Playing With Numbers

After I had some fun trying to predict what Ichiro Suzuki’s hit total might look like if he had played his entire career in the United States, a couple of different Brilliant Readers -- independently, I assume -- wondered if I might try similar estimations for guys who lost years in the war, namely: Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Obviously this has been done before by people much smarter and more astute about numbers than me, but, hey, my Internet service is back up we repaired a cut cable line (don’t ask) so, why not?

Before I get into it, I should point out that Brilliant Reader Steve wrote in with a fair point about Ichiro. He said that Ichiro’s age 20 season would have been 1994, the strike season. This led Steve to believe Ichiro never would have made it up at all that year because the season was cut short. That also made his age 21 season in 1995 when the season was again shortened. He thinks -- and it’s fair -- that my estimate of 4,056 hits might overshoot a reasonable estimate by 100 or so hits. Not that 3,956 hits is bad, but he thinks Ichiro might be just shy of 4,000.

Like I say, I think he makes a good point … but I still think, even with those circumstances, he’s over 4,000 hits and here’s why. I feel like he was such a dominant player at age 20, that I think he probably would have made an appearance as a 19-year-old, and would have made the Opening Day roster in 1994. The 1994 Mariners (and I’m assuming he would have played for the Mariners) were a dreadful team, and I think Ichiro would have been so obviously brilliant that the would have HAD to find a spot for him. Heck, A-Rod at age 18 got some at-bats for the Mariners that year. I think he’d have over 4,000.

I think (hope?) that’s a difference of reasonable opinion -- and such differences go with the territory in these kinds of what-if games.


Bob Feller

Actual stats: 266-162, 3.25 ERA, 44 shutouts, 2,581 Ks, 1764 walks, 122 ERA+.

The gap: Feller famously enlisted in the Navy two days after Pearl Harbor, and he missed the entire 1942, 1943 and 1944 seasons and most of 1945.

The context: Feller was the best pitcher in the American League the three seasons leading into World War II. He led the league in wins, innings and strikeouts all three years, in ERA once, complete games and shutouts twice, he was all kinds of dominant. And his first full season back, he had the best season of his entire career, one of the best seasons ever for a pitcher, going 26-15 with a 2.18 ERA, 348 strikeouts, 36 complete games and 10 shutouts.

The result: Bob Feller for a long time would walk around with a sheet of paper that estimated what his final statistics would have looked like. He gave me one of those years ago … I wish I still had it somewhere.

My feeling is that it’s pretty easy to estimate Feller’s performance from 1942-45. He was at the height of his powers, the peak of his talent, and the fact that he was SO dominant his first full year back suggests that, if healthy (and all of these estimations assume good health), he would have put up numbers very similar to what he put up in 1940, 1941 and 1946.

So, my estimate of war years:

1942: 26-13, 2.65 ERA, 345 innings pitched, 290 strikeouts, 155 walks.

1943: 24-13, 2.66 ERA, 327 innings pitched, 273 strikeouts, 143 walks.

1944: 28-11, 2.54 ERA, 335 innings pitched, 277 strikeouts, 145 walks

1945: 24-13, 2.52 ERA, 333 innings pitched, 310 strikeouts, 161 walks

New career total: 363-209, 3.10 ERA, 71 shutouts, 3,672 Ks, 2,333 walks.

Of course, if Feller had REALLY thrown that many innings, it’s quite likely that he would not have been as good a pitcher in the late 1940s. But we’re playing the make-believe game here. One thing that seems sure -- if Feller had pitched those four years, he’d be second all time in walks. Nolan Ryan, though, with 2,795 walks, is still in a league all his own.


Joe DiMaggio

Actual stats: .325/.398/.579 with 2,214 hits, 389 doubles, 131 triples, 361 homers, 1,390 runs, 1,537 RBIs.

The gap: DiMaggio missed 1943, 1944 and 1945 for World War II.

