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Who’s Left? Checking in with Our Backlog, Pitchers

It seems not every middle child has struggled.

It seems not every middle child struggles.

In the same way, perhaps, that middle children can be neglected, we’ve neglected out backlog. Sure, we review each and every player every single election. But what you see on our posts are those who get in and those who we kill off. We never pay homage in the same way to those who are left behind for debate in our next election. Plus, we think it’s a good idea to keep our loyal readers informed as to where we are in our process. So for this election cycle, we’re going to address the backlog. Today we’ll cover the pitchers who we’ve neither elected nor rejected. On Monday, it’ll be the infielders, and on Wednesday the outfield backlog will take center stage.

Below you’ll see our pitching backlog, along with the years they played and whether or not they’re members of the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Merit, and the Hall of Stats. You’ll also see some pithy commentary as to why they should or shouldn’t be in and then a bit of somewhat deeper analysis. Enjoy!

Babe Adams, SP, 1906-1907, 1909-1916, 1918-1926, (-, -, S)

Babe AdamsWhy he should be in: One of only 25 pitchers ever with a dozen 2-win seasons and a trio over 6.6

Why he shouldn’t be in: That’s not really a stat

Other thoughts: Adams’ argument rests on his career value. He only had three seasons that are very good, but he has twelve that help build his value. As you can see above, not many pitchers have such a combination. Over the course of 21 years from his first season until his last, he was about the tenth best pitcher in the game. If we narrow it to 1909-1923, Adams trails only Walter Johnson and Pete Alexander in value among pitchers we’re considering. Of course, he’s closer to your value and mine than he is to the Big Train’s, and he’s close to a one-win pitcher than he is to Old Pete. But stats are stats. Here’s another one – third best NL pitcher in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Bob Caruthers, SP, 1884-1892, (-,M,-)

Bob CaruthersWhy he should be in: Peak pitcher with a Ferrellesque bat

Why he shouldn’t be in: His peak wasn’t that great, actually

Other thoughts: Caruthers turns out to be a paler shade of Uhle. His peak pitching performances are very good, but he wasn’t especially durable in a time of extreme durability. George Uhle led his league in innings twice and finished in the top five once. Caruthers never led his league and finished twice in the top five. Uhle led the AL in pitcher WAR once and finished in the top five three times. Caruthers never led his leagues but placed in the top five four times. Both guys were fantastic hitters who need every batting run because their peak-oriented pitching careers don’t add up to a HoMEr alone. Uhle is just a little better and pitched in a more competitive era. Even if you like Caruthers’ snappy black-ink totals for wins and winning percentage, you’d want to know that year in and out he played for the AA’s best teams and the ones that scored the most runs. Parisian Bob just doesn’t seem to have that je ne sais quoi.

Wilbur Cooper, SP, 1912-1926, (-, -, -)

Wilbur CooperWhy he should be in: Best NL lefty 1911-1925; fifth best overall in MLB

Why he shouldn’t be in: That’s all folks

Other thoughts: Cooper is the Kevin Appier of his time. He was outstanding for a decade but gave us little else to hang our faded Pirates hats on. Though maybe we should n’t snort at fourteen years. He doesn’t have a lights-out peak, but it’s plenty good enough to push him by the careerists like Tommy John and perhaps just above the in/out line. It’s not high enough to get close to a peak/prime guy like Juan Marichal and make it an obvious yes vote. Cooper, like Appier, would be a fine addition to the HoME, and if passed over wouldn’t provoke a Balkanization of our (two-man) electorate. Compare him not only to the TJs out there but also more well thought of pitchers like Early Wynn. You might be surprised.

Dizzy Dean, SP, 1930, 1932-1941, 1947, (F, -, -)

Dizzy DeanWhy he should be in: Amazing peak, arm may have trailed only Grove and Hubbell in the 30s.

Why he shouldn’t be in: All peak and nothing but the peak

Other thoughts: From the day he joined the Cardinals until the day Earl Averill’s All-Star Game liner fractured his toe in 1937, Dean was a revelation. Prior to 1937, he had put up five straight campaigns of six+ War. He was on his way to the inner circle. Some might say that he was his generation’s version of Sandy Koufax. But others could retort that Koufax was better at his best. And they might further argue that the 70s quartet of Fergie Jenkins, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, and Bert Blyleven – guys who weren’t exactly known for their peak greatness – might have had five consecutive seasons better than Dizzy’s best. Dean will be a question of just how much we value peak.

Red Faber, SP, 1914–1933, (F, M, S)

Red FaberWhy he should be in: Long career, plenty of wins, good ERA+, 68 career WAR

Why he shouldn’t be in: Two great seasons, one fringe All-Star season, 17 meh seasons

Other thoughts: No exaggeration. Faber’s 1921 and 1922 were truly amazing. Thereafter, he never again topped 3.6 WAR. Before his brief explosion of awesomeness, he only beat that total twice (4.1 WAR in 1915, 5.8 in 1920). An All-Star season is 5.0 WAR per BBREF, so the implication is that he had three years of note and a lot of not much else. He’s the Frank Tanana of the 1920s. The question is whether we want to reward two great seasons.

