstops. But the Giants came out ahead, as the shortstops reversed course. Jurges improved with the bat, averaging 3.3 WAR in the next 3 years. Meanwhile, Bartell crashed to 0.3 WAR in ’39, batting 55 points under his prior average, then was swapped for Billy Rogell, another ex-star in an even worse tailspin.

Shortstop was one of three lineup spots yielding negative WAR for the ’39 Cubs, who sank to last in dWAR and DPs, and finished 4th. Then came 5th place, the end of 14 straight winning years, and the first of five in a row under .500. With the war looming, it almost seems that they packed it in: During the ’41 season, three of the four remaining focus players went to Brooklyn in separate deals that smell like salary dumps. A fluke flag came in ’45, with an elderly staff (more than half their innings by those aged 36+) and surprising career years by Hack and Cavarretta (MVP). But that club faded fast once the boys came home, and the Cubs ran at least 13 games back from 1946-68.

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Chicago’s Class of 1930-34

Timing was crucial to the Cubs’ successful ’30s. None of their focus group was a superstar, unless you count Klein, whose prime came before his 2-year Cubs stint. None of that group reached 55 career WAR, nor did any member of their ’35 or ’38 pennants. (Only Rogers Hornsby did so from the ’32 NL champs, and he hardly played that year.) The other groups in this study all had at least two with 60+ WAR, and at least one with 70+.

But if the Cubs lacked a solid-gold superstar, they were rich in silver medalists. From 1930-34, eight players who would top 30 WAR debuted in Cubbie blue, twice as many as any other team in that span — the focus men Herman, Hack, Warneke and Galan, plus Cavarretta, Lee, Jurges and Camilli. Seven of them were regulars on the ’35 team, all 27 or younger (five between 25-27), averaging about 4 WAR. Another product of those years, CF Frank Demaree, averaged 3 WAR from ’35-39 before fading.

All those who broke in as Cubs from 1930-34 produced a whopping 381 career WAR — 22% more than the #2 Yankees, and almost two-and-a-half times what the other teams averaged.

For a frame of reference, take the Yankee products of 1991-95 — chiefly Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. The Yanks led the majors with 356 WAR produced from those years. The Cubs topped that by 25 WAR, akin to one more good player.

The only spot where the Cubs didn’t turn out a star in those 5 years was catcher. And that one miss could have felled them: A sore arm threatened Hartnett’s career at age 28, costing him nearly all of the ’29 pennant year. But Gabby got all the way back, and then some, producing 36 WAR in the ’30s while holding the starter’s job each year, even leading the majors in caught-stealing rate four times after the injury. Hartnett wound up with more WAR in his 30s than any other catcher in history.

As an aside … These Cubs were the type of team that inspired this study, one like my ’80s Tigers. Between 1976 and ’79, Detroit debuted 10 players who would earn All-Star nods or MVP/CYA votes, and 5 of the top 30 in career WAR from the MLB class of 1975-79 (including nos. 4-5). The 1982-85 Tigers barely missed this study, by less than 3 total WAR among Lance Parrish and Kirk Gibson, and their combined record for 1979-88 was 2nd-best in MLB. Detroit debuts from 1975-79 produced 391 career WAR, dominating that period’s output to an absurd degree — 50% more than the #2 Expos. Add together those Expos (led by Andre Dawson and Tim Raines) and the #13 Royals (with Willie Wilson and Dan Quisenberry), and you’ve roughly hit Detroit’s total. One championship seems a skimpy payoff from that gold mine, but I’ll take it over the Cubs’ three pennants and no titles.

One more aside here … The A’s debuts of 1965-69 produced even more than those mentioned above, a colossal 418 WAR — but they were just #2 in that class. For a pop quiz, name the team whose 1965-69 debuts produced 424 WAR, the equivalent of one Hall of Famer more than the 1991-95 Yankees.

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On the Subject of Superstars

The Cubs of the ’30s were consistently good, but never quite great: Their best year, 100-54 in ’35, was 11th-best of the decade. The unique even spacing of their three pennants (’32, ’35, ’38) seems to echo that appraisal.

There’s no reason that a not-quite-great team should be made up of players who fit that description. (Think of the Milwaukee Braves.) But that’s just what you find on the ’35 Cubs. Consider:

In the span of those three pennants, the Cubs had a stable core and the NL’s best combined record. But in team-specific WAR for 1932-38, Chicago’s top two ranked a distant 4th among NL duos:

  1. Giants, Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell, 95 WAR. (#1 in WAR/pos, #1 in WAR/pitch)
  2. Pirates, Arky Vaughan and Paul Waner, 81 WAR. (Nos. 2 and 4 in WAR/pos)
  3. Cards, Dizzy Dean and Joe Medwick, 72 WAR. (#2 WAR/pitch, #3 WAR/pos)
  4. Cubs, Billy Herman and Lon Warneke, 58 WAR. (#5 WAR/pos, #3 WAR/pitch)

A count of 5-WAR seasons for those teams in 1932-38, and the average of their 10 best years:

  1. Giants: 17 … 7.9 WAR
  2. Cards: 13 … 7.0 WAR
  3. Pirates: 11 … 7.0 WAR
  4. Cubs: 11 … 6.1 WAR

Even the Phillies, who averaged an NL-worst 60-94 in this span, had almost the same top-10 average as the 1st-over-all Cubs.

What the Cubs had was depth: Nos. 5, 7, 12 and 16 in NL-team-specific WAR/pos; nos. 3, 5, 10 and 12 in WAR/pitch. Out of 45 players with 10+ WAR for one NL team in that span, the Cubs had 10, the Bucs 8, the Giants and Cards 6 apiece. The Cubs got 194 WAR from such players, 24 more than the #2 Giants.

The ’35 Cubs featured eight players who reached 40 career WAR, and twelve with 30+, but with a high under 55 WAR. Let’s use 60 WAR as a rough gauge of greatness. Out of all retired modern players who reached 30 WAR, 23% also cleared 60 WAR. Of those with 40+ WAR, 37% got to 60. Using those rates, what are the random odds of finding groups like these Cubs, who all meet one threshold and miss the other?

  • About 1 in 20 for twelve 30-WAR players falling short of 60;
  • About 1 in 40 for eight 40-WAR men falling short of 60.

Billy Herman’s wartime service cost him a good shot at 60 WAR, but no other who served was in range. In other words, this collection of good-not-great players is very unusual.

