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.

Hall of Fame Index: Live Ball Era Pitchers OLI

The bane of existence for the Hall of Fame is what I lovingly call the “if…then” fallacy. Essentially, it goes like this: “If Player A is in the Hall of Fame then Player B should be too. After all, Player B’s numbers are just as good.” Heck, in some cases this may be true. Player B may be just as good if not better than Player A. It is never quite that simple though.

The “if…then” fallacy assumes a couple of things that are not always true. First of all, it assumes that Player A deserved to be in at all. As we have seen throughout our studies, that is not always the case. The Veterans Committee in general has watered down the Hall of Fame because they added mistakes to other mistakes because they apply the standard that once you are in you deserved to be in. Secondly, it also presupposes that all numbers generated are equal. 

What does this even mean? Well, we can start by acknowledging the fact that the second tier Hall of Famers on this list are more well-known than the list I am about to share. That isn’t just because they are in the Hall of Fame. When someone produces is often more important than whether they produce at all. We all know Don Larsen’s name. Had he pitched a perfect game in July we might not know his name. One brilliant season is imprinted in our brains more often than three really good ones.

I’m not sure what you call it except serendipity. There is a great debate amongst the bigger minds in the sport about whether clutch performance exists in any systematic way. Did David Ortiz have the “clutch gene”? When Madison Bumgarner becomes eligible for this list does he get a bump for October? I’ll dispense with the drama and say that maybe only one of these guys has the index score to warrant their addition, but it is interesting to compare them with guys that are in with similar scores.

Career Value

 BWARFWARWS/5Total
Jack Quinn58.561.257.4177.1
Wes Ferrell60.750.846.6158.1
Wilbur Cooper53.544.653.2151.3
George Uhle55.645.446.2147.2
Urban Shocker58.340.445.0143.7
Tommy Bridges50.147.145.0143.7
Mel Harder44.347.646.8138.7

These names range anywhere from near misses like Cooper and Ferrell to guys you need to immediately look up. Cooper and Ferrell have interesting cases for enshrinement even if they aren’t overwhelming. If we remove obvious examples like Babe Ruth, Ferrell could be considered the best hitting pitcher in history. He sported a .280/.351/.446 slash line in over 1300 plate appearances. All three career value totals include his offensive contributions, but that gets trickier when we look at peak value.

Besides, are we putting you in the Hall of Fame for being a great pitcher or a great hitting pitcher? The question sounds glib, but it really isn’t. It’s similar when a pretty good player also becomes a pretty good manager. There is some thought that someone can be put in for career contributions in a number of areas. We aren’t here to evaluate his hitting, but it is a part of the conversation.

Cooper was the best pitcher on one of the underappreciated teams in the National League. In the century’s first 20 years, the National League was almost universally represented in the World Series by the Cubs, Giants, or Pirates. Yet, by the end of the period they were usually playing second fiddle to someone. That is the difference between the modern game and the 16-team version. There was only one champion in each league.

Peak Value

 BWARFWARWS/5TotalIndex
Wes Ferrell62.750.437.8150.9309.0
Wilbur Cooper51.139.546.6137.2288.5
Urban Shocker55.438.142.0135.5279.2
George Uhle52.439.337.4129.1276.3
Mel Harder41.541.237.6120.3259.0
Tommy Bridges41.341.036.2118.5260.7
Jack Quinn38.635.432.6106.6283.7

Ferrell reaches the 300 mark on the strength of being a great two-way player. That means he deserves to be in by that standard, but our question isn’t whether he is a Hall of Famer, but whether he is the most qualified player not in the Hall of Fame. That might be a different answer and it will depend on not only the index, but the other tests we look at.

Any time you can use an adjective like venerable to describe someone then you know they hung on for a while. Quinn could probably be best compared to Jamie Moyer. Neither was ever excellent, but they were solid for a really long time. Is that Hall of Fame worthy? I tend to prefer some level of greatness at some point, but others might feel differently. 

Cooper and Shocker are lesser examples of the same thing. Were they ever truly great? The numbers would seem to indicate no. So, they don’t have any seasons or even any moments that are burned into our collective consciousness. More dialed in fans will recognize their names, but that is about it.

Pitching Statistics

 WinsPCTERA+SO/9BB/9HR/9
Wes Ferrell193.6011163.43.60.5
Wilbur Cooper216.5481163.22.20.3
Jack Quinn247.5311143.12.00.2
Urban Shocker187.6151243.32.20.4
George Uhle200.5461063.32.80.3
Tommy Bridges194.5841265.33.80.6
Mel Harder223.5451133.02.90.4

I typically hate two things when evaluating pitchers: wins and saves. Both statistics are misleading and have led to a lot of pitchers being either overrated or underappreciated. Let’s take the case of Cooper. If you take his ERA+ and multiple it by his total decisions, you get 229 victories. Well, 13 victories also means 13 fewer losses. That would be a .580 winning percentage to match his ERA+.