Whitey Ford, SP, 1950, 1953–1967, (F, M, S)

Whitey FordWhy he should be in: Trad stats love him, lots of black ink, he’s Whitey Frickin’ Ford!

Why he shouldn’t be in: Had nearly every advantage, relatively few innings, less value than assumed

Other thoughts: Ford was a lefty ground-ball pitcher with so-so control and a great pick-off move. As a member of the most successful dynasty in MLB history, he was on the national stage in October more than any other pitcher and did very well. His Yankees had an airtight infield defense that turned a lot of double plays in a ballpark with cavernous dimensions in left and center. His hitters routinely finished at or near the top in R/G. His first, long-time manager conscientiously shielded him from the one place he fared worst by far (Fenway Park) and the most righty-centric lineup in the AL (Detroit). He had every advantage going his way. Ford routinely beat his FIP (2.76 ERA career, 3.26 FIP), a credit to him, but which also pumped his ERA+ upward, especially since the league average included the Yankees’ offense, but his opponents did not. And he’s admitted ball doctoring for the last third of his career. Fangraph’s WAR loves him, BBREF’s WAR merely likes him. The difference is enough to create some serious doubt.

Pud Galvin, SP,1875, 1879–1892, (F, M, S)

Pud GalvinWhy he should be in: 6000 innings, 365 wins, 84 WAR!

Why he shouldn’t be in: Context. (And he hit like Sandy Koufax…or Sandy Duncan)

Other thoughts: Bryan at The Replacement Level Blog summarized Eric’s position well in a comment on one of our recent articles: “With less separation among pitchers in run prevention, the majority of the deviation in WAR is tied to volume. Health may be a skill, and most teams wouldn’t trust a bad pitcher to throw 500 innings, but Galvin scores well in WAR largely because he pitched 6,000 innings in various forms of baseball.” There’s a lot of showing-up value on Galvin’s resume. Also his season of the ages, 1884, coincides with a double expansion in which twelve new teams (eight in the one-year Union Association and four in the one-year expansion of the American Association) were introduced into what was a sixteen-team setting (eight in the NL and AA each). His second best season, 1883, was also an expansion season as the AA went from six to eight teams in its second year. Miller has appreciated the trad stats more than Eric does, and he finds more value in the ability to take the mound every day (or every other day as Galvin’s career went on).

Clark Griffith, SP, 1891, 1893-1907, 1909, 1912-1914, (-, M, S)

Clark GriffithWhy he should be in: Two MVP-level seasons, three All-Star-level seasons, 121 ERA+

Why he shouldn’t be in: Young, Nichols, Rusie, McGinnity, Breitenstein, Hawley

Other thoughts: Like Wilbur Cooper, Clark Griffith wouldn’t be a deal breaker, and he wouldn’t trigger a duo-thermal-nuclear-word-war between us. At best, he’s the fourth best pitcher of the 1890s. The battle for fourth is between the Old Fox and Iron Joe McGinnity, which sounds like a 1980s WWF match. Believe it or not, the pair are only one birth year apart. McGinnity arrived later, but he was clearly the better pitcher. Then again, it’s not as though Griffith blows lesser lights like Ted Breitenstein, Pink Hawley, and even Jack Stivetts away. More like he survived a little longer. Here’s another thought: Griffith never once led his league in innings, and he only finished in the top-ten twice. Without lights-out effectiveness, that’s not exactly the makings of greatness.

Jim McCormick, SP, 1878-1887, (-, -, S)

Jim McCormickWhy he should be in: Strong peak, lots of value above average, great mustache

Why he shouldn’t be in: We’ve got the 1880s pitchers covered, and 1884

Other thoughts: An open question is How many 1880s pitchers do we need? We have the three, clear best ones, Clarkson, Keefe, and Radbourn.  We also have that chunk of Monte Ward’s career spent as a starter. With teams starting the decade relying primarily on one pitcher then transitioning to two, how many HoMErs is enough? There’s no right answer, but three plus Ward is a perfectly acceptable answer. So might be three plus Ward plus Jim McCormick. Or you could substitute Pud Galvin’s name in for McCormick. Or is five plus Ward OK? Given the pitcher’s role as initiator, all the rule changes, and multiple rapid expansions, is it fairest to err on the side of three plus Ward? That would leave one or two slots open to those who came later and whose impact we can more clearly demonstrate.

Billy Pierce, SP, 1945, 1948-1964, (-, M, S)

Billy PierceWhy he should be in: Because someone has to be our 63rd or 64th pitcher

Why he shouldn’t be in: Because we don’t have to vote for 63 or 64 pitchers

Other thoughts: It’s like this. We know we want around 28 to 30 percent pitchers. Feels right to us. Over 212 total honorees, that’s 58 to 64 hurlers. There are a clutch of fifteen closely clumped moundsmen vying for that coveted final pitcher’s plaque, and Billy Pierce is one. If you like career-oriented pitchers, you’ll go for Don Sutton, Tommy John, Early Wynn. If you’re a peakster, you’ll dig Dizzy Dean or Bucky Walters. If you have the 19th Century bug, there’s Pud Galvin, Jim McCormick, and Clark Griffith. Pierce occupies the middle ground. His peak is good but not amazing. His career is good but not quite as good as the careerists above. He’s sort of the Orel Hershiser of his time with a few stellar seasons and a lot of okay shoulder seasons. Like any of these guys, if just one of his surrounding seasons had been a six-win season, he’d be Bret Saberhagen or David Cone and a relatively easy vote.

