The Best Players of the Last 50 Years - Part XI - Starting Pitchers (1-10)

August 8, 2021
Continuing the countdown with the top 10....
 
Probably no big surprises to you in this bunch. Everyone in the top 10 is either:
 
a) A Hall of Famer
b) A near-lock future Hall of Famer, or
c) Roger Clemens (he gets his own category)
 
The 10 pitchers reviewed below have accounted for 36 Cy Young awards among them, with each pitcher winning at least 2.
 
To tell you the truth, I'm not sure there's a whole lot I can tell you about these 10 that you don't already know. So, I'll be relatively brief in the profiles, and maybe there will be a tidbit or two that you weren't aware of, and occasionally I'll wander off onto other tangents along the say.
 
#10-Roy Halladay
 Best category: W-L % (3rd with .659), All Star Games (6th with 8)
Worst category: Games Started (79th with 390)
 
Halladay to me is a clear "Pitcher of the Decade"....provided we define the right "decade". Traditionally, when we see "decade" teams, they correspond a 10-year period with a starting year that ends in a "0" and an final year that ends in a "9". For example, "The 60's" would typically refer to 1960-1969. That's a psychologically satisfying way for our brains to think of 10-year chunks of time.
 
If we refer to a traditional decade, then Halladay is surely among the contenders for the top pitcher of the 2000's (2000-2009). Among the best....but probably not THE best. In the Johan Santana profile (#22 in the rankings), I suggested Randy Johnson as #1 for that decade, Pedro Martinez #2, and Halladay, Santana, and Curt Schilling in competition for #3.
 
However, if we shift out a couple of years and redefine the "decade" as 2002-2011, Halladay is, I believe, a clear #1 for that 10-year time frame. Below is a list of the top 20 starting pitchers (by WAR) over that time frame:
 
Player
WAR
Age
GS
IP
W
L
ERA
ERA+
CG
SHO
Roy Halladay
62.5
25-34
303
2,194
170
75
2.97
148
63
18
Johan Santana
50.5
23-31
254
1,779
130
66
2.90
150
13
8
CC Sabathia
46.9
21-30
322
2,184
159
91
3.44
127
33
12
Roy Oswalt
46.4
24-33
306
2,012
145
90
3.25
131
17
7
Mark Buehrle
42.3
23-32
330
2,204
141
110
3.87
118
23
6
Tim Hudson
40.4
26-35
289
1,929
132
80
3.34
127
18
10
Carlos Zambrano
38.4
21-30
281
1,819
124
79
3.55
124
9
4
Javier Vazquez
34.1
25-34
320
2,071
124
117
4.11
107
18
3
Randy Johnson
33.0
38-45
212
1,387
103
65
3.61
125
21
7
Brandon Webb
33.0
24-30
198
1,319
87
62
3.27
142
15
8
Josh Beckett
32.5
22-31
272
1,697
123
79
3.87
114
10
5
Curt Schilling
32.2
35-40
157
1,102
84
45
3.63
129
12
4
Dan Haren
31.4
22-30
256
1,700
107
84
3.59
119
15
5
Cliff Lee
30.8
23-32
250
1,641
119
69
3.65
116
26
11
Ted Lilly
29.4
26-35
294
1,758
120
103
4.02
110
5
3
Pedro Martinez
28.8
30-37
180
1,134
87
41
3.32
135
10
2
Felix Hernandez
28.6
19-25
205
1,388
85
67
3.24
128
18
4
Jake Peavy
28.6
21-30
250
1,581
109
81
3.47
114
9
5
Justin Verlander
28.3
22-28
199
1,315
107
57
3.54
124
14
5
Chris Carpenter
28.0
27-36
207
1,405
99
47
3.18
130
22
10
 
Now, granted, that 10-year time frame is favorable to Halladay because it represents the best 10-year slice of his career, and some of the other great pitchers that have a portion of their career in that time frame (like Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez) have had some of their better years shift out of the picture. But, still, if that's your 10-year snapshot, Halladay is clearly the best covering the entirety of that "decade". He has the most wins and the most innings, and among this group he's second only to Santana in both ERA and ERA+. Not that complete games mean a whole lot, but he had roughly double the #2 man (Sabathia) in that category, and he hurled 6 more shutouts than anyone as well. Santana is fairly close overall, but I think Halladay would take the prize.
 
Speaking of complete games, Halladay ranks very high all time in terms of the # of years he led the league in that catgegory. Now, complete games don't have the allure they used to years ago since starting pitchers over time accumulate fewer and fewer innnings, and Halladay never even reached 10 in a single season as the standards for league leadership dropped dramatically over time, but, for what it's worth, Halladay did league the league in that category 7 times.   Here are the MLB all-time leaders in that category:
 
Pitcher
# of Times Led League in Complete Games
Warren Spahn
9
Roy Halladay
7
Grover Alexander
6
Walter Johnson
6
Bob lemon
5
Robin Roberts
5
Wes Ferrell
4
Burleigh Grimes
4
Fergie Jenkins
4
Randy Johnson
4
Phil Niekro
4
Curt Schillng
4
 
 
#9-Max Scherzer
 Best category: WAR/200 IP (5th with 5.24), W-L% (6th with .653), K/BB Ratio (6th with 4.34)
Worst category: Games Started (99th with 368)
 
Scherzer is probably the best "big game" pitcher of this generation. Now, by "big game", I don't necessarily mean "important" games, or games in a pennant chase or in the postseason. I mean "spectacular" games.
 
