Today we continue with our pitcher favorites, showing a higher percentage of players I chose this week than any in the series aside from catcher. That’s okay. I think it’s an interesting mix of guys whose cases you’ve heard, guys who are in, and guys whose cases may be more interesting than you originally thought. And for today’s Don Newcombe entry, we get a special guest appearance by Eric!
I hope you haven’t missed any part of this series, but if you have, here they are. Now, onto the pitchers!
Tommy John* (CHEWS+ 88, MAPES+ 99): In some ways, I think of John a bit like Armando Galarraga. John will never be forgotten because of the eponymous surgery. In other words, he hardly needs the Hall of Fame for his legacy. Galarraga will be remembered a whole lot more for his sort of perfect game than Lee Richmond, Len Barker, or Phil Humber, guys who actually threw them. But this post isn’t about legacy. Let’s give John 50% more value in 1974, which is about what he’d have if he didn’t hurt his arm. And for 1975, let’s give him the average of the two years before and two after the surgery. Somewhat surprisingly, that only lifts him seven spots. Frankly, John was a fairly mediocre pitcher at that point in his career. From 1971-1976, he was never worth even 2.5 WAR. His excellent seasons were the three before that span and four of the six after it. John had a wonderful career, will never be forgotten, and may actually get into the Hall one day. There isn’t a reasonable twist that would get him into the HoME though.
Addie Joss (CHEWS+ 128, MAPES+ 122): Coincidentally enough, Joss threw the fourth perfect game in baseball history. He also has the best WHIP in ever. And I think he’s the only MLB player in the Hall of Fame without ten years in the majors. Back in 1977, for reasons seemingly related only to Joss, the Hall passed a special resolution waiving the ten-year requirement. If they were going to do that for anyone, I guess he’d be one of those players. Still, they shouldn’t have. Joss was an outstanding pitcher for a time, but his final year was his worst. Had he not developed meningitis, the productive part of his career might have been over anyway. What I did for Joss was to eliminate the tenth and all future seasons for every pitcher I’ve charted. If we did that, Joss would rank 50th. Other interesting Hall of Famers by that standard would be Roy Oswalt, Dwight Gooden, and possibly Carlos Zambrano. The Hall made a poor decision.
Jim Kaat (CHEWS+ 138, MAPES+ 121): Does anyone else have Kaat and John occupy similar brain space? It’s kind of strange they do for me. When I began paying attention to the game, John was still a good starter. Kaat was a formerly good starter bouncing around the game as a below-replacement-level reliever. I suppose they’re together for me because of their win totals, 283 for Kaat and three more for John. I remember conversations about the Hall suggesting that their totals were “close enough” to 300 that their elections should come in time. Thankfully, we have learned more about the value of a win.
The first thing I want to experiment with for Kaat’s case is dropping the first two years and last seven years of his career when he was below replacement level. Surprisingly, that lifts him only four spots. I’m not sure I want to do much more, but I look at his record, and I see two seasons of 7+ WAR – when he was 35 and 36! Maybe his arm was crushed from pitching over 2000 innings from 1964-1971. He was hurt or hurting in 1972 and 1973, which shouldn’t be surprising. Let’s say he didn’t figure things out when he was 35, but he did so when he was 33, only we couldn’t see it because he was injured. Let’s give him 7 WAR rather than injuries. Doing that, even if we keep those negative seasons at the start and end of his career, vaults him past 12 HoME pitchers. If we convert only 1973 to 7 WAR, he’d still pass five HoMErs. A ranking of 121st doesn’t seem too impressive, but it might be just one great season away from deserving election.
Jimmy Key (CHEWS+ 105, MAPES+ 115): Key makes this list as one of my favorite pitchers ever to watch work. I think of him as the AL’s version of Tom Glavine – only he pitched a generation earlier, and he didn’t get lots of pitches called strikes that should have been called balls. Admittedly, I have absolutely zero support for the last contention, but it’s the way I choose to see Key. This crafty lefty had an up and down career. That happens for pitchers either when they’re not that good and just find it for a bit, or when they’re not so healthy. Key made 21 starts in 1988, 27 in 1990, and 5 in 1995. As we look at the seasons before those, he was great, if over worked in 1987; he was blah in 1989; and he was very good in 1994. Let’s repeat the 1987 and 1994 seasons the next year, and let’s give him his 1991 season in 1990. If we did those three things, he’d pass ten HoMErs. In other words, if he were healthy, Key may be an easy call. Perhaps you think my manipulation of his 1990 season is inappropriate, which I kinda think. Let’s leave that one alone. He’d still pass eight HoME pitchers. And if we only have him repeat his outstanding 1987 season in 1988, he’d pass five HoME-level pitchers. Were he completely healthy in 1988, it’s quite likely Jimmy Key would be in the HoME.
