Should the 1919 “Black Sox” really have been the favorites in the 1919 World Series?

There are some assumptions of baseball history that are almost accepted wisdom. For example, it’s treated as a near-given that Ted Williams, had he not lost so many years to the military, would have finished his career as statistically the greatest hitter who ever lived. It’s almost assumed that the Montreal Expos would have won the World Series in 1994 if not for the strike.

And then there is the thought that the 1919 Chicago White Sox would have run roughshod on the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series if not for the conspiracy to throw the series. Heck, in the Eight Men Out movie, a Reds player compares his team to Custer about to make a final and suicidal last stand.

But were they? Game-throwing or not, was the triumph of the 1919 Reds really that big of an upset?

I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m not sure if it was a upset at all. Here are the facts:

1. The 1919 Reds were 94-66, one of the best records in baseball history.

Obviously, to get to the World Series, especially back in the days before multiple rounds of playoffs, a team’s record needs to be good. But the 1919 Reds had a record that was great. Their .686 winning percentage was the highest for Cincinnati in the 20th century, and only .002 behind the 1882 American Association title-winning Cincinnati Red Stockings. That means that, yes, in winning percentage, the 1919 Reds were better than the 1975 Big Red Machine that went 108-54 (.667 winning percentage). It was the second-best winning percentage of the 1910s (behind only the 1912 Red Sox, who went 105-47 for a .691 winning percentage) and no team would have a winning percentage higher than it again until the 1927 Yankees. It remains the 18th best winning percentage since 1901. Three of baseball’s greatest franchises (Dodgers, Tigers, Browns/Orioles) have never put together a season with that good of a record despite having a combined total of over three centuries to try.

Oh, and by the way, the 1919 White Sox went 88-52 for a .629 winning percentage. Not too shabby, but hardly one for the record books.

2. The Reds finished the season hot as hell.

In the second half of the season, the Reds were an astounding 47-19, a .712 winning percentage. By comparison, the White Sox had their second half of games end with a record of 41-27, a .612 winning percentage. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that for the last month or so of the season the Reds had little to play for, as they blasted away second-place New York by nine games.

3. The White Sox weren’t 100%

The White Sox had three eventual Hall of Famers on their roster, but only two of them (Ray Schalk and Eddie Collins) played in the World Series. Spitballer Red Faber- a rising star at the time- didn’t. Why? Because he’d been fighting the flu all season, leading to one of the worst campaigns of the first part of his career. By World Series time, he was done pitching for the year and instead focused on recovering. The next three seasons would see the recovered Faber have the three best years of his career. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, but it’s hard to say that having a future Hall of Famer miss your World Series appearance would benefit your team.

Interestingly, there is some belief that had Faber been healthy, there wouldn’t have been an attempt to throw the series in the first place, as it’s unlikely that he would have gone along with it and his playing would reduce the opportunities for “Black Sox” pitchers to affect the course of the series.

4. The Reds had a much better and deeper pitching staff.

Defense, it is said, wins championships. In baseball, that means the pitching. And in almost every category, the Cincinnati Reds had a better pitching staff than the Chicago White Sox did. They had a better ERA, a better hits allowed/9, a better walks allowed/9 and a better WHIP, better Fielding-Independent Pitching. While the White Sox were better in some traditional statistics like strikeouts, when you look at deeper statistics, the Reds clearly had a better staff.

They also had a deeper one. In an era where most pitchers went the entire game or close to it (thus giving the stat more meaning than it does now), the White Sox got 52.09% of their wins from the two pitchers who pitched the most innings for them: Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams. By comparison, the top two pitchers in IP for the Reds (Hod Eller and Dutch Reuther) accounted for only 39.58% of the Reds’ wins. The White Sox, without a healthy Faber, were for the most part essentially two aces carrying a staff, but the Reds were strong from top to bottom. Six pitchers on the Reds had at least 10 wins, and all but one of those six had lower ERAs than every single White Sox pitcher save for Cicotte.

5. The Reds had home-field advantage

Obviously, home-field advantage is something that is of debated value, but the fact is… the Reds had it in this best-of-nine series.

Despite this, most people thought the White Sox would win.

