Baseball Player Won-Loss Records
Home     List of Articles



The 1938 Season as seen through the Prism of Player Won-Lost Records



I have recently updated Player won-lost records to include more recent play-by-play data that was released by Retrosheet this summer. This includes play-by-play data for the majority of games played in three seasons prior to 1940. The most recent of these three seasons is the 1938 season.

This article takes a closer look at the 1938 season through the prism of Player won-lost records.

The Best of 1938

I calculate Player won-lost records two ways: pWins, which tie to team wins and eWins, which control for context and the ability of one's teammates. For players with more pWins than eWins, their Player wins contributed to more team wins than one might expect; for players with more eWins than pWins, just the opposite is true: their Player wins translated into fewer team wins than expected. Or more briefly: a player with more pWins than eWins was better in context, a player with more eWins than pWins was worse in context.

The top 10 players in pWins above Positional Average and Replacement Level were as follows.

pWins over Positional Average
Top 10 Players
          pWins over Replacement Level
Top 10 Players
Player pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL           Player pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL
1Jimmie Foxx22.413.03.4
4.8
1Mel Ott24.517.33.3
5.0
2Mel Ott24.517.33.3
5.0
2Jimmie Foxx22.413.03.4
4.8
3Hank Greenberg23.714.53.3
4.8
3Hank Greenberg23.714.53.3
4.8
4Rudy York18.011.43.2
4.4
4Joe DiMaggio23.717.13.0
4.7
5Red Ruffing18.613.43.2
4.4
5Arky Vaughan23.718.32.8
4.5
6Joe DiMaggio23.717.13.0
4.7
6Rudy York18.011.43.2
4.4
7Big Bill Lee20.315.23.0
4.4
7Big Bill Lee20.315.23.0
4.4
8Arky Vaughan23.718.32.8
4.5
8Red Ruffing18.613.43.2
4.4
9Mel Harder16.912.52.6
3.8
9Ival Goodman22.116.22.5
4.1
10Bill Dickey15.210.12.5
3.6
10Joe Cronin21.917.22.5
4.0


The top 10 players in eWins above Positional Average and Replacement Level were as follows.

eWins over Positional Average
Top 10 Players
          eWins over Replacement Level
Top 10 Players
Player eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL           Player eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL
1Mel Ott25.216.64.0
5.6
1Mel Ott25.216.64.0
5.6
2Jimmie Foxx22.113.43.1
4.5
2Arky Vaughan23.718.32.8
4.5
3Hank Greenberg23.414.83.0
4.5
3Jimmie Foxx22.113.43.1
4.5
4Arky Vaughan23.718.32.8
4.5
4Hank Greenberg23.414.83.0
4.5
5Red Ruffing18.013.92.6
3.8
5Harlond Clift21.215.52.6
4.1
6Harlond Clift21.215.52.6
4.1
6Joe DiMaggio23.017.82.4
4.0
7Joe DiMaggio23.017.82.4
4.0
7Red Ruffing18.013.92.6
3.8
8Rudy York17.112.32.3
3.5
8Indian Bob Johnson23.218.52.1
3.8
9Indian Bob Johnson23.218.52.1
3.8
9Charlie Gehringer21.717.82.0
3.6
10Charlie Gehringer21.717.82.0
3.6
10Joe Cronin21.417.62.0
3.6


As of August, 2013, Retrosheet has released play-by-play data for just over half of all major-league games played in 1938 (57.9% to be precise). The next two tables mirror the previous two tables except that Player won-lost records have been scaled to a consistent 154-game season. This scaling is done at the level of the team, so, for example the Player won-lost records of all of the members of the NL-pennant winning Chicago Cubs are adjusted up based on the 117 games for which I have play-by-play data (i.e., the numbers for all Cubs players are simply multiplied by 154/117 = 1.316); adjustments are not based on the number of games played by individual players.

The top 10 players in normalized pWOPA, pWORL, eWOPA, and eWORL in 1938 are shown in the next four tables.

pWins over Positional Average
Top 10 Players
          pWins over Replacement Level
Top 10 Players
Player pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL           Player pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL
1Jimmie Foxx23.013.43.5
5.0
1Mel Ott24.917.53.3
5.0
2Mel Ott24.917.53.3
5.0
2Jimmie Foxx23.013.43.5
5.0
3Hank Greenberg23.614.43.3
4.8
3Hank Greenberg23.614.43.3
4.8
4Rudy York17.911.43.2
4.4
4Joe DiMaggio23.216.83.0
4.6
5Red Ruffing18.213.13.1
4.3
5Arky Vaughan24.018.62.8
4.5
6Big Bill Lee20.315.23.0
4.4
6Big Bill Lee20.315.23.0
4.4
7Joe DiMaggio23.216.83.0
4.6
7Rudy York17.911.43.2
4.4
8Arky Vaughan24.018.62.8
4.5
8Red Ruffing18.213.13.1
4.3
9Mel Harder17.012.62.6
3.8
9Ival Goodman22.616.52.6
4.1
10Ival Goodman22.616.52.6
4.1
10Joe Cronin22.517.62.5
4.1


