June 18, 2019

All-Decade Single-Season Wins Above Replacement Team: A.L. 1901-1909

July 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

On July 1 I unveiled the All-Decade Single-Season Wins Above Replacement National League squad for the first decade of the modern era, so now it’s time to unveil the junior circuit’s team.

Below is a list of the best seasons posted by American Leaguers at each position during the period from 1901-1909 based on Wins Above Replacement from The Baseball Gauge.

American League
Potential Batting Order
C Ed McFarland CHA 1905 2.9 RF Ty Cobb .377/.431/.517, 76 SB
1B Harry Davis PHA 1906 6.0 3B Jimmy Collins .332/.375/.495, 16 3B
2B Nap Lajoie CLE 1904 12.3 LF George Stone .358/.417/.501, 291 TB
3B Jimmy Collins BOS 1901 7.4 2B Nap Lajoie .376/.413/.546, 302 TB
SS Freddy Parent BOS 1904 6.6 CF Sam Crawford .323/.366/.460, 268 TB
LF George Stone SLA 1906 12.2 1B Harry Davis .292/.355/.459, 96 RBI
CF Sam Crawford DET 1907 9.3 SS Freddy Parent .291/.330/.389, 20 SB
RF Ty Cobb DET 1909 8.5 C Ed McFarland .280/.345/.364
SP Ed Walsh CHA 1908 14.3 P Ed Walsh .172/.217/.248
SW Rube Vickers PHA 1908 6.2
RP Elmer Bliss NYA 1903 0.4 Expected R/G 5.589

Catcher: Ed McFarland—By the end of the 1905 season, McFarland was already 31 years old and had 11 seasons under his belt.  McFarland’s best season at the plate came in 1899 when he batted .333/.403/.475 for the Philadelphia Phillies with career highs in doubles and triples and a career-best 143 OPS+.  His WAR of 4.6 was easily the best of his career, as were the 19.3 Win Shares he earned.  His best season behind the plate came in 1900 when he paced the senior circuit in games caught, assists, caught stealing and fielding percentage, although would-be base thieves also copped a league-leading 171 steals against the Phils with McFarland behind the dish.  In 1905 he recorded his second best WAR and had 6.4 Win Shares Above Bench, also the second highest of his career.  Behind the plate, he fielded at a solid .973 clip and threw out 50% of would-be base stealers.

Backup: Nig Clarke—Besides his unfortunate and politically incorrect nickname, Clarke is most famous for allegedly hitting eight home runs in a minor league game in 1902, which is still up for debate, and for being the Cleveland Naps backstop when Detroit’s Germany Schaefer “stole” first base in 1908.  Clarke appeared in more than 100 games only once in his nine-year career, playing in 120 games in 1907, but he would have made for a solid platoon player with McFarland.  The lefty batted .358/.404/.486 in 57 games in 1906 and was very good behind the plate, fielding at a .982 clip against a league average of .960 and throwing out base stealers 47% of the time.

First Base: Harry Davis—Another guy who has slipped under the radar is Harry Davis who was to home runs in the first decade of the American League what Frank “Home Run” Baker was to homers in the second decade and Babe Ruth the third.  Davis won four straight home run crowns for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics from 1904-1907 and finished the period from 1901-1909 with 67 roundtrippers, 16 more than runner-up Socks Seybold.  In terms of WAR, Win Shares and Win Shares Above Bench, 1906 was his best season.  Davis owns three of the top four WAR marks of the decade among A.L first sackers and was easily the top A.L. first baseman of the decade.  “Jasper” would also serve as the third base coach on this team because of his propensity for stealing signs.  In the 1911 World Series, Davis was stealing signs, prompting Giants catcher Chief Meyers to tell his pitchers to throw whatever they wanted; “I’ll catch you without signals.”  But Davis knew when John McGraw’s hurlers were going to throw their fastballs anyway and signaled the A’s hitters.  “He knew something,” Meyers said later.  “I never did find out how he did it.”

