How Did the Old Orioles Win?

Thanks again to e pluribus munu for contributing these posts on the 1890s Baltimore Orioles. if you’ve written something you’d like to share with the HHS community, drop me a note at doughhs@hotmail.ca.

In his first post, epm identified that Orioles’ manager Ned Hanlon completely overhauled the Orioles’ personnel and style of play over the space of two years, from 1892 to 1894, and, in doing so, turned a last place team into a championship club. In part two, epm takes a closer look at this new style of play and its influence on the major league game. More after the jump.

How Did the Old Orioles Win?

The focus of this post is how the Old Baltimore Orioles, perennial doormats, an “expansion” franchise, and dead-last-by-a-mile in 1892 became the dominant power in the NL by 1894. The larger issue is why this particular team turn-around would have a great enough impact on the game to warrant being considered the key element dividing “early” and “modern” baseball.

Ned Hanlon’s Transformation of the Orioles, 1892-94

Let’s start by dissecting the steps Orioles manager Ned Hanlon took to turn the team around, bearing in mind that Hanlon’s boss, Harry Von der Horst, provided Hanlon with limited financial resources, but exceptionally broad discretion to act.

  • Hanlon initiated wholesale personnel changes, beginning to clear house within weeks of taking charge, but only gradually, through many releases, trades, and re-trades, finding his way to the team he wanted.
  • The design of Hanlon’s team favored young, malleable players. He viewed the value of a player in terms of his potential to contribute to his particular team, rather than to his general talent. Three of the Orioles’ “Big Four” stars (Hughie Jennings, Joe Kelley and Willie Keeler) were acquired through trades in which they were an “added” player (the fourth, John McGraw, was inherited as a teenage player, a great stroke of luck for Hanlon and one which he had the acumen to recognize).
  • The team was governed by a simple, unifying strategy guiding his players’ approach to game situations: do what your opponent does not expect.
  • Hanlon developed a tactical playbook for surprising opponents. Its elements emphasized “small ball” tactics, which were more subject to hitter control (examples include the hit-and-run, the sacrifice and the bunt base hit, the intentional foul, and the “Baltimore chop”). The playbook extended to base-running and to fielding (e.g. outfield and infield cut-off plays, double play choreography, etc.).
  • Hanlon demanded intensive drilling to master the playbook. He was relentless.
  • Hanlon drew ideas from others, including his own players, to whom, in certain cases (particularly McGraw), he was willing to give exceptional autonomy.
  • Hanlon viewed winning as the only goal, and willingly developed or authorized any tactic that contributed to that goal (this is where the cheating and rowdiness come in, but other things as well, such as the modification of the home field to accommodate his team’s tactics and talents).

Note the absence of pitching tactics. So far as I can tell, Hanlon, himself a center fielder, had little to offer his pitchers. However, Hanlon nevertheless managed to coax memorable seasons out of a string of forgettable pitchers (ever heard of Bill Hoffer? Arlie Pond? Joe Corbett?), largely, it appears, by perfecting the defense behind them.

Because of the economic depression following the Panic of 1893, team owners in 1894 suspended the former custom of sending their teams south for spring training. Hanlon, however, demanded that owner Von der Horst pony up, and so the Orioles alone traveled away from home, assembling all players for a training camp in Macon, Georgia. Unlike the relaxed spring training routines typical of that time, Hanlon ran the Macon operation like a boot camp, identifying players’ weaknesses and prescribing constant drill through all-day training (Hughie Jennings’ description was, “Work, work, work, work, all the time.”). When the team returned north to open the season against New York, Giant manager John Ward took note of the Orioles’ southern trip in speaking to the press, commenting on its energizing effect and even predicting that the Baltimores might take one of the three games in the opening series between the clubs (after all, the Orioles’ reputation was still as a losing team, with a 106-171 record over the prior two seasons). In fact, the “new” Orioles swept the Giants and were off on their championship run.

What went on in Macon and its aftermath bears little resemblance to “early” baseball. Although some specific aspects of the Orioles’ tactics were later banned or went out of style, Hanlon’s strategic approach to team building, player training, and in-game maneuvering is consistent with the features of baseball up to the early 1920s and beyond.

