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Was Clay Buchholz Ever That Good?

This might be a scary thought to consider if you’re a Red Sox fan or if you’re a member of the Red Sox front office. Most of us including myself perceive Buchholz to be a really good pitcher who just happened to have a terrible year in 2014, which he did. Buchholz last year finished with a 5.34 ERA, which was the worst ERA of his career. His peripherals were better — that being said they were not great — his FIP was 4.01 and his xFIP was 4.04. The problem is that I think the Red Sox are banking or hoping that Buchholz has a bounce back year in 2015 and finds the “Cy Young” caliber form he displayed in 2013.

Buchholz in 2013 posted a great ERA at 1.74, and his FIP was really good too at 2.78. The problem was that he just couldn’t stay healthy throughout the year only pitching 108 innings. This has been a chronic problem for Buchholz throughout his career. Buchholz has never pitched 200 innings in a season; the most he’s ever pitched was in 2012, where he threw 189.1 innings. The other problem is that Buchholz performance has always been very volatile, one year he has a good ERA and then the next he has a bad ERA.

So let’s take a look at Buchholz’s underlying numbers to try and get a better understanding of his erratic performance records. First let’s look at 2013, where he conceptually had the best year of his career. He as I’ve already mentioned posted a great ERA though in a limited sample size. His BABIP that year was also very low at .254. What, however, was most alarming was his left on base percentage (LOB%). His LOB% in 2013 was at 83.7%, which is extremely high. A normal or league average LOB% is normally around 72%, Buchholz that year was well above that and quite frankly unsustainably high. Then if we look at his HR/FB ratio, at 4.5%, it’s also at an unsustainable rate. If you combine these factors, the low innings pitched, the BABIP, the HR/FB, and the LOB% for Buchhotlz great 2013 ERA, it’s easy to see why he had such a low ERA and why that probably was just a fluke.

Now let’s look at his 2010 season, which was considered by most to be his breakout year. In 2010 as you might have guessed Buchholz had a great ERA at 2.33, which probably gave the impression that he had a great year. His FIP however was at 3.61, which is above average, but his xFIP was at 4.07. His BABIP and HR/FB were also at unsustainable rates that year. His BABIP was .261 and his HR/FB ratio was at 5.6% creating his low ERA.

Finally let’s take a look at his 2012 season, the year where he pitched the most innings of his career, 189.1. I think this is the year that best describes Buchholz’s true value and not the skewed value of his 2010, 2013, and 2014 seasons (If you’re wondering what about 2011? Well he only pitched 82.2 innings so I pretty much discounted that year from the analysis). In 2012, Buchholz finished with a 4.56 ERA, his FIP was 4.65, and his xFIP was 4.43. These are not good numbers, in fact they’re well below-average numbers. This is a scary scene especially if you’re the Red Sox and hoping that Buchholz will bounce back. The essential problem is that the only year where Buchholz’s ERA lined up perfectly with his peripherals, the numbers weren’t pretty. His LOB% granted was a little bit low at 69.7% but his BABIP was also low at .283.

This is not a welcoming sight. I’m not actually certain that Buchholz was ever that good of a pitcher or rather a top of the rotation starter. It for the most part seems that his good years or good ERAs were merely a product of low BABIPs and good luck. It’s also not like he’s ever been a pitcher with a high strikeout to walk rate. His career K/9 is at 6.88 and his BB/9 is at 3.33. His K/9 and BB/9 have also always remained around his career average, with not much fluctuation, so it’s not like he’s been trending upward in that regard. Who I really think got Buchholz’s value just about right is Steamer. In 2015 Steamer projects him to finish with a 4.19 ERA and a 4.06 FIP, which is right around where I think Buchholz true talent and value lies. For those who think Buchholz has the great potential of a top of the line starter, well I’m sorry but at this point I just don’t see it; I think he’s probably more of a mid to back of the rotation starter. A useful piece in the rotation but definitely not someone who you should count on.

Phil Hughes a Cy Young Candidate in 2015?

If you told me, at the end of 2013 (5.19 ERA) that Phil Hughes would have a chance to win a Cy Young, I would’ve told you, no way. If you told me in 2012 (4.23 ERA) that Phil Hughes had a chance to win a Cy Young, I would’ve said it was highly improbable. If you told me in 2011 (5.79 ERA) that Phil Hughes had a chance to win a Cy Young, I would’ve told you to get out of my face; the guy would be lucky to be in the starting rotation (the Yankees’ starting rotation). That’s because for a large part of his career Phil Hughes was a terrible starting pitcher. Not a bad starter, a terrible starter. He was actually, over the last three years, before 2014, one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball.

