BILL JAMES ONLINE

The Best Players of the Last 50 Years - Part XII - Starting Pitchers (31-40)

May 2, 2021
Continuing the countdown, picking up the next 10 in the rankings (31-40)
 
#40-Cliff Lee
Best category: K/BB Ratio (14th with 3.93)
Worst category: Games Started (135th with 324)
 
and
 
#39-Roy Oswalt
Best category: ERA+ (17th with 127)
Worst category: Games Started (115th with 341)
 
I decided to review Oswalt and Lee together. They may not immediately strike you as candidates to be linked together, but they did end up back-to-back in the methodology, and they do share a common bond, if you think back about 10 years (more on that later). And, actually, although Lee was left-handed and Oswalt was right-handed, they did have some other similarities in their careers:
 
·         They both appear high up on each other's top 10 Similarity Score comp list. 

·         Oswalt began his MLB career in 2001 and ended it after the 2013 season, a total of 13 seasons. Lee also pitched a total of 13 seasons, both beginning and ending his MLB career just 1 year after Oswalt's time frame.

·         They both exhibited excellent command of the strike zone, as Lee posted a K/9 of 7.6 and a BB/9 of 2.1, while Oswalt's figures were 7.4 and 1.9, respectively.   

·         As a result of that prior bullet point, Lee and Oswalt both rank pretty high among the all-time Strikeout-to-Walk ratio leaders, with Lee's 3.9 ranking 18th, and Oswalt's 3.6 ranking 31st.   And, if you eliminate relief pitchers, pitchers still active, and pre-1901 pitchers, Lee jumps to #5 on the list, and Oswalt would be #11.

·         Both Lee and Oswalt did pretty well in Cy Young voting. Lee won one and had 2 other top-5 finishes. Oswalt never won one, but he did have 5 top-five finishes.
 
And, to circle back to the "common bond" mentioned earlier, for a brief moment they were teammates, as they were both in the starting rotation for the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies in what was being billed at the time as perhaps the greatest starting pitcher quartet ever assembled. So, I wanted to revisit that rotation and explore the topic a bit further.
 
Do you remember how big a story that Phillies' rotation was? From 2007 through 2010, The Phillies had a great run that included 4 straight NL East titles, 2 World Series appearances, and 1 World Series championship. Here's how the quartet came to be:
 
Cole Hamels, who we already reviewed at #42 on the list, was the one who had been with the team the longest, debuting in 2006. 
 
The Phillies traded for Lee in on July 29, 2009 from Cleveland, and he pitched well for the Phillies down the stretch and had a strong postseason. 
 
After the 2009 season, Lee was included in a 3-team deal and landed with the Mariners, with Roy Halladay joining the Phillies from Toronto. 
 
Then, on the same date that the Phillies had traded for Lee a year earlier, the Phillies completed a deal with Houston for Oswalt on July 29, 2010, and he pitched very well for the Phillies down the stretch of that season. 
 
Finally, on December 15, 2010,Lee returned to the Phillies, signing as a free agent. The quartet was in place.
 
It was a big story.   The consensus quickly developed that the Phillies had assembled perhaps the greatest starting pitcher quartet in the history of the game. Hamels was just 27 years old, while the others were in the 32 to 34 age range. All seemed to be at or near the top of their games.
 
At the time, it seemed like a reasonable assessment, especially gauging by the quality of the "weakest" member of the quartet. And who would that be? Hamels, maybe? If Hamels is your #4 starter, you have a helluva rotation. Most teams would be thrilled to have any of the 4 as their #1 starter, let alone #4. 
 
So it was shaping up as perhaps the greatest quartet ever assembled. Who might be other challengers to that title?
 
The 1990's era Braves had a distinctly better big-3 (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz) for several years, but their best #4 starter in that era would have been, depending on the year, Steve Avery, Denny Neagle, or Kevin Millwood, all of whom were fine pitchers but none of whom was quite at the level of the Phillies' starters.
 
The 1966 Dodgers top 4 starters included 3 Hall of Famers (Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Don Sutton) and a 4th starter (Claude Osteen) who had a very good career as well.   All 4 had terrific careers (Osteen is often overlooked, but he was quite good), so that quartet is a strong contender. Those 4 started 154 of the 162 games for the Dodges that year. However, Sutton was in his rookie season (age 21), so he was not yet as established as the 4 Phillies starters.
 
The 1965 Giants had 3 all-time greats in Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, and Warren Spahn. However, only Marichal was really in his prime, as Perry was only 26 years old with only 16 career wins in his ledger, and Spahn, although he did make 11 pretty decent starts for the team, was 44 years old and in his final season. So, that trio was pretty strong from a career standpoint, but not at that particular point in time.
 
How about the early 1900's Philadelphia Athletics teams? For a few years, they had a Hall of Fame trio of Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell, and Chief BenderJack Coombs was also another pitcher with a good MLB career who overlapped some with the others. But, they never really had all 4 in their prime at the same time.
 
The 1954 Indians had a very famous rotation, led by Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Bob Feller, although Feller was 35 at the time and not quite the pitcher he had been previously.   Feller was more of the 5th starter that year.    Mike Garcia did not have a Hall of Fame career, but he had a very good one (career rWAR of around 30), and wasn't too far off the quality of the Phillies' quartet.   Art Houtteman was the other primary Cleveland starter in '54, but wasn't at the same level. And, actually, I shouldn't limit it to 1954.....the quartet of Lemon, Wynn, Feller, and Garcia was pretty much intact, more or less, from 1949-1954. 1954 is the year everyone remembers, but they were a standout quartet for a number of years, and in terms of staying power, they've got to rate right up there.
 
Others? The mid-to-late 1980's Mets had some excellent rotations that included various combinations of Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Bobby Ojeda, Sid Fernandez, and David Cone.   No Hall of Famers, although Gooden and Cone aren't far off of that standard, and the other 3 were very good.
 
The 1971 Baltimore Orioles famously had four 20-game winners in Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Pat Dobson, although Dobson wasn't at the level of any of the Phillies's starters. That quartet matched the feat of the 1920 White Sox (Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Red Faber, and DIckie Kerr), but only Cicotte and Faber had careers on the level of the Phillies' foursome.
 
The Moneyball era A's of the early 2000's had a strong trio of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder for a little while, but Mulder ended up with a short career, and ultimately I would say only Hudson reached the career level of any of the Phillies' quartet.
 
One quartet that doesn't get a lot of attention is the late 1910's Red Sox group (in particular, the 1918 World Series champion squad) of Carl Mays, Sad Sam Jones, Dutch Leonard, and Bullet Joe Bush, all of whom were in their mid-20's at the time. Those 4 all had good careers, with career rWAR's ranging from 36 to 51, but maybe part of their problem is one of identity and confusion. After all, in baseball history there have been 2 different notable Sam Jones pitchers and 2 different Dutch Leonard pitchers, and it can be confusing keeping them all straight. None of the 4 are Hall of Famers, but Herb Pennock is, although he was in the military in 1918, and really didn't start making a name for himself until the following season. Also, they had some young guy named Babe Ruth in the rotation.
 
