The virtual 1968-76 Braves, Astros, and Reds (Part 5:  1971-72)

We’ve covered four complete seasons of our trio of National League West contestants in the alternate-universe late ’60s/early ’70s:

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-virtual-1968-76-braves-astros-and-reds-part-1-1967-68/
http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-virtual-1968-76-braves-astros-and-reds-part-2-1968-69/
http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-virtual-1968-76-braves-astros-and-reds-part-3-1969-70/
http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-virtual-1968-76-braves-astros-and-reds-part-4-1970-71/

              Braves:  Actual           Astros:  Actual            Reds:  Actual
 Year     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA
 1968    81   81  5    514  549    72   90 10    510  588    83   79  4    690  673
 1969    93   69  1    691  631    81   81  5    676  668    89   73  3    798  768
 1970    76   86  5    736  772    79   83  4    744  763   102   60  1    775  681
 1971    82   80  3    643  699    79   83 4T    585  567    79   83 4T    586  581

              Braves:  Virtual          Astros:  Virtual           Reds:  Virtual
 Year     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA
 1968    86   76  3    538  535    68   94 10    516  634    81   81  5    671  669
 1969   105   57  1    762  597    94   68  2    726  611    90   72  3    794  752
 1970    89   73  2    817  725    85   77 4T    726  692   104   58  1    779  675
 1971    91   71  2    713  684    92   70  1    629  520    82   80  5    605  576

Our Braves ran away with it in ’69, and our Reds matched that feat in 1970. In ’71, our Astros surprised with a sneak-attack championship in a squeaky-close race.

In real life, the 1971-72 offseason featured perhaps the most active trading market in major league history. Will our ball clubs indulge in the frantic wheeling and dealing?

The 1971-72 offseason: Actual deals we will make

Dec. 2, 1971: The Atlanta Braves traded catcher Hal King to the Texas Rangers for catcher Paul Casanova.

Like the real-life Braves, we’ll decide that optimizing defense over offense is appropriate for catchers backing up Earl Williams.

Dec. 3, 1971: The Cincinnati Reds traded pitcher Wayne Granger to the Minnesota Twins for pitcher Tom Hall.

We really don’t understand what the Twins are thinking. As effective as Granger has been, Hall has been even better for the past two years, and besides he’s four years younger than Granger. Hall’s strikeout rates are off-the-chart tremendous; he’s a very special young pitcher.

The 1971-72 offseason: Actual deals we will not make

Oct. 14, 1971: The Houston Astros sold pitcher Denny Lemaster to the Montreal Expos.

Our Astros don’t have Lemaster. Our Braves do, and we aren’t ready to dump him.

Nov. 29, 1971: The Cincinnati Reds traded first baseman Lee May, second baseman Tommy Helms, and infielder-outfielder Jim Stewart to the Houston Astros for second baseman Joe Morgan, pitcher Jack Billingham, infielder Denis Menke, and outfielders Cesar Geronimo and Ed Armbrister.

Okay, just:

… one of the most impactful transactions in the history of the sport. Cincinnati GM Bob Howsam executed a masterpiece in two separate ways.

Conceptually, Howsam’s brilliance was in seizing the opportunity to address, in one bold stroke, two of his high-profile ball club’s structural flaws. The Big Red Machine had suffered an off-year in 1971, but had been the NL’s pennant winner in 1970, and in both seasons their key strength was the tremendous power-hitting core of Tony Perez, Johnny Bench and Lee May. However, within that very core nestled two problems: All three big sluggers were right-handed batters, and two of the three were natural first basemen.

Right-handed, slow-footed big swingers back-to-back-to-back at the heart of the Reds’ lineup rendered them vulnerable to right-handed pitching, as well as prone to rally-killing double play grounders. And finding room for Perez and May in the lineup required the Reds to deploy Perez at third base, creating a fielding weakness. Thus the essential swap at the epicenter of this tectonic shift—May-for-Morgan—dealt with both issues at once, balancing the team’s offensive profile while clearing space for Perez to shift to first base, allowing the defense to be improved at third.

And from a practical standpoint, Howsam didn’t just get Morgan for May, he got so very much more. By simply adding the slick-fielding-but-light-hitting Helms and utility player Stewart to the package, Howsam yielded in return Menke (a solid veteran who would, in the short run, capably fill the third base opening), Billingham (a workhorse starting pitcher just entering his prime) and Geronimo (a 23-year-old outfielder with world-class defensive tools). Howsam even got the Astros to toss a prospect (Armbrister) into the jackpot.

One was left in gaping wonder (as one often was) what in the world Astros GM Spec Richardson was thinking: May and Helms were good talents, but each had obvious flaws; it just didn’t add up for Houston to surrender this quantity of resources to get them.

