One of the side discussions as it pertains to pitching is the lamenting of the fact that pitchers don’t pitch deep into games anymore. Back when the men were men and the sheep were nervous, pitchers routinely completed games and often threw 300 innings a season or more. This has a way of clouding the picture as it pertains to pitchers. The wins rule was devised when pitchers completed their own games. If a pitcher always went nine innings then it is easy to hold him responsible for the win or loss.
When pitchers started going seven innings instead of nine that rule became a little more dicey. Now that good starting pitchers routinely only go six innings, there are far too many variables to consider. A reliever or two could blow a lead. The fielders behind the pitcher could be really good or really bad. Obviously, run support is an issue. Throw all of those together and you can see why wins is not an effective way to evaluate a pitcher.
We say all this to combat the notion that today’s pitchers are not as good as those in the past. I don’t know if It is fair to characterize any era as better or worse than another. We try to analyze players within their own time and place. When you look at a ton of data you begin to notice things. This will be my third article on just the recently retired pitchers. Let’s compare them with the active pitchers in terms of strikeouts and walks per nine innings. See if you notice something. For dramatic effect, I’ll include the Hall of Famers that retired between 1980 and 2000.
|HOF After 2000||7.9||2.5||10.4|
|Outside After 2000||6.9||2.7||9.6|
Not to belabor the point, but this trend has two significant consequences. First, pitchers today throw more pitches. They only started counting pitches accurately in 1988. You often hear tales of a Nolan Ryan 200 pitch complete game here and there, but these might be the stuff of legend. By and large, pitchers of the past threw fewer pitches per at bat than the ones from today. It takes at least three pitches for a strikeout and four for a walk. So, as these numbers rise so do the number of pitches.
The second significant point is that pitchers are exerting more control over the outcomes of the game. If we agree that pitchers can control strikeouts, walks, and home runs and exert less control over balls in play, then a rising number of strikeouts means they are more valuable on a per inning basis. In other words, they may carry the same value as a pitcher from the past even though they throw fewer innings. Now, whether these trends are good for the game or not is open to debate. That’s not our purpose here. You came to read about recently retired pitchers out of the Hall of Fame. Let’s move on to that.
Colon has not officially retired yet. He stated he wanted to pitch another season, but it doesn’t look like anything is biting at this point, but teams often get desperate when their arms begin breaking down. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The rest are pitchers we all recognize and ones that may hit a soft spot for us. Personally, I have fond memories of Roy Oswalt, but others may remember a pitcher from their favorite team.
This is the point where we start to hear questions like, “what about Pitcher A or Pitcher B?” It’s one of the funny things about analyzing data. The closer you get to the mean the more data points you see. In other words, as pitchers move further and further away from those that are legitimate Hall of Famers, the more pitchers get included. Suffice it to say, these pitchers fared better in the index than some others from the same era even if they might appear to have similar conventional numbers.
These pitchers are much in the same category as some of the position players voted in by the Veterans Committee. We will see pitchers in the Hall of Fame with similar resumes. No one can knock any of these guys. They are among the best from their era, but we all know they are a cut below where the legitimate Hall of Famers stand.
In his landmark book, “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame,” Bill James introduced a number of interesting metrics to compare players. One of those was similarity scores. The general idea is that if the players you were most similar to were Hall of Famers then you probably should be a Hall of Famer. If they weren’t then you shouldn’t be. There are always exceptions to these things, but it holds here with the index. The goal was not to say that Kevin Appier was a better pitcher than Johan Santana. After all, a separation of one win when combining career and peak value over three platforms is negligible. The point is that they have similar value.
So, if you are putting any of these guys in then you have to have a pretty good reason to do so. You have to tell me why Santana or Appier (or Oswalt) deserves to be in while the others here don’t. In other words, you have to acknowledge the fact that they all have similar value. If you can manage to make such an argument even after acknowledging that then more power to you.
You can see the breakdown perfectly. The guys with over 200 wins are on the bottom of the list while the guys on top had fewer than 200 (or even fewer than 150). However, take a look at their ERA+. Vazquez sticks out, but then again his fielding independent pitching (FIP) was considerably lower than his ERA. This brings us back to the question: what is a starting pitcher’s primary job? Well, his job is the same as any pitcher’s job. It is to limit the number of runs the other team scores. Usually, wins accompany that, but as we discussed early on, sometimes bad bullpens, poor run support, or poor fielding support gets in the way.
The upshot is that Moyer, Colon, and Rogers were above average overall. There is nothing wrong with being average or above average. There is considerable value in being average and if you can do it for a long time, like those guys did, you might even look like a Hall of Famer if the light shines on you in a certain way. The Hall of Fame wasn’t made for above average players. It would take up the entire town of Cooperstown if that were the case.
If you peruse the other pitcher articles in addition to this one you will notice that these guys got fewer opportunities in the playoffs than their contemporaries. This is an important point. They didn’t pitch on teams quite as good so their overall records were not quite as good. This is punishing them for geography. Wells is an obvious exception and he seemed to make the most of his opportunities. Is it enough to overcome his lackluster index? Well, go back in the data banks of your brain and come up with a signature Wells playoff moment. We’re still waiting.
Oswalt comes closest to doing that on this list as he did pitch the key Game 6 of the NLCS to get the Astros into the World Series. All of us Astros fans wish that they World Series had been more competitive, but it was fun just to get there. On the other end of the spectrum we have Vazquez. I think we can safely say his playoff resume needs to go in the circular file.
Cy Young Points
|Top 10||Top 5||CY||Points|
BWAR Cy Young Points
|Top 10||Top 5||CY||Points|
The Cy Young points illustrate the narrative we have been developing above. Santana was brilliant over a five year stretch and Oswalt was really good for ten seasons. Then, it all fell off the table. This is why I don’t profile players until they have played at least ten seasons. Players sometimes have immediate and drastic declines. However, the bias that used to be in BBWAA is on full display with Appier. The Royals and Athletics were never really good and were often pretty bad. That’s not Appier’s fault.
On the bottom of the list we have Wells. In the BWAR table he manages only four top ten finishes and never finishes in the top five. We could ask the same question we would ask of position players and the MVP voting. How could someone be a Hall of Famer if they were never one of the top five pitchers in the league. Consistently solid is nice, but it won’t cut the mustard here.