Koufax and Wes Ferrell

August 28, 2017
                                                         Koufax and Wes Ferrell

              In posts regarding recent articles we have had comments/queries about Sandy Koufax and Wes Ferrell, and I thought that I would respond to them here.   

              Regarding Koufax, Koufax was greater than the 21st century analysts understand.   21st century analysts are sometimes hung up on WAR—Wins Above Replacement—but you would get a different picture if you could look at PCAR—Pennant Contributions above Replacement.  

              First of all, we have to assert there that Pennant Contributions can be different from Win Contributions.   I doubt that any of you would question this, but suppose that you have two players of equal value, both on the same team, and suppose that that team goes 74-88, 95-67, 84-78 and 94-68 over a four-year stretch.  Suppose that one player plays well in years 1 and 3, when the team has no chance of winning the pennant anyway, but plays poorly in years 2 and 4, when the team has a chance to win.   The other player. . .you get the point.   The win contributions of the two players are even, their opportunities are the same, but their Pennant Contributions are different.

              Second, I would argue that, to the extent that Pennant Contributions may be discerned, and to the extent that Pennant Contributions may be seen relative to opportunities, that Pennant Contributions are actually MORE important than Win Contributions.  Win Contributions are important because they are Pennant Contributions.   Singles are important because they are parts of runs.   Runs are important because they are parts of wins.   Wins are important because they are parts of pennants.   We don’t want to discriminate against Ernie Banks because he didn’t have the opportunity to win his team the pennant, but winning the pennant, in the 20th century, was the main purpose of the season.  

              In the 21st century it is different; now, if you don’t win the pennant you can still win the Wild Card, it’s not that big a difference.   If you do well in the post-season nobody will remember whether you won the division by a game or lost it by a game.    In the 20th century, if you finished one game short, it was a lost season—if not a disastrous season.  The 1964 Cincinnati Reds finished one game short; very few people remember that now.    The 1964 Phillies also finished one game short, and that came to be regarded as an epic disaster.     In the 20th century, you won the pennant or you didn’t.

              That BEGAN to change in 1969, completely changed toward the end of the 20th century.   Anyway, in Koufax’ time winning the pennant was the central challenge of the season.

              Koufax’ contributions toward winning the pennant are, I would argue, greater than any other pitcher of the 20th century.   There are three seasons—1963, 1965, and 1966—in which if Koufax had been JUST great, the Dodgers would not have won the pennant.   In 1966 he was 27-9.   If he had been 25-11 that would still have been a great season, but the Dodgers would not have won the pennant.   In 1965 he was 26-8.   If he had been 24-10 that would still have been a great season, but the Dodgers would not have won the pennant.  

              1963 is not as easy to explain, since the Dodgers won by six games—but the Cardinals were one game behind with ten to play.    It just opened up in the last week.   Koufax was 25-5.  If he had gone 19-11, assuming that one of the losses would have been to the Cardinals, the Dodgers would not have won the pennant.    Realistically, if he had gone 21-9, the Dodgers might well have wound up on the short end.   Koufax was 4-0 with a 0.96 ERA against the Cardinals.   He started five times against the Cardinals.   The only game he didn’t beat them he pitched 12 innings, left with the score 1-1, and the Dodgers won the game.  

              There are three seasons in there in which, if Koufax had been JUST the best pitcher in the league, but not the best pitcher in the league by a wide margin, the Dodgers would not have won the pennant.   There is no other pitcher in the 20th century who did that.   I remember I studied this ten, fifteen years ago. . .not sharp on the details, but I think the only other pitcher in the 20th century who had two of those monster-impact seasons for a team that would not have won without that kind of season was Carl Hubbell, in ’33 and ’36.   I believe that Kid Nichols had some high-impact seasons in the 1890s, and Randy Johnson did at the turn of the century.   (Among position players, as I recall, the highest-impact seasons were by Babe Ruth and Roberto Alomar.)  

              Also, this exceptional pennant impact of Koufax is, to some extent, a natural consequence of the shape and pattern of his career.   To some extent it is a matter of being in the right place at the right time, of course, but to some extent not.  

              Suppose that you have two pitchers, both of them .625 pitchers.     One pitcher, however, is a .625 pitcher every year, or, more realistically, has a bunch of years in the .600-.650 range.   The other pitcher is a .500 pitcher half of his career, a .750 pitcher the other half.   Which pitcher is likely to have more impact on pennant races?

              Suppose that you have two pitchers who have 300 starts/250 decisions each.    One pitcher, however, makes 30, 33 starts a season, 20-25 decisions a year.   The other pitcher makes the same number of starts, but 40-42 starts a season, 30-35 decisions a season.   Which pitcher is likely to have more impact on pennant races?

              There is an old saying, which was popular as anti-sabermetric bigotry back in the day when we were fighting those battles.   The saying is that a statistician is a person who will say that if you have one foot in a fire and the other in a block of ice, on the average you’re comfortable.   This is a case in point.   Two pitchers may look the same in their aggregate totals, but they may be very different in their actual impact.   Koufax had a fire-and-ice career.