To be sure, it isn’t fair to credit Howsam with the prescience of anticipating Morgan’s subsequent improvement. But the issue is that even if Morgan hadn’t improved at all, and had just continued to perform for the Reds the way he’d performed for the Astros, Cincinnati still would have won this deal. Morgan’s sudden transformation from terrific all-around second baseman into inner-circle all-time great was simply delectable icing on the cake.

But when our Reds suggest a deal along these lines, our Astros giggle.

Dec. 2, 1971: The Houston Astros traded first baseman John Mayberry and infielder Dave Grangaard to the Kansas City Royals for pitchers Jim York and Lance Clemons.

And when the Royals propose this one, our Astros laugh out loud.

March 24, 1972: The Cincinnati Reds traded pitcher Tony Cloninger to the St. Louis Cardinals for second baseman Julian Javier.

Our Reds no longer have Cloninger, and don’t have a need for Javier.

The 1971-72 offseason: Deals we will invoke

Oct. 18, 1971: The Atlanta Braves traded outfielder-first baseman Art Shamsky to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder-first baseman Jim Beauchamp.

Beauchamp-for-Shamsky was one element of a big trade between the Cardinals and the New York Mets on this day. Shamsky’s chronically bad back really got the best of him in 1971, and our Braves want to get something for him while we can.

Nov. 3, 1971: The Atlanta Braves traded infielder Marty Martinez to the St. Louis Cardinals for catcher Bob Stinson.

Actually the Cards made this deal with Houston. Our Braves will accommodate them.

Nov. 29, 1971: The Cincinnati Reds traded first baseman Lee May to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Matty Alou and pitcher Reggie Cleveland.

Unable to find interest in May from our Astros, our Reds find a taker in St. Louis.

We aren’t trading May because we find particular fault with him; he’s a terrific slugging first baseman in the prime of his career. But based on the same reasoning exhibited by the actual Reds, our version has concluded that for the long-term structural improvement of the ball club, either Lee May or Tony Perez has got to go.

In considering which of them to deal, we acknowledge that while Perez is the older of the two by a year, he’s also the better all-around athlete and has proven to be more durable, and is thus likely to age more gracefully. Most importantly, though May outhit Perez in 1971, over the course of their careers Perez has been the superior run producer. Perez doesn’t quite have May’s sheer power, but he draws more walks, and generally hits for the higher average.

The Cardinals would have a keen interest in May because in our scenario, they never traded Orlando Cepeda for Joe Torre. Therefore they’ve had Cepeda holding down first base, and in 1971 he suffered a recurrence of his old knee injury and missed the second half of the season, and at the age of 34 his future is in real doubt.

Under the circumstances, we find the package of Alou and Cleveland to be fair compensation. In his early 30s, Alou has lost a step and is past his prime, but he’s still a fine (left-handed!) hitter whom we can work into our corner outfield rotation. And the young right-hander Cleveland doesn’t project as a star, but he’s already established himself as a durable strike-thrower, a solid supporting cast member.

Dec. 3, 1971: The Houston Astros traded infielder Derrel Thomas and pitchers Bill Greif and Bob Snyder and cash to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Dave Roberts.

The actual deal included southpaw prospect Mark Schaeffer in place of the minor leaguer Snyder, but our Astros don’t have Schaeffer. He wasn’t the key to the deal anyway from the Padres’ perspective; Greif and, especially, Thomas, were, as both were impressive prospects.

But still, for San Diego:

This was a baffling move: the Padres were a very young team, struggling mightily to become competitive and build a fanbase, and here they were surrendering one of their best players, whom they’d patiently nurtured through his hard-knocks development phase, in exchange for yet more undeveloped young talent.

As did the real-life Astros, ours can recognize an immediate-term upgrade when we see it.

Dec. 3, 1971: The Cincinnati Reds traded pitcher Steve Mingori to the Houston Astros for pitcher Jim McGlothlin.

Each of our teams is perfectly happy with each of these guys, but it’s a matter of our Reds having more need for a right-handed starter than a left-handed reliever, and the opposite for our Astros.

Dec. 4, 1971: The Atlanta Braves traded catcher Bob Didier, pitcher Rick Kester, and cash to the Houston Astros for infielder Fred Stanley and catcher Mike Ryan.

Didier and Ryan are essentially the same player, but our Astros see this as an upgrade given that Didier is the younger by seven years. And Houston is willing to surrender Stanley because Ray Busse, a shortstop with some pop in his bat, looks ready for the majors.

Dec. 6, 1971: The Cincinnati Reds traded pitcher Wayne Simpson to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Ted Uhlaender.

The actual deal was Milt Wilcox for Uhlaender, but our Reds aren’t willing to do that, and we see no reason to expect that the Indians wouldn’t have been just as happy to take Simpson.

