Drying Off the Spitty 1910s, Part 1:  The Seasons

Ask just about any historically knowledgeable fan when the modern “live” ball was introduced, and the answer you’ll receive is this: 1920. In that 1920 season, most everyone knows that Babe Ruth hit 54 home runs, utterly vaporizing the previous record (of 29, set by Ruth himself in 1919), while hitting and scoring levels soared all over the major leagues, introducing the high-scoring decade of the 1920s.

However, the historically knowledgeable fan would be wrong in this assertion. Yes, it is true that Ruth hit the 54 homers in 1920, and yes it’s true that MLB scoring jumped in 1920 to a level not seen in the preceding seasons. But it isn’t true that any of this was due to the live ball, at least not directly, because the modern cork-centered “live” ball had actually been introduced way back in 1911.

Here are a few facts of which few fans tend to be aware:

- Major league scoring jumped between 1910 and 1911 (by 17.4%) even more dramatically than it would between 1919 and 1920 (12.7%).

- Major league scoring in 1911 (4.51 runs per team/game) was higher than it would be in 1920 (4.36).

- Major league scoring in 1911-12 combined (4.52) was very nearly as high as it would be in 1920-21 combined (4.61).

- Major league scoring plummeted by 10.8% from 1912 to 1913, and dropped another 7.2% in 1914. There it stabilized at about the level it would hold through 1919.

So what gives? The live ball generated a big boost in scoring – but after two years, the boost began to evaporate. What happened?

My theory is that spit happened. Here’s how we described it last April:

The cork-centered “live” ball had been introduced to the major leagues long before 1920 — in 1911, to be exact. Hitting and scoring in both leagues took a dramatic jump in 1911-12. But pitchers soon learned to counteract the livelier new ball by perfecting, ever more ardently, methods to deface and defile it: spitballs, tobacco balls, coffee balls, mudballs; baseballs scratched and torn and stained and altered to such a degree that they became easier to curve and more difficult to see and hit. Scoring levels in both leagues declined after 1912, and for the rest of the decade they were nearly as low as they had been before 1911.

In 1920, both leagues adopted a new rule: pitchers were no longer allowed to deface the ball (under a grandfather clause, a few career spitballers were allowed to continue to ply their trade). As a means of enforcing the rule, a fresh, new, clean white baseball would be inserted into the game whenever the current ball became stained or scratched.

The rule change was made primarily in the interest of keeping the ball sanitary — getting rid of those brown slimy horrors — but the impact on scoring was unanticipated and enormous. With a fresh, new, clean, white, live cork-centered baseball in play at all times, batters suddenly entered the promised land.

Let’s suppose things didn’t go exactly that way. Let’s suppose that MLB hadn’t allowed pitchers to counterattack the live ball the way they did. Let’s suppose the spitball had been abolished before 1920 – let’s imagine it was abolished in 1913, before the practice of it succeeded at rendering the new live ball to be just about as difficult to hit as the previous dead one. How would batting and pitching stats of the period have appeared instead?

I think we have a pretty good idea how things would probably have looked. We know that scoring in 1911 and 1912 was just about the same as it would be in the first two “dry” seasons of 1920 and 1921. So let’s simply average the totals of those four seasons, and adjust the stats of the intervening seven seasons – 1913 through 1919 – to equal the 19{11,12,20,21} average. (The multipliers are provided in the References and Resources section below.)

Once we do this, here’s what the 1911 through 1921 period looks like (the 1911-12 and 1920-21 values are actual rates, and the 1913-19 values are the adjusted rates, presented in dark blue):

Year     R      H    2B    3B    HR    BB    SO    BA   ERA
1911  4.51   8.85  1.32  0.53  0.21  3.17  4.00  .266  3.37
1912  4.53   8.92  1.36  0.55  0.18  3.12  3.97  .268  3.37
1913  4.92   9.56  1.49  0.59  0.30  3.04  3.68  .282  3.73
1914  4.56   9.08  1.40  0.52  0.26  3.09  3.77  .271  3.37
1915  4.62   9.08  1.42  0.55  0.25  3.10  3.70  .270  3.46
1916  4.34   9.14  1.44  0.53  0.25  2.93  3.67  .270  3.32
1917  4.37   9.16  1.40  0.53  0.22  2.86  3.33  .270  3.27
1918  4.42   9.43  1.37  0.50  0.19  2.91  2.78  .276  3.38
1919  4.71   9.84  1.56  0.54  0.32  2.76  2.95  .286  3.75
1920  4.36   9.43  1.46  0.51  0.26  2.77  2.95  .277  3.46
1921  4.86  10.07  1.62  0.55  0.38  2.79  2.83  .290  4.03

It becomes a very interesting-looking little era, doesn’t it? Lots of singles, doubles, and triples; still only a few home runs. The ball is being put in play, increasingly so over the period, but it isn’t just being slapped; it’s being hit with some authority.