Below are headlines and/or excerpts from The Sporting News in the weeks before and during the earliest days of the 1919 World Series:

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 3.50.27 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-19 at 3.55.39 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-19 at 3.58.27 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-19 at 4.01.56 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-19 at 4.03.06 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-19 at 4.06.55 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-19 at 4.08.06 PMThose are just samples. Now, to be sure, plenty of people picked the Reds. But more people seemed sure of the White Sox- both sportswriters of the day and the odds-makers.

But why?

Well, a few reasons.

First off, the National League wasn’t really thought of all that well at the time. They hadn’t won a World Series since 1914, and had lost eight of the last nine. Many of the articles predicting a White Sox triumph more-or-less discounted the great record of the Reds due to the perception that they hadn’t faced as good of competition.

Secondly, the White Sox probably were a better hitting team. They were ahead of the Reds in many categories, and the “eye test” generally favored them as well.

Third, all of those fancy stats we have available now either weren’t available or weren’t embraced by people back in 1919.

And finally, there is the case of big city bias. Chicago was and is a big market with large influence in politics, culture and media, and also had a much bigger population. That also meant more people would have seen the White Sox, and also more people would have been wanting to put some money down on the hometown team. The bookies would have adjusted the lines accordingly to make sure they’d come out ahead in the end.

After all, what’s the use in fixing it if you are going to lose anyway?

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com

SABR Bioproject of Red Faber, by Brian Cooper

SABR’s “Paper of Record” database

 

 

 

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Over at @HOVG: The latest “Wisdom and Links” has the “30 Teams, 30 Posts” for the Reds

Cincinnati gets it’s “30 Teams, 30 Posts” time in the sun over at the Hall of Very Good today. Check it out.

(Blogathon ’16) Sean Lahman: How Soon is Now? Reds Fans React to Rebuild Plan

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

Has the Internet given us shorter attention spans?

Tl;dr yes it has.

As a lifelong Reds fan, I can’t help but be amused by the howls of outrage that have greeted the team’s current rebuilding plan. After three playoff appearances in four seasons, the Reds faced a problem that most teams eventually face after such a run of success: Their core players were all headed to free agency at roughly the same time, and they couldn’t afford to resign them all.

Two strategies exist for dealing with the problem. One — let’s call it the Steinbrenner method — calls for doubling down on your aging veterans, signing them to pricey contract extensions and filling whatever gaps remain with new free agent signings.

The other is rebuilding, making the painful admission that this particular team’s window for winning pennants had closed, and setting about the task of assembling a group of players who could propel the team towards its next string of pennants.

The Reds, under GM Walt Jocketty, opted for the accelerated rebuilding plan, one executed most recently by the Astros and the Cubs. It combines a painful house cleaning of veterans with a rapid accumulation of young talent, through trades, high draft picks, and an increased emphasis on player development.

In a span of about 12 months, the Reds traded four All-Stars — Johnny Cueto, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, and Alfredo Simon– and two solid starting pitchers — Mat Latos and Mike Leake.

In return, the Reds received an assortment of sixteen minor league players. Most were playing at AA or higher, and Jocketty said he’d focused on acquiring players who were close to the majors with a focus on getting the team back to contention by 2018.

The reaction from most Reds fans has been outrage, with many calling it an unnecessary dismantling, blasting Jocketty for getting rid of popular and talented players, and some even going so far as to renounce their allegiance with the Reds.

On Twitter, one fan wrote:

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Another:

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Time will tell whether the trades work out, of course. The rapid rebuild only works if some of those prospects develop into stars.

But what strikes me is the level of impatience with what’s billed as a three- year rebuilding process. That’s practically light speed in the baseball world.

I moved to Cincinnati as a 9-year old in 1977. By the time I turned 40, I’d only seen the Reds make the playoffs three times. Before their run of three playoff appearances from 2010 to 2013, they had gone 14 straight years without reaching the postseason.

And that’s not unusual. The Seattle Mariners haven’t been to the playoffs for 14 years. The Miami Marlins haven’t reached the postseason since 2003. Neither team seems likely to break those streaks anytime soon.

We’ve watched teams like the Royals and the Pirates reach the playoffs after decades of futility. The Blue Jays went last year for the first time since 1993. The Rangers and Nationals recently ended streaks of more than 30 years.

Of course, none of those teams planned to struggle for so long. Nobody unveiled a 20-year plan to become competitive.