The standard for "spectacular" is probably Nolan Ryan. Ryan has 7 no-hitters, 12 one-hitters, and 18 two-hitters, typically with impressive strikeout totals. Sandy Koufax and Bob Feller also had several impressive low-hit games in their careers. 
 
Bill's "Game Score" is a popular method for summarizing a starting pitcher's performance and expressing it as a single number. The highest Game Scores of all time are games where the starting pitchers threw a high number of innings (as that is one of the components of the calculation). The two highest games scores of all time were by opposing pitchers Joe Oeschger of Boston (153) and Leon Cadore of Brooklyn (140) in their epic 26-inning 1-1 tie in 1920. 
 
If we limit it to 9 innings or less, this is a list of all Game Scores of 100 or higher:
 
Player
Date
Tm
Opp
Rslt
IP
H
R
BB
SO
GSc
HBP
Kerry Wood
5/6/1998
CHC
HOU
W 2-0
9
1
0
0
20
105
1
Max Scherzer
10/3/2015
WSN
NYM
W 2-0
9
0
0
0
17
104
0
Clayton Kershaw
6/18/2014
LAD
COL
W 8-0
9
0
0
0
15
102
0
Matt Cain
6/13/2012
SFG
HOU
W 10-0
9
0
0
0
14
101
0
Nolan Ryan
5/1/1991
TEX
TOR
W 3-0
9
0
0
2
16
101
0
Sandy Koufax
9/9/1965
LAD
CHC
W 1-0
9
0
0
0
14
101
0
Nap Rucker
9/5/1908
BRO
BSN
W 6-0
9
0
0
0
14
101
0
Justin Verlander
9/1/2019
HOU
TOR
W 2-0
9
0
0
1
14
100
0
Gerrit Cole
5/4/2018
HOU
ARI
W 8-0
9
1
0
1
16
100
0
Max Scherzer
6/14/2015
WSN
MIL
W 4-0
9
1
0
1
16
100
0
Brandon Morrow
8/8/2010
TOR
TBR
W 1-0
9
1
0
2
17
100
0
Randy Johnson
5/18/2004
ARI
ATL
W 2-0
9
0
0
0
13
100
0
Curt Schilling
4/7/2002
ARI
MIL
W 2-0
9
1
0
2
17
100
0
Nolan Ryan
7/15/1973
CAL
DET
W 6-0
9
0
0
4
17
100
0
Nolan Ryan
7/9/1972
CAL
BOS
W 3-0
9
1
0
1
16
100
0
Warren Spahn
9/16/1960
MLN
PHI
W 4-0
9
0
0
2
15
100
0
 
Scherzer's no-hitter above is the second highest 9-inning Game Score in history (104) behind Kerry Wood's memorable 20-strikeout one-hitter (105). It wasn't quite a perfect game, as one batter reached on an error. Scherzer's one-hit, one walk game scores at 100. 
 
Scherzer has had a third extremely high Game Score in his career that's a little shy of this list, that being his second career no-hitter. That one doesn't rate quite as high (97) because he only struck out 10. That game line is below. Similar to his earlier no-hitter, Scherzer only allowed one batter to reach, and this one was tantalizingly close (Jose Tabata of the Pirates was hit by a pitch with 2 outs in the 9th, on a 2-2 count).
 
Player
Date
Tm
Opp
Rslt
IP
H
R
BB
SO
GSc
HBP
Max Scherzer
6/20/2015
WSN
PIT
W 6-0
9
0
0
0
10
97
1
 
Notice anything about Sherzer's three elite performances? Yep, they all occurred in 2015. Two of them (the one-hitter and the first no-hitter) were in consecutive starts in June.
 
Max's W-L record that season? 14-12. He did finish 5th in the Cy Young voting,though.
 
Speaking of Cy Young results, Scherzer's streak of 7 straight top-5 finishes (including 3 wins) is one of the more impressive Cy Young runs we've seen. It's not THE most impressive....Clayton Kershaw also had a 7-year run with even more impressive finishes, and Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson each won 4 in a row, but it's got to be right up there.
 
#8-Justin Verlander
 Best category: All Star Games (6th with 8), Cy Young Points (10th with 60)
Worst category: Games Started (46th with 454)
 
When I first sat down to do these rankings, I didn't anticipate Verlander finishing quite this high, but it's certainly been an impressive career, and I'm sure he's a lock for Cooperstown.
 
There was a time when I had my doubts about his case. He had a mediocre 2014 (15-12 4.54), and, perhaps most concerning, his K/9 dropped from 8.9 in 2013 to 6.9 in 2014. Then he followed that up with an injury-plagued 2015. But, he came back with a vengeance and had a spectacular run from 2016-2019 that I believe sealed the deal for him.
 
