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Bob Feller

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AL Mount Rushmore, 2018 Update

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.

Baltimore

  • Cal Ripken (95.5 WAR) is forever the king.
  • Brooks Robinson (78.4) backs him up.
  • And Jim Palmer (69.4) is very safe in third place.
  • A year ago this spot was occupied by Manny Machado. Alas Oriole fans. Other actives with 10+ WAR in Baltimore included Zach Britton, Jonathan Schoop, and Kevin Gausman. Oh well. At least the O’s tried to rebuild. The top active Oriole now is Chris Tillman at 9.3 WAR. But there’s virtually no chance he ever catches the fourth face of the Orioles, Chris Hoiles (23.5). Let’s be fair, Hoiles was a fine player for a number of years. He’s a better representative on the Mount than a lot of guys you’ll see below.

Boston

  • Ted Williams (123.1) holds the third spot on the on the game’s single-team Rushmore, behind Walter Johnson and Stan Musial.
  • Carl Yastrzemski (96.1) is the second-best second-best player ever, behind Mickey Mantle.
  • Dustin Pedroia (52.1) remains third. I hope he retires in Boston, but not for a few years.
  • It’s going to be a couple of seasons before we see the great Mookie Betts climb enough. For now, it’s Bobby Doerr (51.4) who leads the way for this spot. If Pedroia ever finds himself on another team, Jim Rice steps in until it’s Mookie time.

Chicago

  • Though too often remembered for his Old Timers’ Day home run at age 75 rather than his spectacular career, Luke Appling (74.5) leads the way.
  • Also largely forgotten, Ted Lyons (71.5) is second.
  • Red Faber (64.8) is third and will remain there for as long as any of us can imagine.
  • The fourth face is that of Jim Scott (26.1), a righty pitcher from 1909-1917 who is currently fighting off Jose Abreu (18.7).

Cleveland

  • Bob Feller (63.6) is safe.
  • Bob Lemon (48.8) is safe.
  • Mel Harder (43.8) is safe.
  • And Addie Joss (43.7) is pretty safe. At least for a while. Corey Kluber (33.6) is making a run at it.

Detroit

  • The Tigers have just about the safest Rushmore of any team outside of the Bronx with Al Kaline (92.5) starting things off.
  • Charlie Gehringer (80.6) is locked into second place.
  • Lou Whitaker (74.9) is third and waiting on his Hall of Fame plaque.
  • Alan Trammell (70.4) already has his. These four are locked in for 12-15 years at a minimum since no active Tiger has even 10 career WAR.

Houston

  • As you might expect, Jeff Bagwell (79.6) leads this list.
  • And since Bagwell’s first, Craig Biggio, (65.1) must be second.
  • After another very impressive season, Jose Altuve (35.1) remains in third.
  • Don Wilson (27.9) is fourth, but the trio of George Springer (18.7), Carlos Correa (18.3), and Dallas Keuchel (18.1) is coming.

Kansas City

  • We get started with George Brett (88.4)
  • I bet you wouldn’t have guessed that Alex Gordon (35.2) is now second. He’s a failed prospect. He’s a failed third baseman. He can’t hit, certainly for a corner outfielder. Yet he’s valuable. For left field defense. Something many of us joked about as unimportant 20 years ago.
  • Frank White (34.7) drops to third.
  • And Dennis Leonard (26.3) closes things out. However, Salvador Perez (22.2) is making things interesting. He’s only two years away and is signed for three more. Could be interesting.

Los Angeles

  • Mike Trout (64.3) continues to lead the way.
  • Tim Salmon (40.5) isn’t leaving second place for years.
  • The first time I covered the Angels was about midway through the 2017 season. Since then Kole Calhoun (13.6) has limped his way into third place.
  • That means Scot Shields (12.4) falls to fourth. And Gary DiSarcina (11.2) falls off the list. That’s okay, Gary. There’s virtually no chance Calhoun is a career Angel.

Minnesota

  • The best player in baseball history to play for only one team is Walter Johnson (165.6).
  • Joe Mauer (55.1) is second in Minnesota and may lock in his place for good by retiring.
  • Kirby Puckett (50.9) is next.
  • And Brad Radke (45.5) rounds things out for a long time.

New York

  • Lou Gehrig (112.4) leads the way for the game’s most boring Rushmore.
  • Mickey Mantle (109.7) is second.
  • Joe DiMaggio (78.1) follows.
  • And Derek Jeter (71.8) closes things out.
  • To the surprise of many, I suspect, Brett Gardner (37.5) is more than half way to a place on the Rushmore of Rushmores. Of course, as wonderfully solid as his career has been, he’s never getting close to the second Rushmore of Mariano Rivera, Whitey Ford, Bill Dickey, and Bernie Williams. But there’s a shot at the third. Ron Guidry, Thurman Munson, and Mel Stottlemyre are safe for now. Jorge Posada (42.8) is the low hanging fruit. Gardner has a shot.

Oakland

  • Eddie Rommel (50.1) is the reason I started this project. Well, not him, but guys like him. I don’t think we generally associate him with the A’s. In fact, I don’t think we associate the 20s and early 30s hurler with anyone. While Rommel led the AL both in wins and losses twice, part of the reason we kept thinking about him for the HoME as long as we did was his relief work, which was significant. As it turns out, just about nobody has played their whole career for the A’s.
  • Dick Green (16.0) is somehow second on the list. He played mostly 2B in both Kansas City and Oakland from 1963-1974 and retired with a sparkling career line of .240/.303/.347. Granted, he played in an era without much offense. But his 87 OPS+ tells us that he was pretty stinky at the plate.
  • Welcome to the list, Matt Chapman (11.7). He jumps to third place with his outstanding 2018 campaign, knocking Rollie Naylor off the Mount.
  • Steve McCatty (9.7), a Billy-Ball starting pitcher with a career 63-63 mark, closes things out. Sean Manaea (7.4) has a real shot to bump him off a year from now.