Backup: Buck Freeman—According to Eric Enders, Freeman was the “first legitimate home run hitter in baseball history.”  In 1899 Freeman hit 25 of his team’s 47 homers and easily led the National League over runner-up Bobby Wallace who belted 12.  In 1901 Freeman jumped to the American League and became the first player to lead both leagues in homers when he belted 13 four-baggers for the 1903 Boston Americans.  From 1899-1904 no one hit more homers than Freeman, who outhomered his competition by 28.  His best A.L. WAR came in 1901, which earns him a place on this team.

Second Base: Nap Lajoie—What Honus Wagner was to National League shortstops, Nap Lajoie was to A.L. second basemen.  He owns six of the top eight WAR scores for the decade, and would have made it seven of eight were it not for Eddie Collins.  Lajoie won a triple crown in 1901 batting a modern-day record .426 and belting a career-high 14 homers.  He also paced the newly-formed junior circuit in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, OPS+, and total bases.  Oh yeah, he also happened to be one hell of a second baseman.  But he was actually worth more WAR in 1904, when he led the league in hits, doubles, RBIs, average, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and total bases.  He had more Win Shares and Win Shares Above Bench in 1901 but until 1910, when he set career highs in WAR, WS, and WSAB, 1904 was his best in terms of WAR.

Backup: Eddie Collins—Collins didn’t become Connie Mack’s regular second baseman until 1909, his fourth year with the Athletics, but once he did he earned enough WAR to earn a spot as Lajoie’s backup on this All-Decade team.  His 11.6 WAR is second only to his1914 MVP campaign, as are his WSAB, but his 42.8 Win Shares are as many as he accumulated in 1914.  Collins didn’t lead the league in anything in 1909, but he batted .347, reached base at a .416 clip, scored 104 runs and stole 63 bases.  One of the smartest players of his era, Collins was also fabulous with the glove and earned an A- from Bill James in his book, Win Shares.  Only Lajoie in 1907 and 1908, and Danny Murphy in 1905, earned more fielding Win Shares among A.L. second basemen from 1901-1909 than Collins.

Third Base: Jimmy Collins—Collins first made a name for himself with the Louisville Colonels in 1895 when he revolutionized the way third base would be played by future hot corner men by playing in on the grass to thwart bunters.  None other than John McGraw called Collins “the real pioneer of the modern style of playing third base.”  Widely considered the best defensive third baseman of his generation, Collins was awarded an A+ by James, which makes sense considering no third baseman had as many defensive Win Shares during Collins’ 14-year career from 1895-1908.  But Collins was more than just a great glove man; he batted .346 for the Boston Beaneaters in 1897, then hit .328 with a league-leading 15 home runs in 1898.  Tired of having his salary demands unmet by the Boston Nationals, Collins  jumped to the Boston Americans in 1901 and batted .332 with a career-high .495 slugging percentage, while leading the team to a second-place finish as manager.  His 7.4 WAR in his first season in the American League was the highest of his career.

Backup: Bill Bradley—Another largely forgotten star of the earliest days of the American League, Bradley was every bit the third baseman that Collins was, finishing with 10.4 more defensive Win Shares and two more WAR during the decade than the Boston star.  In fact, Collins once said of Bradley when asked who the game’s best third baseman was, “Well, if I could field and hit like Bradley, I should lay claim to that title myself.”  From 1901-1904, Bradley batted .312, slugged .455 and posted an OPS+ of 136 for Cleveland, and typically finished among the league leaders in most offensive categories.  He also became the first player in major league history to homer in four consecutive games, turning the trick in 1902.  His 11 homers in ’02 were good for second in the junior circuit as were his 22 triples in 1903.  Unfortunately numerous injuries hampered the rest of his career and he batted only .236 for Cleveland from 1905-1910.  Still his 1903 and ’04 seasons were good enough to earn him a spot on this team.