Verlander has one of the highest Black Ink (league leadership) scores in history. Here are the top 20:
 
Rank
Pitcher
Black Ink Score
1
Walter Johnson
150
2
Pete Alexander
130
3
Ray Brown
115
4
Lefty Grove
111
5
Cy Young
102
6
Warren Spahn
101
7
Roger Clemens
100
8
Randy Johnson
99
9
Bob Feller
98
10
Christy Mathewson
92
11
Greg Maddux
87
12
Nolan Ryan
84
13
Satchel Paige
80
14
Sandy Koufax
78
15
Hilton Smith
74
16
Steve Carlton
69
17
Ed Walsh
67
18-t
Dazzy Vance
66
18-t
Justin Verlander
66
20
Clayton Kershaw
65
 
 
#7-Steve Carlton
 Best category: All Star Games (3rd with 10), Cy Young Points (4th with 70), Games Started (5th with 709)
Worst category: K/BB Ratio (105th with 2.26)
 
Carlton was often referred to as "Lefty", although it wasn't part of his common "baseball name" like it was for fellow Hall of Famers Lefty Grove and Lefty Gomez. For many years, "Lefty" was one of the tried and true baseball nicknames (especially for left handed pitchers). Try a search by typing "Lefty" into the search bar on baseball-reference.com. When you hit enter, you see the results. It lists 205 major league players (and 87 minor league players) who have been nicknamed "Lefty", some of whom have it in their "common" baseball name, but most who have it listed as a separate "nickname" entry. 
 
The most prominent Leftys are:
 
·         The 3 Hall of Fame pitchers (Steve "Lefty" Carlton, Lefty Grove, and Lefty Gomez)

·         Lefty O'Doul - one-time pitcher who evolved into a two-time NL batting champ in the 1920's and 1930's, NL MVP runner-up to Rogers Hornsby in 1929.

·         Lefty Leifield - a prominent member of the outstanding Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation in the early 1900's.

·         Lefty Williams - One of the notorious "Eight Men Out" from the 1919 White Sox, a two-time 20 game winner.

·         Lefty Tyler - Quality pitcher for the Braves in the 1910's, possibly the 3rd best lefty in the history of that organization (clearly behind Warren Spahn and Tom Glavine, but in a battle with Ed Brandt and Steve Avery)

·         Lefty Stewart - Underrated pitcher who had some good years in the 1920's and 1930's with the Browns and the Senators.

·         Lefty Marr - Primarily an outfielder and a third baseman, had a couple of notable seasons in the American Association for Columbus and Cincinnati in the National League in the late 1800's.

·         Lefty Davis - Was kind of a fourth outfielder for two outstanding Pittsburgh teams (1901, 1902), sharing the outfield with some pretty decent talent - Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, and Ginger Beaumont.

·         Lefty Phillips - Managed the Angels for 3 seasons (1969-1971)

The following notable players list "Lefty" as a nickname, though not part of their common baseball name reference:
 
·         Thornton Lee - Lee is an underrated pitcher in that his traditional record isn't outstanding (117-124, 3.56), but he was a terrific pitcher. Had a Cy Young award been present in 1941, he might have won one (probably would have come down to Lee and Bob Feller), and he had a sparkling career ERA+ of 119.

·         William Watson Clark - Better known as "Watty", Clark was similar to Lee although probably just a little below in quality. His career line was 111-97, 3.66, but he had a nice 112 ERA+, and was a quality pitcher for Brooklyn in the late 20's and early 30's.

·         Frank Killen - A successful starting pitcher for Pittsburgh in 1890's National League, twice leading the league with 30 or more wins.

·         George Brunet - Also nicknamed "Red", most famous for pitching many years after the Majors. Brunet pitched for 15 seasons in the Majors for 9 different franchises (mostly with the Angels) but then tacked on several seasons after that (mostly in the Mexican League). Baseball-refrence.com lists his seasons going through age 49,but his SABR bio indicates that he pitched through age 54. Including Winter ball, he is estimated to have thrown 6,000 innings for 36 different teams, and he is a member of the Mexican League's Hall of Fame.

·         Bill Wight - pitched 12 seasons in the 1940's and 1950's, most notably for the White Sox

·         Morrie Martin - Pitched 10 seasons, mostly with the A's in the 1950s.

·         Marius Russo - Pitched for the Yankees 1939-1943, and was pretty successful, including making the 1941 All Star team. However, he went into the military for a couple of years, returned in 1946 at age 31 but wasn't the same pitcher, and then hung it up.

·         Cliff Chambers - Was a decent pitcher in the late 1940s and early 1950s, mostly for the Pirates and the Cardinals, had double-digit wins 3 seasons in a row.

There may be a couple of recent exceptions, but I think the nickname essentially fell out of common usage after Carlton.
 
#6-Clayton Kershaw
 Best category: ERA+ (1st with 157, W-L % (1st with .694), WAR/200 IP (2nd with 5.94)
Worst category: Games Started (106th with 355)
 
#5-Pedro Martinez
 Best category: ERA+ (2nd with 154), W-L % (2nd with .687), WAR/200 IP (3rd with 5.94)
Worst category: Games Started (70th with 409)
 
Kershaw and Martinez are adjacent in my rankings, and they rank pretty similarly across the board in the categories I used, so I thought they might be interesting to look at side by side.
 
