Ben Taylor in a team photo for the 1915 Indianapolis ABCs.
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Bridging the Two-Way Gap: Ben Taylor

Ben Taylor spent most of his career dabbling in playing two-ways. He never quite qualified as a two-way player based on the criteria I use, but he often came quite close. 7 games as a pitcher in this season, 4 the next, 8 after that, and so on and so forth. It continued this way for the entirety of Taylor’s 20-year career with the exception of 1920. That is the only season where he played the field for 10+ games and pitched in 10+ games. For one season Taylor met the qualifications as a two-way player, and he was as great as should be expected.

With the Indianapolis ABCs of the Negro National League Taylor took the mound for 10 games in 1920. He pitched in 23.1 innings. He was mainly used out of the bullpen, but his lone start was a complete game shutout. An ERA of 2.70 and WHIP of 1.030 allowed Taylor to have a great ERA+ of 133. It was limited action in terms of innings, but Taylor was pretty darn great on the mound in 1920. The ABCs were pretty bad though, and more often than not Taylor’s relief appearances were in games already well out of hand.

The left-handed slugger also played 90 games at first base and 2 in right field. He slashed .321/.379/.443. He didn’t have great power numbers in 1920, only 4 home runs and 20 doubles in 389 plate appearances. He was fast though and had a great eye at the plate. He stole 13 bases and walked 31 times. There aren’t accurate reports of strikeout numbers for Taylor, but the general take has been that he very rarely struck out. A wOBA of .442 and ISO of .097 certainly help to reinforce the idea of Taylor as a great on-base guy with very little power. His OPS+ of 143, top 10 in the NNL that season, further enhances the idea that he was a great hitter.

In 1920 Taylor ended up with a total sWAR of 4.1, and one can only wonder how much more he would have contributed to his total had he fully committed to the two-way role. That’s the story of Taylor’s career, in a nutshell, a fantastic player who somehow could have been even better. This is a man who is considered one of the finest Negro Leagues players of all time, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, and yet he could have been even better than he was if he had let himself pitch more. Over a 162 game average Taylor, throughout his career, slashed .331/.394/.458 with an OPS+ of 139 and tossed an ERA of 3.23 and an ERA+ of 108. If that doesn’t scream fantastic two-way player then I don’t know what else would.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – National Baseball Hall of Fame

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