Shortstop: Freddy Parent—The diminutive Parent—he’s listed at 5’7″ but was probably closer to 5’5″—is on this team mostly because of his glove, although he was a very good hitter for the Boston Americans from 1901-1904.  Only Bobby Wallace had more Win Shares and Fielding Wins Above Replacement among A.L. shortstops during the decade than Parent.  The feisty shortstop posted a 122 OPS+ during Boston’s first two pennant-winning seasons and had a knack for being involved in no-hitters.  He was Boston’s shortstop when Cy Young tossed a perfect game against the Athletics in 1904, then saved Jesse Tannehill’s no-hitter three months later when he threw out Danny Green by a half-step with one out in the ninth.  He was at shortstop a year later when Bill Dineen tossed a no-no at the White Sox; and when White Sox hurler Frank Smith no-hit the Athletics in 1908, Parent was the hero again thanks to a heads up play in which he refused to accept an intentional walk from Eddie Plank and slapped a wide toss to right field to plate the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.  But Parent’s luck finally ran out when later that year he and his White Sox teammates were no-hit by Addie Joss, who proved it wasn’t a fluke when he whitewashed the Pale Hose again in 1910.

Backup: George Davis—One could argue that “Gorgeous George” deserves the starting nod because he posted four of the top eight WAR scores during the decade, but this is about single-season marks, and though Davis and Parent tied with a mark of 6.6, I used Win Shares as my tie-breaker and Parent came out on top.  On the other hand, Davis was a switch hitter so perhaps a platoon is in order.  Davis was a National League star for 12 years before he joined the junior circuit in 1902, batting .313 and posting a 126 OPS+ from 1890-1901, mostly with the Giants.  During those 12 seasons, he averaged 124 runs, 201 hits, 114 RBIs, and 49 steals per 162 games.  In 1905 the 16-year veteran enjoyed his best A.L. season, posting a 124 OPS+ and a WAR of 6.6.  He enjoyed only one more above-average season before fizzling out from 1907-1909.

Left Field: George Stone—Stone had a brief seven-year major league career and except for a two-game cup-of-coffee with Boston in 1903, he spent his entire A.L. tenure with the St. Louis Browns.  The 28-year-old rookie acclimated himself well to the bigs in 1905, leading the junior circuit in four different categories, including hits and total bases, but it was his stellar 1906 season that earns him the starting nod on this team.  According to John McMurray, the only A.L. batting crown copped by a player from 1901-1928 who wasn’t eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame was won by Stone in ’06 when he led the loop with a .358 mark.  Stone also paced the league in on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, OPS+ and total bases.  He also established career highs in runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBIs and stolen bases.  Unlike the infielders, Stone wasn’t much on defense, earning a C- from James, but he finished his career with an OPS+ of 143, equal to those of Hall of Fame sluggers Eddie Mathews and Harmon Killebrew.  What he lacked in leather he more than made up for with his bat.

Backup: Ed Delahanty—”Big Ed” spent only one full season in the American League because he died in 1903 when he fell or jumped off the International Bridge after being kicked off a train for drunk and disorderly conduct.  Delahanty was one of the National League’s brightest stars and from 1892-1901 he batted .368, reached base at a .437 clip, and slugged .544, and led the league in several categories.  From 1894-1896 he batted .402 over 355 games, then won his only batting title after hitting .410 for the Phillies in 1899.  Delahanty joined the Washington Senators in 1902 and continued to torment pitchers, batting .376 with a .453 OBP and a .590 slugging percentage, which resulted in a WAR of 7.9.  He was hitting .333 through 42 games in ’03 when he died, and finished his career with a .346 mark.

Center Field: Sam Crawford—Another National League star who jumped to the American League, “Wahoo Sam” batted .312 for the Cincinnati Reds from 1899-1902 and led the league in homers in 1901 with 16 before joining the Detroit Tigers in 1903.  Although he paced the junior circuit with 25 triples in ’03, his numbers slipped and he batted “only” .295 from 1903-1906.  But in 1907 he put together a season that gave him a WAR of 9.3, easily the best of the decade among A.L. center fielders.  He led the league in only one category, scoring 102 runs, but his 160 OPS+ was his best A.L. mark until 1911 when he batted .378 with a .964 OPS and a 163 OPS+.  Regardless, 1907 was Crawford’s best season in terms of WAR, Win Shares, and Win Shares Above Bench.

