The Virtual 1930 Giants:  Part Two

Last time, we began an examination of the 1930 New York Giants, who set the modern record with a .319 team batting average, yet still had holes in their lineup. These holes quite plausibly might have been filled, and then some, had the team under the direction of the great John McGraw simply not traded away three key players: center fielder Hack Wilson, second baseman Frankie Frisch, and left fielder Lefty O’Doul.

As we saw, one positive the Giants netted in their dealings was an upgrade at catcher, from light-hitting Al Spohrer to strong-hitting Shanty Hogan. But that benefit was greatly outweighed by the offensive losses the team experienced by supplanting Wilson with Wally Roettger in center field, Frisch with Hughie Critz at second base, and O’Doul with Freddy Leach in left field.

What Might Have Been: Raw Version

So, this time we’ll take a close look at just what sort of a lineup the 1930 Giants would likely have presented had those three fateful trades not taken place. First, we’ll simply examine everyone’s actual 1930 stats, swapping out Hogan, Roettger, Critz, and Leach for Spohrer, Wilson, Frisch, and O’Doul. We’ll assume the Giants’ bench players compiled the same aggregate offensive totals they actually did (because there was nothing remarkable about them), as well as the batting totals of the Giants’ pitchers (because there was nothing remarkable about those totals either).

Pos Player         AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
 1B Terry         633  139  254   39   15   23  129   57   33 .401 .452 .619 1.071  158
 2B Frisch        540  121  187   46    9   10  114   55   16 .346 .407 .520  .927  119
 SS Jackson       431   70  146   27    8   13   82   32   25 .339 .386 .529  .915  120
 3B Lindstrom     609  127  231   39    7   22  106   48   33 .379 .425 .575 1.000  141
 RF Ott           521  122  182   34    5   25  119  103   35 .349 .458 .578 1.036  150
 CF Wilson        585  146  208   35    6   56  191  105   84 .356 .454 .723 1.177  178
 LF O'Doul        528  122  202   37    7   22   97   63   21 .383 .453 .604 1.057  146
 C  Spohrer       356   44  113   22    8    2   37   22   24 .317 .361 .441  .802   95
    REGULARS     4203  891 1523  279   65  173  875  485  271 .362 .430 .583 1.013  142

    BENCH         995  161  288   38   13   18  148   76   75 .289 .342 .408  .750   82
    PITCHERS      453   46   91   10    4    7   49   14   77 .201 .225 .287  .512   23

    TOTAL        5651 1098 1902  327   82  198 1072  575  423 .337 .399 .529  .928  132

So … how about that?

The four Giants’ regulars we’ve retained were all home-grown McGraw products, acquired as youngsters on the advice of his scouts, and patiently nurtured into stardom under McGraw’s expert guidance:

- Bill Terry was an outstanding all-around first baseman, who at the age of 31 in 1930 enjoyed his career-best season: his scintillating batting average was the first breaking of the .400 barrier in the major leagues since 1925, and such a mark has been matched or exceed only one time since (by Ted Williams in 1941).

- Travis Jackson was a first-rate offensive shortstop. The only weakness in his game was that he was rather brittle; in this, his age-26 season, he missed 38 games due to various aches and pains, and that wasn’t really unusual for Jackson. But when in the lineup, his contributions were excellent. Jackson’s 1982 induction into the Hall of Fame was pretty silly, and as a result he is often derided by experts nowdays as a bogus Hall of Famer, but his very dubious Cooperstown status shouldn’t blind us to the fact that “Stonewall” was a very good player, and he had a very good year in 1930.

- Fred Lindstrom is another guy who is too often considered today within the context of his inappropriate election to the Hall of Fame (like that of Jackson, the campaign for Lindstrom was initially championed by his too-loyal former teammate Frisch). We mustn’t allow that issue to cloud our assessment of Lindstrom the player, who was very good, and who at the age of 24 in 1930 had a genuinely marvelous season.

- Mel Ott, whom we’ve discussed a couple of times as a simply great player, one who is too often overlooked and underrated by history-minded fans of today. Ott was stupendously good; bear in mind that the stat line above was presented by Master Melvin at the tender age of 21, and that OPS+ mark of 150 was among the lowest he would achieve in any season between the years of 1929 through 1945.

And of the four interlopers:

- Frankie Frisch put up the typically excellent stat line we see above at the age of 31 with the Cardinals, the ball club for which he would assume the player/manager role in mid-1933. Frisch was a terrific all-around player, and would be employed as a major league manager into the 1950s. Among modern fans, I fear that his somewhat heavy-handed role in cheerleading the Hall of Fame election of so many of his 1920s teammates has tended to overshadow just how wonderful a contributor the ebullient, loquacious Frisch was, as a player, manager, and booster of the sport.