Another one from that same general era would be the early 1910's Giants rotation of Christy Mathewson, Rube Marquard, Red Ames, and Hooks Wiltse, in particular the 1911 pennant winner.  Mathewson and Marquard are in the Hall, and all 4 had good careers.
 
Another one that gets a bit overlooked in terms of assembling a rotation with great career value is the early 2000's New York Yankees rotation (especially 2003) of Roger Clemens, David Wells, Mike Mussina, and Andy Pettitte, with Jeff Weaver who had a decent career as well although not on the same level as the others, holding the 5th slot. If you go a year earlier, we could use Orlando Hernandez. Of the 4 primary starters, Wells had the lowest career rWAR with 53, and all 4 had well over 200 career wins. Mussina is in the hall, Clemens obviously was Hall of Fame material, and Pettitte might make it someday (although he's spinning his wheels right now on the BBWAA ballot). Wells wasn't a Hall of Fame pitcher, but he was quite good as well. So, I would say that, if you're simply adding up career WAR, this one might take the cake, although Clemens and Wells were both 40 years old in 2003.
 
I'm sure there are others I'm missing, so please submit any suggestions in the comments section.   Ultimately, I think the Braves and the Indians are the ones that, from a multi-year standpoint, stand out to me.
 
Circling back to the Phillies.....
 
I think the quartet of Halladay, Oswalt, Lee, and Hamels, certainly was a legitimate contender to be as impressive a quartet, based on the combination of quality, experience, and point in their careers, as any in history. The baseball world braced itself in anticipation.
 
But, as you probably know, the "greatest rotation ever assembled" was fleeting, indeed. The 2011 Phillies did have a great regular season, winning 102 games and winning the NL East by 13 games over the Braves. Halladay, Lee, and Hamels all had outstanding seasons and placed 2nd, 3rd, and 5th, respectively in the Cy Young award balloting. Oswalt was a bit of a disappointment at 9-10, 3.69 in only 23 starts, but was still a quality pitcher. However, they were rudely dismissed in the NLDS by the 90-72 Cardinals (who went on to win the World Series), and that was it. The next year, Oswalt left as a free agent, Halladay had a down year, and the Phillies dropped to 81-81, followed by a 73-89 performance the year after. 
 
I think that is one of the enduring traits of baseball. We were set up to witness greatness, at least on paper, but ultimately, the moment was over almost before it began, and we moved on to the next "big story".
 
#38-Catfish Hunter
Best category: All Star Games (6th with 8), Cy Young Points (20th with 30)
Worst category: WAR/200 IP (155th with 2.37)
 
Other than Jack Morris, I would say Hunter is probably the most polarizing Hall of Fame pitcher I have in my 1970-present dataset, and maybe ever. He wasn't a particularly controversial selection at the time of his induction, as he debuted with over 50% of the vote and was inducted by his third appearance on the ballot in 1987. I would say it's been more after the fact that Hunter has become more scrutinized and criticized as being a lesser pitcher than he was considered during his career.
 
A lot of this has to do with the evolution of information, tools, and standards. By way of example, in Bill James' first Historical Abstract (1986), he had Hunter #18 among right handed starting pitchers (he ranked left handers and right handers separately in the pitchers' section) in peak value and #21 in career value. So, even including left handers, you could conclude that Bill had him as maybe a top 25-30 pitcher at that time.
 
By the 2001 Historical Abstract publication, Hunter was down to #43 among right handed starting pitchers (Bill didn't separate them by right vs. left, and he had relievers mixed in with the starters in the rankings, but that's where he came out if you just count up the right handed starters). Now, there were starters like Clemens and Maddux that were new to the 2001 rankings, but mostly it was a matter of sliding Hunter down (or, sliding others up) based on the development of new information. 
 
If you go by other popular methods, it's even worse for Catfish. In the JAWS rankings, Hunter is #123 among right handed starting pitchers (right behind Jack Morris), and #170 overall among all starting pitchers. The only Hall of Fame starting pitchers ranked lower via that methodology are Lefty Gomez, Candy Cummings (a different type of Hall of Fame case), Rube Marquad, and Jesse Haines.    Those 4 are also the only Hall of Fame starting pitchers with career rWARs less than Hunter's mark of 40.9. The only Hall of Famer with a lower ERA+ than Hunter's 104 is Marquard, with 103. 
 
So, I would say that for those who tend to leverage more modern analytics, Hunter comes off as a overrated pitcher and one of the lower-ranked Hall of Fame pitchers. So, am I overrating him here? Perhaps. My methodology isn't limited to just "value". It rewards other things.
 
However, I do think Hunter has some things in his favor. His 4 or 5 year peak is quite good, and he was one of the more highly regarded pitchers in the game at that time.   About 70% of his 36.3 career pitching WAR is concentrated in the 1971-1975 period, in which he averaged about 5.0 WAR per season. His average season over that span was 22-10, 294 IP, a 2.65 ERA, and 127 ERA+.  That's a quality pitcher, and he was undoubtedly the lead dog on the A's staff (Vida Blue was good too, and Ken Holtzman was a solid #3, but Hunter was the clear leader of that staff). Of the A's stars on those teams, I'd put Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando as the 2 most important/best players, with Catfish as #3, with strong support from Bert Campaneris, Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace, Rollie Fingers, Bill North, Blue, and Holtzman.
 
Hunter had great impact on the A's postseason success. During the A's run of 3 straight World Series titles from 1972-1974, Catfish started 11 postseason games (relieved in 2 others) and went 6-1 with a 2.24 ERA. The A's went 8-3 in those games. In his 2 relief appearances, Catfish also picked up a win and a save. He was a big part of those title teams.
 
In part because he got an early start (debuting by age 18), Hunter is one of only 3 pitchers (excluding pre-1900 pitchers) to reach 200 pitcher wins through his age 30 season. Here's the leader board for that (with Mathewson and Johnson way ahead of the pack):
 
Player
W
From
To
Age
Christy Mathewson
289
1901
1911
20-30
Walter Johnson
277
1907
1918
19-30
Catfish Hunter
201
1965
1976
19-30
George Mullin
196
1902
1911
21-30
Charles Bender
193
1903
1914
19-30
Bob Feller
192
1936
1949
17-30
Hal Newhouser
191
1939
1951
18-30
Don Drysdale
190
1956
1967
19-30
Wes Ferrell
190
1927
1938
19-30
Pete Alexander
190
1911
1917
24-30
 
What hurts Hunter, of course, is that he has virtually no post-30 value, and he called it quits after age 33.
 