March, 1972: The Houston Astros traded pitcher Jim Ray to the Pittsburgh Pirates for catcher-outfielder Carl Taylor and cash.

March, 1972: The Houston Astros sold catcher Larry Howard to the Kansas City Royals.

March, 1972: The Cincinnati Reds sold infielder-outfielder Jim Stewart to the Houston Astros.

March, 1972: The Atlanta Braves sold outfielder-first baseman Jim Beauchamp to the New York Mets.

March, 1972: The Atlanta Braves sold pitcher Jim Nash to the Boston Red Sox.

Putting the finishing touches on the Opening Day rosters.

April 15, 1972: The Houston Astros traded pitchers Scipio Spinks and Tom House to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Jerry Reuss.

And then there’s this, enacted on the strike-delayed Opening Day itself. Actually it was Spinks and Lance Clemons for Reuss, but our Astros don’t have Clemons and House is more than adequate to take his place.

Spinks throws very hard and is an intriguing prospect, but he’s still fighting his control and isn’t nearly as developed as Reuss, who’s already got almost 350 big league innings under his belt. But as we’ve noted, from the Cardinals’ perspective this deal “… had nothing to with attempting to improve the St. Louis roster, and everything to do with ridding it of a personality who displeased [owner Gussie] Busch.” Our Astros will happily indulge the mercurial Busch’s fit of pique.

The 1972 season: Actual deals we will make

April 28, 1972: The Atlanta Braves signed pitcher Jim Hardin as a free agent.

A worthwhile salvage from the scrap heap. He was fleetingly a star and has always thrown strikes.

June 13, 1972: The Houston Astros purchased infielder Gary Sutherland from the Montreal Expos.

In the case of our Astros, replacing Ray Busse, who contrary to our expectation is proving not ready for prime time.

The 1972 season: Actual deals we will not make

May 19, 1972: The Cincinnati Reds traded outfielder Bernie Carbo to the St. Louis Cardinals for first baseman-outfielder Joe Hague.

It’s understandable that the Reds would be frustrated with Carbo, whose bat has fallen into a persistent funk following his brilliant 1970 rookie-year performance. But replacing him with Hague simply eliminates the upside, and moreover Hague is four years older than Carbo. We’ll take a breath and apply some patience.

May 25, 1972: The Houston Astros signed pitcher Joe Gibbon as a free agent.

We don’t need him.

June 29, 1972: The Atlanta Braves traded first baseman Orlando Cepeda to the Oakland Athletics for pitcher Denny McLain.

We don’t have Cepeda, and probably wouldn’t want to take on this particular piece of work anyway.

The 1972 season: Deals we will invoke

June 15, 1972: In a three-club deal, the Atlanta Braves sent pitcher Luis Tiant to the Boston Red Sox, and pitcher Gary Neibauer and cash to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Red Sox sent pitcher Jim Nash to the Phillies, and the Phillies sent pitcher Joe Hoerner and first baseman Andre Thornton to the Braves.

Actually on this date, the Braves traded Nash and Neibauer to the Phillies for Hoerner and Thornton. We’ll involve the Red Sox and square the circle.

Tiant was still struggling with his control in the spring of ’72. It would be just following this point that he would finally put it back together and re-emerge as a star. Dang it.

June 15, 1972: The Atlanta Braves sold pitcher Steve Barber to the California Angels.

June 15, 1972: The Atlanta Braves released pitcher Denny Lemaster.

We’re giving that ever-troublesome bullpen of ours a serious housecleaning.

1972 season results

Braves

We haven’t made significant alteration to the ball club that came very close to a division flag last year. We welcome Rico Carty back to the left field mix, and have tinkered with the backup catching, but largely it’s the same crew.

      1972 Atlanta Braves     Won 76    Lost 78    Finished 4th

 Pos  Player        Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
  1B  J. Torre      31   145 544  76 161  26   3  17  81  54  67 .296 .364 .449 .812  122
  2B  F. Millan     28   125 498  50 128  19   3   1  38  23  28 .257 .288 .313 .602   65
  SS  M. Perez      26   113 286  21  65   8   1   1  17  18  33 .227 .274 .273 .547   51
  3B  D. Evans*     25   125 418  72 106  12   0  19  69  90  58 .254 .384 .419 .803  121
  RF  H. Aaron      38   129 449  80 119  10   0  34  78  92  55 .265 .390 .514 .904  147
  CF  D. Baker      23   127 446  64 143  27   2  17  77  45  68 .321 .382 .504 .886  142
LF-RF R. Garr*      26   123 462  79 149  18   0  10  45  21  33 .323 .353 .426 .779  113
 C-OF E. Williams   23   136 452  52 117  19   2  22  71  50  94 .259 .337 .456 .793  116

