Note: Leverage Index is an average of the leverage of situations, with 1 being average, below 1 being low-pressure, and above 1 being high-pressure.
The 1938 World Series featured the Yankees and Cubs, and it wasn’t a great Series. However, it was slightly better than 1937. And it was better than the last time the two faced off in 1932. The Yankees had won the championship in 1936 and 1937 and were going for the first threepeat in MLB history. The Cubs were at the tail end of their last really good decade, finishing in the top 3 in the NL every year between 1928 and 1938, with 4 NL titles in those 11 years.
The New York Yankees (99-53) of the late 30’s were well known and dominant, and the 1938 iteration featured most of the same stars from previous years. They achieved full blown juggernaut status, leading the league in run scoring (6.15 r/g, +0.78 over avg) and prevention (4.53 r/g, -0.84 over avg). The team’s best position player was unsurprisingly CF Joe Dimaggio (.324/.386/.581/5.4 WAR), leading the team with 32 HR, 13 triples, and 140 RBI. Joltin’ Joe had 77 extra base hits and just 21 strikeouts. That is disgustingly good. The scary thing about this team is that #5 might not have been the best hitter. C Bill Dickey (.313/.412/.568/5.1 WAR) led the team in OBP and hit 27 HR while driving in 115. 1B Lou Gehrig (.295/.410/.523/4.3 WAR) was still productive with 29 HR, 115 runs, 114 RBI, and a team-leading 107 walks. 3B Red Rolfe (.311/.386/.441/3.8 WAR) led the team with 196 hits, 132 runs scored and 36 doubles, going 13/14 in steal attempts and hitting 10 HR along the way. SS Frankie Crosetti (.263/.382/.371/3.5 WAR) wasn’t a home run hitter, but he walked 106 times, scored 113, led the team with 27 steals, and doubled 35 times. OF Tommy Henrich (.270/.391/.490/3.3 WAR) hit 22 HR, drove in 91, and scored 109. 23 year old rookie 2B Joe Gordon (.255/.340/.502/3.2 WAR) exploded onto the scene with 25 HR and 11 SB. The offense was loaded with star power, moreso than in ’37. The pitching staff was once again led by the 1-2 tandem of Red Ruffing (21-7, 3.31, 22 CG, 5.3 WAR) and Lefty Gomez (18-12, 3.35, 20 CG, 4.5 WAR). Bump Hadley (9-8, 3.60, 2.7 WAR) provided value in his limited time between rotation and bullpen. Monte Pearson (16-7, 3.97, 2.2 WAR) was wild but effective, with 5.0 BB/9. Spud Chandler (14-5, 4.03, 2.1 WAR) let his defense do all the work, striking out just 36 batters in 172 innings. The bullpen, like a year earlier, was something of a mess, “led” by Johnny Murphy (4.24, 11 saves).