These things are never that simple. Where do those 13 victories come? Does he have two or three more 20-win seasons or maybe he has a season where he wins 25 games? Would that change the calculus of where the beat writers saw him? Anything is possible. His FIP was actually higher than his ERA, so if you assume absolutely neutral support, he might turn out to be right where he is. Still, it shows that a whole lot more goes into wins and losses than simple pitcher performance.

Ferrell gets docked because he didn’t win 200 games. Wins are to pitchers as hits are to hitters. No, we cannot completely discount them, but when they become the focus of our analysis, we miss a great deal. Even if we just added winning percentage, we would have to give him a little extra credit.

Playoff Performance

 W-LINNERASO/9BB/9HR/9
Tommy Bridges4-146.03.525.31.80.4
Jack Quinn0-110.28.444.23.40.8
Urban Shocker0-17.25.873.50.02.3
George Uhle0-03.00.009.00.00.0
Wilbur Cooper
Wes Ferrell
Mel Harder

There are very few August and September games we remember 50 years later. It just doesn’t happen that way. October is where the sport is at and if you can’t get to October then you can’t get on that stage. Bridges is the only one that got significant opportunities in October and he deserves credit for making the most of it. Still, how does one rag on a Cooper or Ferrell for never making it to October?

During Cooper’s career, the Pirates finished in the first division more often than they didn’t. Had there been a division round and league championship series you could imagine him getting some opportunities. Ferrell may not have gotten as many, but baseball history is full of guys that were excellent players on bad teams. So, the long and short of it is that there really isn’t much we can glean from these numbers.

BWAR Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CYPoints
Wilbur Cooper25141
Urban Shocker15138
Tommy Bridges54035
Mel Harder15028
Wes Ferrell15028
George Uhle13128
Jack Quinn51020

So, are you looking for the best pitcher in the group? Based on all of the tests that would be Cooper. Are you looking for the best baseball player in the group? That would be Ferrell. If we suspend the best player on the outside question, we could tackle the question of whether either is a Hall of Famer. As interesting as that question, it ends up muddying the issue. I like both players fine, but neither really blows my skirt up. Sometimes you are just a really good player and still come up short.

The rest are better than some people in the Hall of Fame. That’s a hard fact to handle if you are a fan (or family member) of any of them. I doubt too many people have heard of George Uhle. Still, he was the best pitcher in the league one season and put up better numbers than some luminaries like Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Dizzy Dean, and Lefty Gomez. We can play the if…then game all day.

Hall of Fame Index: HOF Live Ball Era Pitchers Part II

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.

 ERAFIPLOB%BABIP
Red Faber3.153.4368.5%.277
Burleigh Grimes3.533.6467.1%.286
Herb Pennock3.603.5067.6%.293
Waite Hoyt3.593.7667.9%.283
Dizzy Dean3.023.2271.7%.284
Lefty Gomez3.343.8872.0%.269

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.

Career Value

 BWARFWARWS/5Total
Red Faber63.954.758.4177.0
Burleigh Grimes52.752.357.2162.2
Waite Hoyt52.648.952.4153.9
Herb Pennock45.547.948.0141.4
Dizzy Dean45.840.936.2122.9
Lefty Gomez38.434.637.0110.0

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.

Peak Value

 BWARFWARWS/5TotalIndex
Burleigh Grimes44.238.242.0124.4286.6
Dizzy Dean45.740.536.0122.2245.1
Herb Pennock44.835.237.6117.6259.0
Red Faber42.437.335.8115.5292.5
Lefty Gomez38.434.637.0109.9219.9
Waite Hoyt35.530.935.4101.8255.7

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.

Pitching Statistics

 WinsPCTERA+SO/9BB/9HR/9
Red Faber254.5441193.22.70.2
Burleigh Grimes270.5601083.32.80.3
Herb Pennock241.5981063.12.30.3
Waite Hoyt237.5661122.92.40.4
Dizzy Dean150.6441315.32.10.4
Lefty Gomez189.6491255.33.90.5

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.