So, a lot is true of Hunter. He got a lot of help from both his home park and his team's defensive prowess, no question about it. When you adjust for everything, he takes a hit. 
 
But for a while there, taking everything into account, he was a significant pitching presence. In Cy Young voting from 1972-1975, he finished 4-3-1-2, respectively. From 1971-1975, he had more pitcher wins and a higher winning percentage than anyone in baseball.   Yes, those are influenced by team, but they still count for something.
 
Over that particular time span, taking everything into consideration, I would put Tom Seaver #1 but I would put Jim Palmer, Bert Blyleven, Gaylord Perry, and Catfish Hunter in the next tier (honorable mention to Wilbur Wood for the incredible innings workload over that span).
 
One other thing.....I've seen Bill mention several times over the years that he has always thought of Hunter, Robin Roberts, and Ferguson Jenkins as a very tight "family" - lots of innings, good control, good K/BB ratios, but gave up a fair number of homers. 
 
Is there anyone else in that group from more recent vintage? I did a query looking for 3000+ innings pitched, HR/9 IP rates around 1.0, BB/9 between 1.7 and 2.5, and K/9 between 4.5 and 6.5 (those limits were based on being sure that I included all 3 of the pitchers). Understandin the caveat that norms for rate stats change over time, this would bring in 2 other pitchers (David Wells and Mark Buehrle) into that general family, assuming new members are permitted to the circle:
 
Player
IP
HR/9
BB/9
SO/9
W
L
ERA
ERA+
Robin Roberts
4,688.2
0.97
1.73
4.52
286
245
3.41
113
Fergie Jenkins
4,500.2
0.97
1.99
6.38
284
226
3.34
115
Catfish Hunter
3,449.1
0.98
2.49
5.25
224
166
3.26
104
Mark Buehrle
3,283.1
0.99
2.01
5.13
214
160
3.81
117
David Wells
3,439.0
1.07
1.88
5.76
239
157
4.13
108
 
Wells and Buehrle have higher ERA's than the others, but in context their ERA+'s are consistent with the group. However, they are both left-handed, so maybe they're not part of the immediate family.....maybe they're more like the oddball cousins.....
 
#37-Orel Hershiser
Best category: Ranks 20th in Cy Young (30), also 33rd in WAR7 with 40.1 and 34th in WAA with 29.4
Worst category: K/BB Ratio (143rd with 2.0)
 
About a year and a half ago, I wrote an article taking a look at an alternate universe in which today's Cy Young voting standards were applied to prior years. The basis of this alternative universe was in applying Tom Tango's formula for predicting current Cy Young Awards results, a formula which has proven to be uncannily accurate most of the time. 
 
The basic formula is Cy Young Points = ‚Äč(IP/2 - ER) + SO/10 + W (there’s another version he developed that would extend to relievers as well, but for the most part, the overwhelming majority of true Cy Young Award contenders at this point are starters). It captures the 4 key attributes that appear to be fundamental in voter evaluation of starting pitchers:
 
  • Workload (Innings)
  • Run prevention (Earned Runs)
  • Ability to make batters miss (Strikeouts)
  • Contributing to team victories (Wins)
 
Applying the formula to the past, this is how the National League Cy Young Awards during the decade of the 1980's might have turned out if today's standards were applied (the green lines indicate that the award would go to a different pitcher than the one who actually won it):
 
Year
Actual Winner
Would Now Finish
Winner by Today's Standards
1980
Steve Carlton 
1st
Steve Carlton 
1981
Fernando Valenzuela 
2nd
Steve Carlton 
1982
Steve Carlton 
2nd
Steve Rogers
1983
John Denny 
2nd
Mario Soto
1984
Rick Sutcliffe 
10th
Dwight Gooden
1985
Dwight Gooden 
1st
Dwight Gooden 
1986
Mike Scott 
1st
Mike Scott 
1987
Steve Bedrosian 
x
Orel Hershiser
1988
Orel Hershiser 
1st
Orel Hershiser 
1989
Mark Davis 
x
Orel Hershiser
 
Hershiser took home an award in 1988 for his outstanding 23-8, 2.26 performance that year, but this formula implies that in both ’87 and ’89 Hershiser could have won as well, which would have made him not just a 3-time winner, but 3 in a row.  
 
It’s easy to see why he didn’t win either of those seasons – his record in ’87 was 16-16 with a 3.06 ERA, and in ’89 he was 15-15, despite an excellent 2.31 ERA. In that era, it was very unlikely that a pitcher with a .500 W-L record (or anything close to that) would win the award.   It is also worth noting that, from 1987 to 1989, Hershiser was 2nd, 1st, and 1st, respectively, in NL pitcher WAR.
 
Despite the two mediocre W-L records, Hershiser actually did place pretty high in the balloting both years – he finished 4th in 1987 (getting 2 first place votes), and 4th again in 1989 (picking up 1 first place vote, and finishing 2nd in the NL in ERA). It’s not difficult to see a re-vote going in his favor, especially using today’s standards, and it also seems unlikely that a closer such as Bedrosian or Davis would have won in today's world.

What would Hershiser’s Hall of Fame case look like now if he had won 3 in a row? Add that to his consecutive scoreless innings streak thing and an outstanding postseason record (he won 3 different post-season MVP awards), and I think would give Hershiser a pretty solid case.
 
#36-Chris Sale
Best category: Ranks 1st in K/BB ratio (5.37), 4th in WAR/200 IP (5.59) and 6th in ERA+ (140)
Worst category: Games started (20th with 232)
 
Similar to deGrom, Sale's ranking, since he's in mid-career, is a compromise, and an unstable one at that. Sale does really well on rate metrics such as ERA+, WAR per 200 IP, and K/BB ratio, but not so well on the categories that reward longevity and total career. I subjectively adjusted him down some since he's in mid career, but even with that I may still have him slightly overrated. If his career is truly over (he hasn't pitched since 2019 as he's trying to recover from Tommy John surgery), I would probably have to drop him some more, but he's been very impressive so far. 
 
Sale has the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio of any pitcher in history at 5.37. Some of that, of course, is due not just to being in mid-career (and therefore hasn't experienced a decline phase that would normally pull down his rate stats) but also to context, as strikeout rates continue to rise with each passing year, which in turn has led to K/BB ratios generally pushing higher and higher. Even so, Sale's mark is impressive indeed.
 
Sale had one of the best extended Cy Young Award runs that I've seen for anyone who never won. Beginning in 2012 and running through 2018, Sale had Cy Young finishes of  6,5,3,4,5,2,4, respectively. I wonder how many pitchers have had a 7-year run similar to that? It reminds me a little of David Ortiz's 5-year run in MVP balloting from 2003-2007, where he was top 5 every year but didn't ever win one.
 
Sale is listed as 6'6", 183 lbs, and is nicknamed "The Condor" as well as "Stickman". Is Sale the greatest tall/skinny pitcher ever? He's got to be up there. 
 