That would have been fun baseball to watch. Why don’t we imagine ourselves as fans of that baseball, viewing each season in turn.

1913 American League

It’s the best year for hitters yet in the rollicking high-scoring 1910s, as the AL scores 4.79 runs per team/game, its most since 1902, the last season before it introduced the foul strike rule. The Tigers’ Ty Cobb leads the majors in batting average at .418, clearing the .400 mark for the third consecutive year. Several AL hitters set league records: Philadelphia’s Frank “Home Run” Baker, with 19 homers and 142 RBI; Sam Crawford of Detroit, always a prolific triples hitter, with 26 three-baggers; and Eddie Collins of the Athletics, with 152 runs scored. The Cleveland Naps’ Joe Jackson doesn’t set any records, but he has perhaps the league’s best all-around offensive year, hitting .401 with 47 doubles, 20 triples, 11 homers, and 83 walks. The pennant-winning Athletics shatter the league record for runs, scoring 969.

Yet Walter Johnson of the Senators apparently never gets the memo that it’s a great hitting year, breezing to his best all-around season, at 36-7 with a 1.39 ERA (259 ERA+).

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: TY COBB, Tigers, .418
- OBP: TY COBB, Tigers, .487 (New AL record)
- Slugging: Joe Jackson, Naps, .617
- OPS: JOE JACKSON, Naps, 1.096 (Best since 1901)
- Runs: EDDIE COLLINS, Athletics, 152 (New AL record)
- Hits: JOE JACKSON, Naps, 221
- Doubles: Joe Jackson, Naps, 47
- Triples: SAM CRAWFORD, Tigers, 26 (New AL record)
- Home Runs: Frank Baker, Athletics, 19 (New AL record)
- RBI: Frank Baker, Athletics, 142 (New AL record)
- Walks: BURT SHOTTON, Browns, 102
- Batter’s Strikeouts: DANNY MOELLER, Senators, 99
- Innings: WALTER JOHNSON, Senators, 346
- Wins: WALTER JOHNSON, Senators, 36
- ERA: WALTER JOHNSON, Senators, 1.39
- Strikeouts: WALTER JOHNSON, Senators, 234
- Walks Allowed: Vean Gregg, Naps, 128
- Hits Allowed: George Baumgardner, Browns, 300
- Home Runs Allowed: Russ Ford, Yankees, and Walter Johnson, Senators, 14

1913 National League

The National League outscores even the American, at 5.06 runs per team/game, the most since its own last foul strike rule season of 1900. Home runs are the name of the game in the 1913 NL: at 0.40 per team/game, it ties the all-time record first achieved in 1894.

Gavvy Cravath of the Phillies leads the way, setting a major league record with 30 round-trippers (while driving in 156 runs and batting .367). Right behind him in homers is teammate Fred Luderus, with 29 homers, as the Phillies set an all-time record 117 home runs as a team. The Cubs’ Vic Saier hits 22 homers while also leading the league with 24 triples. Chicago’s total of 878 runs scored is the most by any NL team since 1899.

But it’s John McGraw’s pitching-rich Giants winning the pennant, their third straight.

