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July 23, 2020
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Long after I did the work published yesterday, weeks after that, I started a second study group.  My real purpose in doing that was to advance the process of "automating" the calculations—not making them truly automatic, but trying to move through the process more easily this time than before by duplicating the formats.   That’s gone pretty well.

The second study group is "All Teams from the 1961 season."  There were 18 teams in the 1961 season, so we now have 33 teams full of players with data evolving—the 15 from the other group, and 18 from 1961.  These are the 20 top pitchers from 1961, based on their current Runs Saved estimates:

 

Player

Team

GS

IP

SO

BB

W

L

ERA

Pitcher Total

Whitey Ford

Yankees

39

283

209

92

25

4

3.21

91.5

Frank Lary

Tigers

36

275

146

66

23

9

3.24

89.5

Jim Bunning

Tigers

37

268

194

71

17

11

3.19

87.2

Sandy Koufax

Dodgers

35

256

269

96

18

13

3.52

86.5

Warren Spahn

Braves

34

263

115

64

21

13

3.02

85.4

Camilo Pascual

Twins

33

252

221

100

15

16

3.46

81.8

Jim O'Toole

Reds

35

253

178

93

19

9

3.10

80.4

Steve Barber

Orioles

34

248

150

130

18

12

3.33

77.7

Don Cardwell

Cubs

38

259

156

88

15

14

3.82

76.7

Lew Burdette

Braves

36

272

92

33

18

11

4.00

76.7

Jack Kralick

Twins

33

242

137

64

13

11

3.61

75.2

Bob Friend

Pirates

35

236

108

45

14

19

3.85

74.7

Don Mossi

Tigers

34

240

137

47

15

7

2.96

74.6

Mike McCormick

Giants

35

250

163

75

13

16

3.20

74.6

Pedro Ramos

Twins

34

264

174

79

11

20

3.95

73.0

Don Drysdale

Dodgers

37

244

182

83

13

10

3.69

71.7

Bob Purkey

Reds

34

246

116

51

16

12

3.73

71.4

Stan Williams

Dodgers

35

235

205

108

15

12

3.90

70.4

Joey Jay

Reds

34

247

157

92

21

10

3.53

70.3

Ken McBride

Angels

36

242

180

102

12

15

3.65

69.9

 

There was only one Cy Young Award given in 1961, and it went to Whitey Ford, who we currently show as the #1 pitcher.  The voting went Ford-Spahn-Frank Lary.   The Tigers had three of the top 20, Reds had three, Dodgers had three.  Yankees had only one. 

The 1961 season is perhaps the most difficult season in baseball history in which to decide who was in fact the best pitcher in baseball.   Baseball Reference says that the best pitcher in baseball that year was Don Cardwell, and that the best pitcher in the American League was (checks notes). . . Jack Kralick?  These are not obvious answers.   By their calculations, Whitey Ford was not one of the 10 best pitchers in the American League that season.   Fangraphs says that Jim Bunning was the best pitcher in baseball, and Sandy Koufax the best in the National League. 

I have seen statistical studies claiming it was Warren Spahn.  I myself once argued, based on an analysis of Game Scores, that it was Camilo Pascual.  Pascual was 15-16 but led the league in strikeouts and threw EIGHT shutouts.  Worked in a hitter’s park; ERA on the road was almost a run lower, and he pitched more often against the tough teams than he did against the weaker teams. 

Anyway, this study by no means puts an end to that discussion, for three reasons:

1)     The Margin is small,

2)     The process is unproven, and

3)     We’re not done yet; we’re just done with this part.  We’ll have to reconcile the pitcher’s individual numbers to the team’s totals, and then you have to place them in context to put value on them.

 

Anyway, more info on the 1961 stats:

 

·      Leader in strikeouts of course was Sandy Koufax, 43 Runs Saved on 269 strikeouts.

·      Leader in Control (Walks Avoided) BY FAR, by 30 walks, was Lew Burdette.  Burdette walked only 33 men in 272 innings, getting credit for 127 Walks Avoided, worth 29 Runs Saved.

·      Leader in Home Runs Avoided was Steve Barber, who went 18-12 for Baltimore.  Gave up 13 homers in 248 innings; credited with 22 Home Runs Avoided, worth 23 Runs Saved.

