Sunday, August 29, 2010

Did Earl Averill Have A Tremendous Walk-To-Strikeout Ratio?

Joe Posnanski recently wrote at his blog the following:
"As you have already seen, the only two Hall of Famers who hit home runs in their first at-bats — Averill and Wilhelm — were not famous for home runs. Averill did have three 30-homer seasons, but it was his all-around play, including a tremendous walk-to-strikeout [ratio] (774 walks to 518 Ks) and superior defense, that made him a terrific player."
See A Homer His First Time Up!

I wrote the following comment there:
"That walk-to-strikeout ratio is perhaps not so tremendous. It is 1.496. But using the Lee Sinins Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, I found that the average player (non-pitchers) in Averill’s era had a ratio of 692 to 523, which is 1.32. That means that Averill was about 13% better than average since 1.496/1.32 = 1.13.

Imagine that the average player hits 15 HRs in a full season. If you hit 13% more, you hit about 17. This is not tremendous."
Baseball history often surprises us (well, it surprises me alot). For example, I discovered that Fritz Maisel, in 1914, had perhaps the greatest base stealing season before Maury Wills in 1962 (taking steals, caught stealing, times reaching first base and the league average into account). I had never heard of him before. See What Were The Best Relative Base Stealing Seasons? There have been many times I started calling up lists of leaders in stats where I start to see names for the first time.

So it is not surprising that we might see a guy like Averill and, not knowing the context, be impressed. Over the past five years in MLB, there have been 80,089 walks and 160,963 strikeouts. That means .5 walks for every HR. Averill's ratio was three times that. But there just were not that many strikeouts when he played. How did he compare to other players? The table below shows the top 25 in walk-to-strikeout ratio from 1929-1940 with 2500+ PAs.

Averill is not in the top 25. He was 60th out of 152 players. Yes, those numbers are correct for Sewell. One year his ratio was 16-1. Another year it was 17.75-1. If I only look at guys with 5000+ PAs, Averill is in the top 25, as the table below shows. But, there were only 38 such players.

Now he was a HR hitter, with 238 in his career. They sometimes strikeout alot. So I looked at all players from 1920-1950 who hit 200+ HRs. Here are the leaders. He is there, but there were only a total of 29 guys in the group.

Finally, there were not many big strikeout pitchers in those days. The two lists below show the leaders in both leagues from 1929-40. That guy named Feller sure changed things. Averill did not face him much since he played most of his career for the Indians.

1929--LEFTY GROVE 170
1930--LEFTY GROVE 209
1931--LEFTY GROVE 175
1932--RED RUFFING 190
1933--LEFTY GOMEZ 163
1934--LEFTY GOMEZ 158
1937--LEFTY GOMEZ 194
1938--BOB FELLER 240
1939--BOB FELLER 246
1940--BOB FELLER 261

1929--PAT MALONE 166
1932--DIZZY DEAN 191
1933--DIZZY DEAN 199
1934--DIZZY DEAN 195
1935--DIZZY DEAN 190
1937--CARL HUBBELL 159
1938--CLAY BRYANT 135
1940--KIRBY HIGBE 137

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