Why do we wait ten years?

I had one of those interesting debates that always seems to happen on Twitter. Someone asked a question about who was the greatest hitter of our generation and the answers tended towards the usual suspects. The name left out was the one the shocked me the most. No one mentioned the name Albert Pujols. It seemed shocking considering he just surpassed 2000 RBI this season and has over 600 home runs.

If we adjust that for our purposes, we know that he is currently the second most valuable first baseman in history according to the Hall of Fame Index. Normally, we would say he has time to get to the top spot, but the last several seasons have shown that he is spinning his wheels in terms of value.

This brings us to the topic of the conversation. Why do we wait ten seasons to include players in the index? The player most mentioned in that poll was Mike Trout of the Angels. Yes, he is currently the best player in the game. At least he is when we consider multiple seasons. I didn’t mention him because he just hasn’t been doing it long enough. I remember watching him come up in 2011.

Is he a Hall of Famer? I would say the Vegas odds are pretty good at this point considering his index score would already put him there. However, making such a prognostication ignores all of the possibilities that could occur from this point forward. Let’s compare Trout through season eight to other prominent players in history through season eight and tell me what you notice. I’ll ignore the index and simply go with OPS+.

Player A: 171

Player B: 175

Player C: 164

Who are these three? Well, we know Pujols and Trout (A and B), but what about Dick Allen? Allen wasn’t quite as good as those two, but he was pretty darn close through year nine of his career. Add in another season and he was pretty darn good through year ten. What happened to him after that? Well, it was a variety of things. We could blame it on injuries, but there was also a portion that could be attributed to the fact that teams got tired of dealing with him.

Every position has guys like Allen. I could make a veritable all-star team of players that could be Hall of Famers that fell off the table for one reason or another. We can start from one of the players currently active. Has anyone been tracking what has happened to Buster Posey lately? Two years ago he looked like one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game. It’s been a disaster since then. So, let’s take a look at the greats through their first eight full seasons and what happened to them after that. We will look merely at bWAR just for fun.

Catcher: Buster Posey (38.3 vs 3.1)

First Base: Don Mattingly (34.4 vs 8.0)

Second Base: Carlos Baerga (20.6 vs -1.0)

Third Base: David Wright (39.1 vs. 11.3)

Shortstop: Nomar Garciaparra (42.3 vs 1.9)

Left Field: Albert Belle (36.2 vs. 3.9)

Center Field: Cesar Cedeno (39.8 vs. 13.0)

Right Field: Tony Oliva (42.2 vs. 0.9)

What does all of this have to do with Trout? Well, these were all players that most of us would have sworn would be Hall of Famers after their first eight full seasons. Well, Baerga may be an exception there, but you get the idea. Anything can happen at any time. Trout may turn into one of these guys. He could turn into another Pujols and that wouldn’t be all that bad either.

A large part of the calculus of determining who is the best at anything depends greatly on how that player ages. We don’t know that in Trout’s case. He is at the heighth of his powers and that is a horrible time to judge anything. We can apply complex mathematical models to guess how he might age, but there is really no telling what might happen. He might age like Willie Mays or Ted Williams and he might age like one of the guys above. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but that guesswork short changes not only everyone else, but Trout himself.

He deserves the opportunity to continue his career. When he gets to the ten year mark we will start profiling him in earnest, but even then he deserves the benefit of enjoying a full career arc before we make any lasting declarations. That’s all part of the process and all eight guys above serve as cautionary tales.

 

 

 

 

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.

Hall of Fame Index: 19th Century Pitchers OLI

At some point we have to admit this is all an academic exercise. Some people have a tremendous amount of influence. Millions read “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame” by Bill James and that book may have influenced some in the Veterans Committee to finally admit George Davis into the Hall of Fame. Millions of people are not reading this blog. We can safely those numbers aren’t even in the thousands.

Even if an influential person read it, it is highly unlikely that anyone that played in the 19thcentury would be added. Some of these names might be familiar to you because others have championed them before. The problem is a marketing one. They are all dead. Their children are likely dead. Their grandchildren may still be with us, but no one knows who they are. Who is going to travel across the country to watch Tony Mullane’s grandson or great grandson make a speech?

That sounds disrespectful and it is, but it is also the truth. The most respectful thing we can do is look at their careers in the same prism we looked at the Hall of Famers from the period. Maybe they are where they should be, but it is just as likely they were wrongfully overlooked. We can’t do much about that either way, but let’s take a fresh look.

