Minor League Workhorses:  1956-1960

It’s been too long since we last visited our friends handling the heavy work in the minor leagues. We first met them in the 1946-1950 period, and then we hung out with them again in 1951-1955. Now let’s see what they did next.

Once again, we’ve recorded the top 10 pitchers in innings pitched in each minor league classification each season, then we’ve averaged the stat lines of each of those top 10 innings-workload achievers. Let’s take a look at what this yields, not just for 1956-1960, but for the entire period, 1946 through 1960 (EP = Estimated number of pitches, using Tangotiger’s pitch estimation formula). Remember that these figures represent the averages of the top 10 pitchers at each level; we’ll look at the highest individual workloads a little later. Let’s examine these workhorses classification by classification:

Class AAA/Open Top 10 Average Innings Leaders
Class      Year    G   GS   CG    IP    W    L     H    BB    SO    ERA     EP
AAA        1946   39    ?   24   280   18   15   262    78   157   2.69   4303
AAA        1947   39    ?   21   277   17   15   286    77   117   3.39   4290
AAA        1948   38    ?   18   251   16   13   268    93   122   3.93   4062
AAA        1949   41    ?   23   282   21   13   271    98   147   3.35   4448
AAA        1950   41    ?   21   283   19   14   270   102   133   3.46   4447
AAA        1951   36   32   18   249   16   12   220    98   123   3.22   3912
AAA-Open   1952   40   34   20   270   18   14   238    79   135   2.76   4094
AAA-Open   1953   42   34   18   266   19   13   253    84   115   3.30   4094
AAA-Open   1954   39   34   17   258   17   13   229   101   162   3.15   4111
AAA-Open   1955   39   34   19   259   19   13   237    76   129   2.88   3956
AAA-Open   1956   38   32   17   245   16   13   244    85   133   3.43   3905
AAA-Open   1957   35   31   14   233   16   11   215    92   139   3.29   3730
AAA        1958   35   30   14   226   15   11   209    76   127   3.31   3536
AAA        1959   36   31   13   233   15   11   226    73   122   3.31   3639
AAA        1960   38   30   13   225   14   12   226    66   121   3.37   3512

(The Pacific Coast League operated under a unique “Open Classification” status from 1952 through 1957.)

You may recall that last time I expressed surprise at the discovery that the workload at this level had only slightly declined in the early-to-mid 1950s. Well, I had the right prediction, just the wrong moment when it would occur. It occurred in the late 1950s.

Why it occurred, and why it occurred then, becomes the interesting question. I suspect it mostly had to do with the dramatic transformation of the minor league system that was taking place in those years. The Pacific Coast League example is perhaps the most dramatic: the PCL, having long enjoyed operating semi-independently from the major leagues, undertook a last-ditch effort to avoid succumbing to vassal status, with its drive to be recognized as a third major league (resulting in the “Open Classification” compromise of 1952). But for a variety of reasons (which we discussed here and here), minor league attendance nosedived through the decade of the 1950s, including in the PCL. Minor leagues were folding right and left. With the move of the Dodgers and Giants into the PCL’s two prize markets in 1958, the jig was officially up, even for the legendary Pacific Coast League: there was no longer much chance for a minor league ball club, let alone an entire minor league, to succeed independently. The only realistic business plan anymore was to accept vassal status: to be subsidized by a major league organization, in return for acting as nothing more than a developmental platform. The goal of winning a minor league championship, of making a profit by selling tickets, was now entirely secondary.

The PCL surrendered its unique status following 1957, and acknowledged that it was just another servant to the majors. This exercise makes clear that the nature of ace pitcher deployment consequently changed, not just in the PCL, but across the Triple-A level, in the International League and the American Association as well. Ace pitchers became younger. They weren’t being asked to sell tickets and win pennants; they were increasingly only being groomed to do that for someone else, in some later season. As a result, they weren’t pushed as hard: they were beginning to be protected as long-term investments.