The 1938 Chicago Cubs (89-63), as mentioned in the introduction, were overdue for World Series success, having been to 3 previous Series in the 9 years prior. An 89-win team in the World Series isn’t so unusual these days with an expanded postseason, but in the pre-Wild Card era it was. Before divisional play began in 1969, only 5 teams played at least 150 regular season games and won the pennant with less than 90 wins:
- 1926 Cardinals (89-65)
- 1938 Cubs (89-63)
- 1944 Browns (89-65)
- 1945 Tigers (88-65)
- 1959 Dodgers (88-68)
It was a year for parity, mostly thanks to the hapless Phillies (45-105), as 5 of the other 7 teams finished over .500. The Cubs’ calling card was pitching, allowing a MLB low 3.88 r/g. The offense was just better than league average, scoring 4.63 r/g. The team’s best position player was 3B Stan Hack (.320/.411/.432/5.3 WAR), who led the team with 109 runs, 195 hits, 34 doubles, 11 triples, 16 steals, and 94 walks; Stan was, for lack of a better term, the man. 2B Billy Herman (.277/.342/.359/3.6 WAR) was a star-caliber player with 34 doubles and top-notch defense. 37 year old veteran and player-manager C Gabby Hartnett (.274/.380/.445/2.8 WAR) homered 10 times in limited at-bats, with no homer bigger than his “Homer in the Gloamin“, a walk-off shot on September 28 that put the Cubs into 1st place for good. 1B Ripper Collins (.267/.344/.424/2.4 WAR) led the team with 13 HR. OF Augie Galan (.286/.368/.418/2.3 WAR) led the squad with 69 RBI, and fellow OF Carl Reynolds (.302/.335/.416/2.0 WAR) had 41 extra base hits of his own. But really, this team was about the pitching. The staff ace was Big Bill Lee (22-9, 2.66, 9 shutouts, 7.7 WAR), the NL’s MVP runner-up. The #2 starter, Clay Bryant (19-11, 3.10, 135 K’s, 4.9 WAR), was nearly as formidable. In April the club traded for Dizzy Dean (7-1, 1.81, 2.5 WAR), and the former Cardinal was brilliant but struggled with dead arm. Larry French (10-19, 3.80, 2.2 WAR) provided league average innings in the rotation. Also notable was starter/reliever/whatever you need him to be Charlie Root (8-7, 2.86, 3.1 WAR, 9 saves, 5 CG), the man that still holds the Cubs’ all-time wins record today.
The Yankees scored first in a matchup of aces Ruffing and Lee, scoring 2 in the 2nd inning on a Billy Herman error with runners at 2nd and 3rd, followed by a Gordon RBI single. In the bottom of the 3rd, Hack cut the lead in half with an RBI single of his own. Lee got out of a jam in the 5th, but was pegged for another run in the 6th on a RBI single from Dickey, giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead. The Cubs just weren’t able to get anything going against Red Ruffing. They got the tying run to the plate in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, but no further. Carl Reynolds flew out with Phil Cavarretta on 2nd to end the game.
Average leverage: 1.06
Lefty Gomez took the mound in game two against the sparingly used Dizzy Dean. Dean had been through a rough 15 months or so. In the 1937 All-Star Game, a line drive from Earl Averill broke Dean’s toe. Dean completely changed his delivery to avoid landing on the toe, which resulted in poor mechanics, which resulted in the disappearance of his once great fastball. After starting the year 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA in 4 games, he was shut down with dead arm. He returned in mid-July, tossing back to back complete game victories. Then he fell into a 3 game funk, giving up 9 runs in 16 innings, at which point the Cubs relegated him to relief duty. He returned as a starter on September 27, where he allowed just 1 run in 8 2/3 innings in a big game against the Pirates. He had seemingly successfully reinvented himself as a finesse pitcher.
In the Cubs’ first, Stan Hack led off the game with a single, reached 3rd on a Rolfe error, and came in to score on a Joe Marty sacrifice fly, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead. The lead would be short-lived, as Joe Gordon’s double the next half inning brought home Gehrig and Dimaggio for a 2-1 Yankee advantage. In the 3rd, Marty again struck back, this time with a 2-run double of his own, reclaiming the lead for the Cubs. Dean got into a groove, retiring the side in the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th innings. Gomez allowed baserunners in each inning, but gave up no runs, with the Cubs ending two innings with baserunning mistakes. The dam broke for Dean in the Yankees’ 8th: with Myril Hoag on first, Crosetti hit a 2-run HR to give the Yankees the 4-3 lead. In the 9th, Dimaggio hit a 2-run HR of his own, and the Yankees won 6-3. All the Yankee runs came off Dean, in a game that would become known as “Ol’ Diz’s Last Stand”.