              I tried to demonstrate this point with a simulation, although my simulation tends to show that my point is not all that significant, but I’ll share it with you anyway.   I set up a simulation in which I created teams with realistic expected winning percentages.   A team could have an expected winning percentage anywhere between .300 and .700, but most teams clustered around .500.   Then I generated 162 random numbers for each team.   If the random number was less than the team’s expected winning percentage, that would be a win; if the random number was higher, a loss.  

              Also, a team might go 94-68 and win the pennant, or they might go 100-62 and not win the pennant; that also varies.   A team had a 10% chance of winning the pennant if they won 94 games, 20% if they won 95, 30% if they won 96, 40% if they won 97, 50% if they 98, jumps up to 70% if they won 99, 80% if they won 100, 90% if they won 101, 100% if they won 102.   

              With those conditions, the team won the pennant 1,012 times in 10,000 trials.   I was aiming for 10%; that was as close as I could come.   Koufax’ great years were in a 10-team league, so I was simulating that.  

              Into that base, I inserted four pitchers with .625 winning percentages.  

              Pitcher A was responsible for 24 decisions a season, and had a .625 expected winning percentage every season.

              Pitcher B was responsible for 24 decisions a season, but had a .500 expected winning percentage in half of the seasons, .750 in the other half.

              Pitcher C was responsible for 33 decisions a season, and had a .625 expected winning percentage every season.

              Pitcher K, the Koufax-model pitcher, was responsible for 33 decisions a season, had a .500 winning percentage in half of the seasons, but a .750 winning percentage the other half.  

 

              Pitcher A, the least like Koufax, increased the number of pennants won by his team from 1,012 in 10,000 seasons to 1,240, an increase of 228.    Pitcher K, Koufax, increased the number of pennants won by his team from 1,012 to 1,355, an increase of 343.  

              But when you look at it, you realize that that’s not actually all that big a deal.   The issue here is the PROPORTIONAL impact of his starts, per start, not the gross impact of 33 games as opposed to 24 games.   Pitcher A is responsible for 24 games per season and increases his team’s pennants by 228 in 10,000 years, or 9.4 pennants/10,000 years for each start.   Pitcher K is responsible for 33 games per season and increases his team’s pennants by 343, or 10.4.    The Koufax-model pitcher IS having more impact on the pennant race, per start, than a pitcher with the same career stats, but only 10% more.  

              OK, Wes Ferrell.

 

Ned Garver

              Changeup.   Regarding Ned Garver, who some people also asked about, I have him with deserved vs. actual won-lost records as follows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DESERVED

First

Last

Team

Lg

Year

W

L

WPct

Wins

Losses

WPct

Ned

Garver

St. Louis Browns

AL

1948

7

11

.389

13

10

.571

Ned

Garver

St. Louis Browns

AL

1949

12

17

.414

12

13

.482

Ned

Garver

St. Louis Browns

AL

1950

13

18

.419

18

11

.619

Ned

Garver

St. Louis Browns

AL

1951

20

12

.625

16

12

.576

Ned

Garver

Browns-Tigers

AL

1952

8

10

.444

9

9

.504

Ned

Garver

Detroit Tigers

AL

1953

11

11

.500

11

12

.471

Ned

Garver

Detroit Tigers

AL

1954

14

11

.560

16

12

.584

Ned

Garver

Detroit Tigers

AL

1955

12

16

.429

13

14

.476

Ned

Garver

Detroit Tigers

AL

1956

0

2

.000

1

1

.430

Ned

Garver

Kansas City A's

AL

1957

6

13

.316

8

9

.466

Ned

Garver

Kansas City A's

AL

1958

12

11

.522

11

12

.493

Ned

Garver

Kansas City A's

AL

1959

10

13

.435

12

11

.513

Ned

Garver

Kansas City A's

AL

1960

4

9

.308

7

7

.503

Ned

Garver

Los Angeles Angels

AL

1961

0

3

.000

2

2

.464

         

129

157

.451

149

134

.526

 

 

              Garver had career luck score of negative 42.5, so he was obviously very unlucky; I think he just didn’t make the cut when I listed the unluckiest ever.  While we’re talking about Garver and Garvin we might throw in Jerry Garvin, who was also very unlucky in a short career.  

 

Wes Ferrell

            In my series of articles a couple of weeks ago, David Kaiser posted repeatedly questioning why Wes Ferrell was not on the list.   From two different posts:

The huge omission in Bill's list is my choice for the unluckiest pitcher of all time, Wes Ferrell. He had 5 seasons of 4 WAA or more, which ties with Newhouser for the best of his generation (Feller had 4.) But he pitched for lousy teams.


There is however a big omission from this list: Wes Ferrell. He is an exception to one of the rules Bill laid down at the beginning of this article--he did pitch his whole career with bad teams. He is tied with Hal Newhouser, with 5 seasons of 4 WAA or more, within the GI generation (born 1903-24.) Feller had only 4 such seasons, as did Hubbell. He is very overqualified for the Hall of Fame.