About 290 modern position players retired with at least 30 WAR but less than 60, and at least 2.8 WAR per 650 PAs. Seven of them were Cubs regulars in 1935, with an eighth on the bench. Those eight averaged 45 career WAR, with six over 40. Five of them ranked top-30 in WAR/pos for 1925-45, but none above #17.

The pitchers fit into a narrower band. About 130 modern pitchers retired with at least 30 WAR but less than 50, and at least 2.8 WAR per 250 innings. Four of them tossed 200 innings for the ’35 Cubs. All four fell between 32 and 44 career WAR/pitch. All four ranked top-30 for 1925-45, but none above #11.

That’s a dozen of the 1935 Cubs who clearly met thresholds for good careers, but all fell short of greatness. And that description holds right down to the season level.

Of those eight 30-WAR position players, seven had at least two 5-WAR seasons, and the group totaled 22 such years. Their average best year was 6.1 WAR, and the average of their top three was 5.6. Yet they had just one 7-WAR year, Chuck Klein’s Triple Crown — and even that 7.5-WAR season missed the decade’s top 30. Klein had the group’s best 6-year peak (avg. 5.7 WAR), but five of those years came with Philly. Six others had a 6-year peak average between 3.5 and 4.5 WAR. But none of them had a single big year out of character: Each one’s second-best year was within 1 WAR of his best. All eight totaled from 7,000 to 8,700 PAs.

Of those four 30-WAR pitchers, all had at least two years with 4.8 WAR, but there was just one 7-WAR year among them: Bill Lee’s 7.7 WAR in ’38 ranked 18th in the decade. All had a 6-year peak average between 3.6 and 4.5 WAR. All but Lee had a second-best year within one-half WAR of his best. Larry French, the career leader with 43.9 WAR, is the only one with no 5-WAR years; his best four ranged from 4.5 to 4.9. All four worked between 2,782 IP and 3,197 IP, with ERA+ from 106 to 119.

That’s about as good-not-great as it gets. So where does that put the Cubs among the best teams of that era?

Out of 30 teams that won 96+ in a year from 1925-45, only three did so with neither a 7-WAR player nor a 5-WAR pitcher:

  • 1942 Dodgers, with a lineup of 4 HOFers (Pee Wee Reese, Billy Herman, Arky Vaughan and Joe Medwick), 3 who placed at least 2nd in an MVP vote (Dolph Camilli, Pete Reiser and Dixie Walker), and 4-time All-Star Mickey Owen;
  • 1931 Cardinals, with one of the most balanced rotations ever — 6 starters with ERA from 3.00-3.65; and
  • 1935 Cubs.

In that same span, out of 21 teams with pythagorean W% of .630 or better, only the ’35 Cubs and ’42 Dodgers did so with neither a 7-WAR player nor a 5-WAR pitcher.

How many teams win as much for as long as those Cubs did without any superstars? One modern comp that does come to mind is the 1970s Dodgers. Check the parallels in these 7-year spans:

Category Cubs, 1932-38 Dodgers, 1972-78
Win Pct. .588 (#2 MLB) .582 (#2 MLB)
WS App (Gms Won) 0-3 (2) 0-3 (5)
Scoring (NL) 2nd of 8 4th of 12
Prevention (NL) 1st of 8 1st of 12
Best WAR Year 7.7 7.7
Top 10 WAR Yrs, Avg 6.1 6.1
Top 2 WAR, Tm/Span 58.0 (32.2 + 25.8) 57.4 (30.5 + 26.9)
Top 2 WAR, Tm/Career 105 (52.5 + 52.3) 105 (54.4 + 50.7)
Car. WAR 50+, 40+, 30+* 3, 9, 15 6, 7, 15
Top 15 Car. WAR Avg* 41.5 (3.7 WAR/yr) 46.3 (3.5 WAR/yr)
HOFers** 2 (BW, VC) 1 (BW)

* Of those with 1,000 PAs or 300 IP with the team during that span. “Per year” is per 650 PAs or 250 IP.
** Who were primarily Cubs or Dodgers.

The Dodgers have an edge in career WAR for their top 15 players, but that disappears on a per-year basis. If you adjusted for schedule length, typical longevity for each era, and wartime service, the career numbers probably would be quite close.

(One apparent difference: The Dodgers remained contenders for another ten years, whereas the Cubs after 1938 never sniffed a pennant race except when they won it in ’45. From 1979-88, Los Angeles won two World Series, two more division crowns, and lost the ’80 and ’82 races on the final day, including a one-game playoff. But the difference isn’t really that big. For the 10 years after the comparison span, LA played at .527 (3rd in NL, 6th MLB), and the Cubs at .493 (4th NL, 8th MLB). Their pythagorean records differed by 4 wins per year. The Dodgers were up and down, finishing under. 500 in the 4 years that they didn’t win or come close. Their ’81 title was flukey, as they qualified for the playoffs by holding a half-game lead when the strike hit, although they finished 4 games worse than the Reds over all. And it didn’t take much to win the NL West in 1983, ’85 and ’88, as no runner-up won even 90.)

Is there a lesson in the World Series losses of the ’30s Cubs and the ’70s Dodgers? Something about the value of superstars in the postseason? Color me skeptical. To those who say yes, I offer three counterpoints:

(1) The Yankees of 1996-2001 won four championships and missed a fifth by an eyelash. We could debate what it means to be a superstar, but we can count superstar seasons. Those six Yankee squads had a total of five 6-WAR seasons, spread over four different years. The two from position players were by Derek Jeter in 1998-99 (7.5, 8.0). Two of the three by pitchers came in 1997, when they lost in the first round (Andy Pettitte 8.4, David Cone 6.8), and the other was Mike Mussina’s 7.1 in 2001.

There were 148 six-WAR seasons in MLB in that same time, so the Yanks had exactly their “fair share” — hardly what you’d expect of a genuine dynasty. Out of 34 teams with two or more 6-WAR men in that span (including 10 teams with three), four reached the Series. All met Yankee teams with no more than one such player, and all were defeated except the 2001 D’backs, who rallied at the last possible moment. If you want to build a whole case on Arizona’s superstar pitchers … hold that thought.

(2) The Yankees of 1949-53 won five straight championships, the only team ever to do so. They had a grand total of two 6-WAR seasons — Phil Rizzuto’s 6.7 in 1950, and Mickey Mantle’s 6.5 in ’52. Five other position players reached 5 WAR, but no pitcher did, and only two of them reached even 4 WAR. Their total WAR leaders were Yogi Berra (4.6 WAR per year) and Rizzuto (4.5). Mantle averaged 4.4 in his 3 years, Joe DiMaggio 4.2 in his three, and Gil McDougald 4.1 in his three. Gene Woodling and Hank Bauer each averaged about 3 WAR for 5 years. In the rotation, Eddie Lopat, Allie Reynolds and Vic Raschi were regulars all 5 years, averaging 3.0, 2.8 and 2.6 WAR.

