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Saberhagen, Sidebars

How Great Was Kevin Brown?

Kevin BrownIn 2011 Kevin Brown hit the Hall of Fame ballot. He would never hit it again. More than twice as many writers supported John Franco, Harold Baines, and Juan Gonzalez. More than six times as many supported Dale Murphy. More than seven times as many supported Don Mattingly. More than eight times as many supported Fred McGriff. More than 21 times as many supported Lee Smith. And more than 25 times as many supported Jack Morris.

I’m not saying that Kevin Brown is deserving of the Hall of Fame (but he is), nor will I reveal how Friday’s HoME vote will go at this time (but he’ll get my vote). However, it’s very clear to us that all of the players mentioned above fall short. Many of them fall very short. In this post, I’m going to examine Kevin Brown’s case, and I’ll also make an attempt to explain why he’s not in, and speculate as to whether or not he’ll go in the future. To examine his case, I’ll make some simple comparisons that I hope will be illuminating. I’ll also refer to some of the questions from our Saberhagen List to help get a sense of his deservingness or lack thereof.


A lesser pitcher than Kevin Brown, I think.

A lesser pitcher than Kevin Brown, I think.

In terms of career WAR for pitchers (at least my WAR, which is adjusted for schedule, throwing underhand, and mound distance*), Brown comes in 31st. He’s right behind Tom Glavine, Old Hoss Radbourn, and Don Sutton. He’s right ahead of Red Faber, Amos Rusie, and Rick Reuschel. To be honest, most of those names don’t jump off the page if you’re not a hard core fan. But Jim Palmer, Carl Hubbell, Bob Feller, and Juan Marichal all do. And they’re also behind Brown.

(* I also have to admit that my system gives extra credit for playoff performance, something Brown had more of a chance at than many pitchers throughout history because of the expanded playoff schedule during his time. However, his playoff bonuses total only 2.5 wins for his career. That’s less than half of Tom Glavine, and it’s even less than Mike Mussina. Does it matter? Yes. But it’s not the factor that puts Brown over the top).

But there’s more to a candidate than career WAR. How about peak, prime, etc. With the knowledge that there are 68 pitchers in the Hall, I want to share Brown’s marks in his best X seasons, his overall rank, and some guys who he tops.

         Rank   Better Than
Best 3	 46th	Bert Blyleven, Eddie Plank, Nolan Ryan, Don Drysdale
Best 5	 42nd	Tom Glavine, Red Ruffing, Early Wynn, Whitey Ford
Best 7	 44th	Sandy Koufax, Pud Galvin, Dizzy Dean, Red Faber
Best 10	 33rd	Hal Newhouser, Juan Marichal, Dazzy Vance, Tim Keefe
Best 12	 30th	Amos Rusie, Bob Feller, Ted Lyons, Rube Waddell
Best 15	 29th	Ed Walsh, Jim Bunning, Stan Coveleski, Don Sutton

So by looking at the chart above, we see that Brown, at his absolute peak, is certainly one of the best 68 pitchers ever. And that’s even though he loses to old-timey guys like of Silver King, Ted Breitenstein, and Charlie Ferguson. He’s also well within the range through five seasons and seven seasons. And when we get to more of a prime/career level, Brown isn’t just over the line, he’s over it if we cut the number of Hall of Fame pitchers in half!

Let’s keep parsing WAR. Brown is one of only X pitchers with X seasons of X WAR; blank isn’t. So you’d read the second line of the chart below like this, “Kevin Brown is one of only 60 pitchers with at least three seasons of 7+ WAR; Jim Palmer, Red Ruffing, Don Drysdale, and Nolan Ryan aren’t.

Pitchers  Seasons  WAR  Fewer
60	  3	   7	Jim Palmer, Red Ruffing, Don Drysdale, Nolan Ryan
61	  4	   6	Burleigh Grimes, Herb Pennock, Ted Lyons, Early Wynn
79	  5	   5	Mordecai Brown, Old Hoss Radbourn, Addie Joss, Catfish Hunter
28	  9	   4	Whitey Ford, Robin Roberts, Vic Willis, Stan Coveleski
27	 12	   3	Pedro Martinez, Bob Feller, Juan Marichal, Hal Newhouser
42	 13	   2	Tim Keefe, Bucky Walters, Goose Gossage, Herb Pennock

So on every one of these levels, it seems Brown is easily in the top-68, except for the 5-win level. Well, if we changed it to 5.5, there would only be 58 such pitchers, and Brown would be one of them. It seems pretty tough to find a level where Kevin Brown isn’t one of the 68 most valuable pitchers ever. Hell, it seems crystal clear that he’s in the top-50, reasonably clear he’s in the top-40, and quite possible he’s in the top-30 ever.