 

              Ferrell had a career won-lost record of 193-128, which is a borderline Hall of Fame won-lost record.  I have him as having a deserved Won-Lost record of 169-134, so not only do I not agree that he was terribly unlucky, it would be my judgment that he was actually lucky.    He wasn’t really as good as his won-lost record.

              Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that my analysis of Ferrell is flawed in that it fails to account for his quite exceptional excellence as a hitter.   I would not only be willing to assume that; I would assert that this was probably 80% true.   Much or most of the discrepancy between Ferrell’s actual and deserved won-lost records WAS, in fact, accounted for by his excellence as a hitter. 

              But as to saying that Ferrell was an UN-lucky pitcher. . . . I don’t get it.  I don’t understand what the hell David is talking about, frankly.    Ferrell did NOT pitch for lousy teams, nor did he pitch his whole career with bad teams, nor was he unlucky in any respect.  

              Ferrell pitched for only three bad teams in his career—the 1927 Cleveland Indians, the 1928 Indians, and the 1941 Braves.   He pitched only one inning in 1927, only 16 innings in 1928, and only 14 innings in 1941, so those teams account for only 1% of his career.   And they weren’t all THAT bad; the Indians were 66-87 and 62-92 and the Braves were 62-92.   Those are records that the Kansas City A’s would have considered "almost in contention."

              Other than those three, these are the won-lost records of the teams that Ferrell pitched for:

YEAR

TEAM

Won

Lost

1929

Indians

81

71

1930

Indians

81

73

1931

Indians

78

76

1932

Indians

87

65

1933

Indians

75

76

1934

Red Sox

76

76

1935

Red Sox

78

75

1936

Red Sox

74

80

1937

Red Sox

80

72

1937

Senators

73

80

1938

Senators

75

76

1938

Yankees

99

53

1939

Yankees

106

45

1940

Dodgers

88

65

 

              I really don’t understand how anyone could interpret that as pitching for lousy teams or pitching his whole career for bad teams.    The career winning percentage of Ferrell’s teams, weighted by the number of innings that he pitched for each team, is .514.    If you take out Ferrell’s decisions, Ferrell’s wins and losses, that figure drops to .489, but that still doesn’t get us anywhere near "lousy" or "all bad".  

              Perhaps Mr. Kaiser would like to make the argument that these teams stayed near .500 because of good pitching but had poor offenses, but that would not be true, either.   The offenses of Ferrell’s teams, park adjusted, weighted by the number of innings that he pitched in each season, were 4.7% below the league average.   They were a little below average.   Defense?   1930s fielding by team is difficult to evaluate, but two of Ferrell’s teams led the league in double plays, one led in errors.   I’m not really seeing the problem.  

              I think that Mr. Kaiser and I have similar views of several issues.   In particular, he has advocated (I think) the opinion that too much attention is paid to career standards in evaluating a pitcher as a Hall of Fame candidate, and not enough attention to how good the pitcher was in his core seasons.   I would agree with that.   Also, I think Wes Ferrell DOES have at least a reasonable Hall of Fame argument, based on that argument.   But as to the argument that Ferrell was unlucky to have a career won-lost record of 193-128. . . I don’t believe it, I don’t 70% believe it, I don’t 1% believe it.   I think that argument is 100% false.   

 
 

COMMENTS (30 Comments, most recent shown first)

OldBackstop
Not totally sure I track the rules of the premise here, but merely ho-hum excellent seasons from Koufax in '1961 and 1962 would likely have captured pennants. He was 18-13 in 1961 and they lost by four, and he was 14-7 in 1962 and they lost by one.

This is all through the filthy prisms of decisions, which I had hoped we had gotten scraped off our shoes. I just want to hear about DESERVED wins from now on.
4:17 PM Sep 3rd
 
BryanBM
1963-1966 Koufax is 83-6 in CG, 14-21 with 26 ND in other starts, 59% CG.
1963-1966 Marichal is 81-8 in CG, 9-27 with 21 ND in other starts, 61% CG.
20+ CG in a season 1963-1966: Koufax and Marichal 3, Gibson and Drysdale 2, Spahn 1.

1968-1971 Gibson is 78-20 in CG, 3-22 with 11 ND in other starts, 73% CG.
1968-1971 Jenkins is 79-18 in CG, 8-41 with 14 ND in other starts, 61% CG.
20+ CG in a season 1968-1971: Gibson and Jenkins 4, McLain, Perry, Marichal and Cuellar 2, Palmer, Dierker, Stottlemyre, Lolich, PNiekro, Seaver, Blue and Wood 1.

2017 MLB is 38-12 in CG, 1% CG. The most recent player with 10+ CG in a season is 2011 James Shields 9-2, 15+ is 1998 Curt Schilling 9-6 and 20+ is 1986 Fernando Valenzuela 16-4.