Those ’49-53 Yanks didn’t dominate in the regular season. None won 100 games; they averaged 97 wins and a 4-game margin. The Dodgers had almost the same record in that span, and Cleveland averaged 6 games behind, with a .596 clip.

But in the 1949-53 World Series, New York went 20-8. The Yanks of 1996-01 went 56-22 in the postseason, 19-7 in the Series. If superstars are a key to October, how do you explain the success of those teams, whose essential trait — like the ’30s Cubs — was depth of good players?

(3) The Braves of 1991-2005 had MLB’s best record by a mile and a half. They had the best record for 1991-95, and for 1996-2000, and averaged 95 wins for 2001-05, although three teams were a little better. Did they have superstars? Atlanta had a 6-WAR man in all but two seasons (once with a high of 5.9). They had two or more 6-WAR players six times — ’91, ’94 (pro rating Fred McGriff for the strike), ’96 (3), ’98 (4), ’99 (3) and 2000. For the 15-year span, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz ranked 3rd, 7th and 11th in total WAR/pitch. For 1996-2005, Chipper and Andruw Jones ranked 4th and 5th in total WAR/pos, each averaging about 5.3 WAR per year. Superstars.

The Braves made 14 straight postseason appearances. Their record was 63-62. In the Series, they went 11-18, winning one out of five. Hello, superstars?

Now, these are just three examples, not a thorough look at the question. But if you want to chalk up Chicago’s World Series failures to a lack of superstars, you’ve got to work past these, and more.

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Staggering

The Cubs won pennants in 1929, ’32, ’35 and ’38 — four non-consecutive flags within 10 years. There’s nothing like it in MLB history. Only one other team won three flags within 7 years that were all unconnected to any other: The Cardinals in 1982, ’85 and ’87. And even that string might not have made this list if the ’81 Cards hadn’t been screwed by the split-season format, despite their division’s best record. The Giants have such a string going now with their 2010/12/14 titles, but they’ll have to go home early this year to seal the deal.

The 1932-38 Cubs were a much different team than the ’29 pennant winners. Of the 10 players and 6 pitchers most used on the ’29 squad, more than half weren’t Cubs regulars by 1932, including the superstars Rogers Hornsby and Hack Wilson. Only Charlie Root made it to ’35 in that role.

As the personnel changed, so did the team’s characteristics. While both the 1929-31 and 1932-38 Cubs had their league’s best combined record — and were quite similar in both actual and pythagorean W% — the latter group were more balanced:

  • 1929-31 — 1st in scoring (6.00 R/G), 4th in prevention (5.00)
  • 1932-38 — 2nd in scoring (4.83 R/G), 1st in prevention (3.98)

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NL Team of the Decade?

Who was the best NL team of the ’30s? The “Gashouse Gang” Cards are most famous, and they did win two World Series in the decade, plus another pennant. But that was all done by ’34. The Cubs and the Giants had better records for the whole decade (CHC .579, NYG .569, STL .566), and the same three pennants.

The Cards get a halo effect from their ’26 title and ’28 pennant. But even stretching the span backward to 1926-39, Chicago still had the best NL record, .580 to .570. The Cubs were more consistent — over .500 each year, always in the first division, with four pennants and several close finishes, averaging 7.3 games behind when they didn’t win. St. Louis took five pennants in that span, but often slipped in the years between; they had two losing seasons, three in the second division, and averaged 10.6 games behind when they didn’t win.

Head-to-head, the Cards won the matchup just once in their five pennant years, while the Cubs won it in three of their four, and held a 157-148 edge for 1926-39 combined. Even for 1926-34, the span of all five St. Louis pennants, the Cubs led the series by 100-95, and were just 3 games worse over all.

In the ’30s alone, the Cubs edged the Cards head-to-head, 111-109. They also topped the #2 Giants, 117-102, while the Cards lost that one, 107-110. Each won a close race by catching the other in September. But the 1930 Cards didn’t play the Cubs in September, whereas the ’35 Cubs went to St. Louis for a showdown finale and clinched in their face, banging 15 hits off the 28-win Diz.

(Of course, the Cards would dominate in the war years, but that was a whole different team. Not one man from the ’34 champs lasted even to ’41; even the skippers were different.)

If you count the best players of the ’30s, how many were essentially Cubs, Cardinals, or Giants? The top 50 of WAR/pos and of WAR/pitch for 1930-39 contains four Cards, five Giants, and nine Cubs:

  • NYG — 68.6 WAR, Mel Ott
  • NYG — 55.5 WAR, Carl Hubbell
  • STL — 43.0 WAR, Dizzy Dean
  • STL — 38.7 WAR, Joe Medwick
  • CHC — 36.6 WAR, Billy Herman
  • NYG — 36.3 WAR, Bill Terry
  • CHC — 35.7 WAR, Gabby Hartnett
  • CHC — 35.1 WAR, Larry French
  • CHC — 31.3 WAR, Lon Warneke
  • CHC — 27.1 WAR, Big Bill Lee
  • STL — 26.2 WAR, Johnny Mize
  • CHC — 24.1 WAR, Charlie Root
  • STL — 23.7 WAR, Ripper Collins
  • CHC — 21.3 WAR, Kiki Cuyler
  • CHC — 21.0 WAR, Stan Hack
  • CHC — 19.8 WAR, Billy Jurges
  • NYG — 17.5 WAR, Freddie Fitzsimmons
  • NYG — 16.3 WAR, Hal Schumacher

The Giants and Cards had the biggest stars and best seasons. But the count of 3+ WAR seasons goes Cubs 55, Giants 47, Cards 43.

Championships have to count in this contest. But can the Cardinals’ two Game-7 triumphs trump everything else? I would call the Cubs at least co-NL Team of the ’30s. (I can already hear the huzzahs from Waveland Avenue….)