The top 10 players in eWins above Positional Average and Replacement Level were as follows.

eWins over Positional Average
Top 10 Players
          eWins over Replacement Level
Top 10 Players
Player eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL           Player eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL
1Mel Ott25.516.94.0
5.7
1Mel Ott25.516.94.0
5.7
2Jimmie Foxx22.713.73.2
4.6
2Jimmie Foxx22.713.73.2
4.6
3Hank Greenberg23.314.72.9
4.5
3Arky Vaughan24.118.52.9
4.6
4Arky Vaughan24.118.52.9
4.6
4Hank Greenberg23.314.72.9
4.5
5Red Ruffing17.713.62.6
3.8
5Harlond Clift21.015.32.6
4.0
6Harlond Clift21.015.32.6
4.0
6Joe DiMaggio22.617.52.3
3.9
7Rudy York17.012.32.3
3.5
7Red Ruffing17.713.62.6
3.8
8Joe DiMaggio22.617.52.3
3.9
8Indian Bob Johnson23.218.52.1
3.8
9Indian Bob Johnson23.218.52.1
3.8
9Joe Cronin22.018.12.1
3.7
10Joe Cronin22.018.12.1
3.7
10Charlie Gehringer21.517.72.0
3.6


For the 1927 and 1931 seasons, the top 10 leaderboards are littered with Hall-of-Famers, most of them all-time greats. In 1927, 14 of the 16 players in the top 10 in (adjusted) pWOPA, pWORL, eWOPA, or eWORL are in the Hall of Fame. In 1931, it's 14 Hall-of-Famers out of 17 total players.

Of the 15 names in the preceding four tables, however, less than half of them are Hall-of-Famers: 7 out of 15. And it's not just a couple of guys slipping into the bottom of one table: non-HOFers are at the top of all four tables!
Ival Goodman
Based on the above tables, the top player in the major leagues in 1938 in (normalized) context-neutral player wins over positional average and replacement level and second in pWOPA and pWORL was Cincinnati Reds right fielder Ival Goodman. Ival Goodman!? Yep, Ival Goodman.

Seriously? Well, probably not.

For those who don't know - and I assume that's most of you - Goodman played for 10 seasons from 1935 - 1944, the first 8 with the Reds. He was the Reds' regular right fielder for the first six years of his career, 1935 - 1940, which included two Reds pennant winners in 1939 and 1940. Goodman led the league in triples his first two seasons in the majors and hit 10 or more triples in each of his first five seasons. He made two All-Star teams, in 1938 and 1939, and probably did, in fact, have his finest season in 1938, in which he batted .292/.368/.533 with career-highs of 30 home runs, 92 RBI, and 103 runs scored.

That's all well and good. But the only thing in which Ival Goodman led the NL in 1938 was HBP (with 15). He was 5th in the NL in OPS (.901) and 8th in plate appearances (648). Again, those are good numbers. Ival Goodman was a good player having a very good year in 1938. But Jimmie Foxx batted .349/.462/.704 with 50 home runs and 175 RBI. Hank Greenberg hit 58 home runs, drove in 146 runs and scored 144. In Goodman's National League, Johnny Mize hit .337/.422/.614 and Mel Ott hit .311/.442/.583 with an NL-leading 36 home runs and 116 runs scored. Why does Goodman show up ahead of all of these guys?

I believe that the answer, unfortunately, is that, by sheer dumb luck, I have play-by-play data for Ival Goodman's best games and am missing play-by-play data for many of Ival Goodman's worst games.

Overall, I have play-by-play data for 145 games in which Ival Goodman played in 1938, less than half of the 145 total games he played.

In 1938, Goodman's three favorite parks to hit in were Brooklyn (Ebbetts Field), New York (Polo Grounds), and Chicago (Wrigley Field), where he put up OPS's of 1.214, 1.270, and 1.035, respectively, in a combined 30 games. I have play-by-play data for 90 of Goodman's 139 plate appearances at these three ballparks (64.7%).

In 1938, Goodman's three least-favorite parks to hit in were in Boston (Braves Field), Pittsburgh (Forbes Field), and Philadelphia (Shibe Park), where he put up OPS's of 0.677, 0.645, and 0.569, respectively. I have play-by-play data for 43 of Goodman's 107 plate appearances at these three ballparks (40.2%).