Rick Langford is the most recent player with a 4 year stretch of 100+ GS and CG in at least 50% of starts 1978-1981 64 of 110 and 1979-1982 75 of 117. He's also 61 of 95 in 1980-1983 if you give him strike credit, no one else with 90+ GS and 50%+ CG in any 4 year span since with or without a strike.
10:54 PM Sep 1st
 
FrankD
How many of Koufax's wins were 'saved' by the bullpen? Back in those days I assume not that many. But nowadays, how would you separate wins from starter or bullpen? As Bill has shown, starter impact on the game has been decreasing since Old Hoss Cartwright pitched to Little Joe ..... I do think there is something to great years by an individual carrying a team to a pennant - '67 Yaz being an example. But, its very hard to separate this with statistics. I would posit that teams play harder/better when their best pitcher is on the mound or players bust their butt more when they have great players with them in the lineup. I dunno, maybe the Stengel Yankees picking up scrubs from other teams, putting them in pinstripes, and they play better is an example of this .......
8:37 PM Sep 1st
 
BryanBM
If you want to use sum of 4 best pitching WAA as a starting point, debut since 1915, Dazzy Vance in, Walter Johnson with 38.1 out:

Roger Clemens 31.5 - 9.4, 8.5, 7, 6.6
Pedro Martinez 30.8 - 9.7, 7.7, 7.2, 6.2
Randy Johnson 30.7 - 8.9, 8.1, 7.1, 6.6
Lefty Grove 30.1 - 8.7, 7.3, 7.2, 6.9
Greg Maddux 28.2 - 8.1, 7.2, 6.9, 6
Bob Gibson 27.4 - 8.6, 7.7, 6.3, 4.8

Tom Seaver 27.3 - 8.2, 7.7, 5.9, 5.5
Dazzy Vance 26.7 - 8.1, 7.8, 5.7, 5.1
Hal Newhouser 26.2 - 8.9, 7.3, 5.8, 4.2
Bob Feller 26 - 7.2, 7.1, 6.6, 5.1
Steve Carlton 25.6 - 9.3, 7.6, 4.8, 3.9
Sandy Koufax 25.2 - 7.7, 7.4, 5.2, 4.9

20-24.9: Bert Blyleven 21.5, Bret Saberhagen 22.4, Carl Hubbell 22.6, Clayton Kershaw 22.2, Cliff Lee 20.4, Curt Schilling 23.9, Fergie Jenkins 21.1, Gaylord Perry 23.1, Jim Bunning 21.1, Johan Santana 21.9, Juan Marichal 23.6, Kevin Appier 20.6, Kevin Brown 23.3, Phil Niekro 23.6, Robin Roberts 22, Roy Halladay 24.1, Warren Spahn 21.4, Wilbur Wood 23, Zack Greinke 23.2

15-19.9, Whitey Ford 14.1 is probably the biggest name under 15: Adam Wainwright 17.4, Al Leiter 16.6, Andy Pettitte 16.4, Billy Pierce 17.4, Bobo Newsom 16.9, Brad Radke 15.4, Brandon Webb 18.6, Bucky Walters 16.2, Burleigh Grimes 16.2, Camilo Pascual 17, Carlos Zambrano 16.1, CC Sabathia 17.8, Chris Sale 18, Chuck Finley 18.5, Cole Hamels 16.7, Corey Kluber 16.6, Dave Stieb 19.7, David Cone 19.6, Dean Chance 16.2, Dennis Eckersley 16.4, Dizzy Dean 18.2, Dizzy Trout 18.2, Don Drysdale 16.2, Dwight Gooden 17.6, Early Wynn 16, Felix Hernandez 16.6, Frank Tanana 18.2, Frank Viola 19.8, Harry Brecheen 15.2, Javier Vazquez 16.8, Jerry Koosman 16.1, Jim Maloney 16, Jim Palmer 17.5, Jimmy Key 15.2, John Smoltz 16.1, Jon Lester 15.3, Jon Matlack 17.1, Jose Rijo 19, Josh Johnson 15.7, Justin Verlander 19.4, Kenny Rogers 15, Lefty Gomez 18, Luis Tiant 19.7, Mark Langston 19.1, Max Scherzer 19.7, Mel Harder 16.2, Mike Mussina 19.3, Mort Cooper 15.1, Nolan Ryan 17.1, Orel Hershiser 17.6, Preacher Roe 15, Rick Reuschel 19.3, Ron Guidry 17.2, Roy Oswalt 18.2, Sam McDowell 18.6, Steve Rogers 15.9, Teddy Higuera 18.3, Tex Hughson 15.9, Tim Hudson 16.7, Tim Lincecum 16.5, Tom Glavine 18.6, Urban Shocker 16.1, Vida Blue 17.8, Wes Ferrell 18.3

Curt Davis, Johnny Cueto, Pat Hentgen and Tom Candiotti 14.9. Dick Ellsworth with a 7.4, Mark Fidrych with a 7.3 and Bobby Shantz with a 7.0 the highest single seasons not to reach 15. Jake Arrieta with 10.9 and Jason Schmidt 10.1 the highest 2 year totals not to reach 15 (yet).

Information provided by baseball-reference.com Play Index.
5:05 PM Sep 1st
 
KaiserD2
Just for kicks:

My WAA (again, not WAR) stats for Koufax show the following for 1964-7:

7.7 4.7 5 6.3 (total 23.4)

From his own generation we have Gibson's four best:

6.8 6.3 5.7 5.3 (total 24.2)

which is a little bit better.

