The Best Players of the Last 50 Years - Part XI - Starting Pitchers (41-50)

April 18, 2021
Intro
 
From March 2020 to August 2020, I wrote a series of articles with my personal (emphasis on personal) rankings of the best players over the past 50 years at each position. I completed the reviews of the position players, but by the time I reached the pitchers, I was a little burned out and turned my attention to other topics. However, I had always intended to get back to the pitchers and complete the series. So, that's what I'm doing now.
 
In short, the project was intended to identify and rank the greatest players of the past 50 seasons, using my own approach of how to rank them by leveraging a variety of category ranks, but also a bit of my own subjectivity, because, after all, it's my list, and no one else's.   The goal was not just to rank them, because the actual ranking, to me, isn't all that critical. It's just a means to decide who to include and in what general order to review them. But, it's more about providing a framework from which to make various observations (mostly statistical, but not entirely) about each player, hopefully something that represents new information for you, and hopefully something that is of interest to you.
 
In my typical non-egotistical manner,  I am referring to this time frame as the "Dan Marks Era", to coincide with the 50+ years that I have been following baseball. In general, I included players if the midpoint of their careers were 1970 or later, although that wasn't a hard and fast cutoff, and I dealt with the borderline cases on a case-by-case basis.
 
Here are the prior entries in the "Dan Marks Era" series, focusing on the greatest players of the last 50 years, if you wish to review or refresh your memory.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
As opposed to the position players, where I reviewed the top 25 at each position, I'm going to go 50 deep on starting pitchers, but I'm also going to break it into smaller groups, posting 10 pitchers at a time in each article to spread it out. Otherwise it would take a while to complete the whole 50-pitcher review, and I'd rather present them in smaller chunks this time.
 
Also, I changed the methodology a little. For the position players, I included Win Share data. However,  since I no longer have the Baseball Gauge available for easy downloads of Win Shares across thousands of players at once, I took a different approach for the pitchers. 
 
I started with the JAWS listing on baseball-reference.com because it basically had enough of the data points I was interested in and it's easily downloadable, and then I whittled it down to only those whose careers were in the relevant time frame. I ended up with 226 pitchers in the final dataset that formed the basis for rankings/indexing. I ended up using the following 10 categories:
 
Career rWAR
WAR per 200 IP
WAR7 (7 best seasons of rWAR)
Cy Young Points (not award shares, but assinging 10 points for each first place finish and 5 points for each top 5 finish)
All Star Games
Games Started
ERA+
Career W-L %
Career K/BB ratio
Wins Above Average (WAA)
 
I then "indexed" each player's data within each category to award points as a % of the highest figure in the category. For example, the highest # of games started in the dataset was Nolan Ryan, with 773, so he gets 100 points in that category. Don Sutton had 756, so he gets 97.8 points, and so on down the line. Then I did that for each of the 10 categories, and then averaged the 10 point totals. I then applied my own subjective adjustments to the raw rankings to come up with the final rankings. 
 
Why use this method as opposed to just WAR or JAWS or something like that? Because when I rank players for this kind of exercise, I'm not just interested in estimates of quantitative value relative to runs generated or runs saved. I like to look at other things such as achievements, awards, honors, length of career, and other metrics and factors that are important to me, things that I think are important in identifying who were the key players that represent this era. I prefer a blend of information, plus a bit of my own judgment. 
 
Did anyone just miss getting included due to the timeline cutoff? 
 
Yeah....a bunch.
 
The two greatest pitchers who I personally experienced but did not include in my rankings are Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal, both of whom (along with Sandy Koufax) were the definitive starting pitchers of the 1960's. Marichal was an easy choice to exclude - he really only had one quality season post-1969, that being 1971. I never really saw Marichal at his best. He's out.
 
Gibson was a little tougher exclusion for me. He pitched through 1975, and he had some quality seasons in the 70's, but he's more of a 1960's star, and I missed most of his greatness, so I excluded him as well.
 
Others who pitched into the 1970's but who are excluded from this review because I felt like I didn't really experience the essence of their careers include Jim Bunning, Jim Kaat, Milt Pappas, Mel Stottlemyre, Sam McDowell, Jim Perry, Claude Osteen, Camilo Pascual, Jim Maloney, Dean Chance, Gary Peters, Chris Short, Earl Wilson, Joe Horlen, Bob Veale, Juan Pizarro, and Denny McLain. In particular, Kaat was a tough call for me because he definitely had some of his better years in the 1970's and his midpoint was 1971, but ultimately I decided to exclude him.
 