Class AA Top 10 Average Innings Leaders
Class   Year    G   GS   CG    IP    W    L     H    BB    SO    ERA     EP
AA      1946   38    ?    ?   252   19    9   227    80   132   2.42   3874
AA      1947   36    ?   20   253   18   11   238    77   132   2.83   3909
AA      1948   40    ?   17   244   16   14   239   102   115   3.53   3938
AA      1949   38    ?   17   239   16   11   242    85    99   3.57   3785
AA      1950   40    ?   18   244   19   11   220    98   148   3.15   3908
AA      1951   37   32   20   258   16   14   227   113   130   2.92   4123
AA      1952   38   31   19   256   18   12   234    80   109   2.82   3913
AA      1953   39   31   17   251   16   12   246    99   129   3.21   4036
AA      1954   40   31   15   246   17   12   237    99   149   3.89   3982
AA      1955   39   32   18   254   19   11   226    92   146   3.03   3985
AA      1956   37   32   15   240   17   10   229    80   135   3.27   3775
AA      1957   39   31   15   243   17   12   224    88   132   3.25   3826
AA      1958   36   32   16   247   17   11   235    86   154   3.30   3920
AA      1959   39   31   17   243   16   12   241    75   137   3.48   3820
AA      1960   38   29   13   227   15   10   221    94   151   3.53   3716

At this level, top workloads had actually been a bit higher in the early ’50s than the late ’40s. They declined in the latter half of the 1950s, but the pattern wasn’t nearly as stark as that in Triple-A.

Class A Top 10 Average Innings Leaders
Class   Year    G   GS   CG    IP    W    L     H    BB    SO    ERA     EP
A       1946   33    ?   19   235   17    9   213    93   177   2.76   3805
A       1947   38    ?   16   243   17   11   230    90   145   3.05   3874
A       1948   38    ?   19   245   17   13   235   106   152   3.48   4013
A       1949   36    ?   18   245   16   13   223   100   140   3.11   3916
A       1950   34    ?   21   250   16   13   236   105   132   3.34   4025
A       1951   36   31   21   254   18   12   223   103   156   2.95   4056
A       1952   40   31   22   268   18   14   263   109   160   3.46   4360
A       1953   41   31   21   264   18   15   279    98   115   3.77   4245
A       1954   37   31   21   254   18   11   227   101   157   3.07   4056
A       1955   33   29   19   229   16   10   216    91   141   3.15   3687
A       1956   35   28   16   227   15   12   195   103   160   3.18   3690
A       1957   36   30   19   240   16   11   227    93   154   3.42   3874
A       1958   35   30   13   229   16   10   211    96   140   3.16   3705
A       1959   36   29   15   226   16   11   216    69   147   3.29   3546
A       1960   31   29   12   207   14   11   187    91   146   3.41   3383

The pattern in this classification was similar to that of Double-A, in that top workload levels peaked in the early ’50s. But the reduction in workloads that took place in the latter half of the decade was very distinct, much stronger than that in Double-A.

Class B Top 10 Average Innings Leaders
Class   Year    G   GS   CG    IP    W    L     H    BB    SO    ERA     EP
B       1946   34    ?   23   243   16   12   225   106   161   3.44   3972
B       1947   39    ?   22   263   17   12   268   117   165   4.06   4381
B       1948   44    ?   22   276   19   14   276   102   146   3.69   4417
B       1949   43    ?   24   284   20   12   268   101   143   2.90   4471
B       1950   40    ?   23   281   17   16   266   105   107   3.35   4399
B       1951   39    ?   24   275   22   11   256   101   168   2.94   4371
B       1952   41   31   25   282   22   11   234    90   126   2.77   4245
B       1953   41   31   24   278   21   11   260    85   142   2.83   4285
B       1954   42   32   21   267   18   13   259    85   146   3.57   4188
B       1955   41   32   23   271   19   13   263   109   163   3.40   4388
B       1956   40   31   24   275   20   12   260    86   180   3.54   4319
B       1957   36   29   23   244   18   12   229    82   157   3.46   3861
B       1958   36   29   16   235   16   11   215    96   181   3.14   3834
B       1959   32   29   19   219   16   11   208    93   154   3.50   3596
B       1960   33   29   14   220   16   10   207    80   158   3.38   3537

At this level, top workloads were pretty constant from the late 1940s through the mid 1950s, and then abruptly dropped off.

Class C Top 10 Average Innings Leaders
Class   Year    G   GS   CG    IP    W    L     H    BB    SO    ERA     EP
C       1946   39    ?   26   277   21   11   264    80   199   2.71   4348
C       1947   42    ?   25   288   21   12   265   104   193   3.03   4582
C       1948   45    ?   25   297   21   15   299   117   166   3.45   4817
C       1949   42    ?   25   283   21   12   274   111   193   3.23   4603
C       1950   43    ?   28   300   23   13   294   125   223   3.81   4963
C       1951   49   35   29   318   26   13   333   115   184   3.48   5152
C       1952   41   33   26   284   23   10   263   136   204   3.62   4734
C       1953   45   33   27   292   22   13   314   126   188   4.18   4896
C       1954   44   35   25   287   21   14   289    95   171   3.82   4570
C       1955   47   31   22   277   21   14   284    95   200   4.03   4498
C       1956   36   30   22   254   19   10   248    99   185   3.80   4156
C       1957   38   30   22   255   19   11   252   103   202   3.87   4228
C       1958   38   30   19   245   18   11   246   105   209   3.63   4126
C       1959   34   26   14   209   14   10   204    90   158   3.53   3473
C       1960   34   27   15   217   16    9   204    96   192   3.42   3638

Here the way top aces were worked in 1959 and 1960 bore almost no resemblance to their usage pattern of just a few years earlier.