Seattle

  • Can Edgar Martinez (68.3) just get into the Hall of Fame, already?!
  • Sadly, it seems that Felix Hernandez (50.9) won’t ever get there. His Wins Above Average for the last four years have totaled -2.6. That’s actually this year’s number. It was goose eggs the two previous seasons. He’s going to be 33 in 2019, and I just don’t see him turning things around. Of course, I said the same thing about Justin Verlander after 2015.
  • Kyle Seager (27.9) limped forward in 2018. Still, for the third time in the four years Corey has been in the bigs, big brother was better.
  • Hisashi Iwakuma (16.8) seems like he’s done now, at least in the United States. And he’s locked into the fourth spot until James Paxson (10.9) or someone else eclipses him.

Tampa Bay

  • After kicking their best player in franchise history all the way across the country, the Rays looked for an Evan Longoria replacement, and Kevin Kiermaier (24.0) stepped up. Others who would have moved up are Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, and Alex Colome. Unfortunately, they were all shipped away too. And the Rays won 90 games!
  • This team is going to be in flux for a while. As a result, Desmond Jennings (13.2) is going to remain in the conversation for many years.
  • And the Rays hope Blake Snell (9.4) will be too. He won’t be a free agent until 2023, so he may be around for a while. Then again, he’ll hit arbitration in 2020, so…
  • Fourth is Daniel Robertson (3.3). Seriously. If you don’t know who he is, you’re excused. He’s a utility guy with only 500 career at-bats. I assume he’ll be a Ray in 2019. Probably. Maybe.

Texas

  • My hopes that an improved bat in 2016 and 2017 would mean another step forward in 2018 for Elvis Andrus (28.8) were dashed quite early in the season. I hoped he’d make a Hall run, but I just don’t see it now.
  • If I were a team, I’d have signed Rusty Greer (22.3) after he left Texas. Always seemed like a good guy to have on a ball club. Maybe not, but Greer had a nice little peak from age 27-30.
  • The great Roger Pavlik (10.6) is next.
  • And Matt Harrison (9.1) is fourth. Like Greer, I’m surprised neither Pavlik nor Harrison hooked on with anyone else.

Toronto

  • The Blue Jays have had a lot of great players in their days, yet Kevin Pillar (14.3) tops their list. I think of him a lot like Juan Lagares if Lagares were respected by his franchise. Pillar is at -42 Rbat and 63 Rfield. Lagares is at -33 Rbat and 84 Rfield. For whatever reason, even though they both reached the majors in the same year, Pillar has come to the plate about 800 more times and has a better reputation.
  • Up next is Marcus Stroman (10.9). Injuries likely mean he’ll never be what we hoped he might be. Still, he’s the second best player in Jays history by this measure.
  • And Luis Leal (10.8) is third. Almost half of his value came in 1982, and the Jays got a useful pitcher for four seasons.
  • Ricky Romero (9.7) closes things out. His last time with the Jays was 2013. He pitched in their minor league system in 2014 and in the Giants system the next three years. He didn’t pitch in 2018 and appears to be done now. Aaron Sanchez (9.2) should displace him next year.

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.

Miller

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All-Time HoME Leaders, Pitcher – 41-60

We hope this series is fun for you, and by the looks of it, a great many of you are enjoying it. The best thing, I think, is to look at our rankings versus yours. See where you think we’re missing something, or perhaps learn from something we bring up.

If we’re doing the right thing, this is the type of thing that’s going on. I know it’s going on internally. This week’s lists won’t look too different from each other, but the lists next week were going to be a mess. When our rankings differ by a lot, I try to look for the reasoning. Years ago, it was sometimes something as simple as a data entry error. Today, it’s more a difference of opinion on how to rank players, which is totally fine by me. What’s less fine is when one of us is making a smart decision that the other isn’t making. That had been the case on the mound. Simply, Eric was offering leverage credit to relief pitchers in a reasonable way. I was ignoring such leverage. And as a result, my numbers for some pitchers prior to 1946 were deflated. Since, I’ve adapted by systems to be more in line with Eric’s – really, to be more in line with what I think makes sense. So before we get to today’s rankings, I want to share with you our top-40 with my adjustments. Nothing big, but we always sweat the small stuff at the HoME.

P, 1-40

Moving on. All posts in this series are here for your convenience. Enjoy our next 20 pitchers.

[MAPES+], [CHEWS+], [1B, 1-20], [1B, 21-40], [2B, 1-20], [2B, 21-40], [3B, 1-20], [3B, 21-40], [SS, 1-20], [SS, 21-40], [C, 1-20], [C, 21-40], [LF, 1-20], [LF, 21-40], [CF, 1-20], [CF, 21-40], [RF, 1-20], [RF, 21-40], [P, 1-20], [P, 21-40]

Pitcher – 41-60

P, 41-60

Where do we project the active player(s) to finish in our rankings?

