Thursday, January 31, 2008

Considering Dave Foutz With A Bat In His Hands

I was reading something today after I got home from work about how Chris Von der Ahe acquired Dave Foutz in 1884 and I went to Baseball-Reference to see if they had anything about the transaction. Scrolling down to the transactions section of Foutz's B-R page, I noticed a few things. First, the two most similiar pitchers to Foutz are Dizzy Dean and Mort Cooper. I thought that was pretty neat. The second thing I noticed though was that, at a glance, Foutz had a lot of top ten finishes in various catagories but didn't have much black ink or gray ink. I thought that was kind of odd and went back to look at it in detail.

While I knew that Foutz was a good hitter what I found surprised me. Foutz wasn't just a good hitter. Foutz was a great hitter and between 1886 and 1890 he was one of the best hitters in the game. During his five year peak as a hitter, Foutz posted an OPS+ of 111, 138, 119, 110, and 132. He was in the top five in RBI's every year between 1887 and 1890. He was also in the top ten in runs created during that period.

Those are rather extraordinary numbers when you consider that Foutz was also an elite pitcher. While his peak as a pitcher didn't exactly overlap with his peak as a hitter, from 1886 to 1888 Foutz must have been something to see. From 1886 to 1888, he finished in the top ten in ERA every year, winning the ERA title in 1886. He was also finished in the top ten in wins in 1886 and 1887.

Think about it. In 1887, Foutz finished in the top ten in RBI, runs created, ERA, and wins. In 1888, he finished in the top ten in RBI, runs created, and RBI. For two years, Foutz was both an elite pitcher and hitter. Off the top of my head, the only other person I can think of who did something comparable is Babe Ruth in 1918. Certainly, in the history of baseball, there have been pitchers who were good hitters. There have been pitchers who also played in the field. But besides Foutz and Ruth, I can't think of any player since the advent of "organized" baseball who was both an elite pitcher and an elite hitter.


Anonymous said...

Actually Dave Foutz had a teammate, Bob Caruthers, who was both a better pitcher and a better hitter. His (Caruther's) 1886 season is one of the best ever in baseball history.

Jeff Kittel said...

I certainly should have mentioned Parisian Bob-he did lead the league in ERA and OPS in 1886.

To me, the major difference between Caruthers and Foutz as hitters is that Caruthers was usually getting around 300 AB and Foutz was getting 500. You can look at the numbers and say Caruthers was a better hitter than Foutz but Foutz was essentially putting his numbers up as an everyday player. I think in the end that was what I was trying to get at in my post-Foutz was a top-line pitcher who was also a top-line hitter and made the transition to everyday player (hence the comparision to Ruth). Caruthers didn't really do that (except for the 1892 season when he was at the end of his career). Foutz over the course of his career has 2000 more AB than Caruthers and that has serious value.

And was Caruthers a better pitcher than Foutz? I don't think it's cut and dry. At his peak, Caruthers was putting up an ERA+ of 125, 158, 148, 138, and 128 while his career ERA+ is 123. Foutz's peak is 150, 125, 163, 117, and 122 with his career number at 124. That's pretty close. Caruthers threw about 800 more innings than Foutz over the course of his career and that's probably enough to tip it to him.

It's a tough call. I'm not sure who I'd take if I could only have one.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't hold Caruthers' ERA+ either for or against him. He cruised and coasted when he had a lead, and bore down when he had to. Paraphrasing a quote of his (which I don't have the gumption to find at this hungover moment but will later) "there's eight other guys out there; let 'em earn their pay."

Caruthers may have 2,000 fewer AB than Foutz, but he pitched 1,000 more innings,. These stats together simply show that after his thumb injury in 87, Foutz was effectively finished as a pitcher; not that he was necessarily a better everyday player. Foutz WAS team captain of the Brooklyns, which shows the esteem in which he was held.

By 94 PA and 3 OPS+ points, Caruthers misses being in both the 100 top career ERA+ AND OPS+ leaders. That's pretty impressive.

Jeff Kittel said...

Neither guy was a strikeout pitcher in the modern sense. Foutz had around a 3.5 K/9 while Caruthers 2.8 (and I just did those numbers off the top of my head so they might be a bit off). That wasn't their role. Both pitchers were pitching to contact and letting their defense do the work. That was the nature of 19th century pitching and I don't think it invalidates their ERA+ numbers.

The fact that Caruthers is almost in the top 100 for both OPS+ and ERA+ is very impressive. Both Foutz and Caruthers were great players and two of my all-time favorites. I have a difficult time choosing between them. The conventional wisdom probably has Caruthers rated higher but I think it's really close. Six in one hand, half dozen in the other.

I think I posted on the blog somewhere that I believe Caruthers should be in the Hall of Fame. I'd put Foutz in as well and let them go in together.