Career Value

 BWARFWARWS/5Total
Tony Mullane66.553.779.8200.0
Bob Caruthers59.650.267.4177.2
Jim Whitney56.155.555.0166.6
Charlie Buffinton60.744.856.6162.1
Jack Stivetts48.542.057.0147.5
Silver King50.443.852.6146.8

In a perfect world, everyone that clears a certain threshold would get into the Hall of Fame. We don’t live in a perfect world. There are all kinds of considerations in play. How many 19thcentury pitchers have we already put in? How many really deserve the honor? Usually, these things work themselves out, but the 19thcentury wasn’t a normal time for baseball. If a player goes out and throws 500 innings in a season, he is going to be valuable in the way we define it. He will have had an impact on his team’s wins. He also would have had an impact on their losses. An average pitcher will look good in that kind of environment.

So, while we love the index here, we might have to look at the conventional numbers a little harder before deciding. Certainly, Mullane and Caruthers look strong going in. What we know is that many of these pitchers only lasted about a decade because of the heavy workloads. It might be a rare instance where the index doesn’t really tell us what we need to know.

This is where we lean on the index as a comparative tool and not an absolute. Most of these guys will wind up with more than 300 index wins. Normally, that would be enough, but we need to compare them with the rest of the pitchers from the 19thcentury. Maybe the 300 win plateau is not the line of demarcation. Of the seven pitchers we profiled last time, five had index scores north of 400 wins. Mickey Welch came in just shy of 350 and Clark Griffith can be seen as a pioneer, so we could ignore his score. So, maybe 350 is the new benchmark.

Peak Value

 BWARFWARWS/5TotalIndex
Tony Mullane62.846.772.8182.3382.3
Bob Caruthers59.650.267.4177.2354.4
Jim Whitney56.155.555.0166.6333.2
Charlie Buffinton61.644.856.2162.6324.7
Jack Stivetts49.242.056.8148.0295.5
Silver King50.543.852.6146.9293.7

When we think of the index in terms of looking for gaps we are always going to be better off. If Welch is the minimum standard then we are looking at two additional Hall of Famers and not four. That is certainly more palatable and makes the cases for Mullane and Caruthers that much stronger. Of course, it wasn’t meant to say that Caruthers is definitely in or that Whitney is definitely out.

The index sets the stage for debate. It can provide a basis for the debate, but it was never designed to end it. For instance, it will not be the final word on any of these players, but it does tell us that Stivetts and King have a huge uphill climb. Whitney and Buffinton have better cases, but they still have something to prove. On the flip side, Mullane is pretty much in unless something really drastic happens to change our minds.

This is where the traditional numbers come in. They help explain why a player was overlooked, but they also provide additional evidence one way or another on a pitcher’s candidacy. None of these pitchers won 300 games. That’s a tremendous amount of evidence by itself. Modern sports writers know that there is much more to pitching than won-loss records. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the benefit of modern sports writers.

Pitching Statistics

 WinsPCTERA+SO/9BB/9HR/9
Tony Mullane284.5631173.62.80.2
Bob Caruthers218.6881222.91.90.2
Jim Whitney191.4841054.01.10.2
Charlie Buffinton233.6051154.52.30.2
Jack Stivetts203.6061203.83.60.4
Silver King203.5721213.52.70.2

Two things immediately stick out here. First, Caruthers pitching numbers are absolutely brilliant. If we counted him with the 20thand 21stcenturies we would see that he stands second to Whitey Ford in career winning percentage. He also had the best ERA+ of the bunch. So, we can safely say his case just got a whole lot stronger. Whitney would appear to be the opposite at first blush, but this is where the defensive independent pitching statistics (DIPS) come in. He had the lowest walk rate and tied for the lowest home run rate. So, why was his ERA+ so much worse?

Well, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) came in nearly a quarter of a run lower (2.75) than his actual ERA (2.97). He led the league in FIP on two occasions, but never led the league in ERA. In many of his big loss seasons, the distance between the two was even greater. This is where the quality of team comes into play. Yes, we know pitchers can control the type of contact a hitter makes to a certain extent, but they can’t control whether the fielders behind him are butchers or not.

Caruthers career ERA was considerably lower (2.83 vs. 3.27) than his FIP. So, we can ask questions based on this fact. Was that because he was adept at getting hitters to hit to the strong part of the defense? Maybe. Was it more of a factor of luck that he played on better teams? Maybe. As is usually the case, it is probably a combination of these. Still, having a pitcher with a strikeout to walk ratio better than three to one when his contemporaries couldn’t muster a two to one ratio is eye-catching and worth exploring.

Playoff Pitching

 W-LINNERASO/9BB/9HR/9
Bob Caruthers7-8147.02.513.21.70.6
Silver King2-666.02.184.51.50.0
Jack Stivetts2-029.00.935.32.20.3
Tony Mullane
Jim Whitney
Charlie Buffinton

These numbers are rarely ever cut and dried. This is the main reason why we look at multiple numbers. On the one hand, Caruthers did pitch better in playoff conditions than in the regular season. His walk rate dropped slightly, and his strikeout rate increased slightly. Those are all good things. However, his won-loss record looks rather pedestrian. The same is true for Silver King despite some good pitching numbers.