Zack Grienke

Greinke is a fascinating pitcher, and historically unusual. A large portion of his pitching value is tied up in his 2009 and 2015 seasons. Also, he’s a pretty nice hitter for a pitcher. What I’m saying is that I don’t love the idea of using comparable pitchers to project him moving forward because there just aren’t many truly comparable careers. So I’ll do what any good prognosticator does, I’ll guess. Greinke is 34 this year, and he’s off to a good enough start on the mound and a very good one at the plate. Yeah, there I go again, thinking rationally about a pitcher about whom I can only guess. Giving him seasons of 5, 3, 2, and 1 WAR seems reasonable enough. And if he were to do that, he’d jump up to #30 in my rankings, between Hal Newhouser and Bob Feller. To me, he’s a Hall of Famer already. With those seasons, he’d be in the upper half of HoME pitchers. But is he seen that way? I don’t think voters are going to love him. [Looks at BBREF]. Yeah, he’s south of 180 wins as I type this. He’s going to have trouble.—Miller

Justin Verlander

I love that Verlander went from amazing to fork-tender to amazing. Miller and I came close to writing him off, wondering between ourselves whether he would wind down and never quite get back to average, let alone excellent. Well, he did. It’s not as though he’s stopped either. He’s already this year pushed past fellows on my list such as Juan Marichal, Jim Bunning, and Don Drysdale. He could even bust into the top-40 this year if he continues to pitch insanely well. Now, Verlander is 35 this year, and we thought at this age Roy Halladay would be great forever. He wasn’t, and Verlander’s career could go at any moment. It takes just a tweak of some muscle or a small drop in velocity for a career to go south in a hurry. If Verlander declines gracefully, he could make the top 30ish.—Eric

With the caveat that he’s already begun to regress some, the 2018 version of Justin Verlander may be the best one we’ve seen. This from the 2011 AL MVP and a guy who already has two 8 WAR seasons. This is amazing, not just because he’s 35 now, but because he looked like he was kind of washed up in 2014 and 2015. Like with Greinke, I don’t know quite what to do with him. Let’s give him 8 WAR this year, then a pretty steep decline to 5, 3, and 1.5. That feels reasonable enough to me. And if it happens, he shoots up to #25 all-time, right between Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina. Unlike Greinke, I think the voters will love him. Of course, I’m not sure why.—Miller

CC Sabathia

Carsten Charles has walked the tightrope for two-and-a-half seasons. His ERA has beaten his FIP by 35 points, 80 points, and 99 points from 2016 through June 19th of 2018.  There’s a little smoke and mirrors here. On the one hand, his home parks have played at about a 103 park factor in those seasons. But as a lefty, Sabathia doesn’t face the same problem that a righty would in New Yankee Stadium with its short porch in right field. CC has also benefited from average to excellent defense behind him. Overall, while his ERA this year is 3.30 at this writing, he’s only managed a single RAA above average. Also playing against the big lefty? His own durability. Injuries have cut down his ability to go deep into games. From age 20 to 32, Sabathia appeared 415 times, all starts, pitched 2775.33 innings, an average of 6.69 per start. Since then, he’s averaging about an inning less a game (5.73). Unsurprisingly, CC is striking out about one fewer batters per game than in his prime. He’s issuing about one-half a walked more per game. He’s giving up a half a homer per game more than during his peak. That’s aging for you, especially when you’re a big-bodied guy throwing all that weight around with max effort. On the other hand, he remains at least an average pitcher and sometimes a very good one. I don’t know how much further he can climb in his decline years. Probably not much. I’d be surprised if he made the top 50, especially since reports have filtered out suggesting he may retire at the expiration of his current contract.—Eric

Where do our rankings diverge the most from the conventional wisdom?

I think they diverge in a lot of places. Mariano is my top ranked reliever by far, yet he’s only 42. I suspect that most of the closer-loving world would place him in the top-20, if not the top-10. Then there’s David Cone. Just try convincing someone he was as good as John Smoltz. If he was so good, how come he didn’t win 200 games? If he was so good, why wasn’t he an elite closer for three years? Blah, blah, blah. And of course, there are those 70s pitchers, Rick Reuschel and Luis Tiant, both clearly Hall-worthy, yet one completely and the other largely ignored. Even I’ve kind of ignored Looie, and that’s a shame. At least it’s in favor of Reuschel. Tiant was the classic underrated player in my mind. Stop me if you heard these things before. He wan’t seen as great when he was young, never winning more than a dozen games until he was 27. Then he had his breakout season obscured of 1968 by Denny McLain and Bob Gibson. Subsequently, it’s been obscured by history. It’s as if 1968 is the Coors Field of seasons. Anything that happened that year can be diminished with the mere mention of some outlying numbers. He also had a mid-career dip when he went 17-30 over three years. He jumped from team to team, playing for six in his career. And he hung on too long, posting an ERA+ of just 82 over his final three campaigns. Oh, and he played at the same time as Seaver, Carlton, et al. The guy seemingly had everything going against him. On a positive note, he’s beloved in Boston and I suspect throughout the baseball world, at least among those with good memories. With the right composition, I could see an Era Committee voting him in one of these days.—Miller