Marichal's four best are:

8.1 6 5.6 4.4 (total 24.1)

The defense on Koufax's Dodger teams was excellent, thanks in greatest part to Willie Davis. The Giants' defense was awful, despite Mays. The Cardinals' was nothing to write home about for much of Gibson's career. That accounts in part for this.

No one else in the Silent generation has four years quite that good.

Better than any of these was Bob Feller, 1939-41 and 1946:

6.9 6.8 6.6 6.6

(He obviously did hurt himself in the first half of 1947, as he always claimed, and never approached that again.)

Carlton is indeed very interesting:

8 (1972) 6.8 (1980) 4.1 (1969) 3.9 (1971)
One more comment about Koufax and his Dodgers. In 1965 Sandy did in fact account for virtually all of the Dodgers' pitcher WAA. Dodger pitchers earned 6 wins over .500 for the Dodgers. Giants' pitchers, on the other hand, earned 16 WAA (sic) for the Giants. What distinguished those Dodgers from the other NL contenders was that they had no absolute turkeys in the lineup and their fielding was very good. It earned 5 WAA (the fielding) for the team in 1965, while Giants' fielders cost the team -4 WAA (and their hitters cost them -2 more.) The Dodger pitching overall was much better in 1966 (+11 WAA) and their fielding was another +5. This time the Giants were just a couple of games above average in all three categories.

DK



10:36 AM Sep 1st
 
MarisFan61
.....I realize you were being rhetorical, and weren't really proposing to do any such method.

I'm being mostly rhetorical too -- the point being, not all methods that we might create are equally meaningful. The fact that methods could be constructed that might seem to show some not-great pitchers to be ahead of Koufax doesn't necessarily weigh against those methods that show Koufax ahead of almost everybody.
12:09 AM Sep 1st
 
MarisFan61
Tango: OK, who else would go ahead of Koufax? :-)

Seriously: I'm sure we could "create a system" along the line of what you said, which would put pitchers 'ahead' of Koufax in a way that might seem to argue against Koufax's peak-greatness. But I doubt it would.

Because, I'd guess that in all likelihood, the main thing most of us would conclude from such an exercise would be that the 'system' simply isn't a meaningful or indicative one. You might say that this is circular. I concede that to a large extent it probably would be.

But I can't tell until you give such a list, and the method.
Let's have it! :-)
11:10 PM Aug 31st
 
tangotiger
And by the way, it's not "better". It's "more accomplished".
10:26 AM Aug 31st
 
tangotiger
Koufax WAR in his best 4 years is higher than Steve Carlton's in his best 4 years. So, you CAN create a system, using WAR as the basis, in which Koufax is ahead of Carlton. It would mean completely discarding the rest of Carlton's career. If you think that is unreasonable, then you accept that Carlton is ahead of Koufax.

So, YOU tell me what pitcher with a long career should be ahead of Koufax and what pitcher with a long career should be behind Koufax, then I can create a model using WAR to force that answer. Do you want Glavine ahead or behind? How about Jim Palmer? Marichal? Dysdale? You give me the list.

Once I force that answer however, you may not like the OTHER pitchers that go ahead of Koufax.
10:25 AM Aug 31st
 
Manushfan
Yes I have to agree with Bill on the, say, over reliance on WAR in ranking players today. For example, in Jay Jaffe's book on Cooperstown, he has Koufax rated as the 87th best starter of all time. He acknowledges his great peak, of course-but there it is. He's right there with Burleigh Grimes etc at 90th.

So it's clear his ratings are more a Career ranking than Peak value. But still. I don't think there were 87 guys who were 'better' than Sandy. Seems you could adjust for that a little bit?

I was also under the impression Wes Ferrell was unlucky and played for not so good teams. Guess that was wrong. Good article.
8:13 PM Aug 30th
 
KaiserD2
After some more thought and a night's sleep I would like to revisit the Wes Ferrell controversy. As it turns out, the answer to the question I originally asked--why Ferrell was not on a particular list--is quite simple and Bill provided it.

When I said that I could not understand how Wes Ferrell was not on the list, I was referring to the list of 50 pitchers with the best deserved won-loss records in history, as calculated by Bill. Ferrell, as I mentioned, had five seasons with 4 WAA or more. He is one of only 19 pitchers in baseball (since 1901) to have that many. Thus I certainly expected to find him on the list of the best 50 pittchers, measured by another method, Bill's, which also attempts to correct for team performance.

Now this morning I went back to that list of Bill's. It turns out that Ferrell's actual won-loss record - 193-128, a .601 percentage--is, in fact, superior to the actual records of 16 of the 50 pitchers on Bill's list. More to the point, it is equal to, or superior to, 11 of the deserved winning percentages on the list.

