Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 15, 2010
BASEBALL: Lefty Splits, #42

Baseball-Reference.com has in recent months been expanding the years for which it has data, and I've been having some fun with the splits for older ballplayers - the breakdowns are now available for 1952-present and 1920-39. Here's a few fun ones.

Don't Get Jackie Mad

Today being Jackie Robinson Day, it's worth recalling that the Cardinals were tough on Jackie at the beginning of his career, being the most Southern team in the NL. From 1952-56 (the last five years of his career, the only ones for which we have data), Robinson hit .337/.424/.498 against the Cards.

On a related note, my dad dug up some newspaper accounts of the April 15, 1947 Boston Braves-Brooklyn Dodgers game at Ebbets Field that saw Robinson make his debut and score the winning run. The newspapers did not treat Jackie as the big news story, possibly out of a desire to keep his debut low-key, possibly because off-field controversies were not seen in those days as ideal fodder for beat writers, and in some cases possibly because the writers may not all have been on his side. The big story, as you can see from the box score, was a big game by the hoped-for star of that ultimately pennant-winning Dodgers team, Pete Reiser.

Reiser was the same age as Jackie Robinson (28), and both had missed prime years in the military service, but while Robinson was a rookie, Reiser's best years turned out to be already behind him. He'd hit OK in his return from the service in 1946, batting .277/.361/.428 (122 OPS+; it was a low-scoring season, with fresh pitching arms facing off against rusty hitters as everyone returned from multi-year layoffs and tried to get their timing back) and leading the league in steals with 34, but also missing 32 games and falling far short of his 1941-42 form (.328/.392/.513, 155 OPS+). Reiser ended up having his last really good year in 1947, batting .309/.415/.418 (the Dodgers had three players with OBPs between .414 and .415, and counting their top 3 bench players had 10 players slugging between .410 and Arky Vaughan's team-leading.444) but missing another 44 games.

Lefty Grove, Closer

I also used the splits to break down Lefty Grove's performance as a starter and as a reliever over the five years that both he and the A's were at their peak (1929-33, although there's some fun stuff in the game logs I could use to revisit my account of the 1928 pennant race, including Grove going 14-0 with a 1.43 ERA and 3 saves between June 29 and September 7, 1928 to get the A's caught up with the Yankees).

Anyway, here is Grove as a starter and a reliever, 1929-33:

Starter: 157 starts, 116 CG (102 of his 110 wins as a starter were CGs, and 14 of his 26 losses), 1268.1 IP (more than 8 IP/start), 110-26 W-L (.809; Grove won more than 70% of the games he started), 2.80 ERA, 8.7 H/9, 0.3 HR/9, 2.3 BB/9, 5.3 K/9.

Reliever: 65 G, 153.1 IP (2.35 IP/G in relief; these were not short outings), 18-7, 31 SV (86% of his relief appearances were a decision or a save), 1.70 ERA, 7.3 H/9, 0.2 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, 6.8 K/9 (note - a trend I noticed with a number of pitchers of that era, unsurprisingly - a markedly higher K rate in relief. Besides night baseball, lighter bats, an increased focus on power hitting, reduced stigma from striking out, and an increase in the variety of breaking pitches, the increased use of relievers and fewer tired starters has definitely driven the rising K rates from the 1920s to today)

Chuck Klein, Home Boy

You probably knew that Chuck Klein benefitted from playing in the tiny Baker Bowl in his prime years. But how much? In his five full seasons in his first go-round with the Phillies (also 1929-33), Klein batted a ridiculous .424/.470/.772 at home, .294/.352/.501 on the road. His career line at the Baker Bowl: .395/.448/.705, compared to .253/.319/.386 at the Polo Grounds, .244/.294/.335 at Braves Field, .276/.316/.451 at Crosley Field and even .284/.354/.487 at Wrigley. Klein is perhaps more a creation of his home park even than Dante Bichette or Vinny Castilla.

The Babe's Hot Hand

We think of Babe Ruth as an immediate success with the Yankees, but he actually had quite a rough start in 1920, given the fanfare that accompanied his arrival, his breaking of the home run record the prior year and continuing controversy at the time over whether it was really advisable for him to stop pitching altogether to play every day. On May 9, 20 games into the season, Ruth was batting .210/.290/.371 with just 2 homers, 8 runs scored, 10 RBI and on a pace to strike out over 100 times, a then-unheard-of figure; the Yankees were 8-10 in games Ruth had appeared in. What followed, of course, was the 25-year-old Ruth putting on the most sustained, ridiculous hitting display in the game's history, batting .403/.564/.924 the rest of the way; in 124 games he scored 150 runs, hit 52 homers and drew 143 walks, and the Yankees went 80-44 in those games.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Those Klein splits are incredible!

Posted by: per14 at April 15, 2010 3:01 PM

Good Lord! I just checked the A's schedule and results for 1928. They played their last 24 games on the road! No wonder they couldn't hold onto that 1/2 game lead with which they started September.

Posted by: Mark D at April 15, 2010 3:52 PM

As noted in Crank's post from 5 years ago.

Posted by: Mark D at April 15, 2010 3:53 PM

I was surprised Hornsby's home-road splits weren't more extreme, except for 1924, when he hit .469(!) at home.

Posted by: Jerry at April 15, 2010 9:00 PM

I remember reading somewhere that Christy Mathewson talked about having to bear down on the better hitters and saving something when facing the weaker hitters. These starters knew they were expected to go 9 innings and they paced themselves. Perhaps the higher strikeout rates as relievers are because they could bear down for the short time they were out there.

Posted by: stan at April 16, 2010 7:55 AM
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