How does this happen and why does it matter? Well, on the first count it happens because the competitive balance in the game at the time was out of whack. So, Caruthers and King likely beat up on weak competition during the season, but could not do that during the playoffs. It doesn’t matter in any real sense because of the sample sizes involved, but it does serve to illustrate the problems with looking at won-loss records in general. There is so much that is out of the pitcher’s control.

The three pitchers that didn’t pitch in the postseason illustrate the point in a different way. Their teams were not good enough to get there. Yet, two of them were good enough to win a majority of their games anyway. As we know, Whitney was not, but that probably had more to do with his team than him.

BWAR Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CYPoints
Tony Mullane44032
Charlie Buffinton23131
Jim Whitney15028
Silver King11228
Bob Caruthers14023
Jack Stivetts12013

Keep in mind that leagues vacillated between eight and twelve teams during those days. Most teams had one or maybe two primary pitchers. So, finishing in the top ten was not as impressive as it would be today. So, we could look at top five finishes and Cy Youngs and come out more impressed with King than we were before. Just eyeballing the numbers above, the results would be slightly different, but still pretty close.

It seems pretty clear that Mullane belongs in the Hall of Fame. I’m not sure that will ever be rectified, but we can at least give him his due. Caruthers is an interesting case. He doesn’t fare quite as well here which indicates his won-loss record was greatly inflated. That’s always true. Ford was not the best pitcher in the game at the time in spite of his awesome won-loss record. He was one of the best though and the same is true of Caruthers. That should have been enough to get him in as well.

Hall of Fame Index: 19th Century Hall of Fame Pitchers

Judging 19thcentury players has always been its own separate sport. It quite literally is a separate sport. The rules changed so often and so drastically in the early going that you really couldn’t compare players from that era even with the Dead Ball Era. In the beginning, hitters could call for their pitch. Then, they played around with the number of pitches required for a walk and strikeout. It really isn’t until we get into the 1890s before the rules of the game are those that we would recognize today.

In 1901, the American League joined the National League as one of the two major leagues. With the exception of the Federal League in 1914 and 1915, this has been the structure since that time. In the 1800s we had the American Association for a time. We had the Player’s League for a time. We had the National Association at the beginning. All of these leagues competed with the National League.

That creates all kinds of issues for us as we move through the index. How do we take index scores from a period where the level of play may not have been uniform? How do we evaluate postseason records for players when there was no established World Series? How do we compare players from the 1870s with players from the 1890s when the rules were not the same? All we can really say is that someone dominated the era in which they were in. We cannot really compare players from the 19thcentury with the 20thor 21stcentury.

Career Value

 BWARFWARWS/5Total
Kid Nichols116.178.495.6290.1
Tim Keefe86.970.582.6229.7
John Clarkson83.267.379.2229.7
Pud Galvin73.562.880.6216.9
Old Hoss Radbourn75.451.178.2204.7
Mickey Welch62.344.170.8177.2
Clark Griffith62.548.554.6165.6

Griffith is a testament to how much the game has changed in the 150 or so years it has officially been played. Griffith is largely in the Hall of Fame as a pioneer. He ended up founding the Washington franchise in the American League. So, he would be similar to Charlie Comiskey and other former players that became owners. So, we will continue to include him here, but he is in the Hall of Fame for different reasons.

Beyond that, the way these guys were used was completely different. Most of these pitchers barely made it ten seasons. That’s because the teams in those days didn’t even employ four-man rotations. Radbourn is the most stark example of that. In 1884, he went 60-12 with a 1.38 ERA and 678 innings. He started 73 games that season and appeared in 75 of the team’s games. The Providence Grays played in only 112 games that season. So, according to the math, he started all but 39 of the team’s games that season.

Looking at some of the individual seasons is fascinating. The Grays went 84-28 that season. That would be close to 120 wins in a season today. That’s one of the downsides to evaluating players from the period. When the competitive balance of the league is that drastically disperse, it is impossible to know whether players were really as good as they were because of their own talent or because every other team sucked.

Peak Value

 BWARFWARWS/5TotalIndex
Kid Nichols96.568.578.0243.0533.1
John Clarkson82.265.476.4224.0453.7
Tim Keefe75.861.772.8210.3450.3
Old Hoss Radbourn74.649.976.4200.9405.6
Pud Galvin66.952.970.2190.0406.9
Mickey Welch59.741.566.4167.6344.8
Clark Griffith58.242.447.0147.6313.2

Let’s consider Kid Nichols. Nichols’ peak occurred between 1890 and 1899. He spent all of the time in the National League and the rules of the game were virtually the same as they are now. The Player’s League played in only 1890. The American Association played through 1891. So, the 1890s were a fairly stable period in the game’s history, The 1870s and 1880s not only saw the American Association, but also the National Association and the Union Association.

