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The Pitching Leaders of the 1960s

February 26, 2019

Continuing our look at the best pitchers in each league in each season:



1962 AL—Ralph Terry (D-WAR) vs. Hank Aguirre (R-WAR)

Ralph Terry was Whitey Ford’s right-handed running mate in 1962, leading the American League in Wins with a 23-12 record, 3.19 ERA.   Aguirre was a colorful left-hander who had been a bullpen pitcher for years and was 31 years old by 1962.   Pitching well early in the season, he was called on to make an emergency start against the Yankees on May 26 and pitched a complete game, beating the Yankees 2-1.  He went back to the bullpen after that, made a couple more spot starts but was still pitching in and out of the bullpen in the third week of August.  For the season he made 22 starts, 20 relief appearances, some of them long ones, and led the league in ERA.   My system can’t really evaluate him, because of his bullpen work. 

Ralph Terry was a Kansas farm boy.   After his baseball career he went back to his farm in West/Central Kansas and farmed until he was in his 70s.   He was actually born in Oklahoma. 


1962 NL—Don Drysdale (D-WAR) vs. Bob Purkey (R-WAR)

Cy Young Award—Drysdale

I was 12 years old in 1962, already thinking about the issues that still obsess me today.   Don Drysdale was 25-9, winning his only Cy Young Award and being named by The Sporting News as the Major League Player of the Year, while Jack Sanford was 24-7 and Bob Purkey was 23-5.  They finished in that order in the Cy Young voting—14 votes for Drysdale, 4 for Sanford, 1 for Purkey. 

That made a huge impression on me at the time.   What does that imply?  What it means, implicitly, is that one win is more important than two losses.   Sanford had one more win than Purkey and two more losses, and finished ahead of him in the voting; Drysdale had one more win than Sanford and two more losses, and finished ahead of him in the voting.   One win more than offsets two losses.

This implies, when you think about it, that the replacement level is something less than .333.  Of course that didn’t take hold as an organized way of thinking until 30 years later, through the work of Keith Woolner, Tom Tango and others, but it was there somewhere in the background.   In that era, the formula 2W – L generally did predict the Cy Young Winner; whoever had the highest total by that formula usually won it.  Drysdale, Sanford and Purkey, however, were tied for the lead in 2W – L at 41, 50 minus 9 (Drysdale) is 41, 48 minus 7 (Sanford) is 41, 46 minus 5 (Purkey) is 41.   It is just interesting for me to think back about it, more than 50 years later, remembering how I was trying to puzzle out the vote as a young boy without the understanding that I have now, or the resources that we all have now. 

Drysdale was a big, handsome man with a stunning fastball, led the league in strikeouts with 232.  Bob Purkey was pretty much the opposite, although he had an agreeable face, but he was a little chubby and he looked like your uncle who played darts in the beer joint.  He was a junk baller, threw a knuckleball along with a slow curve and a sinker—good pitcher, but nobody was afraid to hit against him.  

I see the point now; Purkey had basically the same ERA as Drysdale, actually two points better (2.81 to 2.83), and he was working in a much, much tougher park.   Baseball Reference sorts out the top pitchers in the league like this:

WAR for Pitchers




































Turk Farrell was having the famous tough-luck season in which he lost 20 games despite being, by consensus, one of the best pitchers in the league.  Bob Friend was 18-14, 3.06 ERA and Warren Spahn, taking a rare year off from winning 20, was 18-14 with a 3.04 ERA.   Ernie Broglio, two seasons away from being traded for Lou Brock, was just 12-9 despite a 3.00 ERA, and Bob Gibson was two seasons away from being recognized as one of the best pitchers in the league, although in fact he already was.   Drysdale finishes 7th in the Baseball Reference approach.   I get a substantially different list:



























Throw away the numbers and just ask, what do you think?, I’d have to go with Drysdale.  I don’t think Baseball Reference could make a convincing argument that he was the 7th best pitcher in the league. 


1963 AL—Gary Peters (D-WAR) Vs. Camilo Pascual (R-WAR)

My system (D-WAR) has Peters just 1 run better than Camilo Pascual (7.9 to 7.8 WAR), while Baseball Reference has Pascual 1 run better (6.1 to 6.0) as a pitcher, but has Peters 1 run better as a complete player (7.0 to 6.9) because Peters was a good hitter.   Peters, who led the league in ERA, also hit .259 with 3 homers, 12 RBI, and was used 9 times as a pinch hitter or pinch runner.   Pascual was a good hitter, too; he also hit .250 and also drove in 12 runs.   Doesn’t matter which was "really" better; one run doesn’t mean anything because the systems aren’t that accurate. 


