The end of an era. Or perhaps the beginning of the end of an era. 1961 marks the last of the NeLers who never made it to the majors. We’ll still see a few guys, like Monte Irvin and Willard Brown, whose careers were mostly in the NeL, and we’ll see guys like Mays and Aaron who got their start there. But there aren’t many NeLers left who will get into the GOR. I’m just guessing here, but only Irvin looks like a shoo-in (Jackie Robinson isn’t really a NeLer, as he only played a smattering of games in ’45). Dandridge might grow on us as the ballot thins out a bit over the next decade of elections. One of the NeL pitchers might sneak in, altho I can’t really see much difference between Brown, Byrd, Day and Smith. I have only taken a cursory look at Willard Brown and he appears to be a viable candidate. He could be one that grows on us. And then there is Luke Easter. All of the NeLers are “what might have beens”, but Easter is THE ultimate “what might have been”. He didn’t even join the NeLs until he was 30ish, so we don’t even know what he might have done in the NeLs. In fact Easter might be the anti-NeLer. Chuck and I and others have made attempts to figure out what the NeLers would have done in the majors. In a sense, with Easter, we have to take his MLB stats and try to figure out what he would have done in the NeLs!!!
I can’t decide if I’m sorry to see them go or not. They are a pain in the rear to analyze, never really knowing if I got it right, and then trying to figure where to properly put them on my ballot. But I’ve learned so much about them, really delving into their stories and stats, that I can’t help but feel a little sad as their time is passing.
I don’t have a lot of confidence in my estimates, because there is just too much information missing that I use to rate and rank pitchers. I don’t have RELIABLE ball park figures or the ability to rate the fielding behind them and I have just a smidgeon of info to grade their offensive support. But here are my best guesses for a few top Negro League pitchers.
Ray Brown: I have him having a much shorter career, inning pitched-wise that the Think Factory guys, somewhere around 3500. I have him penciled in with a 220-170 record, except that he played for a great team which would have meant he’d have been around 245-145. Which sort of looks like Ruffing’s Yankee years. I’d probably rank him with Ruffing and Lyons, but perhaps just a tad lower.
Bill Byrd: I have him with a slightly shorter career, going something like 190-160. He’s an odd one to comp. He had years when he pitched like Cy Young and years when he pitched like Irv Young. He’s hard to comp because of that. How about adding Denny McLain and Bobo Newsom together and dividing by two? He would have had years like McLain in ’68 and ’69 and Newsom in ’40. But he’d also have seasons like McLain in ’67 and ’71 and Newsom in ’41.
Leon Day: He is the toughest of the four to grade. I have him pretty close to where The Think Factory has him, maybe just a little lower. Lon Warneke and Tommy Bridges were better pitchers, but Day is in that general vicinity.
Hilton Smith: He was probably the best of the four, rates-wise. Unlike Byrd, Smith was consistently very good but rarely got into great. Tommy Bridges might be a good comp, tho I’d put Smith above Bridges. I think I’d rank him just below Brown. Brown had a longer career, so he had more bulk than Smith. A 180-120 record seems reasonable, which is pretty close to The Factory’s estimate. Like Brown, he too played for a really good team, so he might have had a record of 200-100 or even 210-90, which come to think of it, looks a lot like a slightly lower-case Whitey Ford.
If I had to guess, I’d say that Smith’s ERA+ would have been around 130, Brown would have been 120, Day around 115 and Byrd around 110.
But as I said above, I am not overly confident in these guesses. But it’s the best I got, so I’m sticking to it.
Not that it matters in the slightest, but I compute Hilton Smith’s Fibonacci Points to be 153.
And catching my own typo, I should have typed Brown’s record to be 230-160, instead of 220-170. Also, Smith’s ERA+ should be closer to 125.
W/L record, ERA+ and Fibonacci points based on my imprecise guesses:
230-160 120 206 Brown
180-120 125 168 Smith
180-135 115 158 Day
190-160 110 133 Byrd