Similar Names, Similar Stats, Similar Snubs - A Cubs History Lesson
by Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution
December 29, 2005
There is a group of players from the old days whom I always get confused. Babe Ruth is not one of them, but he is relevant to this discussion because his name, George Herman "Babe" Ruth is similar to the names of a couple of guys I always get confused. Those players are Babe Herman, Billy Herman, and Stan Hack. For the record:
Babe Herman – 1926-1937, 1945 – OF, 1B – .915 OPS (140 OPS+); 5603 AB; 399 2B; 181 HR; 997 RBI; 882 R;.324 AVG; .383 OBP; 520/553 BB/K
Billy Herman – 1931-1943, 1946-1947 – 2B – .774 OPS (112 OPS+); 7707 AB; 486 2B; 47 HR; 839RBI; 1163 R; .304 AVG; .367 OBP; 737/428 BB/K
Stan Hack – 1932-1947 – 3B – .791 OPS (119 OPS+); 7278 AB; 363 2B; 57 HR; 642 RBI; 1239 R; .301 AVG; .394 OBP; 1092/466 BB/K
Perhaps contributing to my confusion is the fact that all three actually played together on the 1934 Cubs. Frankly, Babe Herman is clearly not a similar player to Billy Herman and Stan Hack. Obviously, I only confuse Babe Herman with Billy Herman because of their names, and I confuse Stan Hack and Billy Herman because they were similar players, and then I confuse Stan and Babe because of their common link to Billy.
Perhaps adding to the confusion are the teams for whom these players played. Stan Hack was a career Cub, while the Hermans each spent a portion of their careers with the Cubs, but each also spent part of their careers with the Brooklyn Dodgers as well. Further confusing the situation is the fact that Stan Hack's name game
partner and fellow Chicago Cub Hack Wilson also managed to play for both the Cubs and the Dodgers.
At this point, the plot thickens, because Hack Wilson and Babe Herman were very similar players. Both players debuted in the 1920s at the age of 23. Both players peaked at the turn of the decade, enjoying their best seasons of their careers in 1930. The key difference there is that Hack Wilson's best season was leaps and bounds better than Babe Herman's best season. In fact, Wilson's second best season compares more favorably to Herman's best season. After 1930, neither player ever regained the magic of that one season, though each player remained competent for a time thereafter. Then, remarkably, both players played their last season at the age of 34, though Herman had a short-lived return with the 1945 Dodgers, during World War II.
Wilson had 63 more homeruns than Herman; Herman had 133 more doubles. Herman had 350 more hits than Wilson; Wilson had more runs and RBI. Wilson's OPS was 25 points higher than Herman's; Herman's average was 17 points higher than Wilson's. Wilson struck out more often than Herman, but he walked more often, too. At the end of their respective careers, Herman's OPS was .915 (140 OPS+), while Wilson's was .940 (144 OPS+). Today, Hack Wilson is in the Hall of Fame, while Babe Herman is not.
So, if we view this phenomenon as a continuum, we have the following:
Babe Herman – Billy Herman – Stan Hack – Hack Wilson
Billy Herman and Stan Hack were similar players with dissimilar names. Babe Herman and Hack Wilson were similar players with dissimilar names. Babe Herman and Billy Herman were dissimilar players with similar names. Stan Hack and Hack Wilson were dissimilar players with similar names.
Also interesting is this. Of Babe Herman and Hack Wilson, Wilson is in the Hall of Fame and Babe Herman is not. This may be fair, as it appears that Wilson may have done more in fewer at-bats than Herman did. But of Stan Hack and Billy Herman, Herman is in the Hall of Fame and Hack is not. This is very interesting.
When looking at their careers side by side, the first two things that jump out are the stats with the obvious differences – doubles and RBI. In about 429 more at-bats, a little less than a full season's worth, Herman bests Hack by 123 doubles and 197 RBI. Significant differences. Herman also has a better batting average and more total bases. However, Hack scored about 75 more runs than Herman, and hit into 113 fewer double plays than Herman. Additionally, in 429 fewer at-bats, Hack walked 355 more times, while striking out only 38 more times. This is a significant swing in the BB/K categories. Additionally, it appears that both players were pretty good defensively, each rating above the league in fielding percentage and range factor. And for what its worth, Bill James ranks Herman as the 14th greatest second baseman of all time, behind Lou Whitaker, while he ranks Hack as the 9th best third baseman of all time, after Paul Molitor.
Also interestingly, Stan Hack, having been snubbed by the Hall of Fame voters, joins Ron Santo as Cubs third basemen who should be in the Hall but aren't, while Billy Herman joins Ryne Sandberg as Cubs second basemen who the voters had little trouble putting into the Hall. Is there a second base vs. third base bias at work here?
Hmm. Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg. Also similar names, and also both Cubs. Also of interest, like Hack Wilson, Ron Santo hung it up at the age of 34 while Sandberg, like Babe Herman, hung it up at 34 before making a comeback later on.
Talk about similar players, similar names, and second base bias. Santo and Sandberg each were excellent defensive players, both ranking well ahead of the league averages in fielding percentages and range factors. Both were career Cubs with the exception of one season spent with another team – Sandberg with the Phillies at the beginning and Santo with the White Sox at the end. The biggest, most visible difference which Sandberg has over Santo is his average, 8 points better, and his stolen bases. Santo managed only 35/76 SB, while Sandberg managed 344/451. In fact, if Sandberg had not sacked half of 1994 and all of 1995, then he would have easily joined the 300/300 Club
. (Oh by the way, speaking of coincidences - Sandberg and Michael Jordan, both number 23 for Chicago, both retired in the mid-1990s only to come back a season and a half later). But Santo tops Sandberg in areas as well. In 242 fewer at-bats, Santo hit 60 more homeruns, and gathered 270 more RBI. Santo also has a better BB/K ratio and a better OBP/SLG/OPS than Sandberg. And, if you can stand it, both were born in the state of Washington.
In truth, these guys are pretty even, with the slight edge going to Sandberg, but only the second base vs. third base bias explains why Sandberg is in the Hall and Santo is not.
So, does our continuum now look like this(?):
Ryne Sandberg – Babe Herman – Billy Herman – Stan Hack – Hack Wilson – Ron Santo
Good, glad we got that all straightened out. Tune in next time when we will tackle the great Eddie debacle, sorting out Eddie Mathews, Eddie Joost, Eddie Yost, Eddie Stanky, and Eddie Robinson.