About Me

I am a long time baseball fan who became interesting in documenting the "missing" batter strikeouts a few years back as an outgrowth of my interest in the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. Grew up w/ the Big Red Machine. I now follow them and my new hometown, Detroit Tigers. Member of SABR off and on since 1979.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wee Willie and BK+

I have spent most of the recent posts talking about individuals related to high strikeout totals, but I am one who enjoys exploring the extreme ends of the bell curve.   As a result, I want to take this post to talk about a couple of players that showed a great propensity for Not striking out.  

The first is quite well known for this asset - Wee Willie Keeler.   Keeler's "hit'em where they ain't" approach is legendary, but, for the most part, the data was not there in regards to strikeouts.

Bob Davids compiled a list of Keeler's strikeouts by year a number of years ago.  I was fortunate to get a copy of this a couple of years ago from John Schwartz.  Of course, his numbers lined up well with mine (of course!), and I found a few more (as had the late Mr. Schwartz).

I will give the numbers first and then discuss them:

1897 - 5
1898 - 4
1899 - 2
1900 - 4
1901 - 5
1902 - 13
1903 - 12
1904 - 12
1905 - 13
1906 - 4
1907 - 10
1908 - 10
1909 - 6
(1910 - 1, already documented)

Fortunately, Keeler played in the New York market for most of this time period, and as a result I was able to document well over 95% of his total games (mostly from New York Evening Telegram and New York Evening World play-by-play accounts).

Some of these years just stagger the mind in their "low-ness".  

The 2 strikeouts in 1899, which I wrote about in my BRJ article (#36) on 1899 strikeouts is simply amazing.

To quote myself :) , "Keeler's two strikeouts occurred on April 17 (Brooklyn's 2nd game of the season) at the hands of Boston's rookie sensation, Vic Willis (in his major league debut) and May 6 (Brooklyn's 19th game) against Boston's Kid Nichols.  After that, he did not strike out again for the remainder of the season."  This is with 136 of his 141 games documented (97%).

As a result of this feat, I wanted to figure out a way to show just how incredible this figure was.   I devised a new "stat" which I called "BK+".   It is similar to OPS+ and ERA+ in that it gives an index of how much better or worse a player is from the average (average being 100).  In this case, I used strikeouts per game.

To give you an example, using Keeler's 1899 season, Keeler had 2 strikeouts in 136 documented games, a rate of 1.48%.

The overall individual strikeouts per game average was 21.9% (3,494 documented strikeouts in 15,920 documented player games).

As a result, Keeler's BK+ = (0.219/0.0148) * 100 = 1,487.  

His strikeout rate was 14 TIMES BETTER than the league average. 

Granted that if one was to use at-bats in the calculation, it would be more precise, but my databases are not set up with documented at-bats and I calculate it based on documented information.  Once the data is in a source that has the projected/adjusted strikeouts and actual at-bats, a refined BK+ calculation could certainly be done.

Even in an era of lower strikeout totals, he dominated the BK+ category:

Here is his year by year BK+ with ranking:

1897 - 595 (1st)
1898 - 731 (1st)
1899 - 1,487 (1st)
1900 - 814 (1st)
1901 NL - 1,052 (1st)
1902 NL - 397 (1st)
1903 AL - 463 (1st)
1904 AL - 496 (2nd)
1905 AL - 491 (2nd)
1906 AL - 1,418 (1st)
1907 AL - 412 (2nd)

The leaders were limited to players with 100 games or more.

Keeler's 1901 and 1906 seasons I feel deserves special mention as well. 

In 1901, as has been mentioned previously, the National League implemented the foul strike rule, in essence counting a strike on any ball that was fouled off.  Prior to this, if a player fouled off a pitch, it was, in essence, a non-pitch.   A player could foul off pitches to their heart's content and be no worse in the ball-strike count.
So players who were capable of making contact, could drive a pitcher crazy and not be penalized.   This did not sit well with everyone and especially with those who didn't like the old Baltimore Orioles (my speculation) as 2 of the experts at fouling away pitches happened to be old Orioles (Keeler and John McGraw).  One of my many side projects is to do a more in-depth study of the foul strike rule, the evolution of it coming into being and its impact beyond the stats.

Anyway, the introduction of the foul strike rule in the National League in 1901 had a dramatic impact on strikeouts league-wide:   Total k's went from 2697 to 4241, a 57% increase.   This changed seemed to affect everyone, except one fine Brooklyn individual, our hero, Mr. Keeler. 

As I have documented above, Keeler only struck out 5 times all season with a BK+ of 1,052.   The second place finisher in BK+ in the 1901 NL was Claude Ritchey with a BK+ of 199 and 28 strikeouts.  Keeler's number "5 Times Better" than the 2nd place finisher.

In 1906, while Billy Maloney was setting fan records across the river in Brooklyn, Keeler was dominating again in BK+.   His BK+ of 1,418 was more than 4 times better than the 2nd place finisher, Nap Lajoie, who recorded a very respectable BK+ of 305 (19 k's)

I will go more into BK+ leaders, both good and bad,  in a subsequent post, but Billy Maloney's record setting 118 strikeouts in 1906 produced a BK+ of 49. 

His doc k's per game rate was 77.5% while the league average was 38%.   His rate was just over twice as bad as the league average thus the number just under 50.

Incidentally, Maloney's BK+ of 49 is not the "record" for the era - that belongs to a well traveled player who, incidentally, would have been perfectly suited for the DH era - Tommy McCreery.

1 comment:

  1. Got some new scans of the 1906 Philadelphia Evening Telegram from Ed Morton. Found a new K for Keeler, He struck out against Waddell in the 3rd of the September 3rd second game.

    His total for 1906 is now up to 5.

    Here are the 5 whiffs:

    1. August 12, 1906, @ Chicago, Ed Walsh, (game #99)

    2. August 18, 1906 vs. Chicago, Ed Walsh, 1st inning

    3. September 3, 1906, game 2, vs. Philadelphia, Rube Waddell, 3rd inning

    4. September 13, 1906, at Wash, Cy Falkenberg, 1st inning

    5. September 17, 1906, at St. Louis, Barney Pelty, 1st inning

    No whiffs in the 1st 98 games! Not bad, eh.

    His BK+ for 1906 "dropped" to 1,148


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