  LF  R. Carty      32    95 271  30  75  12   2   6  30  44  33 .277 .378 .402 .780  115
  IF  D. Menke      31    86 256  26  64  10   1   8  24  32  45 .250 .330 .391 .721   97
  OF  M. Lum*       26   103 234  25  52   9   1   6  20  30  34 .222 .315 .346 .661   81
SS-2B F. Stanley    24    86 180  16  40   5   0   1   8  25  35 .222 .317 .267 .584   62
  1B  J. Breazeale* 22    61 113  15  29   3   0   6  18   9  15 .257 .311 .442 .754  105
  C   B. Stinson#   26    48  89   9  20   3   0   1   6   8  14 .225 .294 .292 .586   62
  C   P. Casanova   30    54  91   5  18   2   0   1   5   3  19 .198 .223 .253 .476   31

      Others                  52   6  15   3   0   1   5   3   9 .288 .321 .404 .725   98

      Pitchers               394  26  67   6   0   3  24  19 140 .170 .197 .208 .404   11

      Total                5235 652 1368 192  15 154 616 566 780 .261 .332 .392 .724   98

      *  Bats left
      #  Bats both

      Pitcher       Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
      P. Niekro     33    38  36  17  16  11   0 282 254 112  96   22   53  164 3.06  123
      R. Reed       29    31  30  11  11  14   0 213 222 109  93   18   60  111 3.93   96
      M. Pappas     33    29  28  10  16   8   0 195 187  68  60   18   29   80 2.77  136
      G. Stone*     25    31  16   2   6  10   1 111 143  72  68   18   44   63 5.51   68
      R. Schueler   24    28  13   2   5   7   1 109  91  50  44   12   45   72 3.63  104
      T. Kelley     28     7   4   1   1   2   0  29  31  16  15    3   16   15 4.66   81

      C. Upshaw     29    42   0   0   3   4  13  54  50  22  22    5   19   23 3.67  103
      P. Jarvis     31    39   8   0  11   8   3 109 105  56  50    8   47   60 4.13   91
      J. Hoerner*   35    25   0   0   1   3   3  23  34  18  17    4    8   19 6.65   57
      M. McQueen*   21    22   6   1   0   4   2  70  71  40  36   10   40   36 4.63   81
      J. Hardin     28    22   6   0   3   1   2  60  69  33  28    7   18   20 4.20   90
      S. Barber*    34    14   0   0   0   0   1  27  26  14  14    1   19   13 4.67   81
      D. Lemaster*  33    13   0   0   0   1   1  20  28  18  18    3    6   13 8.10   47
      L. Tiant      31    12   3   0   0   3   0  27  24  14  13    2   22   21 4.33   87
      G. Neibauer   27     5   0   0   0   0   0  11  18  10   9    4    4    5 7.36   51

      Others                   5   1   3   2   0  36  39  24  23    7   23   18 5.75   66

      Total                  155  45  76  78 27 1376 1392 676 606 142  453  733 3.96   95

      *  Throws left

In his sophomore season, center fielder Dusty Baker blossoms with the bat. But generally as a team we’re unable to hit as robustly as we’ve been accustomed. At age 38, Hank Aaron at last begins to appear semi-mortal, and 31-year-old Joe Torre merely hits well instead of brilliantly. Carty proves to be good, but not his old self. Overall our offense is pretty good, but nothing special.

And while our starting pitching isn’t too bad, that imploding bullpen is a complete disaster. The midseason reconstruction gets us nowhere, with Joe Hoerner’s cliff dive a particular frustration.

We’re never a factor in the race, and sag to just below .500, by far our worst showing since 1967.

Astros

The defending division champs haven’t made any big changes to the lineup. We’re looking for further development from our young hitters, and if left fielder Jim Wynn proves unable to bounce back from his dismal 1971 showing, we think we’ve got sufficient alternatives in Johnny Briggs and Bob Watson.

On the mound, we’re delighted that we’ve managed to add young southpaw starters Dave Roberts and Jerry Reuss to the league’s best staff without surrendering any of our key talent.