Any active players outside of the top 50 worth noting?
 
I have Stephen Strasburg, Adam Wainwright, David Price, and Madison Bumgarner just outside the top 50, so they could potentially still move up (or down) depending on how the rest of their careers unfold. Gerrit Cole is current at #62, and he's the type of pitcher who could move up quite a bit before he's through.
 
Any surprise omissions from the top 25? 
No huge ones. David Wells, Kevin Appier, and Frank Viola were all pitchers that I thought could crash the party, but they're all just outside the top 50.
 
As a Reds fan, I was curious if any of their pitchers might make the cut, but none did, which really didn't surprise me (and no, I can't count Tom Seaver as a Red). The best Reds pitchers were, to quote a Gene Pitney song, "Half Heaven, Half Heartache". Jose Rijo came in the highest at #81, followed by Johnny Cueto at #84, Gary Nolan at #114, and Mario Soto at #121.
 
Let's begin.
 
#50-Chuck Finley
Best category: All Star Games (he had 5)
Worst category: Cy Young points (no top 5 finishes)
 
Finley is a bit of an underrated pitcher, in my book. His basic stats aren't the prettiest in the world, with a 3.85 ERA and a WHIP near 1.4, but he was a quality pitcher once you adjust for the environment and context. 
 
Of the pitchers in the database that I ended up with for this article, his ERA was only ranked 144th, but his ERA+ of 115 was ranked 58th. If you isolate the meat of his career, his ERA+ was a healthy 121. He reached 200 career wins, and he came up just shy of 60 career rWAR. He was a very good pitcher, much better I think most people gave him credit for.
 
The pitcher with the highest Similarity Score to Finley, by far, is Mark Langston. Langston and Finley were teammates on the Angels for many years (1990-1997). I love when that happens, absolutely love it. They were both left handed, and very similar in their core stats - they both had ERA's in the high 3's, struck out over 7 batters per 9 innings while walking just under 4, with K/BB ratios just under 2:1. Their career W-L %'s are .536 (Finley) and .531 (Langston). Finley was pretty much a career Angel, while Langston was about half Angel, half Mariner, but they are extremely similar.   I think Finley was a little better (I have Langston at #63).
 
I wonder how many other pitchers have a teammate (who also throw with the same hand) as their #1 comp? Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally come to mind - they are each other's #1 comp, and with a super high Similarity Score (964). I remember noticing once that Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever, who were teammates on some of the excellent early 1900's Pittsburgh teams, were very similar. Gary Nolan and Don Gullett are high on each other's list, but neither one is the other's #1, and Nolan's a righty while Gullet t is a lefty, so they don't quite work. 
 
Any others come to mind?
 
 
#49-Corey Kluber
Best category: K/BB Ratio (4.9, 2nd in my dataset)
Worst category: Games Started (only 205, near the bottom)
 
A very unusual career, one that isn't quite over. Kluber is still hanging on in the Yankees' rotation, but he's 35 and hasn't done much since 2018.
 
Kluber's entire career is basically smashed into the 2013-2018 time frame, and especially 2014-2018. That 5 year period, ages 28-32, in which he won 2 Cy Young awards and also finished 3rd in two of the other seasons, stacks up really well with other great pitchers of recent vintage.
 
I did a search for pitchers since 1970 who pitched 1,000 or more innings with an ERA+ of 140 or higher in their age 28-32 seasons. Here are the results (sorted by rWAR):
 
Player
From
To
W
L
W-L%
WAR
ERA
ERA+
IP
H
BB
SO
K/BB
Greg Maddux
1994
1998
87
32
.731
39.8
2.10
202
1,140.1
923
147
890
6.1
Tom Seaver
1973
1977
87
47
.649
37.9
2.54
140
1,338.2
1045
370
1126
3.0
Max Scherzer
2013
2017
89
33
.730
32.6
2.87
144
1,092.1
815
264
1320
5.0
Corey Kluber
2014
2018
83
45
.648
31.6
2.85
151
1,091.1
886
223
1228
5.5
Roy Halladay
2005
2009
81
37
.686
27.5
3.01
147
1,072.0
1012
174
793
4.6
Roger Clemens
1991
1995
66
47
.584
27.1
3.17
143
1,020.1
862
325
909
2.8
John Smoltz
1995
1999
79
38
.675
24.0
3.04
141
1,056.1
912
274
1039
3.8
 
Pretty nice company. Maddux towers above most of that group, and Seaver is a little different animal than most of those on this list based on the workload that was indicative of his era, and K's (and K/BB ratios) are generally much higher in recent years than they were 40-50 years ago, but Kluber compares pretty well across the board to the others. 
 
