Addie Joss is in the Hall of Fame. On at least a couple of levels, he doesn’t deserve it. First, he played only nine seasons, one short of the minimum number required to make someone a Hall of Famer. It seems that the Veterans Committee in 1978 just kind of ignored the rule. The other way in which he doesn’t belong is that he’s unqualified. Yes, his career lacked depth, but it also lacked the greatness that a short career pitcher would need. He was never in the top-two in his league in WAR, and only three times was he in the best five. Compare that to Johan Santana. He was second once and first three other times – at a time when there were many more pitchers in the league.
So why is Joss in the Hall? I suspect it’s because of the 1.89 career ERA, which is second all-time. Of course, he pitched at a time when ERAs were incredibly low. In fact, he only led the league twice. And his 142 ERA+ is tied with Brandon Webb for 12th in history. Webb, actually, isn’t a miserable comp for Joss. Interestingly enough, the guy who he trails in ERA, Ed Walsh, is the man he faced when he threw his 1908 perfect game, the fourth in the game’s history.
The Best Pitchers of the 1900s
#10 Doc White: A fine but underappreciated pitcher, White pitched five straight shutouts in 1904, just a few months after Cy Young did the same. Sixty-four years later Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale repeated that feat. And of course, Orel Hershiser pitched five straight shutouts in 1988. Had his Dodgers scored a single run over his ten innings on September 28, it would have been six. White, of course, is the only one of that group largely lost to history. That’s because he’s only about the 120th or 130th best pitcher ever, and he’s worth 45% of our decade’s leader.
#9 Mordecai Brown: Brown, I think, has a better reputation than record because of his cool “Three Finger” nickname and accompanying story. Not that we wasn’t a great player, he was. But like Derek Jeter, Pete Rose, Sandy Koufax, and others, the story turns great into larger than life. Regarding this list, Brown is pretty impressive. He didn’t pitch at all until 1903 (and as far back as 1897 counts as part of the decade), and he wasn’t a star until 1906. Yet, he’s the 9th best pitcher in the decade and 46% as valuable as our leader.
#8 Jack Powell: Sort of infamously, Powell holds the record for most wins by a pitcher with a losing record. Sure, he was 245–254 in the bigs, but he did so with an above average 106 ERA+. Somewhat interestingly, at least to me, is that his best three seasons on the mound were his first three, all with 6+ WAR, a level he’d never hit again. He clocks in at 48% of our decade’s leader.
#7 Ed Walsh: Walsh first pitched in 1904. He first started over 13 games in 1906. In other words, he’s hardly a pitcher of this decade, yet I rank him as 7th best, 52% of the leader. That’s because the all-time ERA champ absolutely tore it up from 1907-1912, all of which count toward his decade total. In those six seasons, he once won 40 games, five times topped 360 innings, and three times reached 10 WAR on the mound.
#6 Joe McGinnity: The “Iron Man” had a short career, only ten seasons, but all of them counting toward this decade. In only four seasons of his career did he have an ERA+ higher than 117. Johan Santana did so nine times. I wonder what would have happened to Santana if he had a cool nickname. Or if Santana will top 55% of his decade’s leader’s total.
#5 Rube Waddell: With six straight K titles from 1902 through 1907, I once made the argument that Waddell might be the best strikeout pitcher ever. Whether or not that’s true, he sure was a star, winning the pitching triple crown in 1905. He also won the ERA+ title and had the most WAR in the AL that year. Even with 1905 and a number of other great campaigns in the decade, he’s still at only 55% of our leader.
#4 Vic Willis: A quick review of Willis’ BBREF page reminds us that over a century ago, the game was pretty much the same as it was when Seaver, Carlton, and Perry ruled the mound. On one hand, 110 is a huge number of years ago. Oh, and 40 or 50 is too. Man, I’m old. And Willis was worth about 59% of the decade leader.
#3 Eddie Plank: His best single-season pitcher WAR during this period was only 40th best among hurlers, and Plank’s decade is only worth 67% of our leader’s. However, Gettysburg Eddie added a bit with the bat. He was also, depending on how you look at it, a great post-season pitcher, an awful post-season pitcher, or a product of his times. In seven career World Series appearances, he had a 2-5 record with a 1.32 ERA. So let’s explore. In the first game of the 1905 Series, he took the 3-0 loss as his A’s were shut out by Christy Mathewson and the Giants. Four days later, an unearned run gave Joe McGinnity and New York a 1-0 win. Back in the World Series six years later, he won Game 2, 3-1 in a rematch with New York. Then in relief of Jack Coombs in Game 6, a Fred Merkle sacrifice fly gave Plank his third loss in just two-thirds of an inning. The next year the two hooked up again, and this contest ended just as Plank’s first one did, with a 3-0 loss to Christy Mathewson, albeit in 10 innings this time. A two-hitter in Game 5, however, gave the A’s the 1913 title, again against Mathewson. And his final start in the Fall Classic came the next year, losing the second game of a sweep against the Miracle Braves, this one a 1-0 loss. So in the four losses he took as a starter, his team scored a combined zero runs for him. Not much he could do about that.
#2 Christy Mathewson: Coming in at 86% of our leader is the World Series foe of Plank and one of the handful of best pitchers ever. I see him as #6, while Eric puts him at #10. Overall, he posted five of the 31 seasons of more than 9 WAR in the period we’re researching. To answer the above question about Plank’s post-season greatness or lack thereof, Mathewson might be instructive. He was 5-5 overall in the World Series, but with an ERA of 0.97. At least his teams scored a run in each of his five losses. Overall, Mathewson had five World Series starts with no earned runs, five others with one or two, and just one with more than that.
#1 Cy Young: And for the second consecutive decade, the game’s best pitcher was Cy Young. Of the twelve best seasons by pitching WAR in the aughts, he had four of them, including a 12.6 pitching WAR gem in the AL’s inaugural season of 1901. Before you get too excited about the quality of competition that year, Young was the only one who stood out like he did. In fact, only Joe McGinnity (7.6) and Roscoe Miller (7.1) racked up even 7 WAR on the mound. Perhaps you could say the AL lacked stars.
In a week, we’ll see if anyone can dethrone Cy Young in the 1910s. Spoiler alert – Young retired in 1911.