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Not a Dynasty, but

No team gets the “dynasty” tag without winning a World Series. But while the Cubs’ 10-year record doesn’t rank with the best dynasties, it fits well with these multi-champions:

  • Reds, 1970-79 … 2 titles, 4 pennants, 6 division crowns … .592 W% (MLB #1)
  • Dodgers, 1950-59 … 2 titles, 5 pennants … .592 W% (#2)
  • Giants, 1917-26 … 2 titles, 5 pennants … .589 W% (#1)
  • Cubs, 1929-38 … no titles, 4 pennants … .589 W% (#2)
  • Red Sox, 1909-18 … 4 titles … .588 W% (#2)
  • Orioles, 1965-74 … 2 titles, 4 pennants, 6 postseason trips … .588 W% (#1)
  • Cardinals, 1926-35 … 3 titles, 5 pennants … .581 W% (#4)
  • Pirates, 1970-79 … 2 titles, 6 division crowns … .569 W% (#3)
  • Blue Jays, 1984-93 … 2 titles, 5 division crowns … .565 W% (#1)
  • Red Sox, 2004-13 … 3 titles, 6 postseason trips … .562 W% (#2)
  • Athletics, 1968-77 … 3 titles, 5 division crowns … .550 W% (#5)

There’s no explaining away Chicago’s 3-16 record in four World Series. But they did face three epic teams: The ’29 A’s were 104-46 (akin to 112 wins in today’s schedule), and had four Hall of Famers in the heart of their prime. The ’32 Yanks were 107-47 (also like 112 wins), and had nine HOFers. And the ’38 Yanks went 99-53 (like 105 wins, in the worst of four straight title years), and had six prime Hall of Famers. Even the ’35 Tigers, against whom the Cubs gave their best Series fight, had four prime HOFers, and a hunger left over from losing Game 7 the year before.

__________

’35 Series Notes…

The ’35 squad was the best of this Cubs era. They sailed into the Series on a 28-6 spree, and won the opener in Detroit on Warneke’s one-whiff shutout, tying a Series low.

  • Only Game 6 has a lower shutout rate than Game 1. There have been 91 CG shutouts, 13 in Game 1. Isn’t that a bit odd? Game 1 obviously has the highest rate of #1 aces, even now with extra playoff rounds. The highest shutout rate, by far, is in winner-take-all games, with 9 shutouts out of 74 starts in those 37 games (including one Game 8). There aren’t enough shutouts to expect any pattern of distribution, but the bigger point is…
  • Game 1 starters haven’t lived up to their billing, period. This table groups all World Series starters by game number, ordered from best to worst runs allowed per 9 innings:
SP by
WS Gm#
RA/9 ERA Gm.Sc.
Game 2 3.57 3.08 56.4
Game 7 3.63 3.19 54.3
Game 5 3.70 3.15 56.3
Game 3 3.78 3.17 55.1
Game 4 3.79 3.31 53.8
Game 1 3.87 3.34 55.7
Game 6 4.10 3.64 52.1
  • We do see a drop in Game 1 performance in the division era. But I wouldn’t assume it’s all due to the playoffs preventing aces from starting Game 1. The last six Game 1’s did feature 11 “number-one starters” (and some dude named Zito, who bested an ace). Anyway, the splits by era:

League Era, 1903-1968

RA/9 ERA Gm.Sc. # of GS
Game 1 3.46 2.90 58.4 130
All Others 3.52 2.91 56.7 638

Division Era, 1969-2014

RA/9 ERA Gm.Sc. # of GS
Game 1 4.59 4.11 51.8 90
All Others 4.11 3.77 52.2 424

 

Veteran Charlie Root started Game 2, and laid his third straight Series egg, routed by single-double-single-homer, all before a Tiger was tamed.

  • That’s still the only Series start charged with 4 runs or more without retiring a batter.
  • It was Hank Greenberg’s homer that sent Root to the showers, but Hank was knocked out of action himself later on, breaking his wrist in a home-plate collision with Hartnett. He missed the rest of the Series, and almost all of ’36 after breaking the same wrist in April.

Game 3 in Wrigley was the turning point: Leading 3-1 in the 8th, Bill Lee served up Goose Goslin’s tying single and gave way to Warneke, who let in two more, one on a first-and-third steal. Chicago tied it with two pinch hits in the last of the 9th, but then left the winning run on third base from one out in the 10th. Detroit’s winning run the next inning fed off an error by Freddie Lindstrom, playing 3B after the 9th-inning tactics forced Hack to short.

Now trailing the Series, after using their three best pitchers the day before, the Cubs put Game 4 in the hands of Tex Carleton. The Tigers had rocked him in ’34, as a Cardinal, but Carleton dodged bullets to hold a 1-1 tie into the 6th. With two out and the sacks empty, Detroit scored on back-to-back errors against the 8th and 9th hitters — a drop by LF Galan (a recently converted infielder), and a boot by the brilliant Jurges. Chicago got two on for Hack in the home 9th, but he rapped a 6-4-3 DP to end it.

  • Eighteen live-ball pitchers won 10+ games in each of their first 7 seasons. Tex Carleton is one of them. He was 94-70 to that point, averaging 208 IP per year, but he won just 6 more games. He’s the only pitcher ever with exactly 100 wins and a 100 ERA+.

In Game 5, Warneke kept the Cubs alive with 6 scoreless frames, shaking off his rocky relief stint of two days earlier.

  • He was the first Series starter ever to complete an inning and leave before the 7th with no runs allowed. Until 1958, it was the only scoreless Series win by a starter who didn’t go the distance. (To that point, there had been 61 Series shutouts and Warneke’s 6-IP win. From 1958-93, there were 27 shutouts and 13 other scoreless wins. In the last 20 years, 3 shutouts and 20 others. Madison Bumgarner’s whitewash in last year’s Game 5 snapped a string of 13 scoreless Series wins without going the route.)

In Game 6, Larry French and Tommy Bridges both went the distance while yielding 12 hits.

  • It’s the only double-CG in the Series with at least 11 safeties off each.

It was tied in the home 8th when Bridges came up with 2 outs and two on against the southpaw French. Skipper Mickey Cochrane was also catching his ace, who’d allowed 11 hits and 3 runs so far, but also had the ground-ball machine working. Cochrane was short on the bench, with Greenberg out. He had a conventional option in backup catcher Ray Hayworth, who had hit .301 in the last 2 years. He also had Schoolboy Rowe, a durn’ fine country hitter (.307 with 50 RBI in the last 2 years). But Cochrane stood pat, and Bridges stared at strike three to end that threat.

And then Bridges served Hack’s leadoff triple. Eighth hitter Jurges struck out, so now it was Charlie Grimm’s turn on the hot seat. He had veteran Freddie Lindstrom, who hit .275 that year (.311 career), and a lefty option in his backup catcher, rookie Ken O’Dea, who had a clutch pinch-hit in Game 3. But Grimm also stood pat. French tapped back to Bridges, and Galan flied out to complete the squandering.