Thirty years ago, when I was learning the history of our game, Bob Feller was a living legend. Only the war had stopped him from reach 300 wins and breaking Walter Johnson’s strikeout record. There was that famous old film of a motorcycle speeding by at 90 MPH while Feller threw a baseball that hit its target as the bike crossed the same plane. Appreciation of Feller had probably reached its apogee about a decade before that, but as a pup I had a clear impression of his greatness. Today I report ranking him a mere 42nd in my rankings. Hey, it’s just my opinion, but I think the war didn’t prevent him from winning 300. Instead it allowed him to win 266. Feller shouldered an incredible workload. Since the introduction of the lively ball in 1920, Bob Feller leads all pitchers during their age-seventeen season with 62 innings. He leads all eighteen-year-olds (148.67), all nineteen year-olds (277.67), all twenty-year-olds (296.67), all twenty-one- year-olds (320.33), and all twenty-tow-year-olds (343). The only reason he doesn’t lead 23 year-olds is because he was off fighting the Axis powers for most of the next four years. He returned to finish out the 1945 season then pitched a full year in 1946. That year, you guessed it, he led all twenty-seven-year-olds since 1920 in innings pitched with 371.33. In 1947, he did not lead all twenty-eight-year-olds since 1920 in innings, but he did lead all of MLB that year with 299. The next year he threw 280.33, and his ERA+ dropped from 130 to 114. He was never a great pitcher again. Overall, he went 108-79 in 266 post-age-28 starts with an ERA+ of just 106 and a strikeout rate about half of what it was through age 28. He was not a Pat Rapp innings eater, but he probably wasn’t a number two starter either, certainly not for a good team. My hypothesis: Feller’s pitching musculature was probably saved from the specific kind of wear and tear that grinds down a career. It might have had a chance to even heal just a little since he wasn’t throwing top-level, pressure-packed innings every three or four days (he threw very little in the service). But once he returned, the clock started ticking again, and all that early work caught up to him. How could it not? He had back, shoulder, and arm problems in the late 1940s and was reduced to a Sunday starter by the early 1950s. It’s pretty easy to imagine that had Feller continued throwing all those pitches at ages twenty-three, twenty-four, and twenty-five, he might have never made it to age twenty-nine. But we didn’t understand all of this thirty years ago. We could know that he had some injuries but not how badly they may have hurt his career. We could know he threw an impressive number of innings but not that they probably had residual, cumulative effects. Now we know a lot more, and the shape of his career makes a lot of sense, even if it loses a tiny bit of its sparkle.—Eric

Where do we disagree with one another the most?

Speaking of Feller, we have a pretty good gap there with Miller being the bigger fan than I. But a bigger gap exists with John Smoltz. I’ve got him at #31, Miller at #50. I suspect that the difference has to do with my compadre having a strong peak orientation to his sifting system than I do. Smoltz is many things, but a high-peak pitcher is not one of them.  While he does have five seasons above 5 WAR when I make all my little adjustments, he has but one above 6 WAR (7.5). So, I’m looking at a really solid prime and Miller’s looking at a low peak. That’s a sensible difference of opinion. That doesn’t explain why we see Red Ruffing differently. Miller’s got him ten or so slots above my ranking. But it might well explain why Miller has Charlie Buffinton 20 spots higher than I do. Well, that and I take a lot of the stuffing out of the 18th Century pitchers.—Eric

I think it’s Clark Griffith. I rank him #43, and Eric doesn’t even put him on this week’s list. Or next week’s. My ranking suggests I should have pushed hard for his HoME candidacy, while Eric’s says he should have pushed back. The truth of it is, I didn’t push for Griffith, the player, because I thought his era was already well enough represented on the mound with hurlers I preferred. Happily for me, the pitcher/manager/owner, Clark Griffith found his HoME as a combination candidate.—Miller

Are there any players who MAPES+/CHEWS+ might overrate or underrate? 

I always worry about how my system treats relievers, so maybe Mariano should rank higher. And maybe my older dudes like Griffith, should be lower. But I don’t think there are any shockers on this list. They all seem reasonable enough to me.—Miller

Actually, there is a shocker on this list: Urban Shocker. (Oh, that was amazing.)

I concur that relievers are problematic. It’s a theoretical worry, in particular. It’s amazing to me that Mariano Rivera threw 60 or 70 innings a year for twenty years and ends up among my top forty pitchers. It’s not that leverage or chaining are the issue. Instead it’s more about what we might call “degree of difficulty.” Recently Kevin Cash started Sergio Romo because the first inning is when the offense is guaranteed to have its offense set up the way it wants. Then Romo is removed after three or six outs because, wait for it, he doesn’t have a deep enough repertoire to go through a lineup twice without getting crushed the second time through. This is a fundamental concern I have with relievers from the last thirty years: We multiply run prevention due to its in-game importance, but we do not ding it for the fact a half-decent relief pitcher enters with everything in his favor. Consider:

  • He isn’t guaranteed to face the opposition’s best hitters and in many cases never does.
  • In the NL, he might face a disrupted batting order due to double switching, which also means he’ll likely face a pinch hitter, and pinch hitting carries a massive offensive penalty.
  • He is, inn 99.99% of all games, guaranteed to never face even one hitter twice.
  • He enters the game after at least one other pitcher, so his opponent has to adjust to him, not vice versa.
  • In general, opponents batters see very little of him during the year, especially because he may not see even five guys in the lineup in any given appearance, so there’s a lack of in-season familiarity as well.
  • In many cases, a reliever enters or exits when a favorable or unfavorable matchup occurs.

Mariano Rivera had a devastating cutter. Would it have been so devastating if a batter saw it twice or thrice a game? I doubt it. Especially since Rivera basically chucked his other pitches and relied almost exclusively on the cutter. If he’d been forced to mix in other pitches, could he have been effective?

The question is whether we should adjust for degree of difficulty. I suspect that the analytical community has consensus around the idea that we should not. I’m not entirely sure they are wrong, but I am also not sure that they are right. Context is everything, and the only context we are looking at currently are very specific in-game situations whose context runs far deeper for relievers than for any other player on the field. If we use a Win Probably Added approach, then relievers seem hugely productive, but we completely ignore that they are used more electively than any other kind of baseball player, and that seems like a big chunk of context that should be accounted for.—Eric

***

Next week, it’s pitchers 61-80.

 


 

All-Time HoME Leaders, Pitcher – 21-40

I don’t know what an ace is. Everyone has their own definition, most of which are just made up. However, I do know that any reasonable definition of “ace” must include the top percentage of starters, not the top number of starters, in the game. I don’t know if it’s 5%, 10%, 20%, or whatever. What I do know is that the percentage across time should remain relatively stable.

The point I’m making isn’t that every “ace” should be in the Hall or that a non-ace shouldn’t be. I’m merely making an argument that the voters once thought there were many more pitchers deserving than they do today. Check this out.