2014, though, was a different story. In the 2013-14 offseason Hughes signed a 3-year, 24-million-dollar contract with the Minnesota Twins. That year Hughes had one of the best seasons in all of baseball, and needless to say the best season of his career. Just how good was Hughes in 2014? Well Hughes pitched a career high 209.2 innings. His ERA was moderately good at 3.52 but he had the sixth-best FIP in all of baseball at 2.65. The only pitchers to have a better FIP in 2014 were Garrett Richards, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, and Clayton Kershaw. Of those five only Hernandez and Kluber pitched more innings than Hughes.

Hughes finished with an above-average K/9 that year at 7.98 but he led all of baseball with .69 BB/9. Phil Hughes’ BB/9 in 2014 was one of the greatest BB/9 of all time (37th all time), in fact the last pitcher to have a BB/9 better than Hughes was Carlos Silva, also of the Twins in 2005 at .43. Hughes’ great peripherals allowed him to finish with a 6.1 fWAR, which was tied as the fourth-best fWAR in all of baseball (not including position players). Only Kluber, Kershaw, and Hernandez had a better fWAR than Hughes in 2014.

The 2014 season, however, was a complete anomaly for Hughes. For most of his career he’s been awful. So how can one determine if he’ll be a Cy Young candidate in 2015? First I think it’s important to consider one’s BABIP. This after all could have just been a fluky BABIP year. It, however, was not. Hughes was actually unlucky by BABIP standards at .324. BABIPs though can be inflated when a pitcher gets a lot of groundballs, but Hughes does not, his GB% is at 36.5, which is below average. Hughes has predominantly been a fly-ball pitcher so I do expect his BABIP to normalize somewhat next year.

Then I think it’s important to see if Hughes made some adjustments to his repertoire and his pitching style. In the table below, provided by Brooks Baseball you can see Hughes’ pitch usage since he’s entered the big leagues.

Year Fourseam Sinker Cutter Curve Slider Change Split
2007 67.60 0.00 0.00 22.39 3.88 6.03 0.00
2008 62.65 0.00 6.79 22.58 2.72 5.26 0.00
2009 59.72 3.01 16.11 20.59 0.00 0.58 0.00
2010 63.94 0.00 15.82 16.81 0.00 3.44 0.00
2011 59.41 0.00 12.13 20.96 1.82 5.69 0.00
2012 65.31 0.44 1.71 17.37 5.16 10.00 0.00
2013 61.48 0.00 0.00 8.64 23.72 5.12 1.04
2014 60.78 4.36 20.27 14.36 0.00 0.20 0.00

It seems the important element to observe here is Hughes has always thrown a ton of fourseam fastballs and that clearly has not changed. What has changed, however, is his use of sliders, cutters, sinkers, and changeups. Hughes essentially completely rebuilt his repertoire in 2014, apart from his curveball and fourseam fastball. Hughes abandoned the slider and changeup and basically added a sinker. He also re-started using a cutter, a pitch he basically or barely used over the past two years. Now, it’s the second-most-used pitch in his repertoire.

I don’t know who in the Twins organization told Hughes to re-start throwing a cutter, but he probably deserves a raise (unless Hughes decided to throw it all on his own of course). Hughes throws his cutter at an average speed of 89.2 mph. He threw the pitch a total of 509 times and the wRC+ against it was only 71. It also netted an IFFB% of 23.4 and a GB% of 46.4.

This of course was not the only adjustment made by Hughes in 2014. Hughes was never someone who walked a lot of hitters but a .69 BB/9 is extremely low. Below is Phil Hughes’ heat map for 2014.


As you can see, Hughes basically decided to throw the ball down the middle. Is this a good strategy? To be honest I’m not 100% percent sure but it sure did work for Hughes in 2014 and it’s definitely efficient. This strategy obviously isn’t conducive to a lot of walks and it won’t tire a pitcher out. Plus when one considers the low scoring environment, throwing a pitch right down Broadway may not be such a bad idea. It’s also not like Hughes is throwing a ton of off speed pitches down the middle, most of the pitches he throws are fastball and cutters, in fact more than 80% of them are. Which makes his success all that more impressive.

