The Usual and Ordinary #1s

August 6, 2021
                                    The Usual and Ordinary #1s

 

There were 4,874 pitchers who made at least one start within my study, of whom 4,093 were never designated an ace.  There were 781 who, in one season or another, wore the "#1 starter" tag.  16%, or about one in six.

Don Drysdale made 464 starts in his major league career; actually, 465, but one of them is missing from my data for some reason.  He pitched in 14 seasons and was designated as a #1 starter in 11 of those.  He was not a #1 starter in 1956, his rookie season, or in 1969, his last season, or in 1958, when he was 12-13 with a 4.17 ERA.  Actually, now that I look at it, even in the three seasons when Drysdale was NOT a #1 starter, he was still pretty good.

Anyway, Drysdale was a #1 starter in 411 of his 464 starts within my data, which is the highest percentage of all time.   These are the top 10:

 

Rank

First

Last

GS

GS as #1

Pct

Years as #1

1

Don

Drysdale

464

411

88.6%

11

2

Pedro

Martinez

409

349

85.3%

12

3

Lefty

Grove

424

360

84.9%

13

4

Justin

Verlander

419

332

79.2%

10

5

Warren

Spahn

633

498

78.7%

15

6

Whitey

Ford

437

334

76.4%

10

7

Curt

Schilling

436

332

76.1%

11

8

David

Cone

419

315

75.2%

11

9

Gaylord

Perry

690

517

74.9%

14

10

Tom

Seaver

647

473

73.1%

13

 

Drysdale is not #1 on this chart because he was the greatest pitcher of all time; he is number one because he came and went quickly.  Both his training phase and his decline phase were very short, as contrasted with Tom Seaver, who had more years as a #1 than Drysdale did, but who had a fairly slow and painful departure.  Actually, Chris Sale had been a #1 in every one of his 216 career starts through 2018, but that’s only because he had not yet hit his injury/decline phase.  It gets everybody sooner or later.   Gaylord Perry made more starts as a #1 starter than anyone else within my data:

 

Rank

First

Last

GS

GS as #1

Pct

Years as #1

1

Gaylord

Perry

690

517

74.9%

14

2

Roger

Clemens

707

511

72.3%

16

3

Warren

Spahn

633

498

78.7%

15

4

Bert

Blyleven

685

483

70.5%

14

5

Tom

Seaver

647

473

73.1%

13

6

Greg

Maddux

740

468

63.2%

14

7

Nolan

Ryan

773

443

57.3%

13

8

Phil

Niekro

713

438

61.4%

12

9

Don

Drysdale

464

411

88.6%

11

10

Tom

Glavine

682

408

59.8%

12

 

My data is missing 32 starts for Warren Spahn; if we had those, Spahn would probably be #1 on this list, I’m guessing. 

Almost all of those guys are Hall of Famers, you will notice.  One of the problems with what I do for a living is that almost every discussion is in danger of degenerating into a Hall of Fame argument, which becomes repetitious and boring. 

It is interesting, however, that among pitchers with 400 or more starts, 50% of your starts as a #1 starter is the dividing line between Hall of Famers and non-Hall of Famers.  These are the 15 pitchers (with 400 or more starts) who were #1 starters in 50-60% of their careers. 

 

First

Last

GS

GS as #1

Pct

Tom

Glavine

682

408

59.8%

Tim

Hudson

479

284

59.3%

Paul

Derringer

409

238

58.2%

Red

Ruffing

459

267

58.2%

Dwight

Gooden

410

238

58.0%

Nolan

Ryan

773

443

57.3%

Jim

Bunning

517

295

57.1%

Dave

Stieb

412

234

56.8%

Juan

Marichal

457

257

56.2%

Steve

Carlton

709

388

54.7%

Robin

Roberts

588

315

53.6%

Don

Sutton

756

402

53.2%

CC

Sabathia

538

286

53.2%

Billy

Pierce

417

217

52.0%

Fergie

Jenkins

594

305

51.3%

 

 

And these are the 12 pitchers who had percentages in the 40s:

 

First

Last

GS

GS as #1

Pct

Bob

Welch

462

226

48.9%

James

Shields

405

198

48.9%

Mark

Langston

428

206

48.1%

Early

Wynn

566

268

47.3%

Catfish

Hunter

476

225

47.3%

Bob

Friend

460

217

47.2%

Fernando

Valenzuela

424

199

46.9%

Bartolo

Colon

552

256

46.4%

Dennis

Martinez

562

258

45.9%

Jack

Morris

527

228

43.3%

Jim

Kaat

625

270

43.2%

Chuck

Finley

467

199

42.6%

 

Just above 50%, 9 of 15 are now in the Hall of Fame.  Just below 50%, only 3 of 12 are in.   Below 43%, no one is in the Hall of Fame—that is, no one in my study who made 400 starts in my study and was a #1 starter for less than 43% of those starts.   Simple message:  to make the Hall of Fame, as a starting pitcher, you have to be a #1 starter for half of your career.