The context: DiMaggio was actually coming off the worst season of his relatively young career when he went into the army. He only -- “only” in quotations -- hit .305/.376/.498 with a career low in homers (21), RBIs (114) and total bases (304) … this, even though he had played in every game of the season. He went through various personal issues in 1942. His wife, Dorothy, left him and filed for divorce. The war weighed heavily on him.

Truth is that he never would again be the player he was from 1937-1941. For those five years, DiMaggio hit .350/.420/.638, drove in 125-plus runs every year, led the league in homers one season, in slugging one season, in batting average and total bases twice, played superior defense in center field, was a force of nature. Unlike Feller and Williams, he would not play at that extraordinary level after the war, in large part because of nagging injuries. He was very, very good in 1948, leading the league in homers and RBIs and winning the MVP award, but even that was not quite at the level of his amazing stretch from 1939-1941.

The result: DIMaggio’s three years off are not as straightforward as Feller’s because of his slight decline in 1942. Was that just a one-year blip because of distractions or something more? Obviously, I’m guessing here:

1942: .349/.422/.610 with 34 doubles, 10 triples, 28 homers, 112 runs, 125 RBIs.*

1943: .325/.401/.565 with 31 doubles, 10 triples, 26 homers, 109 runs, 115 RBIs.

1944: .323/.399/.564 with 30 doubles, 10 triples, 27 homers, 107 runs, 118 RBIs.

*He takes another MVP award away from Ted Williams.

New career total: .326/.399/.578 with 2,752 hits, 484 doubles, 162 triples, 442 homers, 1,718 runs, 1,895 RBIs.

In my view, the extra three years do not quite give DiMaggio any of the magical numbers -- no 3,000 hits, no 500 homers, no 2,000 RBIs -- but they certainly fill out the resume.


Ted Williams

Actual stats: .344/.482/.634 with 2,654 hits, 525 doubles, 71 triples, 521 homers, 1,798 runs, 1,839 RBIs.

The gap: Williams missed all of 1943, 1944 and 1945 for World War II. He misses almost all of 1952 and 1953 for the Korean War.

The context: Estimating Ted Williams’ career totals is the holy grail of these kinds of games because he missed the bulk of FIVE seasons -- three of them when he was emerging as the best hitter since Babe Ruth.

The result: Well, we start with the World War II years. In 1941, of course, Williams hit .400. In 1942, he hit .356 and slugged .648. He went to war, came back, and in 1946 he hit .342/.497/.667. So, it’s pretty easy to take a stab at these three years:

1943: .370/.516/.702 with 41 doubles, 6 triples, 38 homers, 135 RBIs, 136 runs scored.

1944: .358/.506/.702 with 38 doubles, 7 triples, 42 homers, 141 RBIs, 139 runs scored.

1945: .344/.492/644 with 38 doubles, 6 triples, 36 homers, 134 RBIs, 137 runs scored.

Hey, it’s a guess.

The Korean War years are trickier because Williams’ body was beginning to break down. He only played 89 games in 1950 (though he clubbed 28 homers in those 89 games). He was outstanding in 1951, but not necessarily by his own standards -- he led the league in on-base percentage and slugging, but hit .318 -- 35 points below his career average coming into the season. IWhen he came back, he missed a lot of time with nagging injuries (he never played 140 games in a season after coming back from Korea) but the rate stats were remarkable. My guess:

1952: .332/..481/.624 with 24 doubles, 2 triples, 29 homers, 99 RBIs, 90 runs scored in 113 games.

1953: ..359/.514/.589 with 28 doubled, 3 triples, 35 homers, 112 RBIs, 104 runs scored in 129 games.*

*In reality, 1953 was the year Ted Williams almost died after his plane caught fire over Korea.

And now -- big finish, the new career total:

New career total: 346/.486/.641 with 3,447 hits, 688 doubles, 94 triples, 687 homers, 2,385 runs, 2,423 RBIs.

This would make Williams the all-time leader in runs and RBIs, fifth in doubles and fourth in home runs. It’s dreamland stuff, of course, but it sounds about right to me.