- Hack Wilson never had another season quite like the one he had in 1930, but then again, neither did just about anyone else. His 191 RBIs remain the all-time record, and his 56 homers were the National League standard until Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa finally bested it in 1998. But to consider Wilson as some sort of a one-year-wonder, a fluke case, would be quite wrong: his OPS+ in his peak 1930 season was a tremendous 178, but his marks in the four years leading up to it were all superstar-quality as well: 151, 160, 158, and 155. He broke down pretty quickly following 1930, and thus his rather short career means his Hall of Fame selection was highly questionable, but there is no uncertainty around the fact that for a five-year span, Wilson was a truly great player.

- Lefty O’Doul isn’t in the Hall of Fame, and he doesn’t belong there. But in the four seasons he spent as a major league regular, at ages 32 through 35, O’Doul’s hitting was so exceptionally good as to suggest that had he played as a full-time hitter in the majors through his 20s, O’Doul might very well have forged a Hall of Fame-caliber career. Following his abbreviated major league appearance, O’Doul enjoyed long service as a manager in the Pacific Coast League, mostly (but not exclusively) with the San Francisco Seals. The convivial San Francisco native was a hugely popular figure in his hometown for decades, and the downtown hofbrau bearing his name (which really was his place) remains as lively and crowded as ever. (I recommend the corned beef and cabbage, with a tall draft beer.)

- Al Spohrer was obviously never a star. I bet you’ve never heard of him; neither had I until I undertook this research. But he was good enough to catch in over 700 major league games, which means he must have been pretty good. Fortunately for the virtual 1930 Giants of this exercise, Spohrer enjoyed far and away his best year with the bat in 1930; it wasn’t just a league-context illusion.

So, let’s consider what kind of numbers this group of eight put together in 1930. Wilson and Terry piled up historically momentous figures, of course. But Ott, Lindstrom, and O’Doul were all extraordinary too, and Frisch and Jackson hit awfully darn well for middle infielders. Only Spohrer was unexceptional, but his OPS+ was pretty good for a catcher.

It adds up to some mind-boggling totals. The .337 team average, of course, shatters the record of .319 set by the actual 1930 Giants. The 198 home runs blows away the major league record of 171 that the Cubs (led by Wilson) established that season. The team on-base percentage of .399 and the team slugging average of .529 both dwarf all modern records, as of course does the team OPS of .928. The runs scored total that these players rack up—1,098—is impressive enough, easily surpassing the 20th-century record, but it underestimates how many runs this team would have actually scored: the Runs Created formula based on this ball club’s raw stats would yield a figure quite a bit greater than 1,098.

But, of course, this all isn’t quite right. Every stat is a creature of its context; these guys wouldn’t have put up exactly the runs scored and RBI figures we see here had they been playing together in the same lineup, and more fundamentally Frisch, Wilson, O’Doul, and Spohrer wouldn’t likely have hit at exactly these rates had they been playing their home games in the Polo Grounds instead of elsewhere, and facing different sets of opposing pitching staffs than those they actually faced.

So, instead of just looking at the raw numbers, let’s consider what sort of figures this lineup might actually have rendered had they been playing together for the Giants in 1930.

What Might Have Been: Refined Version

It’s hardly scientific, but I’ve endeavored here to factor everything into consideration as well as I reasonably can: the different park factors, the different opponent pitchers, playing time, and batting order, as well as the fact that a team with this kind of OBP would have its batters come to plate more often than did the actual 1930 Giants, as well as the fact that a team winning games as frequently as this one would have its batters come to the plate less often in the bottom of the ninth inning than did the actual 1930 Giants.

The standard batting order I figure McGraw would likely have deployed (not that it’s necessarily optimal) is as follows:

1. Frisch, 2b
2. Terry, 1b
3. Ott, rf
4. Wilson, cf
5. O’Doul, lf
6. Lindstrom, 3b
7. Jackson, ss
8. Spohrer, c
9. pitcher

Here’s my guesstimate as to what all this would have yielded:

Pos Player         AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
 1B Terry         649  154  260   40   15   24  111   58   34 .401 .452 .619 1.071  158
 2B Frisch        567  135  184   39    9   13   71   59   18 .324 .388 .493  .881  113
 SS Jackson       431   82  146   27    8   13   86   32   25 .339 .386 .529  .915  120
 3B Lindstrom     603  108  229   39    7   22  116   48   33 .379 .425 .575 1.000  141
 RF Ott           534  147  187   35    5   26  123  106   36 .349 .458 .578 1.036  151
 CF Wilson        583  152  196   30    7   60  175  108   86 .336 .441 .720 1.161  177
 LF O'Doul        528  123  190   32    9   24  125   65   19 .360 .435 .591 1.026  147
 C  Spohrer       356   56  112   21    8    3   56   23   23 .315 .360 .444  .804   94
    REGULARS     4251  957 1503  262   68  184  863  498  273 .354 .423 .577 1.000  141

    BENCH         815  141  236   33   11   13  138   68   60 .289 .346 .405  .751   82
    PITCHERS      461   51   93   10    4    7   54   14   78 .201 .225 .287  .512   23

    TOTAL        5527 1149 1832  305   83  204 1055  580  411 .331 .396 .528  .924  131

So, among the points of interest:

- Terry would set the major league record with 260 hits, that wouldn’t be broken until Ichiro would come along in 2004.