They also saw all kinds of changes in rules and teams were not as uniform as they are now. The most famous of these examples was the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. They won only 20 games that season and finished a remarkable 34 games behind the next worst team. That is because they allowed people to own multiple teams. Could you imagine the Streinbrenner’s also owning the Marlins? Suddenly, anyone that showed any promise in Miami would be shipped to New York in exchange for a half-eaten box of vegetable fried rice.

So, the rules weren’t uniform. The leagues weren’t uniform. Competitive balance was virtually non-existent. In this environment it is impossible to compare players to players from even the beginning of the 20thcentury much less after World War II. Heck, it’s difficult to compare a Nichols with a Radbourn. We can only compare them with their absolute contemporaries and that is one of the things the index makes possible.

Pitching Statistics

 WinsPCTERA+SO/9BB/9HR/9
Kid Nichols362.6351403.32.30.3
John Clarkson328.6481333.92.40.3
Tim Keefe342.6031264.62.20.1
Old Hoss Radbourn310.6151193.61.70.2
Pud Galvin365.5411072.71.10.2
Mickey Welch307.5941133.52.40.2
Clark Griffith237.6191212.52.10.2

Modern pitchers don’t need people like me to stick up for them, but I do it anyway. Old-timers love to talk about how today’s pitchers just can’t hold a candle to the pitchers of the past. In addition to the whole pitch count problem, you have the innings themselves. The aforementioned Radbourn managed to pitch more than 4500 innings. That’s an awesome sum, but not unprecedented.

He did It over the course of ten seasons. That’s remarkable, but a pitcher could average 250 innings a season for 15 years and come relatively close to the same output. Modern pitchers could throw 180 to 200 innings for nearly 20 years and get there. It’s all about how you would like to parcel out your innings. The truth of the matter is that the early game saw very disparate ability levels. The pay was also inconsistent at best. If I pay someone season to season then I could throw his arm out without any real financial consequence.

Compare that with today and you can see the relative difference between a first and fourth starter is considerably less. Considering the financial ramifications of arbitration and free agency, one could certainly defend going back to four-man rotations and just burning out arms after five or six seasons. However, that has to be balanced with the fact that relievers have become much more effective then we could surmise that the ship has sailed on that whole idea.

The difference between the Hall of Famers and non-Hall of Famers is largely the presence of 300 or more victories. We will see that when we look at those on the outside looking in. Considering all of the problems with competitive balance, it would appear that basing anything on wins and losses would be problematic. We haven’t even discussed postseason performance.

Playoff Performance

 W-LINNERASO/9BB/9HR/9
John Clarkson2-564.02.677.32.50.1
Tim Keefe4-361.02.666.12.10.3
Mickey Welch1-222.04.091.24.90.4
Old Hoss Radbourn3-022.00.007.00.00.0
Kid Nichols2-018.01.006.52.00.0
Pud Galvin
Clark Griffith

How much stock do we put into these numbers? The National League was certainly a major league as it has always been. All of the other ones mentioned were sometimes strong and sometimes not. When it was only the National League there wasn’t any kind of World Series of sort. Nichols and Radbourn are clearly the class of the bunch in this table, but it’s hard to really criticize anyone outside of Welch. Keep in mind we would be criticizing Welch on the balance of 22 innings. Still, his strikeout to walk numbers indicate why he struggled.

More importantly, how does one grade out someone that didn’t ever get an opportunity to perform in the postseason? In most times, one pitcher or one position player couldn’t possibly overcome a bad roster of players. However, when you are starting either a third or half of your team’s games you should have more of a say in how good your team is. Griffith is obviously in as a pioneer, but he sported a winning percentage better than 60 percent.

BWAR Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CyPoints
Kid Nichols45477
Tim Keefe65153
John Clarkson23351
Mickey Welch46042
Pud Galvin53140
Old Hoss Radbourn24136
Clark Griffith43027

Keep in mind that most of these guys pitched for about ten seasons. Nichols pitched for about fifteen seasons, so he came out ahead. When you pitch in a third of your team’s games then it is pretty easy to finish in the top ten in the league in value. So, top five finishes and Cy Young Awards are more telling here. So, Clarkson and Nichols come out ahead in that outlook as well.

If there is any surprise it is that Radbourn won only one award according to bWAR. He had two outrageously good seasons in a row, but someone won only one award. Still, having 19.1 bWAR in one season is just stupid. He had 47.1 bWAR over a four-year period. That’s just the way these guys were used in those days.

