Fantasy has only been around for the last 20 years. Too bad, really. It would be way too fun to look back at what fantasy analysts were saying about Cy Young before the 1892 (1.93 ERA over 453 innings).
But in looking back at Babe Ruth’s stats the other day, I saw some curious numbers. And it made me think, if it were December of 1917 instead of August of 2010, would I be recommending the Sultan of Swat to fantasy owners? In short, I don’t think so.
First, Ruth was still on the Red Sox and still a starting pitcher at this point. So we’re looking at his ERA instead of salivating over his 60 HRs. And, of course, we don’t have nearly the info available that we would like—play-by-play-data didn’t come around until much later.
But let’s look at Ruth’s 1917 line. 326.1 IP. 24 wins. 2.01 ERA. 1.08 WHIP. 128 Ks.
Needless to say, Ruth was good. I don’t have league average values available to tell exactly how good he was, but I think we can go off Ruth’s lore to tell us that these standard stats were in the upper echelons of the time.
But Ruth had some worrying numbers too.
How about a 1.19 K/BB. He was striking out 3.53 batters per nine innings while walking just under 3 in the same time. Now, his poor K rate may not have been as bad for the time—again, I don’t have league averages—but really I doubt that was any good.
And with his low strikeout totals came a BABIP of .234. Ruth had had low BABIPs throughout his career (this was his third full season) but it would surely leave me skeptical. Without batted ball data we can’t figure out what his xBABIP was, but I were analyzing Ruth at the time I would certainly be looking for a regression northwards. Throw in a nice LOB% like his 75.5% and a FIP above his ERA and my inclination is that Ruth would have been overvalued in drafts for the 1918 season.
My guess is that Ruth would be an end-of-the-first-round type of guy, and I just don’t think I would have bought it. This year’s Tim Lincecum maybe.
Now, I basically would have been wrong. The numbers are little messy because in 1918 the Red Sox started using Ruth as an outfielder so he pitched about half as many innings as he did in 1917. But in those innings he was essentially his same old self. A 2.22 ERA with 13 wins. But he had even fewer strikeouts. So maybe I wasn’t totally wrong.
I guess we can check it off as a partial hindsight win for me.