Mark Langston (CHEWS+ 83, MAPES+ 98): Earlier in our planning process, Eric was a big fan of Langston’s. While he has since pulled back from his previous support, he still likes Langston, and chances are greater than zero the hard-throwing lefty finds his way into the HoME one day. To find a bit of value for Langston, we can look to his injury-riddled sophomore season and the mediocre one that followed. Langston was great as a rookie but slumped badly in 1985 and didn’t rebound as a star until 1987. If we repeat his rookie campaign the next two years, he’d pass eight HoMErs. If we did it for just one year, he’d still pass six. That’s how close some of these players are and how closely we have to look at players to determine those who most deserve induction.
Sam Leever* (CHEWS+ 211, MAPES+ 161): The Pirate teams of about 110 years ago had some interesting staffs. In 1910, they had Leever, Babe Adams, and Deacon Philippe. The year before and going back to 1906, those three were joined by Vic Willis. Good stuff! They finished second or third every year except for 1909 when they beat the Tigers in seven games to win their first World Series. Leever was about done in 1909 and didn’t pitch in the World Series. During the more impressive part of his career, he was up and down, suggesting to me there were some injury woes. Looking at his BBREF page, it would appear the easiest place to find value for him would be early in his time in Pittsburgh, as he didn’t pitch in the bigs until he was 26, and he didn’t have a real job until he was 27. However, he didn’t begin pitching professionally until two years before that, so there’s no real value to be had there. Nor is there value at the end; he was done when he was done. Still, if he matured early and made it right to the majors, he’d have a nice shot at the HoME. If we repeat his first full year twice right before it, he’d pass seven HoME pitchers. If he only did it once, he’d still be short.
Bob Lemon (CHEWS+ 112, MAPES+ 123): An outstanding hitter with 10.4 career WAR at the dish, Lemon is one of the worst pitchers in the Hall when it comes to just pitching. While less than great, he was incredibly solid and incredibly healthy, five times leading the AL in batters faced and complete games, four times leading in innings, and three times leading in starts. Lemon supporters might point to his military service from 1943-1945 as a feather in his cap, but, while admirable, it likely shouldn’t add to his cause since my numbers say he was worth less than one win over the next three years combined. At age 35 in 1956, Lemon was excellent. But he was never good again, developing bone chips in his elbow late in 1957. Let’s say, however, that the bone chips developed earlier in the year. If we drop him 2 WAR per year for his last two, he moves all the way up to #100 on my list, clearly not good enough to get him in though.
Mickey Lolich (CHEWS+ 143, MAPES+ 124): Anyone who strikes out 300+ in a season, as Lolich did in 1971 and only 16 other pitchers have ever done since the mound moved, is just fine by me. Likely by good fortune rather than plan, the Tigers used Lolich less than awfully for a young pitcher. Though he threw 232 innings when he was 23, he never reached 250 until he was 28. Then we went crazy, topping out at 376 innings in his big K season of 1971. His last good year was at 34, and then he was shipped to the Mets. It seems like Lolich pitched hurt in 1966. If we give him the average of ’66 and ’68 in that year, he does jump up to #111, but there’s no other value we can easily find. A solid member of the Hall of Very Good.
Jack Morris* (CHEWS+ 146, MAPES+ 179): I don’t know which kind friend of mine recommended Morris, but I thank you. (The truth is he was going to appear here anyway). Last year, I took a bite out of the guy erroneously called the pitcher of the 80s. Hint, he wasn’t. And it’s not even close.
Morris was good though. He was a star from 1985-1987. But even in his best 3-year run, where he had three of his four best seasons by pitching WAR, he was only the game’s 10th best pitcher. That’s right, when Morris was at his three-year best, there were still nine guys better. That list includes Teddy Higuera, Bob Welch, and Charlie Leibrandt. No, not one of those pitchers is as good as Morris for his career, but their superior rankings on his list do make clear that Morris was never great. If we add a win to each of the first 14 years of his career, he’s still shy of the lowest ranked HoME starter by MAPES+. In case you’re wondering – and I know you are – I prefer Morris to both Harold Baines and Omar Vizquel.
