Hall of Fame Index: Pre World War II Pitcher Tiers

t’s been a long process, but we have finally come to the end of our look at starting pitchers. As we saw with the post-World War II pitchers, we needed space for more than 50 names on the list. Technically, we did the same 75 as last time, but that was a little harder and we lost some fidelity at the end of the list. We will address that later. The overall idea is the same as all of the other positions.

We will break these pitchers into five tiers to give us an idea of which pitchers are really pressing concerns in terms of being out of the Hall of Fame. It also highlights some of the mistakes that the BBWAA and Veterans Committee have made over the years. As I have said many times, the key question is not whether any particular pitcher belongs in the Hall of Fame, but whether any particular pitcher is the most qualified pitcher not currently in the Hall of Fame.

We are looking for gaps in data. Those gaps tell us where the tiers are. Most people would simply go 15 pitchers per tier and that is the general idea, but we let the data determine where the tiers should be. The implication is that index does not rank order players absolutely, but it can split up groups of players into groups of similar value.

Tier One

 CareerPeakIndex
Walter Johnson (B)402.9274.5677.4
Cy Young (B)422.7245.1667.8
Kid Nichols (V)290.1243.0533.1
Pete Alexander (B)312.1215.2527.3
Christy Mathewson (B)285.6227.4513.0
Lefty Grove (B)274.0195.0469.0
John Clarkson (V)229.7224.0453.7
Tim Keefe (V)240.0210.3450.3
Pud Galvin (V)216.9190.0406.9
Charles Radbourn (V)204.7200.9405.6
Eddie Plank (B)234.7159.6394.3
Tony Mullane200.0182.3382.3

We split the Hall of Famers into (B) and (V) to differentiate between those selected by the beat writers and those selected by the Veterans Committee. In point of fact, the 19thcentury pitchers were actually selected by something called the Old Timers Committee. The Hall of Fame had a problem when it started in the mid 1930s. None of the current beat writers had covered the game in the 19thcentury, so none of the initial class had played during the game’s early period.

As we noted in those articles, this presented a problem because historians had to go back and look at the numbers without having a living context for how those numbers were achieved. So, pitchers with 300 or more victories were admitted into the Hall of Fame and pitchers that came up short like Mullane were left out. Modern pitchers have the benefit of having the sports writers actually watch the games. They know that someone that doesn’t win 300 games may have a good excuse for that.

As for the rankings itself, I want to reiterate again that the index was not meant to rank order players at any position. The game was so different between the time that Grove pitched and even a Mathewson that comparing the two directly is next to impossible. This is particularly true when looking at Kid Nichols and any of the 20thcentury pitchers. We will say they are similar in terms of value and leave it at that.

Tier Two

 CareerPeakIndex
Bob Caruthers177.2177.2354.4
Mickey Welch (V)177.2167.6344.8
Rube Waddell (V)174.2165.0339.2
Carl Hubbell (V)185.8153.0338.8
Jim Whitney166.6166.6333.2
Ed Walsh (V)168.0160.3328.3
Dazzy Vance (V)169.8157.4327.2
Charlie Buffinton162.1162.6324.7
Red Ruffing (B)189.4127.4316.8
Vic Willis (V)171.5142.4313.9
Clark Griffith (V)165.6147.6313.2
Wes Ferrell158.1150.9309.0
Mordecai Brown (V)165.9141.8307.7
Joe McGinnity (V)152.1152.1304.2
Eppa Rixey (V)184.7119.2303.9
Ted Lyons (V)187.7115.0302.7

You will notice that most pitchers elected from the pre-World War II era were selected by the Veterans Committee. This makes perfect sense because most of these selections didn’t occur until the 1940s and 1950s. That would be as much as 20 or 30 years after they were done pitching. The general idea here is the same as with Bill James’ similarity scores. If you are similar to Hall of Famers then your case for enshrinement is much better.

However, the fact that so many are Veterans Committee selections is alarming historically. The Veterans Committee has gotten a bad rap for selecting players that don’t meet the profile of a typical Hall of Famer. This is the reason for the tiered system. Most of these guys are 19thcentury guys, but Ferrell sticks out as someone that deserves another look.

What we saw with the post-WW2 selections is that both tier one and tier two were full of legitimate Hall of Famers. This is what happens when you go from the top 50 to top 75 players. So, you could comfortably put all of these players in the Hall of Fame and justify it historically. Obviously, you can’t do that in one broad brush, so you will have to take what is there and justify it historically in addition to the index.