1963 NL—Sandy Koufax (both systems, and won the Cy Young Award)


1964 AL—Dean Chance (both systems, and won the Cy Young Award)


1964 NL—Don Drysdale (both)


1965 AL—Sam McDowell (both)


1965 NL—Sandy Koufax (D-WAR) Vs. Juan Marichal (R-WAR)

Cy Young Award—Koufax

Here’s an interesting one.  Koufax, with a 26-8 record and 382 strikeouts, is usually regarded as having one of the greatest seasons of all time.  Juan Marichal that summer hit John Roseboro over the head with a baseball bat.  Hard.   August 22, 1965.

Still, the surprise conclusion that Marichal was "actually" the best pitcher in the league is somehow intriguing.  I mean, Koufax had more wins, fewer losses, a better ERA, 100 and some more strikeouts, more innings pitched and didn’t hit anybody over the head with a baseball bat, but I see the point.   Before Koufax came along, pitchers generally won the Cy Young Award with somewhere around 5 WAR (Don Newcombe, 1956, 5.3; Warren Spahn, 1957, 4.8; Bob Turley, 1958, 5.0; Early Wynn, 1959, 2.8; Vern Law, 1960, 4.2; Whitey Ford, 1961, 3.7; Don Drysdale, 1962, 5.5.)  

Koufax upped the ante quite a bit; he had 9.9 WAR in 1963, 7.3 in 1964, when he didn’t win, 8.1 in 1965, and 10.3 in 1966.    This changed the conversation so much that Marichal, who had higher WAR every season than anyone who had won the Award before his time, not only didn’t win, he didn’t even get a vote.  He had 7.8 WAR in 1963, 6.3 in 1964, 10.3 in 1965, 9.0 WAR in 1966 and 7.8 WAR in 1969, didn’t get mentioned in the voting, although he did draw one third-place vote later in his career, with a lesser season.  

Marichal was a great, great pitcher, but I’m not quite sure what the argument would be that would put him ahead of Koufax in 1965.   Park Effects, I am sure; Marichal had a 169 ERA+, Koufax 160.   Marichal also allowed fewer un-earned runs, 14 to 8.   Still, my system adjusts for Park Effects, too, and my system accounts for Un-Earned Runs, too, and I still get Koufax well ahead.   I have Koufax, 26-8 in real life, with a deserved won-lost record of 27-7 and a D-WAR of a whopping 14.7, plus he didn’t hit anybody over the head with a bat, while Marichal has a deserved won-lost record of 22-8 and a D-WAR of 11.9.   Which is a sensational season. 

Koufax’ 14.7 D-WAR is the highest in my data.   The top 5 are Koufax, 1965 (14.7), Randy Johnson, 1999 (14.2), Pedro Martinez, 2000 (14.2), Sandy Koufax, 1966 (14.0), and Steve Carlton, 1972 (13.7). 


1966 AL—Jim Kaat (D-WAR) Vs. Earl Wilson (R-WAR)

Jim Kaat was 25-13 with a 2.85 ERA in 305 innings; Earl Wilson was 18-11 with a 3.04 ERA in 264 innings.   Kaat’s ERA+ was 131; Wilson’s was 118.   Kaat leads Wilson in wins, winning percentage, ERA, ERA+ and innings pitched.   If there had been an American League Cy Young Award in 1966 I have no doubt that Kaat would have won it, which, in my judgment, would probably have given him enough of a reputation boost to get him a seat in Cooperstown.

Gary Peters led the league in ERA, 1.98; also in WHIP, and in ERA+ (160).   But since Wilson was a Home Run Whacker who in 1966 hit .240 with 7 homers and 22 RBI, Baseball Reference regards him not only as the best pitcher in the league but as the legitimate MVP, with WAR 0.1 higher than the Triple Crown Winner, Frank Robinson (7.8 to 7.7).   They regard Kaat as the 7th best pitcher in the league, behind Wilson, Peters, a reliever (Jack Aker) and three pitchers for the Cleveland Indians (Sam McDowell, Steve Hargan and Sonny Siebert.)   I’m not really buying any of this.   It seems to me like they’ve got a calculation glitch in there somewhere. 



The Bill Edgerton Game

On September 15, 1966, Bill Edgerton started for Kansas City against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland.  The game went eleven innings, Kansas City winning 1-0. 