Kevin Brown Goes Saberhagen

Just short answers here. No need for full analysis.

How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? Five, with another five at 3.7 wins.

How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Just one, up to three if we stretch.

Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime? Well, sort of. Brown’s prime ended in 2000. He was good in 2001, injured and lousy in 2002, very good in 2003, got sent to the Yankees and was decent in 2004, and had a clunker at age-40 in 2005.

His shape is very different, but he's very comparable to Brown overall.

His shape is very different, but he’s very comparable to Brown overall.

Are his most comparable players in the HoME? This was an easy one. Narrowing to all pitchers within 12% of his WAR total for his career and his top-5, top-8, top-10, top-12, and top-15 seasons, there are only four comparable pitchers to Kevin Brown. Alphabetically, they’re David Cone, Bob Feller, Carl Hubbell, and Jim Palmer. Yeah, they’re all in the HoME.

Was he ever the best pitcher in baseball? Or in his league? From 1989-2001, he was the fourth best in baseball. But Brown’s run came from 1996-2000. During that time, only Pedro was better. And Brown topped Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, Glavine, and Schilling. He topped everyone else and was the best pitcher in the National League for five years.

Did he ever have a reasonable case for being called the best player in baseball? Or in his league? Brown had the most WAR in baseball in 1998.

Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics? Nah.

Did he have a positive impact on pennant races and in post-season series? Brown did not impress in the playoffs. Not at all.

Is he the best eligible player at his position not in the HoME? Yes, yes he is. He’s a better candidate than Pud Galvin, Jim McCormick, Clark Griffith, Wilbur Cooper, Al Leiter, and John Franco.

Is he the best eligible candidate not in the HoME? Jeff Bagwell is better. But Brown is second best.

Why is Kevin Brown not in the Hall of Fame?

There are five main reasons. Stop me if you’ve heard these before.

First, he didn’t win enough games. With only 211 on his career, he ranks with Hall of Famers Chief Bender (212), Jesse Haines (210), Don Drysdale (209), and Bob Lemon (207). However, he also ranks with Bartolo Colon, Bobo Newsom, Bob Welch, and Milt Pappas. Even among the Hall comps, only two got in via the BBWAA, and they both needed some time. Sadly, when voters vote, it seems they look at wins first.

The second reason he’s not in the Hall of Fame is that his competition was too good. Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez were all better than Brown. I also prefer Curt Schilling, Tom Glavine, and Mike Mussina. And it’s possible to prefer John Smoltz, Roy Halladay, and Mariano Rivera. So even by my optimistic count, he may not be a top-ten pitcher from his era. And writers have a tough time with comparison picks. Raines is no Rickey, so he’s not in. Lofton is no Raines, so he doesn’t get a second shot. Carter is no Bench, so he took a while. Simmons is no Carter, so he was one and done. It’s easy to say a guy is lesser than his contemporaries, but it’s a ton of work to make comparisons across generations, and so many writers choose not to make those comparisons.

Third, Brown was stinky in the playoffs. When his Marlins won in 1997, Brown lost the second and sixth games. When his Padres lost the next year, Brown couldn’t win the first game and helped his team get swept by losing the fourth. And his last taste of the postseason was him relinquishing a lead to the Red Sox in the second and again in the third before getting pulled with nobody out in the third in a 19-8 win for the Yankees over the Red Sox in the third game of the 2004 ALCS.

Fourth, writers haven’t recalibrated their Hall compasses with expansion. They’re simply not electing enough players from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Until that problem is rectified, possibly in the same way the Old Timers Committee rectified a similar problem in 1945 and 1946, lots of deserving guys are going to remain on the outside looking in.

And finally, writers stink at their job. Okay, maybe they’re good at their jobs, but they stink at bestowing the game’s highest honor on the appropriate players.

Will Kevin Brown ever get in?

I think so. I must admit that I don’t know his current eligibility after receiving only 2.1% of the vote in the 2011 election. Maybe he’s “forever” ineligible. No matter. The Hall changes its rules frequently enough that they’ll rectify mistakes. I’ll say Brown reaches the Hall in 2031 in the Baseball Analyst vote. Maybe analysts won’t have a vote by that time. But maybe they will. We can only hope.





One thought on “How Great Was Kevin Brown?

  1. When you look at the names you list above Brown as better in his era, you begin to realize just how great an era the late 1990s and early 2000s were for pitchers.
    Thanks for pointing that out.

    Posted by verdun2 | June 15, 2015, 6:59 am

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