When people make excuses for pitchers winning and losing they usually start and end with run support. That makes perfect sense. Pitchers don’t win too many games where their hitters drive in zero runs. Fortunately, the pitchers from the 1960 through 1980 didn’t have to worry as much about bullpen support. However, we shouldn’t overlook fielding support. This particular group of pitchers illustrate that point.
ERA+ is a more complicated statistic than it looks. It involves not only comparing a pitcher’s ERA to the league ERA, but also factoring in his home ballpark. That becomes even more complicated than when looked at the handedness of the pitcher. Not every park was symmetrical, so some skewed towards righties while others skewed towards lefties. We will ignore that for the time being and simply divide the pitcher’s FIP by the league average ERA.
Wood is the only one to have a higher FIP than ERA. The common assumption is that ERA and FIP evens out over time and that is certainly true most of the time, but it isn’t true all of the time. These guys all pitched for mediocre to below average teams, so there is a reason why they are below average. Considering average run support, we could surmise that most of these pitchers would have won several additional games. Add five wins and remove five losses from everyone’s record and they suddenly look a lot better.
FIP isn’t perfect, but it does help explain why the index is so close when some of these guys seem so far apart. Of course, we will see what happens when we get to the conventional pitching statistics. Suffice it to say, things may have turned out differently for each of these pitchers had they had better fielders behind them. That’s certainly not their fault.
When you see these numbers, you can’t but feel underwhelmed. Certainly, guys like Lolich and Jackson could end up being close depending on their peak value, but in all likelihood, they will come up short. So, we will see if there is anything else in their resume that could throw them over the top. At this point, it doesn’t look promising. Sometimes things work out that way. Sometimes eras are flush with great players at certain positions and sometimes they aren’t. This might be one of those eras.
That being said, these numbers were a lot more indicative of their ability than the conventional numbers. Bob Friend has a sub .500 record in his career. The Hall of Fame does not elect pitchers with a sub .500 records, but as we have seen, won-loss records had been very deceiving.
These numbers aren’t awe inspiring, but they aren’t the end all be all of human existence. We have the conventional numbers to contend with, playoff performance numbers, and the BWAR Cy Young points. Any of those could throw a Mickey Lolich or Larry Jackson over the top. The others will need quite a bit more help, but there are pitchers in the Hall of Fame with worse numbers. That’s what complicates these things.
What we notice is that as we get further back in time it becomes harder to dominate on a consistent basis. At least, that is when we look at WAR and win shares. This is because when you strike out fewer hitters you end up putting more of the load on the fielders behind you. This could also explain why many of those position players have enhanced values as we move back in time.
It is no coincidence that Mickey Lolich and Sam McDowell were two of the top three peak value performers because they also had the highest strikeout rates. The more a pitcher can control the more valuable he is. FWAR scores were consistently higher. A quick look at any of the pitching numbers indicates they’ve gotten more intricate then the other two sources. At least publicly. If a pitcher can control contact, then he isn’t just locked into the standard DIPS.
We’ve already perused some of these numbers with earlier commentary and the opening table. If these pitchers had used their FIPs instead of their actual ERA then this might look different. Let’s say that Lolich won 222 games instead of 217. That also means he would have lost five fewer games. It might not be out of the realm of possibility to push that total up to ten games in some cases.
In particular, Friend is only under .500 in record only. His actual ERA was seven percent better than the league average and his FIP was even better than that. You put him on the Yankees, and he might have been in the Hall of Fame. So much of pitching is wrapped up in what a pitcher’s teammates do. Sometimes it’s just not fair.
Playoff Pitching Statistics
Lolich is the only one that has any significant postseason resume and it’s a good one. All three wins came in the 1968 World Series where he managed to outduel Bob Gibson. Is that enough to throw him over the threshold? Stranger things have happened. It’s hard to hold any kind of lack of resume against the rest of these guys. It illustrates the point that their teams were not good enough to give them the kind of support they deserved.
This is where voting for the Hall of Fame becomes difficult. Looking for that little something extra to throw a guy over the top is predicated on him having the opportunity to give you that little something extra. So, the Hall of Fame elect players from good teams. Sure, good teams have more good players, but there is an inherent bias towards good teams. Sometimes teams are good because a player is good and sometimes players are good because their teams are good.
BWAR Cy Young Points
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Interesting how the objective results reveal something other than what the writers saw. The writers saw pitchers that struggled to win games and the objective numbers saw seven Cy Young awards in the group. Sam McDowell becomes a more household name than he already is. Pascual would become an actual name. Would it have been enough for the BBWAA? I suppose anything is possible.
What we do know is that the candidacy of Lolich is a mixed bag. He earns extra points in playoff performance but loses points in the Cy Young award voting. He also came up a tad short in the index. So, I’m fine with where he is, but also respect those that would like him to get in. There are certainly plausible arguments on both sides.