Sunday, August 08, 2004
Part II - The Single Biggest Non-Trade In White Sox History
In the first post concerning the proposed trade of Joe Jackson for Babe Ruth prior to the 1920 season, I considered the relative merits of that trade. I was hesitant to come to a conclusion that Charlie Comiskey was dumb for not making that trade because it's so hard not to see the trade through the distorting effect of knowing that Ruth was the greatest hitter of all time and Jackson would be suspended after the 1920 season.
But what if Comiskey had made the trade? How would the fortunes of the White Sox and Yankees have changed? This thought experiment is simply fascinating, and I've spent a good deal of time on it.
First, obviously, you have to consider that Ruth would replace pretty much whoever was playing right field for the White Sox, or would have moved the right fielder to left field. Joe Jackson himself was a left fielder, so it seems more likely that the Sox would have shifted right fielder Nemo Liebold to left field at least for the year 1920.
After 1920, when Jackson was banned, the calculus changes somewhat. In 1921, the White Sox replaced their outfield wholesale, having acquired Harry Hooper from the Boston Red Sox for Shano Collins and Nemo Lebold prior to that season in response to the suspensions of Jackson and Happy Felsh. Hooper was an established (but not a star) player at the time, and would prove to be productive for the White Sox during his time in Chicago. Centerfield would be manned by Johnny Mostil, who also had a pretty good career for the White Sox. Bibb Falk, essentially a rookie, would play left field. This was the White Sox outfield for several years. Needless to say, adding Ruth to this outfield (and dropping Bibb Falk) would have made a dramatic improvement.
Continuing on this theme, I figured that Ruth would have replaced the following Sox outfielders during the 1920-1930 time period, and added in their (basic) runs created statistics:
Some of these players played fewer than a full schedule, so the Runs Created values with asterisks are adjusted to a 550-plate appearance season.
Now, for comparison, here are Ruth's 1920-30 basic runs created statistics:
|Year||Player||Hits||BB||TB||At Bats||Runs Created||Diff.|
The last column indicates how many runs Ruth would have added over the Sox players in the last chart. You can see that having Ruth in the lineup would have added an absurd number of runs to the White Sox's offense over the decade. How much difference would these runs have made to the Sox? Quite a few. I added in these runs to the White Sox's runs scored over the period, then calculated the Sox's Pythagorean record with the added runs. Over the course of the decade, I calculated the following number of additional wins for the White Sox:
|Year||Run Diff.||Wins Diff.|
I did the same with the Yankees (assuming they would replace Ruth with someone of the White Sox-level of production) to calculate their wins as well. Based on this analysis, I determined that, had the trade been made, all other things being equal, the White Sox would have won the 1920 and 1923 AL pennants. The net wins/losses generated by the trade would have had the leagues look like this:
|1920 Actual||1920 Ruth Effect 1|
|1926 Actual||1926 Ruth Effect 1|
Now, mind you, the 1926 White Sox would have had to make up the game that was rained out that year to decide the AL pennant, but you can see the difference Ruth would have made.
But Ruth's effect on the Sox would likely have transcended his own production on the field. Ruth would have drawn hordes of people to Comiskey Park. This level of attendance would have warranted, nay, demanded that Comiskey try to obtain additional pitching and hitting help for the White Sox. As was seen by the sale of Ruth (and before that, the sale of the 1915 Philadelphia A's star players) players could be bought from other teams in that era with relative ease. There is no reason to believe that the Sox couldn't have picked up additional talent (perhaps by trading a young player like Bibb Falk, etc.). By the same token, the Yankees would not have had Ruth as a draw, thereby limiting their own ability to purchase additional players.
So I ran the analysis again assuming that the White Sox would have added players who would have (a) created 40 more runs per year; and (b) allowed 40 fewer runs per year. This is a relative reasonable upgrade in production - it's the equivalent of having Carlos Lee in the outfield instead of Timo Perez, or upgrading two positions half as much. On the pitching side, the analysis would probably be about the same. Again, after adding Ruth and the +40/-40 differential to the White Sox, I calculated the number of wins they would have using the pythagorean method. I did the same for the Yankees.
In the aggregate, the "Ruth plus" factor dramatically affects the fortunes of the White Sox and the rest of the American League in the 1920's. Instead of winning the AL Pennant in 1920 and 1926, the Sox also win it in 1923, meaning the Sox win the AL pennant in 3 of the 11 years. The Philadelphia A's, who won the Pennant in 1929 and 1930 anyway, win it through the course of 1928-30. The St. Louis Browns, of all teams, claim the 1922 pennant, and the Cleveland Indians pick up the 1921 flag. The Senators keep the AL pennants in 1924 and 1925. The Yankees' sole pennant comes in 1927, when they manage to squeak out a victory by 5 games over the Philadelphia A's.
Here are the actual and hypothetical Ruth-adjusted standings for the entire period of 1920-1930:
|1920 Actual||1920 Ruth Effect 2|
|1921 Actual||1921 Ruth Effect 2|
|1922 Actual||1922 Ruth Effect 2|
|1923 Actual||1923 Ruth Effect 2|
|1924 Actual||1924 Ruth Effect 2|
|1925 Actual||1925 Ruth Effect 2|
|1926 Actual||1926 Ruth Effect 2|
|1927 Actual||1927 Ruth Effect 2|
|1928 Actual||1928 Ruth Effect 2|
|1929 Actual||1929 Ruth Effect 2|
|1930 Actual||1930 Ruth Effect 2|
As you can see, my analysis (which I'm sure has about 1000 holes, like any counterfactual analysis) suggests that had the White Sox trade Joe Jackson for Babe Ruth, they would have had a terrific decade of the 1920's. They would have won back-to-back pennants in 1919 and 1920, then gone right back to the World Series in 1923 and 1926 - four pennants in eight seasons from 1919 to 1926. In the other years, they would have been competitive for the league title, finishing second in 1921 and 1922. They would have faded in the late 1920's, and perhaps Ruth would have been ripe for a trade by that time.
This whole thought experiment has been very interesting to me, and I hope you, dear readers, got a kick out of it, too. We are so pennant-starved as White Sox fans that it's nice even to think about adding hypothetical flags in the past. Who knows, the success of the 1920's, with Ruth as a drawing card, may have built up the Sox organization and they could have been, if not the Yankees, the St. Louis Cardinals. A team competitive throughout the years and with many legends and memories.
But we have what we have. Broken dreams and two pennants in 85 years.