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: Jake Daubert, Superbas, .377
- OBP: Miller Huggins, Cardinals, .443
- Slugging: GAVVY CRAVATH, Phillies, .668 (Best since 1894)
- OPS: Gavvy Cravath, Phillies, 1.095 (Best in NL since 1896)
- Runs: Max Carey, Pirates, and Tommy Leach, Cubs, 121
- Hits: Gavvy Cravath, Phillies, 201
- Doubles: RED SMITH, Superbas, 48 (Most in NL since 1899)
- Triples: Vic Saier, Cubs, 24
- Home Runs: GAVVY CRAVATH, Phillies, 30 (New ML record)
- RBI: GAVVY CRAVATH, Phillies, 156 (Best since 1895)
- Walks: Bob Bescher, Reds, 97
- Batter’s Strikeouts: George Burns, Giants, 71
- Innings: Tom Seaton, Phillies, 322
- Wins: Tom Seaton, Phillies, 27
- ERA: Christy Mathewson, Giants, 2.51
- Strikeouts: Tom Seaton, Phillies, 162
- Walks Allowed: TOM SEATON, Phillies, 140
- Hits Allowed: BOB HARMON, Cardinals, and CHRISTY MATHEWSON, Giants, 327
- Home Runs Allowed: DAN GRINER, Cardinals, and OTTO HESS, Braves, 19 (Most since 1896)

1914 American League

Scoring cools off from its 1913 peak, but remains at a robust 4.45 runs per team/game. Ty Cobb falls short of achieving a fourth straight .400 season — coming in at “only” .395 — but this mark leads the league, giving Cobb a fourth straight batting championship, and his seventh in the past eight years. His Detroit teammate Sam Crawford sets another AL record for triples, with 30, while also leading the league in RBI.

Tris Speaker of the Red Sox ties the major league record with 55 doubles, while also leading the majors in hits, with 217. His teammate, 22-year-old southpaw Dutch Leonard, goes 19-5 and leads the league with a 1.17 ERA, just a hair above Addie Joss’s league record of 1.16, set in the extremely low-scoring season of 1908. (Leonard’s 1914 ERA+ is 279, while Joss’s in 1908 had been 205.)

But Connie Mack’s deep and well-balanced Philadelphia Athletics win their fourth pennant in five years.

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: TY COBB, Tigers, .395
- OBP: TY COBB, Tigers, .480
- Slugging: Ty Cobb, Tigers, .565
- OPS: TY COBB, Tigers, 1.046
- Runs: EDDIE COLLINS, Athletics, 149
- Hits: TRIS SPEAKER, Red Sox, 217
- Doubles: TRIS SPEAKER, Red Sox, 55 (Ties ML record)
- Triples: SAM CRAWFORD, Tigers, 30 (New AL record)
- Home Runs: Frank Baker, Athletics, 14
- RBI: SAM CRAWFORD, Tigers, 127
- Walks: DONIE BUSH, Tigers, 116
- Batter’s Strikeouts: GUS WILLIAMS, Browns, 115 (New ML record)
- Innings: WALTER JOHNSON, Senators, 372
- Wins: WALTER JOHNSON, Senators, 28
- ERA: DUTCH LEONARD, Red Sox, 1.17 (Best in AL since 1908)
- Strikeouts: WALTER JOHNSON, Senators, 216
- Walks Allowed: Jim Shaw, Senators, 141 (New AL record)
- Hits Allowed: Walter Johnson, Senators, 322
- Home Runs Allowed: Jack Warhop, Yankees, 13

1914 National League

Scoring is down a bit in the NL too, but it’s still the higher-scoring of the two leagues, at 4.68 runs per team/game. Gavvy Cravath matches his 1913 record by slamming 30 home runs again, and for the second straight year, he is hotly pursued: this time it’s Vic Saier who hits 29 (despite a lowly .262 batting average). Cravath’s Phillie teammate Sherry Magee has a tremendous all-around year, hitting .340 with 47 doubles, 13 triples, 24 homers, and 125 RBI.

But the story of the year belongs to the Boston Braves. Bereft of any big-name stars, in last place as late as July 18th, they run away with the pennant with a blazing second half, and then stun the baseball world by sweeping the hugely favored Athletics in four straight in the World Series.

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: Jake Daubert, Robins, .355
- OBP: George Burns, Giants, and Gavvy Cravath, Phillies, .420
- Slugging: GAVVY CRAVATH, Phillies, .598
- OPS: Gavvy Cravath, Phillies, 1.018
- Runs: George Burns, Giants, 122
- Hits: Sherry Magee, Phillies, 192
- Doubles: Sherry Magee, Phillies, 47
- Triples: Max Carey, Pirates, 20
- Home Runs: GAVVY CRAVATH, Phillies, 30 (Ties ML record)
- RBI: Sherry Magee, Phillies, 125
- Walks: Miller Huggins, Cardinals, 108
- Batter’s Strikeouts: Fred Merkle, Giants, 77
- Innings: Pete Alexander, Phillies, 355
- Wins: Pete Alexander, Phillies, 27
- ERA: Bill Doak, Cardinals, 2.10
- Strikeouts: Pete Alexander, Phillies, 206
- Walks Allowed: LARRY CHENEY, Cubs, 144
- Hits Allowed: PETE ALEXANDER, Phillies, 367
- Home Runs Allowed: CHRISTY MATHEWSON, Giants, 26 (Most since 1894)