At any rate, all of these guys deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, but there might be some additional guys that deserve the honor as well. Especially when looking at the 19thcentury arms, you have to look beyond the won-loss records to determine whether someone deserves the honor.

Hall of Fame Index: Dead Ball Pitchers OLI

The Dead Ball Era was the era of the pitcher. Offense was never as depressed as it was back then. It’s kind of funny to think about the different proposals that people make to increase offense now. There is talk of moving the mound back and outlawing extreme shifting. What these folks ignore is history. The history of the game is chalk full of periods of great offense and great pitching. Just six years before the Dead Ball Era began, the sport had its greatest offensive season ever (1894).

There are really two points here. First, the game changes on its own and really doesn’t need our help. Scouts naturally scout players to address the current trends. If extreme shifts are the thing now then scouts will scout players that can hit to all fields. That’s the way these things work. Secondly, evaluating pitchers in that environment is tricky business. When all numbers look good it is more difficult to stand out.

Some of the names on the outside looking in will not be familiar to the casual fan. It’s funny how these things work out. Time and place have a great impact on the level of fame these pitchers had. Put them on a different team or in a slightly different time and something else may happen. This is where we get in the “if…then” argument.

Career Value

 BWARFWARWS/5Total
Jack Powell56.647.257.4161.2
Eddie Cicotte58.448.649.4156.4
Al Orth51.845.548.6145.9
George Mullin47.541.251.0139.7
Hippo Vaughn46.541.841.0129.3
Doc White46.734.047.0127.7

There is one name here that everyone has heard of. Cicotte was one of the eight men banned from the game after they threw the 1919 World Series. If you’ve only seen the movie there are a couple of salient facts you may not know. For one, they didn’t get banned until after 1920 and that season may have been one of the reasons why. The White Sox mysteriously faded down the stretch and lost the pennant by two games. 

At 36 years old, Cicotte went 21-10 with a 3.26 ERA. It was the first year of the Live Ball Era and that season earned him a 115 ERA+. It is highly likely that he would have at least thrown two or three more decent seasons before retiring. If you toggle those results in WAR terms down then you could conservatively estimate that he would have gotten at least seven to ten WAR in those additional two to three years. That would be between 20 to 30 wins in index terms.

Obviously, there is way more going on here than simple index wins, but we can start there. Give him those wins and he finishes well above the 300 threshold. So, Cicotte was a Hall of Fame level pitcher whose career was derailed due to scandal. We can (and will) get into that scandal some, but it should be pointed out that Cicotte would have likely been well above the threshold had he been allowed to finish his career naturally.

Peak Value

 BWARFWARWS/5TotalIndex
Eddie Cicotte51.143.341.4135.8292.2
George Mullin46.137.643.8127.5267.2
Al Orth44.839.439.6123.4269.3
Hippo Vaughn43.038.037.4118.4247.7
Jack Powell39.533.942.8116.2277.4
Doc White43.629.641.6114.8242.5

Cicotte is one of the few players in history to finish his career during his ten-year peak. This means that he could have conceivably lifted his peak value as well. He was similar to knuckleball pitchers in this generation. He threw what was called a “shine ball”. He was a legal spitball pitcher like Burleigh Grimes. Like the modern knuckleball pitcher, he got better with age. When velocity is not the issue, experience usually wins out.

When you look at all of the index scores you’ll notice that these guys are more qualified than pitchers like Jack Chesbro, Chief Bender, and Rube Marquard. The difference are the teams that these guys pitched for worse teams. That’s not their fault. In the days before the Reserve Clause was outlawed they had absolutely zero control of who they pitched for.

Keep in mind that the index is just one part of the conversation. We want to look at the pitching numbers, playoff performance, and Cy Young points to see if we have missed anything about these guys. We definitely won’t abandon the Cicotte discussion quite yet, but the relevance will come up shortly.

Pitching Statistics

 WinsPCTERA+SO/9BB/9HR/9
Eddie Cicotte209.5851233.82.30.1
Jack Powell245.4901063.32.10.2
Al Orth204.5191002.51.80.2
George Mullin228.5381013.63.00.1
Hippo Vaughn178.5651194.72.70.1
Doc White189.5481134.12.00.1

It was more difficult for pitchers in the Dead Ball Era to dominate because they didn’t give up home runs as a group. When looking at the DIP statistics we see that home runs surrendered is one of the major categories. Remove that effectively and you make it more difficult to distinguish yourself. Still, Cicotte distinguishes himself in this group. Unfortunately, we can’t go very far beyond the DIPS from this period, but we can guess that he was better at inducing weak contact. We can also guess that he probably had better fielding support behind him and that could be backed up with the FIP data.

