In between these long Tampa Bay baseball history posts I’ve been doing (see Part 1 here and Part 2 here), I thought I’d tide you over with the story of a former Tampa minor league player whose name is awfully hard to forget: Rolden Ribble.
There have been so many players who have passed through minor league baseball. Even today, the fewer games a player played, the less we know about them. That’s especially true for data going back to the 1940’s. Rolden Ribble is an example of that. Rolden Ribble was a pitcher. We know that much. His full name was supposedly Rolden I. Ribble. We don’t know which arm he threw with. But what we do have is some stats.
Ribble started his pro career in 1946 with the Tampa Smokers before at some point transferring to the West Palm Beach Indians. Both teams were part of the C-level Florida International League. Between those two teams, Ribble went just 1-7 with a 4.6 BB/9 and a 11.9 H/9 in 7 starts and 10 relief appearances totaling 53 IP, although his ERA was a solid 4.25. He allowed way too many walks and hits, but whether through guile or luck he didn’t allow very many runs. His awful record was not quite his fault in this case, although any decent sabermetrician would be all over this talking about FIP and xFIP and SIERA and LOB%, etc. except for the fact that we basically don’t know anything else about Ribble’s season. We don’t know how many guys he struck out or how many homers he allowed, so there goes FIP and don’t even think about asking about the batted ball types he allowed. But even factoring in luck, the bottom line is that Ribble posted a 4.25 ERA and still went just 1-7. That takes some amount of talent. Maybe the other players were too distracted by Ribble’s name, preventing them from giving him enough run support. That could also be the case in the field. Although Ribble’s ERA was solid, his RA (run average, factoring in unearned runs as well) was an awful 7.13. His fielders were distracted behind him and made tons of errors. Whether that was due to his name or his poor pitching we can’t determine.
In any event, at that point Ribble moved down to the D-level Ozark Eagles in the Alabama State League for the rest of 1946. He pitched decently for the Eagles, going 3-1 in 4 starts which spanned 33 innings, suggesting that he threw 3 complete game wins and a 6-inning loss which would make sense for the time period since pitchers threw complete games in nearly half their starts and I doubt the Eagles worried much about ruining Ribble’s arm because no one worried about stuff like that back then. Not to mention that Ribble doesn’t seem like the type of prospect whose arm was worth protecting. In his stint with Ozark in 1946, Ribble walked a total of ten batters, a nice ratio of 2.7 per 9 innings, although his control allowed hitters to put the ball into play against him quite a bit once again as he allowed 12.5 hits per 9 innings. We don’t know how many runs he allowed so we can’t calculate his ERA, but we can look at the team he played for to take a guess using some statistical mishmash.
The Eagles went approximately 67-74 on the season based on their pitchers’ records (although some of their pitchers split time with other teams) and they hit .263 with a .373 SLG as a team. The team had a .475 winning percentage, well below Ribble’s .750 mark. If we say just for arguments sake that the standard deviation (SD) of the winning percentage of the team was equal to the .082 SD of the winning percentage of MLB teams in 2011, we get that Ribble’s .750 winning percentage was 3.35 SD’s over the team’s mean. The Eagles posted a 5.95 team ERA from the data available with a .85 SD among the nine players we have data for. If Ribble was 3.35 standard deviations over the team’s mean ERA, his ERA would have been 3.40. But then there’s the issue of run support. Ribble could have gone 3-1 with a higher ERA if he got good run support. First we have to find someway to estimate how many runs the Eagles scored per game. All we have is their team batting average and slugging percentage. Luckily BPS (batting average plus slugging- yes I just made that term up on the fly) had a .93 correlation with runs per game in the major leagues in 2011 indicating that the two “statistics” seem to be connected based on a linear fit, basically saying that as one get higher, so does the other and vice versa. We’re going to have to assume that correlation implies causation here although you’re not really allowed to do that in statistical analysis. Then again, this isn’t really statistical analysis. Anyway, for a team with a .636 BPS like the Eagles, the least squares regression line would predict 4.1 runs per game. Now we’re getting somewhere. The standard deviation for R/G in the 2011 majors was .51. If the Eagles scored 3.35 SD’s higher than they usually did for Ribble, that would have scored 5.63 runs per game. We can safely assume that Ribble threw no shutouts because it would have been noted in some local newspaper and we would probably know which arm he threw with. We also know that he could not have allowed more than 6 runs in a start because he would have been released since we are aware (see below) that Ribble returned to Ozark for 1947. The only way that we can get anywhere with this absolutely ridiculous analysis is if we assume that he allowed around the same amount of runs in all his starts and got around the same run support, which would mean he could have allowed as many as 4 runs in a start and won. If we were to say that he allowed 4 earned runs in the three starts he won and 6 earned runs in the start he lost while getting run support of 6 runs in two starts and 5 runs in the other two, he would be able to post an ERA as high as 4.91 and still post a 3-1 record. That would also explain why Ribble wasn’t able to get back up to a higher level minor league time despite his apparently solid finish based on his record. We can guess with maybe 50% confidence that Ribble’s true ERA was somewhere from 3.40 to 4.91. To be fair, let’s guess that his ERA was the exact middle of that interval, 4.16.
Ribble returned to the Ozark Eagles for 1947, going 7-7 despite a 5.54 ERA and a 12.6 H/9 (although he did post a nice 2.6 BB/9) in 16 appearances and 104 IP. That was it for the professional baseball career of Rolden Ribble. For his career he went 11-15 with a 5.10 ERA based on the available data, a 3.2 BB/9, and a 12.4 H/9 in 37 appearances and 190 IP. If you factor in the 4.16 ERA that we “computed” from Ribble’s first go-around in Ozark, his career ERA looks just a little bit better at 4.93.
Rolden Ribble had a great name and solid control, but he was very hittable and could not make it as a professional pitcher. But no matter how little he pitched in the pro ranks, he made an impact. Simply put, now that I’ve seen seen Rolden Ribble’s name, I won’t forget it. And if you’ve actually read this far and managed to get through the foolishness that is this post, neither will you.