- Wilson would tie Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, but while his 175 RBIs would tie the major league mark set by Lou Gehrig in 1927, it would be surpassed by Gehrig in 1931, as well as by Hank Greenberg in 1937, and tied by Jimmie Foxx in 1938. However, it would remain the National League RBI record to this day.

- On a team basis, the 1930 Giants would set 20th-century records for runs, hits, batting average, and on-base percentage, and all-time records for home runs, slugging average, and OPS. (Interestingly, though, their OPS+ of 131 wouldn’t be a record, falling short of the 137 posted by the 1927 Yankees.) The 1930 Giants’ home run mark of 204 would be broken (first by the Windowbreakers of 1947), but all the rest of their team offense records would stand to this day.

- If we assume the 1930 Giants would have allowed the total of runs they actually did (814)—and there’s little reason not to do so, since this alternative scenario we envision wouldn’t significantly impact any of their pitchers, and wouldn’t dramatically impact the team’s fielding ability—the Pythagorean formula yields a 1930 win-loss record of 103-51. Especially considering that the teams that actually finished ahead of them would be without key stars—the Cardinals wouldn’t have Frisch, and the Cubs wouldn’t have Wilson—the 1930 Giants would breeze to a runaway pennant.

- With this core of talent on board, the 1930 pennant might very likely have been the Giants’ fourth in a row, shortly after the four straight flags they’d already bagged in 1921-24. We would regard the Giants of this period as among the most potent dynasties in history.

Concluding Thoughts

The sequence of events that would have led to this version of the 1930 Giants is highly plausible; bear in mind that we haven’t invoked any transactions here that didn’t actually occur, all we’ve done is have the Giants not execute four trades that did occur (the Hack Wilson trade of 1925, the Frankie Frisch trade of 1926, and the Al Spohrer and Lefty O’Doul trades of 1928).

Moreover, this isn’t even the fully best-case plausible scenario: it isn’t unreasonable to think that the Giants could have acquired Shanty Hogan from the Braves even without expending Rogers Hornsby to get him. The Braves in that period were financially strapped (generally last in the league in attendance, or close to it); less than a year after acquiring Hornsby from the Giants, they would turn around and peddle him to the Cubs in exchange for a bunch of mediocrities and a huge sack of cash. One can easily imagine the Giants getting Hogan from them in some sort of an Al Spohrer-and-a-bag-of-money deal. Do that, and in place of Spohrer’s weak-link 94 OPS+ in their lineup, envision Hogan’s healthy 115.

Another interesting variation on this is to allow the Giants to make the Frisch-for-Hornsby trade, while keeping Wilson and O’Doul. Then, instead of trading Hornsby to the Braves, the Giants keep him. That scenario wouldn’t have worked out so well for the Giants in 1930, as Hornsby got hurt that year and missed most of the season. But think about what it would have done for them in 1929: the Giants’ lineup that year would have featured Hornsby, Wilson, and O’Doul, along with Terry and Ott. On the actual NL offensive leaderboard in 1929:

- O’Doul was first in batting average at .398, Hornsby was third at .380, and Terry was fourth at .372.

- In OBP, O’Doul, Hornsby, Ott, Wilson, and Terry were 1-2-4-8-10.

- In SLG, Hornsby, Ott, O’Doul, and Wilson were 1-3-5-6.

- In OPS, Hornsby, O’Doul, Ott, and Wilson were 1-2-3-6.

- In runs scored, Hornsby, O’Doul, Ott, and Wilson were 1-2-3-4.

- In hits, O’Doul, Hornsby, and Terry were 1-3-4.

- In total bases, Hornsby, O’Doul, Wilson, and Ott were 1-3-4-6.

- In home runs, Ott, Hornsby, Wilson, and O’Doul were 2-3-4-5.

- In RBI, Wilson, Ott, Hornsby, O’Doul, and Terry were 1-2-3-8-9.

- In walks, Ott, Hornsby, Wilson, and O’Doul were 1-4-8-9.

- In OPS+, Hornsby, Ott, O’Doul, and Wilson were 1-2-3-5.

Hoo boy.

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