Jamie Moyer (CHEWS+ 118, MAPES+ 155): Whenever I write about Moyer, I feel compelled to mention that I was psyched when the Red Sox shipped him to Seattle for Darren Bragg at the 1996 deadline. Bragg produced 7.2 WAR the rest of his career, Moyer a slightly better 38.9. Oops! In 1988, Moyer was 25 and posted 3.12 WAR by my numbers. For the next four years, he was either bad or injured. Usually both. If we substitute his 1988 for 1989-1992, he moves all the way up to 113, still shy of the HoME, but pretty impressive.
Joe Nathan (CHEWS+ 151, MAPES+ 204): As I’ve recently mentioned elsewhere, I consider Nathan to be the fourth best reliever ever, training only Rivera, Gossage, and Wilhelm. We’re happy with about 2.5 relievers in the HoME right now (Rivera, Gossage, and half of Eckersley). If we added another, it would almost certainly be Wilhelm. If it were two, I think it would be Nathan, as both Eric and I have him about a dozen and a half positions in front of Hoffman. When the Giants shifted Nathan to the pen, he was 28. Had he been healthy and effective for the four years prior, I am confident he’d still be far enough behind Gossage that there’d be no discussion needed. However, it’s possible those four years might have been enough to get him past Wilhelm and into my consideration set every year. Relievers, particularly closers, are a different beast when evaluating for the HoME. I always want to consider the top guy, just in case we decide we’re one closer shy.
Dave McNally* (CHEWS+ unranked, MAPES+ 398): For his first six years in Baltimore, McNally was just another guy, putting up only a shade over 0.7 pitching WAR each year. Then something happened in 1968, the same year Mark Belanger replaced Luis Aparicio full time. Just saying. The less cynical reporter might note that he found his slider in 1968, at least according to SABR biographer Mark Armour. Still, 1968 was his only excellent year. Reasonable comps are guys like Scott Erickson and Ramon Martinez. Adding two wins to each season of his career, he’s still easily short of the HoME, though at that point he’d be in league with Bob Lemon and Mickey Lolich.
Don Newcombe* (CHEWS+ 189, MAPES+ 188): Newk won the Rookie of the Year in 1949, finished eighth in the MVP voting, and made the All-Star team. He would’ve earned Cy Young votes if the award was, uh, being awarded. Newcombe picked up MVP support in three of his next four seasons. Then he went nutty on the league in 1956: 27-7, 131 ERA+, league-leading WHIP plus the Cy Young and the MVP. He never, ever earned another award vote. What happened? Well, he drank, and that was an issue. He had only two more good seasons.
Another thing about Newk is that he hit like a position player. He was probably the best hitting pitcher post-Wes Ferrell. If you’re keeping score at home, you’ll notice the chronological math above doesn’t add up. That’s because Newcombe spent 1952 and 1953 playing home games in Uncle Sam’s ball yard. His MLB record puts him in company with guys like Andy Messersmith and John Tudor. So what’s keeping him out of the HoME is all the innings he missed in Korea, right? Not exactly. More like the ones he missed in the Negro Leagues. Newcombe started pitching professionally in 1944 at age 18. The Dodgers plucked him up, and at age 20 and 21, he dominated the New England League. Then he pitched just about as well against the International League in 1948. Then he spent the first month of 1949 back in Montreal. You want Newcombe in your Hall of Fame? All you got to do is give him part of 1946 and all of 1947, 1948, and 1949 in the big leagues at his MLE rate of production.
Roy Oswalt* (CHEWS+ 81, MAPES+ 84): Make no mistake, Roy Oswalt was a great pitcher. In his rookie year of 2001, he made just 20 starts and was still worth 4.7 pitching WAR. The next year, that number jumped to 7.0. And during his 2005-2007 peak, he was the game’s best pitcher aside from Johan Santana. He dropped off after age 29, but he was excellent again at 32, posting 6.0 pitching WAR. He dropped back the next year, and he was done by the time he hit 34. It was back issues at first, and maybe it was back issues for the rest of his time in the majors. If after that 2010 season he dropped just one win per year, he’d be so easily in the HoME, 59th in history. If he dropped two wins per year, he’d be he’d pass four HoME pitchers. Oh, and he’s ahead of five HoME pitchers now! We could elect him tomorrow, and we might just if our rules allowed us to kick guys out of the HoME. As it is, his problem is Andy Pettitte. Eric and I both prefer the ex-Yankee. Oswalt has a shot someday, but it’s going to take some aggressive election action by the Hall so we have spots to fill.