1915 American League

At 4.83 runs per team/game, the AL outdoes its 1913 pace. The amazing Ty Cobb leads the way. Adding 122 walks to his major-league-leading 234 hits, he compiles a nifty .500 OBP (a new AL record), steals 96 bases (a new AL record), and scores 175 runs (a new AL record). His .397 average gives him yet another batting championship. Backed by veteran star Sam Crawford and emerging star Bobby Veach, who share the league RBI title with 136, the heavy-hitting Tigers score 949 runs (just shy of the league record) and win 100 games.

But that’s not enough for the pennant: the Red Sox win 101. Boston’s championship team is anchored by a remarkably deep pitching staff, which includes a brash 20-year-old rookie lefthander, Babe Ruth, who is 18-8, 2.97 on the mound, and a lusty 341/399/691 at the plate.

The sad story of the year is that of the Philadelphia Athletics: broken up by a disgusted Connie Mack following the team’s humiliating 1914 World Series loss (about which Mack may have had suspicions of less-than-honest effort), the team crashes to a disastrous 43-109.

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: TY COBB, Tigers, .397
- OBP: TY COBB, Tigers, .500 (New AL record)
- Slugging: Jack Fournier, White Sox, .552
- OPS: TY COBB, Tigers, 1.035
- Runs: TY COBB, Tigers, 175 (New AL record)
- Hits: TY COBB, Tigers, 234
- Doubles: BOBBY VEACH, Tigers, 48
- Triples: Sam Crawford, Tigers, 22
- Home Runs: Braggo Roth, White Sox-Indians, 11
- RBI: Sam Crawford and Bobby Veach, Tigers, 136
- Walks: EDDIE COLLINS, White Sox, 123 (New AL record)
- Batter’s Strikeouts: Doc Lavan, Browns, 80
- Innings: Walter Johnson, Senators, 337
- Wins: Walter Johnson, Senators, 27
- ERA: Joe Wood, Red Sox, 1.81
- Strikeouts: Walter Johnson, Senators, 195
- Walks Allowed: WELDON WYCKOFF, Athletics, 170 (New AL record)
- Hits Allowed: Harry Coveleski, Tigers, 304
- Home Runs Allowed: Ray Fisher and Jack Warhop, Yankees, 11

1915 National League

NL scoring is at 4.42 runs per team/game, its lowest since 1911. The Philadelphia Phillies win their first pennant on the strength of two tremendous individual performances. Premier slugger Gavvy Cravath smashes his own major league home run record by blasting 38, also leading the majors with 140 RBI and a .622 slugging percentage, and leading the NL in runs, walks, and on-base percentage. 28-year-old righthander Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander bursts into superstardom by leading the major leagues in innings, wins, ERA, and strikeouts.

Despite a lineup featuring three power hitters — Cy Williams with 21 homers, Frank Schulte with 19, and Vic Saier with 18 — the Chicago Cubs finish at 73-80, in fourth place. Despite a great year from star second baseman Larry Doyle, the Giants fall to last place.

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: Larry Doyle, Giants, .345
- OBP: Gavvy Cravath, Phillies, .407
- Slugging: GAVVY CRAVATH, Phillies, .622
- OPS: Gavvy Cravath, Phillies, 1.029
- Runs: Gavvy Cravath, Phillies, 108
- Hits: Larry Doyle, Giants, 212
- Doubles: LARRY DOYLE, Giants, 48
- Triples: TOM LONG, Cardinals, 29
- Home Runs: GAVVY CRAVATH, Phillies, 38 (New ML record)
- RBI: GAVVY CRAVATH, Phillies, 140
- Walks: Gavvy Cravath, Phillies, 89
- Batter’s Strikeouts: DOUG BAIRD, Pirates, 85
- Innings: PETE ALEXANDER, Phillies, 376
- Wins: PETE ALEXANDER, Phillies, 31
- ERA: PETE ALEXANDER, Phillies, 1.48
- Strikeouts: PETE ALEXANDER, Phillies, 232
- Walks Allowed: Gene Dale, Reds, 110
- Hits Allowed: DICK RUDOLPH, Braves, 341
- Home Runs Allowed: CHRISTY MATHEWSON, Giants, and ERSKINE MAYER, Phillies, 14