Here is their raw data in those categories:
Name
WAR
WAR200
WAR7
CY Points
ASG
GS
ERA+
W-L%
K/BB
WAA
Pedro
83.9
5.94
58.2
65
8
409
154
.687
4.15
59.2
Kershaw
69.5
5.94
49.7
65
8
355
157
.694
4.31
50.9
 
And, here's how they rank in the data set in each of those categories (out of 226 pitchers):
Name
Rank WAR
Rank WAR200
Rank WAR7
Rank CY
Rank ASG
Rank Games Started
Rank ERA+
Rank W-L %
Rank K/BB
Rank WAA
Pedro
10
3
4
7
6
70
2
2
9
5
Kershaw
17
2
13
7
6
106
1
1
7
7
 
So, basically they're very similar across the board, with Pedro having a little separation in career WAR, best-7-seasons of WAR, and Games Started, which is essentailly what gives Pedro the slight edge in the overall rankings. At the time I pulled the data, Pedro had about 50 starts and about 500 career innings more than Kershaw, which is part of why he's higher in something like career WAR. On a per-inning basis, they are neck and neck in WAR "rate". In every other category, they're within 1-2 ranking slots of each other. 
 
Kershaw and Pedro are at or near the top in ERA+, W-L%, and WAR per 200 innings pitched (Kershaw's ranking in all categories, of course, is fluid since he's still active).
 
Other similarities:
 
·         Pedro and Kershaw each took home 3 Cy Young awards, and each finished 2nd two other years. Pedro also had a 3rd place finish and a 4th place finish, while Kershaw had a 3rd and a 5th
 
·         Pedro and Kershaw each owns one World Series championship ring, and each one occurred in his age 32 season, and while each was still very good in those seasons (2004 for Pedro, 2020 for Kershaw), I think it's fair to say that they weren't quite up to their more dominant individual seasons. However, they both did pitch well in their respective World Series starts in those championship seasons.

·         Pedro and Kershaw each won 5 ERA crowns, tied for third all-time with Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, and Christy Mathewson (behind Lefty Grove with 9 and Roger Clemens with 7).

#4-Greg Maddux
 Best category: WAR (3rd with 107), Cy Young Points (3rd with 85), Games Started (3rd with 740), WAA (3rd with 66.8)
Worst category: K/BB ratio (30th with 3.37)
 
Maddux and Randy Johnson (who I have a couple of spots ahead of Maddux) are the only two pitchers with 4 consecutive Cy Young awards. I got to wondering, whose run was more impressive? I decided to evaluate the two stretches.
 
First, here are some basic stat comparisons for each over their 4-year runs:
 
Totals of all 4 Years
Pitcher
Year
W
L
W-L%
ERA
GS
IP
H
ER
HR
BB
SO
CG
SHO
Maddux
1992-1995
75
29
.721
1.98
124
946
726
208
33
176
733
37
11
Johnson
1999-2002
81
27
.750
2.48
139
1,030
787
284
98
288
1,417
31
11
 
Average of 4 Years
Pitcher
Year
W
L
W-L%
ERA
GS
IP
H
ER
HR
BB
SO
CG
SHO
Maddux
1992-1995
19
7
.721
1.98
31
237
182
52
8
44
183
9
3
Johnson
1999-2002
20
7
.750
2.48
35
258
197
71
24
72
354
8
3
 
Seasonal Notation (Per Baseball-reference.com, Normalized to 34 Starts)
Pitcher
Year
W
L
W-L%
ERA
GS
IP
H
ER
HR
BB
SO
CG
SHO
Maddux
1992-1995
21
8
.721
1.98
34
260
200
58
10
49
201
11
4
Johnson
1999-2002
20
7
.750
2.48
34
252
192
70
24
71
346
8
3
 
And, here are some ratio/rate stats to compare (these don't change based on averages or seasonal notation, so there's only one line each):
 
Pitcher
Year
ERA+
FIP
WHIP
H9
HR9
BB9
SO9
SO/W
Maddux
1992-1995
202
2.54
0.953
6.9
0.3
1.7
7.0
4.2
Johnson
1999-2002
187
2.53
1.044
6.9
0.9
2.5
12.4
4.9
 
In comparing these, Johnson's raw totals in some categories are better, but Johnson had the benefit of 15 additional starts, which are really directly attributable to Maddux have 2 of his seasons (1994 and 1995) abbreviated by work stoppages. In the 2 non-strike seasons, he started 35 and 36 games, respectively, and in the 2 strike seasons, he only was able to start 25 (out of 114 team games) and 28 (out of 144 team games), respectively. If you prorate his starts for those 2 seasons, he would have had 36 and 32 starts, respectively. That would have given him 139 starts over the 4 years, which would have matched Johnson's total.
 
What about WAR? Maddux posted figures of 9.1, 5.8, 8.5, and 9.7 for a total of 33.1, but, again, Maddux pitched in abbreviated seasons in those last 2. Adjusting for games played, those would project to the equivalent of 12.1 and 10.9 for 1994 and 1995, respectively. That would boost him to 37.9 for a 4-year total.
 
Johnson's 4-year WAR figures are 9.1, 8.1, 10.1, and 10.7, respectively, for a 4-year total of 38.1. So, even if you adjust Maddux to full seasons, he's not higher than Johnson, but he is essentially even.   And, the relative "dud" season of the 8 is Maddux's 1993, where he went 20-10, led the league with a 2.36 ERA, 267 IP, and a 170 ERA+.
 