·      Leader in Bases Saved (One Base Advancements Avoided) was Whitey Ford; actually the three leaders were Ford, Spahn and Burdette, all close.  Ford threw 8 Wild Pitches, which is quite a few, but had no balks, NO stolen bases allowed, and there were two Passed Balls while he was on the mound.  Credited with 18.4 Base Advancements prevented, worth 6.8 Runs. 

·      You remember earlier I did a chart of the pitchers who had saved the highest percentage of their "Budget" for one-base advancements?   Vinegar Bend Mizell, 1960. was the was the number one guy? 

By the percentage of bases saved, the #1 guy in 1961 was Paul Foytack, Detroit’s fourth starter, the other three all being among the best pitchers in baseball.  Foytack in 170 innings had no balks, no passed balls, only one Wild Pitch and only two Stolen Bases Allowed, thus saving 94.2% of his Budget for one-base advancement events.

           

·      Leaders in Double Plays as a fielder were Jim Kaat, Don Mossi and Steve Barber, all lefties, all with 8 Double Plays.  

·      Leader in Double Play Support from the mound was Steve Barber, Baltimore, with the whopping total of 38 Double Plays, credited with saving him 9.2 Runs.  Barber was the biggest revelation of this study, to me.   I knew the image of Steve Barber very well; I had his baseball cards.  I remember reading a profile of him in Sport Magazine about 1964.  He was a character in Bouton’s Ball Four.   In the book that Neyer and I did about Pitchers, we sited somebody as saying that Barber was the hardest thrower in baseball at one time.  Barber kind of invented the "Quality Start" stat.  He maintained his own won-lost record based on something very similar to what were later called Quality Starts; I forget the exact rules, but he gave himself a Win if he pitched 6 or more innings with an ERA no higher than 3.00, or something like that.  I think his definition was a little tougher than Quality Starts. I remember that Barber was in the National Guard in 1962, and pitched for the Orioles on weekends and when he was on Leave.   Still pitched great.

I would have thought that I knew everything there was to know about Steve Barber as a pitcher—but I had no idea that he was a ground ball pitcher, let alone a SUPER ground ball pitcher.  A hard thrower who walks a lot of people, you tend to assume it’s a high fastball.  His numbers just SCREAM "Ground Balls".  He led the majors in Home Runs Avoided.  He tied for the major league lead in Double Plays as a pitcher (fielding), and led by far in Double Play Support.  He was third in the majors in Assists by a pitcher. 

And his double play rate in 1961 was actually DOWN from his rookie season in 1960.  In 1960 he had 30 Double Plays behind him in 182 innings.  Later on his ground ball indicators are not so extreme, but early in his career, they’re about as high as anybody you’ll ever see. 

·      Leaders in Error Avoidance were Frank Lary and Lew Burdette, who committed one error each in 88 Fielding Chances each.   Credited with saving three runs by not committing Errors. 

·      Leader in Assists was Bob Purkey, who had 69 assists, followed by Warren Spahn.  Barber and Burdette tied for third.  Purkey credited with saving four runs by Range.

·      Leader in Range Contribution by BABIP was Mudcat Grant of Cleveland, who had a BABIP of .234 as opposed to a team average of .268.  Grant credited with saving 9.4 Runs by getting soft contact.

 

 
 

COMMENTS (4 Comments, most recent shown first)

MattGoodrich
I just love that we can sit around arguing which pitcher had was better 59 years ago. Many reasonable arguments. But we're splitting hairs from a long ago season. Warms my heart, but my 12-year-old thinks this is the stupidest thing ever.
5:51 PM Jul 24th
 
formersd
Makes my heart warm that this type of analysis can reveal something new to Bill that he was not aware of about the game he loves and has followed closely his entire life.
3:38 PM Jul 23rd
 
MWeddell
Funny headline.
1:28 PM Jul 23rd
 
GuillermoMountain
Baseball reference's advanced stats page confirms Barber's ground ball tendencies: his career ratio of ground outs to air outs is 1.57 compared to an MLB norm of 1.09.
12:26 PM Jul 23rd
 
 
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