The last installment of pitchers publishes in a week. See you then!
Man, it feels good to be kinda, sorta back doing this, at least for a little while. On Wednesday we updated the Mount Rushmores in the National League. Today we’ll do the same in the Junior Circuit.
That’s it for your 2018 Rushmore update. In the next few weeks we’re going to update you on the progress (or lack thereof) of active players on their journeys to the HoME.
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.
#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.
Because they came so close but didn’t pull through last season, the 1948 and 1920 champs have the longest current drought in the game. Known as the Blues in 1901, the Bronchos in 1902, and the Naps from 1903 through 1914, the Indians are the only team, I believe, whose Rushmore all played the same position. And much to my surprise, they’re the third best team in AL history in winning percentage.
By WAR, the greatest Indian ever is Nap Lajoie. However, he played parts of eight years with AL and NL Philadelphia clubs. Second on the Indian list is Red Sox great Tris Speaker. And fourth is another who played for the Red Sox, Lou Boudreau. Stan Coveleski is fifth on the Indian list, but he played for the A’s, Sens, and Yanks. Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome also put up great numbers while in Cleveland, but they both played everywhere. Earl Averill held on with the Tigers and Braves, and Joe Sewell was a Yankee for three years.
Al Rosen is the best hitter in Indian history never to play elsewhere, posting 32.6 WAR over seven full seasons before retiring because of issues with his back and legs. He’s 23rd in Indian history in WAR, but that’s not enough. There were four Cleveland pitchers who topped him, making them the only team without a hitter on their Rushmore.
Bob Feller: Rapid Robert was a hit after joining the Indians at age 17 in 1936. If we replace the three seasons and the one partial season he missed due to WWII with the average of the two years before and the two full years after he left, he moves from 63.6 WAR to an insane 84.4 WAR. That would move him from a tie for 144th with Richie Ashburn and Billy Williams to 53rd, just ahead of Pedro Martinez and Ken Griffey. I’m not saying this would have happened, just giving an idea about what might have been.
Bob Lemon: With 48.8 WAR, Lemon is the sixth best Indian ever. Of course, less than 77% of Lemon’s value was on the mound. He was truly an excellent hitter, adding 0.6 WAR to 1.9 WAR every year from 1947-1956 at the plate. From 1948-1950 he averaged six homers and 22 ribbies with a .334 OBP. With just pitching value, there are only two years when he threw like an All-Star. He’s in the Hall, which is quite a surprise given that Hall voters must look at pitcher offense less than I do, and Lemon is only 117th all-time among pitchers, right between Frank Viola and Ron Guidry.
Mel Harder: Eleventh on the all-time Indian WAR chart, Harder was a better pitcher than Lemon, putting up 47.9 WAR on the mound but giving back 4.2 at the dish, for 43.7 total WAR. During his 1932-1935 peak, he trailed only Carl Hubbell and Dizzy Dean in WAR among hurlers. Expanding things to 1939, and only Lefty Grove also gets past him. We’re looking at a star here.
Addie Joss: With similar star power to Harder, Joss nevertheless is in the Hall. Tied with him on the Indian WAR list with 43.7, Joss and his 160 wins are in the Hall due to a 1.89 career ERA. Even though he played only nine seasons, the 1977 Board of Directors passes a special resolution to waive the ten-year rule for him. There was no good reason for that decision. BBREF neutralizes Joss’ career ERA at 2.88, still a fine number, but c’mon. Imagine 170 wins and a 2.88 ERA in the last fifty years. Such a pitcher would have no chance at the Hall. If he pitched in the run environment of, say, 2004, his ERA would be 3.75. Kevin Brown pitched around that time. He finished with 211 wins and a 3.28 ERA, and he hasn’t sniffed the inside of Cooperstown.