Again, though, this is just one 5-year slice, and the others all had much better careers than Kluber has had, which is why they're all in the Hall of Fame except for Scherzer (who I think is a near-lock) and Clemens (who is out for non-playing reasons). But for a while, there, Kluber was pretty special.
 
Another list......these are the pitchers with the highest rWAR with under 100 career wins (I eliminated relief pitchers and pre-1901 pitchers, although you could classify Wood as a reliever as well, but I left him in):
 
Player
WAR
W
From
To
Jacob deGrom
37.4
70
2014
2021
Brandon Webb
33.0
87
2003
2009
Corey Kluber
32.0
98
2011
2021
Teddy Higuera
30.3
94
1985
1994
Ewell Blackwell
27.1
82
1942
1955
Kerry Wood
26.8
86
1998
2012
Ben Sheets
26.1
94
2001
2012
Tex Hughson
26.1
96
1941
1949
 
Kluber and deGrom are still active, so they may both exceed 100 wins before they're through, but at the moment, that's the "leader board" for that criteria.
 
#48-Jack Morris
Best category: Games Started (22nd with 527) and All Star Games (25th with 5)
Worst category: K/BB ratio (176th with 1.78)
 
Is there anything I could possibly tell you about Jack Morris that you don't already know? He's probably the most scrutinized and polarizing Hall of Fame candidate that there's ever been, outside of the "bad boy" cases like Rose, Bonds, and Clemens. Rumor has it that many a Thanksgiving dinner has been ruined by pro-Morris and anti-Morris factions warring with each other. Or so I've heard....
 
I tend to run in neutral Morris territory, if there is such a place. I find that if someone is too pro-Morris, I highlight his shortcomings.   If someone is too vocal about what a horrible Hall of Fame selection he was, I tend to call out his positives. Basically, I treat it like a debate topic where you don't know which side you're going to have to defend, and you have to prepare for either situation. Which is fine by me..... I'm a natural born devil's advocate.
 
Here's one thought that comes to mind. As we know, Morris already possesses a pretty strong reputation as a postseason performer. After all, he has one of the most famous postseason pitching moments in history with his 1-0 game 7 clincher over in 1991. However, his overall postseason record is 7-4, 3.80. Yes, he has 3 rings with 3 different franchises, but overall, it's not that great of a record.
 
So, I wonder....what if his 1992 postseason never happened? Then he'd be 7-1, 2.60 over 9 starts, with his team winning 8 of those. And that sounds a whole lot better, doesn't it?
 
Would it have changed anyone's perceptions much? Probably not. The pro-Morris crowd would be even louder, and the anti-Morris crowd still wouldn't be impressed. 
 
You know what? Forget I even brought it up. Morris is what he is, a living, breathing litmus test of how we view pitchers. Let the debate rage on.....
 
#47-Jacob deGrom
Best category: Ranks 1st in WAR/200 IP (6.60), also strong in K/BB and ERA+ (150)
Worst category: Games Started (near the bottom)
 
Like most active players, especially those still in mid-career, deGrom is a challenging player to rank, and his position in the rankings is not a stable one. It's merely a temporary placeholder.
 
Using this methodology, players in mid-career tend to do well in the "rate" or "ratio" categories, but not so well in the "counting" categories. For example, deGrom has by far the highest rWAR/200 IP rate (6.60), ahead of Pedro Martinez and Clayton Kershaw (both at around 5.9), but as his career progresses, it's likely that he won't be able to sustain that figure. 
 
As such, this is kind of a compromise ranking. It's easy to see deGrom moving up significantly as his career unfolds, sliding down in the rate categories, but improving in the other categories that reward accumulation. 
 