Playoff Pitching

 W-LINNERASO/9BB/9HR/9
Waite Hoyt6-483.21.835.32.40.2
Burleigh Grimes3-456.24.294.44.11.3
Herb Pennock5-055.11.953.91.30.5
Lefty Gomez6-050.12.865.52.70.4
Dizzy Dean2-234.12.885.01.61.0
Red Faber3-127.02.333.01.00.3

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

 Top 10Top 5CYTotal
Burleigh Grimes24136
Dizzy Dean05135
Lefty Gomez22126
Herb Pennock03125
Red Faber10223
Waite Hoyt31014

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.

Hall of Fame Index: Live Ball Era Hall of Famers Part I

As we move to the second half of the pitching list we need to remember the general rules we learned in the first half. The more bats a pitcher can miss the more successful he will ultimately be. Limiting free baserunners is also a huge deal. The final component we saw was keeping the ball in the ballpark. This seems easy enough and yet we still have people preaching about pitching to contact.

Now, of course, contact is unavoidable. 20 strikeouts is still the record in a big league game and while it has been done a few times, it is a very rare occurrence. Heck, 15 strikeouts in one game (for one pitcher) is rare. So, if you can find a way to induce weak contact and on the ground you are on your way to success. Granted, we can’t know all the ins and outs of contact in the Live Ball Era, but we can decipher between groundballs, flyouts, and line drives based on play by play data.

We start with the top six Hall of Famers from the period. There were twice that many, but as you will see, the data splits itself into halves pretty well. Since we are always looking for gaps in data we will always exploit them when we find them. As usual, we will add conventional numbers, playoff numbers, and the BWAR Cy Young points for good measure.

Career Value

 BWARFWARWS/5Total
Lefty Grove107.088.878.2274.0
Red Ruffing68.956.164.4189.4
Ted Lyons70.754.662.4187.7
Carl Hubbell68.356.561.0185.8
Eppa Rixey55.865.963.0184.7
Dazzy Vance60.061.648.2169.8

I recall the Twitter conversation I had with my friend. He talked about how different things were expected of pitchers back in the Live Ball Era, so comparing them to modern pitchers was foolish. He didn’t use those exact words, but in this case we completely agree. All players must be compared by looking at how they performed in their own generation. How much did they dominate? Grove won nine ERA titles, eight ERA+ titles, and led the league in strikeouts every year for the first seven seasons of his career. No pitcher can match any of those feats individually.

This is where we start splitting hairs. There is a difference between calling someone the greatest and calling them the most dominant. Greatness can’t be measured. Was Roger Clemens greater than Grove? Well, he lasted longer, but even if we ignore the PED issue we have to look at modern medicine, modern physical training, and more advanced coaching techniques. Grove survived largely on a fastball while Clemens was able to mix in an assortment of off-speed offerings as his career progressed.

Add in the specter of expansion to 30 teams, the color barrier, and influx of players from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South America (not to mention Southeast Asia) and who know who had it tougher. Debates about the greatest player of all time always come down to issues like that. What would Grove have accomplished if he had pitched in a modern minor league system with access to modern medicine, training, and nutritional information? The world will never know. What we do know is that he dominated his era nearly as much as Clemens dominated his. That’s what we can go on.

Peak Value

 BWARFWARWS/5TotalIndex
Lefty Grove76.762.955.4195.0469.0
Dazzy Vance57.556.343.6157.4327.2
Carl Hubbell57.146.349.6153.0338.8
Red Ruffing52.134.341.0127.4316.8
Eppa Rixey38.740.340.2119.2303.9
Ted Lyons42.037.835.2115.0302.7

The St. Louis Cardinals were the first team to really utilize organized affiliates. Most of the players in those days played for independent leagues that would rival AAA if not more. Grove spent most of his time in the minors with the dominate Baltimore Orioles of the American Association. They made the Yankees look like also-rans in terms of team success. Grove was 111-39 in five minor league seasons. He did not make his debut until his age 25 season. That would be unthinkable today.

I say all that to point out that the index is merely a guide. If he comes up two years sooner than his peak value would be radically different. Similarly, Hubbell did not debut until 25 as well. He didn’t play in affiliate ball until he was 24. Obviously, that would have turned out differently today as well. However, most players back then also pitched (or played) under those conditions. So, if we compare players from the same generation then we end getting a much clearer picture of how well that player performed.

Rixey and Lyons are probably not household names in spite of being in the Hall of Fame. People have undoubtedly heard of Red Ruffing. Was Ruffing a superior pitcher? Well, that’s hard to say, but he certainly won more and more consistently than those other two. That being said, allow me to introduce you to two pitchers.

