You Are Here > Baseball-Reference.com > Blog >

SITE NEWS: We are moving all of our site and company news into a single blog for Sports-Reference.com. We'll tag all B-R content, so you can quickly and easily find the content you want.

Also, our existing B-R blog rss feed will be redirected to the new site's feed.

Baseball-Reference.com » Sports Reference

For more from Andy and the gang, check out their new site High Heat Stats.

Willie Davis (1940-2010)

Posted by Neil Paine on March 10, 2010

In some sad news, former Dodger CF Willie Davis has passed away at the age of 69. Davis was an extremely underrated player throughout his career, because at the time people looked at his career .279 BA and thought the former highly-touted prospect (he had a career .349 BA in the minors and was an MLB regular by age 21) was a major disappointment. But this was before most people understood park effects in anything but an abstract sense, and Dodger Stadium during the 1960s -- one of the NL's most offense-starved eras -- was beyond brutal to play in as a hitter. We have a metric called "AIR" that measures the offensive context in which a player played; 100 is average, numbers above 100 mean he played in a situation that boosted offense relative to all-time standards, and vice-versa for numbers below 100... Davis' career AIR is 91, and during his 20s it ranged from 89 at its highest to a staggering 75 in 1968, the nadir of the post-deadball era for hitters. So yes, Davis hit .279 in his career... but in a situation where the league-average hitter would have only hit .256. Likewise, he was an above-average hitter 10 times by OPS+, maxing out at 134 in a 1969 season that was muted to just .311/.356/.456 because of park effects.

And then there's Davis' defense. He was more appreciated in this area, winning 3 NL Gold Gloves for his work in the outfield for Los Angeles, but that probably understates his career defensive impact -- I mean, look at his TotalZone ratings, especially in 1964, when he was 29 runs better than average in CF for L.A. His defense was a big reason why the Dodgers represented the NL in the World Series in 1963, '65, and probably '66 as well (although, admittedly, his TZ wasn't quite as good that season). Anyway, add it all up, and take a look at his career Wins Above Replacement stats (courtesy of Sean Smith):

Year Team Lg PA Bat ROE BSrun DP TZ IFDP OFarm catcher Pos RAR WAR
1960 LAN NL 92 2 2 -2 1 3 0 0 0 0 9 0.9
1961 LAN NL 371 -3 -2 1 1 11 0 2 0 0 23 2.3
1962 LAN NL 648 18 -2 8 2 11 0 3 0 0 62 6.3
1963 LAN NL 543 -6 1 1 0 4 0 5 0 0 24 2.3
1964 LAN NL 636 10 3 5 4 22 0 7 0 0 73 7.6
1965 LAN NL 579 -15 -1 2 2 14 0 2 0 0 24 2.3
1966 LAN NL 643 0 -2 2 2 3 0 -6 0 0 21 2.1
1967 LAN NL 601 -7 -2 6 3 -2 0 -4 0 0 14 1.4
1968 LAN NL 675 -3 -3 6 3 -7 0 0 0 0 19 1.9
1969 LAN NL 535 24 -2 4 2 -2 0 4 0 0 48 5.2
1970 LAN NL 623 8 -3 7 5 10 0 2 0 -2 45 4.5
1971 LAN NL 664 22 -3 3 1 4 0 2 0 -2 46 5.0
1972 LAN NL 643 10 4 3 2 12 0 1 0 -2 48 5.1
1973 LAN NL 633 7 -2 4 4 8 0 1 0 -2 38 4.0
1974 MON NL 641 5 0 7 3 3 0 -2 0 -2 33 3.4
1975 SLN NL 368 1 0 4 2 5 0 -2 0 -4 17 1.8
1975 TEX AL 174 -3 1 1 2 0 0 -4 0 -1 2 0.2
1976 SDN NL 514 -4 -1 4 2 5 0 -7 0 -2 13 1.3
1979 CAL AL 60 -2 0 -1 0 -1 0 -1 0 -1 -4 -0.4
Career 9643 64 -12 65 41 103 0 3 0 -18 555 57.2

Career-wise, Davis ranks 124th all-time among position players in WAR; that's 0.1 less than Hall of Fame Cubs OF Billy Williams, except Davis did it in about 700 fewer plate appearances. Yet Davis will never, ever make it into Cooperstown, largely because of a fundamental misunderstanding of park effects.