These are the pitchers with 300-400 starts who have the highest percentage of starts as a #1 pitcher:

 

 

First

Last

GS

GS as #1

Pct

Clayton

Kershaw

316

295

93.4%

Dazzy

Vance

309

228

73.8%

Roy

Oswalt

342

252

73.7%

Mel

Stottlemyre

356

258

72.5%

Roy

Halladay

390

282

72.3%

Carl

Hubbell

377

270

71.6%

Bob

Lemon

349

247

70.8%

Max

Scherzer

329

228

69.3%

Eppa

Rixey

322

223

69.3%

Sandy

Koufax

314

211

67.2%

 

And as you see, most of those are Hall of Famers.  But there are 17 pitchers in my data who made 300 to 400 starts with 50% to 66.7% of those as #1 starters, and not a single one of them has been elected to the Hall of Fame. (There are three Hall of Famers with 300-400 starts in my data and #1 starter percentages less than 50%, but two of those, Burleigh Grimes and Waite Hoyt, were in the majors several years before the study starts in 1921, and there is a lot of missing data for them post-1921, so their data is unreliable.  The third one was Dennis Eckersley, who was a #1 starter for four seasons, 37%, but made the Hall of Fame more as a reliever.) 

Anyway, you make the Hall of Fame if you have 400 starts, 50% as a #1 starter, or 300 starts, 67% as a #1 starter.  50% of 400 is 200.  66.7% of 300 is also 200.   We can conclude, then, that for a starting pitcher to make the Hall of Fame, he has to have 200 starts in seasons in which he was a #1 starter. 

There are, however, a significant number of starting pitchers who made 200 starts as a #1 starter, but are not in the Hall of Fame, including Rany Jazayerli’s favorite, Kevin Appier.  There are 35 pitchers in my data who had 200 starts as a #1 pitcher but are not in the Hall of Fame.  Eleven of those are active or recently retired pitchers:  Verlander, Kershaw, Sabathia, Felix Hernandez, Greinke, Bartolo Colon, David Price, Cole Hamels, Max Scherzer, Dan Haren, and Chris Sale.   Some of those will make the Hall of Fame; some won’t. 

That leaves 24 Hall of Fame eligible pitchers who had 200 starts as a number one pitcher, but who are not in the Hall of Fame:

 

Rank

First

Last

GS

GS as #1

Pct

Years as #1

1

Roger

Clemens

707

511

72.3%

16

2

Curt

Schilling

436

332

76.1%

11

3

David

Cone

419

315

75.2%

11

4

Kevin

Brown

476

295

62.0%

9

5

Tim

Hudson

479

284

59.3%

8

6

Jim

Kaat

625

270

43.2%

7

7

Dennis

Martinez

562

258

45.9%

8

8

Mel

Stottlemyre

356

258

72.5%

7

9

Roy

Oswalt

342

252

73.7%

7

10

Jimmy

Key

389

250

64.3%

7

11

Steve

Rogers

393

249

63.4%

7

12

Kevin

Appier

402

241

60.0%

8

13

Dwight

Gooden

410

238

58.0%

7

14

Paul

Derringer

409

238

58.2%

7

15

Dave

Stieb

412

234

56.8%

7

16

Bob

Welch

462

226

48.9%

7

17

Bob

Friend

460

217

47.2%

6

18

Billy

Pierce

417

217

52.0%

7

19

Johan

Santana

283

215

76.0%

7

20

Bret

Saberhagen

371

209

56.3%

7

21

Mark

Langston

428

206

48.1%

6

22

Rick

Reuschel

529

206

38.9%

6

23

Ron

Guidry

323

204

63.2%

7

24

Brad

Radke

377

204

54.1%

6

 

200 starts as a #1 pitcher means seven years.   This leads us to a generalization:  Seven years as a #1 starter are more or less required for the Hall of Fame, although there are a few guys who made it with six, and Dizzy Dean had only four and Hal Newhouser five.  Basically, unless you are a completely dominant star like Koufax or Newhouser, seven are required, but seven does not guarantee you a seat.   But nine years as a #1 starter more or less seals the deal.  There are only four guys who had nine years as a #1 starter and have not yet made the Hall of Fame, although they are eligible:  Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, David Cone and Kevin Brown. 

 

Interestingly enough, the "Years as #1 starter" designation seems to predict Hall of Fame selection as well as the career win total.  No one with less than 200 starts in seasons as a #1 starter is in the Hall of Fame except Dizzy Dean and Hal Newhouser. But the guys with 190 to 199 include several popular Hall of Fame candidates:  Fernando Valenzuela (5 years, 199 starts), Don Newcombe (5 and 198), Wes Ferrell (6 and 196, some data missing), Tommie John (6 and 193).

Several pitchers who had relatively low win totals are in the Hall of Fame, if they had seven or more seasons as a #1 pitcher:  Dazzy Vance, Jim Bunning, Roy Halladay, Bob Lemon, Lefty Gomez.  But some pitchers who had higher win totals are not in the Hall of Fame, if they had seven or less.

 

 
 
 
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