The Orioles as Champions

The results of Hanlon’s efforts are plain enough when we compare the Oriole team stats in 1894 to the 1892 team he inherited. Those two seasons straddle the introduction of the 60′ 6″ pitching distance and also the reduction in the league schedule from 154 games to 132. But, if we convert all stats to deviations from league averages, the playing field will stay level across that divide. When we do that, the transformation that we see in the Orioles’ place in the standings is clearly reflected in their offensive and defensive statistical profiles, as shown below, comparing NL team stats in 1892 and in 1894.

[In these charts, in addition to the ersatz “small ball” category of ~BBIP (the formula is ~BBIP = (BB+SB+HBP+SH)/PA), I’ve included both DER and also the teams’ “Error Rate,” which is no more than the inverse of fielding percentage (that is, percent of fielder chances resulting in errors), expressed as a percentage deviation from the league norm. I’ll have something to say about this below.]

Let me list some of the key observations:

1) Looking at ~BBIP, the Orioles went from being sub-par in their “small ball” approach (playing for one base and one run at a time), to being the team most adept in this aspect of the game. This holds true even if you consider productivity in singles – the small-ball batting event that ~BBIP does not include. In terms of all offensive “one-base events” (call these “1BE”), the Orioles led the league, though by a much smaller margin (because the Phillies’ famous .350 team BA in 1894 was actually the product of a huge number of one-base hits). The Orioles’ league domination in the categories of ~BBIP and 1BE persists throughout Hanlon’s tenure, as shown in the figures, all of them league-leading, in the table to the right. 

2) The Orioles showed considerable power, reflected in their 1894 ISO figure, second only to Boston’s. This was the product of a late move by Hanlon to trade for an experienced veteran and power hitter, Dan Brouthers, a former teammate of Hanlon’s (on the 1886-88 Detroit Wolverines). Hanlon was apparently hedging his bets on his full commitment to one-run tactics, but more important, going into the season with the youngest team in the league, Hanlon wanted to anchor the clubhouse with a steady veteran whose outstanding career record could command respect (an attitude Wilbert Robinson, the 30 year-old team captain, was less able to command). Brouthers did what Hanlon had hoped, and led the team in HRs with 9, in spite of which, the Orioles were last in the league in that category. With the team stabilized, Hanlon sold Brouthers in May 1895, and went all-in on the one-run approach. The team was thereafter most often below league average in ISO, as shown in the table to the right.

3) The Orioles’ fielding went from low comedy to professionalism, as the turnaround in their DER shows, going from 7.0% below league average in 1892 to 3.2% above in 1894 (though, in absolute terms, DER suffered significantly due to the 1893 rule changes, falling league-wide from .672 in 1892 to .626 in 1894). The Giants made a similar turnaround over those two seasons, going from a DER 1.2% below league average to a league-leading +4.0%, but how they accomplished that result was quite different from how the Orioles did it.

The Giants’ fielding improvement partly reflected more sure-handed fielders who made 22.2% more errors than the average 1892 team, but only 5.5% more in 1894. But, since the latter figure was still above league average, the Giants’ leading 1894 DER must be based on having more “fieldable BIP”, resulting in improved fielder range. From the Giants’ outstanding 137 team ERA+ figure (Amos Rusie and Jouett Meekin combined for 69 wins in over 850+ IP, earning 25.4 WAR), we can surmise that their high DER was principally a function of terrific pitching generating more easily fieldable balls in play. But, such was not the case for the Orioles, whose ace pitcher (Sadie McMahon) earned only 6.0 WAR with the rest of the staff adding only 10.5 WAR more. While their pitching was good enough, as we will see, it is more likely that Baltimore’s above-average ERA+ was the product of relatively flawless fielding, rather than their fielding improving because of stellar pitching, as was the case for the Giants.

The Modern Pitching Staff

This brings us to pitching and the final theme I want to deal with in this post: the Orioles’ modest pitching talent and the added burden this placed on a manager having to compensate for that weakness (which continued throughout Hanlon’s tenure with Baltimore).