 ERAFIPDiff
Eddie Cicotte2.382.54+0.16
Jack Powell2.973.01+0.04
Al Orth3.373.11-0.26
George Mullin2.822.91+0.09
Hippo Vaughn2.492.62+0.16
Doc White2.392.51+0.12

If you go according to FIP then most of these pitchers would see their ERA+ go down. That includes Cicotte. Maybe we should look at Orth in a different lense. His FIP+ would be 108 and that obviously makes him look different. Still, we are looking at an above average pitcher and above average pitchers don’t get into the Hall of Fame. With the exception of Cicotte, all of them were above average.

Fielding was a lot more important back then. Teams were committing more than an error per game back in those days, so the difference between good teams and bad teams was even more than it is now. In that environment, who you pitched for was more important than it ever was. You can add that to the pile of factors that affect pitchers’ won-loss records.

Playoff Pitching

 W-LINNERASO/9BB/9HR/9
George Mullin3-358.01.865.62.50.2
Eddie Cicotte2-344.22.224.01.40.0
Hippo Vaughn1-227.01.005.71.70.0
Doc White1-115.01.802.44.20.0
Jack Powell
Al Orth

I hate to focus completely on Cicotte, but he is the point of interest. The facts clearly indicate that he took money to throw games. That was all part of the public record in the grand jury and he admitted to it. What isn’t clear is what he did to actually throw the series. Yes, he lost during the series, but he also won. His overall performance was not that much worse than his regular season performance.

I guess the point is that in a sport where you are combatting someone else one on one it is difficult to imagine someone being good enough to shave a little off of their performance and lose. Anyone can tank and lose big, but it takes real skill to lose and look good doing it. I’m not sure anyone is truly capable of doing that. So, I question whether any of those guys really did throw it in the end. The Reds won more games in the regular season that year, so is it so outrageous that they should win the World Series that year?

Of course, he and the others took the money. There is no getting around that and we cannot have anyone in the game that does that. I suppose the concept of forgiveness is a difficult one. In the religious realm it is absolute, but in the sports world it’s often conditional. He is no position to show contrition. He’s been dead for more than 50 years. It’s also a little much to think that any new evidence will come to light. Did he throw any games the next season to help his team come up short? Would things have changed if they had won the pennant a second time and then won the World Series? These are impossible questions to answer, but they should be asked.

BWAR Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CyPoints
Hippo Vaughn14133
Eddie Cicotte32128
Al Orth11118
Jack Powell41017
Doc White22016
George Mullin40012

One of the signs of maturity is admitting our own limitations. The index can do a number of things, but it can’t completely capture and define greatness. Sure, breaking things down to peak value helps and certainly a score can describe greatness, but it can never define it. We are mesmerized by greatness. Consistent goodness is admirable and probably more admirable than occasional brilliance, but the brilliance captures our attention.

We remember Denny McLain’s 30-win season. We remember Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA that same season. We remember Roger Maris hitting 61 home runs in 1961 and we remember Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. We don’t remember the good performances. We don’t remember sustained good performance. It’s just not the way we were built. Cy Young points (and MVP points) allow for this fact. Most of the time they reveal the same thing as the index, but occasionally they don’t.

Cicotte had six seasons in the top ten in bWAR. Those included four seasons in a row to finish his career. That more than anything probably spells the difference between greatness and being largely forgotten. Maybe he falls off a cliff in 1921, but most of us tend to doubt it. It is more likely that he produces another top ten season or two. At least he will always have 1917.

Hall of Fame Index: Dead Ball HOF Pitchers Part II

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.

Career Value

 BWARFWARWS/5Total
Rube Waddell57.958.358.0174.2
Ed Walsh65.851.353.0170.1
Vic Willis64.244.058.6166.8
Mordecai Brown57.449.859.2166.4
Joe McGinnity57.936.753.8148.4
Chief Bender47.350.946.2144.4
Jack Chesbro42.540.441.8124.7
Rube Marquard32.643.341.6117.5

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.

Peak Value

 BWARFWARWS/5TotalIndex
Rube Waddell56.156.952.0165.0339.2
Ed Walsh65.744.951.8162.4332.5
Mordecai Brown50.742.249.4142.3308.7
Joe McGinnity57.936.753.8141.4289.8
Vic Willis54.535.048.4137.9304.7
Jack Chesbro44.540.441.8126.7251.4
Chief Bender40.840.836.0117.6262.0
Rube Marquard28.032.832.092.8210.3

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.

Pitching Statistics

 WinsPCTERA+SO/9BB/9HR/9
Rube Waddell193.5741357.02.40.1
Ed Walsh195.6071465.31.90.1
Mordecai Brown239.6481393.91.90.1
Vic Willis249.5481183.72.70.1
Joe McGinnity246.6341202.82.10.1
Chief Bender212.6251125.12.10.1
Jack Chesbro198.6001113.92.10.1
Rube Marquard201.5321034.32.30.3

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.