1916 American League

Scoring drops back to 4.49 runs per team/game, nearly equal to 1914. Ty Cobb has yet another great year, hitting .398 and leading the majors with 138 runs scored. But his stranglehold on the AL batting championship is broken, as Tris Speaker outdoes him with a career-best .414. Speaker is traded by the defending champion Red Sox to Cleveland in a bombshell April deal, and The Grey Eagle proceeds to enjoy perhaps his best all-around year.

Nevertheless, Boston repeats as league and world champions. Pitching is once again the story for the Red Sox, as Babe Ruth emerges as a superstar, going 23-12 and leading the league with a 2.13 ERA in 324 innings, and meanwhile batting .296 with 5 homers (an OPS of .834) in 141 at-bats, often being deployed as a pinch-hitter.

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: TRIS SPEAKER, Indians, .414
- OBP: TRIS SPEAKER, Indians, .490
- Slugging: TRIS SPEAKER, Indians, .549
- OPS: TRIS SPEAKER, Indians, 1.039
- Runs: TY COBB, Tigers, 138
- Hits: TRIS SPEAKER, Indians, 237
- Doubles: Jack Graney and Tris Speaker, Indians, 49
- Triples: JOE JACKSON, White Sox, 24
- Home Runs: WALLY PIPP, Yankees, 19 (Ties AL record)
- RBI: DEL PRATT, Browns, 125
- Walks: BURT SHOTTON, Browns, 114
- Batter’s Strikeouts: Wally Pipp, Yankees, 79
- Innings: Walter Johnson, Senators, 371
- Wins: Walter Johnson, Senators, 25
- ERA: Babe Ruth, Red Sox, 2.13
- Strikeouts: WALTER JOHNSON, Senators, 219
- Walks Allowed: ELMER MYERS, Athletics, 173 (New AL record)
- Hits Allowed: Walter Johnson, Senators, 326
- Home Runs Allowed: Allan Russell, Yankees, 13

1916 National League

At 4.21 runs per team/game, the NL is the lowest-scoring league since the introduction of the live ball in 1911. The Brooklyn Robins win their first pennant, paced by a strong all-around performance from left fielder Zack Wheat: 199 hits, 38 doubles, 15 triples, 14 homers, and a .337 average. The Phillies finish a close second; the 35-year-old Gavvy Cravath drops to 18 home runs, but Pete Alexander remains the dominant pitcher in the major leagues.

The oddest story of the season comes from the New York Giants. At the end of play on September 6th, they’re at 59-62, in fourth place, thirteen and a half games behind. They then proceed to win 26 consecutive games in a 24-day period, all of them home games. But it’s too little too late; despite the all-time record win streak, the Giants wind up still in fourth place, seven games out.

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: Hal Chase, Reds, .366
- OBP: Bill Hinchman, Pirates, .399
- Slugging: Cy Williams, Cubs, .545
- OPS: Cy Williams, Cubs, .925
- Runs: George Burns, Giants, 128
- Hits: Hal Chase, Reds, 207
- Doubles: BERT NIEHOFF, Phillies, 50 (Most in NL since 1899)
- Triples: Bill Hinchman, Pirates, 18
- Home Runs: DAVE ROBERTSON, Giants, and CY WILLIAMS, Cubs, 19
- RBI: Heinie Zimmerman, Cubs-Giants, 101
- Walks: Heinie Groh, Reds, 87
- Batter’s Strikeouts: GAVVY CRAVATH, Phillies, 86
- Innings: PETE ALEXANDER, Phillies, 389
- Wins: PETE ALEXANDER, Phillies, 33
- ERA: PETE ALEXANDER, Phillies, 1.89
- Strikeouts: Pete Alexander, Phillies, 161
- Walks Allowed: Al Mamaux, Pirates, 140
- Hits Allowed: PETE ALEXANDER, Phillies, 363
- Home Runs Allowed: Pol Perritt, Giants, 18

1917 American League

Scoring is stable at 4.45 runs per team/game. Ty Cobb has a spectacular year, a performance to rival 1911 as the best of his astonishing career. He breaks the .400 barrier for his fourth time, and achieves career highs in hits (253, a new major league record), doubles (53), triples (28), slugging (.633, best in the AL since 1901), and OPS (1.098, best in the majors since 1901).