Year  Teams  SP  ERA    HoF   % in 
                 Quals        Hall
===================================
1935  16     64    67    7    10.9%
1947  16     64    58    5     7.8%
1959  16     64    58    7    10.9%
1971  24     96    83   11    11.5%
1983  26    104    88    9     8.7%
1995  28    140    75    5     3.6%

All I did was grab a year, basically at random, and run the numbers of ERA title qualifiers and then isolate Hall of Fame pitchers (with the help of the great Baseball Reference Play Index). You can see a good deal of consistency in 1935, 1959, and 1971 in terms of Hall of Famers. Maybe I should have done something differently because the late-1940s are strange years due to WWII. You can see a dip in 1983, which I don’t think is horrible since players from that era are still receiving some consideration. But look at 1995! The Hall has basically ignored recent pitchers unless they’re in/near the inner circle or they won 300 games. Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, and Pedro Martinez are among the best 15 pitchers ever. Tom Glavine won 300. And voters really seemed to love that John Smoltz was a great closer for about 230 innings. Others from that year who fall somewhere between no-brainer and deserving of major consideration are Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown, David Cone, Kevin Appier, Chuck Finley, Orel Hershiser, and Bret Saberhagen. I would have liked more discussion about David Wells, Dennis Martinez, Kenny Rogers and Mark Langston too.

This week, we see the first of those forgotten 1990s pitchers. There will be plenty more to come.

[MAPES+], [CHEWS+], [1B, 1-20], [1B, 21-40], [2B, 1-20], [2B, 21-40], [3B, 1-20], [3B, 21-40], [SS, 1-20], [SS, 21-40], [C, 1-20], [C, 21-40], [LF, 1-20], [LF, 21-40], [CF, 1-20], [CF, 21-40], [RF, 1-20], [RF, 21-40], [P, 1-20]

Pitcher – 21-40

P, 21-40

Where do we project the active player(s) to finish in our rankings?

Clayton Kershaw

A couple of things as we get started. First, he’s the best pitcher of this era. Second, he’s already in the HoME. As for where he projects, that’s a much more difficult question. While’s he remains great when he’s healthy, he’s only topped 27 starts once since 2013. He’s just not healthy enough to project that he moves too far up the list. I think a run-out of 7, 5, 4, 3, 3, 2, 1, 1 WAR it believable. If that’s the case, he finished 18th all-time, between Bert Blyleven and Gaylord Perry. Let’s say he goes 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 1. That gets him past Blyleven, John Clarkson, and Steve Carlton into 15th place. Yeah, he could go further than that, but I don’t expect it. In fact, I think 18th is more likely than 15th. It’s even possible he doesn’t get past this list, finishing at 21st, between Eddie Plank and Ed Walsh. Injuries, man.—Miller

I tend to be pessimistic about pitchers. I’d reckon there’s a better chance that Kershaw never moves another notch up the list than any other scenario. Every single time someone takes the mound, they risk blowing out their UCL, tearing their labrum, finally ripping apart their rotator cuff. Check in at 1:20 on this video. Or check out a few minutes of pitchers’ arms falling off…watch for the carbuncle suddenly appearing on one guy’s elbow. Also this could happen. Even I don’t have the appalling lack of taste required to link to a Dave Dravecky story. All of which is to say that with Kershaw’s spate of recent injuries, I wouldn’t put much money on his making any big gains until he can pitch another full season, fully healthy, and in command of his arsenal.—Eric

Zack Grienke

I root for Zack Grienke. His battles with depression and anxiety cost him the better part of a couple seasons. The fact that he could come back from these life-crippling diseases to pitch like a Hall of Famer impresses me to no end. If you’ve never had a depressive bout or anxiety, consider yourself fortunate. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him given the tremendous pressure big league players, and pitchers especially, endure. But he did come back, and since those troubles, he’s earned nine or more WAR in two different seasons. As recently as last year, he earned more than six. He’s also had some real clinker seasons where he’s barely been average, but not everyone can be Walter Johnson. Grienke also swings a good bat, enhancing his overall value. While there’s some up and down, he might well be the quietest Hall of Fame candidate in recent history. As far as I’m concerned, he’s there, but he’s joined only one major-media-market team (the Dodgers for 2.5 seasons) where he played second fiddle to Kershaw anyway.—Eric

Where do our rankings diverge the most from the conventional wisdom?

It has to be Kevin Brown, who I touched on a few years ago, a no-brainer Hall of Famer who received support from only a dozen writers the one year he was on the ballot. As I recently wrote in my post on the best pitchers of the 1990s, I think three things worked against Brown, each one ridiculous in its own way. First, through his age-30 season, he seemed like he wasn’t a “winner”. With a 67-62 record outside of his win-rific 1992 campaign, he didn’t look to most like he was a big deal. Further, he’s a bit like Curt Schilling and a lot of others in that he wasn’t great from the get-go. Too many fans decided who he was and didn’t change their minds when he got better. Second, people hated the contract he signed with the Dodgers – tons of money and those private jet rides. I’ll never understand why fans hate when players are well-compensated, but it’s been the case as long as I can remember. Third, he was still very good in his final season in LA, but he appeared to fans to stink up the joint when he got to NY. In truth, his age-38 season was nice enough. And pitchers at that age aren’t supposed to be good anyway. It’s only the absolute greats and a few outliers who are.

Yeah, so it’s absolutely Kevin Brown, unless it’s Jim Palmer, a guy who might not be as good as he looked. The Oriole pitched in front of absolutely insane defenses. I’m not sure, but it’s possible that defense made him look better than he was. Let’s look at BBREF’s RA9def number for each of our fifteen shared 21-40 pitchers. RA9def is the number above or below average a pitcher’s defense is.