In between these two extremes, I have play-by-play data for 145 of Goodman's 318 plate appearances at home (Crosley Field), where he put up a respectable .868 OPS.
note: Baseball-Reference has batting splits by ballpark based on box scores even for games without play-by-play data.

Overall, I have data for 297 of Ival Goodman's 648 plate appearances in 1938, 45.8%. But I have play-by-play data for 95 of Goodman's 166 hits, 57.2%. For the games from which I calculated Player won-lost records, Ival Goodman really did hit like the best player in the National League. Unfortunately for him (and the Reds), he played in 0 additional games in 1938.

Oh, well. It was still kind of fun to learn a little something about a player that I hadn't heard of before.

Big Bill Lee
While Ival Goodman's appearance in the above tables is something of a data anomaly, the appearance of Big Bill Lee is probably much more legitimate. First, I have play-by-play data for more of Lee's 1938 season: 44 of 44 games.

But second, and more importantly, Big Bill Lee, while a fairly mediocre pitcher for much of his career, was legitimately great in 1938. As the ace of the NL pennant-winning Chicago Cubs, Lee led the National League in pitcher wins (22), games started (37), shutouts (9), and ERA (2.66).

Unfortunately for Lee, he never had another season anywhere close to that good. After one more season as an above-average starter in 1939 (at age 29), Lee spent the next eight years as a mostly below-average starting pitcher for bad baseball teams.

But in 1938, Big Bill Lee was a legitimately great pitcher.

1938 Postseason

The 1938 World Series was one of the more lopsided World Series, fairly representative of the relative histories of the two participants, with the New York Yankees sweeping the Chicago Cubs in four straight games.

The star of the World Series, as measured by Player won-lost records, was Red Ruffing, with two complete-game victories in which he allowed a combined 3 runs.

1938 World Series: Top Player Performances
pWins pLosses pWORL
Red RuffingNYA1.80.70.7
Frankie CrosettiNYA1.40.40.6


Best of 1938 by Factor and Position

Next, let's look at the top players in (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) eWins over Positional Average in various aspects of the game. The numbers in this section have all been normalized to 154-game seasons. As above, this adjustment is based on team games for which I have play-by-play data, not individual player games.
Best by Factor: Batting, Baserunning, Pitching, Fielding
There are four basic factors for which players earn Player won-lost records: Batting, Baserunning, Pitching, and Fielding. The top players in 1938 in eWOPA by factor were as follows.

Batting
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Jimmie Foxx17.79.83.7

Positional Average excludes pitcher offense



See my earlier discussion about why this probably over-rates Ival Goodman's batting in 1938. Jimmie Foxx, on the other hand, was, of course, a legitimately great hitter who had a legitimately great 1938 season.

Baserunning
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Harlond Clift1.30.70.3
Stan Hack1.61.10.2
Joe Gordon0.90.50.2
Lloyd Waner1.20.70.2
Red Rolfe1.30.80.2
Lee Handley1.40.90.2
Charlie Gehringer1.10.70.2
Pete Fox1.10.70.2
Lyn Lary1.41.00.2
Tommy Henrich0.90.50.2
Billy Herman1.41.00.2

Positional Average excludes pitcher offense



Pitching
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Red Ruffing12.710.02.7
Emil 'Dutch' Leonard12.19.42.7
Mel Harder12.910.32.6
Lefty Gomez11.89.32.5
Lefty Grove8.76.72.1
Thornton Lee13.411.42.0
Bill McGee11.19.21.9


Fielding, P
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Johnny Murphy0.40.20.3
Johnny Rigney0.40.10.3
Claude Passeau0.70.50.3


Fielding, C
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Al Todd1.81.40.4


Fielding, 1B
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Hank Greenberg2.82.30.5


Fielding, 2B
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Pep Young7.76.80.9


Fielding, 3B
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Red Rolfe5.44.31.1


Fielding, SS
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Frankie Crosetti8.17.21.0


Fielding, LF
eWins eLosses Net Wins
George Selkirk4.33.31.0


Fielding, CF
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Vince DiMaggio7.56.60.9


Fielding, RF
eWins eLosses Net Wins
Ben Chapman6.95.91.0


Best by Position
Next, we look at 1938 Major-League leaders in eWOPA by position. The figures shown here only include Player decisions earned while playing this particular position, and include no contextual adjustments (expected or actual).



