21st Century Pitchers

March 1, 2019
 

21st Century Stars

 

 

            1999 AL—Pedro Martinez (Both Systems and the Cy Young Award)

            1999 NL—Randy Johnson (Both Systems and the Cy Young Award)

 

            2000 AL—Pedro Martinez (Both Systems and the Cy Young Award)

 

            2000 NL—Randy Johnson (Both Systems and the Cy Young Award)

 

            2001 AL—Mike Mussina (Both Systems)

            Cy Young Award—Roger Clemens

            Clemens and Mussina were teammates with the Yankees.  Mussina pitched 8 more innings, had one more strikeout than Clemens but 30 fewer walks, one more home run allowed.  Mussina, in those 8 more innings, allowed 7 fewer runs, 6 fewer earned runs. 

            Clemens, however, was supported by almost two more runs per start (5.88 vs. 4.12).   Clemens’ offensive support was the best among the Yankee starters; Mussina’s was the worst.  Clemens thus finished 20-3; Mussina was 17-11.   Clemens won the Cy Young Award; Mussina finished fifth in the voting. 

 

            2001 NL—Randy Johnson (Both Systems and won the Cy Young Award)

 

            2002 AL—Pedro Martinez (D-WAR) Vs. Roy Halladay (R-WAR)

            Cy Young Award—Barry Zito

 

Pitcher

W

L

IP

ERA

SO

BB

PF

ERA+

D-Wins

D-Losses

D-WAR

R-WAR

F-WAR

Total WAR

Pedro

20

4

199

2.26

239

40

97

202

19

6

10.2

6.5

7.4

24.1

Halladay

19

7

239

2.93

168

62

99

157

17

9

7.7

7.3

6.8

21.8

Zito

23

5

229

2.75

182

78

109

158

19

9

9.1

7.2

4.5

20.8

 

            The 2002 Park Factors (above) are atypical for all three pitchers.   Fenway reads as a pitchers’ park that year, the Oakland Coliseum as a hitters’ park. 

            2002 was the breakthrough season for Roy Halladay.   He entered 2002 with a career won-lost record of 18-17.   He pitched extremely well in 2002, but he was not the Roy Halladay that he later became.  He walked 62 men that year, struck out 168.   He cut that to 32 walks the next season, in 266 innings, and did that the rest of his career, with only one more season with as many as 40 walks. 

            As Halladay was emerging as one of the top pitchers in baseball, Pedro Martinez was starting to fade.  He was still a phenomenal pitcher in 2002.  He was still, in my view, clearly the best in the league, with 239 strikeouts, 40 walks in 199 innings, but he was beginning to have the shoulder issues that limited his time on the mound and would gradually drag him down to the level of the mortals. 

            But based on 2002 alone, I don’t really see the argument that either Halladay or Zito was on the same level as Pedro.   The voters chose Zito based on his won-lost record, which was still the prevailing metric in 2002, and Baseball Reference chooses Halladay because they need to fix their system. 

 

            2002 NL—Randy Johnson (Both Systems and the Cy Young Award)

 

            2003 AL—Pedro Martinez (D-WAR) Vs. Roy Halladay (R-WAR)

            Cy Young Award—Roy Halladay

            A close race between two contrasting pitchers.  Halladay went 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA in 266 innings.   Martinez went 14-4 but beat Halladay by a run in ERA (2.22) and struck out more batters in 187 innings than Halladay did in 266.

            I actually think my system has it right; I think Pedro was more valuable than Halladay.   Baseball Reference WAR has Halladay ahead by just one run (8.1 WAR to 8.0), which would be too close to call.   My system says that Pedro had a deserved won-lost record of 18-5, while Halladay was 19-9, and has Pedro ahead by ten runs (10.1 to 9.1). 

           

            2003 NL—Jason Schmidt (D-WAR) Vs. Mark Prior (R-WAR)

            Cy Young Award—Eric Gagne

            My system, Baseball Reference and the Cy Young voters all see Schmidt and Prior as the two best starting pitchers in the league, and all of us see them as about the same.   Schmidt leads in my system, but only by 0.4 WAR (9.5 to 9.1), while Prior leads in Baseball Reference, but only 0.7 WAR (7.4 to 6.7).  Schmidt finished second in the Cy Young vote, with 73 points; Prior finished third with 60.   No REAL difference in any case.

