The Dead Ball Era is a perfect example of how the voters have always had issues telling the difference between qualified hurlers and unqualified hurlers. Granted, it is my usual course not to say someone doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, but they added one guy here that definitely doesn’t belong and another that doesn’t even follow the rules of the Hall of Fame. In order to be in the Hall of Fame, you have to have played at least ten seasons. Addie Joss was added to the Hall of Fame even though he played in just nine seasons.
They were nine really good seasons. He had a .623 winning percentage and an ERA under 2.00 for his career. He finished in the top ten in seven of the nine seasons in pitching WAR but was never the best pitcher in his league. 27 BWAR Cy Young points is decent, but I just don’t see why his tragic death was any more deserving an honor than say Thurman Munson or anyone else. We didn’t profile him here because you have to play ten seasons to make it into the index. We follow the rules around here.
Would he have been a Hall of Famer had he not tragically died in 1911? I’m sure it is a distinct possibility, but his 1910 season wasn’t very good. Was he completely healthy? Historically, the experts would say no. This is a brutally hard topic, but we don’t add numbers to the end of Lou Gehrig’s career, and we can’t do it here. The other will become obvious as we move through the index.
Marquard was a famous bonus baby from the pre-minor league days. John McGraw bid a then record sum to win his services and he immediately seemed like a bust. However, he won 19 consecutive decisions and earned him a spot on Broadway. Take away those 19 decisions and he was nearly a .500 pitcher. So, he made it into the Hall of Fame based on that single achievement and the notoriety that came with his record $11,000 bonus.
Chesbro is also not qualified, but his story is a little different. His career was shorter and his accomplishments were more significant. Still, both pale in comparison with their comrades. Peak value is important, but peak value rarely ever exceeds career value. The best you can usually hope for is equal value like we will see with McGinnity.
Waddell was the most prolific strikeout artist of his day as he led the league in six consecutive seasons. Walsh has the lowest career ERA in history. So, those two seem to be pretty secure in their place. The others will depend greatly on their peak values. Only when we put career and peak value together can we get a clear picture.
I always hesitate to say any selection was a mistake, but Marquard was clearly a mistake. That will become more and more clear as we move through the different tests. We normally like guys to have index scores north of 300, but there are always room for exceptions. Those exceptions also become clear as we move through the different tests. Besides, when you start getting north of 250 you can make a pretty compelling case for just about anyone.
This is particularly true for guys like McGinnity. The index shouldn’t be the only determining factor of whether someone is fit. If they are within 10 wins of whatever benchmark you’ve set for yourself then they are really only within one or two wins. Keep in mind we have three different platforms and that is broken up into career and peak value. So, the gaps are really larger than they appear.
You can play the old-fashioned SAT question game and ask yourself which of these players does not belong? Could it be the guy with the lowest winning percentage, ERA+, and the highest home runs per nine innings rate? Marquard was barely above average in his career and he somehow made it into the Hall of Fame. Yes, he had some good seasons, but that’s what average players do. They are rarely ever average all the time. They are normally good for a few seasons and below average in others.
Of course, things like winning percentage can be deceiving. Bender and McGinnity played for teams that won consistently. So did Brown. Obviously, one statistic can’t define a pitcher and that is why we also included the defensive independent statistics and the ERA+. However, even ERA+ can be deceiving. If we compare these players based on fielding independent pitching, then we could see something else.
We might be surprised to see Marquard actually look better with FIP, but he is one of the only ones. Bender and Waddell were also better with neutral fielding, but the rest were considerably worse. So, when you are looking a pitcher you have to seriously question how good he is. This is particularly true of World War I era pitchers who didn’t surrender home runs and didn’t strike out hitters.
We have to adjust our expectations when looking at Dead Ball Era pitching. One could look at Brown’s numbers and come away impressed. I suppose we could be impressed on some level as his ERA likely “ballooned” because of one or two bad outings. However, the fact remains that a 2.97 ERA isn’t all that good in the Dead Ball Era and that can clearly be seen when you compare it with his career ERA above.
Walsh’s performance is the stuff of legend. The 1906 Cubs were arguably the greatest regular season team in history. Adjusted for a 162-game schedule, they would have won somewhere around 120 games. They had offense (for the time period), they had fielding, and they definitely had the pitching. What they didn’t have was Walsh. Walsh mowed them down in two games and to help the White Sox pull off one of the biggest upsets in baseball history. It’s in these moments where playoff performance is a relative thing. McGinnity didn’t give up an earned run, but he is largely forgotten in the lore of the postseason.
Meanwhile, we return to our whipping boy Marquard. As with Brown, his ERA looks impressive until you consider the time period. Still, his career ERA was nearly identical. So, it would be completely outrageous to suggest that he choked or somehow underperformed. He was who he always was. When compared to the best in baseball that just wasn’t good enough and that probably encapsulates his career in simple terms.
BWAR Cy Young Points
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Like with the index, we are looking for gaps in data. The top four guys are all pretty close, so ranking them in order based on this data and only this data seems short-sighted. It is only one factor in a group of factors that would impact our decision on where to rank them. However, when we see Brown fall back from the pack it does make us take notice. I am almost certain that the keen minds of the day would have given him a Cy Young award or two had they been given the opportunity. His awesome record between 1906 and 1910 was 117-44. Add in another 21-11 season in 1911 and you can see why he got into the Hall of Fame and why he would have fared better in real awards voting.
The thing is that the Cubs were THAT good in those days. The same is true for the Giants and Chesbro. When you put together a rotation that features McGinnity, Christy Mathewson, and Chesbro you’re going to be pretty good. The same is true of a rotation that features Eddie Plank and Bender. People bemoan how concentrated talent seems to be in today’s game, but that is no comparison to the Dead Ball Era. So, it is fair to question how good each of these guys were in comparison with how good their teams were. The Cy Young points help us to differentiate between those two.