Now without getting into details of how good the Indians, Red Sox and Senators teams for which Ferrell was a regular starter were, let me just say two things. 1) They were better than I originally made them sound. 2) They were below average overall. Bill confirmed that. Now as it happens, in a SABR presentation I did that involved Ferrell, I estimated the winning percentages that the teams he pitched full seasons for would have had with the lineups (hitting and fielding) that they had, and average pitching. The figure for Ferrell's teams was .478, which is lower than their actual percentage. Under the circumstances, I was making the default assumption that since Ferrell's lineups were below average, he was probably better than his won-loss record. As it turns out he would have been on Bill's list even if his deserved record had matched his actual record. To put this another way, Ferrell's actual winning percentage (.601) was .123 better than my estimated percentages of his teams with average pitching, which is a very high figure, and I was giving him credit for that.

Now what Bill is telling us is that my assumption was incorrect, and that Ferrell's pitching was not responsible for a lot of that differential. I am in no position to argue with him. I think this means that one or two factors helped him:

1. His teams scored an unusual number of runs (for them) when he was pitching. This could be partly due to his own hitting prowess, but based on a quick calculation I did about Don Newcombe it seems unlikely that that was a very large factor.

2. Ferrell gave up fewer runs than his walks and hits allowed would normally indicate. Bill, as I understand it, based his calculations on that. Neither baseball-reference (whose data on runs allowed I used) or I did that--we calculated based on actual runs allowed. Now some people would say that if that was true, it meant that Ferrell piotched well "in the clutch," that is, with men on base. But I'd be more inclined to regard it as luck.

Bottom line: Ferrell did pitch for sub .500 lineups (and teams, which would initially suggest that he was better than his record. As it turns out, based on Bill's calculations (which I agree with on so many other pitchers and seasons), it wasn't. Ferrell was in fact lucky in the way the games he pitched played out, and that is why he wasn't on Bill's list of the top 50 pitchers by deserved records, which was my original question.

David Kaiser


7:36 AM Aug 30th
 
BryanBM
1913-1968 there are 27 pennant winning teams with below .600 win%, there are 942 team seasons. Koufax pitches for 12 or 1.3% of all the teams and 3 or 11.1% of the 27 teams. The Dodgers win 15 of Koufax's 23 starts in 1959, if they only win 13 of those starts they are in a tie-breaker or eliminated if one of those losses is to Milwaukee.

Babe Ruth is the best player on the 1916 and 1918 Red Sox who win the pennant by 2 and 2.5 games, he probably has one of the highest Pennant Contributions as a Pitcher. Carl Hubbell is the best player on the 1933 and 1936 Giants who win the pennant by 5 games each time. Lon Warneke and Bill Lee for the 1932 and 1938 Cubs, neither is on both teams. Hal Newhouser is the best player on the 1945 Tigers who win by 1.5 but the Tigers only win 9 of his 20 starts in 1940 when they win by 1.

The 1958 Yankees win by 10 games even with a .597 win% and the 1968 Cardinals win by 9 with .599 so hard for a player even if they are also on 1962 Yankees or 1964 Cardinals to be the difference for 2 pennants. Jesse Haines might have pushed the 1926 and 1930 Cardinals over the top but only because they win by 2 games each time not because he was a great pitcher.

There are close pennant races even by teams over .600 win% and players get traded but those were the easy examples to find with a search. Also unclear how many pitchers can claim Pennant Credit on the same team, Drysdale gets 1959 winning by 2 games but other pitchers can also be the difference. Koufax is the only one with a case in 1963 (.611, not one of 27 seasons) but in 1965 and 1966 other pitchers can again be a difference maker.
2:59 PM Aug 29th
 
hotstatrat
Thank you, Zeke**. Yes, steve161, that was precisely my point. All that effective pitching was skill. The fact that it aligned in perfect timing with the Dodgers' needs was mostly luck (if not completely so).
12:36 PM Aug 29th
 
arnewcs
One way to look at Koufax's Pennant Contributions would be to do a simulation where you replace him in the Dodgers' 1962-1966 rotation with a carbon copy of Drysdale. How many games, and pennants, do those Dodger teams win with a top two of Drysdale and Drysdale, rather than Koufax and Drysdale?
12:03 PM Aug 29th
 
Zeke**
@steve161:
Not hotstatrat, but since he said the same thing I was thinking... Anyway, no one would suggest Koufax's results weren't skill-based; what's "lucky" is that in his greatest seasons the Dodgers were exactly good enough to not win the pennant without him.

If his teammates were a little worse (or a bit better!) in those seasons, his historical dominance doesn't swing all those pennants.
8:58 AM Aug 29th
 
KaiserD2
I appreciate that Bill took up the issue of Wes Ferrell. I also have to admit that I exaggerated how bad his teams were. But I cannot account for the different evaluations that Bill and I have of him. The main reason I am so puzzled is that this very exceptional. Most the statements Bill made about various seasons by various pitchers in this study tracked very closely with my WAA results. These ones do not.

Looking at my own results again, however, I do see how this might have happened. Ferrell was not only (in my opinion) a great pitcher for quite a few years, he had one of the most erratic records of any pitcher in history. My argument for him is based on five extraordinary seasons: 1929 (4 WAA), 1930 (4.5 WAA), 1932 (4.4 WAA), 1935 (5 WAA), and 1936 (4.1 WAA.) That is a very exceptional number of superstar seasons for a pitcher, particularly in Ferrell's generation. Newhouser was the only other pitcher of that generation to have 5; Feller and Hubbell had 4. And that's one more than Sandy Koufax had. And the main thing I did throughout my book was to count superstar seasons (4 WAA or more) to evaluate individual players.