What about Cy Young award results? Here's how Baseball-reference.com summarized those 2 runs in terms of Cy Young "Shares" (calculated as the number of points a player received for a particular award vs. the total points available of all first-place votes
 
Maddux
Johnson
1992 NL (93%)
1999 NL (84%)
1993 NL (85%)
2000 NL (83%)
1994 NL (100%)
2001 NL (98%)
1995 NL (100%)
2002 NL (100%)
 
Maddux had 2 unanimous selections vs. 1 for Johnson. Adding up the shares gives Maddux a slight edge of 3.78 vs. 3.65. Not an overwhelming edge, but an edge nonetheless.
 
Looking a the entire picture and adjusting for the differences in starts due to lost opportunities for Maddux, Maddux's numbers look superior to me. Johnson's ERA and ERA+ are both superb, but Maddux's are better. Johnson does have a better K/BB ratio, but Maddux was stingier with the base runners, and I have to admit I was a little surprised that Maddux had a Hits per 9 inning rate that was equal to Johnson's. I would have bet that Johnson would have yielded fewer hits, but I would have been wrong. Maddux also was better at avoiding the long ball, as his HR per 9 innings rate was about one-third that of Johnson's.
 
Johnson does edge Maddux in WAR, and his average strikeout figure of 354 per season is simply amazing. But, looking at the entire picture, I'd go with Maddux in the 4-year comparison.
 
#3-Tom Seaver
 Best category: All Star Games (1st with 12), WAR (2nd with 110), WAA (2nd with 68.9)
Worst category: K/BB Ratio (63rd with 2.62)
 
Like a lot of the "older" pitchers in my dataset, Seaver's K/BB ratio and ranking is somewhat a product of his era. A 2.6 K/BB ratio was actually pretty good in Seaver's era, and Seaver led the league 3 times in that category. However, strikeout (and K/BB ratio) standards have increased so much in recent years that Seaver ranks relatively low in that category compared to others. If I had taken steps to normalize K/BB ratios, Seaver would certainly rank much better there, but I didn't go to those lengths.
 
Seaver won 3 Cy Youngs, but could have easily won more. He could have won in 1971 (20-10, 1.76). His ERA was 1 full run per game less than Fergie Jenkins (24-13, 2.77). Not that Jenkins was a bad choice, at all....he had 40 more innings than Seaver, and their WAR figures were virtually identical (Seaver 10.2, Jenkins 10.1). 
 
I think Seaver may not quite get his due as a great all-time strikeout pitcher, and that's unfortunate. Sure, he's got over 3,000, but I don't know if he necessarily jumps out to many as a great strikeout pitcher. His K/9 rate of 6.8 looks pretty puny by today's standards, but Seaver was one of the great strikeout artists ever, once proper adjustments are made. 
 
Leading the league in K/9 is a good indicator. Below is the list of MLB pitchers who had the most times in which they led their league in strikeouts per 9 innings:
 
Player
Times Led League
Nolan Ryan
12
Randy Johnson
9
Dazzy Vance
9
Rube Waddell
8
Walter Johnson
8
Sandy Koufax
7
Sam McDowell
6
Tom Seaver
6
Bob Feller
5
Lefty Grove
5
Pedro Martinez
5
Amos Rusie
5
 
The thing I like about this list is that it basically covers the entire span of baseball history highlighting the great strikeout artists of each era. From Amos Rusie in the 1890's through Pedro & the Big Unit in the 1990's and into the 2000's, there's a continuity there, one great strikeout pitcher after another, that pretty much covers the game's history. Chronologically, it flows from Rusie to Waddell to Walter Johnson to Vance to Grove to Feller to Koufax to McDowell to Seaver to Ryan to Randy Johnson and Pedro, without any real big gaps in coverage. The standards have changed over time, but that's probably as accurate a picture of the great strikeout pitchers as you will find. And Seaver belongs right up there among the elite.
 
#2-Randy Johnson
 Best category: WAR7 (2nd with 61.5), Cy Young Points (2nd with 95), All Star Games (3rd with 10), WAR (4th with 101), WAA (4th with 64.9)
Worst category: K/BB Ratio (34th with 3.26)
 
One of the great late bloomers of all time. 
 
Through most of his 20's, it's fair to say Randy Johnson had done little that would make you think that he had any kind of chance for a Hall of Fame career. Talented and spectacular? Absolutely? But at the same time, very wild and untamed.
 
Johnson did make the All Star team in 1990 at age 26, and he led the league in strikeouts two years later, but even in that season he was walking over 6 batters per 9 innings. It wasn't until his age 29 season that he really took a big step towards greatness, striking out over300 batters and making a drastic improvement in his control, dropping his BB/9 from 6.2 to a respectable 3.5. He finished second in the Cy Young voting in that 1993 campaign, and there was no stopping him then.
 
I was curious how much of a typical Hall of Famer's value is realized prior to age 30, and how much is after? I used the Stathead tool on baseball-reference.com to query how much pitching WAR (as opposed to total WAR, which would include hitting) Hall of Fame pitchers had generated both before and after their age 30 seasons. After filtering out those who had pitching stats but aren't in the Hall of Fame for their pitching (Ted Williams, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, etc.), Negro League pitchers (because there is so much missing data that I felt would it would result in possible distortions on age splits), and relief pitchers (Mariano Rivera, Bruce Sutter, etc.), I ended up with 65 starting pitchers. 
 