Hanlon inherited a bad pitching staff with a proven ace: Sadie McMahon. But, McMahon’s arm had peaked at age 23 in 1891, and by August 1894 he had encountered the arm trouble that would end his career, recording only 21 more wins before retiring in 1897. From 1895 on, Hanlon was continually patching together pitching staffs led by nonentities having peak years. Lacking truce aces, the Orioles of the mid-1890s pioneered an evenly distributed four-man rotation. In 1897, Hanlon’s four top starters pitched 26%, 25%, 21%, and 18% of the team’s innings, and in no year after 1893 did an Oriole starter pitch more than 28% of the team’s innings. For the 1894-97 seasons, primary starters averaged 26% of team IP and 6.5 WAR, with the peak WAR season for any starter only 8.7, accomplished in an extraordinary 1895 rookie campaign by Bill Hoffer.

In contrast, the Orioles’ most persistent challengers, the Boston Beaneaters and Cleveland Spiders, could invariably rely on strong seasons from the two best pitchers of the era, Kid Nichols and Cy Young. Over the 1894-97 period, Nichols averaged 33% of Boston’s innings and 9.1 WAR, while Young’s figures were 33% of IP and 9.9 WAR. If the Giants had not botched Rusie’s career, they would have been in the same sort of situation. Moreover, all three of those pitchers were backed up by terrific number-two starters (Jack Stivetts in Boston, George Cuppy in Cleveland, and Jouett Meekin in New York). Over those four seasons, Boston and Cleveland realized 45% and 62% of their total team WAR from their pitchers, compared to just 36% for Baltimore.

Reliance on a dominant ace is one common feature of many early baseball championship teams, from Al Spalding, to Ol’ Hoss Radbourne, to John Clarkson, to Tim Keefe. When the Giants won the 1889 pennant with Keefe recording a team best 28 wins, it was then the lowest leading total on any championship team (undoubtedly attributable to Mickey Welch backing him up with 27 W’s). The Orioles lowered that mark in 1894, when their ace McMahon recorded 25 wins, but his number two, Bill Hawke, added only 16 victories. This was something entirely new! Bill Hoffer’s great 1895 season (31 wins) gave Hanlon a break, but the final championship team in 1896 duplicated the 1894 club with Hoffer logging 25 wins and Arlie Pond adding 16. The 1897 club fell just short (two games back of Boston) but Hanlon’s four starters, with win totals of 24, 22, 20, and 18, looked like Earl Weaver‘s Orioles of 75 years hence.

I think that’s enough for this post. If there is interest, I’ll add a final post on how I think Hanlon’s Orioles could be best said to have captured and crystallized modernizing trends that began in the mid-1880s, rather than to have “invented” something new, and also how I think that crystallization was transformative for baseball. Modern elements had been appearing in early baseball, from the mid-1880s or even earlier; the Orioles added some new twists, but their essential function was to bring together many of these disparate modern elements within a consistent strategic and organizational vision. Their spectacular results would influence the perception of team professionalism at the major league level.

Leave a Reply

37 Comments on "How Did the Old Orioles Win?"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
John
Guest

I have nothing to add to this post – I said all I have to say so far in response to your 1st post – but I am looking forward to part 3! Go for it, epm!

e pluribus munu
Guest

Thanks very much, John. I’ll do my best. But bear in mind I’m no expert — I’m hoping that any errors or gaps in these posts might be caught by you and other HHS posters. And there’s so much to talk about beyond the specific of these posts (Joe Start was a case in point!) . . . It’s an opportunity for side discussions on related things where we can catch each other’s interest.

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Pardon my using this exceptionally researched post to make 21st century observations…

Matt Olson had an odd statistical year in 2017, his rookie season.
24 HR and
2 Doubles

There has been only one other season with double digit HR, and HR being 12x Doubles.
Eddie Robinson, the Yanx’ platoon 1st baseman in 1955, who put 16 over the fence, and only logged a solitary two-bagger.
John Mayberry hit 7 HR (and a triple) without any doubles in 1971.
______

Josh Hader is now on pace to do this, as a reliever:

116 IP
34 H
234 SO

e pluribus munu
Guest

Cool stuff, Voomo, and the 21st century is always in order.