On the other hand.....deGrom is already 33 years old. It probably doesn't feel like it (I admit I was surprised that he was already 33), but he got kind of a late start on his MLB career, not debuting until age 26. He's getting to the point where it wouldn't be shocking  to have his career come to a sudden end. You just never quite know, especially with pitchers.
 
deGrom at this point is probably most notable for representing a true shift in the change of thinking of voter thinking regarding Cy Young awards. I mean, it didn't start with him.....Felix Hernandez won a Cy Young in 2010 with a 13-12 record, and there have been others since who have won the award despite relatively low win totals, but deGrom winning the award with 10 wins and 11 wins in 2018 and 2019, respectively, I think truly marked the culmination of that thinking. 
 
It's not that pitcher wins don't matter at all. They do. But it's clear that voters put more emphasis on other factors such as ERA, K's, and workload than they did before, and wins are more of a complementary stat that can help a pitcher's case, but it's no longer top dog.
 
Here's a figure that I think says a lot about deGrom's career and the disconnect between his performance and his pitcher wins.   If you compare a pitcher's rWAR to his actual wins and it's a relatively high ratio, that implies that he's pitching well but not getting the "payoff". There are only 3 pitchers since 1901 with more than 100 games started and a WAR/W figure  of greater than 40%:
 
Player
WAR
W
WAR / W
Jacob deGrom
37.4
70
53.4%
Josh Johnson
24.4
58
42.1%
Chris Sale
45.6
109
41.8%
 
That's it. That's the entire list. Every other pitcher in history has a WAR-to-Win percentage lower than 40%. deGrom is the most extreme pitcher in history in this regard, at this point. No one is even close. He's generating great "value", but not getting the payoff.
 
For the record, here is the list of all Hall of Fame starting pitchers with that same comparison displayed, sorted from high to low. Some of the ones near the bottom of the list are often cited as some of the least deserving Hall of Famers (Haines, Marquard, etc.). Again, a high ratio means you're generating a lot of WAR relative to the pitcher win "payoff". A low figure implies you're getting a lot more victories than WAR would otherwise suggest that you're worthy of, in theory.  
 
The overall average of this group is a WAR to Win figure of 27%. deGrom is currently double that rate.
 
Name
 WAR
W
WAR/W
Walter Johnson
    164.8
417
39.5%
Pedro Martinez
      83.9
219
38.3%
Lefty Grove
    106.6
300
35.5%
Bob Gibson
      89.1
251
35.5%
Tom Seaver
    109.9
311
35.3%
Ed Walsh
      65.9
195
33.8%
Randy Johnson
    101.1
303
33.4%
Bert Blyleven
      94.5
287
32.9%
John Smoltz
      69.0
213
32.4%
Don Drysdale
      67.1
209
32.1%
Kid Nichols
    116.2
362
32.1%
Cy Young
    163.6
511
32.0%
Pete Alexander
    119.0
373
31.9%
Roy Halladay
      64.2
203
31.6%
Dizzy Dean
      46.0
150
30.7%
Mike Mussina
      82.8
270
30.7%
Dazzy Vance
      60.2
197
30.6%
Hal Newhouser
      62.7
207
30.3%
Rube Waddell
      58.4
193
30.3%
Phil Niekro
      95.9
318
30.2%
Robin Roberts
      86.1
286
30.1%
Greg Maddux
    106.6
355
30.0%
Sandy Koufax
      48.9
165
29.6%
Fergie Jenkins
      84.1
284
29.6%
Gaylord Perry
      90.0
314
28.7%
Stan Coveleski
      61.5
215
28.6%
Christy Mathewson
    106.5
373
28.6%
Addie Joss
     45.4
160
28.4%
Eddie Plank
      90.9
326
27.9%
Warren Spahn
    100.1
363
27.6%
Steve Carlton
      90.2
329
27.4%
Ted Lyons
      70.3
260
27.0%
Carl Hubbell
      68.2
253
27.0%
Clark Griffith
      63.7
237
26.9%
Amos Rusie
      65.8
246
26.7%
Jim Bunning
      59.4
224
26.5%
Tom Glavine
      80.7
305
26.5%
Juan Marichal
      62.9
243
25.9%
Jim Palmer
      68.5
268
25.6%
Tim Keefe
      86.9
342
25.4%
John Clarkson
      83.2
328
25.4%
Vic Willis
      63.1
249
25.3%
Red Faber
      63.9
254
25.2%
Red Ruffing
      68.6
273
25.1%
Nolan Ryan
      81.3
324
25.1%
Candy Cummings
      36.2
145
25.0%
Mordecai Brown
      58.4
239
24.4%
Old Hoss Radbourn
      75.4
310
24.3%
Whitey Ford
     57.0
236
24.2%
Joe McGinnity
      59.1
246
24.0%
Al Spalding
      60.3
252
23.9%
Bob Feller
      63.4
266
23.8%
Bob Lemon
      48.2
207
23.3%
Chief Bender
      47.9
212
22.6%
Waite Hoyt
      52.2
237
22.0%
Jack Chesbro
      42.7
198
21.6%
Eppa Rixey
      55.8
266
21.0%
Don Sutton
      66.7
324
20.6%
Lefty Gomez
      38.6
189
20.4%
Early Wynn
      61.1
300
20.4%
Mickey Welch
      62.3
307
20.3%
Pud Galvin
      73.5
365
20.1%
Burleigh Grimes
      52.7
270
19.5%
Herb Pennock
      45.6
241
18.9%
Catfish Hunter
      40.9
224
18.3%
Jack Morris
      43.5
254
17.1%
Rube Marquard
      32.5
201
16.2%
Jesse Haines
      32.6
210
15.5%
 
