1920 Washington Nationals
Manager: Clark Griffith 20th Season (9th with Washington 693-646-24)
68 W 84 L 1 T 723 RS 802 RA 6th AL 29 GB (Cleveland 98-56)
4.73 RPG (AL = 4.76) 4.17 ERA (AL = 3.79)
.675 DER (7th AL)
Franchise (1901-1920) 1303-1654-60
Clark Griffith had been around organized baseball most of his life. He signed his first pro contract at the age of 18, and was in the major leagues by the time he was 21. He was a very good pitcher, his best season being 1898 with Chicago when he went 24-10 with a 1.88 ERA.
Griffith was one of Ban Johnson’s good friends, and a key figure in the emergence of the American League at the turn of the century. For his help organizing the players, Griffith was named manager if the Chicago AL club in its first year of existence. He continued to manage and play regularly until he scaled back his own playing time in 1906.
Though he had a few stops along the way, Griffith found a home in Washington. He managed the Nats to their first winning season, and made the previously hapless team a yearly contender in the middle of the 1910’s. After a couple of tough seasons, Griffith decided that his managing days were over after the 1920 season.
Though his managing days were over, the story of Clark Griffith and Washington baseball was just beginning. Since 1912, he had slowly been purchasing shares of the team, and was the controlling owner by 1920. Clark Griffith and the Griffith family would continue to own and run the franchise until 1984.
Around the Majors, 1920 marked the end of the deadball era. In the AL, runs per game went up from about 3.5 to just above four a game in 1919; then to 4.75 in a year later. Total home runs went up from 240 in 1919 to 369 in 1920. The game was changing, and those teams that could keep up were going to be the most successful.
Bold = Player new to Washington in 1920
C Patsy Gharrity .245/.307/.322 3 HR -1.2 BFW 10 WS 40 FRAR 4.4 WARP3
1920 was Gharrity’s best season from a defensive perspective, but he lagged behind at the plate. As offense started picking up around the league, Gharrity’s 69 OPS+ stuck out like a sore thumb. His backup, Val Picinich, wasn’t an improvement with a 61 OPS+. Gharrity will show major improvement in 1921.
1B Joe Judge .333/.416/.462 5 HR 1.5 BFW 22 WS 6 FRAR 6.0 WARP3
Judge was probably the team’s best hitter in 1920. He had his personal best season at the plate since 1917, and 1920 could arguably be considered his career-best season at the plate. Twice during the month of May, Judge had five hits in a game. The first came on May 6th in a 6-5 win over the Yankees, the second on May 26 in a 13-9 victory over Cleveland.
2B Bucky Harris .300/.377/.381 1 HR -0.7 BFW 15 WS 31 FRAR 6.3 WARP3
It had been a while since the Nats had this much production from a second baseman. The 23-year old from Pittston, Pennsylvania came to the team in a trade that sent last year’s second baseman to Buffalo of the International League. His rookie season was probably his best at the plate, but Harris was solid fielder for his entire career in Washington.
SS Jim O’Neill .289/.324/.405 1 HR -0.6 BFW 8 WS 17 FRAR 3.0 WARP3
O’Neill was the youngest of four brothers who were all involved in baseball, though none of them had a particularly distinguished playing record in the majors. His brother Steve is the most notable member of the family for his managing, most famously guiding the Detroit Tigers to a World Series victory in 1945, one of his 14 seasons as a manager. Jim, on the other hand, had a decent season in 1920, but wouldn’t have another at-bat until 1923, also his last season in the majors.
3B Frank Ellerbe .292/.331/.345 0 HR -1.2 BFW 7 WS 11 FRAR 1.9 WARP3
Ellerbe earned the nickname “Governor” because his father was the governor of South Carolina. He was traded to the St. Louis Browns in May of 1921, where he became a part of the 1922 pennant-winning team.
LF Clyde Milan .322/.364/.403 3 HR 0.0 BFW 14 WS 11 FRAR 3.9 WARP3
At the age of 33, Milan was well into his career downswing by 1920. He moved from center to left field, where he had some success, and was able to play 122 games total.
CF Sam Rice .338/.381/.428 3 HR 2.3 BFW 23 WS 20 FRAR 7.1 WARP3
Rice replaced Milan in center field for the 1920 season, and would stay there for three seasons before moving back to right in 1923. He had a 28-game hitting streak that was finally stopped on July 16. Arguably Washington’s most valuable player in 1920.
RF Braggo Roth .291/.395/.432 9 HR 0.5 BFW 18 WS -4 FRAR 4.0 WARP3
Washington was the fifth career stop for Roth since his debut in 1914. In his final season, 1921, Roth will play for the New York Yankees, meaning that his career will include playing for six of the eight AL teams. His nine home runs was not only a team high, but a career high for Roth.
UT Howie Shanks .268/.316/.363 4 HR -1.6 BFW 9 WS 11 FRAR 2.0 WARP3
Shanks was a true utility man. He played every position on the field at some point in 1920 except pitcher, catcher, and center field. Most of his time was spent at third base, where he played 63 games.
SP Walter Johnson 8-10 3.13 ERA 1.13 WHIP 1.3 PW 10 WS 4.1 WARP3
1920 was a season of ups and downs for the franchise player, though there was more down than up. On July 1 he pitched his first career no hitter, striking out 10 Red Sox in the process. Had it not been for a Bucky Harris error, Johnson would have pitched a perfect game. A few weeks later, Johnson was shut down for the season due to soreness in his pitching arm. His play past July would be limited to a few pinch-hitting appearances.
Though Johnson’s numbers look to be pretty bad by his standards, they aren’t as big a drop off as they might appear. His 1.49 ERA in 1919 came in a league with a total ERA of 3.01. The 3.13 ERA he posted in 1920, while a major drop for Johnson, was still well below the league’s 3.79 total mark. His ERA+ dropped from 214 in 1919 to 118 in 1920. In the context of Johnson’s career, 118 ERA+ is pretty low, and was a drop to be sure; but he was still among the best in the league.
The fact is, however, that from 1920 on, Johnson was a very good pitcher, but he was no longer the dominant pitcher he had been.
SP Jim Shaw 11-18 4.27 ERA 1.54 WHIP -1.1 PW 9 WS 3.5 WARP3
This would be “Grunting” Jim’s last full season in the major leagues. In 1921, at the age of 27, he will appear in just 15 games, and his 7.36 ERA will mean the end of his career.
SP Tom Zachary 15-16 3.77 ERA 1.40 WHIP 0.3 PW 14 WS 4.3 WARP3
When a team’s ERA trends the way Washington’s did from 1919 to 1920, it would seem that most of the pitchers on the team would have terrible seasons. The one bright spot was probably Tom Zachary. Though he was technically a rookie, he had played parts of two seasons already, including two starts with Philadelphia in 1918. His 1920 numbers weren’t great, but he was a solid pitcher in a year where they were becoming more rare.
SP Eric Erickson 12-16 3.84 ERA 1.50 WHIP -0.6 PW 11 WS 2.6 WARP3
Erickson improved slightly from his 1919 season, and will have his best year in 1921.
SP Harry Courtney 8-11 4.74 ERA 1.60 WHIP -1.7 PW 5 WS 0.3 WARP3
Courtney was impressive in three starts the season before, posting a 2.73 ERA in 26 1/3 innings pitched. That success did not translate into full season success, however, and it would all be down hill from here for the North Carolina native.
1920 World Series
Cleveland, behind three complete game victories by Stan Coveleski, defeated Brooklyn five games to two.