I did a query for pitchers 6'5" or taller and less than 200 lbs, although, to be honest, I'm a little skeptical when it comes to many of the height/weight (especially the weight) figures listed on baseball-reference.com. After all, Wilbur Wood is listed at 180 lbs., and Mickey Lolich is 170 lbs., both of which may have been accurate in a prior life. In any case, here are the top 10, by rWAR:
                                &nb​sp;                        &nb​sp;                        &nb​sp;                        &nb​sp;                        &nb​sp;   
Player
WAR
Ht
(in)
Wt
(lbs)
W
L
IP
ERA
ERA+
From
To
Don Drysdale
61.4
77
190
209
166
3,432.0
2.95
121
1956
1969
Chris Sale
45.6
78
183
109
73
1,629.2
3.03
140
2010
2019
Sam McDowell
43.1
77
190
141
134
2,492.1
3.17
112
1961
1975
Jason Schmidt
31.7
77
185
130
96
1,996.1
3.96
110
1995
2009
Scott Sanderson
29.4
77
195
163
143
2,561.2
3.84
102
1978
1996
Jack McDowell
27.8
77
180
127
87
1,889.0
3.85
111
1987
1999
Ewell Blackwell
27.1
78
195
82
78
1,321.0
3.3
120
1942
1955
Carl Weilman
24.8
77
187
84
93
1,521.0
2.67
112
1912
1920
Cy Falkenberg
22.6
77
180
130
123
2,275.0
2.68
107
1903
1917
Mike Witt
21.6
79
185
117
116
2,108.1
3.83
105
1981
1993
 
It's funny...I don't remember Jason Schmidt, Scott Sanderson, or Sam McDowell looking particularly skinny, but what do I know? Blackwell certainly fits the bill, that's for sure. 
 
#35-Rick Reuschel
Best category: WAR (17th with 69.5), WAA (21st with 39.1) and Games Started (21st with 529)
Worst category: W-L% (149th with .528)
 
Speaking of weights....Reuschel is listed at 215 pounds on baseball-reference.com. Maybe that's accurate, but I gotta believe that, especially in his late-career Giants' years, he was significantly over that.   He wasn't called "Big Daddy" for nothing.....
 
I've often felt that Bert Blyleven has been perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the analytics movement in terms of supporting his Hall of Fame case. To many, Blyleven was simply a compiler who pitched forever but wasn't much more than a .500 pitcher, a pitcher who almost never was named an All-Star and who got very little Cy Young Award support throughout his career. Eventually, with some growing support and campaigns on his behalf after a slow start on the Hall of Fame ballot, Blyleven was inducted on his 14th try. In many ways, I think Reuschel is sort of a "Blyleven-light", although that's probably the only time you'll hear me use the phrase "light" in reference to Reuschel.
 
Much like Blyleven did with the Twins, Reuschel toiled for many years with a mediocre Chicago Cubs team. Prior to his age 38 season, the only time Reuschel played on a team that made the postseason was in the 1981 strike season, when he was picked up mid-year by the Yankees. Except for Reuschel's rookie season of 1972, the next 9 Cubs teams all experience records of.500 or below. Like Blyleven, Reuschel didn't make many All Star teams or get much support in Cy Young Award voting.
 
I don't mean to compare Reuschel directly to Blyleven. Blyleven pitched 40% more innings than Reuschel did, and his career rWAR was also close to 40% higher. Blyleven also eventually was a contributor to 2 different World Series champions (1979 Pirates and 1987 Twins), while Reuschel had a very poor postseason record. Because of all of those factors, they're not the same, and Blyleven had much more career value, and is much higher on the rankings. But Reuschel was of that same general genre, a pitcher who was thought of as not much more than a .500 pitcher, but whose W-L record and his perceived value was undermined by the quality of the teams he pitched for, and who is surely more highly thought of by those who leverage more recent analytic approaches vs. those who depend solely on more traditional stats.
 
#34-Andy Pettitte
Best category: W-L % (20th with .626), Games Started (24th with 521)
Worst category: K/BB ratio (88th with 2.37)
 
Pettitte rates pretty well across the board. His "worst" category, K/BB ratio, is a still-pretty-decent 2.4 to 1. Pettitte's perceived worst category among baseball fans is probably his relatively high ERA of 3.85, which, if he were ever to be elected to the Hall of Fame, would be the second highest figure of any inductee (Jack Morris, 3.90 - it used to be Red Ruffing with 3.80). But, even that is misleading, as Pettitte pitched in a high-run context. Pettitte's ERA+ of 117 is quite good, and would be better than 21 Hall of Famers, including some prominent members including Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan, Jim Bunning, and Fergie Jenkins. Pettitte was pretty reliable in that regard, as he only had 1 season (2008) in which he had an ERA+ less than a league average figure of 100 in that category.
 
Part of this review is that I try to ask myself, when I see the candidate, what do I think of? When I see Pettitte's name, my mind instantly goes to "postseason". Pettitte is all over the all-time postseason leader boards, particularly in the "bulk" categories. Of course, a lot of that is due to:
 
a) pitching primarily for the Yankees, and
b) pitching in the era of postseasons with multiple playoff series. 
 
In all, Pettitte's teams made the postseason 14 times in his 18 year career, covering 32 series over that time frame, including 8 World Series appearances. He's the all-time postseason leader in Games Started (44), Innings Pitched (276.2), and Wins (19), and in all 3 cases, no one is particularly close.
 
In terms of postseason performance, the thing that strikes me about Pettitte is that, to paraphrase football coach Dennis Green, "he is who we thought he was". Pettitte's postseason stats up and down the line in categories like W-L %, ERA, WHIP, Hits/9, K/9, BB/9 are very close to what they were in the regular season. And, I'm assuming that was just fine with the Yankees. They didn't need him to be a postseason stud. He just needed to be himself, and the team would be just fine. And they were.
 
Does Pettitte have a shot at the Hall of Fame? He seems to be stuck in neutral at the moment, generating vote totals of roughly 10%, 11%, and 14%, respectively in his first 3 years on the ballot. The steroids issue hovers over his case, although my sense is that with Pettitte it's more of a question of whether or not his career was Hall of Fame-level more so than steroids keeping him out. I mean, I'm sure it doesn't help him, but I'm not really sure how much it's hurting him either. I don't get a sense of the same level of vitriol surrounding Pettitte vs. some of the other candidates with a steroid connection. He has a good Hall of Fame case on the merits, but not an overwhelming one. He'll be an interesting one to track over the next several years.
 