Let me respond with another odd combination season, different from Olson’s, in the form of a quiz:

What player drove in the most RBI (121) without a single HR? (Hint: he further made up for the HR gap by setting an all-time record in another offensive category.)

Doug
Guest

A hint is that the all-time record he set was for a counting stat, with just 17 other players (four of them are active) having a season with even half as many as the record.

CursedClevelander
Guest

Eeyah! I believe this would be Hughie Jennings during his record setting HBP season.

e pluribus munu
Guest
100% correct, CC! Jennings’ record of 51 HBP in 1896 is still standing, and, amazingly, so was Hughie at the end of the season. Ron Hunt came within one of tying that record in 1971 — Hunt’s season was longer and he wore more protective equipment, but the pitches his body encountered were surely faster. (On the other hand, Jennings complemented his HBP count with a .401 BA.) Apart from those two 50-HBP seasons, only one player has ever reached 40-HBP in a year: Jennings, who attracted 46 HBP in each of the two seasons following his record-setting one. Jennings… Read more »
Doug
Guest

Hughie also inspired a teammate, as he and Dan McGann made the 1898 Orioles the only team with two players having 30 HPB (46 for Jennings, 39 for McGann). McGann would go on to lead his league in HPB 6 times, one more time than Jennings. McGann, Jake Beckley and Fred Clarke are the only players to top 150 HPB and 150 SH for their careers (all three also had more than 250 SB).

Curiously, when Ron Hunt had his 50 HPB season in 1971, he had a teammate named Dan McGinn.

e pluribus munu
Guest
I can’t prove it, Doug, but I’d wager that the inspiration for McGann’s HBP skills wasn’t Jennings, but was McGraw. McGraw had detested the first baseman who preceded McGann, Jack Doyle, and was delighted when Doyle was traded for McGann, whose career was just beginning. Although McGraw was two years younger than McGann, he was more experienced, and McGann began to play a career-long role as McGraw’s protégé. The reason I suspect this was connected to McGann’s HBP counts is that the other Oriole with whom McGraw had developed this type of relationship was Jennings, five years earlier, and there… Read more »
Mike L
Guest

Great stuff here, EPM. Where’s your research materials coming from?

e pluribus munu
Guest
Thanks, Mike. I’m glad you asked: I’ve been trying to figure out the least boring way to acknowledge my sources. The particular information on McGraw and Jennings comes from Burt Solomon’s Where They Ain’t, an engaging, popular “biography” of the Old Orioles. I read it a decade ago, and that was what led me to think of writing these posts. Other main sources I’ve been consulting include Bill James’s book on baseball managers, which is filled with assortments of facts and figures and typical James judgments and riffs, a more wonky alternative called Evaluating Baseball’s Managers, by Chris Jaffee, which… Read more »
Doug
Guest
The curious thing is that, when John McGraw took on the role of Orioles manager in 1899, one of the first things the Orioles did was send McGann to Brooklyn a month before the season began. The two were reunited in Baltimore for the new AL Orioles in 1902, then in mid-season both were released within days of each other and both immediately picked up by the Giants. One week after reuniting in New York, the 19-54 Giants made McGraw their manager, finishing the year at a much improved 25-38 clip (in 31 seasons with the Giants, McGraw posted a… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
Doug, A lot of this is not what it seems. In 1899, McGraw didn’t quite take on the role of Orioles manager in the usual sense. 1899 was the year the NL became infiltrated with “syndicate baseball” (joint ownership of multiple teams by one ownership group), largely because of Ned Hanlon. Attendance in Baltimore had fallen after the pennant streak was done, and owner Harry von der Horst, always cash strapped, was desperate. Hanlon, who was now a part owner, negotiated with the owners of the Brooklyn Bridegrooms to join forces and put the two teams under a single ownership… Read more »
Doug
Guest

Wow! Now that’s an explanation. Essentially, McGann and McGraw moved together in lock step, save for McGann getting traded to Washington, and then taking a wait-and-see approach on jumping to the new league from St. Louis. The Giants also did alright when they finally parted with McGann after the 1907 season, in a multi-player deal with Boston that was mainly about swapping an over-the-hill Bill Dahlen for an up-and-coming Al Bridwell (who gave New York 13.6 WAR over four seasons, more than twice what Boston got from the 5 players received in the deal).