French got 2 outs in the 9th, then faced Goose Goslin with the winning run on second. He’d caged the Goose all day with men aboard — 0 for 4, stranding 4 runners — but Goslin got the last laugh: His single to right scored Cochrane, and Detroit celebrated their first championship.

  • No one remembers Tommy Bridges, but there are a dozen modern HOF starters with less than his 52.5 career WAR and a worse average than his 4.65 WAR per 250 IP. He finished 194-138 (.584); won more than half his starts; was an All-Star six times in seven years; went 4-1, 2.92 in 5 Series starts; missed 2 years in the service when he was still pitching quite well; and starred in the PCL after turning 40, including a no-hitter. It’s quite possible that his service cost him a HOF nod from the Veterans Committee.

The ’35 Cubs are one of 20 World Series teams that used five different starters. I’m surprised there are so many, since more than a third of all Series teams used no more than three starters. There were 3 Series in which both teams used five or more: 1923 (Yanks over Giants), and 195556 (Yanks split with Dodgers). Those ’55 Dodgers actually used six starters, as did the ’47 Dodgers and ’71 Pirates. The 1980 Phillies were the last to start five different men in the Series.

__________

… and Beyond

After the Cubs took the ’35 race in comeback fashion from the front-running Giants, 1936 flipped the script: The Cubs and Cards swapped the lead into mid-August, with the Giants as many as 10.5 games behind after the midpoint. But New York ran amok in August, winning 15 straight and 22 of 23 (nearly all of that against the second division). The Jints went 39-17 in the last 2 months, while neither Chicago nor St. Louis topped .500.

And ’37 was a Giants-Cubs replay: Chicago peaked at 60-32 with a 7-game bulge on August 3, but the Gothamites chased them down with another stretch rush, going 41-19 after July to win by 3 games. A crucial late series in Wrigley saw the Cubs win the opener, gaining a chance to retake the lead with a sweep. But the first-year flash Cliff Melton shut them out in game two, one of 6 wins in September that made him the first 20-win pure rookie since 1913. (Melton was joined that same year by the Braves’ Milkman Jim Turner and Lou (Boba?) Fette, two of three moderns to do it age 30 or older. None of the trio would ever again win 15+ in a season.) In the rubber game, Melton came out of the bullpen to quell a Cubs rally that fell a run short, ending their last serious threat to New York’s repeat reign.

But 1938 brought yet another reversal: After dropping a double-header on September 3, the Cubs were 7 games back, with 28 left and three teams to pass. They still trailed Pittsburgh by 3.5 games with 14 to go, but then reeled off 10 straight wins, capped by a sweep of the Bucs. The middle game was a see-saw affair, won by Hartnett’s “Homer in the You-Know-What,” putting the Cubs in first place for the first time since June.

Anything seem amiss in these final NL standings for 1938?

Rk Tm W L W-L% GB
1 CHC 89 63 .586
2 PIT 86 64 .573 2.0

That’s right: Both teams had unplayed games that could have changed the outcome. Both missed 2 games with the 7th-place Dodgers, and the Bucs also missed 2 with the dreadful Phillies. During the Depression, MLB reverted to the policy that postponed games didn’t have to be made up. The 1935 AL race had a similar twist, with Detroit topping the Yankees by 3 games, and a total of 8 unplayed games for the pair. Those are the only races since the 1908 AL that could have been changed by postponed games that were never made up.

__________

Odds & Ends

Did you ever noticeWilliam Jennings Bryan Herman was defeated in the Fall Classics of 1932, ’35, ’38 and ’41, taking his namesake’s pattern to ridiculous lengths. I know I take my name fetish too seriously … After all, if names really influence destiny, how could Gabby, Smiling Stan, Jolly Cholly and the Arkansas Hummingbird go unrewarded? Not to mention Fabian, Augie, Tuck, Hardrock, Fireman, Chinski, and a hometown boy named Roy Kniklebine Henshaw.

Billy Herman in 1935 led the majors with 227 hits and 24 sacrifice hits, batting .341 with 70 extra-base hits and 317 total bases. All those sacrifices seem out of place, until you realize that sac flies were not counted separately during his whole career. (Sometimes they weren’t counted as anything; the scoring history of the sac fly is a twisted one.) Anyway, Herman is the last player to have 20+ SH along with any of these minimums: .332 BA, 210 hits, 61 XBH or 286 TB.

_____

Gabby Hartnett was one of the first great hitting catchers — the first with 30 HRs or 120 RBI in a year, first NLer with a 150 OPS+ in 400 PAs, and the second ever to clear 50 offensive WAR (still #9 in that measure). It was perhaps the best era of offensive backstops, at least before the ’90s, with Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey and Ernie Lombardi also ringing up unprecedented oWAR. (Hartnett met Cochrane or Dickey in each of his four World Series … and was out-hit by a combined .371-.241.)

_____

Smiling Stan Hack … Was there ever a more consistently good-not-great player? Picture Lou Whitaker, with an even lower peak. Hack averaged 4 WAR for a 12-year span, without ever topping 6 WAR in a season — has anyone else done that? Hack scored at least 1.0 WAR in 15 of his 16 seasons, and the other year he batted less than 200 times. He scored above-average in 13 of his 14 years with 200 PAs.

Even in a group drawn to fit him, Hack stands out. There are 30 modern players who’ve fallen off the Hall ballot despite at least 50 career WAR and 4+ WAR per 650 PAs. In that group, Hack’s peak year of 6.0 WAR is second-lowest to Jack Clark‘s 5.9. Only three in that group had a greater net of (1+ WAR years) minus (WAR<1 years) — Whitaker (18-1), Willie Davis (17-1) and Will Clark (15-0). Hack is one of 10 in that group with at least 14 years of positive WAA and no more than one year with WAA<=0 in 200 PAs. (Those leaders: Whitaker, 17-0; Bobby Grich, 16-0; Reggie Smith, 15-0; Willie Randolph and Jack Clark, 16-1.)

_____

Continuing the Whitaker theme for a moment … I have never heard anyone argue that Billy Herman doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. His 55 career WAR doesn’t jump off the page, but he had a nice peak, and lost two years in the service when he was still playing well. He was a key member of four pennant winners.