#33-Tommy John
Best category: Games Started (7th with 700)
Worst category: K/BB ratio (175th with 1.78)
 
In the 2001 New Historical Abstract, Bill talked about the concept of pitcher "families" as a way of organizing them. He referred to a Tommy John "family" that might include Eppa Rixey and Eddie Plank, for example. Also, he talked about a larger Warren Spahn Group ("Easy Motion Left Handers") that could potentially include the likes of Tom Glavine, Eddie Plank, Jess Tannehill, WIlbur Cooper, Jim Kaat, Eppa Rixey, Mickey Lolich, and, yes, even Tommy John
 
So, what comes to mind when you hear the name Tommy John (other than surgery and underwear)? If you're like me, chances are you think of one or more of the following characteristics or phrases associated with John and others of his "type:
 
·         Crafty left-hander
·         Lots of ground balls and double plays
·         Low Strikeouts
·         Good control
·         Few home runs yielded
·         Keeps running game in check
 
I wanted to explore who might be considered in the family from a metric point of view. Understanding that league contexts and standards change over time in these categories, I submitted a query using the following criteria (with the general goal being that John is kind of in the middle of these ranges):
 
·         Threw left handed
·         Minimum of 1,500 innings pitched
·         Strikeouts per 9 innings between 3.5 and 5.0
·         Walks per 9 innings between 2.0 and 3.0
·         Home runs per 9 innings pitched between 0.5 and 0.8
 
I then further refined by looking at GIDP (Ground into Double Play) rates, stolen bases allowed per 9 innings, and caught stealing % rates, and then compared the pitchers across all the categories.   I then eliminated a few pitchers (Rick Honeycutt, Bobby Shantz, and Wilbur Wood) on the basis that fewer than 50% of their appearances were as a starting pitcher.
 
Below is what I came up with for a potential Tommy John extended family of 16 pitchers, separating them into 4 tiers of 4 pitchers each. Understanding that it's hard to have tight fits for a player that hit on all cylinders/categories, I see the A's as the closest overall fits, followed by the B's, and so on. See what you think:
 
Group
Player
SO/9 IP
BB/9 IP
HR/9 IP
GIDP/9 IP
SB/9 IP
CS %
Head of Family
Tommy John
4.3
2.4
0.6
1.15
0.46
39.1%
A
Jerry Reuss
4.7
2.8
0.6
0.92
0.46
41.8%
A
Mike Flanagan
4.8
2.9
0.8
0.98
0.47
40.1%
A
Jim Kaat
4.9
2.2
0.8
0.92
0.33
34.1%
A
Mike Caldwell
3.5
2.2
0.8
1.10
0.36
41.4%
B
Dave Roberts
4.1
2.6
0.7
0.89
0.47
34.5%
B
Curt Simmons
4.6
2.9
0.7
0.72
0.33
39.2%
B
Paul Splittorff
3.7
2.8
0.7
0.97
0.62
34.2%
B
Dick Ellsworth
4.8
2.5
0.8
1.03
0.28
46.5%
C
Warren Spahn
4.4
2.5
0.7
0.72
0.16
46.0%
C
John Tudor
5.0
2.4
0.8
0.69
0.51
43.3%
C
Claude Osteen
4.2
2.4
0.6
1.02
0.20
59.1%
C
Dave McNally
5.0
2.7
0.8
0.92
0.26
51.3%
D
Bob Knepper
4.9
2.9
0.8
0.87
0.78
31.9%
D
Charlie Leibrandt
4.4
2.6
0.7
0.70
0.87
28.9%
D
Zane Smith
4.7
2.7
0.6
1.23
1.00
24.4%
D
Harry Brecheen
4.3
2.5
0.5
0.59
0.15
53.0%
 
Spahn may strike you as "too good" for this group, and he shouldn't be in anyone else's family (he should be the head of his own), but I wasn't really trying to control for quality.....I was more interested in the categories. 
 
I suppose it's worthy of note that Kaat was not only one of the ones who Bill alluded to in the Historical Abstract general family listing, but he is also John's #1 comp on his Similarity Score listing. Kaat and John both remain as viable Veterans Committee Hall of Fame candidates.
 
#32-Ron Guidry
Best category: W-L % (8th with .651) and Cy Young points (20th with 30)
Worst category: Games started (137th with 323)
 
and
 
#31-Dwight Gooden
Best category: W-L% (16th with .634) and Cy Young points (20th with 30)
Worst category: K/BB ratio (81st with 2.40) and ERA+ (81st with 111)
 
Similar to how I opened this group with a dual review of Lee and Oswalt, I'm wrapping up this portion of the rankings by taking Gooden and Guidry together. Unlike Lee and Oswalt, Gooden and Guidry were never team mates, although they did have some overlap pitching in New York for the Mets and Yankees, respectively, for 5 seasons (1984-1988). 
 
Gooden and Guidry have some general similarities. Here is how they compare over several key categories that factor in to my methodology:
 
 
 
Name
 
 
 
WAR
 
 
 
WAR7
 
 
All Stars
 
 
 
W
 
 
 
L
 
 
W-L%
 
 
 
ERA
 
 
 
ERA+
 
 
Games Started
 
 
 
K/BB
 
WAR / 200 IP
 
 
 
WAA
 
CY Young Awards
CY  Young Top 5 Finishes
Gooden
52.9
38.9
4
194
112
.634
3.51
111
410
2.40
3.78
28.8
1
4
Guidry
47.8
38.0
4
170
91
.651
3.29
119
323
2.81
4.00
26.3
1
4
 
Gooden's career ended up being a little longer, but I think they're really close. Gooden comes out with 52.2 points in my system, Guidry with 52.0.
 
Ultimately, though, I tied their profiles together because they share a common bond of what I like to call Epic Pitching Seasons. What is an Epic Pitching Season? Let me offer up 2 definitions: a "classic" definition, and then a more "modern" one.
 
From a "classic" perspective, I think of an Epic Pitching Season with 2 simple criteria:
1) 23 or more wins
2) ERA under 2.00
 
That's it. That's my classic definition. To me, Epic Pitching Seasons also have the characteristic of being memorable in terms of the actual stats. For as long as I continue to have a functioning brain, I will always remember 1985 Gooden's 24-4, 1.53 performance and 1978 Guidry's 25-3, 1.74 mark. Those exact numbers are embedded in my memory.
 
As far as the thresholds, a sub-2.00 ERA probably pretty simple and clear-cut, with a distinct cutoff. A 1.97 ERA sounds a whole lot better (and is more memorable) than a 2.03. 
 
But why 23 wins, as opposed to a more rounded number like 20? Because that's the level at which wins have become pretty rate (but not nonexistent) in the last half-century or so. 
 