Jim Palmer         0.33
Carl Hubbell       0.23
Ed Walsh           0.21
Tom Glavine        0.12
Roy Halladay       0.10
Amos Rusie         0.07
Clayton Kershaw    0.03
Curt Schilling     0.00
Hal Newhouser     -0.02
Stan Coveleski    -0.03
Kevin Brown       -0.05
Wes Ferrell       -0.06
Nolan Ryan        -0.06
Fergie Jenkins    -0.06
Mike Mussina      -0.08

I’m totally with Miller on the matters of Brown and Palmer, and I’ll give you two more: Nolan Ryan and Wes Ferrell. You remember the 1990s, right? I’m going to feel so old if you don’t. There was that All-Century Team business in 1999, probably presented by MasterCharge or Viagra. I think souvenir glasses might have been issued. Nolan Ryan won the vote among pitchers by 22,000 votes. If you’ve just swallowed your tongue, you’re thinking right along with me. Nolan Ryan: 7 NO-HITTERS!; 5,000 PUNCHOUTS!!!!!!; OLD GUY PITCHER!!!!!!! Yes, and will my theoretical straw man please stop yelling in all caps! Lots of good stuff, a deserving member of the Hall of Miller and Eric. But no one with much under the hood should vote for him over the likes of Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Bob Gibson, Warren Spahn, or Christy Mathewson who were all on this ballot. Right-time, right-place for the Express. Lefty Grove finished with the lowest vote total among pitchers. Does not compute! For those born too soon, Nolan Ryan was a sensation. During his last years as a Ranger, his starts were events. You never knew when he might pop out a no-no or give Robin Ventura a noogie (you’ll have to look that one up). Listening half a continent away in the northeast, radio announcers were sure to mention when he started and how he did. The guy was so famous that Advil signed him up to lure the middle-aged, achy-back guys in the TV audience. If you were in America then, you’ll remember: “I could go another niiiiiine innings.” Ryan had earned all of this in his amazing career, but he had claim at all to any kind of “All-Century Team” or whathaveyou. But it’s pretty interesting to see how many people will ignore facts in deference to media coverage. Never mind that Ryan’s winning percentage was a mere .526, that he was also the all-time leader in walks, nor that his ERA+ of 112 (yes, we had ERA+ back then, pull out your old copy of Total Baseball) was not impressive. So I think in the sense that conventional wisdom arises from the groundlings, we’re pretty far away from the CW.

Then there’s Wes Ferrell. A decent peak/prime pitcher with a bat added to his resume that did beat all. The best hitting full-time pitcher ever. We both think the total package is top-40 material (someone better let Rick Dees know). The Hall of Merit and the Hall of Stats both agree that he’s a worthy Hall member. The Coop took his weak-hitting brother the catcher instead. (Which was kind of like how my crush took her cousin to the senior prom instead of going with me. I’m not bitter.) And basically he has no recognition in the world outside baseball’s analytics chattering classes. In fact, he’s probably more well known as a great hitting pitcher than as a great pitcher.—Eric

Where do we disagree with one another the most?

There’s quite a large difference in how we see Old Hoss Radbourne. I list the righty from before the mound moved as the 40th best ever. You won’t see him on Eric’s list even next week. And he barely makes it two weeks from today. Looked at another way, he’s an easy HoMEr for me and on Eric’s borderline. As we discussed last week, this is basically a WAR thing. I give more credit to pitchers of Radbourne’s era than Eric because they pitched so many more innings. Eric gives less, chopping down their runs above replacement. Again, as I mentioned last week, I think both directions are reasonable.—Miller

Same goes for Amos Rusie it looks like. We’re nearly twenty ranks apart. Oddly enough, however, we have the opposite situation for Tim Keefe. I’ve ranked him a dozen or more spots higher. Charlie Radbourn didn’t have as long of a career, nor did he enjoy the same degree of value above average. Clarkson and Keefe were the elite of the 1880s. Radbourn headed up the rest. Or so spake ZEricthustra.

We have a much larger difference yet over Joe McGinnity, 26 ranks of difference. I suspect that Miller’s slightly more peak-centric ratings push Iron Joe upward for him. We also have major differences over John Smoltz and the aforementioned Mr. Grienke. So while we’ve been on the same page with hitters and even with the top 20 pitchers, there’s a lot of differentiation between us here. I suspect you should trust Miller. I always did have trouble with pitchers in fantasy baseball, and he rarely seemed to.—Eric

Are there any players who MAPES+/CHEWS+ might overrate or underrate? 

We may be off on Hal Newhouser. His best years were 1944-1946, times when the level of play in the majors was somewhat lower than at other times in its history because of WWII. The War was over in ’46, of course, and almost everyone was back in ’45. But I still question Prince Hal’s numbers a little.—Miller

I buy what Miller’s selling here as well. But let’s flip back a moment to Jim Palmer. It is possible that Palmer’s defensive support might not have been as good as BBREF suggests. Its calculations are not based on game-by-game assessments of the defense behind him but rather as a function of the team defense allocated to his balls in play. Is it possible that Palmer benefitted more or less than other pitchers on his team from the specific defensive players on the field behind him? Could his style of pitching have played into the strengths of parts of his defense and away from its weaknesses? Or vice versa? Or is it possible that the defense played better or worse behind him than behind other pitchers? Obviously, BBREF answers these questions by deciding not to answer them. I would do the same thing were I them. But it’s possible that the extreme defensive support could be in some way misleading. I don’t know what direction the arrow would point. Sadly we don’t have specific ground ball/flyball/line drive info for Palmer. We have some indirect evidence of his tendencies, however. His groundout/flyout ratio was 0.80, which is 27% below MLB during his time. This despite a homerun rate that’s right around the league average. His defenses turned 10% fewer deuces behind him than the league. Sure looks to me like Palmer’s gig was to induce weak flyball contact. I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see that he frequently led the league in infield flies or pop-ups allowed, for example, nor that if we could somehow know it retroactively, that he suppressed line-drives in some manner. Palmer was smart, he knew how to exploit hitters’ weakness, and he always had a game plan and probably knew how to pitch to his defense’s strengths. Something tells me that a hyperclose reading of his defensive support might someday show the granules of that, but then again, it might not be possible to disentangle cause and effect in a case such as this.—Eric

Of course, Eric could be right here. Palmer, kind of famously, never allowed a grand slam. He certainly knew what he was doing on the mound.—Miller

***

Join us in seven days when we look at pitchers 41-60.