      1972 Houston Astros     Won 98    Lost 55    Finished 1st

 Pos  Player        Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
  1B  J. Mayberry*  23   149 503  79 151  25   4  24 117  77  76 .300 .394 .509 .902  158
  2B  J. Morgan*    28   149 552 128 167  24   4  16  66 115  42 .303 .424 .447 .871  151
  SS  R. Metzger#   24   122 385  40  87   7   2   1  23  36  43 .226 .289 .262 .551   60
  3B  D. Rader      27   152 553  60 131  24   7  22  91  57 120 .237 .308 .425 .733  109
  RF  R. Staub*     28    66 239  45  71  12   1   8  45  31  13 .297 .374 .456 .830  137
  CF  C. Cedeño     21   139 559 108 179  39   8  22  97  56  62 .320 .384 .537 .921  162
LF-RF J. Wynn       30   138 488 109 133  26   3  22  73  93  89 .273 .388 .473 .862  147
  C   J. Edwards*   34    96 266  26  71  13   2   4  32  40  31 .267 .357 .376 .733  111

C-L-R B. Watson     26    98 274  31  81  13   2   7  44  25  44 .296 .358 .434 .793  127
  OF  C. Geronimo*  24   108 204  26  57   8   6   3  23  19  50 .279 .342 .422 .764  118
  LF  J. Briggs*    28    91 156  24  43   6   1   6  25  20  25 .276 .352 .442 .794  127
  SS  G. Sutherland 27    58 150  15  36   6   1   0  13  12  16 .240 .293 .293 .586   69
  C   B. Didier#    23    63 123   9  29   5   1   0  11   7  11 .236 .276 .293 .569   64
  SS  R. Busse      23    35 104   8  19   2   1   1   7   7  30 .183 .246 .250 .496   43
  UT  C. Taylor     28    53  75  11  19   1   1   0   7  11  12 .253 .348 .293 .642   86
  UT  J. Stewart#   33    57  64   9  13   3   1   0   6   4   6 .203 .243 .281 .524   50
RF-LF R. Chiles*    22    32  53   4  11   3   0   1   5   3   8 .208 .263 .321 .584   67

      Others                   9   1   2   0   0   0   0   2   1 .222 .364 .222 .586   72

      Pitchers               401  26  61   6   1   5  23  11 167 .151 .161 .207 .367    5

      Total                5158 759 1361 223  46 142 708 626 846 .264 .341 .407 .749  114

      *  Bats left
      #  Bats both

      Pitcher       Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
      M. Cuellar*   35    35  35  16  21   8   0 245 214  88  81   22   74  131 2.98  113
      D. Wilson     27    33  33  13  16  10   0 228 196  78  68   16   66  172 2.68  125
      L. Dierker    25    28  28  11  15   7   0 194 187  77  72   13   46  105 3.34  101
      D. Roberts*   27    28  22   6  12   6   1 154 179  78  75   13   46   91 4.38   77
      J. Reuss*     23    40  17   2   7   8   2 154 137  77  68    9   66  142 3.97   85
      K. Forsch     25    31  12   1   6   4   0 125 125  57  51   13   50   93 3.67   92

      D. Giusti     32    54   0   0   8   4  19  75  60  18  16    3   19   54 1.92  175
      G. Culver     28    40   0   0   5   1   1  65  44  20  20    5   29   61 2.77  121
      S. Mingori*   28    39   0   0   2   3   6  51  62  25  23    3   34   45 4.06   83
      T. Griffin    24    31   4   1   5   3   1  75  74  31  27    6   30   65 3.24  104

      Others                   2   0   1   1   0  18  23  16  14    2   11   14 7.00   48

      Total                  153  50  98  55 30 1384 1301 565 515 105  471  973 3.35  100

      *  Throws left

We were looking for further development from Cesar Cedeño and John Mayberry. What we get instead is breakthroughs into superstardom. And 28-year-old Joe Morgan enjoys a breakout year too.

Wynn does bounce back to his accustomed level of heavy hitting. Losing right fielder Rusty Staub to a broken hand for more than half the season barely fazes us, because of the ready availability of Briggs and Watson, as well as young Cesar Geronimo, who hits well for the first time when given a chance to play.

Our offense which had been so sluggish in 1971 is suddenly transformed into the best unit in baseball, and it isn’t close.

That’s fortunate, because also quite unlike ’71, we have some pitching issues, as Roberts, sophomore Ken Forsch, and lefty reliever Steve Mingori encounter setbacks. But we have sufficient depth to ride it out.

Proving to be a ball club that can find a lot of different ways to win, we’re a repeat division champion.

Reds

Following our disappointing performance last year, we’ve made numerous adjustments. With May departed, Tony Perez moves over to first base. With Bobby Tolan ready to return to center field, the ever-versatile Pete Rose will take over for Perez at third. Veterans Matty Alou and Ted Uhlaender enhance the outfield depth.

Right-handers Reggie Cleveland and Jim McGlothlin are ready to bolster the starting staff, and flamethrowing young lefty Tom Hall as well as soft-tossing young righty Pedro Borbon join the bullpen.