            My system sees both of them as having about the won-lost record that they deserved.   Schmidt had a deserved record of 18-6, actual record of 17-5, while Prior had a deserved record of 17-6, actual record of 18-6. 

 

            2004 AL—Johan Santana (Both Systems and the Cy Young Award)

 

            2004 NL—Randy Johnson (Both Systems)

            Cy Young Award—Roger Clemens

            The Diamondbacks, of course, won the World Series in 2001.  In 2002 they were still a great team, winning 98 games, and in 2003 they were 84-78.   In 2004 the team LOST 111 games, but Johnson was still great, striking out 290 batters and walking only 44 in 246 innings.  Stuck with just 3.5 runs per start, however, he struggled to a 16-14 won-lost record—but still finished second in the Cy Young Voting, and a reasonably close second.   In retrospect, that was a sign that the Cy Young voters were beginning to figure it out. 

 

           

            2005 AL—Johan Santana (Both Systems)

            Cy Young Award—Bartolo Colon

 

            2005 NL—Roger Clemens (Both Systems)

            Cy Young Award—Chris Carpenter

 

            2006 AL—Johan Santana (Both Systems and the Cy Young Award)

 

            2006 NL—Brandon Webb (Both Systems and the Cy Young Award)

 

            2007 AL—Johan Santana (D-WAR) Vs. Josh Beckett (R-WAR)

            Cy Young Award—CC Sabathia

             In 2007 CC Sabathia went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA for the Cleveland Indians.  He won the Cy Young Award.  A teammate, then known as Fausto Carmona, went 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA, and was not mentioned in the Cy Young voting.   Each pitcher was supported by 5.09 runs per starts, exactly the same figure for each man.  I think I’ll include Fausto in my chart.

Pitcher

W

L

IP

ERA

SO

BB

PF

ERA+

D-Wins

D-Losses

D-WAR

R-WAR

F-WAR

Total WAR

Santana

15

13

219

3.33

235

52

87

129

18

8

9.1

5.0

4.0

18.1

Beckett

20

7

201

3.27

194

40

118

145

17

7

8.3

6.5

5.7

20.5

Carmona

19

8

215

3.06

137

61

109

148

15

9

6.7

6.2

3.3

16.2

Sabathia

19

7

241

3.21

209

37

109

141

18

9

8.6

6.3

6.4

21.3

 

            Well. ..it appears that all of the systems agree, for some reason, that Carmona (now known as Roberto Hernandez) was not at the same level as the other pitchers, and also it appears that my method is out on a limb by itself as to Santana being the best of the group.   Sabathia vs. Beckett is too close to call.

 

 

            2007 NL—Jake Peavy (D-WAR) Vs. Roy Oswalt (R-WAR)

            Cy Young Award—Jake Peavy

            I am big fan of Roy Oswalt, one of the most unrecognized greats of my lifetime, but he was 14-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 2007, and was not among the nine pitchers listed in MVP voting.   He ranks as the 13th best pitcher in the league in my new method. 

 

            2008 AL—Roy Halladay (D-WAR) Vs. Cliff Lee (R-WAR)

            Cy Young Award—Cliff Lee

            Either Halladay or Lee is a reasonable selection, and the difference between them is relatively thin in both systems.   

 

            2008 NL—Tim Lincecum (Both Systems and the Cy Young Award)

            CC Sabathia was actually the number one pitcher in the major leagues in 2008 by my method, and also by Fangraphs WAR, but did not win the Cy Young Award in either league because he divided his time between the leagues.   He had his real impact in the National League.

 

            2009 AL—Zack Greinke (Both Systems and the Cy Young Award)

 

            2009 NL—Tim Lincecum (Both Systems and won the Cy Young Award)

 

            2010 AL—Felix Hernandez (Both Systems and won the Cy Young Award)

 

            2010 NL—Roy Halladay (Both Systems and won the Cy Young Award)

 

            2011 AL—Justin Verlander (Both Systems and won the Cy Young and MVP Awards)

 

            2011 NL—Clayton Kershaw (D-WAR) Vs. Roy Halladay (R-WAR)

            Cy Young Award—Clayton Kershaw

            2011 was the year that Kershaw emerged as a top-of-the-line starter, and was the last great year for Roy Halladay.   When you’re my age that seems like it was just yesterday.   When you’re 18 it seems like it was a lifetime ago.   Baseball Reference WAR has Kershaw 2.1 Wins behind Halladay, and 1.8 behind Cliff Lee.   My method has the three of them almost tied.  