Backup: Tris Speaker—Considering that Speaker played only one full season during the decade, it’s impressive that he made this team.  On the other hand, he’s one of the greatest to ever play the position, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Speaker became a full-timer in 1909 at the age of 21 and never looked back, batting over .300 in 18 of his next 20 seasons before calling it quits at the age of 40.  He batted .309 and posted an OPS+ of 152, good for a WAR of 8.0 and 33.1 Win Shares, one of 10 times he recorded at least 30 WS in a season.  Speaker was also a stellar defensive player, earning an A+ from James and finishing behind only the aptly named Fielder Jones in single-season Fielding WAR and Win Shares during the decade.

Right Field: Ty Cobb—As a center fielder Cobb takes a back seat only to Willie Mays, but for three of his first five seasons in the bigs, Cobb plied his trade in right field.  He owns the top three WAR scores among A.L. right fielders during the decade and only Nap Lajoie and Ed Walsh recorded as many as Cobb’s 12.3.  Cobb would go on to have better seasons in his 24-year career, but 1909 was his first truly great year, as he won the triple crown and led the league in 11 different categories.  Because he was such a great hitter, his defense often goes overlooked but he earned a B+ from James and from 1907-1909, no other A.L.  right fielder had a better Fielding WAR or more defensive Win Shares than Cobb.

Backup: No one—Cobb owns the top three marks; Elmer Flick owns marks four through six but he’s the starting right fielder for the National League; Sam Crawford owns the seventh spot but he’s the starting center fielder, which leaves only Boston’s Doc Gessler who led the league in on-base percentage in 1908.  Rather than add another outfielder to the mix, I’d just move Crawford to right and put Speaker in center whenever Cobb needed a day off.

Starting Pitcher: Ed Walsh—Like Delahanty, Walsh was also known as “Big Ed” and according to Baseball-Reference.com, they both stood 6’1″ tall.  But Walsh weighed more so we’ll call him “Bigger Ed.”  Walsh is regarded as the greatest spitball pitcher of all-time—Rob Neyer ranks him #1 among spitballers in the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers—and he used it almost exclusively throughout his career.  “Few outside of the players on the team know how much I use the [spitball] in actual games,” Walsh told Baseball Magazine in 1912.  “Well, sometimes nine out of ten balls I throw are of that style of delivery.”

The pitch definitely served him well, especially in 1908 when he became only the second (and last) pitcher in history to win 40 games in a season.  Walsh went 40-15 for the White Sox with a 1.42 ERA and led the league in wins, winning percentage, games, games started, complete games, shutouts, saves, innings, strikeouts, batters faced and K/BB ratio.  This was back in the day when pitchers were putting up insane numbers, but Walsh was in a class by himself, tossing 464 innings over 66 appearances, 49 of which were starts.  Because of the heavy workload—from 1906-1912, Walsh threw over 2,500 innings, 343 more than any other pitcher—”Bigger Ed’s” career was effectively over before his 32nd birthday (he pitched until he was 36 but appeared in only 36 games from 1913-1917).  Still he finished his 14-year career with 195 wins and the lowest ERA (1.82) in major league history.

Swing Man: Rube Vickers—The Canadian-born Vickers was a major leaguer for only five seasons and distinguished himself in only one, but it was enough to earn him a spot as the A.L.’s swing man for the decade.  In 1908 Vickers appeared in 53 games for the Athletics and started 34 of them.  He went 18-19 for the sixth-place Mackmen, leading the team in victories and the league in games finished with 17, and posted a very good 2.21 ERA.  Perhaps Vickers’ greatest feat occurred in 1907 when he hurled 12 innings of four-hit ball in relief of Charlie Fritz and Rube Waddell in the first game of a doubleheader against the Washington Senators, then tossed five perfect innings as the starter in game 2 before the contest was called on account of darkness.  Vickers earned 6.2 WAR and 20.7 Win Shares in ’08, which represented 93% and 89% of his career totals, respectively.