 
#46-Vida Blue
Best category: Ranks 17th in All Star games (6), and also ranked 37th in Games Started
Worst category: K/BB ratio (1.84, ranked 165th)
 
My formula considers Cy Young points, but not MVP points, so I gave Blue a bit of a subjective adjustment for his 1971 MVP award.
 
The 1971 season always held a certain fascination for me. It's the year I got into tabletop baseball, and the individual performances that year are still fresh in my mind. In particular, the sensational performances of the trio of Vida Blue, Mickey Lolich, and Wilbur Wood, inspired me to write an article a few years back.
 
One statistical oddity about Blue's career is that he had that brilliant 1971 season in which he exceeded 300 strikeouts (301) but never had another season where he even struck out 200 (his next highest figure was 189 in 1975).
 
Blue would certainly make the rotation for the "All-Age 21" team. Here are the starting pitchers with the highest rWARs in their age 21 season, including the Bambino:
 
Player
Year
Tm
WAR
IP
GS
W
L
ERA
ERA+
H
BB
SO
Bob Feller
1940
CLE
9.9
320.1
37
27
11
2.61
163
245
118
261
Mark Fidrych
1976
DET
9.6
250.1
29
19
9
2.34
159
217
53
97
Vida Blue
1971
OAK
9.0
312.0
39
24
8
1.82
183
209
88
301
Babe Ruth
1916
BOS
8.8
323.2
40
23
12
1.75
158
230
118
170
Frank Tanana
1975
CAL
7.4
257.1
33
16
9
2.62
135
211
73
269
Bret Saberhagen
1985
KCR
7.1
235.1
32
20
6
2.87
143
211
38
158
Britt Burns
1980
CHW
7.0
238.0
32
15
13
2.84
143
213
63
133
Ralph Branca
1947
BRO
6.9
280.0
36
21
12
2.67
154
251
98
148
Al Mamaux
1915
PIT
6.1
251.2
30
21
8
2.04
132
182
96
152
Mike Soroka
2019
ATL
6.0
174.2
29
13
4
2.68
176
153
41
142
 
#45-Jimmy Key
Best category: W-L% (25th with .614) and All Star Games (25th with 5)
Worst category: K/BB ratio (93rd with 2.30)
 
It might surprise some to have Key up this high, but I always thought he was a bit underrated. He could have easily won a Cy Young award or two, and that would probably have changed a bit of perception.
 
Key only had three seasons in which he got any Cy Young support, but when he did, he placed pretty high. He had two 2nd place finishes plus a 4th place finish.
 
Key's first 2nd place finish was in 1987 with Toronto when he went 17-8 with a league-leading 2.76 ERA, and his 164 ERA+ also was the best in the league (not that anyone would have known that at the time). Key also yielded only 7.2 hits per 9 innings (by far the lowest of his career). Roger Clemens won the award that year, and it's probably hard to argue too much with the selection, but Key would have been a worthy winner as well.
 