Catcher
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Rudy York12.89.41.7


First Base
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Jimmie Foxx20.812.92.7


Second Base
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Charlie Gehringer20.717.31.8


Third Base
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Harlond Clift21.516.32.4


Shortstop
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Arky Vaughan24.118.92.7


Left Field
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Joe Medwick22.518.61.5


Center Field
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Joe DiMaggio21.216.62.0


Right Field
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Ival Goodman22.217.51.9


Starting Pitcher
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Red Ruffing13.110.21.4
Lefty Gomez12.39.71.3
Emil 'Dutch' Leonard12.49.91.2
Mel Harder12.710.31.2


Relief Pitcher
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Harry Eisenstat3.11.90.6


For relief pitchers, context-neutral records may not be the best measure of how good they are, as context can matter a great deal, depending on how a pitcher is used. Here are the top relief pitchers of 1938 in context, in terms of pWins and pWOPA.

Top Relief Pitchers of 1938, based on pWORL
Player pWins pLosses pWin Pct. pWOPA pWORL
Charley Root8.47.40.5300.71.5
Johnny Murphy6.14.90.5570.81.4
Jack Russell4.53.10.5900.81.3
Bill V. Swift7.87.30.5170.51.3
Mace Brown7.37.00.5110.31.2


Finally, here are the best at three oft-forgotten positions that can nevertheless matter: pitcher offense, pinch hitting, and pinch running.

Pitcher Offense
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Red Ruffing1.91.90.4
Clay Bryant1.92.10.4
Hal Schumacher1.41.30.4


Pinch Hitter
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Frenchy Bordagaray1.30.80.4


Pinch Runner
eWins eLosses eWOPA
Pepper Martin0.10.00.1


Noteworthy Players of 1938

I conclude this look at the 1938 season by looking at three all-time great players who were regulars in 1938.
Lou Gehrig
Lou Gehrig played in every New York Yankees' game from June 2, 1925 through April 30, 1939. I have play-by-play data for 1865 of the 2,130 games of this remarkable streak.

The snapshot we get of Lou Gehrig's career from these three seasons is fairly representative of Gehrig's overall career. For the 1927, 1931, and 1938 seasons, Lou Gehrig had a combined batting line of .337/.443/.651 with averages of 40 home runs, 156 RBI, and 140 runs scored per 154 games. For the rest of his career, Gehrig batted .341/.448/.627 with 154-game averages of 34 HRs, 138 RBI, and 133 runs scored.

Based on the data I have, a typical season in Lou Gehrig's career looked something like this in Player won-lost records.

Player Games pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL
Lou Gehrig15422.613.73.4
4.9
22.214.13.04.5


Just for some perspective, here are the best seasons in the careers of some of the best first baseman of the past 60 years, adjusted to 154 games.

Player Season Games pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL
Harmon Killebrew196715421.613.53.0
4.5
21.813.33.14.6
Willie McCovey196915422.812.53.9
5.4
22.013.33.14.6
Jeff Bagwell199415423.913.93.8
5.4
24.313.54.25.8
Frank Thomas199415420.712.73.2
4.7
20.812.63.34.8
Mark McGwire199815421.312.73.2
4.6
21.512.53.54.8
Albert Pujols200615425.013.64.7
6.0
23.714.93.44.7


Charlie Gehringer
Detroit Tigers' second baseman Charlie Gehringer was nicknamed "The Mechanical Man" because his performance was so consistent. Over 14 seasons from 1927 through 1940, Gehringer batted over .300 every season. He batted over .320 9 times in those 14 seasons; he collected 175 or more hits 9 times; he slugged over .500 7 times. I have calculated Player won-lost records for 4 of the 14 seasons of Gehringer's prime. And somehow, I missed every season he batted over .320, every season he had 175 or more hits, and every season he slugged over .500. Gehringer's top totals for those three things in the seasons for which I have Player won-lost records were .317 (1927), 174 hits (1938), and a .486 slugging percentage (1938). I also have 3 of his 4 lowest home run totals in that 14-season stretch (although I also have his peak home run season: 20 in 1938). I have only 1 of his 7 100-RBI seasons.

Gehringer played 144 or more games every season from 1928 - the year after the first year of Gehringer's for which I have play-by-play data - through 1938 (which I do have), except for one - 1931, the only year between 1928 and 1937 for which I have play-by-play data so far.

Even with all of that, the numbers that I do have for Gehringer stand up reasonably well to other Hall-of-Fame second basemen, on a per-game basis. Career averages per 154 games for Hall-of-Fame second basemen who started their career in 1947 or later are compared to Charlie Gehringer's 1927, 1931, & 1938 154-game average in the next table.

