I’ve made no bones about the fact that I don’t like rating pitchers nearly as much as rating position players. There’s just so much that is uncertain. That becomes even more of a factor the further we go back in time. As we look at the secondary Hall of Fame list from the Live Ball Era we go head long into a debate that will likely continue into the foreseeable future. How much control do pitchers have over balls in play?
If you want to participate in a cringe worthy activity, you can always go back and read past writings. Some of my books are 15 or more years old. The things we knew then pale in comparison to what we know now. Since this is the case, I find myself avoiding making declarative statements. So, I’m not going to say that pitchers can’t control what happens after the bat meets the ball, but I think we can definitively say that fielders and the home ballpark have a say in what happens to the ball. Now, the question that vexes us is to determine how much control each party has.
Are pitchers able to instinctively adapt to their surroundings? I think that’s true to a certain extent. A Lefty Gomez probably utilized the cavernous dimensions in Yankee Stadium to his advantage. The same might be true of the others in terms of the fielding strengths and weaknesses of the fielders behind him. So, while we focus on the defensive independent pitching statistics, we need to take a look at the other batted ball data we have on record. In an individual season it might reflect luck or random chance, but over the course of a career we might see some trends. Let’s take a look before we dive into the index.
With modern pitchers we would add the type of contact. They break it down by groundballs, flyballs, and line drives. They break it down by hard hit contact, medium contact, and soft contact. They have home runs per flyball data and the percentage of pop ups. We have none of this for these guys. What we do see is that five of the six have better ERAs than FIP (Fielding Independent pitching).
This is important because it gives us a glimpse of why the three systems rate pitchers differently. Four have very similar left on base percentages and then there is Dean and Gomez. Were they considerably better pitching in high pressure situations or is this a matter of random luck? Both saw ERAs considerably better than FIP. Was this because the fielding was better behind them or because they utilized their fielders in a more efficient way? Different statistical systems have different answers to those questions.
I suppose that our conception of all of these guys could continue to change as we learn more about the relationship between pitchers, hitters, and fielders. Exactly how much control pitchers have is still in doubt. We continually understand more as time goes on. This is why we look for gaps in the index. There will likely always be gaps. Individual scores may vary.
Iconic teams often produce Hall of Famers. That is even true of the infamous 1919 White Sox. Eddie Collins and Ray Schalk are also in Cooperstown. Ironically, Faber wasn’t available in the World Series. Maybe they end up winning the World Series and those eight players never get banned for life. Hoyt and Pennock both pitched for the 1927 Yankees and were arguably the two best pitchers on that team.
Gomez and Dean also pitched for great teams in the 1930s. This is why it is so hard to parse out praise and blame. Both pitchers won well more than 60 percent of their games. None of the other pitchers on this list managed that. They also pitched for dramatically better teams during their career.
Grimes might have gotten into the Hall of Fame partially on the basis of being a historical oddity. He threw the last legal spitball in the big leagues. All pitchers that threw spitballs before 1920 were grandfathered in when they outlawed the pitch in 1920. He pitched well into the 1930s and came relatively close to meeting the standard. I suppose you could make an exception in his case, but it seems to be a rather weird reason to offer an exception.
Both Gomez and Dean lasted a little more than ten seasons, so their peak and career values are very similar. However, in general these pitchers did not bring a ton of peak value to the table. They won big and played for great teams, but we couldn’t really call any of them great for any extended period of time.
Dean and Gomez were definitely different pitchers. They struck out more hitters in addition to limiting the runs of players on base. They just didn’t do it for long enough to garner the index score necessary to be fits for the Hall of Fame. As before, we hesitate to say someone doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that most of these selections were Veterans Committee selections.
Ironically, Pennock and Hoyt are perhaps the biggest head scratchers of the bunch. Neither really distinguished themselves beyond being members of the 1927 Yankees. At least Dean and Gomez had some high-profile seasons to call their own. Naturally, this is where the playoff performance and Cy Young points come into play.
All of these guys showed well in the playoffs. You could certainly argue that Hoyt’s numbers might be equivalent to one season’s worth of regular season production. Both he and Pennock deserve credit for pitching well in the postseason. They clearly weren’t just around for the ride. I’m not sure if it is enough for either to overcome their relatively pedestrian index scores, but it is a point in their favor.
The same is true for both Gomez and Dean. Gomez in particular was dominant in the postseason. Of course, you could say that winning with those particular Yankee teams (arguably better than the 1927 version) is not a huge deal. Still, those teams were collectively great for a reason. It takes a number of very good players to make a team great and Gomez was definitely one of them.
Dean and Faber were also good, but Faber might be known more for the series he missed. He was 11-9 with the 1919 White Sox, but he would go on to win 20 or more games the next two seasons. If he had produced those numbers in 1919 along with Lefty Williams and Eddie Cicotte then it might have been lights out in the World Series. Then again, Dicky Kerr pitched pretty well.
BWAR Cy Young Points
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Occasionally, a test reveals something we don’t readily see with the other numbers. Hoyt was never a special pitcher. He was occasionally good and usually solid, but he was never the most valuable pitcher in the league. The others could all say that at least once. However, we should be careful when looking at a table like this. It is easy to get carried away when comparing similar pitchers, but what about the first list we looked at last time.
Grimes and Dean look good until we compare them with Lefty Grove. Grove is not the Hall of Fame standard. That would be a lonely Hall of Fame, but it does make you question why they thought any of these guys were good enough. If you combine Faber’s two awards with decent playoff performance, you can make a case for him. If you look at Grimes here and at his playoff performance, you might be tempted to say he did enough. It’s hard to make that argument with the rest of them.