1901 APBA Baseball: Re-Grade

I’ve dove back into a replay of the 1901 season using APBA Baseball.

I have a long, horrible history with this project.

I tried to do it once and quickly found something was amiss with the cards.

For example, of the 32 pitchers who are members of the 4-man rotations in the National League, 29 have a (Z) and 1 has a (W).

How can 29 of them have a (Z)?

Only 6 of the 32 NL starting pitchers have a (Y), while none of the 32 American League pitchers have a strikeout rating.

I entered every result of every card into a spreadsheet, weighting them by their plate appearances that season and I couldn’t find any way that strikeout totals would come anywhere close to historically accurate.

So I set off on an adventure of re-grading and re-rating every card from that set based on an elaborate set of equations using the card data.

However, it was only recently that a thought occurred to me.

I’d been trying to play these cards with the latest set of boards.

The 1901 set was issued in 1988, before things like (ZZ), (K) or (R) ratings had been issued.

And, more to the point, when this set was published, the board included Strikeout readings for some pitchers on those hits that get taken away due to being an A or B pitcher.

Oh dear…

So, for example, my concern about a guy like Christy Mathewson not being able to come anywhere near his real-life strikeout rates with only a (Y) on his card were somewhat unfounded. After all, by my math, that’s good for maybe one extra strikeout per game.

But giving him a Strikeout with the Bases Empty when a batter rolls up a Play Result Number of 9? That’s good for another additional strikeout per game.

So now I realize that him being an A with a (Y) was actually good for about 2 extra strikeouts per game over a pitcher who was neither an A nor a (Y).

Given the National League average that year was 3.8 strikeouts per 9 innings and Matty whiffed 5.9 per 9 innings – a difference of 2.1 – that suddenly seemed pretty valid.

In short, I started replaying the season by “retro-fitting” my current boards so that they more closely resemble the boards at the time that the 1901 card set was first released.

(You can find PDF files online that document the history of APBA board changes to accomplish this.)

And, as low-fidelity as APBA can be, I’ve been enjoying it so far. I’ve rolled about 35 games and it’s been fun.

However, there are a few things that have still been bothering me.

Guys like Rube Waddell (6.2 SO/9) and Tom Hughes (6.6 SO/9) had higher strikeout ratings than Mathewson that season, but they are both B(Y)(Z) pitchers.

As B pitchers, they don’t get the benefit of strikeouts on a PRN of 9 with the Bases Empty, so even though their strikeout rates were noticeably higher that that of Mathewson, they will actually strikeout fewer batters than him.

My obsessive compulsive tendencies over these games started to kick in.

As I have been rolling these games and comparing my sim rates to historical rates, they’re really not all that far off.

So I know that as a whole there are probably a fairly correct number of (Y), (Z) and (W) ratings out there.

But where I’d still find a point of contention is how they are distributed.

So I got to work.

I plugged every carded pitcher into a spreadsheet, calculating how many total batters faced are given to each grade and each rating.

For the purpose of bringing these ratings over to the modern board, an A pitcher was the equivalent of a (Y). An A(Y) was the equivalent of an (X).

Doing this, I came up with the National League having 2,851 Batters Faced allocated to an (X) – this was contributed by Mathewson and “Wild Bill” Donovan, each of whom are A(Y) pitchers in the original set. 11,784 Batters Faced belong to (Y) pitchers.

Then I re-distributed everything.

By a point of example, I sorted all carded pitchers by strikeout rate (strikeouts per batters faced). I started giving out (X) ratings until I had given them out to 2,851 totals Batters Faced. Then I gave out (Y) ratings until I had given out some type of rating to a total of 14,635 Batters Faced – this is 2,851 plus 11,784 from above.

So what I did was just try and ensure that the chances of a plate appearance being affected by a pitcher grade, strikeout rating or control rating were no different than before.

All I did was move things around.

One other note about this – the re-distribution didn’t penalize pitchers with small sample sizes. Much like the newly issued sets of cards from the APBA Game Company, these formulas are assuming that you will use pitchers close to their historical usage. So a pitcher could get an A even if he only made one appearance. It’s expected that the re-player won’t cheat the system and use this guy as a regular member of the rotation.

Okay, that’s the backdrop. What changed?

Well, surprisingly little. I’ll call some things out alphabetically as I go through the list.