But the folly of overreliance on peak value is seen by comparing Herman’s and Whitaker’s 6-year peaks:

  • Herman — 30.3 WAR, 17.1 WAA (1935-40)
  • Whitaker — 29.1 WAR, 17.7 WAA (1981-86)
    (Whitaker’s edge from the 162-game schedule is erased by the ’81 strike.)

So Herman has a slight edge in peak WAR, but Whitaker is a whisker ahead in WAA. Herman put his 3 best years in a row at the start of that peak (6.9, 6.8, 5.7), and each is a tiny bit better than Whitaker’s corresponding best years (6.7, 6.7, 5.4). But of course, Whitaker didn’t pack all his best years into his peak; in fact, his 6 years after that peak were almost as good (27.7 WAR, 16.3 WAA). Whitaker had five 4-WAR years outside his peak, while Herman had just one (and three at most if you credit his service years). Whatever the war cost Herman, you couldn’t say it stunted his career, since he had a good season right afterwards.

Their career averages are 4.12 WAR per 650 PAs for Herman, 4.88 for Whitaker. Both numbers start with “4,” but Whitaker’s number is 18% bigger. Whitaker led in OPS+ by 117-112, and his best years in OPS+ and Rbat were bigger than Herman’s. (For their 6-year peaks, both had 117 OPS+.) Herman has a better defensive reputation, but Rfield disagrees.

When you add it all up, isn’t Whitaker’s slight deficit in peak WAR dwarfed by substantial edges in everything else? I think Herman deserves his Hall of Fame standing. I just don’t see how one could think he deserves it over Whitaker.

(End of stump speech.)

_____

An odd career had Augie Galan: 5.1 WAR at 23, and above that from age 31-33; but the seven years between totaled just 10 WAR and zero WAA. Just six others before expansion had three 5-WAR seasons after age 30 without making the Hall of Fame, and one of them clearly should be in the Hall (Bill Dahlen). The others were mainly late bloomers:

Galan had no such delay or disruption, and his modest play from age 24-27 predates the knee injury that made him a part-timer from 28-30. He just regressed after his rookie year, and then put it all together again much later. Just an odd career pattern.

Galan was the 8th modern switch-hitter with 7,000 PAs, and the 6th to reach 40 WAR. Switch-hitting went out of favor by the ’30s, and remained so through the ’60s, then exploded in the ’70s. A breakdown of 3,000-PA players in three 40-year spans:

  • 1890-1929 — 8% switch … 210 RHB, 137 LHB, 32 switch
  • 1930-1969 — 4% switch … 272 RHB, 168 LHB, 18 switch
  • 1970-2009 — 16% switch … 412 RHB, 245 LHB, 121 switch

The ebb and flow of switch-hitting probably stems from changes in the game’s offensive style. It’s not so hard for a natural righty to learn to make contact from the left side; so, in the dead-ball era, when slap hitting and running were dominant, switch-hitting was reasonably popular. But learning to drive the ball from your “off” side is another matter, unless you start very young. So when the Ruth revolution took hold, switch-hitting faded: Through 1946, Ripper Collins was the lone switch-hitter out of 91 different players with any 20-HR seasons. In the ’70s, the rise of artificial turf and big multi-purpose parks expanded the niche for slap-and-run hitters. Switch-hitters’ share of qualified years rose from 7% in the ’60s to 12% in the ’70s, then 18% in the ’80s, and peaked at 19% in the ’90s. It fell to 15% in the ’00s, and to 14% in the last 5 years (12% in 2014).

There’s a lag time, of course, between changes in offensive context and the next generation’s arrival. So, now that home runs have been down for a decade or so — and strikeouts at an all-time high — the generation of players selected and groomed in response to those trends should be well on its way. But how they might differ from this generation remains to be seen.

_____

Larry French joined the Navy after the ’42 season, when he was an excellent swingman for the 104-50 Dodgers. He’d just turned 35, stood 3 wins from 200, and had but one off year on his ledger since debuting at 21. But he never came back to baseball, serving 27 years in the Navy. He was the first with at least 197 wins and no 20-win seasons, preceding Milt Pappas by 30 years.

French in ’42 did the job held the prior two years by his former Cubs teammate, Hugh Casey, who then became Brooklyn’s first true closer, setting team records for games pitched, relief games and saves. That same year brought the first look at something like a modern closer: Ace Adams pitched 61 games for the Giants, all in relief, finishing 49 games, with a 1.84 ERA and just 88 innings, or 1.44 IP per game. Adams, a 32-year-old journeyman in his second MLB year — acquired by Rule 5 from Brooklyn, ironically, the same way they’d landed Casey — was the first to pitch 50 games and average less than 5 outs per appearance. It would be six more years before someone else went 50 games with less than 1.5 IP/G, and six years beyond that for a successful season so structured: Jim Hughes of the ’54 Dodgers, setting the NL record of 24 saves that stood until 1960.

_____

Transactional analysis, please: Lon Warneke averaged 15-9 with St. Louis from 1937-41, with two All-Star nods, including 1941. At the ’42 break — Cards in 2nd place, Warneke at 6-4, 3.29 (staff 3rd in wins and innings) — they sold him back to the Cubs, for the waiver price. Howzat?

Maybe they thought the race was over? The reigning Dodgers were flying at 52-21, 8.5 games ahead. The Cards closed the half on a 24-12 run, but lost ground in the process.

Warneke would post a 2.27 ERA in the second half, 5th among those with 90+ innings. But the Cards didn’t miss him. Johnny Beazley and Max Lanier moved into the rotation, and the offense caught fire behind Enos Slaughter. St. Louis went 63-19 in the second half, 21-4 in September, and 9-3 against Brooklyn, to win an historic race. They caught the Dodgers with a 2-game sweep in Ebbets Field, holding their potent offense to a run on 8 hits, and fought off the Bums’ 10-2 finish with their own 11-1 spree. Brooklyn’s 104-50 record is the second-best by a runner-up, one-half game worse than the 1909 Cubs.

On August 23, 1942, Warneke notched the year’s first minimum-batters CG, the last of his 30 career shutouts. One month later, his ex-teammate, Larry French, logged the other, keeping Brooklyn alive with 4 games left. It was the last of three such shutouts ever in Ebbets Field, and — with French joining the Navy soon after — the last of his 40 career shutouts, making him the shutout leader for his career span (1929-42). His shutout rate, 10.4% of 383 career starts, is 8th-best of the 44 pitchers with 35 live-ball shutouts, and the best of those who didn’t pitch in the ’60s or during the peak of WWII “replacement ball.”

