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1982, 1989, 1992, 1999, Sidebars

The Greatest Class Ever?

Two-thousand double zero, party over, out of time.

Two-thousand double zero, party over, out of time.

Our 1999 ballot boasts four slam-dunk newcomers: George Brett, Carlton Fisk, Nolan Ryan, and Robin Yount. That’s an awfully deep ballot. Where is it among our greatest classes of newbies ever? I decided to have a look.

STAR POWER

First off, I wanted to know if any other group boasted four newcomers of this caliber. Since seasons were a lot shorter back in the day, I’m using my own Wins Above Replacement, which adjusts BBREF’s for schedule among other stuff. Each of those 1999 first-timers I just mentioned earned at least 70 Wins in my system. Two other ballots did match up:

  • 1989: Johnny Bench, Fergie Jenkins, Gaylord Perry, and Yaz
  • 2014: Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, and Frank Thomas.

The 1999ers racked up 315 Wins, but they were outgunned by both these other seasons. The 1989ers were worth 333 Wins and the 2014ers an impressive 341.

But maybe using a floor of 70 WAR was too restrictive? It’s an arbitrary end point. So I simply figured the combined total of the top four new candidates on each ballot, provided each of the top four, like 1999, were of HoME caliber. 1999 finished surprisingly low:

  1. 2013: 444 (Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Schilling)
  2. 1934: 428 (Cobb, Coveleski, Shocker, Speaker)
  3. 1982: 375 (Aaron, Frank Robinson, Billy Williams, Freehan)
  4. 1936: 362 (Alexander, Bancroft, Eddie Collins, Sisler)
  5. 2014: 341 (Glavine, Maddux, Mussina, Frank Thomas)
  6. 1989: 333 (Bench, Jenkins, Perry, Yaz)
  7. 1922: 327 (Mordecai Brown, Lajoie, Mathewson, Tinker)
  8. 2015: 326 (Randy Johnson, Pedro, Smoltz, Sheffield)
  9. 1923: 323 (Crawford, Plank, Wagner, Walsh)
  10. 1951: 319 (Cronin, Foxx, Bob Johnson, Paul Waner)
  11. 1999: 315 (Brett, Fisk, Ryan, Yount)

Eleventh in history isn’t bad, but 2013 and 1934 are simply amazing.

BENCH STRENGTH

Sometimes success and failure aren’t determined by your best players but by your worst. I looked this time at everyone with 50 or more Wins in a first-year class and summed it up.

  1. 2013: 689
  2. 2014: 505
  3. 1934: 428
  4. 1992: 417
  5. 1923: 404
  6. 1953: 397
  7. 1989: 389
  8. 2015: 377
  9. 1982: 375
  10. 2010: 375
  11. 1999: 367

Frank Tanana is the only other 50+ WAR guy on the 1999 ballot, which ain’t enough. 2013 adds Lofton, Biggio, Sosa, and Boomer Wells. 2014 tacks on Kent, Kenny Rogers, and Luis Gonzalez. Other years, like 2010 (Larkin, Alomar, Edgar Martinez, Appier, Ventura, and McGriff) leapfrog 1999.

So 1999 is pretty clearly the eleventh best group of ballot rookies out there, and 2013 is easily the best ever. If we want to grant that with more players in the expansion era 2013 has an advantage over the 16-team-league years, then 1934 might be a strong alternative.

HITTERS AND PITCHERS

Brett, Fisk, and Yount. That’s three amazing hitters to appear at once. How historic was this occurrence? Turns out that 1999 is one of only four years where three newbies gained eligibility who each had 75+ WAR (in my system):

  1. 1903: 325 (Anson, Connor, Ewing)
  2. 1951: 257 (Cronin, Foxx, Waner)
  3. 1999: 241 (Brett, Fisk, Yount)
  4. 2011: 229 (Bagwell, Palmeiro, Walker)

Lower the threshold to 65 Wins, however, and here comes 2013 again at 364 with Bonds, Piazza, Lofton and Biggio. Only 1951 (adding Bob Johnson) gets close with 319 WAR.

This line of inquiry naturally led to the same question about pitchers. The list is even shorter. Two seasons can boast three pitching newbies with 70+ Wins:

  1. 2014: 265 (Glaving, Maddux, Mussina)
  2. 2015: 260 (Randy Johnson, Pedro, Smoltz)

Even dropping the lower bound to 50 only produces one more trio, but Clemens and Schilling get paired with David Wells who [SPOILER ALERT!!!] is probably not a HoMEr in the making. And anyway, 2014 would add Kenny Rogers to the party. But not Dolly.

No matter how I slice it, 1999 can’t claim besthood. That’s OK. We’re always grateful for a fistful of no-brainers. Especially as we wrassle with the backlog and try to figure out who gets which of the precious few slots we’ll have left at the end.

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