Class D Top 10 Average Innings Leaders
Class   Year    G   GS   CG    IP    W    L     H    BB    SO    ERA     EP
D       1946   41    ?   27   292   21   14   254   106   230   2.93   4656
D       1947   44    ?   25   295   23   12   255    96   203   2.91   4593
D       1948   44    ?   26   291   23   11   266   108   186   3.04   4635
D       1949   41    ?   28   295   21   13   263   114   187   2.85   4700
D       1950   41    ?   23   281   21   12   270   116   196   3.32   4606
D       1951   41   32   27   289   24    9   264   100   219   2.89   4613
D       1952   45   27   23   283   21   10   243   125   195   2.62   4585
D       1953   43   28   22   278   22   11   251   110   204   3.15   4485
D       1954   38   30   23   263   20   11   246   110   183   3.24   4295
D       1955   43   31   24   282   22   12   274   109   194   3.47   4589
D       1956   41   26   19   247   19   10   207   112   218   2.63   4068
D       1957   39   29   20   245   19   11   213    82   205   2.69   3886
D       1958   35   28   21   234   18   10   207    74   174   2.70   3662
D       1959   34   28   19   231   19    9   204    93   179   3.04   3738
D       1960   34   26   18   227   17   10   198    97   166   3.04   3676

At the lowest rung of professional baseball, ace pitchers were small-town celebrities through the mid-1950s. But suddenly in the late ’50s, as independently-operating Class D teams and leagues were rapidly evaporating, that long-familiar baseball type, the bush league ace, was finding fewer and fewer opportunities to be employed. At the lowest level of minor league ball, as in the highest, top pitchers were now almost exclusively young major league prospects, as reflected by their suddenly carefully-modulated workload.

The Very Top Workhorses, 1956-1960

It’s in this look that we see the most dramatic difference between the late 1950s and earlier periods. From 1946 through 1950, we counted 32 separate times in which a minor league pitcher had a season in which he through 4,900 or more estimated pitches. In the next five-year segment, 1951 through 1955, the incidence of these extremely high workloads was reduced, but there were still 23.

In the period from 1956 through 1960, there were no such seasons. None. Zero.

The very high end of pitching workloads in the minor leagues was suddenly, significantly lowered in the late 1950s.

Class AAA/Open Top 10 Workloads
Pitcher          T  Age  Year  League         G  GS  CG   IP   W   L    H   BB   SO   ERA    EP
Lynn Lovenguth   R   33  1956  International 39  32  25  279  24  12  247   93  153  2.68  4318
Stan Williams    R   20  1957  Amer. Assoc   35  34  16  246  19   7  188  148  223  3.04  4204
Pete Mesa        R    ?  1956  Pacific Coast 40  32  13  241  13  12  246  137  141  3.85  4163
Don Nottebart    R   23  1959  Amer. Assoc.  39  36  13  258  18  11  249  100  131  3.52  4122
Fred Kipp        L   24  1956  International 40  33  18  254  20   7  220  118  127  3.33  4080
Dave Benedict    L    ?  1957  Amer. Assoc   35  31  16  240  12  16  282  104  106  4.69  4038
Rene Valdez      R   27  1956  Pacific Coast 41  35  18  254  22  11  245   69  148  3.43  3925
Charlie Rabe     L   25  1957  Pacific Coast 41  31  11  238  16  10  237  101  143  3.37  3908
Marshall Bridges L   27  1958  Pacific Coast 35  31  16  232  16  11  206  111  205  3.69  3895
Carlton Willey   R   26  1957  Amer. Assoc   32  32  17  247  21   6  202   94  174  3.24  3890

Only two of these Triple-A aces (Mesa and Benedict) never made the majors. Lovenguth was among the last of the old-style career minor league stars, who would have only a major league cup of coffee. A few of these guys (including Nottebart and Kipp) were hot prospects, although only one — Stan Williams — would make much of a splash in the majors, and good though he was, Williams never really broke through as the big league star it appeared he might.