Warneke came back from the service for a valedictory year with the ’45 Cubs. He finished with a 192-121 record; his 71 games over .500 ranks 10th among non-200-winners who debuted since 1893. On a related note, these studied teams held 17 of the 52 modern pitchers who won between 189 and 212 games:

  • The 1914 A’s had Chief Bender (212-127), Bullet Joe Bush (196-184) and Bob Shawkey (195-150).
  • The 1971 A’s had Vida Blue (209-161).
  • The 1915 Red Sox had Carl Mays (207-126).
  • The 1996 Indians had Orel Hershiser (204-150).
  • The 1935 Cubs had Charlie Root (201-160), Larry French (197-171) and Lon Warneke (192-121).
  • The 1933 Yanks had George Uhle (200-166) and Lefty Gomez (189-102).
  • The 1901 Pirates had Jack Chesbro (198-132), Jesse Tannehill (197-117), Sam Leever (194-100), Rube Waddell (193-143) and Deacon Phillippe (189-109).
  • The 1998 Yankees had David Cone (194-126).

It’s probably just a side effect of the study’s 40-WAR threshold, which was reached by 14 of those 17. The studied teams also had eight pitchers with 220+ wins — Catfish Hunter (224), David Wells (239), Herb Pennock (241), Dennis Martinez (245), Andy Pettitte (256), Red Ruffing (273), Eddie Plank (326) and Roger Clemens (354).

_____

Now, that’s good scouting: Warneke and French both had losing records and fat ERAs in the minors before reaching the bigs. French was 22-29, 4.35 in 2 full PCL years. Yes, those were hitters’ years, and the Portland Beavers were a weak team; still, French was only the 3rd or 4th-best pitcher on the club. But within 2 years, he was firmly established as a good big-leaguer.

Warneke at Class-D had one bad year, then a good one. It’s said that his carefree nature got him written off by Cleveland’s great scout, Cy Slapnicka, who saw Warneke entertaining the crowd during a rain delay, pretending to row a makeshift boat on the infield. But his mound work the next year would have soured most scouts: Warneke went 9-12 with a 6.03 ERA in the top minors. Again, a big-hitting year, but you can’t spin 6.03; Lon was last in ERA out of 40 pitchers with 140 IP. Yet the very next year, he was a good Cubs swingman, and in his second full season, he went 22-6, and led MLB with a 2.37 ERA.

_____

Pop quiz (not really): What pitcher led the 1938 NL in strikeouts and walks? … Congratulations if you’d heard of Clay Bryant before reading this post — and big props if you knew he also led NL pitchers with 3 HRs, 15 RBI and 16 Runs that year. It was Bryant’s only qualified season, with nearly half his career totals of innings, whiffs and passes.

_____

The 1935 Cubs are one of four teams ever that had 4 pitchers with 200 innings and at least a 125 ERA+ — but the only one of those on which all 4 pitchers were under a 135 ERA+. (Once again: Good … not great.) The ’97 Braves and 1909 A’s had all four over 135, and the ’27 Yankees had three. The only other rotation similarly balanced in the good-but-not-great zone was the 1929 Cubs, with three 200-IP men between 125 and 135 ERA+.

What does Charlie Root have in common with Charlie Hough and John Smoltz? They’re the only 200-win pitchers who also had at least 90% as many games finished (in relief) as won. Root and Bill Sherdel are the only pitchers with 150 complete games and more GF than CG. Root’s longtime teammate, Guy Bush, just missed that list (151 CG, 146 GF).

Root and Bush had their primes from the mid-’20s to mid-’30s, the peak era of starters also working in relief. By 10-year span, here are averages for the top 50 season totals of innings, including their starts, relief outings, and how many of those 50 did any relief work:

Years IP GS GR No. with
Any GR
1905-14 352 38.9 7.4 47
1915-24 330 38.1 6.4 49
1925-34 296 34.7 8.0 49
1935-44 298 35.7 4.9 43
1945-54 292 35.9 4.6 45
1955-64 284 37.1 2.9 37
1965-74 320 40.0 0.7 19
1975-84 296 38.0 0.4 12
1985-94 266 35.7 0.2 6
1995-04 249 34.6 0.1 3
2005-14 238 33.7 0.1 4

_____

You didn’t give up? Inconceivable!

____________________

Recapping this blog series: These teams all had six players who (a) were 30 or younger and scored 1+ WAR that year, and (b) amassed 40+ career WAR. Due to the limitations of a bulk search, players appearing with two teams that year did not count towards finding the subject teams. Pitchers’ WAR is counted as the higher of pitching WAR only, or pitching plus offensive WAR.

  1. Pirates, 1901 (1st, 90-49) and 1902 (1st, 103-36) (No World Series yet) — Part One of series
  2. Athletics, 1914 (1st, 99-53, lost WS 0-4) — Part One of series
  3. Red Sox, 1915 (1st, 101-50, won WS 4-1) — Part Three of series
  4. Yankees, 1931 (2nd, 94-59), 1932 (1st, 107-47, swept WS) and 1933 (2nd, 91-59) — Part Two of series
  5. Cubs, 1935 (1st, 100-54, lost WS 2-4)
  6. Athletics, 1971 (1st, 101-60, lost ALCS 0-3) — Part Four of series
  7. Indians, 1996 (1st, 99-62, lost ALDS 1-3)
  8. Yankees, 1998 (1st, 114-48) and 1999 (1st, 98-64) (swept both WS)

The team tables in each post list the six players who met the criteria (seven in one case), and their group totals, followed by other notables. Italics and an asterisk by the name mark a player who was not a regular with that team. If the column headings are unclear, just ask.

As always, my main data source is Baseball-Reference.com and their indispensable Play Index.

(Just two teams to go … but can I make it by Opening Day?)

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no statistician but
no statistician but
7 years ago

JA: Thanks for highlighting one of the least lauded of enduring great teams. I realize that your theme was the team’s balance rather than its dominance, but in fact—as a team, not as individuals—it was a great group of players. Going against the Cards and Giants of that decade and prevailing at all, much less a third of the time, is a remarkable achievement, considering the absence of superstar numbers. One point I hope you’ll allow me to add on the subject of switch hitting, and I think others of my ancientness will back me up: The revival of switch… Read more »

Hartvig
Hartvig
7 years ago

You kept me waiting before finally getting around to Augie Galan. Has anyone every read anything about what might have led to his regression after his outstanding age 23 season? Was there a pitch he couldn’t hit or did he start swinging for the fences or what? His age 27 season looks like he was starting to find his stroke again but in almost 250 PA’s the following year it looks like he had regressed again. The war helps to explain part of his late career success of course but he kept on hitting pretty well for 3 years after… Read more »

no statistician but
no statistician but
7 years ago
Reply to  Hartvig

According to B-Ref Galan gave up switch hitting for left side only starting in 1943. His Wiki bio states that the knee injury he suffered in 1940 was the cause. He also had a deformed arm, which must have been his left, otherwise he wouldn’t have fielded righty. I think these might be clues to solving the mystery.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
7 years ago

Yes BR does say he batted only lefty starting in 1943, nevertheless, his seasonal splits indicate that he did bat right-handed to the end of his career.