Average leverage: 1.14
Bryant faced Pearson as the Series moved to the Bronx for Game 3. The Cubs loaded the bases in the top of the 1st, only for Pearson to escape with back to back strikeouts of Reynolds and Hartnett. The Yankees got two on in the 2nd, but Bryant struck out George Selkirk and Gordon to escape as well. In the 3rd, Chicago got runners to the corners with one out, but again Pearson escaped via a strikeout and groundout. In the 5th, Pearson was finally unable to escape, as the Cubs got runners to the corners thanks to a Billy Herman error, and a Joe Marty ground ball force-out scored the first run of the game. Likewise, the Yankees found the scoreboard in the bottom half of the inning, taking a 2-1 lead on a solo HR from Gordon and an RBI single from Rolfe. In the 6th, the Yankees loaded the bases with one out, and Gordon ripped a 2 run single to chase Clay Bryant from the game down 4-1. In the 8th, Joe Marty homered to close the gap to 4-2, but Bill Dickey answered in the bottom half with a HR of his own for a 5-2 lead. Pearson set down the Cubs in order in the 9th, including former Yankee legend Tony Lazzeri, who had been released after the 1937 World Series.
Average leverage: 1.025
Game 4 featured a Ruffing-Lee rematch of Game 1. In the 2nd, Ruffing helped himself to a 1-0 lead with an RBI single. The next batter, Crosetti, tripled in 2 more for a 3-0 lead. In the 4th, a Joe Gordon error allowed a run to score and the Cubs closed the gap to 3-1. It would remain 3-1 until the bottom of the 6th, when Tommy Henrich led off the inning with a solo HR. In the 8th, the Cubs made things interesting, as Cavarretta led off with a double and with two outs, C Ken O’Dea hit a 2-run HR to make it a 4-3 contest. Unfortunately for the Cubs, the Yankees answered in the bottom half of the inning – Dimaggio scored from 3rd on a wild pitch for a 5-3 lead, and Myril Hoag doubled in Gehrig to make it 6-3. The Yankees wouldn’t stop, loading the bases and chasing reliever Tex Carleton from the game. Dizzy Dean entered and surrendered a double to Crosetti. The Yankees led 8-3 and had a win probability of 99%. Ruffing put away the Cubs in the 9th to seal the championship for New York.
Average leverage: 0.79
The New York Yankees became the first team to win 3 straight World Series. Overall, this ranks as an above-average sweep, with 3 pretty good games, brought down only by Game 4, which even came close to being fun.
Average leverage: 1.00375
This predated MVP’s awards, so I thought it’d be interesting to look at WPA for the Series. WPA stands for Win Probability Added, and it’s pretty simple to understand: Every situation has a value based on how often the team in that situation goes on to win a game or not. 2nd inning, up by 3, with a man on 2nd and 2 outs has a value. Bottom of the 9th, down by 1, bases empty and 2 out has a value. At the end of every game, the losing team will have a combined WPA of -0.50, and the winning team a combined WPA of +0.50. WPA just measures the difference between the value when a guy steps to the plate and the new one after he bats. If he does something good, even something like moving a runner over, it’ll reflect.
Anyway, here were the top 5 players for the 1938 Series based on WPA:
#5: Joe Marty: +.267 – Marty was a teammate of Joe Dimaggio’s with the San Francisco Seals, and he outplayed his former roster mate in the 1938 Series. Marty was the closest thing the Cubs had to a star. He drove in 5 of the team’s 9 runs, batted .500, and hit one of their two homers.
#4: Joe Gordon: +.371 – Gordon tied for the Series lead with 6 RBI and 2 2B. His Game 2 double turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.
#3: Monte Pearson: +.387 – Pearson started and went the distance in Game 3, striking out 9 and giving up just 2 runs.
#2: Frankie Crosetti: +.453 – Crosetti matched Gordon’s 6 RBI and led the Series in extra base hits, with 4. In Game 2, down 3-2 in the 8th, his 2 run HR lifted the Yankees into the lead for good. He was the offensive star of the clinching Game 4, thanks to a key triple in the 2nd and a back-breaking 8th inning double.
MVP: Red Ruffing: +.789 – Who else? Ruffing threw 2 complete games, giving up just 4 total runs. He even had a tie-breaking RBI single.
Least Valuable Player: Carl Reynolds: -.600 – Reynolds went 0 for 12. Yuck.