We addressed the situation of diminishing strikeouts and walks earlier. I think it is always good to revisit that when we get new information. For one, it demonstrates the changes in the game over time. Secondly, it demonstrates some key markers to determine success in pitchers. For our purposes, “HOF” will be for those in the Hall of Fame and “OLI” will be for those not in the Hall of Fame.
We see two distinct patterns here as we move back through history. First, the Hall of Famers have more strikeouts than their counterparts out of the Hall of Fame. Secondly, we see fewer walks and strikeouts as we move back in time. These numbers are not surprising, but they deserve mention anyway. The best pitchers miss bats and limit walks. I know this isn’t news, but with all of the talk of “pitching to contact” it deserves to be mentioned again and again.
Secondly, when you start talking about the difference between eight walks and strikeouts per game and eleven strikeouts and walks per game you are talking about the difference of about ten pitches per game. That could equal one extra inning. Suddenly, a six-inning pitcher becomes a seven-inning pitcher. This could become even more dramatic as we keep going back in time. If we get to 20 pitches then you could be talking two innings.
We are breaking the pitchers that on the outside looking in into two groups. This group are those that are fairly close to getting in. Think of it as a preliminary tiers format. This is the first tier of guys on the outside looking in. The index scores determine the tiers, but they don’t necessarily determine who should be in and who should be out. It just helps us categorize players into groups that helps facilitate the discussion.
It’s hard to calculate things that happen off the field. John is famous for having the first successful ligament replacement surgery (the surgery is now named after him). How much credit do you give him for recovering and going on to have a successful career? Do you give him the credit or do you give it to Dr. Frank Jobe. If you give him credit, then how much do you bump him up? These are all difficult questions.
For the rest, they may get a bump through playoff performance or other factors related to peak performance or great moments. This is why we look at the index, but we also look at the pitching numbers, playoff performance, and the Cy young voting. In concert we hope all of them will give us a clearer picture. In addition to John, the clear favorite out of the gate is Rick Reuschel. Obviously, that’s a bit of a surprise, but it also one of the reasons why we don’t focus strictly on conventional numbers.
I detest hard and fast cutoffs. John and Kaat did not get to the magic 300 mark (in conventional wins or index wins), but we know what John has in his corner. Kaat won about 30 Gold Glove awards (seemingly) so both have extra points in their favor before we get to the other tests. Reuschel breaks the threshold but doesn’t seem to have anything special in his corner. So, I suppose one could overlook his candidacy.
The other interesting guy here is Tiant. He has a sterling big game reputation and he comes fairly close to the threshold. So, that is a developing situation as well. The rest are good pitchers that deserve their due, but they just don’t cut the mustard at this point. Still, we include them here because they give us a good frame of reference from which to judge the other pitchers we are considering.
It’s hard to look at these numbers and think of Rick Reuschel as a Hall of Famer. He didn’t win a ton of games and he didn’t have a stellar winning percentage. His ERA+ was good, but not great and his other rate statistics don’t jump off the page. He was consistently good for a long time. For some, that isn’t enough and that’s perfectly fair. Tiant has the exact same ERA+ with more wins, a better winning percentage, and better rate statistics. So, isn’t he supposed to be the sure-fire Hall of Famer?
The answer to that question is a bit of a puzzle. Reuschel played for the Cubs. They were a second division team throughout the 1970s. Tiant pitched for the Red Sox and Yankees who were perennial playoff contenders. That obviously has a bit of impact on their ability to win games and avoid losing games.
It also should be noted that Reuschel’s career fielding independent pitching (FIP) was considerably lower than his career ERA. If you used his FIP in place of his ERA his ERA+ would have been 119. That’s a considerable difference and that is the other point that has to be made when looking at the quality of team a pitcher plays on.
This is an ebb and flow kind of situation. John comes out looking really good here. Add that to his place in the history of the game and you have something there. Reuschel also looked a little worse even though he clears the threshold in the index. This is the problem with using the index by itself. It doesn’t always come with enough information to make an intelligent choice. It takes as much information as possible.
Tiant is the other big name here and he didn’t disappoint. It was more interesting that these numbers came primarily as a Red Sox when they weren’t winning the World Series. They were up against perhaps the best team in the 1970s and he still came out ahead. So, if we look at these results we would bump up John and Tiant and knock Reuschel down. However, we haven’t looked at the Cy Young points yet.
Cy Young Points
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BWAR Cy Young Points
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Generally speaking, all of these pitchers were underappreciated. John is the only one that came out better in the Cy Young points. He had more 20+ win seasons than most of these pitchers. Of course, we can’t get out of this discussion without mentioning Gooden. At this peak, he was among the best pitchers in the history of the game. Unfortunately, that peak did not last long enough and was often interrupted.
The reasons why his career were cut short was unique (drugs). He lost an entire season during the prime of his career that may have thrown him over the top had he been healthy and pitched well. Baseball history is full of these guys. The sentence usually starts off with, “he would be in the Hall of Fame if…” They usually don’t put that on a plaque.
At the end of the day, Reuschel is a coin flip. How much stock do you put in playoff performance versus something like the index? Just because someone is north of 300 index wins doesn’t mean they have to be in. It means they are fit according to that test. I could see a vote for Kaat and John even though they come up a bit short. We have to remember the key question: who is the best pitcher not in the Hall of Fame? I’m not sure it is any of these guys.