As it turns out, the average is pretty close to a 50/50 split (53% before age 30, 47% for age 30 and after). The data is listed below, sorted by the % of their career pitching WAR (not total career WAR, which would include hitting) that was achieved in their age 30 season or later. 
 
You probably won't be surprised at the #1 guy, as Dazzy Vance is often cited as one of baseball's great late bloomer stories. The Big Unit comes in at #3:
 
Pitcher
Pitching WAR < 30 Years of Age
Pitching WAR 30 Years of Age or Older
Career Pitching WAR
% of Career Pitching WAR in Age 30 Season or Older
Dazzy Vance
(0.4)
63.3
62.9
100.6%
Phil Niekro
8.5
88.5
97.0
91.2%
Randy Johnson
14.2
89.3
103.5
86.3%
Early Wynn
7.5
44.0
51.5
85.4%
Red Faber
13.9
53.8
67.7
79.5%
Gaylord Perry
20.6
72.5
93.1
77.9%
Joe McGinnity
14.9
47.0
61.9
75.9%
Lefty Grove
29.7
83.5
113.2
73.8%
Jesse Haines
9.8
25.9
35.7
72.5%
Warren Spahn
25.6
66.8
92.4
72.3%
Eppa Rixey
16.4
40.9
57.3
71.4%
Mordecai Brown
16.6
40.6
57.2
71.0%
Bob Gibson
25.5
56.2
81.7
68.8%
Carl Hubbell
21.9
47.0
68.9
68.2%
Nolan Ryan
28.9
54.7
83.6
65.4%
Tom Glavine
25.9
48.1
74.0
65.0%
Herb Pennock
15.7
29.1
44.8
65.0%
Eddie Plank
33.1
54.6
87.7
62.3%
Jim Bunning
23.3
37.0
60.3
61.4%
Cy Young
64.9
100.7
165.6
60.8%
Bob Lemon
14.8
22.7
37.5
60.5%
Stan Coveleski
27.2
39.3
66.5
59.1%
Jack Chesbro
17.6
24.9
42.5
58.6%
Ted Lyons
28.8
37.9
66.7
56.8%
Don Sutton
30.0
38.3
68.3
56.1%
Red Ruffing
24.4
31.0
55.4
56.0%
Whitey Ford
23.7
29.8
53.5
55.7%
Pete Alexander
51.5
64.5
116.0
55.6%
Mike Mussina
37.7
45.1
82.8
54.5%
John Smoltz
30.7
35.7
66.4
53.8%
Steve Carlton
40.1
44.1
84.2
52.4%
Jack Morris
20.9
22.8
43.7
52.2%
Greg Maddux
50.4
54.4
104.8
51.9%
Roy Halladay
31.7
33.6
65.3
51.5%
Burleigh Grimes
23.1
23.6
46.7
50.5%
Tom Seaver
58.0
48.1
106.1
45.3%
Fergie Jenkins
45.3
36.9
82.2
44.9%
Jim Palmer
38.3
29.3
67.6
43.3%
Old Hoss Radbourn
44.3
29.0
73.3
39.6%
Rube Marquard
21.2
13.7
34.9
39.3%
Bert Blyleven
59.3
36.8
96.1
38.3%
Tim Keefe
56.4
32.8
89.2
36.8%
Ed Walsh
40.4
23.3
63.7
36.6%
Walter Johnson
99.0
53.1
152.1
34.9%
Pedro Martinez
57.3
28.8
86.1
33.4%
Vic Willis
44.8
22.2
67.0
33.1%
Robin Roberts
55.8
27.2
83.0
32.8%
Juan Marichal
42.5
19.3
61.8
31.2%
Waite Hoyt
37.5
16.6
54.1
30.7%
Pud Galvin
63.4
19.8
83.2
23.8%
Christy Mathewson
78.6
21.8
100.4
21.7%
Sandy Koufax
42.8
10.3
53.1
19.4%
Kid Nichols
96.9
19.8
116.7
17.0%
Rube Waddell
52.0
8.9
60.9
14.6%
Don Drysdale
52.6
8.7
61.3
14.2%
Bob Feller
56.2
9.0
65.2
13.8%
John Clarkson
75.5
9.5
85.0
11.2%
Charles Bender
38.4
4.3
42.7
10.1%
Lefty Gomez
40.6
2.6
43.2
6.0%
Hal Newhouser
56.6
3.4
60.0
5.7%
Catfish Hunter
34.5
1.9
36.4
5.2%
Addie Joss
45.3
2.4
47.7
5.0%
Mickey Welch
60.4
2.7
63.1
4.3%
Dizzy Dean
44.2
(0.3)
43.9
-0.7%
Amos Rusie
65.9
(0.7)
65.2
-1.1%
Total
2,473.1
2,232.4
4,705.5
47.4%
 
You also probably aren't surprised at several of the names at the bottom of the list, the pitchers who had most of their value pre-age 30, notably Dean, Joss, Hunter, etc). Koufax would have been even lower except that he had at big season in his age-30 year, which was also his final season.   Seaver and Jenkins were the closest to the overall average split of 53 %before age 30 and 47% post-30.
 