      1972 Cincinnati Reds     Won 95   Lost 59    Finished 2nd

 Pos  Player        Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
  1B  T. Perez      30   136 515  67 146  33   7  21  93  55 121 .283 .349 .497 .846  145
  2B  T. Helms      31   139 518  45 131  20   5   5  60  25  28 .253 .286 .340 .625   82
  SS  D. Concepcion 24   107 302  29  63  10   2   2  21  26  52 .209 .270 .275 .545   60
  3B  P. Rose#      31   154 645 107 198  31  11   6  57  73  46 .307 .381 .417 .798  133
  RF  B. Carbo*     24   112 291  43  69  12   1   7  35  58  54 .237 .369 .357 .726  113
  CF  B. Tolan*     26   149 604  97 171  28   5   8  74  44  88 .283 .331 .386 .717  109
  LF  H. McRae      26   116 377  43  99  20   2  14  63  17  41 .263 .298 .438 .736  113
C-O-1 J. Bench      24   147 538  92 145  22   2  40 119 100  84 .270 .379 .541 .920  166

OF-1B M. Alou*      33    93 289  36  87  12   1   2  31  20  21 .301 .345 .370 .715  109
SS-2B D. Chaney#    24    99 233  31  57   8   2   2  19  33  36 .245 .331 .322 .653   92
  OF  G. Foster     23    59 145  15  29   4   1   2  12   5  44 .200 .230 .283 .513   49
  UT  S. Jackson*   27    60 126  20  28   6   3   0  10   7   9 .222 .263 .317 .581   69
  OF  T. Uhlaender* 32    73 113   9  18   3   0   0   6  13  11 .159 .242 .186 .428   27
  UT  K. Bevacqua   25    67 116  11  25   3   1   2   8   7  18 .216 .258 .310 .568   66
  C   J. Hiatt      29    32  70   8  18   3   1   1   5  10  16 .257 .350 .371 .721  111
  C   S. Ruberto    26    22  34   2   6   1   0   0   3   2   6 .176 .237 .206 .443   31

      Others                  23   3   6   1   0   1   2   2   6 .261 .320 .435 .755  119

      Pitchers               385  36  59   5   0   1  20  19 143 .152 .180 .173 .353    4

      Total                5324 694 1355 222  44 114 638 516 824 .254 .318 .377 .695  102

      *  Bats left
      #  Bats both

      Pitcher       Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
      R. Grimsley*  22    34  32   4  14   8   1 218 224  84  78   19   67   87 3.22  100
      R. Cleveland  24    30  30  10  14  11   0 208 193  98  84   20   52  137 3.63   89
      G. Nolan      24    25  25   6  15   5   0 176 147  46  39   13   30   90 1.99  162
      M. Wilcox     22    29  24   4   8  10   0 140 133  60  55   16   68   86 3.54   91
      D. Gullett*   21    31  16   2   9   9   2 135 127  61  59   15   43   96 3.93   82
      J. McGlothlin 28    25  18   2   7   6   0 116 129  53  48   11   39   56 3.72   87

      C. Carroll    31    65   0   0   6   4  36  96  89  27  24    5   32   51 2.25  144
      P. Borbon     25    62   2   0   8   3  10 122 115  45  43    5   32   48 3.17  102
      T. Hall*      24    47   7   1  10   1   6 124  77  42  36   13   56  134 2.61  124
      S. Blateric   28    21   0   0   3   2   1  39  31  12  10    2   16   33 2.31  140
      M. Queen      30    17   0   0   1   0   0  31  36  19  18    2   20   20 5.23   62

      Others                   0   0   0   0   0  10  13   7   7    3    4    5 6.30   51

      Total                  154  29  95  59 50 1415 1314 554 501 124  459  843 3.19  101

      *  Throws left

Not everything goes well. Sophomore starters Don Gullett and Milt Wilcox don’t find things quite so easy this year. Veteran Mel Queen, who’d enjoyed a strong comeback season in 1971, falls apart again. The young bats of shortstop Dave Concepcion and outfielder George Foster fail to progress as expected, and Uhlaender’s bat appears to have been lost in transit.

But by and large things fall smartly into place. Tolan does just fine. Johnny Bench rebounds big time from his off-year, and with Rose and Perez both in customary form, our run production, while not quite what it as in 1968-70, is a lot healthier than a year ago.

And while our pitching isn’t great, it’s also improved. In his first full year, sophomore southpaw Ross Grimsley performs like a seasoned vet. Though limited to 25 starts by his tender arm and no longer throwing nearly as hard as before, Gary Nolan is a marvelous control artist at the age of 24. With Hall and Borbon both performing splendidly alongside veteran Clay Carroll, our bullpen is once again a particular strength.

We’re back as a serious contender. However, we’re not able to keep pace with that extraordinary Houston team.

Next time

Can the Machine catch up to the Spacemen? Can the Atlantans regain relevance?