Key's second 2nd place finish came 7 years later, when he went 17-4, 3.27 with the Yankees in 1994. On the surface, this year looks likes any number of Key's other years, but it was undermined by the strike that resulted in cancelling the last 50 games or so of the regular season. Key started 25 games before the strike, so it's fair to say that the strike cost Key maybe 8 or 9 potential starts.   Key's W-L record projected out over a full season would be around 24-6. Of course, projecting two-thirds of a season to a full season isn't the same as actually achieving that, but it does give an idea of the kind of year he was tracking towards. Key ended up losing a close race to future teammate David Cone of Kansas City. Again, no real complaints from me about the award results, as Cone probably deserved it, but Key would have made for a fine winner as well. Key also finished 6th in the MVP voting that year.
 
I'm always on the lookout for similarity. Not just the standard "Similarity Scores" approach that Bill developed years ago and is available on baseball-reference.com, but also looking at other characteristics and metrics that help define a player's attributes and performance. For pitchers, I like using their handedness (left, right) as a key characteristic in establishing similarity.
 
For Key, I did a query to find pitchers who:
 
1) threw left-handed
2) had 2,000 to 3,000 career innings
3) had a K/9 innings pitched rate of between 5.0 and 6.0
4) had a BB/9 innings pitched rate of between 1.5 and 2.5
 
Here are the results of that query. It's a pretty short list. Maybe we can call this the "Jimmy Key" family?
 
Player
W
L
W-L%
IP
SO/9
BB/9
H/9
ERA
ERA+
Jimmy Key
186
117
.614
2,591.2
5.34
2.32
8.75
3.51
122
John Candelaria
177
122
.592
2,525.2
5.96
2.11
8.55
3.33
114
Jon Matlack
125
126
.498
2,363.0
5.77
2.43
8.67
3.18
114
 
Seem like decent matches? I think they're pretty good, although it would be fair to point out that physically they're not great matches, as both Candelaria and Matlack were both taller and heavier than Key. Matlack's W-L record is quite a bit different than the other 2, but he also had a lot fewer games started than the other 2. Candelaria also ended up with a lot of games pitched in relief, but their rate stats are a pretty decent match.
 
For what it's worth, Candelaria was #82 on my list, and Matlack was #85. There is similarity in performance among the 3, but I think Key was the best of the three, all things considered.
 
By the way, if we loosen the reigns a bit on the statistical criteria, we start to pull in other names like John Smiley, John Tudor, and Mike Cuellar into the "family". And, of course, if Cuellar is present on a list, can Dave McNally be far behind? 
 
Maybe they're all more like second cousins, or something like that.   Candelaria and Cuellar do both appear on Key's top 10 Similarity Score comp list.
 
 
#44-Jon Lester
Best category: W-L % (15th with .635)
Worst category: WAR/200 IP (65th with 3.41)
 
Much like a couple of pitchers already reviewed (Hamels and Morris), one of the things people likely think of first when they hear Lester's name mentioned is his postseason record. His postseason W-L record doesn't strike you as particularly amazing (9-7), but he's pitched exceptionally well in the postseason with a 2.51 ERA covering 26 appearances, and his postseason Hits/9 Innings rate of 6.8 is 20% lower than his career seasonal mark (8.5).   He's been especially brilliant in the World Series, where he has shined with a 4-1, 1.77 mark. His teams (2 Red Sox, 1 Cubs) made it to 3 World Series, and each time his team walked away with the championship.
 
Here's Lester's impressive World Series game log, including his 3-inning relief stint in that huge game 7 win over the Indians to help the Cubs break their long championship drought in 2016:
 
Year
Series
Tm
Opp
Rslt
Inngs
Dec
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
2007
WS g4
BOS
COL
W,4-3
GS-6
W
5.67
3
0
0
3
3
2013
WS g1
BOS
STL
W,8-1
GS-8
W
7.67
5
0
0
1
8
2013
WS g5
BOS
STL
W,3-1
GS-8
W
7.67
4
1
1
0
7
2016
WS g1
CHC
CLE
L,0-6
GS-6
L
5.67
6
3
3
3
7
2016
WS g5
CHC
CLE
W,3-2
GS-6
W
6.00
4
2
2
0
5
2016
WS g7
CHC
CLE
W,8-7
5-8
3.00
3
2
1
1
4
Totals
-
-
-
-
-
4-1
35.67
25
8
7
8
34
 
Over his 22 games started in the postseason, Lester has had maybe 3 or 4 clunkers, and the rest have been solid-to-excellent starts. 
 
