Strasburg - The Next Feller? Salute to a Hero
WARTIME SERVICE ADJUSTMENTS
by John B Holway
There are basically three ways to estimate, or adjust for, the wartime service years:
1. The shoulder method take the years before and after the war and assume the missing ones would have been about the same. This is fairly accurate if a player is on an almost straight-line course up to, or down from, the pinnacle of his career. This would apply to most other players missing ages.
2. The mountain top method this assumes the missing years would have been the pinnacle ages; it attempts to estimate how much above the shoulders they might have been. This is the only valid way to estimate the cost of World War II to Williams and Bob Feller.
3. Adjustment deduct the same ages from everybody else.
Most estimates use #1.
Alexander, the only big-name player to serve in World War I, had 373 lifetime wins, tied for third on the all-time list. But he lost a potentially huge year in combat as an artilleryman in France in 1918, coming immediately after three straight 30-win seasons and three straight years of ERAs under 2.00. He was 31 years old. It might actually have cost him more, as the war apparently either started or aggravated a serious drinking problem.
Petes shoulder years averaged 27 wins. Since he won two games before leaving in 1918, I have no problem with giving him 25 additional victories. It could have been more if we consider the negative effects of the war on his later career.
Lifetime wins 373
Missing year + 25
(Incidentally, Captain Eddie Grant, former infielder for the Giants and Reds, was leading a rescue team to find the lost battalion when he was killed by artillery shrapnel in the Argonne forest about one month after Williams was born. He was the only major leaguer to die in the war.)
The list of big leaguers in World War II is much longer.
Ruffing, Lyons, Wynn, French
Red Ruffing won 29 games in the two seasons before answering the call. He won seven in 1945 after his discharge. I believe he could have won 35 or more in the missing two-plus years.
(He would have won 300 anyway if he hadn't spent the first half of his career with the then lowly Red Sox. The old first baseman, Joe Judge, said, We always thought Red was dogging it, that is, deliberately pitching badly in hopes of getting traded. If so, it worked. As soon as the Yankees got him, Reds victory totals and his ERA improved dramatically.)
Early Wynn won eight games in 1944 and eight in 1946. So obviously he should get eight for 1945.
Ted Lyons was 42 when the Navy called him in 1943. And he was still winning. He pitched once a week, every Sunday, and he could still win 15 games a year. He won a handful in 46 after he came back. I give him 30 more wins for his three war-time years, to go with his total of 260 in the record book. If I stretch it to 40 instead of 30, Ted would have entered the 300-club. (Joe McCarthy said Lyons would have won 400 if he had been with the Yankees.)
Larry French was 15-4 with the Dodgers in 1942 at the age of 34. I see no reason why he couldn't have won 35 in the next three years, which he spent as an officer in the Navy, participating in the Normandy landing. Added to his 197 lifetime victories, that would make 232. Larry didn't return to baseball; he stayed in the Navy and made a career out of it. Several men in Cooperstown won less than 232 games.
French Ruffing Lyons Wynn
Ages 34-36 39-41 42-45 20
Lifetime wins 197 273 260 300
Est missing years + 35 + 35 + 30 + 8
___ ____ ____ ___
Total 232 308 290 308
Spahn won more games than any other left-hander, 363. Without a war, I believe he could he might have won 400.
Warren enjoyed two good years in the lower minors before deciding to enlist in 1943 at the age of 22. I believe he needed a year in Triple A and probably would have been ready for the majors in 1944. I think he deserves at least eight big league wins in 44 and 16 in 45. That's 24.
Several combat campaigns later, Warren returned to the Braves at the age of 25 mid-way through the 1946 season. He missed the first three months because he accepted a battlefield commission that required him to stay in Service an additional year. (Stupidest thing I ever did in my life.) Its easy to award him eight more wins for the missing months. That gives him 32.
It would put him third on the all-time list, behind Cy Young (511) and Walter Johnson (417).
Could he have won 400? I don't know about that. I matured a lot in three years. I think I was better equipped to handle major league hitters at 25 than I was at 22. Also, I pitched until I was 44. Maybe I wouldn't have been able to do that otherwise.
On the other hand, the war might have helped Warren win more games. He was once asked if he had ever felt as much pressure as he did in the World Series. After you've been in combat, he said, nothing in baseball is pressure.
Lifetime wins 363
Estimated missing years + 32
Spahn, however, was conservative. He wondered if he had pitched throughout those young, wartime ages, he might not have lasted as long as he did at the end.
