Bill Bruton

During the 1968 replay, I was unabashedly rooting for the Davenport Knights.  This was out of character, to some extent, because neither the Tigers nor Cardinals have ever been counted among my favorite teams.  But this particular grouping, in this particular year, definitely caught my fancy.  The 1961 roster does not excite me to the same degree, largely because the difference of seven years means there are more players to whom I feel no strong connection.  I knew this going in, of course, but am hopeful that after spending time with these guys I’ll develop some close ties.

Bruton

There is no Lou Brock on this version of the Knights — he was a year away from his first full season in the bigs — and in some ways his role as disruptive force at the top of the order is being taken by Bill Bruton, who according to this bio “was arguably the fastest man in professional baseball in the 1950s.”  In 1961 Bruton was a 35-yo nearing the end of a productive career, but his slash line was still a productive .257/17/63 with 22 steals.  I learned a lot about him in that article, perhaps the most interesting fact was that he retired in part because Chrysler’s job offer of $15k a year was just too good to pass up — he only made about twice that amount as a ballplayer in the mid-60s, and wanted to make sure he could support his family down the road.

As in 1968, the team’s outfield is so deep that Bruton is platooned in CF with a young 23-yo Curt Flood (.322/2/21 and a ‘1’).  In the corners are two great players in their primes, Al Kaline (.324/19/82 with 66 walks and a ‘1’) and Rocky Colavito (.290/45/140 with 113 walks and a -5 arm).  Depth is provided by the great 40-yo Stan Musial (.288/15/70 and 52 walks) and Joe Cunningham (.286/7/40), who combine for 694 ABs and 105 walks, but unfortunately are both 4’s afield.  Come September, it will be interesting to see which outfield puts up bigger numbers, the 1968 Knights or this bunch.

It is also interesting to reflect that Colavito was essentially done by 1968, what I think of as the first year that I was really paying attention to the big leagues, but as a kid I had a thing for outfielders with powerful throwing arms and vividly recall Rocky’s arm was always being mentioned alongside Roberto’s.  

Good as that outfield rates, according to the WAR numbers the team’s best hitters are at the infield corners, Norm Cash (.361/41/152 with 124 walks) and Ken Boyer (.329/24/95 and 68 walks).  Boyer is a ‘1’ at third, and when the spirit moves me I can have Cash DH (who had a career year at the plate) and have another ‘1’, Bill White (.286/20/90 and 64 walks), cover first.  Depth over at third seems out of place among this all-star bunch, but 24-yo Steve Boros (.270/5/62 and 68 walks) has a bat that would start on many clubs.  Much more noticeable is the talent drop-off around the keystone, where the rookie starters — 24-yo Jake Wood (.258/11/69 and 58 walks) and lefty 23-yo Dick McAuliffe (.256/6/33) — are both 4’s and don’t hit enough to make them assets overall. Makes me wonder if the backups, SS Chico Fernandez (.248/3/40 and a ‘3’) and 24-yo Julian Javier (.279/2/41 and a ‘2’), should receive more playing time.

The Knights are very solid behind the plate.  Dick Brown (.266/16/45) has a -2 arm, and is going to play as much as his 308 ABs allows.  The team has the luxory of two backups, the left-handed 33-yo Carl Sawatski (.299/10/33 in 174 ABs) and righty Mike Roarke (.223/2/22 and a -3 arm).  

SUMMARY LOOK AT DAVENPORT HITTERS (WAR of 63.5)
CA (3): 711 ABs, 7R balance, and WAR of 3.0
1B (2): 1126 ABs, 9R balance, and WAR of 17.4
2B (2): 1108 ABs, E balance, and WAR of 2.8
3B (2): 985 ABs, 1L balance, and WAR of 10.3
SS (2): 720 ABs, 2L balance, and WAR of 0.7
LF (2): 955 ABs, 5R balance, and WAR of 11.7
CF (2): 931 ABs, 2R balance, and WAR of 7.4
RF (3): 908 ABs, 3L balance, and WAR of 10.2

Other than the obvious problem at SS, this is a good-hit/good-field club from top to bottom.  Of course, some allowances have to be made for park factors, and as you can see below, the historical ballpark ratings for the Tigers and Cards give an extreme tilt toward homers in both team’s actual stadiums, it will be interesting to see the overall effect of the neutral park.

Ballpark Effect     Detroit   St. Louis
Lefty Singles          1           19  
Righty Singles         6           19
Lefty Homers          16           17
Righty Homers         10           15
  

Aguirre

Given those park numbers, there is reason to think the pitching will be pretty darn good.  The rotation has three righties: Jim Bunning (17-11, 3.19, 268 IP), Frank Lary (23-9, 3.24, 275 IP), and a younger version of the MVP from my 1968 replay, Bob Gibson (13-12, 3.24, 211 IP).  The lefty trio is also good: 32-yo Don Mossi (15-7, 2.96, 240 IP), Curt Simmons (9-10, 3.13, 196 IP), and 20-yo Ray Sadecki (14-10, 3.72, 223 IP).  The Knights have a great closer tandem.  The stud is righty Terry Fox (1.41, 57 IP, 12 saves), but lefty Hank Aguirre (3.25, 55 IP, 8 saves) is also useful.  The 30-yo Aguirre is an interesting case, in that he will be converted into a starter for the next five seasons, and will even win the ERA title in 1962.  He pitched until 1970, when he was 39, and those last few years he was back to pitching in relief — as he was doing in our 1968 replay with the Saints.

Middle relief on this club might be an issue.  First, all five of them throw right-handed, so certain lineups will feast on the steady diet of starboard pitches.  And while it’s a strength to have so many innings available, more important is the lack of anyone really good enough for high-leverage moments.  Whether it's Paul Foytack (11-10, 3.93, 170 IP), Ron Kline (8-9, 4.14, 161 IPs), 22-yo Bob Miller (4.24, 74 IP), 40-yo Gerry Staley (3.96, 61 IP), or Bob Bruce (4.43. 45 IP), all you can really do is pray that nice Knights lineup can out-score the opposition when these guys are in the game.

SUMMARY LOOK AT DAVENPORT PITCHERS (WAR of 40.2)
RELIEF (3): 173 IPs, 5R balance, and WAR of 3.1
RELIEF/STARTER (5): 673 IPs, 2R balance, and WAR of 7.6
STARTER (5): 1190 IPs, 7R balance, and WAR of 29.5

If you click HERE you will find a PDF of end-of-April stats.  Below is a link to the Strat-O-Matic league file after three weeks, followed by the current standings.  Cedar Rapids has been on fire, going 9-1 recently to jump into the lead.  The cold club all year has been Iowa City, 3-7 recently.  

1961IB-5-30-2019.lzp

4/30/61 Iowa Baseball Confederacy        Won   Lost    Pct     GB
Cedar Rapids Saints (Twins-Dodgers)      12      5    .706     —  
Council Bluffs Falcons (A’s-Giants)      10      7    .588    2.0 
Waterloo Sailors (White Sox-Braves)      10      8    .556    2.5 
Des Moines Scarlets (Yankees-Cubs)       11      9    .550    2.5 
Davenport Knights (Tigers-Cards)          9      9    .500    3.5 
West Metro Maroons (Angels)               9      9    .500    3.5 
Ames Little Cyclones (Orioles-Pirates)   10     10    .500    3.5 
Dubuque Golden Eagles (Senators)          8     10    .444    4.5 
Sioux City Crusaders (Indians-Reds)       8     10    .444    4.5 
Iowa City Regals (Red Sox-Phillies)       4     14    .222    8.5 

That’s all for this week. 

© John Kisner 2019