Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How Many HRs Would Ruth Have Hit With Integration?

I have written about this before. But the reason I am doing again is that a friend emailed me some comments that her friends had made about my research on this. So I answer them below. But first, here is the gist of what I did. I estimated how many non-white pitchers there might have been and how good they might have been if they had been allowed pre-1947. Then I estimated how many fewer HRs there would have been in baseball due to the improved pitching quality. I came up with 5% and assumed that Ruth's total would go down 5% (to 678).

Before I respond to the comments, here are the links.

How Would Integration Have Affected Ruth and Cobb?
How Many HRs Would Babe Ruth Have in Integrated Baseball?

The first link has a link to an article I wrote for the now defunct Chicago Sports Weekly. It no longer works. Now to the comments.

COMMENT: "I'm not sure how accurate is is to presume that the "worst" 15% of white pitchers would necessarily be replaced by black pitchers. Without the color barrier, they would have just promoted who was better. Can anyone say with any certainty that black pitchers were significantly better, inherently than whites? The other thing is that in Ruth's time, pitching staffs generally consisted of about 8 or 9 pitchers at any given time. There were 4-man rotations, and those pitchers were conditioned from early on to be able to complete games. Pitchers today could be conditioned that way too....but they're not. Back then, there was less need for relievers, hence the small pitching staffs.

So this means that at any given time, there were approximately 140 pitchers in the game-spread out over 16 teams. Even if we went with the figure of 15%, that means that there might have been about 21 black pitchers, spread out over 16 teams - which means about 1.3 per team-and half of those Ruth would not face because they would be in the National League.

So the 9 or so he would face on the opposing 7 teams-how many of them would have been exceptional enough to really put a significant dent in Ruth's perfromance? I'm not thinking too many. In fact, he may well have dominated some of them."

Yes, I think the worst 15% would be replaced. Here is how I look at it. Suppose all of the sudden a new talent pool was discovered that had major league quality pitchers in it. You would want some of them on your team, right? So whatever number of pitchers that you carry, for every one pitcher you add from this new talent pool, you have to send one to the minors or release him. The only logical thing to do would be to release the worst pitcher every time you add one good pitcher. For example, if you add Satchel Paige, you don't dump Bob Feller or Bob Lemon.

I am not saying that any one race is better than any other race. Here is what I wrote in one article

"I estimate that about 15% of the IP then were by non-whites, blacks, dark-skinned Hispanics and Asians. Using the Lee Sinins Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, I found all the pitchers with 1,000+ IP in this period and then calculated what percent of the IP by these guys was by non-whites. You can see the list here. I checked the race of any pitcher I did not already know by looking at when they played and finding pictures of them in books or online. Any pitchers with Hispanic names were considered non-white. There were pitchers like Lefty Gomez before 1947, whose skin was light enough to play. But I did not want to have to judge who would have been able to play and who would not.

In that list, I have relative ERA listed. That is simply ERA divided by the league ERA. The relative ERA of all the whites combined was 105.75, meaning their ERA’s were about 5.75% better than the league average. For the non-whites it was just a bit higher at 106.8. In the analysis below, I assume that the ERAs of whites and non-whites will be the same. The number of IP by the pitchers with 1,000+ IP since 1947 accounted for 58% of all the IP in this time period."

So, the quality of the whites who have pitched in MLB since 1947 and the non-whites is about the same. Neither is better. But if those non-whites had not been there this whole time, who would have been there in their place? Some white guys, who were not as good (if they were, they would have been there instead). Let's call them the bad-whites. Having the bad-whites instead of the non-whites means that the overall quality of pitching would have been worse, meaning more HRs hit (assuming we make no change in who is batting). But that means having the non-whites there improves the quality of pitching and the hitters would not quite do as well. If anyone has read my articles, I had a rough estimate of Ruth going down 5%, leaving him with 678 HRs, still alot.

It does not matter how many pitchers are on the teams or what kind of rotation they had. 15% is 15%. Of course he would not have faced the guys in the other league. But I make an assumption of 15% in each league, which is done to keep everything fair. Yes, with some of the non-white pitchers, he would have dominated them. A few of them would have been just a hair better than the bottom rung pitchers (the bad-whites). But some were great, like Gibson and Marichal. I am just estimating that collectively, all the non-whites were as good as the top 85% of the whites.

COMMENT: "But think about this now. If 60 years of integration can only produce a handful of solid minority pitchers, why should the 15% percent you are replacing them with be any better than the ones you are deducting?"

I think this is explained above.

COMMENT: "Ruth did not hit a HR every time up but changing 8-9 pitchers (15%)who may be better pitchers is no guarantee that they would dominate Ruth or at least do better than their predecessors."