But as I look at Ferrell's record again, I have to admit that he is a very special case. In addition to those five great seasons he had two "star" seasons of 3.4 WAA (1931) and 2.1 WAA (1934.) That makes 7 great or very good seasons out of ten seasons in which he was a regular starting pitcher. But of the other three seasons, he was barely average in one of them (1933) and he was awful in 1937-8, which would have pulled his effective won-loss record down.

There could be something else at work, too. My method basically comes from baseball-reference.com, which simply compares how many runs a pitcher gave up to how many they estimate an average pitcher would have given up against the same opponents with the same defense. (I also use different defensive statistics than baseball-reference.) Bill on the other hand used the walks and hits a pitcher gave up, as I understand it, to try to estimate how many runs he would have given up, all things being equal. It's possible that Ferrell had a remarkable record of giving up fewer runs than his walks and hits would have indicated.

My evaluation of Ferrell had nothing to do with his hitting prowess--I didn't evaluate hitting by pitchers at all.

I still think Ferrell ranks as a great pitcher and should be in the Hall of Fame based upon his five great seasons, but it's certainly true that most of the pitchers in the Hall were at least marginally effective for far more seasons than he was.

David Kaiser
8:10 AM Aug 29th
 
steve161
hotstatrat, does this really say what you intended it to? "As Bill began to point out, it is probably not a skill. It is more likely just a lucky alignment of good seasons at the right time."

Koufax's superiority was surely a skill; maybe he was lucky that his Dodgers weren't as woeful as Steve Carlton's Phillies, but it doesn't alter the fact that, as Bill says, the Dodgers don't win those pennants if he is anything less than historically dominant.

Or am I misunderstanding your argument?
7:36 AM Aug 29th
 
CharlesSaeger
Riceman1974: It does when he's going up against a guy who has a 25 OPS+. BB-ref.com has Ferrell as adding 12.8 wins as a hitter as opposed to an average hitting pitcher.
6:30 AM Aug 29th
 
Riceman1974
Aren't we overrating Wes Farrell's hitting just a little? For his era he was an average hitter. I realize that most pitchers even in his era had an OPS+ of 20-25 or so, so a guy with an OPS+ of 100 is of tremendous value, but is having an average hitter in the 9th slot every 4 days making that much of a difference?
5:14 AM Aug 29th
 
hotstatrat
Isn't consistency a good thing? Would a team prefer a guy they could rely on to be a 15-12 pitcher or a pitcher who is injured or horrible two out of three years, but then has a great year every now and then. Your BoSox, Bill, did well with Clay Buchholz of that ilk. But, you guys didn't count on his coming on so strongly in 2013, did you? Yes, teams gear up and rebuild, but probably most teams are in gear up mode at the start of the season - just getting the best players they can, then seeing where the chips are falling in July. With consistent players, you can make better decisions over the winter about whether to gear up or not.

That said, if all your players are consistent and merely good, you'll not win a tittle, so a mixture of the two types is ideal, I suppose.
6:25 PM Aug 28th
 
FrankD
Interesting ... as an aside is Bartolo Colon picking up huge 'contribution' points if the Twinkies make the playoffs? I think Bill touched on this with BJHA about Campenela. Huge variation in yearly statistics but in best seasons he carried Brooklyn to pennants. I think that somehow contributions to pennants/playoffs have to be recognized - "that's why we play the game" ...... certainly most fans and HoF voters seem to recognize this - that having a great season on a pennant winner is more important than having a great season on the '51 Pirates .......
5:48 PM Aug 28th
 
jemanji
This is an important paradigm, and has not been properly weighted in my opinion. In pro sports, GM's are trying to create PERFECT STORMS at a moment in time.

Sabermetricians tacitly concede this when they speak of "rebuilding properly" - i.e., if your team is below .500, you should concede defeat and trade heavy contracts for prospects, avoid signing pricey FA's, and so forth. We all understand this to be true, the search for a "perfect storm" at a moment in time -- but we are not sufficiently clear on it, as it pertains to any tactic other than waving the white flag when losing.

Sandy Koufax, as an asset, fit into the concept of "Perfect Storm Radar Search" better than some other pitcher who looked good in a $-per-WAR paradigm.

Not all WAR are created equal, not all 85-win seasons are created equal, and this is a macro idea that need much more attention.

... on OUR part, that is. People running sports franchises have always had a better focus on it than we have.


5:42 PM Aug 28th
 
tangotiger
You said this:
"Pitcher A was responsible for 24 decisions a season, and had a .625 expected winning percentage every season.... Pitcher A, the least like Koufax, increased the number of pennants won by his team from 1,012 in 10,000 seasons to 1,240, an increase of 228."