Class AA Top 10 Workloads
Pitcher          T  Age  Year  League         G  GS  CG   IP   W   L    H   BB   SO   ERA    EP
Jim O'Toole      L   21  1958  South. Assoc. 35  33  21  280  20   8  245  132  189  2.44  4590
FranciscoRamirez R    ?  1959  Mexican       47  35  21  294  17  12  310   65  139  3.24  4500
Chuck Locke      R   26  1958  Mexican       40  33  25  267  19  16  263  100  144  3.37  4277
Bob Kelly        R   29  1957  South. Assoc. 38  31  22  259  24  11  261   96  185  3.34  4231
Hal Griggs       R   28  1957  South. Assoc. 45  31  14  256  21  12  241  115  169  3.34  4216
Chuck Locke      R   27  1959  Mexican       43  35  22  278  21  14  276   57  147  3.56  4197
Bob Kelly        R   28  1956  South. Assoc. 38  36  15  253  13  16  289   85  180  3.63  4196
Bob Mabe         R   26  1956  Texas         38  34  18  264  21  10  240   89  195  2.83  4188
Jack Curtis      L   23  1960  Texas         42  32  19  257  19   8  252  103  144  3.57  4158
Al Papai         R   39  1956  South. Assoc. 36  34  18  266  20  10  279   76   98  3.69  4119

Papai, a longtime minor league ace knuckleballer, and Kelly, a former major leaguer on the way down, represented the last of the dying breed here. The 21-year-old O’Toole was the hottest of these prospects, and he became a major league star, though — significantly? — his career ran aground due to arm trouble beginning at age 28. This was the second big-workhorse season for Curtis, whom we’ll see again below.

Class A Top 10 Workloads
Pitcher          T  Age  Year  League         G  GS  CG   IP   W   L    H   BB   SO   ERA    EP
Juan Pizarro     L   19  1956  South Atl.    31  31  27  274  23   6  149  149  318  1.77  4501
Ken Yoke         L    ?  1957  Western       38  32  21  262  20   8  301   92  133  4.19  4293
Marshall Bridges L   25  1956  Western       39  31  19  242  18  11  208  154  213  3.90  4249
Hugh Blanton     R    ?  1958  Western       37  31  11  240  20   6  292  107  138  4.76  4135
Juan Marichal    R   21  1959  Eastern       37  32  23  271  18  13  238   47  208  2.39  4039
Hugh Blanton     R    ?  1957  Western       33  32  24  258  20   9  263   72  138  2.86  4025
Ben Swaringen    L    ?  1957  South Atl.    36  33  18  239  13  17  223  115  183  3.84  4009
Bill Smith       L   23  1957  South Atl.    35  30  18  242  16   8  218  106  163  3.12  3943
Sherman Jones    R   22  1957  Western       34  29  18  221  10  16  212  145  165  5.09  3933
Candido Andrade  R    ?  1958  South Atl.    32  31  17  257  15  12  224   67  175  2.98  3915

Two youngsters on this list went on to be stars in the majors: Marichal a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, and Pizarro was still pitching in the big leagues at age 37.

We saw Marshall Bridges above with his workhorse season in Triple-A in 1958. He had wicked stuff, and obviously dubious control. I’ve long wondered if he would have gotten an earlier and more substantial shot in the major leagues than he did had he not been African-American. He comes across as one of the more entertaining characters in Jim Brosnan’s diary of the 1961 Cincinnati Reds’ season, Pennant Race.

Class B Top 10 Workloads
Pitcher          T  Age  Year  League         G  GS  CG   IP   W   L    H   BB   SO   ERA    EP
Ralph Mason      R    ?  1956  Southwestern  39  32  27  278  18  17  304  111  219  4.66  4694
Jodie Phipps     R    ?  1956  Southwestern  42  33  30  293  22  12  270   67  242  3.81  4523
Orlando Pena     R   22  1956  Carolina      39  32  26  286  19  12  255  100  176  2.42  4487
Bob Leach        L    ?  1956  Southwestern  42  33  21  262  11  20  331  110  126  6.42  4480
Thornton Kipper  R   29  1958  Northwest     36  34  22  282  23  11  269   74  193  2.71  4376
Bob Leach        L    ?  1957  Southwestern  37  30  26  268  19  12  258  107  158  3.76  4330
Jack Taylor      R    ?  1956  Carolina      40  31  28  289  22  11  225   80  184  2.46  4320
Ramon Salgado    R    ?  1956  Big State     40  30  20  282  21  10  262   76  154  3.16  4305
Bill Bagwell     R    ?  1956  Western Int.  37  29  22  260  23   9  303   80  152  4.29  4242
Gene Lippold     R    ?  1957  Southwestern  32  31  29  264  19  12  275   78  179  3.72  4219

Most of these guys never made the majors, so we really can’t tell whether they were prospects or veterans. Kipper had been in the majors briefly, and was playing out his career as a low-minors star. Pena was a prospect who would never become a major league star, but would kick around the majors in one capacity or another past the age of 40.