Thirty-three-year-old Eddie Cicotte of the pennant-winning White Sox suddenly emerges with the best pitching season in the league. Babe Ruth has another outstanding year as a pitcher, at 24-13, 2.45, but once again his hitting is even more thrilling: 351/408/537 in 128 at-bats.

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: TY COBB, Tigers, .410
- OBP: TY COBB, Tigers, .465
- Slugging: TY COBB, Tigers, .633 (Best in AL since 1901)
- OPS: TY COBB, Tigers, 1.098 (Best since 1901)
- Runs: DONIE BUSH, Tigers, 136
- Hits: TY COBB, Tigers, Indians, 253 (New ML record)
- Doubles: TY COBB, Tigers, 53
- Triples: TY COBB, Tigers, 28
- Home Runs: Wally Pipp, Yankees, 14
- RBI: BOBBY VEACH, Tigers, 125
- Walks: JACK GRANEY, Indians, 97
- Batter’s Strikeouts: Braggo Roth, Indians, 70
- Innings: Eddie Cicotte, White Sox, 347
- Wins: Eddie Cicotte, White Sox, 28
- ERA: Eddie Cicotte, White Sox, 1.86
- Strikeouts: Walter Johnson, Senators, 181
- Walks Allowed: JIM SHAW, Senators, 127
- Hits Allowed: Jim Bagby, Indians, 311
- Home Runs Allowed: Ray Caldwell, Yankees, 13

1917 National League

Scoring rebounds a tiny bit, to 4.31 runs per team/game, but it remains a little lower than that of the AL. The league lacks a particular batting star. Gavvy Cravath, at 36 years of age, takes another slugging crown and ties for the league lead in homers (with the pennant-winning Giants’ free-swinging Dave Robertson, who hits 19 for the second straight year, despite drawing just 10 walks). Emerging as the league’s best young hitter is 21-year-old Rogers Hornsby of the Cardinals, who hits .353 and leads the league in triples, OBP, and OPS.

For the third straight year, the Phillies’ Pete Alexander is the best pitcher in baseball.

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: Edd Roush, Reds, .367
- OBP: Rogers Hornsby, Cardinals, .404
- Slugging: Gavvy Cravath, Phillies, .553
- OPS: Rogers Hornsby, Cardinals, .952
- Runs: George Burns, Giants, 125
- Hits: Heinie Groh, Reds, 204
- Doubles: Heinie Groh, Reds, 47
- Triples: Rogers Hornsby, Cardinals, 20
- Home Runs: GAVVY CRAVATH, Phillies, and DAVE ROBERTSON, Giants, 19
- RBI: Heinie Zimmerman, Giants, 124
- Walks: George Burns, Giants, 77
- Batter’s Strikeouts: CY WILLIAMS, Cubs, 75
- Innings: PETE ALEXANDER, Phillies, 388
- Wins: PETE ALEXANDER, Phillies, 30
- ERA: FRED ANDERSON, Giants, 1.76
- Strikeouts: PETE ALEXANDER, Phillies, 192
- Walks Allowed: Pete Schneider, Reds, 121
- Hits Allowed: PETE ALEXANDER, Phillies, 377
- Home Runs Allowed: PHIL DOUGLAS, Cubs, 21

1918 American League

World War I forces the end of the season in early September.

Ty Cobb hits over .400 for the second straight year and for the fifth time overall. But it’s Babe Ruth who steps forward as the league’s biggest hitting star. In May, the Red Sox begin deploying him in the regular lineup on days when he isn’t pitching, and despite the shortened season he hits 18 home runs, second-most in league history. He also delivers a .325 average, 31 doubles, 13 triples, and 60 walks in just 329 at-bats; his .657 slugging percentage is a league record. He also finds time to contribute a 13-7, 2.70 record in 20 appearances on the mound. Ruth’s performance propels Boston to its fourth pennant, and fourth World Series victory, in seven years.

The pitcher of the year is the Senators’ amazing Walter Johnson, who wins 23 games despite the abbreviated schedule, his eighth consecutive 20-win season. The Big Train also leads the majors in strikeouts and ERA.