Hall of Fame Second Basemen (per 154 games)
Player Games pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL
Charlie Gehringer15419.017.30.9
2.4
19.416.91.32.8
--------------------------------------------------
Rogers Hornsby15423.116.83.1
4.7
23.216.73.24.8
Jackie Robinson15421.815.62.9
4.4
21.016.42.13.6
Joe L. Morgan15421.717.02.7
4.2
21.517.32.44.0
Joe Gordon15421.317.02.3
3.8
20.717.61.73.2
Bobby Doerr15421.817.82.2
3.8
21.018.61.43.0
Frankie Frisch15422.218.51.9
3.6
21.519.21.22.9
Tony Lazzeri15420.417.11.8
3.4
19.817.71.22.8
Billy Herman15421.718.81.6
3.3
21.019.50.92.6
Charlie Gehringer15420.417.51.6
3.2
20.617.31.83.4
Roberto Alomar15420.418.21.3
2.8
20.118.41.12.6
Ryne Sandberg15420.518.21.2
2.7
20.618.01.42.8
Nellie Fox15419.117.91.0
2.5
18.418.70.21.7
Rod Carew15418.416.21.0
2.4
18.416.21.02.4
Craig Biggio15419.417.61.0
2.4
19.317.70.92.3
Eddie Collins Sr.15418.717.40.6
2.0
18.817.20.72.2
Red Schoendienst15418.217.50.6
2.0
17.917.80.21.7
Bill Mazeroski15417.517.60.3
1.8
17.317.80.11.6


Bob Feller
When I had only calculated Player won-lost records going back to 1947, I wrote an article that looked at Player won-lost records for Hall-of-Fame players. Bob Feller showed up on the table of Hall-of-Famers, but he was toward the bottom of the list (which was sorted by career pWORL) with players who are either widely regarded as statistical mistakes or players for whom the bulk of their Hall-of-Fame case was prior to 1947. Bob Feller fell into this latter category.

With the addition of 1938 and the first seven years of the 1940s, we have a bit more of the Hall-of-Fame case for Bob Feller. Bob Feller's career Player won-lost records are shown in the next table. These results are not adjusted for missing games.

Bob Feller
Basic Player Won-Lost Records
Season Age Games pWins pLosses pWin Pct. pWOPA pWORL eWins eLosses eWin Pct. eWOPA eWORL
193617
13
4.42.90.6030.8
1.2
3.83.60.5130.20.5
193718
26
10.09.90.5040.3
1.2
10.09.90.5020.31.2
193819
39
19.716.60.5432.0
3.5
18.118.20.5000.41.9
193920
39
20.415.20.5733.1
4.8
20.115.50.5652.84.5
194021
43
25.016.60.6024.9
6.7
23.917.70.5743.75.5
194122
44
23.917.40.5793.9
5.7
21.919.30.5321.93.7
194223
194324
194425
194526
9
4.74.50.5110.2
0.7
4.94.30.5320.40.9
194627
48
27.320.00.5774.3
6.6
26.121.20.5513.15.4
194728
42
20.617.10.5472.3
3.9
19.917.80.5281.63.2
194829
44
18.918.30.5090.7
2.4
18.718.50.5030.52.1
194930
36
12.514.20.468-0.5
0.6
13.613.10.5090.61.7
195031
35
16.214.00.5371.5
2.9
15.514.70.5130.82.2
195132
33
17.313.20.5672.4
3.7
15.015.40.4940.21.5
195233
30
10.512.90.449-0.9
0.2
11.112.30.474-0.30.7
195334
25
10.49.60.5200.7
1.5
9.810.30.4880.00.9
195435
19
10.17.50.5731.6
2.4
9.08.60.5120.51.3
195536
25
3.54.60.432-0.5
-0.1
4.04.10.4930.00.4
195637
19
1.53.20.323-0.8
-0.5
2.22.50.462-0.10.1
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
CAREER (reg. season)
569
257.0217.60.54226.1
47.2
247.6227.00.52216.637.7


As I said, we have more of Feller's career, but we're still missing quite a bit: 210.2 IP with 226 K's at ages 17-18 in 1936 and 1937, his breakthrough age-20 season in 1939 when he led the American League in pitcher wins, complete games, innings pitched, strikeouts, and H/9 (and walks), and -78 of the 183 games which Feller pitched in 1938 and 1940-46 (the majority from Feller's finest season, 1946, when he struck out 348 in a mind-boggling 371.1 innings while posting a 2.18 ERA). And, of course, Bob Feller's career is missing his age 23-25 seasons (and most of his age 26 season), not because of missing Player won-lost records, but because of World War II.

Still, at least there's a definite sense now of just how special a pitcher Bob Feller was.



All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.

Home     List of Articles