Hall of Fame Index: Post World War II Pitching Tiers

Breaking pitchers into tiers is a little different from breaking position players into tiers. Because of the depth at starting pitcher, we are allotting 75 pitchers before World War II and 75 pitchers after World War II. This is the post-war list. Since we have increased the number to 75 we will be going with five tiers. Just like with the position players, the data will dictate the number of pitchers in each tier. I could arbitrarily slot 15 pitchers in each tier, but that would defeat the whole purpose of the index.

The goal here is to slot players with other players of similar value. It is a natural evolution of Bill James’ similarity scores where we try to find players of similar value. Naturally, some will argue that Pitcher A should be placed above Pitcher B. My goal isn’t to rank order players. It’s to refine the debate so that we avoid the Harold Baines problem.

Tier One

 CareerPeakIndex
Roger Clemens 360.3181.3541.6
Greg Maddux (B)302.9192.4495.3
Tom Seaver (B)279.9193.2473.1
Randy Johnson (B)276.7189.9466.6
Gaylord Perry (B)263.9173.9437.8
Warren Spahn (B)256.9165.8422.7
Bert Blyleven (B)265.1156.4421.5
Steve Carlton (B)259.9157.0416.9
Bob Gibson (B)234.8177.3412.1
Phil Niekro (B)248.8159.4408.2
Pedro Martinez (B)219.5184.2403.7
Ferguson Jenkins (B)228.8167.7396.5
Robin Roberts (B)228.4164.3392.7
Nolan Ryan (B)254.7133.1387.8

This is the very best of the best, but again I would like to caution the viewing public not to look too much into the order in which these pitchers appear. Obviously, guys on top are superior to guys on the bottom, but we can feel comfortable about the group as a whole. All of them are in the Hall of Fame except for Roger Clemens. Will Clemens ever get in the Hall of Fame? That topic probably deserves its own separate article.

We deal with tier one in the same fashion that we deal with tier one at the other positions. If you find a player on the outside looking in here then that player should be a priority in the voting. Joe Morgan can pen all of the nasty letters he wants to. Based on these numbers alone, Clemens deserves to be in. Of course, there are moral, ethical, and philosophical hurdles to clear. If the Hall of Fame is a museum then it can accurately address all of the parts of his history when and if they do put him in.

What strikes me as interesting is how the eras seem to be equally represented. We don’t see any current pitchers yet, but many of them are still in the prime of their careers. The major difference between the pitchers and position players is how we will look at tier two. For pitchers, it should also be an extension of tier one in terms of how the Hall of Fame should treat them.

Tier Two

 CareerPeakIndex
Curt Schilling209.7157.2366.9
Mike Mussina (B)218.0141.5359.5
Tom Glavine (B)210.2138.1348.3
John Smoltz (B)206.3134.6340.9
Kevin Brown192.7148.2340.9
Jim Palmer (B)187.4151.5338.9
Hal Newhouser (V)176.0161.5337.5
Don Sutton (B)216.0119.7335.7
Juan Marichal (B)176.7156.7333.4
Roy Halladay (B)172.1160.5332.6
Bob Feller (B)184.4144.3328.7
Don Drysdale (B)178.0149.7327.7
Jim Bunning (V)177.7147.7325.4
Early Wynn (B)181.1140.3321.4
Justin Verlander175.1144.2319.3
Clayton Kershaw162.3156.9319.2
Rick Reuschel185.7129.7315.4
C.C. Sabathia177.5131.0308.5
Zack Greinke163.4139.1302.5

Four of the bottom five are still active, so we are really only talking about three pitchers on the outside looking in from this group. I suspect Schilling will get in eventually, but Brown and Reuschel have fallen off the ballot. I’m not sure why Brown was considered that much worse than Schilling (or Mussina). The answer probably lies with won-loss records and things like playoff performance.

I had a lively discussion with a twitter friend about a lot of issues pertaining to rating pitchers. One of those discussions surrounding whether to reward a pitcher for what they actually did instead of using the defensive independent pitching statistics to judge performance. They are valid points. They may have some bearing here particularly for someone like Reuschel that seemed to struggle in the playoffs.

The implication of the tiers is not that any of those three definitely has to be in. It is that they are general fits based on the index. From there, voters can choose to give them the nod or not. The Veterans Committee can decide whether Brown or Reuschel is the best pitcher not in the Hall of Fame. They could say neither and be perfectly within normal bounds, but they need to be able to explain themselves if they don’t.

Tier Three

 CareerPeakIndex
Tommy John198.797.3296.0
Jim Kaat174.9119.6294.5
Whitey Ford (B)164.0125.3289.3
David Cone159.3127.4286.7
Luis Tiant171.6114.7286.3
Andy Pettitte173.0112.1285.1
Mickey Lolich 157.4125.1282.5
Sandy Koufax (B)142.2140.1282.3
Max Scherzer142.4136.8279.2
Dwight Gooden147.0130.0277.0
Chuck Finley157.4118.4275.8
Larry Jackson150.9124.9275.8
Felix Hernandez143.9130.8274.7

Just like with tier two with the position players, this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the index becomes more of a guide than an absolute edict. Why do we take consecutive seasons for peak value instead of just the ten best seasons? How can you really make a huge call based on five or six index wins? How do we account for things like missed seasons or playoff glory?