Thanks for enlightening us, epm.

Mike L
Guest

OK, since Voomo did it first, I’m going to throw out another one. Albert Pujols currently has 1261 BB, and 1181 K (in this strike out-prone era, impressive). However, in this season, as well as each of the last six seasons, he’s had more K’s than BB. Any guesses as to if, as, and when his K’s pass his BB, and are there other players with profiles like him? Here are is differentials over those years: 2012 (-24), 2013 (15 in 99 G), 2014 (-23), 2015 -22), 2016 (-26) and 2017 (-56).

e pluribus munu
Guest
Mike, If Albert continues on his trajectory for this season and then remains a regular next year, then I think the figures would flip next season. I suppose he’s postponing retirement because the Angels are finally a team with prospects. But, honestly, I wish he’d retire. This season is less awful for him than last, so far, but why is a rich-as-Croesus Hall of Fame lock like Pujols tacking below-average (including painfully below-average) seasons on to his stellar career? There are certainly other players who were power-hitting Hall-of-Famers who had more BB than K (Bonds, Aaron . . . no… Read more »
Mike L
Guest
Thanks for the response. I’m interested in the later-in-the career flip. Mays’ year to year K/BB ratios would regularly flip around an 50/50 axis. He was actually positive his next to last season. Albert had more walks than hits every season from 2002 through 2011. His strikeout rate is rising, but it’s his walk-rate that has plummeted–less than half what it was in his prime. I agree with you–it’s hard to understand why he continues when he has so much, except it’s an enormous amount of money and there are milestones. What does surprise me is the way he’s used,… Read more »
Doug
Guest

Mays and Pujols are the only players since 1901 with: 18+ seasons, as many BB as SO in 7 of first 10 seasons, more SO than BB in 7 of last 8 seasons. Frank Thomas, Ted Simmons, Jose Cruz and Dave Philley had the first two, and more SO than BB in 6 of last 8 seasons.

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

epm, i dont know albert, so i can’t say with certainty why he makes his life choices… but when I was 38 years-old, if a company still owed me over one hundred million dollars for doing something that i enjoyed doing, being concerned that internet stat nerds were downgrading my legacy probably wouldn’t be a top priority.

e pluribus munu
Guest
Well, Voomo, that may be so, and I didn’t picture Pujols worrying about judgments from people like me (although I am not an internet stat nerd: I’m a nerd on other grounds who tinkers with stats like a novice). But judging from your HHS posts, I think that if you had already banked $160m+ from the companies who hired you (money undoubtedly well invested, since Pujols has a reputation as financially responsible) and had celebrity status to rely on for ongoing income opportunities, you’d probably feel enough pride in the work you loved that continuing to take big bucks for… Read more »
Mike L
Guest

EPM, I wonder if it’s hard for these guys to go away emotionally, money aside. The adulation, the clubhouse vibe, the routine is pretty much all they have done for a quarter-century or more. Some stay too long because the contracts are too big to walk from, and others, I think, because they need it. There are several studies of higher rates of depression among retired elite athletes.

e pluribus munu
Guest
I think this is right, Mike, and I can empathize with it. On the other hand, putting off the inevitable for a couple of years is not necessarily helpful to the problem: it postpones dealing with it and subtracts time from a second career. My understanding of Pujols is that he is smart, has always been active in the community through major charity work and other engagement, and will be in a good position to adjust: moreover, he has a 10-year post-retirement advising contract with the Angels. It’s not my place to give advice to famous athletes I don’t know,… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
Guest
My comment was as much in reference to his age as to the money. Mike L said it all very well. Besides, he’s only had one bad year. And this season he is playing the field again. Of course he’ll never be 29 year-old-Albert again. But there may be something left in the tank. The creeping impact of age is fascinating to observe in myself. I’m 45, and stronger, with better reflexes, and better anticipatory eyesight than when I was 38. The game has slowed down, as they say. Just harder to do it All The Time. I understand why… Read more »
Paul E
Guest