My Indian Rushmore
Nap Lajoie: Yes, he had a significant enough career with the A’s, but he’s Cleveland’s all-time leader in WAR, and he had nine of his ten best years by WAR with the Indians.
Lou Boudreau: I’m not going to hold his short period of time in Boston against him. Speaker played in Boston too, but he had quite a significant career there. Each of Boudreau’s ten best seasons were with Cleveland.
Kenny Lofton: I’m skipping a couple of guys on Cleveland’s all-time WAR list to get to him, namely Stan Coveleski and Bob Lemon. My favorite Lofton memory is how he ran the bases like a brilliant madman in the 1995 playoffs, tripling twice and stealing 11 bases in the ALCS and WS.
Tune in next week for a look at the Cincinnati Reds.
Do you remember that book Don’t Sweat the Small stuff…? Of course you do. It was everywhere. What you may not remember was the subtitle, what came after the ellipsis – and it’s all small stuff. I didn’t believe it then, I read the book, and I don’t believe it now. Sure, we shouldn’t get all riled up over Tim Raines, but when innocent people get shot in the streets, maybe we should. I think if we don’t, we can’t bring about meaningful change.
So people who care about the Hall of Fame get all in a huff about Tim Raines being over-qualified and either taking a decade to make it to the Hall or maybe to fall off the ballot and not being heard from again until his Era Committee gets to review his case. Okay, okay. But even if we think Hall voting is a big deal, not all of it is.
Last week when the BBWAA ballot was announced, one name was conspicuous by its absence. I don’t mean Aaron Rowand, Julio Lugo, or Danys Baez. I’m talking about Javier Vazquez. Now this is a guy who doesn’t deserve to go to the Hall of Fame. He doesn’t deserve a single vote. And I’m of the opinion the nearly $100 million he made playing baseball is enough of a reward for his work in the game. I’m not shedding a tear because Vazquez was left off the ballot. But it has gotten me to think what if. What if things were just a little different? Forget just getting onto the ballot, I’m interested in getting Vazquez into the Hall of Fame.
We know from the difficulties of Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and so many more that wins win the day when it comes to the Hall voters, and at just 165, Vazquez didn’t have enough of those. Among starters, he beats only Addie Joss and Dizzy Dean. Oh, and he’s tied with Sandy Koufax.
In terms of WAR and WAR-related stuff, Vazquez is 138th among pitchers by JAWS and 136th in career WAR. That’s pretty decent, and it’s ahead of Hall of Famer starters Addie Joss, Jack Chesbro, Herb Pennock, Catfish Hunter, Lefty Gomez, Rube Marquard, and Jesse Haines on the career level. So if he were put in the Hall today, he wouldn’t be among the bottom 10% of starting pitchers enshrined for their work in MLB. To be honest though, that says a lot more about the mistakes of the Hall than it does Vazquez.
By the way, if you’re a fan of the way WAR is calculated at Fangraphs, using fielding independent pitching statistics, you think Vazquez is far, far closer to the Hall. He ranks 71st among all pitchers in history by their measure.
Can we find him some extra wins? Some extra WAR? The last year Vazquez was in the bigs was 2011. He was just 34. To look for more of what gets a pitcher into the Hall, what I’m going to do is compare him by IP and ERA+ to pitchers since WWII. There are 42 retired pitchers within 100 innings and 5 points in ERA+ of Vazquez during seasons from age 31-34. A bit to my surprise, Vazquez ranked in the top half of this group in wins over those four seasons. And he’s eighth in WAR among the group. To make comparisons, I looked at the careers of those 42 pitchers from age-35 on, when Vazquez was retired, to get a sense of where he might have ended up had he hung around.
Those 42 pitchers averaged 2.6 more seasons, 26 more wins, and 3.4 more WAR. The extra 26 wins would get him past Koufax, but the only other Hall of Famer he’d lap is lefty Gomez. WAR looks a little better though. Adding 3.4 more, he moves from 136th on the list to 117th. That means Bob Lemon and Sandy Koufax also fall behind him.
But let’s say he’s not merely the average of these pitchers. He was in the top 20% in WAR among that group in the previous four seasons, so let’s put him eighth in both wins and WAR in the pretend rest of his career. If that’s where he ranked, he’d add 46 more wins and 7.3 more WAR.