Then again, Davis is probably already in the Baseball-Reference Hall of Fame, for something he didn't even have a thing to do with. In his New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James wrote a similar lamentation of Davis being undervalued, and he outlined a framework for translating Davis' performance from Dodger Stadium circa 1965 to a more offense-friendly park/league. That process became known as the "Willie Davis Method" among baseball-stat ubergeeks, and eventually we here at B-R adapted the method to include pitchers and introduced what we call "Neutralized and Converted Stats", produced indirectly because Willie Davis was underrated. So in honor of Davis' memory this morning, take a look at Davis' career batting line, translated to a neutral park in the 2009 National League:

Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO HBP SF BA OBP SLG OPS
1960 20 23 93 89 12 26 6 1 2 10 3 4 13 0 0 0.292 0.323 0.449 0.772
1961 21 134 385 350 53 86 19 6 12 43 12 27 48 5 3 0.246 0.306 0.437 0.743
1962 22 157 666 608 109 179 19 10 22 90 33 44 72 6 8 0.294 0.344 0.467 0.811
1963 23 156 568 531 75 142 21 9 10 75 28 28 61 3 6 0.267 0.305 0.397 0.702
1964 24 157 667 635 108 202 26 8 14 92 47 25 59 1 6 0.318 0.342 0.450 0.792
1965 25 141 601 570 61 148 27 3 11 67 28 16 81 8 7 0.260 0.286 0.375 0.661
1966 26 153 666 641 86 194 34 7 12 71 23 16 68 4 5 0.303 0.321 0.434 0.755
1967 27 143 633 593 83 170 31 10 7 52 23 34 65 3 3 0.287 0.327 0.408 0.735
1968 28 159 724 680 120 201 30 12 9 43 45 39 87 1 4 0.296 0.333 0.415 0.748
1969 29 129 557 512 77 169 25 9 12 69 26 36 39 4 5 0.330 0.375 0.484 0.859
1970 30 146 634 597 95 185 24 16 8 96 39 30 54 1 6 0.310 0.341 0.444 0.785
1971 31 158 685 655 101 212 35 11 11 89 21 25 47 0 5 0.324 0.346 0.461 0.807
1972 32 156 699 660 97 203 25 8 22 95 23 31 64 1 7 0.308 0.336 0.470 0.806
1973 33 152 653 610 90 182 31 10 17 84 18 31 62 5 7 0.298 0.334 0.466 0.800
1974 34 153 656 615 88 184 27 9 12 91 25 27 69 3 11 0.299 0.326 0.431 0.757
1975 35 140 559 527 60 151 28 8 11 70 24 19 52 5 8 0.287 0.313 0.433 0.746
1976 36 141 540 511 74 150 20 11 6 56 16 22 34 2 5 0.294 0.322 0.411 0.733
1979 39 43 61 57 10 15 2 1 0 2 1 4 7 0 0 0.263 0.311 0.333 0.644
Career 2441 10047 9441 1399 2799 430 149 198 1195 435 458 982 52 96 0.296 0.329 0.437 0.766
162g Avg
162 667 627 93 186 29 10 13 79 29 30 65 3 6 0.296 0.329 0.437 0.766

Johnny Roseboro once said Davis "should have hit .330 at least once in his career, but didn't" as a condemnation of the perceived gulf between Davis' ability and on-field results. Well, now that we've transported Davis into modern conditions, you can't say that anymore. Rest in peace, Mr. Davis.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 at 10:01 am and is filed under History, Neutralize. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

6 Responses to “Willie Davis (1940-2010)”

  1. Taking Davis' career numbers in the translated 2009 NL context at face value, here are all of the OF ever who had 2799 hits and a .296 AVG:

    Rk BA H From To Age G AB R 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB CS OBP SLG OPS Pos
    1 Hank Aaron .305 3771 1954 1976 20-42 3298 12364 2174 624 98 755 2297 1402 240 73 .374 .555 .928 *9783D/45
    2 Barry Bonds .298 2935 1986 2007 21-42 2986 9847 2227 601 77 762 1996 2558 514 141 .444 .607 1.051 *78/D9
    3 Roberto Clemente .317 3000 1955 1972 20-37 2433 9454 1416 440 166 240 1305 621 83 46 .359 .475 .834 *9/8745
    4 Ty Cobb .366 4189 1905 1928 18-41 3035 11434 2246 724 295 117 1938 1249 897 212 .433 .512 .945 *89/73145
    5 Sam Crawford .312 2821 1901 1917 21-37 2385 9054 1298 440 287 89 1446 730 347 43 .364 .453 .817 *983/7
    6 Tony Gwynn .338 3141 1982 2001 22-41 2440 9288 1383 543 85 135 1138 790 319 125 .388 .459 .847 *98/7D
    7 Al Kaline .297 3007 1953 1974 18-39 2834 10116 1622 498 75 399 1583 1277 137 65 .376 .480 .855 *98D3/75
    8 Willie Mays .302 3283 1951 1973 20-42 2992 10881 2062 523 140 660 1903 1464 338 103 .384 .557 .941 *8/39675
    9 Stan Musial .331 3630 1941 1963 20-42 3026 10972 1949 725 177 475 1951 1599 78 31 .417 .559 .976 3798/1
    10 Mel Ott .304 2876 1926 1947 17-38 2730 9456 1859 488 72 511 1860 1708 89 0 .414 .533 .947 *958/74
    11 Sam Rice .322 2987 1915 1934 25-44 2404 9269 1514 498 184 34 1078 708 351 143 .374 .427 .801 *98/71
    12 Babe Ruth .342 2873 1914 1935 19-40 2503 8399 2174 506 136 714 2213 2062 123 117 .474 .690 1.164 971/83
    13 Al Simmons .334 2927 1924 1944 22-42 2215 8759 1507 539 149 307 1827 615 88 65 .380 .535 .915 *78/39
    14 Tris Speaker .345 3514 1907 1928 19-40 2789 10195 1882 792 222 117 1529 1381 436 157 .428 .500 .928 *8/3971
    15 Paul Waner .333 3152 1926 1945 23-42 2549 9459 1627 605 191 113 1309 1091 104 0 .404 .473 .878 *9/387
    16 Zack Wheat .317 2884 1909 1927 21-39 2410 9106 1289 476 172 132 1248 650 205 69 .367 .450 .817 *7/89
    Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
    Generated 3/10/2010.
  2. Unfortunately, nearly every obituary for Davis will include his three-error inning in Game 2 of the 1966 World Series. I saw him play as a Cardinal many times in 1975, which was near the end of his career, and he was still a very exciting, productive player. Earlier, with the Dodgers, in the first half of the 1960s, he seemed to have good years every other season, as did the Reds' Vada Pinson.

  3. [...] Baseball-Reference Blog » Blog Archive » Willie Davis (1940-2010) [...]

  4. Everyone in the list in Reply 1 above had an OBP of .359 (Clemente) or better. Davis' translated OBP was only .329 - if we did walks and OBP we'd likely get a far bigger club than we get from hits and BA. If we ask for 10000 PA and OPS+ of 106 (Davis' real OPS+; I assume that translating changes that little, if at all) then we find 32 outfielders since 1901. Rusty Staub shows up (OPS+ = 124), and Luis Gonzalez, Harry Hooper, and Vada Pinson.

    Davis was a fine player, and much underrated due to park and era factors, but let's not get carried away.

  5. Gerry,

    Did Davis' family ask you to give the Eulogy at the funeral? :)

  6. Tmckelv, timing has never been my strong point.