              Braves:  Actual           Astros:  Actual            Reds:  Actual
 Year     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA
 1968    81   81  5    514  549    72   90 10    510  588    83   79  4    690  673
 1969    93   69  1    691  631    81   81  5    676  668    89   73  3    798  768
 1970    76   86  5    736  772    79   83  4    744  763   102   60  1    775  681
 1971    82   80  3    643  699    79   83 4T    585  567    79   83 4T    586  581
 1972    70   84  4    628  730    84   69  2    708  636    95   59  1    707  557

              Braves:  Virtual          Astros:  Virtual           Reds:  Virtual
 Year     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA
 1968    86   76  3    538  535    68   94 10    516  634    81   81  5    671  669
 1969   105   57  1    762  597    94   68  2    726  611    90   72  3    794  752
 1970    89   73  2    817  725    85   77 4T    726  692   104   58  1    779  675
 1971    91   71  2    713  684    92   70  1    629  520    82   80  5    605  576
 1972    76   78  4    652  676    98   55  1    759  565    95   59  2    694  554

References & Resources
I’ve introduced a new methodological feature here that wasn’t used in previous counterfactual scenarios.

In the past, each team’s runs scored total was determined simply by calculating the Runs Created based on the team’s aggregate batting stats, and going with that. However, just as teams normally vary somewhat from their projected Pythagorean won-lost records, they also normally vary somewhat from their Runs Created total.

Indeed, while it isn’t completely consistent in this regard, the variance from Runs Created tends to be slightly in the positive direction: in the 27 team-seasons included in this particular exercise—that is, each Atlanta, Houston, and Cincinnati team through the nine seasons from 1968 through 1976—the average actual team outscored its Runs Created projection by 4.3 percent.

So, just as we incorporate each team’s actual variance from its Pythagorean record in these exercises, we’ll now also incorporate each team’s actual variance from its Runs Created total.

These are the variances each team displayed in these years, that are factored into the team runs scored calculations:

1968: Braves -7.7%, Astros +5.6%, Reds -1.0%
1969: Braves +7.3%, Astros +12.1%, Reds +4.0%
1970: Braves +1.1%, Astros +5.4%, Reds -2.3%
1971: Braves -0.9%, Astros +6.6%, Reds +1.4%
1972: Braves -2.3%, Astros +7.8%, Reds +11.0%
1973: Braves +0.9%, Astros +8.4%, Reds +8.8%
1974: Braves +6.1%, Astros +0.8%, Reds +6.3%
1975: Braves +1.4%, Astros +8.3%, Reds +9.2%
1976: Braves +11.7%, Astros +4.5%, Reds +1.5%

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Comments

  1. Philip said...

    Nice to see El Tiante heading to Boston, where he belongs.

    Now if only Bernie Carbo eventually goes to Boston, too (the Reds, after all, would soon have a logjam in the OF in a year or two: Foster, McRae, Griffey, perhaps Driessen).

    Patience with Carbo is understandable, given how he played in 1971. However, he gets off to a horrendous start in 1973, hitting 180/308/225 with no homeruns and only 9 RBIs through July 3rd. Clearly, the Red Sox could snatch him up for Ken Tatum and a couple of old Ted Williams autographed baseballs?

    With the Astros keeping Geronimo and Armbrister, does this mean the Red Sox win game three, resulting in Carlton Fisk’s walk-off homer in game six deciding the Series?

    I see the Astros more than make up the 10 1/2 games they finished behind Cincinnati and take the division.

    Interesting that the Reds nearly mirrored their actual finish and RF-RA differential – and 95 wins wasn’t good enough to beat the remade Houston squad. Clearly the Morgan/May trade was the key difference.

    This Astros team would have given the Pirates all they could have handled in the NLCS. But if the Bucs prevailed, Roberto Clemente (in what would end up his last games) would have made it to the World Series.

    Curious as to the decisions made to assign playing time, for example reducing Bob Watson’s at bats and games started by Jerry Reuss.

  2. gary said...

    One of the interesting ‘what ifs’ to think about is “if the Astros were determined to trade Morgan(who knows, maybe he had become such an insufferable jerk that they felt compelled to get him out of lockerroom), wasn’t there several other teams out there who could have put together better packages than the Reds?  Again, just assuming Morgan was going to remain the pre-Reds quality player – I think the Pirates would have considered handing over Dave Cash or Rennie Stennett plus Al Oliver or Richie Zisk.  And the Astros could have kept Menke, Billinghman and Geronimo.  So, now Astros have Cash/Stennett at 2B(great improvement over Helms) and a bat(Oliver or Zisk) that would have more quality years than May PLUS Billingham, Menke and Geronimo.  The Astros hit the daily double – they get better immediatly AND make their team younger for the rest of the decade.

    Giving up Morgan is a bad move no matter who you get….but at least this scenario has a lot of positives for Astros.

