George Van Haltren with the New York Giants
Bridging the Two-Way Gap

Bridging the Two-Way Gap: George Van Haltren

George Van Haltren had a very long and very successful big league career. He spent most of those years playing in the National League, with brief stops in the American Association and Players League,  and a few of those years as a two-way player. He would eventually transition into a position player only and for reasons that will quickly become clear that was the proper call. Still, for a few years, Van Haltren jumped on the 1880s two-way player craze and gave it a go.

The Missouri native started as a two-way player in his first season with the Chicago White Stockings. In 1887 he appeared in 20 games as a pitcher, 4 in left field, and 23 in right field. He hit .203/.271/.279 across 188 plate appearances. His 45 OPS+ wrapped up his awful season with the bat in a neat and tidy bow. He was much better on the mound, as his 116 ERA+ can attest. He achieved that through a 3.86 ERA in 161.0 innings. While his 1.509 WHIP is atrocious it was also a product of the baseball being played at the time. His 1.1 rWAR was entirely thanks to his pitching, he was a negative contributor on offense, and at the end of the season, there wasn’t much reason for him to keep up the two-way trial.

Van Haltren and his killer mustache weren’t about to listen to such negativity and in 1888 he was back in the two-way trade. He toed the rubber in 30 games and took the field for an additional 47 games in left field, 4 in center, and 7 in right. The tables turned in Van Haltren’s sophomore season as he was much better with the bat than on the mound. He totaled 1.5 rWAR and 1.3 of that came from his bat. In 340 plate appearances, Van Haltren hit .283/.329/.437 for a 135 OPS+. Conversely, in 245.2 innings he put up a 3.52 ERA and a 1.315 WHIP, but his ERA+ dropped all the way to 86. The more innings that Van Haltren pitched the more pedestrian he looked throwing the ball. The batting line sure was a heck of an improvement though, and for the rest of his career, Van Haltren would remain an above-average hitter.

1889 was a position player only year for Van Haltren, but he returned to the land of the two-way players for one last try in 1890. Now in the PL with the Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders the mustachioed wonder played 3 games at shortstop, 6 in left field, 12 in center, 49 in right, and took the mound 28 times. His mound work was decidedly average. He pitched 223.0 innings and his ERA went up a few notches to 4.28 while his WHIP skyrocketed to 1.619. Van Haltren’s 104 ERA+ belied his complete inability to miss bats that was better represented in an 11.0 H/9. Things were much different for Van Haltren while swinging a bat. He improved his slash line to .335/.405/.444. His ERA+ in 420 plate appearances did dip to 121, but that’s still above average. A 1.4 rWAR was entirely from his bat as his pitching hurt his cause rather than helping in any way.

The rest of Van Haltren’s career was spent in the field with a few games sprinkled in as a pitcher. Van Haltren got out of the pitching side of things a few years before the mound was moved back to the standard 60 feet and 6 inches. That’s a good thing too because he was having trouble getting guys out from 50 feet so who knows how bad he would have been shelled had he been a regular pitcher after 1893. File Van Haltren as a two-way player to forget.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Unknown

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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