This strategy may be devised to fit Hughes’ new environment and more specifically his new ballpark. Hughes as I’ve already mentioned is a fly ball pitcher, his FB% last year was 40.2%, which was the 15th highest FB% in the majors. When Hughes was pitching for the Yankees he was pitching in a stadium that gave up a lot of home runs. In 2014 Yankee Stadium yielded the third-most home runs in the majors, after Great American Ball Park (Cincinnati) and Coors Field (Colorado). Giving up a lot of fly balls in a home-run-heavy ballpark is typically not a good mix. In 2012 Hughes’ HR/FB ratio was 12.4%, well above average and in 2013 it was 11.1%. The Twins stadium (Target Field), however, is not conducive to home runs, in 2014 it ranked 23rd in home runs allowed. Phil Hughes’ HR/FB ratio dropped to 6.2%.

So is this going to translate into another great 2015 season? Well one thing is certain, Hughes is staying put and so he will play most of his games in Target Field, which should keep his numbers down (when I say down that’s a good thing). However, there’s no way of being 100% sure or accurate on this and Steamer does project a 3.89 ERA with a 3.90 FIP. Hughes, though, I think has a very good chance of repeating his success due to his pitching adjustments and new pitching approach. Plus Hughes’ high BABIP of 2014 should normalize somewhat. Maybe next year he’ll have a low BABIP and his numbers will look even better, netting him a Cy Young. Who knows?

I think a lot of people have a hard time believing in one year of success and with good reason, for all we know it could just be a blip on the radar. That being said, pitchers, sometimes, just figure something out; sometimes things just click. Maybe they invent a new pitch or maybe they re-discover an old one, like Hughes. Sometimes they even change their entire approach to pitching and find success in the latter years of their career, like Cliff Lee. Phil Hughes could very well be that guy and he definitely wouldn’t be someone I would write off in 2015.

Alex Cobb’s Pitching Adjustments

As most of you already know Alex Cobb is a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays. He is projected to be their “ace” in the upcoming season. In fact many people would argue that he’s the best pitcher in the AL East. Considering Masahiro Tanaka’s health issues it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that this might be true. Cobb, however, wasn’t always considered a top of the rotation starter. Since arriving to the majors, Cobb has made significant adjustments to his pitching style, which has earned him his current reputation.

The Rays drafted Cobb in the 3rd round in the 2006 Major League draft. After spending a few years in the minors, in 2011, Cobb made his Major League debut. He pitched 52.2 innings that year and finished with a relatively good ERA, 3.42. 2012, was essentially his first real full season in the big leagues and he didn’t do so well. Cobb, that year finished with a 4.03 ERA. His peripheral numbers, however, were relatively good, his FIP being 3.67 and his xFIP being 3.54.

The next two years Cobb became an extremely dominant pitcher. In 2013, he finished with the best ERA of his career at 2.76 and in 2014 his ERA was only slightly worse at 2.87, but still stellar. His FIP and xFIP, however, have remained consistently in the mid to low 3s. Over the past two years mostly in the low 3s. Many of us have a good understanding of FIP and understand that Cobb’s recent ERA production may just be a normalization of FIP. This may very well be true and an important element to consider, however Cobb in the past two years Cobb has made significant pitching adjustments, which may indicate that this recent ERA success is no fluke.

So what type of adjustments has Cobb made? Well thanks to Brooks Baseball PITCHf/x tool we have a sample size of Cobb’s pitch usage leading back to 2010. If you look at the graph below one thing truly stands out in Cobb’s pitch mix.



Cobb as you can see in the graph above has four essential pitches. What is most notable is how Cobb has made use of his fastball and sinker or inverted their use. In 2010 his fastball was one of the pitches he used the most. In 2013, however, he made a significant decision to use the fastball a lot less. It’s actually the pitch he’s started using the least. Cobb now mostly throws his off-speed pitches and his sinker. The sinker now is basically the pitch he’s using most frequently. Both pitches are predominantly thrown at the same speed, around 92 mph according to Brooks Baseball. The biggest difference is that the sinker has more movement or vertical movement while the fourseam fastball does not.

In the chart below is an example of the vertical movement on Cobb’s pitches. Why vertical movement? Because Cobb throws a splitter, a curveball, and a sinker, which are all conducive to vertical movement.



The sinker or movement on a sinker can be more favorable in creating a higher groundball percentage. It, however, has not been the case with Cobb; his groundball percentage has always remained around his career average of 56.5%. One of the more drastic differences in Cobb’s results in correlation with his new pitching technique is his whiffs per swing.