Think of it this way. Suppose all of the sudden the worst 15% of the pitchers were let go and the best 85% all pitched a little bit more to make up for the lost IP. Suppose that there was some pill they could take that allowed them to add extra innings with no loss of effectiveness. Then all the batters face a higher quality of pitching. HRs would go down. I don't think that losing 5% of your HRs means you were dominated.

Some other issues. I think right now more than 15% of the pitchers are non-whites. Probably less than 15% were non-white when Aaron and Mays were starting to rack up their big HR totals. If there had been more non-white pitchers in the 1950s, those two guys would also lose HRs. I think my analysis shows how good Ruth was and how much we should respect his records. I think my analysis is an answer to those who ask "How many HRs would Ruth have hit if he had to face Pedro Martinez?" Well, still quite a few because he would not face Pedro all the time and Pedro does allow some HRs.


SkeptiSys said...

"I think my analysis shows how good Ruth was and how much we should respect his records."
Your analysis misses a major point: non-white batters. If HR's go down 5% when you add non-White players (your assumption), then Ruth's HR's would have to drop more than 5% to account for the top non-White hitters. How much further depends on our assumptions. Current active HR leaders: top 5 are all non-White, and only 2 of 10 are White - so it is reasonable to assume that Ruth would not be 1 of the top 5 HR hitters of his generation, if non-Whites were allowed integration, and his total would drop much more than 5% relative to the league.

Cyril Morong said...

No, Ruth does not lose HRs because someone else comes in and hits more. He still has the name number of HRs. Suppose that first the non-white pitchers come in. Ruth's HRs go down. Then the non-white hitters come in, and maybe some guy like Josh Gibson, hits more than Ruth. That does not change whatever total Ruth would have. I never even addressed this issue of who would be the number 1 HR hitter. I just looked at how many fewer HRs Ruth might have hit. I never addressed his total relative to the league. I simply said 5% fewer than 714.

You have to remember (and this is the thing you miss), is that if Ruth finishes with 678 HRs, very few, if any, players would have had that many. Only Aaron and Bonds have made it that high and they did not play at the same time. Guys who can reach these high levels don't come around very often and before Ruth, it was mainly the deadball era, and not many HRs were hit by anyone. Since 1947, only two guys have passed 678. Why expect more than that before then, especially since the HR era started with Ruth? His records still deserve our respect. Maybe there would have been two guys with more by the time Ruth retired, but that is all.

SkeptiSys said...

By the way, I really enjoyed your article, thanks for the good read.

Let me see if I can explain the math a different way. You are assuming a total 5% drop in HRs, and Ruth will drop by 5%. The only way that equation can work is if all batters HR other than Ruth also reduce by 5%, which we know is not the case - because you have to add all the great non-White HR hitters as well, increasing the number of HRs - not decreasing.
I'll use made up numbers to show the concept. Assume all other things equal, like PA. Assume 500 HRs by White hitters other than Ruth, and 50 HR by Ruth, total 550. If you add non-White hitters like Gibson, the 500 HRs will go up to maybe 610 & 50 for Ruth = 660. 95% is 579.5 & 47.5, total 627 which you can see is not 5% less than 550. So Ruth's HRs have to come down more or adding non-White hitters has to reduce the number of HRs, which is absurd.
Hope that explains it better.

Cyril Morong said...

I see what you are saying but this gets a little tricky. Suppose that the only non-whites who are let in to the league are pitchers. Then Then HRs fall 5% and we assume that they fall 5% for Ruth. Then the non-white hitters come in. So HRs start rising in the league. But Ruth's HRs remain unchanged since they are not affected by the other batters.

We have to isolate the effect of the non-white pitchers. Yes, once the non-white hitters come in, HRs don't fall 5% (they won't fall 5% even if the non-white hitters come in at the same time as the non-white pitchers). The fall of 5% is on the white hitters who have to face the better quality pitching. Since Ruth is white, that is the fall he gets.

We can't include the non-whites in the 5% drop since they were not in the league before. We simply have to say what happens when we increase the talent pool for pitchers. What seems to have happened is that 15% of the pitchers have been non-white since 1947 and that, as a group, they are about as good as the best 85% of the whites. Remove the bottom 15% of the pitchers and we see that the HRs allowed falls 5%.

That is changing just one factor, which is all we can do. All Ruth sees is better pitchers. It is like he never faces the bottom 15%, only the top 85%. How good were those guys? They gave up 5% fewer HRs from 1920-34. But that was just to white hitters. They will start giving up more once the non-white batters come in. What the new HR level will be is hard to say. But that has no effect on Ruth