With those wins, he’d sit at 211, into the top-100 in history. Rube Waddell, Ed Walsh, Dazzy Vance, Dennis Eckersley, Jack Chesbro, Rube Marquard, Hal Newhouser, Bob Lemon, Don Drysdale, and Jesse Haines would have fewer. He’d rank 50th in wins just looking at Hall of Fame pitchers. That’ not terrible.
As for WAR, he’d be up to 53.3. That would put him into a tie with Waite Hoyt for 50th among Hall of Famers in that category. Being ahead of 14 Hall starters in WAR is nothing to sneeze at. It would make him a reasonable candidate.
I don’t know what the standard is for getting on the Hall of Fame ballot beyond playing for ten years. And I don’t really care to learn it. The argument about whether or not a guy belongs on the ballot is small stuff indeed. On the other hand, had Vazquez chosen to play a few more seasons, and had he played relative to similar players like he had in the previous four seasons, a real Hall of Fame case could have been made for him. Sometimes it’s that close.
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…
Once again we’ve reached a sad time for some long-dead players and a happy time for me, the time where we can eliminate some players from the ballot. After each election, once we realize that there are certain players who will never receive our vote for the Hall of Miller and Eric, we pay tribute to them through these obituaries.
To make our next round of voting easier, we’re going to remove them from intellectual consideration, though not actual consideration. They’ll receive a brief write-up in this column along with a little trivia about their careers or lives.
There were 778 players we considered for the HoME as we began. Eight elections in, we’ve elected 39 and put to rest 110 others, as you’ll note by looking over our RIP category and reading below. That leaves us with 629 players for our remaining 170 spots in the HoME. In other words, we can elect just a shade over 27% of the remaining players we’re considering.
And after each election, I’ll offer the following chart to keep you apprised of our progress.
Year Carried New Considered Elected Obituaries Continuing to Over Nominees this Election Next Election 1936 75 29 104 8 14 82 1931 69 17 86 2 9 75 1926 71 25 96 9 18 69 1921 66 27 93 4 18 71 1916 53 31 84 5 13 66 1911 47 20 67 5 9 53 1906 33 28 61 3 11 47 1901 1st election 54 54 3 18 33
Dead in 1936
Half-Chipewa, it’s no surprise that Hall of Famer Albert Bender was known as Chief. In fifteen seasons and one game eight years later, he posted 212 wins. Some of his best work was done in the 1911 World Series. Pitching for the defending champ Philadelphia A’s in the opener against the Giants and Christy Mathewson, Bender gave up a pair of runs in a losing effort. Game four looked like another struggle against Mathewson, as Bender allowed two runs to just the first three batters. After that, though, he set down the Giants for nine straight innings to take the victory. Two days later, he was back on the hill to close things out in a much easier game, as his A’s pummeled the Giants 13-2 to win their second consecutive World Series. Overall, Bender gave up six runs, three earned, in 26 innings in the 1911 World Series.
The man with the first hit in the history of Yankee Stadium, George H. Burns, was also the man who turned the third unassisted triple play in history, and the first of only two by someone not playing the middle infield. Playing for the Red Sox in September of 1923, Cleveland’s Frank Brower swung the bat on a hit-and-run play with men on first and second. Burns caught the liner, tagged the man who had been on first, and inexplicably took off for second base while Indian runner Riggs Stephenson raced back to the bag. Burns beat him, and the unassisted triple play was recorded. Out of curiosity, were the Red Sox playing without middle infielders that day?
Hooks Dauss played his whole career (1922-1936) with Detroit and won more games than any pitcher in Tiger history, 223. I’ll bet Justin Verlander didn’t know that. To be fair, those wins came for some pretty mediocre Tiger teams, and they do put him in good company on the career list, ahead of notables like Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Don Drysdale, and a bunch of Hall of Famers.
If ERA with, say, a minimum of 1000 innings were the only qualification, Addie Joss would be the second greatest pitcher in history. Of course, since Jim Devlin and Jack Pfiester would be third and fourth, perhaps we should look for another measure. Among his 160 career wins for Cleveland were a perfect game and another no-hitter. He died at age 31 because of a bacterial infection and was somehow elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1977. Oddly, the Hall’s Board of Directors passed a special resolution that year to waive the ten-year requirement. Why even have the rule if you’re just going to waive it when it’s convenient?