As you can see here, at the same time that Cobb started to decrease his use of fastballs, he started getting more and more swings and misses with the pitch. The splitter and the curveball have also been pitches which have induced more swing and misses due to his new pitch mix. What one can primarily take away from this chart is that hitters now seem to either be sitting on his sinker or sitting on a pitch with movement (the sinker would fall into that category). Cobb’s fourseam fastball is really the only pitch that doesn’t have significant movement and yet it’s getting a ton of swing and misses even though it’s being thrown a lot less. Meaning that hitters are probably expecting a pitch with movement and when the fastball is thrown they are either surprised or not prepared to hit the pitch.

Cobb here has transformed one of his weakest pitches into one of his strongest. Many young pitchers, and veterans for that matter rely a ton on their fastballs, yet it might be a drastic mistake. If you don’t have an overpowering fastball, like Cobb’s, a good pitching strategy could be to stop throwing it very often. There is no one way to pitch, just like there is no one way to get wins or be successful. Most pitchers are taught at an early age that everything derives off their fastball; “you need to establish your fastball early in the count to set up your off-speed pitches”. This is not true; if you want you can throw off-speed pitches early and then throw fastballs or not throw fastballs at all. There are no rules to dictate the way one pitches and Cobb is exploiting that.

Cobb’s success can serve as a template for younger pitchers, in the minors or majors who do not throw 95+ mph and are trying to compete in this hard-throwing era. It actually can also serve as a formula for pitchers who are getting older and are losing their fastball velocity. Cobb is a very good and unique pitcher, and should be someone who pitchers try and emulate.

Is Arrieta the Cubs’ True Ace?

So we all know the Cubs signed Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million dollar contract this offseason. The Cubs presumably believe they will be competitive if not this season then the next, and therefore decided to get themselves an ace. This however bodes the question, is Jon Lester even the Cubs’ best pitcher going into 2015?

Last year proved to be a breakout year for right-hander Jake Arrieta. Arrieta was drafted in 2007 by the Baltimore Orioles and made his Major League debut in 2010. He spent a little over six years with the Orioles before he was traded to the Cubs in 2013. Arrieta posted good numbers in the minors, in fact in 2010, at Triple A he had a 1.85 ERA before getting the call to the Majors that same season. In the Majors, however it was a different story. From 2010-2013 Arrieta was downright awful, never pitching more than 119.1 innings in a season and never posting an ERA below 4.66, which he did in his rookie year.

2014, though, was different. Arrieta posted the best numbers of his career, finishing with a 2.53 ERA, a 2.26 FIP, and a 2.73 xFIP. He also recorded a career high in innings, netting 156.2 innings pitched. How was Arrieta able to this? A guy who had never had an ERA below 4.66 recorded a Cy Young-caliber season? He even might have had a shot at the Cy Young Award if he’d pitched more innings.

Well Arrieta essentially stopped walking hitters and started striking out a bunch of hitters. He posted the best K-BB% of his career at 20.5% and he also stopped giving up home runs at .29 HR/9. There are several ways a pitcher can become better; some of them create a new pitch, some of them make a mechanical adjustment, and some just sequence their pitches better. I think in Arrieta’s case it comes down to sequencing and maybe mechanical although I have no way of truly knowing whether the latter is true or not.

Here is an example of the type of pitches Arrieta threw from 2010-2013 according to Brooks Baseball.

2010-2013 Fourseam Sinker Slider Curve Change
LHH 27% 33% 9% 19% 13%
RHH 32% 31% 24% 11% 1%


Here is Arrieta’s sequencing in 2014.

2014 Fourseam Sinker Slider Curve Change
LHH 19% 24% 26% 21% 10%
RHH 21% 31% 32% 14% 1%


Two elements really stand out to me through these tables. The first is that Arrieta has not added a killer new pitch. The second is that Arrieta is throwing a lot less four-seam fastballs and a lot more sliders, especially to left-handed hitters. He’s also increased his curveball usage. Arrieta essentially is mixing his pitches a lot more than in previous seasons, which could be an answer to his sudden spike in production. If you’re thinking, well, maybe he’s throwing harder, he’s not. His fastball velocity last year was 93.4, which is pretty much where it’s been its entire career (career fastball velocity: 93).