Tier Three

 CareerPeakIndex
Jack Stivetts147.5148.0295.5
Silver King146.8146.9293.7
Red Faber (V)177.0115.5292.5
Eddie Cicotte156.4135.8292.2
Wilbur Cooper151.3137.2288.5
Burleigh Grimes (V)162.2124.4286.6
Jack Quinn177.1106.6283.7
Urban Shocker143.7135.5279.2
Jack Powell161.2116.2277.4
George Uhle147.2129.1276.3
Al Orth145.9123.8269.7
George Mullin139.7127.5267.2
Jesse Tannehill134.2131.2265.4

Tier three is when we start to leave obvious Hall of Famers and we only see occasional blips on the radar. I hesitate to call anyone a mistake outright. This is particularly true in tier three. We can make credible arguments for just about any of these guys and that is also true for Faber and Grimes. Grimes has some cache as the last legal spit-baller, but otherwise you can throw these guys into a box.

Of course, that is the way that tiers are supposed to work. When you aren’t familiar with a pitcher you can learn more about them by comparing them with names you are familiar with. I tend to hate the “if…then” argument, but it works when you start comparing them with larger groups.

Again, I can’t take credit for the concept of tiers. James’ started this with similarity scores. The idea of comparing a player with ten to fifteen other guys makes perfect sense. Most of these guys are not Hall of Famers, so Grimes and Faber are officially outliers. We could justify their place with other tests, but the index doesn’t make them look that good.

Tier Four

CareerPeakIndex
Tommy Bridges 142.2118.5260.7
Herb Pennock (V)141.4117.6259.0
Mel Harder138.7120.3259.0
Babe Adams151.0105.2256.2
Waite Hoyt (V)153.9101.8255.7
Chief Bender (V)140.9114.1255.0
Carl Mays138.8115.1253.9
Jack Chesbro (V)124.7126.7251.4
Dolf Luque135.0115.3250.3
Hippo Vaughn129.3118.4247.7
Dizzy Dean (B)122.9122.2245.1
Lon Warnake126.7117.3244.0
Ted Breitenstein121.3122.6243.9
Doc White127.7114.8242.5
Larry French132.5107.5240.0
Frank Dwyer120.8118.6239.4

These things always happen. For whatever reason, we see more tier four Hall of Famers than tier three Hall of Famers. I’m not really sure why that happens, but we can identify commonalities between these players. They all pitched for historically great teams. Pitchers and position players are really no different in this regard. Their numbers tend to look better when they play for a great team. I’m really not breaking any new ground here.

However, the question with the pitchers is the same as it was with the position players. Were those teams great because they were there or were their numbers good because their teams were great? Often times, the answer is some of both. Great teams need good players to be great, but those good players will often look better than what they are.

Of course, this is not completely cut and dried. When you pitch for great teams you also pitch in big moments. Those big moments can define your career and if you perform well in those big moments it could help throw you over the top. The problem is that things like playoff performance and big moments were meant to be tiebreakers. None of these pitchers is particularly close.

Tier Five

 CareerPeakIndex
Bobby Mathews135.698.1233.7
Pink Hawley116.4116.4232.8
Bob Shawkey125.3105.5230.8
Nap Rucker114.7114.7229.4
Sam Leever116.6108.2224.8
Kid Gleason133.090.8223.8
Eddie Rommel118.2105.5223.7
Lefty Gomez (V)110.0109.9219.9
Red Lucas113.8102.4216.2
Rube Marquard (V)119.795.0214.7
Bill Dinneen109.1104.2213.3
Sad Sam Jones131.679.3210.9
Smoky Joe Wood112.497.9210.3
Howard Ehmke104.097.2201.2
Bullet Joe Bush106.494.7201.1
Curt Davis105.392.2197.5
Jeff Pfeffer99.597.6197.1
Jesse Haines (V)106.572.4178.9

Haines is really not the 75thmost valuable pitcher from the era. He was profiled because he was elected to the Hall of Fame. He likely would finish between 80 and 85 if we went back and added some more pitchers to the profile. So, he is the least qualified member of the Hall of Fame from the period, but Lefty Gomez and Rube Marquard aren’t that far behind.

Again, I hesitate to absolutely declare anyone a mistake, but those three stick out like sore thumbs. Marquard and Gomez have things in their favor that make sense, but Haines is just not qualified. I’m not really sure what the Veterans Committee was thinking, but they weren’t looking out for the best interest of the Hall of Fame.

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.

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