Whitey Ford lost ages 22-23, Curt Simmons, 21-22, and Don Newcome 26-28. Using the shoulder method, I come up with the following:
Ford Simmons Newcombe
Record book 236 193 149
Military 36 17 34
___ ___ ___
Total 272 210 183
When Bob left for duty, he had by far the most wins and strikeouts of any 22 year-old ever.
Victories through age 22 Strikeouts through 22
Bob Feller 107 Bob Feller 1223
Babe Ruth 83 Bert Blyleven 815
Dwight Gooden 73 Dwight Gooden 744
Christy Mathewson 64 Walter Johnson 717
Bert Blyleven 63 Christy Mathewson 662
Walter Johnson 57 Sam McDowell 640
Fernando Valenzuela 49 JR Richards 507
Tommy John 45 Vida Blue 471
CC Sabathia 43 CC Sabathia 461
JR Richards 40 Babe Ruth 413
Sam McDowell 34 Ferguson Jenkins 386
Christy Mathewson 34 Sandy Koufax 313
Roger Clemens 9 Pedro Martinez 269
Greg Maddux 8 Fernando Valenzuela 248
Nolan Ryan 6 Jim Palmer 245
Cy Young 0 Nolan Ryan 231
Pete Alexander 0
Lefty Grove 0
Tom Seaver 0
Steve Carlton 0
Randy Johnson 0
Feller was one of thousands of young men but the only big league player - who lined up at recruiting offices the day after Pearl Harbor. He didn't have to go. His father was dying, and he would be the sole support of his mother. People told him he was crazy; he could have stayed and pitched another year. I asked him about that over two Heinekens in 1957. He was emphatic: I've made a lot of mistakes in my life. That's not one of them.
How many victories and strikeouts did the war cost him? He estimated 100 wins and 1,000 whiffs. Those are good round numbers and entirely reasonable. Here is how other greats did in Fellers missing ages, 23 through 26:
Walter Johnson 122 Sam McDowell 1023
Christie Mathewson 110 Roger Clemens 1015
Cy Young 106 Ferguson Jenkins 994
Dizzy Dean 102 Tom Seaver 985
Robin Roberts 92 Walter Johnson 978
Ferguson Jenkins 83 Pedro Martinez 960
Tom Seaver 79 Rube Waddell 953
Roger Clemens 79 Bert Blyleven 883
Jim Palmer 77 Sandy Kouvax 855
Juan Marichal 77 Nolan Ryan 778
Greg Maddux 69 Christy Mathewson 774
Bob Feller 5 Bob Feller 59
We can subtract these ages from everyone else.
Walter Johnson would not only lose his 400 victories, he would come in under 300. The exalted Mathewson 373 would finish with 263 in a close race with Feller.
Lifetime - 23-26 = Adjusted
Cy Young 511 - 106 405
Warren Spahn 400* - 8 392
Pete Alexander 398* - 69 329
Phil Niekro 315 - 2 313
Walter Johnson 417 - 122 295
Gaylord Perry 314 - 24 290
Eddie Plank 326 - 57 289
Greg Maddux 355 - 69 286
Randy Johnson 295 - 10 285 (a)
Red Ruffing 308* - 30 278
Lefty Grove 300 - 23 277
Roger Clemens 354x - 79 275
Steve Carlton 328 - 60 269
Nolan Ryan 324 - 57 267
Don Sutton 324 - 60 264
Christy Mathewson 373 - 110 263
Bob Feller 266 - 5 261
Early Wynn 300 - 46 254
Tom Glavine 305 - 64 241 (a)
Tom Seaver 311 - 79 232
Bob Gibson 253 - 34 221
Ferguson Jenkins 284 - 67 217
Robin Roberts 286 - 92 194
Jim Palmer 266 - 77 189
* includes their own wartime adjustments.
** active through 2008
x accused of steroid use
It was a travesty of fairness when the fans and experts did not elect Feller to the All-Century team in 1999, while electing Bob Gibson, 251 wins, and Sandy Koufax, 165, with no missing war-time service. Obviously they didnt know their history.
Feller would rank seventh, just nine Ks behind Walter Johnson. Note that Nolan Ryan fanned 383 at age 26.
Lifetime Ages 23-26 Adjusted
Nolan Ryan 5714 974 4740
Roger Clemens 4672x 1015 3657
Steve Carlton 4136 726 3410
Bert Blyleven 3701 883 2818
Tom Seaver 3640 985 2655
Walter Johnson 3509 978 2531
Bob Feller 2581 59 2522
This assumes that the two years before and the two years after Fellers missing ages were about the same as his four missing ones in between. We then simply add them to his lifetime figures.