Does this guarantee that Arrieta will be better than Lester next season? Probably not. Lester still has Arrieta by a wide margin in innings. Lester’s consistently pitched more 200 innings throughout his career, while Arrieta’s never pitched more than 156.2. Also even though Arrieta is mixing his pitches better, this isn’t necessarily predictive that he will keep doing it or keep doing it with the same success rate. If I personally had to put money on it I would still give a slight edge to Lester. That being said I wouldn’t be surprised if Arrieta was better than Lester next season and going forward.

Arrieta at 28 is still three years younger than Lester (31). While Arrieta’s fastball velocity had kept steady, Lester’s fastball velocity has been on a steady downward decline since 2010. Last year his fastball velocity was the lowest of his career at 91.5 and if it keeps dropping we could see a significant decline in Lester’s production. Throughout his career, Lester’s ERA and peripheral indicators have consistently been in the mid- to low-threes. It wouldn’t surprise me if Lester fell back to that norm, or even took a step back.

Essentially, it is difficult to predict which pitcher will regress and which one will keep the same level of production. For all we know, they could both regress. The point here is to demonstrate that Lester will not necessarily be that much better (if better at all) than Arrieta in 2015. For all we know, Arrieta might be the next Cubs ace.

Making Sense of a Strasburg-for-Betts Trade

Now that the Washington Nationals signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year deal, they have an open opportunity to make a blockbuster trade involving one of their aces. The Nationals for all intents and purposes have two aces, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. The idea is that since they’ve acquired a third ace one of these two pitchers will become available in a trade. Zimmermann is on the final year of his contract so he was always available. Strasburg however has only recently became available, as several reports have suggested, due to the signing of Scherzer.

There are very few teams who could potentially create a package attractive enough to the Nationals, for them to trade Strasburg. One of them is the Boston Red Sox and there seems to be an ideal fit. The Red Sox have a glut of outfielders but one of them can also play second base. He’s also young, cheap, and was a highly-touted prospect. By this time you’ve probably guessed that the player is Mookie Betts. The Nationals need a second baseman and while they have Yunel Escobar and Danny Espinosa, Betts is probably a better player already than both of them and he’s younger and cost efficient.

The Red Sox are in need of a front-of-the-line starting pitcher. They’ve added several pitchers this off-season (Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson) but none of them would be described as an ace. Clay Buchholz certainly has the potential of being an ace but he’s never pitched 200 innings and has always dealt with a bunch of injuries. Combine that with the fact that he had the worst season of his career last season, posting a 5.34 ERA, the Red Sox simply cannot bank on him being a reliable front-of-the-rotation starter. Then there’s Joe Kelly who is questionably a viable starting pitcher. Many people have argued that he belongs in the bullpen. He’s also never thrown more than 200 innings; as a matter of fact the most innings he’s pitched in a season is 124 in 2013.

Strasburg last year threw 210 innings all the while keeping his K/9 above ten (10.13). He also had the lowest walk rate of his career, at 1.8 BB/9. It was essentially the best year of his career and at the age of 26 he is entering his prime. The Red Sox are currently in a win-now mode. They’ve also acquired Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, this offseason, to beef up the offense, essentially making it one of the best in baseball. The Red Sox have a glut of quality position players with Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, and Brock Holt who can all potentially claim that they deserve significant playing time and at this point there simply is not enough room for them on the Red Sox roster. The Nationals have a glut of quality starting pitchers with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, and Tanner Roark.

If the Red Sox trade Mookie Betts they could have a bunch of creative options for RF. They could try Victorino again in RF and hope he is healthy. In 2013, when Victorino was healthy, he was one of the best players on the Red Sox, with a 119 wRC+ and a 5.6 fWAR. If that doesn’t work out and Victorino can’t stay healthy, then the Red Sox could always have a platoon of Allen Craig and Daniel Nava. Nava had a career year in 2013, with a 128 wRC+, but he came back down to Earth in 2014 with a 100 wRC+. Nava though was still excellent against righties, even in a down year, posting a .372 OBP and 118 wRC+. If the Red Sox don’t let him hit against lefties Nava should provide considerable value offensively. As for Craig, he had the worst year of his career last season but he had a low BABIP and traditionally has been great against lefties in his career, notching a 130 wRC+. Combining this platoon the Red Sox would probably have above-average offensive production out of RF. Even if they don’t the rest of the lineup is plenty good enough to carry the load.

If the Nationals lose Strasburg, well, they have Scherzer, who has been one of the best pitchers in the game over the past 3 years plus he will be going to the National League, which is an easier environment to pitch in than the American League, as there is no DH. They also have Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Fister and Roark who all, apart from Gonzalez, had an ERA under 3, and it’s not like Gonzalez had a bad ERA as his was 3.57.