As a fan, you root for your team to reach the playoffs every year. But if you’re honest, you know it’s not reasonable to expect success one hundred percent of the time.

When your team loses year after year, and there’s no sign of improvement on the horizon, then by all means air your complaints and call for the GM to be run out of town on a rail.

But when a GM says “give me three years and we’ll be back on top,” I for one am intrigued. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

Sean Lahman is a reporter for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and the Database Guru for the Society for American Baseball Research. He can be reached at SeanLahman@Gmail.com

This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

MVPs of Yesterday and the day before (June 3rd and 4th, 2015)

I screwed up and somehow didn’t post the MVP of Yesterday… Yesterday. So today is a twofer.

The MVP of Wednesday was Mike Leake, who struck out 9 and held the Phillies hitless until their were 2 outs in the 7th (of course, the Reds’ bullpen then blew the lead, but that’s not Leake’s fault).

And the MVP of Thursday was Adam Jones, who finally broke out of his slump and went 3-4 against the Astros, including a homer.

Standings, as always, after the jump:

Continue reading

“30 Teams, 30 Posts” (2015): Reds October? Unlikely.

In 30 Teams, 30 Posts, I write a post about every MLB team in some way in the lead-up to the beginning of the 2015 season. Previous installments can be found here. Today, the Reds.

There is a lot of parity in baseball these days. Few teams can truly be said to be totally out of it. However, when you look at the NL Central, you can’t help but feel like the Cincinnati Reds have missed their chance, at least for this year:

  • They are in a deep division with four teams that could conceivably win the division, and are certainly in better shape to do so than the Reds are.
  • They did nothing to significantly improve over the winter.
  • While the lineup is great, the starting rotation is very iffy, especially if Homer Bailey has more health issues. They don’t have Mat Latos anymore.
  • Oh, and Johnny Cueto is headed to free agency soon, so it’s likely the Reds are going to have even more pitching depth issues in the future.
  • Some members of the line-up are coming off of off-years (or, at least, what the Reds hope were just off-years and not starts of a trend) or, in some cases, just getting old. They’ve added Marlon Byrd as their big off-season addition, and he’s 37, for pete’s sake!
  • With the ticket sales and excitement that come with hosting the All-Star game this season, it’s less likely that Reds brass feel the need to add anybody during the year to spice things up and get more butts in the stands in the short-term.

So… sorry, Reds fans, but you won’t be seeing a Reds October this year.

Next Time: Padres.

Famous For Something Else: NBA Ref David Guthrie

David Guthrie is a referee in the National Basketball Association. But before he was a ref on the hardwood, he played hardball in the Reds organization. Drafted in the 26th round of the 1995 draft out of NC State, Guthrie played infield positions from 1995 to 1998. Although he never hit well, he did reach AA by the end of his career:

Year Age AgeDif Tm Lg Lev Aff G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
1995 21 1.1 Princeton APPY Rk CIN 55 207 181 28 37 11 0 0 13 7 1 18 41 .204 .286 .265 .551 48 4 3 4 1 1
1996 22 1.4 Billings PION Rk CIN 48 219 181 45 41 6 3 4 28 10 1 26 48 .227 .343 .359 .702 65 4 7 3 2 0
1997 23 1.5 Charleston WV SALL A CIN 73 264 233 27 50 7 2 3 26 6 2 20 75 .215 .295 .300 .595 70 5 7 3 1 0
1998 24 -0.1 Chattanooga SOUL AA CIN 67 225 203 23 39 5 4 0 9 1 1 16 58 .192 .261 .256 .517 52 3 3 3 0 0
4 Seasons 243 915 798 123 167 29 9 7 76 24 5 80 222 .209 .296 .294 .590 235 16 20 13 4 1
Rk (2 seasons) Rk 103 426 362 73 78 17 3 4 41 17 2 44 89 .215 .315 .312 .627 113 8 10 7 3 1
A (1 season) A 73 264 233 27 50 7 2 3 26 6 2 20 75 .215 .295 .300 .595 70 5 7 3 1 0
AA (1 season) AA 67 225 203 23 39 5 4 0 9 1 1 16 58 .192 .261 .256 .517 52 3 3 3 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/9/2015.

By the way, the players who Guthrie was drafted before in the 1995 draft and signed a contract include Pedro Feliciano, Justin Speier, and Gabe Kapler.