Name Old New Notes
Jack Chesbro A(Z) A(Y)(Z) A touch above league average in K/9
Roger Denzer D(Z) B(Z) Close to league average ERA in 62 IP
Bill Dinneen B(Z) B(Y)(Z) A touch above league average in K/9
Ed Doheny C(Z) B(Z) Close to league average ERA in 150 IP
Jack Harper B(Z) C(Z) ERA was 29th out of 34 qualifying pitchers
Tom Hughes B(Y)(Z) B(X)(Z) Led league with 6.6 SO/9
Brickyard Kennedy D(Z) B(Z) Nice 110 ERA+ in 85 IP
Bob Lawson D(W) B(W) 110 ERA+ in 46 IP
Sam Leever C(Z) B(Y)(Z) Finished 10th in ERA and 9th in SO/9 but had just 20 GS
Gene McCann D B Right around league average ERA but just 34 IP
Mike O’Neill D(Z) A(Z) 1.32 ERA in 41 IP
Togie Pittinger B(Z) B(Y)(Z) A touch above league average in K/9
Ed Poole D C Only 80 IP, but really only slightly below average in ERA
Jack Powell B(Z) D(Z) ERA was 26th out of 34 qualifying pitchers
Jesse Tannehill A(Z) A(Y)(Z) A touch above league average in K/9
Happy Townsend C C(Y) A touch above league average in K/9
George Van Haltren D(W) A(W) 3.00 ERA in 6 IP
Rube Waddell B(Y)(Z) B(X)(Z) 6.2 SO/9 was 2nd best in NL
Vic Willis A(Z) A(Y)(Z) Above league-average strikeout rate

Now, how about the AL, where we originally had 1 A&C, 2 A and no strikeout ratings?

Remember from above that I am converting this to the equivalent of 3 full-time (Y) pitchers.

Name Old New Notes
Bill Bernhard C(Z) D(Z) 17 Wins but ERA was 32nd out of 34 qualifying pitchers
Pete Dowling C D ERA was 28th out of 34 qualifying pitchers. On the cusp here.
Jack Dunn D B ERA was just better league average but only 60 IP
Chick Fraser B C Another downgrade for Philly. ERA worse than league average.
Ned Garvin B B(Y) League-best strikeout rate deserves one of the (Y) ratings
Clark Griffith A(Z) B(Z) 4th-best ERA in the league, but if we’re only giving out 3 As or better…
Bill Hart D C 3.77 ERA was only 0.08 worse than league average.
Zaza Harvey D B ERA was a little better than league average in 92 IP
Ed High D(Z) B(Z) 3.50 ERA is better than average. 18 IP.
Watty Lee C(Z) D(Z) ERA was 31st out of 34 qualifying pitchers
Ted Lewis B(Z) C(Z) ERA a touch better than league average, but no world-beater
Jack McAleese D D(Z) Walked 1 of 17 batters he faced.
Harry McNeal D D(Z) BB rate in line with other full-time pitchers who have a Z
Fred Mitchell D C In 109 IP, his ERA was barely worse than league average
Jerry Nops D(Z) C(Z) ERA was 26th out of 34 qualifying pitchers
Frank Owen D C ERA not great, but not bad enough for a D
Casey Patten C C(Y)(Z) 3rd best strikeout rate in the AL deserves one of the Y ratings
Wiley Piatt D C ERA was 27th out of 34 qualifying pitchers
George Prentiss D A(W) 1.80 ERA and 5.4 BB/9 in just 10 IP
Bill Reidy C(Z) D(Z) ERA was 29th out of 34 qualifying pitchers
Crazy Schmit D(W) A(W) 1.99 ERA in just 23 IP
John Skopec D(W) B(W) 111 ERA+ in 68 IP
Tully Sparks C B ERA was 13th out of 34 qualifying pitchers
Snake Wiltse C(Z) B(Z) ERA just a touch better than league average
Joe Yeager B(Z) A(Z) 3rd best ERA in the league makes him deserving of one of the 2 A grades
Cy Young A&C(Z) A&C(Y)(Z) Led league in ERA and was a very close 2nd in strikeout rate

So I hope some folks find that interesting.

Honestly, I’m this far into my replay already that I will probably just stick with things as they are.

But as I get into this a little further, I’ll be interested to see a few things in particular from the top 4 pitchers on each staff:

  • Tom Hughes and Rube Waddell should easily simulate to be the top 2 strikeout rates in the National League. But with B(Y) readings as-carded, will they even make the top 5?
  • How badly will Jack Harper and Jack Powell over-perform? Because they sure don’t seem to warrant B grades.
  • How badly will Sam Leever under-perform?
  • Will the top 3 strikeout leaders in the American League resemble real life or will the 3 A pitchers dominate it despite two of them ranking 14th and 16th that season?
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