Edgerton never started another game in the major leagues.   Think about it:  to win a 1-0 game is, in a sense, the best that a pitcher can do.   It is a win with the absolute minimum amount of offensive support.  Edgerton made one start; his team won, 1-0—but he never started again. 

Edgerton wasn’t actually all that remarkable; he didn’t pitch all that great, and he didn’t get the win.   But there are only two pitchers in my data who won every start of their career, 1-0.  The other one is Nick Greenwood.   Greenwood was a reliever who started for the Cardinals at Arizona on September 28, 2014.   Greenwood pitched 3 innings, and the Cardinals won 1-0. 


1966 NL—Sandy Koufax (both systems and won the Cy Young Award)


1967 AL—Gary Peters (D-WAR) Vs. Jim Merritt (R-WAR)

Cy Young Award—Jim Lonborg


Peters was 16-11, 2.22 ERA in 260 innings, 132 ERA+

Merritt was 13-7, 2.52 ERA in 228 innings, 138 ERA+

Lonborg was 22-9, 3.16 ERA in 273 innings, 112 ERA+

Joe Horlen was 19-7, 2.06 ERA in 258 innings, 146 ERA+

Lonborg led the league in Wins and Strikeouts; Horlen led the league in ERA and ERA+.    My system (Deserved WAR) sees the best pitchers in the league as 1. Peters (8.1), 2. Horlen (7.3), 3. Dean Chance (7.2), 4. Lonborg (7.0), and 5. Catfish Hunter (6.7).   Baseball Reference ranks them as 1. Jim Merritt (6.6), 2. Dean Chance (5.9), 3. Joe Horlen (5.5), 4. Catfish Hunter (5.2) and 5. Sonny Siebert (4.6), with Jim Lonborg not making the top 10 with a figure of 4.0. 

Baseball Reference in this era just seems completely messed up.   I can see Peters as the league’s best pitcher, I can see Lonborg, I can see Horlen.   I can’t see how you get to Jim Merritt. 


1967 NL—Jim Bunning (Both)

Cy Young Award—Mike McCormick


Bunning led the league in starts (40), innings (302), strikeouts (253), had a 2.49 ERA and 149 ERA+. 

McCormick had 35 starts, 262 innings, 150 strikeouts, a 2.85 ERA and 118 ERA+, but got 18 out of 20 votes for the Cy Young Award.   

Bunning finished 17-15 and got 1 vote for the Cy Young Award.   An odd note, ironic by the modern definition of "irony"—I have Bunning as deserving of a 22-10 record, which was the record that got McCormick the Cy Young Award, while McCormick was deserving of a 15-11 record.  


1968 AL—Denny McLain (D-WAR) Vs. Luis Tiant (R-WAR)

Cy Young Award—Denny McLain

Tiant had a 1.60 ERA, the lowest ERA for an American League pitcher pitching 150 or more innings since 1919.   McLain, of course, won 31 games and had a 1.96 ERA himself.   Baseball Reference lists Tiant ahead, 8.5 to 7.4.  I have McLain ahead, 12.1 to 10.9, and I have McLain as deserving of a 24-9 won-lost record, which was his actual record in 1969. 



The Bad Shutout

On June 11, 1968, Chuck Dobson pitched five and a third shutout innings against the Cleveland Innings, giving up 5 hits and 3 walks, but no runs.   Rain ended the game at that point, so Dobson was credited with a complete-game shutout, although his Game Score was just 57.

57 is not the lowest Game Score in my data for a complete-game shutout; that would be 53, by Ed Morris in 1932, for a five-inning complete game shutout.  But the 1968 Indians had such a weak offense that the Target Score for the game was 57.51.   Dobson pitched a shutout, but finished below the Target Score.  There are 12,761 complete-game shutouts in my data.   Among those 12,761, Dobson’s game is the only one in which a pitcher who threw the shutout missed his target for the game.

Every other pitcher who was credited with a shutout beat his Target Score by at least three points, and there are only 41 games in the group—one third of one percent of the shutouts—in which the pitcher who pitched the shutout beat his Target Score by less than 10 points. 


COMMENTS (8 Comments, most recent shown first)

Don't you see, Bill's just being a little ahead of the curve.

