1870-1879 wOBA's

Cal McVey was the second best hitter in the 1870's. Who was first? | Photo credit: Wiki Commons.

Last week Matt Klaassen modestly posted the weights for Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) from each season in recorded baseball history spanning nearly 140 years from 1871 to 2010. I've loved the wOBA statistic for a while now, and since that's my offensive metric of choice for modern-day players, I decided to apply this to the 19th century hitters.

The quick back round on wOBA is that it is an offensive metric scaled to mirror On-Base Percentage, created by Tom Tango, but is created from Linear Weights. The run value of an out is fixed as zero in the formula and the weights of the rest of the inputs in the formula are relative to that. If you'd like to read more, I'd recommend the Saber Library which is, for my money, the best online Saber-tutorial material on the internet super highway.

I'm going to start with the very beginning: 1871-1879.

I've covered some of the guys that pop up on this list in my look at total Wins Above Replacement of 187-1870 from the fall. The table below are the top 10 wOBA's as well as columns for Runs Above Average (RAA) and Runs Above Average per 700 plate appearances (RAA/700). My values are not park adjusted. I elected to not use stolen bases or caught stealing. There's stolen bases for all of the years I looked at, but caught stealings disappeared around 1875, so instead of including it in some years but not others, I'm disregarding it completely.

Rk Player PA Year Age wOBA RAA RAA/700
1 Levi Meyerle 132 1871 21 0.519 29.7 157.7
2 Ross Barnes 340 1873 23 0.485 59.1 121.6
3 Ross Barnes 342 1876 26 0.480 52.9 108.3
4 Ross Barnes 239 1872 22 0.472 39.8 116.7
5 Cap Anson 233 1872 20 0.457 35.3 106.2
6 Ross Barnes 170 1871 21 0.454 26.3 108.1
7 Cal McVey 154 1871 21 0.442 21.7 98.6
8 Lip Pike 135 1871 26 0.439 18.6 96.5
9 Jimmy Wood 146 1871 27 0.434 19.4 93.0
10 Deacon White 274 1877 29 0.429 29.3 74.9

 

Ladies and gentlemen: Meet Charles Roscoe Barnes. He started playing baseball around 1866 and became one of the biggest - if not the biggest - star in the first decade of pro baseball. Barnes owns four of the top ten offensive seasons as judged by raw wOBA, topping out with 1873's .485 wOBA. In fact, the book A History of the Boston Baseball Club, penned in 1897, called Barnes the best second baseman the game ever had. He played all but two of his nine seasons in the National Association, and given it was the earliest decade of organized professional baseball, quality of competition is a factor. Still, Barnes should probably have his spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame for being the first major star in pro ball.

The following table looks at the entire 1870's as a decade, as sorted by Runs Above Average.

Rk Player PA From To Age wOBA RAA RAA/700
1 Ross Barnes 2196 1871 1879 21-29 0.407 198.2 63.2
2 Cal McVey 2543 1871 1879 21-29 0.365 145.5 40.1
3 Deacon White 2496 1871 1879 23-31 0.364 140.6 39.4
4 Cap Anson 2296 1871 1879 19-27 0.368 137.4 41.9
5 Jim O'Rourke 2347 1872 1879 21-28 0.357 118.7 35.4
6 Lip Pike 2004 1871 1878 26-33 0.366 116.5 40.7
7 Levi Meyerle 1442 1871 1877 21-27 0.382 101.8 49.4
8 George Wright 2720 1871 1879 24-32 0.339 98.4 25.3
9 George Hall 1708 1871 1877 22-28 0.356 85.4 35.0
10 Paul Hines 2059 1872 1879 17-24 0.343 81.3 27.6
11 Charley Jones 1238 1875 1879 25-29 0.359 65.3 36.9
12 Al Spalding 1988 1871 1878 20-27 0.324 48.8 17.2
13 Joe Start 2477 1871 1879 28-36 0.317 47.2 13.3
14 Tom York 2446 1871 1879 20-28 0.317 47.1 13.5
15 Dick Higham 1798 1871 1878 19-26 0.319 36.5 14.2

 

Ross Barnes: A cut above the rest. To put his near 53-run lead over second place Cal McVey in perspective, it's nearly the same amount Albert Pujols leads Barry Bonds by for the 2000's (which says even more about Bonds' dominance given he's been out of the game a few years).

Cal McVey is second on this list who, like others, played all around the diamond. He finished his career with 186 games at first base, 183 at catcher, 110 in the outfield, 84 at third base, and a smattering at shortstop and second base. He also threw 176.1 innings over four seasons and 34 games. McVey was apart of the (in)famous Cincinnati Red Stockings who were the first professional baseball team in the later 1860's. The Red Stockings barnstormed around the country, but McVey earned much less money than his more veteran teammates. At 21, the National Association started and the timing couldn't have been better.

McVey's career peaked in 1875 where he put up 5.7 WAR in 390 PA's on the back of 50 batting runs. His wOBA worked out to 40.6 RAA that year which was a pace of 72.8 per 700 PA's.

Next week, I'll look at 1880-1889.

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