Bob Feller and the Best Pitchers of the 1940s

Bob Feller, 1937 Photo

An unsigned version of the photo I’m talking about.

You may not be surprised to know that I collect baseball memorabilia. I own a Lou Brock autograph on perhaps my favorite baseball card ever, his 1977 Topps beauty. Another prized possession is a bowling pin my wife collected for me at a 2010 charity bowling event signed by the likes of Daniel Bard, Manny Delcarmen, and Jeremy Hermida. And a third is a gorgeous Bob Feller photograph taken at Yankee Stadium in 1937 when he was still just 18 – and already pitching for the Indians.

These are all important to me for different reasons. The Feller piece is important because I had the opportunity to talk to him for a while when he signed it. As great as it is to go to Spring Training today, it used to be a whole lot more special. As a kid, I remember getting Ted Williams to sign an autograph book for me. He was surrounded by about six (six!) people as he walked from one field to another in Winter Haven. With Feller, there was even less of ado. He was sitting by himself, signing autographs, asking for five bucks for the now closed Bob Feller Museum. I don’t remember anything we talked about. And I don’t even remember how old I was within a couple of years. Today, you can but the exact same photo, signed by Feller and authenticated by the industry’s most trustworthy source, for $15. I don’t care. I will always treasure that autograph.

The Series

Explanation and 1870s, 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s

The Best Pitchers of the 1940s

#10 Rip Sewell: The man best known for the Eephus pitch was actually a fine wartime hurler, pitching like an All Star in both 1943 and 1944. He was also a very effective pitcher back in 1940, but otherwise just an innings eater. Though he was less than half as valuable as our decade leader, he’ll always be remembered for the Ted Williams long ball he allowed in the 1946 All-Star Game off the Eephus. I toyed with putting Eddie Lopat here based on his postseason work, a 4-1 record and 2.60 ERA in seven World Series starts. However, just one of those starts was in the 1940s, and it wasn’t impressive.

#9 Mort Cooper: A stud WWII pitcher, Cooper won the 1942 NL MVP and 20 games that year and the next two. Those three seasons represent more than half of his 128 career wins, as elbow injuries took their toll over the years. His most important start was likely in Game 5 of an even 1944 World Series against the crosstown St. Louis Browns. Cooper went the distance, pitching a 7-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts. The Cards closed things out the next day. Overall, Cooper was worth 54% of our leader on the decade.

Bobo Newsom, 1952#8 Bobo Newsom: One of baseball’s great characters, Newsom, for whatever reason, couldn’t remember anyone’s name. So he called everyone “Bobo”? I don’t think that’s the name I’d choose. Anyway, Bobo pitched for nine teams, over four decades, and lost exactly 20 games three times. And along with Jack Powell, he’s one of only two pitchers ever to win 200 games and have a losing record. Trivia and eccentricity aside, Newsom had some special campaigns, especially the 1939 and 1940 seasons when he was worth 7+ WAR. Overall, we’re looking at 60% of the value of our winner.

#7 Claude Passeau: For the second time on this list and third time in this post, we get to mention Ted Williams. Teddy Ballgame ended the 1941 All-Star Game, walking off for the AL by taking Passeau deep in one of the righty’s four appearances in the Midsummer Classic. A really solid #2 starter and worth 62% of our decade leader, Passeau put up between 3.7 and 5.4 pitching WAR seven times, topping that number in 1940 at 6.8. His best start ever was one of the best starts in World Series history, a one-hit shutout for his Chicago Cubs against the Detroit Tigers in 1945.

#6 Dutch Leonard: While he wasn’t related to the Deadball Era pitcher of the same name, apparently he was nicknamed after him. The knuckleballer won 191 games over 20 seasons in the bigs, making four All-Star teams and putting up over two-thirds the value of the decade leader. Never great, Leonard was at his best in 1947 and 1948, both times putting up over 6 WAR on the mound. Trivially, he pitched the Senators to victory at Yankee Stadium in the first game of a July 4, 1939 double header. After that game, Lou Gehrig delivered his “luckiest man on the face of the earth” classic.

#5 Harry Brecheen: One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed writing this series is that I learn so much. For example, I’d have lost a bet on Brecheen’s nickname and sounded kind of silly along the way. For whatever reason, I believed it to be “The Hat”. It’s actually “The Cat”. And Gregory H. Wolf at the SABR Bio Project explains he got that name because of his quick reflexes and excellent defense on the mound. From 1944-1949 he won at least 14 games per year and was absolutely great in 1948, leading the NL in pitching WAR. Most notable about Brecheen is his World Series performance, which is the reason a pitcher with just 64% of the leader is in fifth place on the list. In 32.2 innings over three Series, he allowed only three runs, good for a 0.83 ERA. His best work was in 1946, winning Game 2, Game 6, and Game 7, which is remembered as the game during which Enos Slaughter made his mad dash.