Lifetime 261 2522
Ages 22-3, 27-8 105 1065
This would move Bob up to sixth on the lifetime lists (fifth if Clemens strikeouts are disqualified):
Young 511 Ryan 5714
Johnson 417 Clemens 4672x (steroids)
Spahn 400* Carlton 4136
Alexander 398* Blyleven 3701
Mathewson 373 Seaver 3640
Feller 366* Feller 3587*
* Includes estimated wartime wins
All the big winners except Spahn played in an earlier era, when high victory totals were not uncommon. All the big strikeout pitchers played in recent years, when batters fanned about twice as often.
Meantime it was a travesty of fairness when the fans did not elect Feller to the All-Century team in 1999, while electing Bob Gibson, who had only 251 wins, and Sandy Koufax (165) with no missing war-time service. Obviously they didnt know their history.
Mountain Top Method
Are the shoulder years really equal to the missing ages, 23 through 26? They were mountain-top years for Mathewson, Johnson, Young, and many others. I believe they would have been for Feller too.
A quick answer is to show the top winners and strikeout artists in each age-range side-by-side:
Ages 24-26 Ages 21-22, 27-28
Johnson 122 Mathewson 106
Mathewson 110 Feller 98
Young 106 Johnson 90
Dean 102 Roberts 68
Roberts 92 Clemens 65
Seaver 79 Blyleven 63
Clemens 79 Martinez 63
Palmer 77 Young 61
Alexander 69 Koufax 60
Maddux 69 Maddux 60
Mathewson and Johnson both won more than 30 games twice in Bobs missing ages -- Johnsons high was 36. In more recent times Denny McLain won 30 at the age of 24. (Dizzy Dean was credited with 30 at age 24, but two were actually saves.)
Here's how others did in Bobs wartime ages compared to the shoulder years before and after:
Wartime Shoulders Wartime
23-26 21-22, 27-28 Factor
Jenkins 919 547 1.68
Clemens 933 650 1.44
Seaver 951 670 1.42
Ryan 974 778 1.25
Martinez 960 852 1.13
Johnson 978 888 1.10
Koufax 855 782 1.09
Blyleven 883 840 1.05
Mathewson 744 834 .89
In other words, Jenkins was 68% better in Bobs wartime years than in his shoulder years; Mathewson was 11% worse.
A 10% increase, equal to that of Johnson or Koufax, would give Feller 105 additional strikeouts and would move him ahead of Seaver in the all-time list. Twenty-five percent, similar to Ryans, would give him an additional 273 for a total 3850 and leapfrog him ahead of Blyleven into fourth place.
I'm going to go with 25% and let the reader pick another number if he wishes.
And remember: Feller and the other old-timers did not pitch in todays free-swinging era. In Ryans big year, 1985, the average NL better fanned 30% more often per at bat than in Fellers 1946 AL season. If Bob had pitched under those conditions, without a war, his total would be over 4,700, ahead of Carlton and second only to Ryan.
How much better were other pitchers in Bobs war-time ages, compared to the shoulders? By dividing the shoulders into the missing ages, we get a factor. For example, Roger Clemens won 44% more:
23-26 21-22, 27-28
war-time shoulders difference
Juan Marichal 77 53 1.45
Roger Clemens 79 55 1.44
Ferguson Jenkins 67 48 1.40
Tom Glavine 74 54 1.37
Walter Johnson 122 90 1.36
Robin Roberts 92 68 1.35
Eddie Plank 49 37 1.32
Nolan Ryan 57 48 1.19
Pete Alexander 69 58 1.19
Greg Maddux 69 62 1.11
Rube Waddell 67 61 1.10
Sandy Koufax 48 60 .80
The evidence heavily suggests that Fellers missing seasons were probably mountain-top years, rising like Everest above the foothills on either side. One cannot just draw a straight line from 1941 to 1946 and conclude that Bobs career would have run straight across the foothills without climbing the mountain in between.
It is not too much to award Feller another 10-20 victories above his 98 shoulder wins. Thus, instead of 366 victories, as above, he might have won 376 or 386. Could he have reached 400?
If I was close, you bet I'd have stayed in, with the right team, and gone for it.
And remember: Bob also saved 21 games, something the modern hurlers almost never do. He probably had some Holds too.
Feller feels, as I do, that he could have won 30 games at least once in the four wartime seasons. And he feels he was capable of one or more additional no-hitters.
Sure. How many one-hitters do I have?
The answer is 12.
If one draws a straight line from age 22 to 27, Johnson would lose two 30-win seasons and Mathewson one.