 

            2012 AL—Justin Verlander (Both Systems)

            Cy Young Award—David Price

 

            2012 NL—Clayton Kershaw (Both Systems)

            Cy Young Award—R. A. Dickey

 

            2013 AL—Max Scherzer (D-WAR) Vs. Hisashi Iwakuma (R-WAR)

            Cy Young Award—Max Scherzer

            Hisashi Iwakuma, really?  Where is that one coming from?  Can you find anyone who agrees with you about this?

 

            2013 NL—Clayton Kershaw (Both Systems and won the Cy Young Award)

 

            2014 AL—Felix Hernandez (D-WAR) Vs. Corey Kluber (R-WAR)

            Cy Young Award—Corey Kluber

            Clayton Kershaw and Corey Kluber, the 2014 winners, are the only two Cy Young Award winners ever whose initials are "CK". 

            The Cy Young vote between Hernandez and Kluber was one of the closest ever, Kluber winning 17 of 13 first-place votes and winning the vote count 169 to 159.   My system, Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and the Cy Young voters all four agree that Kluber and King Felix were the 1-2 pitchers in the league.   My system has Hernandez ahead, 10.3 to 8.9.   Baseball Reference has it Kluber, 8.3 to 6.4   FanGraphs has it Kluber, 7.4 to 6.1.   I guess I am outvoted, so I will accept the consensus of the experts. 

 

            2014 NL—Johnny Cueto (D-WAR) Vs. Clayton Kershaw (R-WAR)

            Cy Young Award—Clayton Kershaw, who also won the MVP Award

            Cueto made 34 starts and pitched 244 innings; Kershaw made only 27 starts and pitched 198 innings.  Kershaw was significantly more effective on a per-inning or per-start basis.  My system puts Cueto (20-9, 2.25 ERA) a little bit ahead (10.2 to 9.8) based on the workloads, but I couldn’t honestly tell you how the workload advantage should be balanced against the effectiveness advantage.  By the way, neither could anybody else.  We’re all just picking a method and going with it. 

 

            2015 AL—Dallas Keuchel (both systems and won the Cy Young Award)

 

            2015 NL—Clayton Kershaw (D-WAR) Vs. Zack Greinke (R-WAR)

            Cy Young Award—Jake Arrieta

Pitcher

W

L

IP

ERA

SO

BB

PF

ERA+

D-Wins

D-Losses

D-WAR

R-WAR

F-WAR

Total WAR

Kershaw

16

7

233

2.13

301

42

92

173

20

6

11.0

7.5

8.5

27.0

Greinke

19

3

223

1.66

200

40

92

222

20

6

10.7

9.1

5.8

25.6

Arrieta

22

6

229

1.77

236

48

95

215

20

7

10.6

8.3

7.3

26.2

 

              In 2015 there were three NL pitchers pretty clearly deserving of a Cy Young Award.  My results in this case don’t really mean anything, because the margin separating one from another is too thin to be relied on.   However, the consensus of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs agrees with my conclusion, which is that Kershaw was the best pitcher in the league.

 

            2016 AL—Justin Verlander (Both Systems)

            Cy Young Award—Rick Porcello

 

            2016 NL—Max Scherzer (Both Systems and won the Cy Young Award)

 

            2017 AL—Chris Sale (D-WAR) Vs. Corey Kluber (R-WAR)

            Cy Young Award—Corey Kluber                               

            Kluber had a better won-lost record, which still counts quite a bit in Cy Young voting, and a better ERA+ (202 to 157).   Sale had more innings, 43 more strikeouts with only 7 more walks.   Sale may have been hurt in the Cy Young voting because a Boston pitcher had won the year before (Porcello) and there may have been some reluctance to let the Red Sox repeat if it wasn’t an obvious choice.