Here's a quick table of the number of times a pitcher has earned 23 or more wins in a season since the expansion season of 1961:
 
Wins
Frequency
Pitchers in Group
31
1
McLain
30
0
None
29
0
None
28
0
None
27
3
Koufax, Carlton, Welch
26
2
Koufax, Marichal
25
12
Marichal (2), Koufax, Ford, Drysdale, Kaat, Seaver, Lolich, Hunter, Jenkins, Guidry, Stone
24
22
Wood (2), Sanford, Ford, L. Jackson, Cloninger, McLain, Cuellar, McNally, J. Perry, G. Perry, Blue, Jenkins, Bryant, Carlton, Hoyt, Gooden, Clemens, Viola, Smoltz, R. Johnson, Verlander
23
22
Carlton (2), Lary, Purkey, Terry, Maloney, Spahn, Drysdale, Cuellar, Gibson, G. Perry, P. Niekro, Coleman, Hunter, Palmer, Flanagan, Hershiser, D. Jackson, Saberhagen, P. Martinez, Schilling, Zito
22
40
39 different pitchers
21
68
54 different pitchers
20
124
104 pitchers
 
20 wins has been way too common in my book, as has 21, and even 22. Each step up on the ladder eliminates about half of the prior level's frequency. So, I went with 23.
 
Excluding pre-1900, there have been 66 instances of pitchers with 23 wins and sub-2.00 ERA. They were pretty common early on in history during the periods when starting pitchers carried heavy workloads, especially in the1900s and 1910s. Walter Johnson had 8 such seasons, Christy Mathewson had 6, Mordecai Brown and Pete Alexander had 4 each. 
 
After that they started getting more rare as pitching and hitting norms evolved. As runs per game started to increase, they became more rare, occurring only twice in the 1920's, and Carl Hubbell had the only such season in the 1930's. Hal Newhouser did it back-to-back in the mid-1940's as World War II was winding down. 
 
After that, there was a drought until the 1960's (Sandy Koufax twice in the mid-60's and Denny McLain in 1968) when various factors started shifting the balance of power back in favor of the pitcher. 
 
Here's the full chart by decade:
 
 
Decade
Frequency of 23 Win, sub 2.00 ERA
1900s
26
1910s
27
1920s
2
1930s
1
1940s
2
1960s
3
1970s
4
1980s
1
Total
66
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Now, is this perfect? No, it's not. Cutting it off at 22 eliminates great seasons such as Bob Gibson 1968 and Jake Arrieta 2015, and by all rights they should be included. But we'll catch them later.
 
In any case, here are the pitchers who have had Epic Pitching Seasons over the Dan Marks era of 1970 to present (most recent first):
 
Player
Year
W
ERA
Tm
Lg
Dwight Gooden
1985
24
1.53
NYM
NL
Ron Guidry
1978
25
1.74
NYY
AL
Steve Carlton
1972
27
1.97
PHI
NL
Gaylord Perry
1972
24
1.92
CLE
AL
Vida Blue
1971
24
1.82
OAK
AL
 
Rare. Distinct. Memorable seasons. And Gooden and Guidry are, at this point, the 2 most recent instances of this type of season.
 
So, that's the "classic" definition, leveraging good old wins and simple ERA.   But what if we updated the definition to a "modern" Epic Pitching Season? How about if we replace Wins with WAR, and ERA with ERA+?   The downside is that most people don't really commit these to memory. Do you know remember what Bob Gibson's WAR and ERA+ from 1968 were? Yeah, me either. 
 
Nevertheless, I was wondering what would be an equivalent "modern" definition of an Epic Pitching Season, so I played around with the 2 criteria to try and get around 70 results, which would put it in the same ballpark of the results of the classic definition. I settled on seasons with:
 
1.       rWARs of 8.5 or higher, and
2.       ERA+ figures of 170 or higher
 
Expanding on the table from earlier, here is the decade-by-decade comparison of the # of Epic Pitching Seasons between the 2 different definitions:
 
 
 
 
Decade
Epic Pitching Seasons
(Classic Definition of 23+ Wins and sub 2.00 ERA)
Epic Pitching Seasons
(Modern Definition of 8.0+ rWAR and ERA+ of 170 or Higher)
1900s
26
10
1910s
27
16
1920s
2
3
1930s
1
6
1940s
2
4
1950s
0
1
1960s
3
4
1970s
4
6
1980s
1
2
1990s
0
10
2000s
0
5
2010s
0
4
Totals
66
71
 
Kinda smooths it out some, doesn't it?
 
For the record here are the Epic Pitching Seasons using the modern definition over the 1970 to current time frame (reverse chronological order). The seasons highlighted in yellow indicate that the seasons met both the classic and the modern definitions (4 of the 5 made this list as well, with Perry's 1972 season just missing on the ERA+ cutoff):
 
Player
Year
WAR
ERA+
Tm
Lg
Aaron Nola
2018
10.2
173
PHI
NL
Jacob deGrom
2018
9.9
218
NYM
NL
Zack Greinke
2015
8.9
222
LAD
NL
Justin Verlander
2011
8.6
172
DET
AL
Zack Greinke
2009
10.4
205
KCR
AL
Johan Santana
2004
8.7
182
MIN
AL
Randy Johnson
2002
10.7
195
ARI
NL
Randy Johnson
2001
10.1
188
ARI
NL
Pedro Martinez
2000
11.7
291
BOS
AL
Pedro Martinez
1999
9.8
243
BOS
AL
Randy Johnson
1999
9.1
184
ARI
NL
Roger Clemens
1997
11.9
222
TOR
AL
Pedro Martinez
1997
9.0
219
MON
NL
Greg Maddux
1995
9.7
260
ATL
NL
Randy Johnson
1995
8.6
193
SEA
AL
Greg Maddux
1994
8.5
271
ATL
NL
Kevin Appier
1993
9.3
179
KCR
AL
Roger Clemens
1992
8.7
174
BOS
AL
Roger Clemens
1990
10.4
211
BOS
AL
Bret Saberhagen
1989
9.7
180
KCR
AL
Dwight Gooden
1985
12.2
229
NYM
NL
Ron Guidry
1978
9.6
208
NYY
AL
Tom Seaver
1973
10.6
175
NYM
NL
Steve Carlton
1972
12.1
182
PHI
NL
Wilbur Wood
1971
11.7
189
CHW
AL
Tom Seaver
1971
10.2
194
NYM
NL
Vida Blue
1971
9.0
183
OAK
AL
 
The "modern" definition gives significant love to the greatest pitchers of the last 30 years or so, namely Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, and Greg Maddux, all of whom failed to have any seasons meeting the classic definition, but who had 4, 3, 3, and 2 Epic Pitching Seasons, respectively, under the modern definition. It also gives a little spotlight to a pitcher like Zack Greinke, who also has 2 such seasons under his belt. The modern definition also gives a great pitcher like Lefty Grove some due. Grove has 4 seasons under the modern definition vs. 0 under the classic one, as he tended to pitch in the context of higher run environments, making it tough to meet the ERA threshold.
 
