July 19, 2019

The Favorite Toy and…Bob Feller

December 21, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

In the wake of Bob Feller’s death on Wednesday, many a tribute has been paid to the man they called “Rapid Robert,” including one by our very own Arne Christensen, who wrote “Bob Feller in His Own Words,” in which the Hall of Fame hurler states, “A lot of folks say that had I not missed those almost four seasons to World War II, during what was probably my physical prime, I might have had 370 or even 400 wins. But I have no regrets. None at all. I did what any American could and should do: serve his country in its time of need. The world’s time of need.” Indeed, Feller missed all of the 1942, ’43 and ’44 seasons and almost all of 1945. In the three years leading up to his military stint, Feller averaged 25 wins a season with a high of 27 in 1940. In his first two full seasons back from the war, he won 26 and 20, giving him an average of 24 wins in his five full seasons that bracketed WWII (he won five times in nine starts in 1945).

So what were Feller’s odds of winning 370-400 games had he not gone off to war? Let’s ask The Favorite Toy, shall we?

Seasons (age)
3-YR AVG To Date Proj. Car. 300 370 400 500 512 MAX (1%)
1936-1938 (19) 8.3 31 126 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 220
1937-1939 (20) 14.2 55 210 14% 0% 0% 0% 0% 363
1938-1940 (21) 21.0 82 302 51% 27% 19% 3% 1% 518
1939-1941 (22) 25.2 107 358 80% 46% 36% 14% 12% 605
1943-1945 (26) 0.8 112 118 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 125
1944-1946 (27) 6.0 138 183 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 227
1945-1947 (28) 14.5 158 259 21% 0% 0% 0% 0% 358
1946-1948 (29) 22.8 177 325 71% 27% 17% 0% 0% 470
1947-1949 (30) 18.8 192 305 55% 13% 4% 0% 0% 415
1948-1950 (31) 17.2 208 302 53% 8% 0% 0% 0% 394
1949-1951 (32) 16.5 230 312 68% 9% 0% 0% 0% 393
1950-1952 (33) 16.8 239 314 73% 8% 0% 0% 0% 389
1951-1953 (34) 16.5 249 315 79% 5% 0% 0% 0% 379
1952-1954 (35) 10.0 262 297 42% 0% 0% 0% 0% 331
1953-1955 (36) 10.0 266 296 38% 0% 0% 0% 0% 325
1954-1956 (37) 9.8 266 290 22% 0% 0% 0% 0% 314

This just in: Feller was scary good. By the age of 22 he already had an 80% chance of winning 300 games, a better than one-in-three chance to win 400 and a 12% chance to pass Cy Young on the all-time wins list. He even had a slim 1% chance of winning more than 600 games. Not surprisingly, his chance of winning 500 evaporated during the war, but he came back to win 26, 20 and 19 games from 1946-1948 and suddenly he was back on track for 300 and possibly 400. But after going 15-14 in 1949 and 16-11 in 1950, Feller was no longer a candidate for 400 victories. He remained an excellent candidate for 300 wins up to 1953 when his odds of winning that magic number were 79% with a projected total of 315, which would have ranked as the 10th best total in big league history at the time of Feller’s retirement in 1956, but he started to falter in 1952 and won only 36 games over his last five seasons.

So what would Feller’s odds have looked like had he not missed those prime years to WWII? He won 24, 27 and 25 in the three years prior to the war, an average of 25.3, then went 5-3 upon his return in 1945 before reeling off 26 and 20 more wins from 1946-1947. “Rapid Robert” made nine starts in the Indians’ final 32 games of 1945, which projects out to approximately 41 starts over the course of Cleveland’s 147-game season. He earned a decision in 88.8% of his starts and had a winning percentage of .625, which projects out to 23 wins in ’45. If we give him 23 wins in 1945, that comes out to an average of 23 from 1945-1947. Combined with his average of 25.3 from 1939-1941, we can assume an average of 24 wins from 1942-1944.

Seasons (age)
3-YR AVG To Date Proj. Car. 300 370 400 500 512 MAX (1%)
1936-1938 (19) 8.3 31 126 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 220
1937-1939 (20) 14.2 55 210 14% 0% 0% 0% 0% 363
1938-1940 (21) 21.0 82 302 51% 27% 19% 3% 1% 518
1939-1941 (22) 25.2 107 358 80% 46% 36% 14% 12% 605
1940-1942 (23) 25.8 131 376 95% 53% 41% 17% 14% 616
1941-1943 (24) 24.5 155 375 97% 53% 40% 14% 12% 591
1942-1944 (25) 24.0 179 383 97% 57% 42% 14% 11% 582
1943-1945 (26) 23.8 202 392 97% 63% 46% 14% 12% 579
1944-1946 (27) 24.0 228 408 97% 77% 55% 16% 13% 584
1945-1947 (28) 23.5 248 412 97% 85% 58% 15% 12% 573
1946-1948 (29) 22.8 267 415 97% 94% 62% 14% 11% 560
1947-1949 (30) 18.8 282 395 97% 78% 46% 2% 0% 505
1948-1950 (31) 17.2 298 392 97% 81% 43% 0% 0% 484
1949-1951 (32) 13.0 320 402 X 97% 53% 0% 0% 483
1950-1952 (33) 16.8 329 404 X 97% 57% 0% 0% 479
1951-1953 (34) 16.5 339 405 X 97% 58% 0% 0% 469
1952-1954 (35) 10.0 352 387 X 97% 23% 0% 0% 421
1953-1955 (36) 10.0 356 386 X 97% 18% 0% 0% 415
1954-1956 (37) 9.8 356 380 X 97% 5% 0% 0% 404


Missing those prime years due to the war had a huge impact on Feller’s odds, and though there’s no way to know if Bob would have won 95 more games from 1942-1945, it’s certainly fun to speculate. Had Feller put up the numbers in the above chart, he would have made history. With 179 wins through age 25, Feller would have had 28 and 29 more wins than Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson had at the same age. With 202 at age 26, Feller would have held a 23-win margin over Johnson and a 28-win margin over Mathewson. Matty begins to make a move to the front of the pack at age 27, but it isn’t until age 30 that Mathewson overtakes Feller.

Pitcher 25 26 27 28 29 30 Car. Total
Bob Feller 179 202 228 248 267 282 356
Walter Johnson 151 179 206 231 254 277 417
Christy Mathewson 150 174 211 236 263 289 373

It’s also interesting to note the impact 24 wins at age 23 had on his odds of winning 300. He was a lock for 300 after only five seasons and, with the added wins from ages 24-26, had a better than one-in-ten chance of passing Cy Young until the age of 30. And up to the age of 34 he had nearly a 60% chance at 400. Had he won at the pace projected above, Feller would have retired with the seventh most victories in baseball history. Unfortunately we’ll never know how many games he would have won if not for the war.

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 “The Favorite Toy and…Bob Feller”
  1. THANKS I BELIEVE HE WOULD HAVE BEEN EVEN BETTER HAD HE STAYED AND PLAYED WITH THE OPPOSITION WEAKENED–HOWEVER NO WAR HE WOULD HAVE 18-24 WINS A YEAR BARRING INJURY GREAT ARTICLE LETS DO WILLIAMS AND OTHERS OK

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