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Monday, October 27, 2014

The R in WAR: Mickey Mantle's replacement in 1963.

Mickey Mantle PH heroics following long absences: 1962 & 1963.  Sunday, June 26, 2011

Wednesday, June 5, 1963 Memorial Stadium Baltimore: Mantle hurt trying to prevent a home run.

Brooks Robinson (4, off Whitey Ford; 6th inn, 0 on, 2 outs to CF); Harry Bright replaces Mickey Mantle (CF) playing 1B batting 4th Joe Pepitone moves from 1B to CF

Mantle leaped against the chain link fence and his spikes caught in the fence.  When he fell Mickey broke his foot and tore ligaments.  I saw the front page of the New York Daily News the next morning as I waited for the subway to high school: "Mantle breaks foot, out season".

Robinson's HR tied the game 3-3 but Yanks won 4-3.
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After Mantle broke his foot Hector Lopez essentially replaced him at bat.  Lopez OPS increased from .568 on June 2 to .710 on Sept. 4 when Mantle started playing full games regularly.  That's a lot more than a replacement player like Jack Reed who appeared in 106 games, 86 PA, OPS .567.  It makes me wonder about the R in WAR (wins above replacement).

Mantle 1963 game log.

Lopez 1963 game log.

Tresh 1963 game log.

Pepitone 1963 game log.

Starting lineups link.

Lopez basically became the regular left fielder.  Tom Tresh moved from left to center and was the primary replacement for Mantle in center field from June 7 through Sept 2. except for two starts by Jack Reed and Tresh not playing three games replaced by first baseman Joe Pepitone in center, then July 22 against the Angels at the Stadium when Tresh returned but played left and Pepitone remained in center for a fourth consecutive game.  Pepitone had been Mantle's initial replacement in center for one full game.  Pepitone also played some right field in August in place of Roger Maris who played only 90 games, 351 PA, OPS+ 146.  After Mantle's return to center Tresh did not play at all from Sept. 5 through Sept. 11, missing seven games.

So who actually replaced Mantle on the roster?  As near as I can tell, 22 year old lefty starting pitcher Al Downing replaced Mantle in 1963.  I checked game logs for Gonzalez, Gibbs, Long, Linz, Reed, Berra.  None match the date of Mantle's injury.

Downing 1963 game log.  Downing's first game in 1963 was June 7, one of two relief appearances.  Three days later in Washington Downing pitched a two hit complete game shutout with nine strike outs.  Downing went on to a 13-5 record (ERA+ 138, career high), helping the Yankees overcome the loss of Mickey Mantle, the best player in the American League.  Downing's 1963 WAR: 3.6, second highest of his career; 1967 4.6.  Downing primarily took starts away from Bill Stafford and Stan Williams.

In the 1963 World Series the LA Dodgers swept the Yankees with dominant pitching.  Ace lefties matched up in games one and four: Sandy Koufax beat Whitey Ford with complete game victories: 5-2, 2-1.  The only runs off Koufax came on home runs by the Yankee regular season center fielders: Tresh (3 for 15) hit a two run shot in the 8th inning of game one with the Yanks down 5-0 and Mantle (2 for 15) a solo in the 7th inning of game four to tie the game 1-1.  Maris batted only five times and was replaced in game two by Lopez, who had two doubles in eight at bats for the series.  Downing started game two but allowed three earned runs in five innings; the first two batters scored in the first and former Yankee Bill Skowron homered in the fourth.

I realize that WAR does not deal with actual players but this is an interesting situation in which the best player in the league does not play for almost half the season, then returns.  His Yankee team hardly misses a beat and increases its winning percentage without him.  The Yankees won the pennant by 10.5 games over the Chicago White Sox with a record of 104-57 (PythWL 100-61).  Part of this is due to the odd nature of baseball where even the best player can be marginalized.  Part of it is due to the nature of actual replacement players.

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