FanPost

Funny debate over 'analytics,' 1871

On Wednesday, Aug. 16, 1871, the Cubs, then known as the White Stockings, defeated the visiting Washington Olympics, 12-11.

Both teams were members of the first-year National Association, the first true professional baseball league.

The victory improved the Whites' record in NA games to 15-5 and their overall record to 40-9: 17-8 against professional teams and 23-1 vs. amateurs.

The following appeared in the Chicago Tribune 2 days later, on Friday, Aug. 18 (paragraph breaks added for easier reading):

...

WHITE STOCKING AVERAGES

The game with the Olympics on Wednesday was the closing one of the third quarter of the season's championship contests; and, as is the custom, a table is presented below which shows the performance of each member of the nine in the different departments of batting and run-getting.

In order to make the test as exact as possible the number of times which each man went to bat has been taken as the standard, instead of the number of games played. Of course, no batter has made fully as many base hits as times at bat, and, consequently, the relative standing of the men is expressed in the proportion which each man's base hits bears to the number of times he went to bat.

This would properly be expressed in fractions of hundreds (or percentage); but in order to distinguish between men who are nearly alike ([Jimmy] Wood and [Fred] Treacey, [Tom] Foley and [Michael] McAtee, [Ed] Pinkham and [Marshall] King), the fraction has been reduced to thousandths (or permilleage).

That is to say, Wood, for instance, has had 107 opportunities to make hits, and has made 38 first bases. This give a fraction of 355-1000 for him, which will be found to place him first on the list in order of merit.

The other members follow in the order indicated by the same process, so that the nine will be found arranged in the order of batting merit which the eighth column indicates.

[end of excerpt]

..........

NUMBERS GALORE

The table mentioned showed 10 players' names at the far left, then 11 columns of data, their labels rotated 90 degrees, to be read from top to bottom.

Some of those labels, as listed from left to right, certainly appear peculiar to modern eyes:

Games played

Number of times at bat

Number of outs

Percentage of outs to times at bat

Number of runs

Percentage of runs to times at bat

Percentage of base hits to times at bat

Total base hits

Percentage of total bases to time at bat

Percentage of "left" to times at bat

...

Wood, the leader in batting average at .355, had a .458 percentage of making outs, a .327 percentage of making runs, a .551 percentage of total bases and a .215 percentage of being left on base.

..........

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS

The uncredited author then provided some analysis:

...

The table shows that only Wood, [Charlie] Hodes, [George] Zettlein, and Pinkham have been present at each game for the championship, while five of the regular nine has been absent from one to three times for various reasons.

The natural supposition would be that the batter nearest the head of the striking order would have had the greatest number of chances at the bat; but on examination of the table shows that this has not been the case, the order being: Wood, King, McAtee, Hodes, [Joe] Simmons, Zettlein, Pinkham, Treacey, [Ed] Duffy, and Foley.

Arranged in the order which the percentage of outs would indicate, the following would be the list, the smallest number being first: Wood, Treacey, McAtee, King, Hodes, Pinkham, Simmons, Duffy, Foley, Zettlein.

Taking the number of runs scored as a criterion, the order would be as follows: Wood, Treacey, Duffy, Foley, Hodes, McAtee, Simmons, Pinkham, King, Zettlein.

The long hitting which is shown in total bases made would place the nine as follows: Treacey, Wood, McAtee, Foley, Pinkham, Hodes, Duffy, King, Zettlein, Simmons.

[Zettlein, it should be noted, was the Whites' pitcher.]

The ill-luck or slow running which caused men to be left on bases is shown to have attached itself to the nine in the following order: Duffy, Simmons, Foley, Pinkham, Zettlein, Treacey, McAtee, Hodes, King, Wood. In the latter particular the man who was left the least number of times heads the list.

On June 17 ten games for the championship had been played, and on that date, The Tribune published a table of averages, showing the standing of the members of the nine at that time. The order of batting merit then was: Treacey, Foley, Wood, McAtee, King, Simmons, Duffy, Pinkham, Hodes, Zettlein.