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: TY COBB, Tigers, .410
- OBP: TY COBB, Tigers, .462
- Slugging: BABE RUTH, Red Sox, .657 (New AL record)
- OPS: BABE RUTH, Red Sox, 1.086
- Runs: Ray Chapman, Indians, 102
- Hits: GEORGE BURNS, Athletics, 200
- Doubles: TRIS SPEAKER, Indians, 39
- Triples: Ty Cobb, Tigers, 16
- Home Runs: BABE RUTH, Red Sox, and TILLY WALKER, Athletics, 18
- RBI: BOBBY VEACH, Tigers, 95
- Walks: RAY CHAPMAN, Indians, 87
- Batter’s Strikeouts: BABE RUTH, Red Sox, 56
- Innings: SCOTT PERRY, Athletics, 332
- Wins: WALTER JOHNSON, Senators, 23
- ERA: WALTER JOHNSON, Senators, 1.55
- Strikeouts: WALTER JOHNSON, Senators, 156
- Walks Allowed: Slim Love, Yankees, 120
- Hits Allowed: SCOTT PERRY, Athletics, 331
- Home Runs Allowed: Happy Finneran, Tigers-Yankees, 11

1918 National League

Scoring in the NL, at 4.42 runs per team/game, is virtually equal to the AL’s rate of 4.44. But once again, the National League doesn’t present any particular standout hitting performances. The most productive offense comes from the improving Cincinnati Reds, whose lineup features Edd Roush (.360 with 8 homers, leading the league in slugging and OPS), Heinie Groh (.346 with 34 doubles, leading the league in OBP and runs scored), and Sherry Magee (.322 with 15 triples, leading the league in RBI).

The Chicago Cubs run away with the pennant, on the strength of a balanced offense and a stalwart pitching staff. The Cubs’ ace is big left-hander Hippo Vaughn, who emerges as the league’s top pitcher with Pete Alexander away in military service.

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: Zack Wheat, Robins, .361
- OBP: Heinie Groh, Reds, .410
- Slugging: Edd Roush, Reds, .511
- OPS: Edd Roush, Reds, .901
- Runs: HEINIE GROH, Reds, 105
- Hits: Charlie Hollocher, Cubs, 181
- Doubles: Heinie Groh, Reds, 34
- Triples: JAKE DAUBERT, Robins, 17
- Home Runs: Gavvy Cravath, Phillies, 13
- RBI: Sherry Magee, Reds, 93
- Walks: Max Carey, Pirates, 64
- Batter’s Strikeouts: Dode Paskert, Cubs, and Ross Youngs, Giants, 47
- Innings: Hippo Vaughn, Cubs, 290
- Wins: Hippo Vaughn, Cubs, 22
- ERA: Hippo Vaughn, Cubs, 2.11
- Strikeouts: Hippo Vaughn, Cubs, 142
- Walks Allowed: PETE SCHNEIDER, Reds, 121
- Hits Allowed: Art Nehf, Braves, 308
- Home Runs Allowed: JACK COOMBS, Robins, 16

1919 American League

AL scoring jumps to 4.99 runs per team/game, its highest since 1901. Ty Cobb exceeds .400 for the third straight year, the second time he has achieved that feat. Despite another war-shortened schedule — this time about two weeks shy of the full 154 games — Cobb’s Tiger teammate Bobby Veach smacks 54 doubles, just shy of the league record of 55. Veach also includes 20 triples among his 214 hits, while driving in 123 runs, hitting .382. George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns emerges as a major star, hitting .379 with 37 doubles, 17 triples, and 16 homers.

But all are completely overshadowed by the sensational young superstar of the Boston Red Sox. In 130 games and 449 at-bats, 24-year-old Babe Ruth puts up a batting line the likes of which no one has ever seen in the major leagues: 41 doubles, 14 triples, 47 home runs (demolishing Gavvy Cravath’s record of 38), 139 RBI, 104 walks, and a .348 average. His slugging percentage and OPS are both new major league records.

The pennant is captured by the Chicago White Sox, led by three key stars: second baseman Eddie Collins (344/420/452, with 106 runs and 97 RBI), left fielder Joe Jackson (378/442/569, with 96 runs and 117 RBI), and pitcher Eddie Cicotte (29-7, 2.22). The White Sox’s loss in the World Series comes as a major surprise, and prompts ominous rumors.