Stuffy McInnis was the first baseman in Connie Mack’s illustrious $100,000 infield joining Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Home Run Baker with the Philadelphia A’s. McInnis, Mack, and the 1911 World Series are evidence that we’re a results oriented people, or that we don’t remember history, or something. Replace McInnis, Mack and 1911 with Bill Buckner, John McNamara, and 1986, and see if this sounds at least a little familiar. Stuffy, the regular first baseman was hobbled, yet Mack inserted him into the World Series as a defensive replacement with the A’s up three games to two and game six on the line. With two outs in the ninth, McInnis quietly recorded the putout, and the A’s were champs. Sure, Buckner wasn’t a defensive replacement, and it’s not really fair to call a 13-2 lead “on the line”, but I think the comparison holds up. Kind of.
Lee Meadows wore glasses, so naturally his nickname was “Specs”. Brilliant! He won 188 games, including an NL wins title in 1931. But he was pretty awful in the World Series, with a 6.28 ERA in two starts over two Series. If you’re reading this and also thinking that Similarity Scores are the greatest thing ever, you might care to know that at age 34, when Meadows retired, the most similar pitcher to him in history was Hooks Dauss. Pretty eerie, huh?
As a member of the Murderers’ Row Yankees, Bob Meusel is overrated historically. But I’d bet you could make a buck or two in a bar bet by asking people what Yankee led the AL in HR and RBI in 1925. I’ll give you a hint – it wasn’t Ruth or Gehrig. For other cool and unimportant trivia, he’s the only American League to hit for the cycle three times. And one last bit – he’s the only player ever with two steals of home in the World Series.
Clyde Milan was nicknamed “Deerfoot”, not because he had gout, but because he was super fast. In fact, he is the all-time leader in stolen bases – wait for it – among those who played for only one team. Meaningful, I know. He won two AL steals titles and compiled a .285 career average. Overall, he was a fine player, and the third or fourth best center fielder in baseball during the length of his career, pretty much equal over those years with fellow speedster Max Carey.
Best known as the guy whose headache caused him to leave the lineup setting up Lou Gehrig’s 2130 consecutive game streak, Wally Pipp was certainly more than that as a player. First, he wasn’t the type of guy to take a game off because his head hurt. In fact, before the 1925 season, Pipp had played in at least 138 of 154 games on the Yankee schedule for six straight years. And while we’re talking about Pipp and Gehrig, they both won a triples title. But while Gehrig won three home run titles, Pipp only won two. Yeah, I guess Gehrig was better.
Despite hitting just .256 in his career, Ray Schalk was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. I’d say that’s in large part because he was one of the White Black Sox. Do you think that’s why his nickname was “Cracker”? I jest. Though perhaps the Hall voters jested even more when they elected Schalk. He’s tied with fellow dead man, Lee Meadows on the all-time list in WAR. Guess where he ranks. Just guess. As of this writing, he’s tied for #841, just a shade behind General Crowder. Ahead of Captain Crunch.
Bob Shawkey became the first New York starter at Yankee Stadium in 1923, and when the Stadium reopened in 1976, Shawkey threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He won 20 games four times and took home an ERA title in 1929. Shawkey really was a decent pitcher – maybe Frank Viola or Javier Vazquez level for his career – he’s just not a HoMEr.
An interesting and largely forgotten player, perhaps because he never reached a World Series and he retired prior to the first All-Star Game, Cy Williams was the NL’s career leader in home runs for a spell before being passed by Rogers Hornsby in 1929. And he recorded an impressive four home run titles. As an extreme pull hitter, managers employed the “Williams Shift” against him. Ironically, it wasn’t called the Williams shift when employed against Cy Williams. Years later, when Indian manager Lou Boudreau used the same strategy that’s today used against many lefty pull hitters against Ted Williams, the shift took on its name.
Some might look at Smoky Joe Wood and say he could have been one of the best pitchers ever to play the game. After all, through age 25 he had 117 wins and over 30 WAR. A thumb injury he suffered when trying to field a bunt effectively ruined his pitching career. Although he was a fine hitter, the comeback he tried to make a couple of years after his injury didn’t work out so well, even if he did manage to take home a paycheck for six more years. In any case, Wood fans will always have his spectacular 34-5 season in 1912 and his ERA title in 1915 to remember him by.