Washington Redskins maybe soon to be the Washington....uh.....Pigskins.
Atlanta Braves to be the Atlanta......Believers?
Cleveland Indians to be the Innings (I like it) :-)

Cal Koonce to be.......aah let's not be ridiculous....
9:07 PM Mar 1st
In the third-last paragraph of your otherwise excellent piece, you referred to the Cleveland baseball team as "the Cleveland Innings."
9:00 AM Mar 1st
The fielding part of defense was not a major part of why the 1966 Indians' pitchers rate so highly; their fielding was just a bit below average. The main thing is they had good starting pitching, finishing third in the league in ERA despite a lousy bullpen.
1:16 PM Feb 27th
Raincheck, I'm not using the measure for defense. I'm using Michael Humphreys's DRA, which does a remarkably good job throughout the whole twentieth century. About those Indians, their defense cost them -52 runs in 1966. And all those guys were recognized as good pitchers at the time.

9:18 AM Feb 27th
With R-WAR I get the sense that things we don’t have a good grasp on are given a lot of weight. The best example is the 3 Indian pitchers at the top the 1966 rankings. It seems so unlikely to be to true that it should cause some re-evaluation of the calculations.

The most likely culprit is defense. What we know about defense today is shaky, our knowledge is clearly incomplete. What we know about it in 1966 is primitive.

I agree completely with the premise that defense affects pitcher outcomes and should, ideally, be taken into account. But when the methods that you use to take defense into account produce results like WAR does in the 60s there is something wrong. Your adjustments are not making things clearer, they are distorting things. If nothing else, pthey should be given less weight.
8:31 AM Feb 27th
I just want to comment on a couple of these controversies.

My 1965 calculations show Marichal and Jim Maloney as better than Koufax, 7.8 WAA of Juan, 5.9 for Maloney, 4.9 for Koufax. In addition to park effects, the Koufax-Marichal comparison has a good deal to do with fielding. Dodger fielding was 81 runs better than Giant fielding over the course of the season, meaning that Marichal had to be a lot better than Koufax to give up the same number of park-adjusted runs. The other thing that confused the stats is that Marichal never recovered, somehow, from the Roseboro incident. I think he won only 1 game after returning from his suspension. Incidentally, while Koufax was genuinely as great as we always thought, the rest of the Dodger pitching staff in 1963 and 1965-6 was not, and that emphatically includes Drysdale, who was mediocre in those last two years. The park and the defense made them look that way. Overall Giants pitching in 1965 was much better than Dodger pitching.

Regarding Earl Wilson in 1966, purely as a pitcher, he earned 3.4 WAA for two teams, which trailed Kaat (3.8, league leader), McDowell and Hargan (3.7 each--the Indians had fantastic starting pitching that year), and Jim Perry. I really don't see how those hitting stats of Wilson's could have been enough to make him better than Frank Robinson (who earned 6.6 WAA that year).

David Kaiser

8:11 AM Feb 27th
I think that the "wins are more than twice as important as losses" thing (re the 1962 Cy Young award) is just one of various ways to see that vote -- and for what it's worth I'd tend to see it in a different way, a couple of other ways actually. I'm inclined to think think it's essentially a coincidence that it matches up with anything about Replacement Level.

The first and main way I would tend to see it (in fact, did see it) was that at that level -- 23 wins, 24, 25 -- we're talking very high numbers of wins (for that time), numbers that were extraordinary, AND each additional win makes it ever more extraordinary. BTW I should say that I don't mean in terms of real significance in any respect except for how the numbers were seen.
Something like: 23 wins was an awful lot; 24 was really an awful lot; 25 started getting toward the stratosphere.
Colloquially I'd put it that each extra win is exponential, but you guys might ask what exponent, and you'd be right. :-)
If this is so, then indeed the more-than-twice-as-important would be coincidental.

Plus, certainly for me and so I'd guess it may have been similarly for some of the voters, there's the "horse" factor.
25-9, with 34 decisions, "feels" like the guy was more of a horse than someone with 28 decisions or even 31. (And Drysdale was: He had more innings and more complete games than than the other guys.)

Without pretending to know whether the 'exponential' thing and the 'horse' thing were as predominant for the voters as they would have been for me, I'd guess they were in there to enough of an extent that the 'more-than-twice' arithmetic is coincidental.
11:23 AM Feb 26th
I think many of these ‘unexplained’ differences from baseball-reference WAR and D-WAR could possibly be chalked up to the quality of fielding for the pitcher’s team, which seems to be the major thing game scores do not take into account.

Does bref also account for the quality of bullpen support in terms of inherited runners? That could have a smaller but maybe significant impact in some edge cases too.
7:56 AM Feb 26th
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