All of these are fine questions and ones that the index was not designed to answer directly. Remember, we are putting players into groups with players of similar value. The keen minds on the BBWAA and Veterans Committee can decide that Pettitte’s 19 postseason victories deserves an extra bump. They can also decide that admitting to PED use puts him in the penalty box. Do all of Kaat’s gold glove awards give him an edge? These are all very good questions the index was not designed to answer.

It seems alarmingly simple to assert that John and Kaat are very similar pitchers. Wouldn’t their basic numbers tell you that? Well yes, yes they would. However, as we will see with tier four and five, some pitchers that seemed similar to them really weren’t that similar. On the flip side, some might have compared Blyleven to those two and they would have been dead wrong. So, sometimes you can go with the conventional numbers, but most of the time we need a little more.

Tier Four

 CareerPeakIndex
Mark Buehrle155.7114.3270.0
Jerry Koosman164.2104.4268.6
Bucky Walters141.8126.3268.1
Frank Tanana163.8102.0265.8
Dizzy Trout142.8122.1264.9
Tim Hudson150.6113.6264.2
Dave Stieb142.2120.9263.1
Cole Hamels143.6119.0262.6
Bob Friend143.3119.1262.4
Bret Saberhagen140.2120.6260.8
Bobo Newsom150.7109.5260.2

The tiers have two secondary benefits beyond direct Hall of Fame comparisons. First, it gives all of us a frame of reference. I wasn’t alive when Bobo Newsom, Bob Friend, or Dizzy Trout were in their prime. I vaguely remember Jerry Koosman and Frank Tanana. Yet, I can imagine what type of pitcher they were (in terms of value) because they are similar to guys from my own generation on the list. That helps give historical context to all of these guys.

The second benefit is that it gives us an accurate idea of where current pitchers are. Cole Hamels appears to have some left in the tank based on his performance this year. How much does he need to vault into tier three? Tier two? If we imagine him being done in terms of peak value then we can add what we need to for career value to get him to say 300 index wins. So, maybe he needs three more good seasons.

It is probably just coincidence that none of these pitchers is in the Hall of Fame. As we will see with tier five, that won’t necessarily be the case. Again, if we repeat the Baines principle, we aren’t arguing that none of these pitchers is a Hall of Famer. We are arguing that they are not as fit as the pitchers in the first three tiers.

Tier Five

 CareerPeakIndex
Orel Hershiser146.0111.2257.2
Jack Morris (V)144.2111.6255.8
Ron Guidry131.9123.7255.6
Mark Langston136.1118.6254.7
Frank Viola127.1125.5252.6
Vida Blue134.7117.2251.9
Bob Lemon (B)126.6124.2250.8
Dutch Leonard148.4102.3250.7
David Wells153.896.7250.5
Sam McDowell123.5122.4245.9
Wilbur Wood124.9120.3245.2
Camilio Pascual127.8112.6240.4
Catfish Hunter (B)119.3110.9230.2
Jon Lester122.1106.9229.0
Curt Simmons139.788.1227.8
Claude Osteen120.3100.5220.8
Milt Pappas129.588.6218.1
Harry Brecheen112.6105.4218.0

Jack Morris is Exhibit A of how the Veterans Committee should not be handling its business. Is he a legitimate Hall of Famer? We could go fifteen rounds on that one. Was he the most qualified pitcher not in the Hall of Fame at the time? Of course not. Morris harkens back to a debate and a time when pitchers were supposed to win games. That’s what their job is according to the old guard. A 105 ERA+ says otherwise. An adjusted ERA+ of 104 also says otherwise.

Teams win games. Pitchers are a part of the team and some would argue the single most important player on the day he pitches, but the team still wins the game. It is foolish to blame a pitcher (particularly in the DH league) when his team loses 1-0. It is also foolish to credit him when the team wins 7-6. Yes, the rules dictate that if he goes five innings and is ahead when he leaves then he gets the win. It doesn’t mean we have to be a slave to it.

Of course, Hunter would appear to be the most egregious of all of the selections. Five consecutive 20 win seasons will do that. If you removed a few wins here and a few wins there (as Lee Sinins did in his encyclopedia) then all of the sudden Hunter doesn’t look so special. The aforementioned Twitter friend argued we should reward pitchers for what they actually accomplish and not what they were supposed to accomplish based on DIPS and batted ball data. I see and respect that point of view. However, giving anyone excessive credit for wins and losses just seems foreign to me.

Author: sbarzilla

I have written three books about baseball including The Hall of Fame Index. I also write for thefantatasyfix.com. You can follow me on twitter @sbarzilla.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s