            Fangraphs would break the tie toward Sale, or maybe that is creating a 2-2 tie (D-WAR and Fangraphs against Baseball Reference and the Cy Young Voters.)  But my system shows Sale as just 1 run better (10.7 WAR to 10.6) and Fangraphs would have Sale ahead by just 4 runs (7.7 WAR to 7.3) whereas Baseball Reference shows Kluber as 22 better (8.2 to 6.0), and the Cy Young Award voters voted 28-2 for Kluber.  

 

            2017 NL—Max Scherzer (Both Systems and won the Cy Young Award)

 

            2018 AL—Justin Verlander (D-WAR) Vs. Blake Snell (R-WAR) 

            Cy Young Award—Blake Snell

            I would have voted for Snell, I think.  I have Verlander as deserving of a won-lost record of 19-8, 10.1 WAR, Snell at 18-6, 9.8 WAR. 

 

 

            2018 NL—Jacob deGrom (D-WAR) Vs. Aaron Nola (R-WAR)

            Cy Young Award—Jacob deGrom

            I don’t mean to rehash controversies that are recent, and which you are probably all familiar with if you care.   The selection of Nola over deGrom depends on a confidence in defensive metrics.  Baseball Info Solutions evaluates the Philadelphia defense as being 146 runs worse than average, and 303 runs worse than the Arizona Diamondbacks defense.  While I believe in and support their approach, this conclusion tests our faith.  Comparing Arizona’s pitching stats and Philadelphia’s. . ..they actually are very close in all three of the Three True Outcomes.  Philadelphia had 17 more strikeouts (1465-1448), 22 fewer walks (500-522), and three fewer home runs allowed (171-174).   We might then expect Philadelphia’s runs allowed to be. . .what, 10, 15 runs less?

            In fact Philadelphia allowed 84 more runs, and in 17 fewer innings.   That’s a lot of runs; 84 runs is a lot.  84 runs isn’t an elephant, perhaps, or a hippo, but 84 runs is a. . .a buffalo, let’s say.

            But 84 runs is not near 303.  303 runs is more on the scale of Godzilla, or King Kong.  How the fielding metrics get from 84 runs to 303 is not clear to me.   My point is that to believe that Aaron Nola was better than Jacob deGrom, you have to believe that the Philadelphia phielding support was not merely bad, but historically, comically, massively bad.  Phutile.   I don’t necessarily see that.  The Aaron Nola thing is kind of a hiccup in the system, I think. 

 

 
 

COMMENTS (3 Comments, most recent shown first)

Brock Hanke
Bill, thanks for this great series of posts. I think I've posted this on this site before, but I forget where. Anyway: I've been studying where pitcher seasons fall on the all-players list, meaning how the pitchers compare to position players. (This is actually a project called the Most Meritorious Players, on a different site from this one.) We've done enough seasons there that I can confidently say that 1) Pitcher seasons now rate, among position players, FAR higher in BB-Ref WAR than they do in Win Shares, and 2) This has been a steady and reliably increasing trend since at least 1910. In the Dead Ball Era, pitchers rank, among position player ordinals, about the same in Win Shares as in WAR. Now, it is not at all close. WAR ranks pitchers MUCH higher, among position players, than Win Shares does. What this series gave me was a chance to look at the top pitchers in the two systems, without getting the position players involved. There does not appear to be any great increase in disparity between the two systems, and the discrepancy is very certainly not increasing. This is very useful information to me. Among other things, it implies that what appears to be a disagreement on how to rank pitchers might actually be a disagreement as to how to rank position players. I would not have even considered that before this series here. THANKS!
6:18 PM Mar 7th
 
brewer09
The comment for the 2013 AL race: "Hisashi Iwakuma, really? Where is that one coming from? Can you find anyone who agrees with you about this?"

Well, win shares:

Iwakuma, 20.5
Scherzer, 19.9

Sort of the advanced metric of record on this site.

12:56 AM Mar 2nd
 
FrankD
Love the series. Maybe I'm and old fuddy-duddy but I think modern stats are discounting pitcher wins too much. Stats describe what happened, not why things went the way they did. How do we treat blowouts? How do we treat times when we have to leave the pitcher in to take a pounding because tomorrow is way more important than a game already lost? You've studied this as much as anybody: do you think that wins/losses are now properly evaluated as to pitcher ranking?
5:26 PM Mar 1st
 
 
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