Wally Pipp: More Than an Afterthought

Wally Pipp is best known for the circumstances surrounding his removal from the New York Yankees’ lineup. Being the player who directly precedes a legend is tough. Oh sure, the tavern reminiscing about when “that guy played for us” is glamorous, but mostly unfulfilling. Playing accomplishments grow lonely from neglect and, in the worst of cases, become irrelevant- head nod and fist bumps for you, Robert Eenhoorn.

Pipp’s a little different than Eenhoorn though. As this graph illustrates, the man could ball:



Pipp is roughly the 386th best player according to our WAR career leaderboards with an eyelash fewer than 39 career wins. To put that in perspective, he’s equal with or higher than players like Bobby Thomson and Juan Gonzalez; higher than Derek Lee, Rick Monday, and Edgar Renteria; within a few runs of players like Rico Carty, Kirk Gibson, and Bill Mazeroski. As the graph implied, Mr. Pipp could play some ball.

Some more about Pipp in order to answer the question: Just how good was Pipp anyways?

– He accumulated 10.8 WAR over the three seasons prior to losing his job. That registers as the seventh highest total among qualified first basemen. Considering the league had sixteen teams back then, that placement is not as good as it seems relatively.

– Pipp managed a .310/.365/.440 line over those three seasons– good for a wRC+ of 115. For comparison’s sake, Lyle Overbay had a 113 wRC+ over the last three seasons.

– If it’s not obvious by now, a lot of Pipp’s value is drawn from his fielding. Between 1922 and 1924, Pipp totaled 26 fielding runs. The next highest first baseman total was Lu Blue – a favorite of uninspired poets – at 18 runs. Therefore, there is a direct relationship between belief in fielding metrics and amount of regard towards Pipp’s value.

– Pipp’s final season with New York was shortened by injury. Although the exact reason for his removal from the starting lineup is a bit of a debate, he later suffered a fractured skull after being hit by a batting practice pitch. All and all, his season ended with 200 plate appearances and a .291 wOBA.

– Alas, there’s a reason Pipp is not the Yankees’ first base icon from the ‘20s. He managed 35 wins in 11 seasons. That Lou Gehrig guy’s three best seasons add up to 35.5 wins.




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13 Responses to “Wally Pipp: More Than an Afterthought”

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  1. Jeff Zimmerman says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    Did you get a little inspiration from the Daily Show last night?

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  2. NEPP says:

    On a serious note, how do we judge fielding stats from 90 years ago? Hell, they still left their gloves on the field between innings back then and field quality changed dramatically from park to park as the standards were much lower.

    I’m not trying to criticize, I’m genuinely curious…do we actually have accurate enough fielding stats from that era?

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    • Bigmouth says:

      Do we have accurate enough fielding stats from THIS era?

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      • NEPP says:

        No, we dont. That’s why I’m surprised that we’d have anything even remotely accurate for the 1920s when advanced stats weren’t kept and most stats had to be reconstructed from old box scores years later.

        I’m not trying to be a smartass…I’m genuinely curious.

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      • Bigmouth says:

        Oh, I was being a smartass, but I’m also genuinely curious, too. Didn’t mean to suggest your question was irrelevant or dumb.

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    • grady says:

      came here to post this, someone beat me to it.

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  3. Synovia says:

    It seems to me that WAR isn’t really a useful stat to look at historical data. Generally when you get a better population to pull from (IE, better diet, more athletes, etc), you don’t see a huge increase in the top end talent, you see it in the talent floor.

    IE, Babe Ruth may not be a much better player than Pujols, but your average MLB journeyman is a whole lot better than the journeyman of 50-100 years ago. IE, it seems to me that ‘replacement level’ when you go back in history is probably drastically lower than it is today, and that makes comparison not as useful.

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  4. chuckb says:

    Really interesting stuff. I had no idea that Pipp was such a good ballplayer. Like most, I guess, I only knew him as the guy who lost his job to Gehrig. Thanks.

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  5. Mike Green says:

    Whatever the error bar on fielding metrics for first basemen today is, it would have to be much larger for metrics from 1910-1925. Did Pipp have a reputation as a good fielder?

    I do know that Pipp beat out Jacques Fournier for the Yankee job in 1918. It is plausible that at least the Yankees thought that he a good glove. FWIW, the gold standard for defensive first basemen in that era by reputation was Hal Chase. Chase is -65 runs defensively for his career according to the figures here. By contrast, the first basemen with the golden defensive reputations of the post-Retrosheet era, like Eddie Murray, Keith Hernandez, Vic Power, Gil Hodges, and Mark Grace, all have commensurate career positive defensive numbers.

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    • lieiam says:

      I agree that there is more question about ‘old time’ defensive stats than there are about recent defensive stats. However, I think using the defensive numbers of Hal Chase to demonstrate this is unfair. My understanding is that Hal Chase would make great plays and he would make terrible plays; the terrible plays allegedly due to his involvement in gambling and game-fixing… I think his reputation as a great fielder is because he was (when making 100% effort) a great fielder and people would see him make the great plays. However, his overall defensive picture is ugly because of him muffing plays on purpose.

      Maybe what I described above is not accurate but it’s the impression I’ve gained from reading various things (probably the Historical Abstract and the Ultimate Baseball Book).

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      • Mike Green says:

        I don’t know. The other great defensive first baseman by reputation was Sisler and he’s +6 for his career. The guys in modern days are all +60 or more. On the other hand, Frank Chance has a +47 in a short career.

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