As we close out with the on the outside looking in (OLI) pitchers from the post-war era it comes time to jumble up the order somewhat. We have been leading off with the index and then moving to conventional numbers, playoff numbers, and then the BWAR Cy young points. This time we will lead off with the conventional numbers. I will then introduce a metric I like to call “fielding neutral wins”.
Normally, I would take credit for something like this, but I really can’t. Standing on the shoulders of giants leaves me cold. Others have pioneered these numbers before. Lee Sinins developed neutral wins and losses for his encyclopedia (please make a Mac friendly version if you are reading this). Those assumed average run support. We are simply taking the next step and going with average run support and average fielding support. I try not to reveal the findings until you see them in the table, but I think we all know what we are going to find.
Again, we have two losing pitchers including the guy on top. How in the heck does that work? Well, obviously he didn’t get the run support he needed to win more often. However, what’s hidden is fielding support. Good teams tend to hit better than bad teams, but they also tend to field better. Some of these guys (Newcombe, Rowe, and Brecheen) did pitch for good teams, so this could be interesting.
What we are doing is dividing Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) by the league average ERA during the player’s career. That creates an adjusted ERA+ (or AERA+). We can then multiply the total number of decisions by half of that total to create an adjusted number of wins and losses. We will try to keep everything transparent in the table so that it makes more sense.
These results are somewhat surprising as some of these pitchers got a ton of fielding support. When you compare ERA to FIP you can see that fact. Adjusted wins come with two issues. First, we aren’t considering bullpen support. That might not be a big deal when it comes to the post-war era, but it does have an impact. Lee Sinins (and I) did not consider no decisions. Well, if one surrenders one fewer run or an additional run then that likely could result in a decision one way or another.
The second consideration is a practical one. We see Trout adds 29 wins to his career total. Where do we add those wins specifically and how does that change how we look at him? Voters in particular love round numbers. 20-win seasons are somehow more magical than 18-win seasons. Since this was done in the aggregate, we would have to break down each season individually to see where those wins would be parceled out. In the interest of full disclosure, Sinins does do this for his neutral wins and losses, but his neutral wins and losses are based purely on run support.
It’s really no big surprise who the biggest losers were. Walters pitched for a good Cincinnati Reds team while Newcombe was toiling for the Boys of Summer. It shouldn’t be any surprise that they won more games than they should. I have no problem giving them credit for the wins they actually had because they were one of the reasons why their club was good. It is when we get into the mythology that “Pitcher A just knows how to win,” that we need to take a breath and a step back.
The stated goal of the index is to look for gaps in data. We see a clear one between the top four and the bottom four. Of course, it does not necessarily allow for extenuating circumstances and we see that clearly with players that lose seasons to war service. Newcombe lost two seasons serving his country in Korea. With guys like Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella we could also see lost seasons to the color barrier. Newcombe may have lost some, but made his debut at 23, so it’s hard to assume.
Like with Bob Feller and Bob Lemon in the previous article, we take the three seasons before and the three seasons after to give us some idea of what he may have done. He went a combined 56-28 in the three seasons before his service and 56-20 in the three seasons after serving. So, we could assume two 18 or 19 wins per season in those two seasons. That would add between 36 and 38 wins to his overall record. That would give him more than 180 career victories instead of the pedestrian 149.
Of course, the problem with adding these numbers is that it assumes facts not in evidence. It also doesn’t adjust for how things rolled out. For instance, he went 9-8 with a 4.55 ERA in his season returning from war. We can naturally assume that he had a little rust in that season. It is conceivable that he could have had five consecutive seasons with 20 wins or more. We saw what happened when Catfish Hunter did that.
We say all this to say that historical context also has to be included in the process. We will look at peak value, playoff performance, and BWAR Cy Young points in addition to this. Even then, some things can get missed. So, we don’t lower the boom on debate here. If someone wants to stump for Newcombe I might be inclined to agree.
The index was meant to classify players into groups. Newsom is certainly not better than Walters or Trout based solely on the index. It is meant to be a blunt instrument and not a surgeon’s scalpel. What it does do is frame the conversation. The conversation needs to take place, but when someone starts arguing vehemently for a Newcombe or Rowe then we know they need to apply some extra explanation for the gap between them and even the guys above him here.
Mind you, as we discussed with Newcombe there might be a case. Heck, maybe someone mentions Rowe as having the most interesting name in baseball history. Is that an exception? Well, stranger things have happened. All that being said, we must take a look at the playoff resumes for each of these pitchers to see if any of them deserve extra credit above and beyond the index.
There is an expression in and out of the industry. Sooner or later, the player’s numbers will resemble the ones on the back of the card. Baseball cards didn’t include postseason numbers back in the day and if you want to get a lively debate going with statisticians then simply ask the question whether clutch performance exists. Still, there are two times of the year when fans and analysts alike overreact: April and October.
Newcombe obviously is hurt here and his failures are a part of the whole story between the Dodgers and Yankees in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Yet, can we really say this defines him as a player? To illustrate the point, you have Rowe and Brecheen right next to each other on the table. One won four games while the other won only two. One had an ERA under one while the other had one near four. Yet, if you put a blindfold over the first three numbers and only looked at DIPS you would swear that the names were reversed. Can a pitcher control batted ball luck? I suppose there is some truth to that, but not to the tune of three runs per nine innings.
The rest of the crowd was actually pretty good in the playoffs with the exception of Leonard. That’s the other hard part of playoff analysis. Do you punish him for not getting to the playoffs? I don’t think anyone would really claim to do that, but when you give extra credit for playoff performance to others you are inherently hindering him.
BWAR Cy Young Points
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The numbers are not overwhelming here, and we didn’t really expect them to be overwhelming. Usually, the Cy Young points confirm what we are already thinking, but occasionally they reveal something we didn’t think about. Newcombe is bringing up the rear and that is a bit of a surprise. He won the first ever Cy Young award and the MVP award in the same season. That was back in the days when there was only one Cy Young winner. Obviously, those awards were based on wins (27 does jump off the screen) when he probably didn’t deserve to win all those games.
Walters ends up finishing around the neighborhood of Early Wynn in points. This seems about right and illustrates the difference between Hall of Famers and non-Hall of Famers. In their case, it was about longevity while with the others there were other things missing. At the end of the day, we probably couldn’t recommend any of these guys for the Hall of Fame.