#1-Roger Clemens
 Best category: Clemens was 1st in WAR (139), WAR7 (65.9), Cy Young Points (100), and WAA (94.5)
Worst category: K/BB Ratio (44th with 2.96)
 
Aside from K/BB ratio, Clemens was top 10 in each of the other categories included in the methodology.
 
Among his many accomplishments, Clemens ranks 2nd all-time (to Lefty Grove) in the number of times he led his league in 3 important categories for pitchers: WAR for Pitchers (7 times), ERA (7 times), and ERA+ (8 times).
 
Actually, the category that Clemens led the league more times than any other (at least of the "major" categories that are listed is FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which he led 9 times (which is tied with Walter Johnson for the most times).  Per baseball-reference.com, FIP "measures a pitcher's effectiveness at preventing HR, BB, HBP and causing SO." The formula is (13*HR + 3*(BB+HBP) - 2*SO)/IP + Constantlg, where the constant is set so that each season major-league average FIP is the same as the major-league avg ERA.  Although he led the league in FIP 9 times, Clemens' lifetime figure of 3.09 is only 178th in history. The all-time leaders tend to be early 1900's pitchers (Ed Walsh, Rube Waddell, Addie Joss, Joe Wood, Christy Mathewson, and so on) who I'm sure benefitted from a low ERA environment as well as an era where relatively few home runs were hit.
 
If you limit the scope to just those starting pitchers in my database of the last 50 years, the lowest FIPs (minimum 2,000 IP) are:
 
Player
FIP
Clayton Kershaw
2.76
Pedro Martinez
2.91
Nolan Ryan
2.97
Tom Seaver
3.04
Jon Matlack
3.06
Gaylord Perry
3.06
Roger Clemens
3.09
Steve Carlton
3.15
Max Scherzer
3.16
Randy Johnson
3.19
 
Clemens is also in a select group of pitchers who have won multiple "Pitching Triple Crowns" (leading the league in Wins, Strikeouts, and ERA). Interestingly enough, they were the 2 seasons he spent with Toronto, which I'm not sure that many would have guessed. Or maybe you would have...
 
Pitchers with Multiple Triple Crowns:
 
Pitcher
Triple Crowns
Walter Johnson
3
Grover Alexander
3
Sandy Koufax
3
Lefty Grove
2
Roger Clemens
2
Lefty Gomez
2
Christy Mathewson
2
 
And with that, I'm going to bring this series to a close. I think I've pretty much exhausted my energy on this topic. 
 
I didn't get around the relievers, and maybe I'll get back to them someday (spoiler alert - Mariano Rivera would be #1, so there's your scoop), but I would need to do a completely different approach in terms of the categories, and I've got other projects I'd like to get to first, including a Joe Judge-inspired article (there's your teaser)......
 
Thanks for reading, and thank you the interest in the series.
 
Dan
    
 
 

COMMENTS (15 Comments, most recent shown first)

DMBBHF
Thanks for all the additional comments....

Snerze,

Thank you for the kind words, and I definitely don't expect anyone to agree with all rankings. They're merely my way of trying to look across a spectrum of categories to help me sort through and balance the evidence.

I certainly wouldn't argue with anyone who things Schilling should rank higher than Halladay. I can see the case. All I can say is that, in my approach, winning 2 Cy Youngs (not to mention two 2nd place finishes, a 3rd place, and two 5th places) gave Halladay a decent advantage in that category over Schilling (3 runner-up finishes and a 4th). Perhaps that's unfair to Schilling, but it was how I decided to award my points.

When it comes to WAR, like you said, Schilling does indeed have an advantage in the career number over Halladay. However, Halladay did have 4 years where he had the highest pitcher WAR in his league, as well as a 2nd place, two 3rd's and a 4th. Schilling never led the league, but did have three 2nd's, a 3rd, and four 4ths. That's quite good, but Halladay's is better.

So, both of those points are similar in nature, in that Halladay more more years where he was arguably THE BEST, rather than just close to being the best. Again, perhaps that's somewhat unfair to Schilling, especially since a couple of those close calls were due to being in competition with Randy Johnson, but that's how it turned out.

Also, even though I know many won't put much stock in it, I did use career W-L % as a category, despite all the issues with that stat. I was influenced by Bill's writings years ago that, while single-season W-L records aren't all that reliable, career W-L records tend to be much more so. And Halladay's was quite impressive despite the fact that, for the most part, he really didn't pitch for great teams, at least not until his first couple of years in Philadelphia. I think winning almost two-thirds of your decisions for a Toronto team that never won 90 games even once during Halladay's stint with them was pretty darn impressive.

Anyway, I certainly understand the case for ranking Schilling higher. I think there's not much difference between them, and I went a different way.

Thanks,
Dan
11:24 PM Aug 10th
 
Gibbo1224
Thanks for the scores Dan, knew it was probably real close between Seaver and Maddox, they seem to always be around each other in all scoring systems used.

Seaver by the way was a strike out pitcher in the 70's, leading league 6 times K/9 and 5 times in total strikeouts. I was surprised that the K rate in the seventies was in low 5's per nine to what it is today.