I’d sure like to know the story on that fellow Bob Leach: he goes 11-20 with a 6.42 ERA, but gets invited back to the same ball club the next year, and puts up a 19-12, 3.76 season.

Class C Top 10 Workloads
Pitcher          T  Age  Year  League         G  GS  CG   IP   W   L    H   BB   SO   ERA    EP
Leo Fergunson    R    ?  1958  California    37  33  26  291  23   8  229  134  302  3.00  4827
Pete Hernandez   R    ?  1956  California    36  34  29  287  24  10  286  109  212  4.05  4703
Bob Gontosky     R    ?  1958  California    35  33  18  252  19   7  232  184  272  3.86  4680
Gary Kroll       R   18  1960  California    35  34  17  257  17  12  191  166  309  2.91  4551
Candido Andrade  R    ?  1957  Arizona-Mex.  42  30  21  276  20  13  274   94  260  4.04  4544
Charlie Drummond R    ?  1957  California    40  29  21  259  13  18  233  147  251  3.61  4518
Israel Ferrer    R    ?  1957  Arizona-Mex.  40  31  22  265  19  12  279   98  215  4.65  4406
Tom Fitzgerald   R    ?  1958  California    36  34  16  257  18  13  278  121  143  4.03  4342
Bob Clear        R    ?  1957  Arizona-Mex.  37  31  28  268  20  11  251   83  228  3.63  4280
Nels Chittum     R   23  1956  California    37  32  24  266  23   7  249   97  180  3.62  4259

Again, a lot of guys we have a hard time knowing much about. Kroll was obviously a tremendous prospect: a huge kid (6′ 6 1/2″, 220) who threw extremely hard, but he never really mastered his control, and wasn’t able to last in the major leagues.

Class D Top 10 Workloads
Pitcher          T  Age  Year  League         G  GS  CG   IP   W   L    H   BB   SO   ERA    EP
Julio Guerra     R    ?  1957  Florida State 53  32  21  292  26   9  219  111  308  2.40  4686
Ben Rich         R    ?  1956  Georgia-Fla.  34  30  22  256  19   9  208  154  257  2.64  4453
Ken Sheppard     R    ?  1956  Georgia-Fla.  36  29  25  262  17  13  203  126  271  2.19  4363
Don Miller       R    ?  1956  Georgia-Fla.  35  29  21  238  15  15  210  180  203  3.74  4344
Gilberto Clark   R    ?  1959  Florida State 42  30  17  268  22  10  244  101  213  2.62  4333
Charles Smith    L    ?  1956  Midwest       31  29  20  242  21   4  218  115  263  2.90  4142
Jack Curtis      L   20  1957  Sooner State  37  31  24  240  18  15  238  104  219  3.71  4062
Julio Navarro    R   20  1956  Florida State 49  22  20  246  24   8  186  120  216  2.16  4033
William Jones    R    ?  1960  NY-P          30  28  17  229  20   5  195  147  196  3.93  4013
Harry Coe        L    ?  1957  Florida State 32  31  25  264  26   3  189   67  266  1.37  4005

Only two of these fellows made the majors. Curtis was a full-time starter as a 24-year-old rookie (and received a Rookie of the Year vote), but was gone from the big leagues less than two years later. Navarro was on and off of major league rosters until he was 34 years old.

That southpaw Harry Coe, whoever he was, had a pretty spectacular year there, didn’t he?

In our next installment, in a few weeks, we’ll find out how minor league workhorses were deployed into the early 1960s.

References & Resources
Estimated Pitches are calculated using Tangotiger’s Basic Pitch Count Estimator (3.3*PA + 1.5*SO + 2.2*BB), where (PA = 3*IP + H + BB).

As it lobbied to achieve major league status, the Pacific Coast League was granted unique “Open Classification” status by the National Association from 1952 through 1957. The American Association and International League both remained “AAA” classifications. See Paul J. Zingg and Mark D. Medeiros, Runs, Hits, and an Era: The Pacific Coast League, 1903-1958, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

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