There probably would be a lot more moving parts in a deal of this magnitude and I’m still not 100% sure this deal would be beneficial for the Red Sox. Betts is only 22 and while almost every rookie last year struggled, Betts had a 130 wRC+ in 213 AB. He also rated somewhat favorably when playing the outfield, with 3 DRS. The sample size is small for the outfield but Betts seemed to be able to handle his own out there and if he hits the way he did, he could prove to be a franchise player for many years to come. Betts also does not have a history of injury, while Strasburg had Tommy John in his rookie year; another one could prove to be fatal to his career. Betts is also under team control for a much longer time, while Strasburg has already hit his arbitration years; he is therefore more expensive than Betts, and is set to hit free agency in 2017.

The deal may and probably will never happen but it is fun to fantasize about a deal of this magnitude and all the moving parts in it. If both teams were to execute it, the Nationals would inevitably retain their status as favorites to win the NL and the Red Sox would become the favorites to win the AL. It would be a perfect blockbuster to end an offseason full of blockbuster trades.

Remembering Moses Fleetwood Walker

The interesting element about the Hall of Fame is that it always get’s me digging on the history of the game. This year I found something that shocked me to my very core.

Every year on April 15th we gather around the game of baseball to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day, as he was the first African-American to ever play in the Major Leagues. This notion, however, is false; Robinson was in fact not the first black player to play in the Majors. That honor goes to Moses Fleetwood Walker. Walker broke the colour barrier on May 1st 1884, and he played for the Toledo Blue Stockings, who were part of the American Association, which later became the American League. The contest was held in Louisville, and Walker played catcher.

Walker was born October 7th, 1856, in Mount Pleasant, located in eastern Ohio. Walker was part of a large family; he had around 7 siblings. The actual account of when Walker first started playing baseball is unclear or rather unknown. It is, however, believed that Walker probably started his relationship with the game of baseball in Steubenville. Walker then went on to Oberlin College where he became renowned as a great baseball player. In 1882 Walker transferred from Oberlin College to the University of Michigan. Walker at the same time played for an amateur team called the Neshannocks, located in New Castle.

In 1883, Walker left school and signed with a minor league team called the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League. Walker was now pursuing baseball as a full-time profession. On the team many players were not paid; Walker was one of the few that were. The season, however, was not uneventful, for Toledo and Walker, especially when they were scheduled to play the Chicago White Stockings in an exhibition game. Cap Anson, the team’s best player, said that he would never play against or with a black player. Anson also stated that he would refuse to play the game if Walker or any other black player was playing. Anson on August 10, 1883 never did play against Toledo and sparked a debate in baseball on whether to outlaw African-Americans from the game.

The team, however, had immense success throughout the season and when the American Association was formed, a league designed to compete with the National League, the Toledo Blue Stockings were one of teams chosen to join the league. This meant that when the Blue Stockings took the field on May 1st 1884, Moses Fleetwood Walker broke the colour barrier in Major League Baseball. On that date he became the true first African-American to play baseball. The game was played against the Louisville Eclipse and Walker played catcher. Catchers during that time had a very difficult job as most of them had to catch without gloves. Walker’s first game in the bigs though wasn’t very memorable as he went 0-4 and committed four errors.

This proved to only be a blip on the radar as Walker went on to have a very successful season, accumulating a .264 batting average. Walker finished the year with 40 hits, a .325 OBP, a .361 SLG and a 107 OPS+. Walker, even with a poor slash line, was better than league average offensively due to the poor run environment of the era. Walker though only played in 42 of the 104 games that season. In fact he suffered an injury in July, which ended his season. Walker would never play in the majors again. Throughout the season Walker had to face heavy amounts of abuse from fans, apposing players and teammates. Some of his pitchers on his team would just throw whatever they wanted as they refused to take orders from an African-American ball player.

Walker then went on to play a few more years of minor league baseball until 1889 when the National League and American Association decided to ban all African-American players from playing professional baseball.

After that there would not be another African-American player in the majors for 63 years, until Jackie Robinson played his first game in the majors in 1947.

I think it’s a great tradition, celebrating what Jackie Robinson did in re-breaking the colour barrier in baseball. The problem I have is that Moses Fleetwood Walker is a player that should also be remembered and celebrated in his own right as the first African-American to ever play in the majors. He seems to have truly been forgotten from the history of the game. Almost everyone will tell you that Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in baseball; it’s time to change that.