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: TY COBB, Tigers, .412
- OBP: BABE RUTH, Red Sox, .470
- Slugging: BABE RUTH, Red Sox, .810 (New ML record)
- OPS: BABE RUTH, Red Sox, 1.281 (New ML record)
- Runs: BABE RUTH, Red Sox, 125
- Hits: TY COBB and BOBBY VEACH, Tigers, 214
- Doubles: BOBBY VEACH, Tigers, 54
- Triples: BOBBY VEACH, Tigers, 20
- Home Runs: BABE RUTH, Red Sox, 47 (New ML record)
- RBI: BABE RUTH, Red Sox, 139
- Walks: JACK GRANEY, Indians, 108
- Batter’s Strikeouts: Red Shannon, Athletics-Red Sox, 67
- Innings: EDDIE CICOTTE, White Sox, and JIM SHAW, Senators, 307
- Wins: EDDIE CICOTTE, White Sox, 29
- ERA: WALTER JOHNSON, Senators, 1.81
- Strikeouts: WALTER JOHNSON, Senators, 141
- Walks Allowed: HOWARD EHMKE, Tigers, 110
- Hits Allowed: STAN COVELESKI, Indians, 321
- Home Runs Allowed: BERT GALLIA, Browns, and HANK THORMAHLEN, Yankees, 16

1919 National League

Scoring in the NL remains stable at 4.45 runs per team/game, half a run below the American. The league doesn’t present a gallery of star performances comparable to that of the AL.

The Cincinnati Reds win the pennant in a cakewalk, yet are still considered heavy underdogs heading into the World Series. The Reds’ offense features just two .300 hitters: third baseman Heinie Groh (336/409/486), and center fielder Edd Roush (347/397/480). No one on the team scores as many as 100 runs, drives in as many as 100, or hits as many as 10 homers.

The one truly remarkable offensive performance in the league occurs in a part-time role by 38-year-old veteran Phillie star Gavvy Cravath. In just 83 games and 223 at-bats, he hits 19 homers to lead the league. His batting average (.368), on base percentage (.456), and slugging percentage (.775) are all career-best rates.

Individual Leaders (ML LEADER IN CAPS):
- Batting: Edd Roush, Reds, .347
- OBP: George Burns, Giants, .417
- Slugging: Larry Doyle, Giants, .499
- OPS: Heinie Groh, .895
- Runs: George Burns, Giants, 105
- Hits: Ivy Olson, Robins, 184
- Doubles: Ross Youngs, Giants, 37
- Triples: Hy Myers, Robins, and Billy Southworth, Pirates, 16
- Home Runs: Gavvy Cravath, Phillies, 19
- RBI: Hy Myers, Robins, 89
- Walks: George Burns, Giants, 85
- Batter’s Strikeouts: RAY POWELL, Braves, 76
- Innings: HIPPO VAUGHN, Cubs, 307
- Wins: Jesse Barnes, Giants, 25
- ERA: Pete Alexander, Cubs, 2.10
- Strikeouts: Hippo Vaughn, Cubs, 136
- Walks Allowed: Jakie May, Cardinals, 90
- Hits Allowed: Dick Rudolph, Braves, 317
- Home Runs Allowed: WILBUR COOPER, Pirates, 16

Implications

Next time we’ll focus on the careers of key players in the 1913-19 period, and how the depressed offensive conditions caused by the legal spitball may impact our perceptions of them.

References & Resources
Equalizing the average rates of 19{11,12,20,21} with those of 1913-19 is achieved by using the following multipliers:

Runs: 1.2175
Hits: 1.1228
Doubles: 1.1969
Triples: 1.15209
Home Runs: 1.6035
Walks: 1.0320
Strikeouts: 0.9614

An impact of a greater rate of hits is an increase in at-bats, of course. I use a simple method to increase at-bats: every batter’s at-bats are increased by his number of increased hits. Outs are constant, of course, and I assume as well a constant rate of double plays and baserunning outs – probably not exactly proper assumptions, but close enough for our purposes.

Clearly, where this simulation is least realistic is in its assumption that all pitchers would have worked the same number of innings, including complete games. Obviously more baserunners and runs would have impacted this, but it’s very difficult to estimate how and how much, given that staff usage modes have historically been in a nearly perpetual state of change under any conditions.

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