Ross Youngs is in the Hall of Fame. You would be too if you bought a ticket, but I don’t think they’d let you hang a bronzed bust of yourself anywhere inside the Cooperstown museum. I guess I’m trying to say Youngs didn’t deserve election. He was a decent enough right fielder for the New York Giants for nine seasons and a few games. And from 1919-1924, he might have been the most valuable hitter in the NL other than Rogers Hornsby. Of course, the gap between him and Hornsby was greater than the gap between Youngs and me or you. That’s how good Hornsby was. In any case, part of the reason Youngs has been honored is that his career was cut short at age 29. And his life was cut short at age 30 due to Bright’s Disease.
Rest in peace, all. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those who have made it into the HoME, and check back here after the 1941 election for more obituaries.
“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”
“No one, I think, is in my tree—I mean it must be high or low.”
“These Dreams Nightmares”
Those Halls got nothin’ on the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
The Hall lost much of its credibility in the late 1960s and early 1970s when for no good reason it started electing guys no one, for good reasons, had heard of. Guys with funny names like Highpockets, Pops, Sunny Jim, and Chick. To do better we need better standards.
After our 1926 election, we’ve selected 29 guys, 14 percent of our eventual total. We have at least one at every position except for relief pitcher. So how do our standards look?
You can get more information from the HOME STATS link on our honorees page, but here’s a recap:
C (1): Ewing
1B (3): Anson, Brouthers, Connor
2B (2): Barnes, Lajoie
3B (1): White
SS (5): Dahlen, Davis, Glasscock, Wagner, Wallace
LF (4): Burkett, Clarke, Delahanty, Joe Jackson
CF (1): Hamilton
RF (2): Crawford, Kelly
SP (10): Clarkson, Keefe, Mathewson, Nichols, Plank, Radbourn, Rusie, Waddell, Walsh, Young
Our typical position-player inductee, by my own way of looking at things, ranks in the top 8 to 10 at their position: about as good as Ed Delahanty or George Davis. Our average pitcher is a little better than Eddie Plank, and clearly in the top third among all pitchers historically.
The median position-player HoMEr earned about 31 points of Black Ink (about the same as Roger Connor, Jesse Burkett, or Willie McCovey) and 180 of Gray Ink (Deacon White or Eddie Murray). They were the best player in their leagues by position-player WAR twice during their career and in the top ten four times (that is, as equivalent to the top ten in a 16-team league). In history, only fifty guys have led their leagues twice or more.
Our typical pitcher collected 55 points of Black Ink (about the same as Amos Rusie or Tom Seaver) and 225 of Gray Ink (between Jim Bunning and Bob Feller). They’ve been top ten in pitching WAR 2.5 times and 5 times in the top-ten. Only fifty-three pitchers have led their leagues twice or more.
“Crazy On You”
Here’s the currently-eligible players the Hall of Fame has taken that we haven’t:
1B: Beckley, Chance
2B: Evers, McPhee
SS: Jennings, Tinker, Ward, Wright
LF: Kelley, O’Rourke
RF: Flick, Keeler, McCarthy, Thompson
SP: Bender, Brown, Galvin, Joss, McGinnity, Welch, Willis
Obviously, we’re taking things a little more slowly, but this isn’t a terrible group. Still, only Hughie Jennings (4 times) and Monte Ward led their leagues in position-player WAR. On the mound, Vic Willis (twice), Joe McGinnity (twice), and Pud Galvin led their leagues in pitching WAR.
Several of these fellows have a strong shot at getting a vote or a plaque, some in the near future. In fact, we won’t see the Hall of Fame’s biggest out stinkers until our 1940s elections. But Tommy McCarthy, Sam Thompson, Chief Bender, and Addie Joss will not get much consideration hereafter. They are truly substandard selections. McCarthy is a head scratcher; Thompson and Joss have markers that make sense given the kinds of insight and information prevalent when they were elected; Bender, well, I guess it’s the Connie Mack halo.
So far, we have elected the best of the best, or damn close to it. But like that terrible moment when every woman realizes they can only marry down, our standards can only decrease from here. That’s inevitable, of course. We committed to matching the Hall of Fame’s membership total. We’re off to a good start, we’re taking it slowly, and we’re picking carefully. The toughest times lay well ahead of us in terms of what defines our standards, our worst honoree, before we “burn into the wick.”