 WinsPCTERA+SO/9BB/9HR/9
Pitcher A231.6511194.33.00.6
Pitcher B39.289923.63.70.4

Meet Red Ruffing…and meet Red Ruffing. That’s right, both of these are Ruffing. The first represents his Yankees tenure and the second his tenure with the Red Sox. Was he a better pitcher in New York? There really can be no doubt about that. His ERA+ is vastly superior and he has better DIPS numbers as well. However, the question remains whether he was THAT much better in New York. There is certainly something to be said for a change of scenery and sometimes certain pitching coaches unlock certain things in a player’s performance. All of that is true. What is also true is that the Yankees went to the World Series nearly every season while the Red Sox did not.

Pitching Statistics

 WinsPCTERA+SO/9BB/9HR/9
Lefty Grove300.6801485.22.70.4
Carl Hubbell253.6221304.21.80.6
Dazzy Vance197.5851256.22.50.4
Red Ruffing273.5481094.13.20.5
Eppa Rixey266.5151152.72.20.2
Ted Lyons260.5311182.32.40.5

Data is a fascinating thing. I am not a mathematician and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express in the past year, but there are universal truths in baseball. When you strikeout more hitters on a regular basis you experience more success. Data disperses differently across time. Grove and Vance would be mediocre with those numbers today. They were dominant in the Live Ball Era. Study the game long enough and you learn a few things. The first is that there are players in every era that seem to innately understand what they need to do strategically to dominate. They may not have stated it in the terms we recognize today, but their games were just patterned to take advantage of inefficiency.

The second thing we learn is that the interaction between pitching and hitting changes over time. Did these pitchers strike out fewer hitters because they didn’t try to strike out hitters or, did they strike out fewer hitters because those hitters were better at making contact? It’s likely a little of both. Over time, hitters have been trained to swing for the fences because they get more bang for their buck. It’s similar to the three-point shot in basketball. As that has happened, contact rates have dropped. 

Certainly, all six have the index scores necessary to justify their enshrinement. However, there are always mitigating factors that can swing some borderline guys (like Rixey and Lyons) one way or another. One of those is charting their performance in playoff competition.

Playoff Statistics

 W-LINNERASO/9BB/9HR/9
Red Ruffing7-285.22.636.42.80.4
Lefty Grove4-251.11.756.31.10.0
Carl Hubbell4-250.11.795.72.10.5
Eppa Rixey0-16.24.052.72.72.7
Dazzy Vance0-01.10.0020.36.80.0
Ted Lyons

There are a number of debates that go on with these numbers. The first is between what I like to call “results data” and “process data.” Over a long period of time the two usually meet. In short bursts like above it is anyone’s guess. Grove and Hubbell pitched a similar number of innings, had the same record, and gave up the same number of runs. That’s results data. The fact that Grove struck out more hitters, walked fewer hitters, and gave up fewer home runs is process data. In other words, he should have been considerably better than Hubbell. So, the first debate is whether we even pay attention to process data when looking at playoff performance.

The second question comes in when we start looking at historically great teams. This includes the Yankees of the 1930s and 1940s (not to mention 1950s and early 1960s), the Athletics of the late 1920s and 1930s. So, were Grove and Ruffing great because they were great or did they look great because their team was great? Obviously, Grove was a huge reason for the Athletics success where Ruffing probably benefitted from great hitters and great fielders.

You can take playoff performance at face value or you can look at the factors that surround it. Either way, all of these pitchers (except Lyons) saw at least a slight bump in their reputations due to their playoff performance. Naturally, Vance and Rixey didn’t get much, but they didn’t hurt themselves either.

BWAR Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CYPoints
Lefty Grove058105
Dazzy Vance13458
Carl Hubbell62248
Eppa Rixey53140
Ted Lyons63033
Red Ruffing33024

Eight Cy Young awards would be insane. For the record, that was more than Roger Clemens or any other pitcher we have profiled so far. It remains to be seen where guys like Walter Johnson will wind up, but so far it looks like Grove dominated his era more than any other pitcher dominated his. We could get cute and ask questions like, “if you had Game 7 of the World Series coming up, who would you go with?” Those are always fascinating questions, but the answer is usually dependent on the time you are talking about.

For my money, Grove was the most dominant pitcher of all-time. No one else won nine ERA titles or combined power pitching with impeccable control. Clemens technically had more BWAR Cy Young points, but he also allegedly got a little help. It’s impossible to parse that out effectively, so we leave it where it is.

Vance’s place is a bit of a surprise, but when you look at the sea of black ink on his baseball-reference page it makes perfect sense. His peak value also helps illustrate the point as well. Usually, things like BWAR Cy points don’t reveal anything new, but simply express it in a different way. All of these guys probably still belong in the Hall of Fame and every test we’ve evaluated shows that.