Here at Beyond The Box Score, I am beginning a new series. Over the next few weeks, I will look at the best injury-shortened seasons by decade from 1900 to the present. Using WAR, I will analyze all the best injury-shortened ideas and consider what they could have been. Check out the previous posts: 1900-1909
Today I am continuing the insane project that I have started: ranking history’s greatest short seasons by decade. With one piece down, I realized that this is going to take a lot of work. Who cares? It’s fun!
In case you did not read my first piece of the series (which is linked above), here are the stipulations to qualify for this list:
Fair or not, I’m considering only seasons in which the player missed at least 40 percent of his team’s games. MLB began playing a 140-game schedule in 1900 before upping to 154 in 1904 (with an odd 140-game season in 1919) and again to today’s 162-game season in 1962. For 140-game era players, this allows them to play up to 84 games; 154-game era players can play up to 92 games; 162-game era players can play up to 97 games. Yes, 40 percent is a completely arbitrary number, but I wanted to allow players to have the time to accumulate enough fWAR to really have made an impact, all the while having them miss a significant amount of time. That’s how I settled on 40 percent, rather than 50 percent or even 60 percent.
Eligibility aside, games played differences within the rankings will be alleviated by using WAR/600, or how much WAR the player would have been worth in a 600-plate appearance season. As a result, I am forced to establish a minimum number of plate appearances to become eligible, too. This I am setting at 100, which would require players to have played in approximately 33 games (at a minimum) to work.
Of course, players will be omitted if it was determined that their missed games were due to a circumstance other than injury (i.e. military service, demotion to the minor leagues, etc.). For historical players, I will use the information that I have available to me, but just note that it’s likely some of these players missed time to something other than injury, especially the older ones.
All tie-breakers will be settled by which player played more games.
Without further ado, here are the Top 10 shortened seasons from 1910 to 1919:
10. 1915 Charlie Deal, 2.4 fWAR in 65 games, 5.8 fWAR/600
After Charlie Deal helped to lead the 1914 Boston Braves to a World Series title, he felt he deserved a pay raise. Fortunately for him, though, the Braves’ owners were unwilling to part with the money he believed he had earned; this led him to jumping to the upstart Federal League, where his salary nearly doubled in his first season with the St. Louis Terriers. In 1915, Deal was hospitalized for several weeks with typhoid fever, but when he was healthy, he produced, slashing .323/.357/.426 in the most productive season of his career.
9. 1918 Zeb Terry, 1.2 fWAR in 28 games, 6.1 fWAR/600
Besides having a great name, Zeb Terry is considered to be one of the greatest baseball players in Stanford University’s history. Terry was not injured during his 1918 season, rather, he was earning his cup of coffee in the Majors that ultimately led to four decent seasons in the National League.
For most of the 1918 season, he played for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, who then allowed him to play a little bit for the Boston Braves at the end of the season. There, he slashed .305/.360/.362; Terry would go on to play for the Pirates and Cubs before retiring at age 31.
8. 1918 Bob Fisher, 2.8 fWAR in 63 games, 6.3 fWAR/600
Unfortunately, there isn’t a biography on Fisher like there is on many of these other players. In 1918, he was nearing the end of his career (as he played just three games in 1919), but slashed .317/.356/.411 that year. Interestingly enough, he had 42 (!) sacrifice bunts in 1915, the 21st highest single-season mark in history, which I guess, is something.
7. 1916 Walter Holke, 1.3 fWAR in 34 games, 6.5 fWAR/600
Nicknamed “Union Man” for reasons that are unbeknownst to me, Holke slashed .351/.390/.423 in 1916 before going on to play 10 more seasons in the Major Leagues. None would ever be as offensively productive as his 1916 season for the New York Giants.
6. 1918 Charlie Pick, 1.2 fWAR in 29 games, 6.7 fWAR/600
Pick, too, had the greatest season of his carer in 1918. Sandwiched in between two 100+ game seasons (thus leading me to believe he was hurt in 1918), Pick slashed .326/.417/.393 for the Chicago Cubs that season. He would hit his first career home run the next year and his two more home runs in 1920 are likely what kept his career slugging percentage just two points above his career on-base percentage. (That was meant as a joke, but it is actually true.)
5. 1916 Lew McCarty, 2.9 fWAR in 80 games, 6.9 fWAR/600
George Lewis “Lew” McCarty never played more than 90 games in a season, but his 80-game 1916 campaign represents the fifth-most games that he played in a season over his career. Like many other players on here, his offensive output, for whatever reason, just ticked up that year with a .339/.405/.427 line. He had nine doubles, five triples but interesting, he did not hit a single home run.
4. 1919 Joe Harris, 2.7 fWAR in 62 games, 7.1 fWAR/600
Nicknamed “Moon” because his wife said so on a Hall of Fame questionnaire, Harris’ big league career got off to a hot start in 1917 when he posted a 132 OPS+ for the Indians. Then, he was drafted into the United States Army for World War I and missed the entire 1918 season. When he returned in 1919, Harris managed to get even better, slashing .375/.472/.489 (163 OPS+). He went on to have a great career and finished with a walk total (413) that more than doubled his strikeout total (188).
3. 1911 Jack Lapp, 2.4 fWAR in 68 games, 7.4 fWAR/600
Lapp was a catcher who only caught part time. During his career, he was Jack Coombs’ main catcher. Thus, he only played a 100+ game season once, in 1915. Four years prior, though, in 1911, Lapp put up a .353/.435/.467 line. In Game 5 of the 1911 World Series (the only one Lapp started) the winning run for the Giants scored on a play at the plate. Some confusion occurred as to whether Larry Doyle touched home plate, and if Lapp tagged him, but manager Connie Mack didn’t argue, assuming that his Athletics would close out the series regardless. This was the only game of the series that Lapp would start. In Game 6, the Athletics won 13-2, winning the series.
2. 1918 Billy Southworth, 3.7 fWAR in 64 games, 8.1 fWAR/600
Southworth played for the Birmingham Barons in 1917 and 1918, but the Southern Assocation was forced to fold due to World War I. It worked out well for Southworth, though, who was picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League. He didn’t disappoint, hitting .341/.409/.443 that year. Southworth stole 23 bases but was caught 25 times in 1920, which is fascinating in and of itself. He is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and went on to manage for 13 seasons, mostly in the 1940s and 1950s.
1. 1919 Gavvy Cravath, 3.5 fWAR in 83 games, 8.2 fWAR/600
Cravath was one of the few power hitters during the Deadball Era, as he made way for some guy named Babe Ruth in the future. In 1915, Cravath led baseball with 24 home runs and 115 RBIs, numbers unheard of for that time.
In 1919, Cravath enjoyed a resurgence from his likely age-related regression the year prior. His slash line of .341/.438/.640 rivaled some of the best numbers that he put up at any point throughout his career. The Phillies fired manager Jack Coombs halfway through the 1919 season, and Cravath reluctantly took the position, limiting his playing time. The team went 47-90 and was happy enough with Cravath’s work as manager to have him return for 1920, but they released him at the end of that year. “Gavvy is the greatest home run-clouter in the history of baseball and has piled up a record that might never be equaled,” wrote sportswriter Robert W. Maxwell in 1920. Babe Ruth would break it the very next season.
Be sure to check out the next edition, when I look at the best shortened seasons from 1920-1929.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.
All biographical information courtesy of SABR’s Biography Project.