Record – 65-71, Finished Fifth Place in the American League
Pythagorean Record – 71-65
C – Deacon McGuire (.250/.306/.306)
1b – Charlie Carr (.281/.296/.374)
2b – Heinie Smith (.223/.271/.283)
3b – Joe Yeager (.256/.303/.323)
SS – Sport McAllister (.260/.297/.306)
LF – Billy Lush (.274/.379/.390)
CF – Jimmy Barrett (.315/.407/.391)
RF – Sam Crawford (.335/.366/.489)
Homeruns – Sam Crawford (4)
Batting Average – Sam Crawford (.335)
OPS – Sam Crawford (.855)
Best Fielder – Charlie Carr (15 Fielding Runs Above Average)
Wins – George Mullin (19)
ERA – George Mullin (2.25)
Strikeouts – Bill Donovan (187)
The Tigers took a step forward in 1903, and they did it through turnover. Only Deacon McGuire returned to shore up the Tigers starting infield and only George Mullin, who emerged as the Tigers’ ace in 1903, returned to the rotation. By far the biggest acquisition of the year was Sam Crawford. Crawford had already established himself as a bonafide star with some solid seasons for the Cincinnati Reds and Crawford came over to Detroit when the American League and National League unified. The Tigers signed him first, so they got the gold. Whether he was stolen from the Reds is open to debate but Crawford would go on to have a Hall of Fame career and he’d be a lynchpin for the 1907 through 1909 AL Pennant teams.
The 1903 Tigers were also a pretty unlucky team. They outscored their opponents 567 runs to 539, yet ended up with a losing record. Even if they’d have finished with their Pythagorean Record of 71-65, that still would have put them in the second division in the American League.
Crawford was their bonafide star, and along with Jimmy Barrett and Billy Lush, the Tigers sported an outfield where the lowest OPS+ was 134. Crawford finished second in hitting for the second straight season, losing the batting title to Nap Lajoie by only nine points. Crawford would finish runner up in the batting race four times through out his career while never winning the batting title. He did lead the league in triples in 1903 with 25 and his major league record of 309 career triples still stands. His 158 OPS+ was good for second in the league, again finishing second to Lajoie.
Jimmy Barrett was the best hitter on a bad team in 1902, and in 1903, he’s a close second to Crawford. His .315 batting average was good for fourth best in the American League (his only career top ten finish) and his .407 OBP, 74 walks and 243 times on base all led the league. Barrett reminds me a little of Bobby Higginson. He had some great seasons, but never had a team around him. By the time the Tigers won their first pennant in 1907, Barrett was at the end of his career in Boston.
On the pitching side, George Mullin established himself as the team’s ace in only his second season on the mound. Mullin’s 19 wins was the eighth best mark in the AL and his 2.25 ERA was sixth best. Oddly, he led the league in saves with two and his 320.7 innings were the fifth best total. On the negative side, he led the league in walks allowed with 106, the first of four consecutive seasons that he’d be on top of the AL.
Bill Donovan also had a solid season in his first season with the Tigers. After finishing with 25 wins in 1901 for the Brooklyn Superbas, Donovan was second in the league in strikeouts with 187 and he led the league with 34 complete games in 1903.
As a team, the Tigers showed some promise after being a bottom feeder in 1902. The team sported an OBP of .312 which led the American League and they were second in hitting with a .268 batting average. The Tigers were fifth in runs scored (567) but near the bottom in homeruns (seventh with 12). The team’s pitching staff had the third best ERA in the league (2.75) but gave up more walks then any other team (336).
The Tigers won their first four games of the season in 1903, but by early May they had dropped back to .500 (6-6). On May 30, after getting swept in a doubleheader by the St. Louis Browns, the Tigers slipped below .500 and hovered around that mark for most of the next couple of months. They were above the breakeven mark as late as September 11, 1903, but their 4-0 start were the most games above .500 they’d reach all season. In an odd scheduling quirk, the Tigers played five straight doubleheaders from September 6 through the 14 (with days off in between), then another one four days later on the 18th. In all, the Tigers played eight doubleheaders in the month of September.