Doug
Editor
7 years ago

B-R “assumes” splits in the absence of PBP data. Thus, for a player designated as a switch-hitter, all pitchers faced are presumed to be from the side of the plate providing the platoon advantage.

Hartvig
Hartvig
7 years ago

I read that as well but when I checked the seasons post WW2 vs a couple of his early seasons when he was still switch hitting I didn’t see much difference in his before and after lefty/righty splits nor any evidence that he was being platooned. But maybe you’re on to something with the arm.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
7 years ago
Reply to  Hartvig

On 6-25-37 Galan became the first NL player to hit a HR righty and lefty in the same game.

no statistician but
no statistician but
7 years ago

According to B-Ref Galan gave up switch hitting for left side only starting in 1943. His Wiki bio states that the knee injury he suffered in 1940 was the cause. He also had a deformed arm, which must have been his left, otherwise he wouldn’t have fielded righty. I think these might be clues to solving the mystery.

Artie Z.
Artie Z.
7 years ago

I am going to guess the Mets had more WAR created from their 1965-1969 debut players than the 1965-1969 A’s. My numbers don’t add up to yours, as I have the Mets with “only” 410.4 WAR, but I also have the 1965-1969 A’s with “only” 388.9. I included all players, even those with negative WAR and pitcher batting WAR. It looks like if I drop all the negative WAR the Mets WAR is 424.9, so maybe that is the difference. The Mets have the pitching trio of Seaver, Ryan, and Koosman, plus Tug McGraw chipping in with 21 WAR pitching.… Read more »

Artie Z.
Artie Z.
7 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

As I was typing that up I was trying to determine which trade I felt was worse. At least Fregosi had been a legitimately outstanding player – the Mets gave up Otis and a guy who was striking out almost a batter per inning in the minors (no, not Ryan, Bob Johnson) for Foy. It didn’t help when I looked at the 1970 team and saw Ken Singleton’s debut. Otis and Singleton in CF and RF would have been okay in the 1970s. At least the Mets won a World Series. I checked the 1958-1962 Giants because they are known… Read more »

Doug
Editor
7 years ago

Only one other team won three flags within 7 years that were all unconnected to any other.

Guess you can add the ’10, ’12 and ’14 Giants, pending what happens this year.

In the same vein are the Red Sox with 3 unconnected WS titles in 10 years (2004-13).

Brent
Brent
7 years ago

Fun fact about those 1935 Cubs. They won 100 games in the regular season. Why is that a fun fact? The number of Cubs teams who have won 100 games in the regular season in the 80 years since then is zero. Meanwhile, of the 14 teams that have been born in those 80 years since 1935, only the Rockies, Marlins, Brewers, Padres, Rays, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Nationals* (*1994 Expos on pace to win 105 games when season ended) have not won 100 games in a season. And the Marlins and Blue Jays, of course, beat the Cubs to… Read more »

CursedClevelander
CursedClevelander
7 years ago

Another amazing article in this series, John. I’m both relishing and dreading the entry on my poor 1996 Indians, the least accomplished of this eight pack. Largely forgotten even by many Tribe fans because they weren’t as good as the 1995 team or as tragic as the 1997 team, they were a truly great team that lost to a far inferior Orioles team in the ALDS. They made up for it in 1997 by dispatching superior Yankees and Orioles teams as an 86 win underdog, but we all know what happened in the WS… Still, though it’ll evoke some bad… Read more »

CursedClevelander
CursedClevelander
7 years ago

Mea culpa for attributing this series to the wrong author at first, John. I’d hate to not credit you for all this incredible archive work. I blame late spring training jitters.

CursedClevelander
CursedClevelander
7 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

I’d love to chip in my two cents. Should I post them here, or e-mail them to you?

PaulE
PaulE
7 years ago

john,
Thanks for all the in-depth research and hard work….really insightful. Regarding one of your favorite causes, Lou Whitakerfor Cooperstown, fret not mon frere. Upon retirement in 1947, Billy Herman was 6th all-time in career WAR by a 2b. Upon election in 1975, Herman had only slipped to 9th. Sweet Lou upon retirement in 1995 was 6th and twenty years later, he remains 6th in 2b WAR. Perhaps the class of 2023 in upstate NY will include Lou as history repeats itself?

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
7 years ago

Thanks for another riveting article in an outstanding series, JA.

After getting to the bottom of the article, I saw that up next chronologically (though covered already) is the ’71 A’s. What do you think caused the 36-year gap between teams here? Doesn’t that seem kind of… odd? I’m wondering if it’s an indicator that expansion was necessary – too many teams hoarding too much talent, with too few young players getting a chance to contribute. I’d be interested in other theories, though.

Artie Z.
Artie Z.
7 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

Three thoughts: 1. Wars, not WAR. With many players going off to WWII or Korea, it cut down on both the number of good young players in the league, and also the career WAR numbers for those players who missed time. 2. Integration. Some players were “rookies” at an older age, which makes them less likely to have long careers. Also, it’s possible that integration also had a substitution effect – replacing some older white players who might have met the 1 WAR in a season criterion but then lost career WAR due to the expansion of the available talent… Read more »

Doug
Editor
7 years ago

Hack averaged 4 WAR for a 12-year span, without ever topping 6 WAR in a season — has anyone else done that?

I found a couple.
– Bobby Doerr posted 49.1 WAR for 1938-50, and 50.6 for 1939-51
– Ted Simmons posted 48.2 WAR for 1971-82, and 48.8 for 1972-83

Some others have come pretty close.
– 3.97 Torii Hunter 2001-12
– 3.75 Max Carey 1914-25
– 3.72 Sam Rice 1919-30
– 3.64 Jack Clark 1978-89
– 3.61 Harry Hooper 1913-24
– 3.58 Tony Phillips 1985-96

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
7 years ago
Reply to  Doug

Sam Crawford: 57.4 WAR from 1902-1913