Eddie Rommel, SP, 1920-1932, (-, -, -)

Eddie RommelWhy he should be in: Because we’re secretly planning to elect 150 pitchers (note Miller’s bias here)

Why he shouldn’t be in: Too few innings of less than great quality

Other thoughts: From 1920-1925, his absolute peak, bWAR sees him as the fourth best pitcher in the game. According to fWAR, he’s #24 during the exact same period, smack between Johnny Morrison and Dutch Ruether. For those who don’t believe fWAR is useless, Rommel would be a hideous selection. For those who do, he may be stretching the borderline some – unless you really value peak. And that’s reasonable. Then again, during his six-year peak the hurlers he trails include Urban Shocker and Pete Alexander, but they also include non-HoMEr, Red Faber. For what it’s worth, Rommel was also used as a trusted fireman by Connie Mack, but without play-by-play data, we can’t yet assess his value in that role. Are we allowed to un-dead someone? If so, it might be wise to give Rommel and obit and then wait to see if the PBP information ever comes around.

George Uhle, SP, 1919-1934, 1936, (-, -, -)

George UhleWhy he should be in: Some stellar seasons, some shoulder value, a really good bat

Why he shouldn’t be in: Without the bat he’s Frank Viola

Other thoughts: Not that Viola is a bad guy to be, but it’s not enough, so we need to look at the bat. Wes Ferrell was on the borderline without his bat. With his weak-tea pitching peak Red Ruffing would not have been electable for one of us without his bat. Early Wynn gets a good amount of help from his hitting. On the other hand, Pud Galvin’s bat is so bad that it hurts his case. Sandy Koufax is very close to the borderline because of his “hitting.” So precedent exists for Uhle to be the peak version of Ruffing. His case may really come down to a peak/career preference or to whether his era is already well represented or another under-represented.

Bucky Walters, SP, 1931-1948, 1950, (-, -, -)

Bucky WaltersWhy he should be in: More three-win seasons than Sandy Koufax

Why he shouldn’t be in: Not really better than Mark Langston

Other thoughts: It’s possible Walters is hanging around, in part, because of Koufax. See, Koufax and Dizzy Dean are pretty similar in terms of their peakiness. And Walters and Dean are pretty similar in terms of their pitcher rankings. Therefore, it seems premature to knock off Walters. Bucky’s argument rests somewhat on era. During the time he pitched, only Bob Feller and Hal Newhouser were better in all of baseball when we combine arm and bat. Of course, you might not be wrong if you called the 1940s a down decade for pitchers…or anyone.

Hoyt Wilhelm, P, 1952-1972, (F, M, S)

Hoyt WilhelmWhy he should be in: The first outstanding career relief pitcher

Why he shouldn’t be in: Relievers don’t have that much value

Other thoughts: Recently, we both wrote about the relative value of relievers and ways to go about valuing them. Existing ways of doing it just don’t add up to much. The greatest reliever ever, Mariano Rivera, would be a third tier candidate anywhere else on the diamond. And he’s streets ahead of runner up Goose Gossage, let alone Wilhelm. And don’t forget, we’ve already inducted two great hidden relief aces: Mordecai Brown and Lefty Grove. To induct Wilhelm would require ignoring today’s value stats and instead either rationalizing that WAR and WPA don’t quite capture enough information about relief value or believing in the saves mythology. To be sure, we haven’t made up our minds, but we’re not exactly agnostics.

Early Wynn, SP, 1939, 1941-1944, 1946-1963, (F, M, S)

Early WynnWhy he should be in: 300 is still a magic number, isn’t it?

Why he shouldn’t be in: 300 is symptomatic of greatness, not evidence thereof

Other thoughts: Wynn looks a decent amount like Red Faber, with one less season of greatness and a little more quality in seasons 4-11. And it’s not like we’re exactly in love with Faber either. Simple enough statistics as ERA+ give us pause. Wynn’s 109 says that he’s about 9% better than average. Other long and low guys clock in with similar numbers – Don Sutton is 108, Jim Kaat is 108, and Pud Galvin is 107. Not exactly signs of greatness. We certainly haven’t decided that Wynn isn’t going, but if his argument rests on 300; then it rests on this game. And if it rests on that game, certainly taking some time before electing him is a wise decision. One thing that does go in his favor, he could hit. A lot…for a pitcher.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned to future elections to see how many of our middle children make it and how many fall short.

Miller and Eric

 

 

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  1. Pingback: Who’s Left? Checking in with Our Backlog, Infielders | the Hall of Miller and Eric - May 5, 2014

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