Relief Pitcher: Elmer Bliss—It’s hard to justify giving Bliss a spot on this team considering he appeared in only one major league game.  On the other hand, relief pitchers weren’t exactly in vogue in the early 1900’s and the alternatives aren’t that great either.  The 28-year-old righty debuted with the New York Highlanders on September 28, 1903 and tossed seven innings of four-hit relief against the Detroit Tigers.  He allowed only four hits and one unearned run and struck out three, and ended his big league pitching career with one win and an ERA of 0.00.  Bliss made one more appearance with New York as an outfielder on May 11, 1904 and went 0-for-1.  He spent the next seven seasons in the minors and went 76-59 from 1904-1910.  His relief stint in 1903 earned him 0.4 WAR and 1.1 Win Shares, which, amazingly enough, was enough to give him the nod as this team’s relief “ace.”

Overview

While the N.L. team boasted seven Hall of Famers, this A.L. squad has nine, three of whom—Cobb, Eddie Collins and Speaker—are considered the top four players who ever played their respective positions.  Include Lajoie and Crawford in that group and you have five players who are considered top ten talent.  Again, my batting order isn’t considered the most potent but it’s not far off.  According to Baseball Musings’ Lineup Analysis tool, a one-two punch of Cobb and Lajoie at the top of the lineup would produce 5.636 runs per game, and while that would make for one hell of a daily double, I like Cobb’s power/speed combination at the top of the lineup and Lajoie’s .546 slugging percentage in the four hole.  Besides, both Cobb and Lajoie batted cleanup for their respective teams in ’04 and ’09, so one of them should hold down that position.

The junior circuit squad featured nine men who either became managers or acted as player/manager during their careers and they were a pretty impressive group, winning almost 53% of their nearly 4,500 contests.  The most successful was Jimmy Collins who led his Boston squads to a .548 winning percentage, two pennants and a World Series title in six seasons.  Had the New York Giants not refused to play the A.L. champs in 1904, Collins may have had two championships in his six campaigns.  Nap Lajoie was even better at .550 over 686 games but his best finish came in 1908 when his Naps finished in second place.  Tris Speaker also helmed the Cleveland squad and led them to a .543 winning percentage over eight seasons, winning the 1920 championship and leading the Indians to three second-place finishes.  Eddie Collins led his White Sox to a .521 winning percentage in two-plus seasons, and Cobb led the Tigers to a .519 winning percentage in six seasons and copped one second-place finish.

Bill Bradley finished only one game below .500 at 97-98, as did Ed Walsh who went 1-2 in his brief stint as White Sox manager in 1924.  The two least successful managers were named Davis: George won at a .435 clip in his 252 games at the helm of the Giants, and Harry went 54-71 with the 1912 Cleveland Naps before he was replaced by Joe Birmingham.

Next up: All-Decade Single-Season Wins Above Replacement Team: N.L. 1910-1919

Mike Lynch is the author of Harry Frazee, Ban Johnson and the Feud That Nearly Destroyed the American League and It Ain’t So: A Might-Have-Been History of the White Sox in 1919 and Beyond, and the founder of Seamheads.com.

Comments

One Response to “All-Decade Single-Season Wins Above Replacement Team: A.L. 1901-1909”
  1. Jenny Litz says:

    To Whom It May Concern:

    I’d like to ask your permission to use your excellent photograph of Ed Walsh on the Literary and Cultural Heritage Map of Pennsylvania, operated by the non-profit Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Please contact me at jvl6@psu.edu at your earliest convenience. The map can be seen at http://www.pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/litmap.html.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.
    Jenny Litz
    Web Editor, Pennsylvania Center for the Book

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