He's been a dependable, reliable, and consistent pitcher. He was never the best pitcher in the league, never won any Cy Youngs (he was a runner up to Max Scherzer in 2016), but you could pretty much count on him for 15 wins and a solid ERA year -in and year-out.
 
#43-Mark Buehrle
Best category: All Star Games (25th with 5) and Games Started (28th with 493)
Worst category: Cy Young points (95th in my list, with only 1 5th place finish
 
Buehrle's trademark was consistency. He doesn't have any signature seasons that really grab your attention, but he had a ton of good ones. He never had a single season with an rWAR greater than 6.1, but he also was virtually never below 2.0.
 
I did a query for pitchers who had the most seasons in that range of 2.0 to 6.1 for 1970 through last year. This ends up omitting some superior players such as Maddux, Clemens, Seaver, etc. because it puts a cap on the upper level, but I was trying to see which pitchers had the most season in that "mid-tier" range.
 
Name
Years
Tom Glavine
16
David Wells
15
Mark Buehrle
14
Andy Pettitte
14
John Smoltz
14
Nolan Ryan
14
 
Buehle ended up with a 16-year career. So, in other words, Buehrle only had 2 seasons (his first and his last) that did not fall within that range. He had double-digit pitcher wins in every season except his rookie year, when he was primarily a reliever.   He posted 30 or more games started each and every year except for that rookie season. If there's been a more consistent pitcher in my lifetime, I'm not sure who it would be.
 
Buehrle did a lot better than I anticipated in his Hall of Fame balloting debut last year (11% of the vote). I don't consider him a particularly strong Hall of Fame candidate on the surface, but he did end up with a career rWAR just under 60, and it will be interesting to see if he builds on his initial support in the upcoming years.
 
#42-Cole Hamels
Best category: WAA (ranked 22nd) and WAR/200 IP (ranked 24th)
Worst category: Cy Young points
 
Hamels is still hanging in there, hoping to pitch somewhere in 2021, but at age 37 he is probably nearing the end.
 
Hamels had what I would call a quietly quality career. If you pull up his baseball-reference.com profile, it doesn't really strike you as outstanding. Nothing really jumps out. He didn't get much Cy Young support (one 5th place finish, 3 other top 10). He never won 20. In fact, he never even won 18. He has 1 measly point of Black Ink. He never led the league in ERA, and his highest finish was 5th. His career record is 163-122, with a 3.43 ERA. 
 
But, he was a very good pitcher, and very consistent. In the 8 seasons from 2007-2014, his rWARs were between 4 and 6.5 every year except one. He was never the best pitcher in the league, and usually wasn't among the very elite. But he was consistently very good. His career ERA+ of 123 is very good.
 
He was a quiet, consistent contributor on a successful team. The one time he did make some noise was in 2008, when he went on a 4-0 run in 5 postseason starts with a 1.80 ERA over 35 IP, and was named the MVP in both the NLCS and the World Series (he was in line for the win in the game 5 clincher of the World Series, but the bullpen squandered the lead and he ended up with a no-decision).
 
#41-Tim Hudson
Best category: W-L% (21st with .625)
Worst category: K/BB ratio (101st with 2.27)
 
Another very consistent pitcher. Like many of the others mentioned to date, Hudson was rarely great, but was generally very good. His 6 years with the A's (92-39, 3.30, 134 ERA+) were more impressive than his 9 years with the Braves (113-72, 3.56, 115 ERA+), but it was a very good career overall.   Like Buehrle, Hudson debuted on the 2021 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, but only got about half of the support Buehrle did (5.2% vs. 11%). Still, he survived, and will come back for another year.
 
