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WAR Ties, Pitchers


His WAR lags behind his reputation…and contract.

Not long ago I looked as some career WAR ties among all players. Today, I’m examining some of the pitcher career WAR ties that I find most interesting. This is a decent little exercise to offer some perspective. Sometimes a player’s aura shines so brightly that we don’t really understand how he rates compared to others. Conversely, some players never received the proper hype, so looking at players with whom they’re tied can clarify how great they were (or are).


At some point in 2009 or so, Eric and I discussed Stephen Strasburg and what he might want to sign off on for his career. Fearing injuries or surprising ineffectiveness, we agreed that Strasburg was somewhat less than even money to have the career of Kerry Wood. Well, seven years later, and I’ll bet you didn’t realize that Strasburg had only 16.9 career WAR (through July 2). Yes, he’s been a bit injured, only once pitching 200 innings. And he’s never been worth over 3.5 wins. That’s less than what Clayton Kershaw has averaged in the last eleven half seasons.


I find it cool that John Wetteland and Mike Timlin are tied. That’s it. Nothing more.


How great was Babe Ruth? He’s tied on the career pitching WAR list with Nelson Briles, Earl Wilson, Jeff Montgomery, and Kyle Lohse. Briles and Lohse led the league in winning percentage once each; Montgomery led once in saves. Coincidentally, like Ruth, Wilson was an excellent hitting pitcher, smacking 35 career home runs. That’s 19 more than Ruth had.


Bruce Sutter is in the Hall of Fame. Al Benton, Tiny Bonham, and Jack Coombs aren’t. Hey, the Hall got it right three out of four times. But let’s be fair to Sutter. Bonham and, to a lesser extent, Benton were WWII greats who wouldn’t have been this good had many stars not been contributing to the war effort. Aside from a spectacular 1910, Coombs wasn’t much of anything, never eclipsing 3.2 WAR. On the other hand, being better than Benton, Bonham, and Coombs doesn’t really qualify someone for the Hall of Fame. At least it shouldn’t.


That Rollie Fingers is tied with Ron Reed isn’t so shocking. It’s that he’s also tied with the likes of Rip Sewell, Kelvim Escobar, and Wilson Alvarez. Fingers was excellent at what he did. And he was a playoff star. But he just wasn’t that valuable overall. I think we almost understand that. Right?


Lee Smith is here, tied with Syl Johnson and Sonny Siebert. No, I’m not making a Hall case for Lee Arthur.


This tie with Sal Maglie is really just a reason to talk about Tim Wakefield. He put up ten seasons of 1.9+ WAR with the Red Sox. Only Roger Clemens can claim as many.


Jesse Haines was a teammate of Frankie Frisch for eleven seasons. Thus, he’s in the Hall of Fame. Freddy Garcia never teamed with Frisch. They’re tied in career WAR, and they’re tied in All-Star type seasons. One.


I’ve already written a bunch about how the Hall failed when inducting Catfish Hunter. Nine years of his career overlapped with those of the great Burt Hooton. They finished their careers with identical WAR totals. They both reached 4-WAR four times. Hunter reached 3-WAR only four times, but Hooton did so on seven occasions. Yes, Hunter had a greater peak, but the guy had only six seasons when he was good (2+ WAR).


Addie Joss played for only nine seasons. He’s in the Hall of Fame largely because of a career ERA of 1.89. Noodles Hahn was almost an exact contemporary in the National League. He pitched for only eight years and posted a career ERA of 2.55. Really, they’re not very different. However, if you like peak, perhaps you’d prefer the six seasons of 6.4+ WAR for Hahn versus one season at that level for Joss.


Through July 2 there’s a tie between Bartolo Colon (48.8, -1.2), Mickey Lolich (48.8, 0.3), and Wes Ferrell (48.8, 12.8). Who would you rather have pitching for you? Well, in the American League from 1973-1996 it wouldn’t matter one bit. But at any other point in baseball history, you’d really want Ferrell. See, the numbers you see are their pitching WAR followed by their hitting WAR. Colon and Lolich are both excellent. Ferrell is a HoMEr, and it’s because of his hitting. On the all-time WAR list, Colon is at #336, Lolich is at #318, and Ferrell is at #163. Pretty incredible.


There are some who consider Three Finger Brown to be one of the all-time greats. Nobody considers Kevin Appier at that level, but he’s tied in career WAR with Brown. Appier was no Roger Clemens. He was no Randy Johnson. He was just a guy who had five seasons at the All-Star level. And he had four more years at 3+ WAR. People are right to make cases for Alan Trammell, Kenny Lofton, and other hitters. But there are pitchers like Appier who also have very strong Hall cases who don’t get similar love.


Okay, there’s no tie at #34. But this gives me an opportunity to talk about one of the most underrated players in the game’s history. Bob Feller is #42. John Smoltz is #39. Carl Hubbell is #36. Jim Palmer is #35. And Rick Reuschel is #34. Rick Reuschel! He had a really strange two-part career. From 1972-1981 he posted 49.8 WAR. From 1982-1984 it was 0.1. And from 1985-1991 it was another 18.3. Let’s just say he was a decent pitcher for those middle three seasons, posting 3 WAR per year. If that were the case, he’d be the #27 ranked pitcher in history by career WAR. Right behind Curt Schilling…




3 thoughts on “WAR Ties, Pitchers

  1. Never liked the idea of tying everything to one stat, particularly one that exists in different versions.
    In partial defense of Joss, he got the benefit of the Gehrig/Clemente bit. He died before he could complete his career. Hahn had his entire career.

    Posted by verdun2 | July 20, 2016, 8:26 am
    • Let’s start out with this: you’re right. We shouldn’t and I don’t put all of my eggs into one stat. Two other quickies. I’m troubled enough by the construction of fWAR that I’m okay dismissing it. I came to that conclusion after months of debate with Eric. I’m not saying we’re right, just that it was a thoughtful process. As for Addie Joss, I’ll just say that Gehrig and Clemente were great selections.

      Posted by Miller | July 20, 2016, 8:50 am

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