Is either approach perfect? No, certainly not. Gibson '68 and Verlander '11, which didn't make the classic definition, do qualify under the modern definition. But Arrieta '15 doesn't quite make it under either one, but he's oh so close on both counts, and that season probably should count as epic. And there are no Clayton Kershaw seasons that meet either definition. He topped out at 21 wins, so he doesn't make the classic definition. And, his career high in WAR is 8.1, in part because his innings pitched totals haven't been real high in many seasons, and it's hard to accumulate a lot of WAR in that situation. His 2014 season (21-3, 1.77, 8.1 WAR, 197 ERA+, Cy Young and MVP) probably should qualify, but just misses according to the threshold. When using hard cutoffs, that often happens. So, subjectively, I would include Arrieta '15 and Kershaw '14 as Epic Pitching Seasons. I'm sure there are others.
 
In any case, Guidry '78 and Gooden '85 qualify under either definition. Their brilliant seasons are two of the greatest I've been able to experience. 
 
Which of those 2 was the better season? Here are some selected metrics:
 
Player
Year
Tm
W
L
W-L%
GS
CG
IP
H
K
BB
SHO
HR
Gooden
1985
NYM
24
4
.857
35
16
276.2
198
268
69
8
13
Guidry
1978
NYY
25
3
.893
35
16
273.2
187
248
72
9
13
                                                        
Player
Year
Tm
ERA
WAR
ERA+
K/BB
FIP
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
OPS+
Gooden
1985
NYM
1.53
12.2
229
3.88
2.13
.201
.254
.270
.524
52
Guidry
1978
NYY
1.74
9.6
208
3.44
2.19
.193
.249
.279
.528
50
 
The innings pitched are close, so that helps with comparisons. Both were outstanding seasons, of course, but looking at everything across the spectrum, I think Gooden's was a little bit better, with the categories highlighted in yellow showing what I think are distinct advantages for Gooden. I'd give Gooden '85 the edge over Guidry '78
 
On a slightly different note.....
 
One of the things that Bill has done occasionally that I really like is when he would take 2 different players and come up with a new, "merged" player. What the kids today would call a  "mashup", which is where you blend 2 different songs and create something new. 
 
For example, Bill once took Andre Thornton and John Mayberry, who had very similar career numbers, and blended them together into a different career by taking whichever one had a better season. I can't remember if he did it by age or by the actual season (since their careers pretty much overlapped)...I can't recall the detail or where he published it, but I remember him doing it.  I'm sure one of you remembers. 
 
Or, I believe he once observed that if you took 2 Dodgers Hall of Fame pitchers and mashed them together, you ended up with a truly amazing career. He took Sandy Koufax's career (which ended at age 30) and combined it with Dazzy Vance's post-30 career (because that was essentially Dazzy's full career) and presented them as if they were one pitcher. As a side note, there was an actual pitcher that the Dodgers had in the early 1970's that went by the name Sandy Vance. I'm not aware of anyone that went by Dazzy Koufax, unfortunately.
 
In that vein, it occurred to me when looking at Gooden and Guidry back-to-back is that you could stitch together an interesting mashup if you take Gooden's "young" seasons with Guidry's "older" seasons. Gooden debuted at 19 with the Mets in 1984, and most of his really good years were in the books by age 25. He did hang around for a long time after that, but ultimately his best seasons were when he was young. Guidry, on the other hand....well, he didn't become a regular member of the Yankees' rotation until age 26. 
 
So, what kind of hybrid career would we get if we used Gooden up through age 25, and then Guidry from age 26 on?
 
Green=Gooden through age 25
Yellow=Guidry from age 26 through end of career
 
Age
W
L
W-L%
ERA
ERA+
G
IP
H9
BB9
SO9
SO/W
WAR
Awards
19
17
9
.654
2.60
137
31
218.0
6.6
3.0
11.4
3.8
5.5
AS,CYA-2,MVP-15,RoY-1
20
24
4
.857
1.53
229
35
276.2
6.4
2.2
8.7
3.9
12.2
AS,CYA-1,MVP-4
21
17
6
.739
2.84
126
33
250.0
7.1
2.9
7.2
2.5
4.5
AS,CYA-7
22
15
7
.682
3.21
119
25
179.2
8.1
2.7
7.4
2.8
3.7
CYA-5
23
18
9
.667
3.19
101
34
248.1
8.8
2.1
6.3
3.1
3.4
AS
24
9
4
.692
2.89
113
19
118.1
7.1
3.6
7.7
2.2
1.5
25
19
7
.731
3.83
98
34
232.2
8.9
2.7
8.6
3.2
2.5
CYA-4,MVP-14
26
16
7
.696
2.82
140
31
210.2
7.4
2.8
7.5
2.7
4.8
CYA-7,MVP-18
27
25
3
.893
1.74
208
35
273.2
6.1
2.4
8.2
3.4
9.6
AS,CYA-1,MVP-2
28
18
8
.692
2.78
146
33
236.1
7.7
2.7
7.7
2.8
6.5
AS,CYA-3,MVP-26
29
17
10
.630
3.56
110
37
219.2
8.8
3.3
6.8
2.1
3.2
30
11
5
.688
2.76
129
23
127.0
7.1
1.8
7.4
4.0
3.1
CYA-7
31
14
8
.636
3.81
104
34
222.0
8.8
2.8
6.6
2.4
4.1
AS,GG
32
21
9
.700
3.42
114
31
250.1
8.3
2.2
5.6
2.6
5.3
AS,CYA-5,MVP-21,GG
33
10
11
.476
4.51
84
29
195.2
10.3
2.0
5.8
2.9
1.5
GG
34
22
6
.786
3.27
123
34
259.0
8.4
1.5
5.0
3.4
4.5
CYA-2,MVP-15,GG
35
9
12
.429
3.98
103
30
192.1
9.5
1.8
6.6
3.7
2.5
GG
36
5
8
.385
3.67
121
22
117.2
8.5
2.9
7.3
2.5
2.5
37
2
3
.400
4.18
95
12
56.0
9.2
2.4
5.1
2.1
0.5
Totals
289
136
.680
3.10
122
562
3,884.0
8.0
2.5
7.3
2.9
81.4
 
That's pretty much a sure-fire Hall of Famer isn't it? 2 Cy Youngs, 6 other top-5 finishes, almost 300 wins, WAR of over 80. Maybe we could call this guy Ron Gooden. Or, better still, Dwight Guidry, although Dwight Guidry sounds like the name of a country music star. Possibly Doc Guidry, although that sounds more like a Wild West gunfighter.
 
Actually you know whose record looks a lot like that? Another "G" man - Bob Gibson. Well, Gibson had fewer wins and more losses, so that part doesn't quite line up, but the innings pitched are spot on, Gibson had a career WAR in the 80's, and a lot of the peripherals line up well. Gibson also had 2 Cy Youngs of his own, not to mention multiple Gold Gloves. In one respect, that says a lot about how good Gibson was. He was kind of equivalent to the best combination of Dwight Gooden added to Ron Guidry. And that's pretty damn good.
 