    I’m sure some of you can imagine similar packages that a few other teams could have put together.  Didn’t the Astros shop Morgan around at all….or did they just fall for the first offer that came their way?  Golly molly

  3. Steve Treder said...

    “Curious as to the decisions made to assign playing time, for example reducing Bob Watson’s at bats and games started by Jerry Reuss.”

    Watson gets squeezed for playing time in the Houston OF because of the presence of Staub, Geronimo, and Briggs, and he isn’t a good enough defensive catcher to be used back there on a regular basis.

    Reuss gets squeezed for left-handed starts (as does Dave Roberts too) because of the presence of Cuellar.

  4. John C said...

    I just don’t think the Astros understood their perceived “lack of power” year after year was entirely a function of the Astrodome, and always felt like they needed to add power hitters. Lee May, coming off a 39-homer season, was one of the best sluggers in the business. They didn’t understand that Morgan’s all-around game was better than what May had to offer—especially in a park where his central skill as a ballplayer would be hamstrung.

  5. Philip said...

    Steve,

    Another great work.

    I should have clarified. Yes, the playing time reductions for Watson, Reuss and Roberts makes total sense.

    Wondering more how it was done. In other words, why 274 at bats for Watson instead of 350? Did you assign playing time to the outfielders in question? Pro-rated their plate appearances, for example?

    Games started for pitchers is probably an easier task but did you create any hard rules for assigning the IP for the bullpen or go with your gut instinct about the players in question or using past performance as a guide?

    I’ve analyzed similar scenarios. For example, voiding the Reggie Jackson for Don Baylor trade in 1976 meant essentially assigning Jackson’s games in the OF/DH to Baylor and vice-versa.

    Adding extra GP for Reggie with an assumption he wouldn’t have been a hold out in Oakland meant reducing playing time for Billy Williams, Larry Lintz, Matt Alexander, etc.

    (This all part of alternate timeline scenario which assumes there was no Messersmith/McNally arbitration to cause a cascading effect of hold-outs and free agent signings.)

    Also, to use Tony Perez as an example, I see his 1972 baseline stats are the same. But how does his Runs and RBI change? I first calculate the player’s Runs & RBI as a percentage of the team total. As the team totals (based on RC) go up or down, the player’s individual R & RBI production is adjusted accordingly with an additional pro-rated adjustment if his playing time is increased/decreased.

    In Jackson/Baylor’s case, the first calculation is adjusting for ballpark effects. Then playing time. Then I would adjust their Runs and RBI in context to their new club’s run production.

  6. ksw said...

    great piece.
    couple of things, though.
    bench was not all that slow on the bases.
    he did ground into oodles of double plays, which tied into being right-handed, with lots of people on base, on turf.
    bench could run fairly well.
    fairly well.
    and after 1971, joe morgan was not rennie stennet, dave cash, or willie randolph.
    let alone, including zisk, or oliver in a trade.
    morgan was a really good obp guy, with decent power,not a good glove, a shredded knee, and an uncertain age.
    reds made a great trade, but i think that they wanted a fast guy batting first, not that they guessed that morgan would be as really good as he turned out.

  7. Steve Treder said...

    “bench could run fairly well.”

    For a catcher, yes, the young Bench ran fairly well.  But he was a big catcher, and he was distinctly slower on the bases than the league-average baserunner.

  8. ksw said...

    have to grant your comment.
    but, after he got fat (steroids & surgery) after ‘72, the stolen bases were there—possibly a function of morgan, and trailing.
    don’t know.
    going first to third, and second to home, on singles, he was dead on the ml average.
    advancing on caught fly balls—no numbers to back this up—, but he seemed to do this proficiently.
    no, he was a smart, and efficient baserunner through his career.
    not great, but fairly good.

  9. Steve Treder said...

    “why 274 at bats for Watson instead of 350? Did you assign playing time to the outfielders in question? Pro-rated their plate appearances, for example?”

    Yes, while AB’s is the stat displayed here, PA’s is the playing time stat used in the calculation.  How I come up with the exact amounts is just my best guess based on context and history and plausibility, and, well, my mood at the time.

    “did you create any hard rules for assigning the IP for the bullpen or go with your gut instinct about the players in question or using past performance as a guide?”

    The latter.

    “Tony Perez as an example, I see his 1972 baseline stats are the same. But how does his Runs and RBI change?”

    With no Morgan, both Perez and Bench move up one notch in the batting order.  Perez drives in a few more runs because he’s closer to the top of the order table-setters, and he scores a few more because Hal McRae behind him is a little better than Denis Menke.  Johnny Bench, on the other hand, drives in a few less because of the absence of Morgan being on base so much, but scores a few more for the same reason Perez does.

    Every player’s runs and RBIs are adjusted accordingly.  A little bit science, but mostly art.

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