 ERAFIPDiff
Rube Waddell2.162.03-0.13
Ed Walsh1.822.02+0.20
Vic Willis2.632.92+0.29
Joe McGinnity2.663.04+0.38
Mordecai Brown2.062.41+0.35
Jack Chesbro2.682.67+0.01
Chief Bender2.462.29-0.17
Rube Marquard3.082.90-0.18

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.

Playoff Pitching

 W-LINNERASO/9BB/9HR/9
Chief Bender6-485.02.446.22.20.1
Rube Marquard2-558.23.075.42.30.6
Mordecai Brown5-457.22.975.82.00.0
Joe McGinnity1-117.00.003.21.60.0
Ed Walsh2-015.00.6010.23.60.0
Vic Willis0-111.24.632.36.20.0
Rube Waddell
Jack Chesbro

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

 Top 10Top 5CYPoints
Ed Walsh13348
Vic Willis33244
Joe McGinnity23241
Rube Waddell02340
Mordecai Brown14023
Jack Chesbro51020
Rube Marquard13018
Chief Bender50015

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.

Hall of Fame Index: Dead Ball Era HOF Part One

As we move into the so-called Dead Ball Era, we move into the final period that could be called the modern era. The 19thcentury comes with a whole host of issues we will get into when we get to the 19thcentury. As we have done before, we will split the Hall of Fame Dead Ball Era pitchers into two groups. Dividing such a list is never easy. We could do it evenly, but it makes more sense to look for gaps in data. As you will see, the second list considerably falls below the first list.

Before we move into those guys we need to revisit an issue we have addressed a couple of times along the way. In the Dead Ball Era, relief pitchers were often were called rescue pitchers. They were only brought in when the starting pitcher was getting shelled. That didn’t happen often in an era that saw less scoring than any in history. Historians and pundits alike love to talk about how durable these guys were and how they could throw 150 to 200 pitches without breaking a sweat. Sure. However, all of that bluster ignores how the game has changed in terms of how pitchers and hitters interact. The American League came into being in 1901, so we will take the big leagues one decade at a time.

 SO/9BB/9Total
19013.22.55.7
19103.93.06.9
19202.92.85.7
19303.33.16.4
19403.73.47.1
19503.94.18.0
19605.23.48.6
19705.83.59.3
19804.83.17.9
19905.73.39.0
20006.53.810.3
20107.13.310.4
20188.53.211.7

I’m not here to cast judgments as to which version of the game is better, but you can clearly see the game changing around the turn of the 21stcentury. Strikeouts and walks by sheer definition require a certain number of pitches. The more of them there are the more pitches there are. In 1901, a starting (and only pitcher) was likely going through 20 to 30 pitches fewer per game than teams were going through last season. So, if 15 pitches is the standard per inning then it would take a team 135 pitches to get through nine innings. Take away 30 pitches and you are talking a complete game.

The last time we looked at these numbers, we also looked at the difference between starting pitching and relief pitching. Granted, there are all kinds of issues (length of games, stoppage of play) that could be seen as negatives to the proliferation of bullpens, but make no mistake, relief pitchers generally outperform their starting pitcher counterparts. These two explanations have just as much if not more to do with reducing the starting pitching workload as the previous generations being tougher and more durable.

Career Value

 BWARFWARWS/5Total
Cy Young163.6132.3126.8422.7
Walter Johnson164.3126.6112.0402.9
Pete Alexander118.998.095.2312.1
Christy Mathewson103.996.585.2285.6
Eddie Plank91.071.572.2234.7

These five guys are way beyond anything else in the period. Remember, these are their career value scores and not their total index. Offense is included in the numbers and that is enough to throw Johnson up the charts a little. As we will see, it might be enough to throw him on top when we get to the total index. Does that make Johnson the greatest pitcher of all-time? Keep in mind that the index was never designed to make that kind of determination. However, we can have a lively discussion.

A part of that lively discussion will involve our other tests. We still have peak value, pitching statistics, playoff performance, and the bWAR Cy Young points to consider. For many fans, 511 victories and the fact that the game’s pitching award is named after Young is enough to give him the nod. 

There could be a similar debate between Alexander and Mathewson. Both ended up with an identical 373 victories, so it is natural to pair them together. The index also puts them together in the history of the game. Alexander lasted longer, but Mathewson might have a point when we get to peak value.