Just realized something else..... 
 
One of Bob Gibson's nicknames was "Hoot", which was apparently in reference to the actor/rodeo champion that went by that name. So we have Hoot Gibson, and we have Doc Guidry. Bit of a Western theme going on there.   I think we're onto something....
 
Next Article
 
I'll post profiles for starting pitchers #21-30 as soon as I complete them, hopefully in the next week or 2.
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Dan
 
 
 

COMMENTS (11 Comments, most recent shown first)

BrianFleming
How about the 2004 Red Sox? Pedro, Schilling, Wakefield and Lowe, career WAR total 232.1 and three pitchers with 200 wins (plus one with 176 wins). The Phillies four earned 216.5 WAR with only one pitcher with more than 200 wins (Derek Lowe finished with 176 career wins, or more wins than Lee, Oswalt or Hamels).

Anyway, I'm sure someone sometime will remember again those scrappy, oft overlooked 2004 Wild Card Champions....
11:06 PM May 9th
 
DMBBHF
Steven,

Fair point about Lee, Harvey, and Oswalt.

Not to mention Ian Kennedy and Rub(b)y De La Rosa.....

Your turn!

Dan
10:11 AM May 6th
 
Steven Goldleaf
How on earth can you lead off with Lee and Oswalt without bringing Matt Harvey into the discussion?
6:32 PM May 5th
 
DMBBHF
Thanks for the comments, guys.

Bruce,

Just to let you know, my "raw" rankings based on this methodology has Cuellar at #104 and McNally at #123. Which, when you think of all of the pitchers that have been in MLB since 1970, and the fact that I had 225 pitchers in my dataset that I used for the methodology, isn't too bad. Their best categories were things like W-L %, All-Star honors, and Cy Young points. Based on those categories, they were top-50 caliber pitchers. But things like WAR per 200 IP and WAA, they were near the bottom. So, overall, they were in the 100-125 section of the list.

Mikewright,

Agreed that the Phillies' quartet was not better than the Braves', and I said as much in the article. The Braves' top 3 were better than the Phillies', and even if Hamels had an advantage, it wouldn't be enough to tip the scales for the foursome as a whole. I believe the point that many were making about the Phillies quartet at the time that they had been assembled is that they had a particularly strong #4 (which I think most would say was Hamels), and ultimately that quartet's #4 was a higher caliber pitcher than whoever the Braves' #4 might have been. Not necessarily in one particular year, or some combination of different #4 pitchers over a course of the years you outlined, but just in general of the quality of the #4. Ultimately you'd have to say that Hamels' total career exceeded that of Avery, or Neagle, or Millwood or whoever the #4 might have been. It was the combination of the established level and the potential of all 4, based on the lowest of the 4, that I think had people talking in lofty terms at the time.

jimmyp,

Yeah, the 1970 Twins is a good one in terms of career value of the quartet. Kind of like the 1966 Dodgers in some way, both with a future Hall of Famer in his rookie season (Blyleven, Sutton). Perry and Osteen are kind of comparable too. Kaat and Tiant aren't at the level of Koufax and Drysdale in my book, but they both have legitimate Hall of Fame cases of their own. It's an interesting quartet, for sure.

Thanks,
Dan

10:55 AM May 4th
 
jimmyp
The 1970 Twins had a rotation of four 200-game winners with Jim Perry (215-174), Jim Kaat (283-237), a 19 year-old Bert Blyleven (287-250), and Luis Tiant (229-172). (Bill Zepp actually started more games than Tiant but also was a reliever in over half his appearances to baseball-reference chose Tiant as the fourth starter.)
8:34 AM May 4th
 
wovenstrap
As a Cleveland Indians fan I believe that that organization has not quite received enough credit for their remarkable success in developing starting pitchers. Obviously they do receive quite a bit of credit. Their pitchers are generally young and they don't necessarily stick around long enough to gel as a staff, but there are impressive achievements in there.

If you go to the Starting Pitcher Rankings on this website and plug in dates from mid-September 2018, you will find the fourth-best pitcher on the Indians staff at that time ranked at the #26 spot, which is pretty impressive. It went down like this:

Kluber (5)
Bauer (7)
Carrasco (9)
Clevinger (26)

Of course, they were dragged down by the fifth starter, whose name was *checks notes* someone named Shane Bieber (152). I'm not sure what ever became of him.
3:17 AM May 4th
 
evanecurb
This comment is in reference to the 2011 Phillies, the discussion of great starting rotations, and how Dave McNally is relevant to this (and every) discussion. The Orioles' Big Three of Palmer, McNally, and Cuellar had a total of 12 twenty win seasons for an average of two twenty game winners a year for six years*. Our ongoing discussions around this group have concluded that Palmer was the only pitcher on that staff who was consistently great (great defined as well above average, top 5% of starting pitchers in baseball), as all O's pitchers benefited from the great defenses and very good offenses supporting them. The value metrics (WAA, RAA, WAR, etc.) show McNally and Cuellar as slightly above average major league pitchers.

All of this to say that it makes sense to include the value metrics in your analysis. Otherwise the selections would be heavily skewed toward pitchers on good teams. It's interesting that Reuschel makes the list but McNally and Cuellar don't. With all of our discussions around pitcher WAR, BABIP, FIP, and hard/soft contact, I have an understanding of how this happened.

*If you expand the statistic to include all O's starting pitchers, there were seventeen 20 win seasons between 1969 and 1976, an average of 2.1 per year for eight years. They O's had at least one 20 game winner every year 1968-1980.
4:06 PM May 3rd
 
3for3
I am reading a book about the 2011 Phillies, called The Rotation. It was a joy to watch that team. Their other starters were Vance Worley (ERA+127), Kyle Kendrick (119) and an injured Joe Blanton (77 in 8 starts).

Alas, focusing big $ on your 4th starter is not a good recipe for the post season, where 3 great starters is plenty. They could have used one more bat in their post season loss vs the Cardinals.
1:26 PM May 3rd
 
mikewright
You can make an argument Hamels was better from 2007 to 2010 than the Braves' fourth starter from 98-01 (Neagel, Millwood, Millwood and Burkett). That argument relies heavily on Burkett's 2010 dragging the averages down. If you take out Burkett's year and judge Braves 98-00, they beat Hamels in almost every number on baseball reference.

Even with Burkett, it's difficult to argue the slight edge Hamels has in some categories is enough to offset Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.
11:17 PM May 2nd
 
evanecurb
Thanks for publishing this, Dan. Loving the series. I enjoy lists that are compiled using formulas; I think Bill James may have pioneered that approach. You do a great job with it!
10:08 PM May 2nd
 
jfenimore
Nice work. Really enjoyed reading this.
2:12 PM May 2nd
 
 
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