No Way It’s Roger, No Way At All… (Guest Post By Jeff Kallman)
No Way It’s Roger, No Way At All
Guest Post by Jeff Kallman
April 1, 2021
Dr. Paul Semendinger is a fine man and is becoming a valued friend amidst the baseball wars, and I so hate having to do this to such a gentleman. But when writing for the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America’s Here’s the Pitch newsletter (fair disclosure: I’m also a regular contributor), I fear my friend has two problems naming Roger Peckinpaugh’s 1914 the single greatest season ever by a Yankee shortstop:
1) It wasn’t—not by a long shot.
2) Managing twenty games while playing shortstop isn’t exactly Bucky Harris playing 143 at second base while managing all 154 of the 1924 Senators. (As in, the 1924 World Series-winning Old Nats.)
Second things first: It shouldn’t have been that surprising that Peckinpaugh was handed the Yankee bridge when Frank Chance resigned with twenty games left: Chance named Peckinpaugh the Yankees’ captain before the 1914 season began. I’m simply not convinced that taking on a sixth-place team and managing them to a .500 record in twenty games adds much to Peckinpaugh’s 1914.
Now, the first things: Peckinpaugh did have an outstanding 1914—in the field. He was an outstanding defensive shortstop. The actual calculations aren’t available, but my best guess is that based on the raw numbers Peckinpaugh was probably worth about ten defensive runs saved above the American League average that year. In the modern game, he’d probably be the equivalent of Mark Belanger, who couldn’t hit if you handed him a telephone pole but who got to play eighteen major league seasons because he was a human vacuum cleaner at shortstop. (Runs saved above average says Belanger is second among shortstops only to Ozzie Smith—and by a single run.)
Roger Peckinpaugh couldn’t hit with a garage door. He certainly didn’t in 1914. Not by the traditional arithmetic, and not by my Real Batting Average formula.
Normally, the formula as I’ve designed it adds total bases (TB), walks (BB), intentional walks (IBB), sacrifice flies (SF), and hit by pitches (HBP), then divides that total by total plate appearances. (The tradition batting average is flawed: it treats all hits equally and accounts only for “official at-bats.” Those who tell you all hits are equal should probably not surrender their day jobs just yet.)
Peckinpaugh played before intentional walks were recognised as official stats, and The Other Guy I’m thinking of first played only a couple of years into the era where the sacrifice fly rule applied. So, being absolutely fair to Peckinpaugh, I removed those from the RBA formula when considering the pair.
(RBA doesn’t count bunts for a very good reason: why on earth should you count intentional outs? Outs to work with are precious; no manager with two brain cells to put in a petri dish should want to surrender a third of his most valuable resources in any inning. Sacrifice flies send runs home so, yes, they should count, unless you can prove that somebody went up to the plate thinking, “Gee, wouldn’t I love nothing better than a long fly out?” even if there is a man on third. Show me a batter who isn’t going up to the plate looking to crack a line drive or hit one into the next county, and I’ll show you a fan who’s foolish enough to try convincing you he or she is paying hard-earned dough to go to the ballpark because they want to see all those sexy sacrifice bunts.)
Even with that allowance, here we go:
The Other Guy is Phil Rizzuto, in 1950. Even if you admit that in 1950 he played way over his own head . . . at the plate, anyway. Rizzuto’s season out-did Peckinpaugh’s by a very fat margin—and that’s before remembering that Rizzuto won the 1950 American League Most Valuable Player Award.
Should Rizzuto have won it? Cleveland’s Larry Doby had practically the same wins above replacement-level [WAR] number (6.7) as Rizzuto (6.8) did, but Doby was more run creative and productive by far. Rizzuto wasn’t even the most run creative/productive Yankee in 1950; Yogi Berra was. And if WAR means anything, the American League’s WAR leader in 1950 was—wait for it!—Ned Garver (8.1), the hard-luck St. Louis Browns pitcher. The same Ned Garver who’d help make the 1951 AL MVP vote such a thriller . . . because he, Berra, and Yankee pitcher Allie Reynolds tied with the most first place votes for the prize. [Yogi won the award by out-polling Garver and Reynolds down-ballot.]
Any way you slice it, 1950 was Phil Rizzuto’s career year, but I’m not entirely convinced he was that much more valuable than Larry Doby that year. I am convinced, however, that Rizzuto’s 1950 was way beyond Roger Peckinpaugh’s 1914.
Let’s have a look at Peckinpaugh’s 1914 versus another Yankee shortstop who had a better season than even Phil Rizzuto’s 1950. Even allowing for this shortstop playing in a better-hitting season than either of those two guys—and, again playing fair to Peckinpaugh and removing this Other Guy’s intentional walks and sacrifice flies from the equation—this is way beyond Peckinpaugh’s league . . . and Rizzuto’s:
This time, that Other Guy is Derek Jeter, in 1999. Jeter wasn’t quite the defensive shortstop he was often cracked up to be (his well-seen, well-reviewed highlight-reel plays made him look an awful lot better with the leather than he really was), but a) he faced somewhat tougher pitching overall than either Peckinpaugh or Rizzuto did; and, b) he finished a lot higher in the MVP voting (sixth) than Peckinpaugh in 1914. (Peckinpaugh and Rizzuto didn’t have to face as many howitzer-like late-game relief pitchers as Jeter did, either.) Jeter also played in one more 1999 game than Peckinpaugh in 1914—all at shortstop.
Let’s look at one more Other Guy, this one a multi-positional infielder (and an outstanding defender at all of them) but picking the season in which he played more games at shortstop (121) than in any other year of his ten-season career. Again, to be fair to Peckinpaugh, I also removed this Other Guy’s intentional walks and sacrifice flies from the equation:
This time, the Other Guy is Gil McDougald, in 1957. He, too, finished higher in the AL MVP voting (fifth) than Peckinpaugh did in 1914.
Roger Peckinpaugh also never had a nickname at all, never mind one as colourful as the Scooter or Mr. November. All things considered, though, his outstanding defense should have gotten him nicknamed the Paw, if anyone had been bright enough to add two plus two in his time. If he’d played in today’s game, either his teammates, or his opponents, or the writers and broadcasters, would have been all over it. Obviously, I would have been, too!