In looking at Hudson's ledger, the number that jumps out at me is 16. Hudson had 16 pitcher wins 4 times. Hudson debuted in the Majors in 1999. For pitchers whose careers started 1999 or later, these are the ones who have reached 16 or more wins in the greatest number of seasons:
 
Name
Yrs
Justin Verlander
9
Roy Halladay
8
Tim Hudson
7
Max Scherzer
6
Clayton Kershaw
6
Zack Greinke
6
CC Sabathia
6
 
 
I'll post #31-40 as soon as I complete those profiles.
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Dan
    
 
 

COMMENTS (11 Comments, most recent shown first)

tickeno
In your WAR to wins comparison, Jacob DeGrom comment, I can't find Roger Clemens.
Great series/​
1:46 AM Aug 20th
 
Glwall3
Did someone say Danny Duffy? 4-1 0.60 ERA
10:03 PM May 1st
 
DMBBHF
Bruce,

Well....it would be accurate to say that there are a couple of Orioles pitchers that are in the top 40..... :)

Dan
3:22 PM Apr 21st
 
evanecurb
The good news (for O’s fans) is that McNally and Cuellar each rank no worse than 40th :)
9:43 PM Apr 20th
 
DMBBHF
Hi Chuck,

Thanks for the info and comparisons. I know I should do more adjusting stats to league norms, so I always appreciate when you go the extra mile.

Thanks,
Dan
3:14 PM Apr 20th
 
chuck
Thanks for continuing this, Dan. I'm enjoying the series.
Glad you included Jimmy Key here. He makes for a good comp with Buehrle and Hudson for their results, if nothing else. Here are the ratios for each to the league in strikeout rate and control (BB+HBP) and to teammates in BABIP and HRs per batted ball. Expressed on a 100-scale.
I'm also throwing in Tom Glavine, and a guy from 60-70 years ago with similar ratios to Key.

SO ... BB .. HT ... HR ... Pitcher
089 . 065 . 092 . 084 ... Key
080 . 065 . 099 . 088 ... Buehrle
093 . 085 . 096 . 073 ... Hudson
084 . 089 . 098 . 082 ... Glavine
078 . 075 . 092 . 086 ... Ned Garver

Key had great control, as did Buehrle, but also a better strikeout ratio.
One of Key's strengths was in limiting opponent hits in play. 92 means 8% below his teammates' BABIP, e.g., if teammates' BABIP is .280, Key would allow .258, on average. Usually this trait is seen more often in power pitchers and seldom among the low-strikeout / control guys. They tend to be more HR-prevention types. But Key managed to excel in both batted-ball areas, as did Ned Garver. Those two had very similar batted-ball ratios to teammates, but Key's SO and BB ratios to league were better.
2:54 PM Apr 20th
 
DMBBHF
Hi MWeddell,

Appier just missed. He came out #53 in my raw rankings, #55 after my series of subjective adjustments on various pitchers.

He didn't do well on the "honors/awards" part of the methodology, with just 1 All Star season and only 1 top-5 Cy Young finish. He did rank well in the WAR7 and WAR/200 IP categories, also in WAA.
2:53 PM Apr 20th
 
MWeddell
Hard to believe for me that Kevin Appier couldn't fit into the top 50, but I don't see any obviously weaker pitchers in this article.

I think of Chuck Finley's 1989 season as the reason behind my fantasy baseball rule of mine, the "Chuck Finley rule." If a hard-throwing LHP starting pitcher is healthy enough to stick in the majors and his team thinks he is good enough to keep starting, he could break out at any time despite the prior record of mediocrity. Decades later, someone coined the same thing on the Internet, calling it the "Danny Duffy rule," although it never worked out very much for Mr. Duffy.

Jack Morris' career post season cWPA is 5th best of all time. I look at WPA and cWPA when evaluating post-season, but your mileage may differ.
1:39 PM Apr 20th
 
DMBBHF
Bruce,

Thanks so much for the reminder on Cuellar. Like I didn't feel bad enough already....

What kills me is that the transaction is captured on bb-ref as "Before 1963 Season: Sent from the Cincinnati Reds to the Cleveland Indians in an unknown transaction." What the hell does that even mean? How can a transaction be unknown? SOMEBODY sure knew about it....

Dan
10:32 AM Apr 20th
 
evanecurb
Great series, Dan! I love it! And the McNally - Cuellar references make it even better! Did you know Cuellar originally signed with your Reds? It's true, Dan!
10:59 AM Apr 19th
 
bearbyz
Looking forward to the rest. Thank you.
10:54 PM Apr 18th
 
 
©2021 Be Jolly, Inc. All Rights Reserved.|Powered by Sports Info Solutions|Terms & Conditions|Privacy Policy