8:08 PM Aug 10th
 
snerze
...I forgot to mention, although I don't agree with all the rankings, this was absoultey the best ranking series of its kind - terrific!!!
7:17 PM Aug 10th
 
snerze
I can't see Halliday ahead of Curt Schilling who had higher WAR, more strikeouts, better K/9, better FIP, same number of shutouts, only slightly worse BB/9 and ERA+, but in about 500 more innings. Add to that Schilling's post season success and he should be the #10 on this list, not Halliday.
6:32 PM Aug 10th
 
DMBBHF
Thanks for all the comments, guys.

Gibbo, here are the top 50 with their average index points:

Points - Name
89.8 - #1-Roger Clemens
83.5 - #2-Randy Johnson
81.4 - #3-Tom Seaver
81.1 - #4-Greg Maddux
78.7 - #5-Pedro Martinez
75.0 - #6-Clayton Kershaw
71.4 - #7-Steve Carlton
69.3 - #8-Justin Verlander
68.9 - #9-Max Scherzer
67.1 - #10-Roy Halladay
66.6 - #11-Gaylord Perry
65.1 - #12-Jim Palmer
64.9 - #13-Fergie Jenkins
64.1 - #14-Bert Blyleven
62.2 - #15-Nolan Ryan
61.7 - #16-Phil Niekro
61.5 - #17-Tom Glavine
60.9 - #18-Curt Schilling
60.5 - #19-Mike Mussina
60.4 - #20-John Smoltz
59.8 - #21-Zack Greinke
59.3 - #22-Johan Santana
57.2 - #23-Don Sutton
56.5 - #24-David Cone
56.3 - #25-Luis Tiant
53.6 - #26-Felix Hernandez
53.6 - #27-Kevin Brown
53.2 - #28-CC Sabathia
53.1 - #29-Bret Saberhagen
52.5 - #30-Dave Stieb
52.2 - #31-Dwight Gooden
52.0 - #32-Ron Guidry
51.8 - #33-Tommy John
51.8 - #34-Andy Pettitte
51.7 - #35-Rick Reuschel
51.5 - #36-Chris Sale
50.8 - #37-Orel Hershiser
50.7 - #38-Catfish Hunter
50.5 - #39-Roy Oswalt
50.5 - #40-Cliff Lee
50.3 - #41-Tim Hudson
50.3 - #42-Cole Hamels
50.3 - #43-Mark Buehrle
50.1 - #44-Jon Lester
49.9 - #45-Jimmy Key
49.8 - #46-Vida Blue
49.8 - #47-Jacob deGrom
49.8 - #48-Jack Morris
49.7 - #49-Corey Kluber
49.5 - #50-Chuck Finley

Thanks,
Dan
6:25 PM Aug 10th
 
Gibbo1224
Hi Dan,

Do you have the Average Index Points for the Starting Pitchers like you did on All the Position Players?

These articles were so good my only wish is that you included the sixties as there were so many All Time Greats. How does Mays and Mantle match up with Trout and Griffey etc? I think the top 4 RF would all come from the sixties and then there is Gibson and Kaufax etc.
9:47 PM Aug 9th
 
gendlerj
What a great series. thank you for doing all the work.
9:47 PM Aug 9th
 
Rich Dunstan
I’ve been awaiting this with great eagerness. I did my own rankings of the top 10 several weeks ago (it was pretty easy to guess who would be on the list), partly out of curiosity as to how it would match up with yours. Amazingly close—I had Halladay two spots higher, and Maddux and Johnson reversed, otherwise identical. Thanks for a big load of reading pleasure.
4:09 PM Aug 9th
 
evanecurb
Excellent, excellent series, Dan. I think you nailed the top six. I'd put Palmer and Perry ahead of Carlton but that's as much personal taste and personal bias as anything. I think numbers 7 (Carlton) through 17 (Glavine) are really tough to separate, and I think the worst of those guys (Glavine, 17) is closer to seventh than Carlton (or anyone else ranked 7-17) is to sixth place (Kershaw).
11:53 AM Aug 9th
 
Gibbo1224
Great job Dan

Really enjoyed the entire series! Pretty cool Halladay's # gets retired by Phils same day you rank him in Top 10 and Wheeler throws a CG SO
9:56 AM Aug 9th
 
MWeddell
Thanks for finishing the series, Dan. I enjoyed it.

Fun to see Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith on a leaderboard.
8:44 AM Aug 9th
 
SwampDog
You did a really good job with this series of articles, Dan. I can appreciate all the work you put into it. Thanks.
11:11 PM Aug 8th
 
tigerlily
I really enjoyed this series. Thanks Dan.

One comment re: Halladay - You commented that the 10-year period you picked for him was his best 10-year stretch. In either case, I'd say that anyone who can be considered the best pitcher (or position player) over a decade (any decade or 10-year span) has a pretty good argument as a Hall of Famer.
9:43 PM Aug 8th
 
DaveNJnews
The Phillies retired Halladay's number today. His 34 hangs between Steve Carlton's 32 and Robin Roberts' 36. To mark the occasion, Zach Wheeler threw a 2-hit shutout this afternoon.
8:15 PM Aug 8th
 
bearbyz
Thank you for the series, enjoyed it immensely.
6:33 PM Aug 8th
 
 
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