From a comparison it will be seen that only McAtee and Pinkham have maintained exactly the same relative positions, while Wood, Duffy, Hodes, and Zettlein have each gone up toward the head (Hodes most conspicuously), and Treacey, Foley, King, and Simmons have each lowered themselves a peg or two.

[end of excerpt]

..........

RAPID RESPONSE

Even in 1871, there were baseball writers and fans who disdained analytics.

The very next day, Saturday, Aug. 19, the Tribune published the following sarcastic rejoinder:

...

MORE VALUABLE STATISTICS.

The statistics which were published in yesterday's Tribune, in reference to the comparative standing of the members of the White Stocking Club, have been read with much interest by the players belonging to that great organization, and have been considered, by those who understand nothing of mathematics, to be valuable and correct.

But figures are dry things at the best, and win attention only when they relate to something which all are interested in, and which can be understood.

That fact, and the great delight which all experience in knowing the loves, the number of pantaloons, the debts, the squabbles, the pet dishes, and the favorite drinks of these gentlemen, who, as members of the White Stockings, have sustained the honor of Chicago at home and abroad, who delight us more than the nine muses, and who, next to the Gage mare [a champion harness racing horse named "Princess," owned by D. A. Gage], are our chief celebrities, constitute a good reason for publication of the following interesting table, wherein is given the entire number of drinks taken by each player during the season, the number of times intoxication has ensued, the percentage of drunks to drinks, and the amount of tobacco consumed by them.

[The paragraph above, a single sentence, is 113 words, not counting the explanation in brackets!]

It will, of course, be understood that the latter have been confined to private life, and the information concerning them, having been furnished by themselves, cannot but be accurate.

[end of excerpt]

..........

WHISKEY TO CHEWS

The table that followed was similar in format to the one published the previous day, but instead of "Players," the label of the column above their names was "Drinkers."

These were the subsequent labels, from left to right, again rotated by 90 degrees, to be read from top to bottom:

Drinks of Whiskey

Glasses of beer

Lemonade

Soda

Buckets (?)

Drunks

Percentage of Drunks

Cigars

Chews

...

McAtee leads in Drinks of Whiskey, with 110 to Duffy's second-most 104. Wood is shown with only 9; Pinkham, with 3.

Zettlein (276) and Hodes (251) are 1-2 in Glasses of Beer. Wood (43) and Pinkham (7) bring up the rear.

The top 3 in Lemonade are Wood (221), Treacey (216) and Foley (110). The 7 others have a combined 61, including 1 each for Hodes and McAtee, and none for King.

The leaders in Sodas are the same as in Lemonade. Hodes, King, McAtee and Zettlein show 0; Duffy, 1.

Whatever the next column may be, Pinkham has 193 and nobody else more than 16.

McAtee (48) and Hodes (36) are far ahead in Drunks. Third-place Zettlein has just 19; Pinkham and Wood, none.

McAtee's team-high Percentage of Drunks is 18. Hodes is runnerup, at 7. Pinkham and Wood are 0.

Simmons has smoked the most Cigars, 284, followed by Hodes (273) and McAtee (261). Wood is next-to-last, at 73; Pinkham, a distant last, at 3.

Wood is listed with 0 in the Chews column, 2 fewer than Pinkham. Foley is the runaway leader, at 641, to Hodes' next-most 499.

..........

CONCLUSIONS FROM DATA

Naturally, this information required interpretation. Here is what appeared immediately below the table:

..........

The value of these statistics is incredible. From them we can calculate the efficiency of a member of the club on a given day.

If, for instance, the White Stockings are to play on the 4th of September, and we want to know what Hodes will do, as compared to King, we look at their inebriety percentages, and conclude that King will do the best. Looking at what they chew and smoke, we also come to the conclusion that McAtee's nerves will be in the worst condition.

The attention of betters and pool-sellers is, therefore, invited to these figures. It is intended to follow up this table with one equally valuable and trustworthy, setting forth the favorite oath of each member of the White Stocking Club, his billiard standing, the amount of his debts, a numerical equivalent for his unwillingness to pay them, and the number of letters received by each one from tender and admiring women.

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