The only guy I can recall who actually walked away from the money was a totally disgusted and dismayed Bruce Bochte. Without looking it up, it had to be 25 years ago….. He just thought salaries were out of hand. Also, Ruly Carpenter sold the Phillies when Ted Turner gave Claudell Washington a large contract

e pluribus munu
Guest
Here are some others, Paul: Dave McNally in 1972; Ryne Sandberg in 1994; Gil Meche in 2011; Adam LaRoche in 2015 . . . McNally: “It got to the point where I was stealing money.” Sandberg: “[Money has] never been a big part of my thinking or why I played the game.” Meche: “When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it.” LaRoche: “Thank u Lord for the game of baseball and for giving me way more than I ever deserved! #FamilyFirst” (sorry; it was a Tweet) Those are examples of guys who walked away from contracts… Read more »
Mike L
Guest

One of the negative side effects of ultra-long term contracts (and platoon-sized bullpens) is that older players don’t really get the chance to slide gently into part-time, clubhouse leadership, platooned productivity. The contracts become liabilities, the fans come to see the players to be liabilities.
FWIW, Sandberg later came back. Here’s an article from the LA Times: http://articles.latimes.com/1996-03-04/sports/sp-42941_1_sandberg-cub-retired

CursedClevelander
Guest

Obviously very different circumstances, but Lyman Bostock tried to give the Angels back his April 1978 salary after feeling he didn’t live up to the expectations of his new contract. They refused, so he donated it to charity.

Paul E
Guest

e p m,
Yes, LaRoche, poor guy, was pissed that his son couldn’t go to work with Daddy every day. Meche, as a career number three with an ERA+ below 100, was probably never going to earn it. Sandberg was real fed-up with Larry Himes (and his wife). But, I thought McNally was seeking free agency through arbitration but I believe you mean 1975 (and not 1972), no?

e pluribus munu
Guest
Paul, Yes, ’75 is right; my mistake on the year. McNally joined the Messersmith legal suit, but it was after his retirement decision and an entirely separate matter: he was technically in a position to join the suit and he did it for the union. He did not alter his retirement decision and seek a contract when he won the suit, which provided him no tangible benefit. His conduct in the lawsuit was pretty much of a piece with his conduct in retiring. LaRoche’s decision was an odd one, but we’re talking about players who walked away from the money… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
I’d like to use this 19th-century string to return with some new data to a theory I suggested in the course of discussion on Doug’s first 19th century post: What caused the sudden jump in hitting in 1894, the second year of play using the lengthened pitching distance? For those who recall the arguments I made earlier, which focused on the idea that a livelier ball came into use in June 1894 and went out of use in June 1895, the next few paragraphs are eminently skippable, but I do introduce new supporting evidence, which follows the boldface New Stuff… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest

Oopas – the link to Doug’s first 19th century post is wrong. Here it is.

Doug
Guest

Further support for the theory that the bump in scoring was related to the bump in errors could come from charting errors during 1894 and 1895. Something to look into sometime.

e pluribus munu
Guest
I’m going to detour from my post topic to note that Red Schoendienst has died at the age of 95. Perhaps Doug will post an obit to highlight his contributions, but I wanted to say, as someone who recalls Schoendienst’s later playing days, that for me, this is an occasion to recall with wonder how close to death Schoendienst seemed to be almost 60 years ago. Schoendienst missed virtually the entire 1959 season with tuberculosis: no small danger then (as it has become again). As a kid, aware mostly of how scary that disease was, I was certain that at… Read more »
Paul E
Guest

e p m,
I’m not old enough to remember the TB issue but, I always thought Schoendienst suffered from diabetes. However, the only diabetes related material I come up with on searches for Schoendienst indicates, unfortunately, poor Lou Brock losing one of his legs below the knee to diabetes.
Am I crazy or does any one else recall Red suffering from diabetes?

Doug
Guest

Schoendienst is one of 18 players since 1901 to record 2000 career hits and strike out in fewer than 4% of PA. He and Nellie Fox are the last of this breed.

wpDiscuz