Instead of .625, if you made it .630, what would be the increase? And .635, what would be the increase? More specifically, what value would you need to change the .625 to, in order to get an increase of 343 pennants?​
5:16 PM Aug 28th
 
bjames
Don't understand the question.
5:00 PM Aug 28th
 
tangotiger
Bill: what winning percentage for Pitcher A would you have to give in order to make this statement also true:

"... increased the number of pennants won by his team from 1,012 to 1,355, an increase of 343."
4:30 PM Aug 28th
 
chuck
Thanks for including Ned Garver in this piece, Bill. I'm glad to see that he comes up here a respectable distance above .500. I still think there are a couple of things that make him unluckier than the record you have him at.

One is hitting. Garver wasn't Ferrell, but he had a goodly number of runs created (46) above the average pitcher, according to Baseball-reference. That seems like it would be worth around 4 wins.

The other is his effect on batted balls. Some pitchers can seem to have an effect on it (it seems to be a trait among knuckleball and spitball pitchers, for instance) in that in comparison to the rest of their staff they much more often than not have a lower ball-in-play average. Garver is one of those cases, and is one of the unusual variety: pitchers without a high strikeout rate that still get lower than expected ball-in-play averages.

Garver had a .268 ball-in-play career average, compared to a .277 expected, if one prorates his seasonal balls-in-play to the league norm. So, in your method, one would be using that .277 and Garver's balls in play.
However, Ned pitched for some shoddy defenses. If one removes his stats from the team, the ball-in-play average for the other pitchers was .292.

He was 79 hits better than the league, so those 79 get wiped out; BUT he showed that he was 204 hits better than the rest of the staffs he was on. It would be understandable, if Garver had a .292 ball-in-play average, to adjust that down to a league average .277; that would take his subpar defense and possible park conditions that favored hitters out of the mix. But in his case he was on the other side of the fence, and gets those hits better-than-team all removed when figuring his expected runs. I don't know what 204 hits in play might be worth- another 10 wins?

Here are the ratios of Garver's ball-in-play averages to his pitcher teammates, expressed on a 100 scale. Below 100 is better than team.
YEAR .. Ratio
1948 .. 092 (Browns)
1949 .. 094
1950 .. 089
1951 .. 088
1952 .. 087 (with Browns)
1952 .. 094 (with Tigers)
1953 .. 098
1954 .. 088
1955 .. 106
1956 .. 080
1957 .. 083 (Athletics)
1958 .. 088
1959 .. 091
1960 .. 083
1961 .. 133 (Angels)
3:37 PM Aug 28th
 
Gfletch
You said, "I don’t understand what the hell David is talking about, frankly."

I pretty sure David was talking about his book.
2:47 PM Aug 28th
 
hotstatrat
Agreed that Pennant Contributions Above Replacement is something worth considering for a player's overall value. Most sports writers strongly considered it in their MVP voting during the 20th century - even if they didn't call it that. Thus, you have Ken Boyer (6.1 brWAR) winning the MVP in 1964 over Willie Mays (11.0 brWAR), and Orlando Cepeda (6.8) winning the award in 1967 over Ron Santo (9.8). Continuing in the division era, you had Harmon Killebrew (6.2) winning in 1969 over Rico Petrocelli (10.0), then a year later Boog Powell (5.1) over Carl Yastrzemski (9.5). In 1974, Steve Garvey (4.4) won over Mike Schmidt (9.7). . . you get the idea - and some of that is due to the misunderstanding of RBI as a particularly important skill.

However, I argue against givng it a large amount of weight for two reasons. 1) As Bill began to point out, it is probably not a skill. It is more likely just a lucky alignment of good seasons at the right time. I'll concede that in baseball we should give some credit for good luck, but do so more modestly than more clearly skilled achievements.

2) Winning games during the regular season are good thing whether the team has a chance for the pennant or not. Fans enjoy games more whe their team wins. Probably fans enjoy games even more when their team has a chance of winning a pennant. Fans can take pride in their team having a "winning season". Thus there is a gamut of significance and enjoyment that can be attached to a win based on that team's season. It certainly isn't pennant or zero. Not for me, at least, nor I think most of us if we are honest with ourselves.
12:14 PM Aug 28th
 
r44fletch
Now there are two names I thought I'd never see in the same sentence... Babe Ruth and Roberto Alomar.

I was a HUGE Koufax guy when I was a kid so I'm pretty happy seeing him getting this recognition from the MAN.
11:03 AM Aug 28th
 
MarisFan61
Love the article. To me it's another example of (I'd say this even more than I do if I weren't worried it would seem like ass-kissing) of how Bill, far more than any other leading figure in the field, looks at questions thoughtfully and creatively, not simply or mechanically.

BTW, this isn't the whole story of why Koufax was greater than he looks to 21st century sabermetricians, and Bill doesn't say it is. It's an additional way, besides the usual ways that many of us argue.

I expect that many will argue that there's no reason to think that Koufax's having had this kind of effect on pennant races was anything other than chance, maybe with part of the argument being the semi-chanceness of W-L records, in addition to "being in the right place at the right time." And I don't think that could be refuted. But, 'it was what it was': It happened, and it had a certain value toward the pennants (and championships).
10:35 AM Aug 28th
 
 
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