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The Class of '39
by Tony Aubry, BaseballEvolution.com
December 3, 2006

Throughout the year, we have heard about how great the rookie class of ‘06 was. In the National League, we basically had the entire Marlins team, along with Ryan Zimmerman and Prince Fielder. In the American League, we had a trio of pitchers; Justin Verlander, Francisco Liriano, and Jared Weaver were the top 3 rookies in the A.L. Unfortunately for Liriano, he hurt his arm in the middle of the year, which was the reason he didn’t win the ROY Award.  Ultimately, Liriano had to have the infamous Tommy John surgery. The ‘06 class was certainly one to remember, but what about the rookie class to ‘39?

Well, say hello to Teddy Ballgame, Charlie “King Kong” Keller, Dizzy Trout, Hal “Prince” Newhouser, Mickey Vernon, and 300-game winner Early Wynn. Ted Williams is arguably one of the top 3 or 4 players ever. Wynn and Newhouser are in the Hall of Fame. Vernon had a weird career, but was certainly a useful player.  Keller is severely underrated, as he walked 300 more times than he struck out and accumulated 299 ABR despite playing in only 5 full seasons. Trout was a very good pitcher throughout the 40’s.

We really can’t compare the two classes since we don’t know how the class of ‘06 will pan out.  But I know for sure none of them will be as good as Williams, and the chances of three of them going to the HOF are slim to none. I don’t want to start projecting careers, but I am no fan of Justin Verlander.  Liriano won’t be pitching again until 2008, so who the hell knows how he’ll pan out. I don’t like Dan Uggla either. The numbers he put up are very similar to what he did in ‘05. But in ‘05, he played in the minors and it wasn’t even Triple-A; it was Double-A. So how does a player put up numbers in the majors, while playing in a park favorable to pitchers, similar to what he put up in the minor leagues? Luck. I do like Hanley Ramirez, though. An OPS+ of 117 from a SS is rare, and he stole 59 bases at a very good 77% clip. He also earned 5.3 Fielding Win Shares, which was good for 6th among SS.

Enough about this year; Let’s talk about the class of ‘39. Ted Williams obviously needs no introduction, but I believe King Kong Keller and the others may.

Charlie Keller

Keller is one of my favorite players of all time, and as I mentioned before, he is really underrated. In ‘39 Keller walked 81 times while only striking out 49 times. He also had an OPS+ of 144 and tallied up 31 batting runs. Then from 1940-1946, Keller averaged a line of .285/.407/.534 and 34 ABR. Keller was probably one of the top 5 players in the game at that time, but in 1946, Keller ruptured a disk in his back and that pretty much ended his career. Had Keller played later on in the century, an injury like that certainly wouldn’t end one’s career.

Early Wynn

Whether Wynn belongs in the HOF or not is a different argument for a different time. However, he certainly had a good career. Wynn won 20 games 5 times, and had an ERA 25% better than the league five times as well. Wynn also had 28 pitching runs or more 5 times and led the league in pitching runs in 1956. Wynn should have received the Cy Young for his 1956 performance, but Newcombe won 7 more games, (always helps to have run support 29% better than the league average) and I guess that’s all that mattered 50 years ago. Wynn had more pitching runs, pitching wins, innings pitched, ERA+, strikeouts, and gave up fewer HR than Newcombe did.

Mickey Vernon

Vernon had a really weird career. In his first full year, he posted a line of .299/.352/.443 with an OPS+ of 114. During the next two years, he posted a SLG% below .400 and his batting average dropped 15 points. Remember, people, were talking about a first baseman with a SLG% below .400, not a SS or a 2B. However, the next year he posted a line of .353/.403/.508 with an OPS+ of 168 and 49 ABR. Mickey lead the league in 2B and BA that year, and was 5th in the MVP race as well.

In two out of the next four years, Vernon had negative batting runs and slugged below .400 twice. In 1951, Vernon hit in the .290’s and slugged above .400, but in the next year his average dropped 40 points and he slugged below .400 once again. Despite having a down year in ’52, Vernon set a career high in SLG (.518) tied his previous high in OBP (.403) and led the league in hitting (.337) and in 2B (43) in 1953. After the ‘53 season, Vernon steadily declined, as he posted OPS+ of 140, 133, 125, and 97. This was a trend that Vernon did not break until he finally retired in 1960.

Hal Newhouser

Newhouser was the best pitcher of the 1940’s. Albeit that there wasn’t much competition, it is still a neat accomplishment. Newhouser had one hell of a peak, and won back-to-back MVP awards, an accomplishment that no other pitcher can claim to have achieved. Newhouser just beat out teammate Dizzy Trout (we’ll get to him later) in 1944, and beat out Eddie Mayo, also a teammate, in 1945. From 1944-1948, Newhouser won 118 games and garnered 248 Adjusted Pitching Runs.

Dizzy Trout

Dizzy Trout was certainly a good pitcher, and also much better than his W-L record showed. Trout had a career record of 170-161, which is not impressive at all. However, his career ERA was 24% better than the league, and his career run support was 4% worse than the league average. Here’s something to chew on: Dizzy Trout’s ERA+ was 124, while Warren Spahn’s was only 118. I’m not trying to say that Trout was the better pitcher, since Spahn pitched twice as many innings as Trout did, but it just goes to show how underrated he is.

I mentioned before that Newhouser just barely beat out Trout for the 1944 MVP. However, Trout led the league in CG, SHO, IP, ERA, ERA+, APR, and PW. It must be those damn wins again. Newhouser won 29 while Trout only won 27.

Well, there you have it: the rookie class of 1939. The next time someone gets all tied up with this year’s class, just laugh in their face and tell them to go look at the class of ‘39.



Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Tony resides in Queens, New York and can be reached at tony@baseballevolution.com.

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