Peak Value

 BWARFWARWS/5TotalIndex
Walter Johnon108.088.377.6273.9676.8
Cy Young102.571.571.2245.2667.9
Christy Mathewson85.676.865.0227.4513.0
Pete Alexander83.665.266.4215.2527.3
Eddie Plank63.147.149.4159.6394.3

One of the things we notice over time is that hitting has become less and less emphasized for pitchers. We know American League pitchers haven’t hit since 1973, but even for National League pitchers it has become an afterthought. Some of these guys were quite accomplished with the bat and that plays into their value. Still, these are the titans of the game. When people normally think of the best pitchers of all-time, these are the names (probably not Plank) that come up.

Still, the opening table demonstrates how much the game has changed. This is why we divided pitchers into two distinct groups. It’s just not feasible to compare Roger Clemens to Walter Johnson in any meaningful way. Even if we only consider how much they dominated their era, we are talking apples and carrots. Johnson was the all-time strikeout leader for over 50 years and then was passed by more than a few pitchers in the intervening 30. 

All five were 300 game winners. This is probably the one statistic that will become antiquated as we move forward in the modern era. We could see them change the wins rule as bullpens become more and more prominent. Until that happens, 200 or 250 wins might become the new standard. 

Pitching Statistics

 WinsPCTERA+SO/9BB/9SO/BBHR/9
Walter Johnson417.5991475.32.12.520.1
Cy Young511.6191383.41.52.270.2
Pete Alexander373.6421353.81.62.380.3
Christy Mathewson373.6651364.71.62.940.2
Eddie Plank326.6271224.52.12.140.1

The calling card of success hasn’t changed in over 100 years. If you strikeout more hitters you are typically successful. If you walk fewer hitters and give up fewer home runs then you are also typically successful. All you need to do is reference the earlier table and look at the league averages for strikeouts and walks to see that. 

The strikeout to walk ratios were added for effect. The league averages hovered just over one to one throughout the Dead Ball Era. It isn’t a perfect correlation since each player had careers of varying length. So, Johnson enjoyed a longer career than Mathewson, but you could argue that Mathewson was better at his best than Johnson was at his.

The obvious point is that success is predictable over time even if the keen minds of the day didn’t recognize it. Pitching coaches have preached pitching to contact for generations while pitching statistics clearly show that missing bats is the best way to guarantee success. We know that now, but that doesn’t make these pitchers any less successful. They were missing more bats than their contemporaries back then.

Playoff Statistics

 W-LINNERASO/9BB/9HR/9
Christy Mathewson5-5101.20.974.20.90.1
Cy Young2-361.02.363.81.00.3
Eddie Plank2-554.21.325.31.80.0
Walter Johnson3-350.02.526.32.70.7
Pete Alexander3-243.03.566.12.50.6

If you need any proof that won-loss records are a little less than meaningful then take a look at Mathewson’s playoff numbers. How does one lose five games when they have an 0.97 ERA? Alexander had an ERA considerably higher than his career mark and still won more games than he lost. It just doesn’t make sense. Heck, Plant went 2-5 with a 1.32 ERA. That seems impossible.

We include the rate statistics because we want to know if they pitched better, worse, or about the same as they did during the regular season. ERAs over 50 or 60 innings aren’t particularly helpful when trying to determine if they actually pitched well. If we see a higher rate of home runs or more walks, then we have an idea. Johnson and Alexander had their playoff performances during the Live Ball Era, so their home run rates look worse. The long and short of it is that a 1-0 game really doesn’t tell you anything but the fact that both pitchers were very good. To call one pitcher ineffective because he “lost” the game seems stupid.

Playoff performance usually ends up being a tiebreaker. If you consider Mathewson and Alexander as close, then Mathewson’s dominance in the postseason might throw him over the top. Johnson and Young likely stay tied. Plank certainly throws himself into the legendary conversation as well.

BWAR Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CYPoints
Cy Young296111
Walter Johnson647108
Pete Alexander276101
Christy Mathewson25581
Eddie Plank28046

It is impossible to use something like the Cy Young points to compare pitchers from different eras. During the Dead Ball Era, most teams employed a four-man rotation. So, you might have 30 to 35 qualified starters in each league. Finishing in the top ten out of 30 is not nearly as impressive as finishing in the top ten out 70 or 75 today. It’s somehow fitting that Young finishes on top since the award is named after him, but it is way too murky when you start comparing him to Clemens, Seaver, or even Grove.

Even when we compare these pitchers, we have to be careful about how much we read into it. Johnson won one more award than Young and Alexander, so you could claim he was the better pitcher. Both Young and Johnson finished in the top ten or better 17 times. Young was a remarkable top five or better 15 different times. That’s a staggering sum even in a league that had 30 starting pitchers to choose from.

As for Plank, this table probably illustrates why his reputation is not near the top four guys. He never was the best pitcher in the league while the others were the best pitcher a minimum of five times. He was fortunate to play for the Athletics when they were a dominant team or he might have toiled in complete obscurity.