#4 Bucky Walters: Walters won the pitching triple crown and MVP in 1939, one of his three win titles and two ERA titles. Unfortunately for him and his Reds, they ran into an all-time great Yankee team in the World Series that year. Walters lost the second and last games of the sweep. The next year, he and Cincy came back with a vengeance. With their backs against the wall, Walters threw a shutout in Game 6. They came back the next day against Bobo Newsom to close things out. He was only truly great in 1939. Still, the man with 74% of our decade leader was the National League’s top pitcher from 1934-1952. Really impressive.

#3 Dizzy Trout: Trout’s may be my favorite of all SABR Bio Project entries. Warren Corbett starts it off by writing, “Consumer alert: Some of the stories repeated here probably are not true. The difficulty is, we don’t know which ones. That’s how cool the legend of Dizzy Trout is. He was an absolute stud with 9.8 WAR on the mound in 1944. He finished second in the MVP voting to teammate Hal Newhouser that year despite 11.3 total WAR compared to 8.7 for Prince Hal. He also had a better ERA and 27 wins compared to 29 for his teammate. Plus, he threw 40 additional innings. The mystery continues when we note that Trout beat him by three first-place votes, 10 to 7. All in all, this may be the hardest MVP decision to understand of all-time, at least for me. Was it just Newhouser’s strikeout title? Hmm, I don’t know. I do know that Trout’s decade is about 81% as valuable as our decade leader, the aforementioned teammate.

#2 Hal Newhouser: Yes, Newhouser has the highest total for the decade by my formula, but I don’t think he was the best pitcher of the decade. As great as he was in 1944, he was even better in 1945, winning his second consecutive MVP and the pitching triple crown. Then in 1946, he was almost as good. We’re talking 30.5 adjusted WAR over three seasons. I wonder what would happen to Newhouser if he were up for Hall consideration today. Sure, he made six All-Star teams and won four victory titles and two MVP trophies, but he retired with only 207 total wins, winning just 56 total games in five years at the start plus five years at the end of his career.

#1 Bob Feller: When voting for HoME induction, we don’t speculate what would have happened had players not missed time due to military service. That’s is a tough call, I admit. A few years ago, Eric did some interesting work looking at what might have happened if we voted differently and substituted some war credit. Well, here I do vote differently. Feller clocks in at 93% of Newhouser’s decade total. He did that while missing all of 1942-1944 and most of 1945 while serving in the Navy. In the three full seasons before military service and the one after returning, he posted 37.59 adjusted WAR. If we fill in that level of WAR for the time he missed, we’re looking at someone almost 50% better than Newhouser. Here’s what else would happen. Feller would no longer rank as my #32 pitcher all-time. He’d shoot all the way up to #8, right between Lefty Grove and Tom Seaver. That’s right, 8th best ever. Maybe my photo would be worth $20 then.

I hope you return in a week for the 1950s. There may be some surprises.

Miller

Mount Rushmore, Cleveland Indians

Nap Lajoie, 1906Because 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.

Guys It’s Not

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, 1951Al 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.

Indian Mount 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, 1951Bob 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, 1911Addie 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

Bob Feller

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.

Miller

1966 HoME Election Results

It's not just pitchers who are  responsible for run prevention.

It’s not just pitchers who are responsible for run prevention.

Congratulations to the newest members of the Hall of Miller and Eric: Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Bob Feller, Joe Gordon, Tommy Leach, Jimmy Sheckard, and Vic Willis reach the HoME with our 1966 election. Together, they bring our HoME total to 81 of the greatest players in the game’s history. Only 128 more to elect, pending what the BBWAA does next month.

Per our rules, players have to be named on both ballots for induction. Here’s how we voted.

          Miller                 Eric
1         Ted Williams           Ted Williams
2         Jackie Robinson        Jackie Robinson
3         Bob Feller             Bob Feller
4         Pud Galvin             Joe Gordon
5         Joe Gordon             Tommy Leach
6         Tommy Leach            Bill Terry
7         Jimmy Sheckard         Pee Wee Reese
8         Vic Willis             Urban Shocker
9         Red Faber              Vic Willis
10                               Jimmy Sheckard

Ted Williams: The “Splendid Splinter” once said that he wanted to be known as the greatest hitter who ever lived. Well, Pablo Picasso may not be the greatest artist who ever lived. But he’s still Pablo freakin’ Picasso. You know that he was the last player to hit .400 and won two MVP Awards and two triple crowns. What you might not know is that there would have been a third had George Kell just made one extra out in 1949. And what you also probably didn’t know was that he averaged 10+ oWAR for the two years before and the two years after the three-year WWII “break” he took. Give him his average season from ages 24-26, and you’d have, at least by oWAR, the greatest hitter who ever lived.

Jackie Robinson: It would be arrogant to think that I have anything to add to the Jackie Robinson discussion, but let me try. Branch Rickey told Jackie that he needed to be humble, patient, and strong. Robinson was, no doubt, all of those things. The man’s character is evidence. And perhaps his performance is too. In his rookie season of 1947, the second baseman laid down 28 sacrifice bunts, once every 25 times he stepped to the plate. For the rest of his career, he sacrificed himself only once in 67 times he came to bat. Was Robinson’s play as a rookie emblematic of someone who just wanted to be part of the team? Perhaps it was.

Bob Feller: In 1939 and 1940 and 1941 Bob Feller led the AL in wins, innings, and strikeouts. When Pearl Harbor was struck, he became the first American professional athlete to enlist in the military. In his next two full seasons after missing 1942-1944 and much of 1945, he again led the AL in wins, innings, and strikeouts. Replace those missing seasons with the average of the five years we’ve discussed, and you have the #11 man in wins and whiffs and the #17 man in innings all-time. And he’s up to #15 in history in pitcher WAR.

Joe Gordon: With nine All-Star games and a 1942 AL MVP, it’s no surprise that the 2009 Veterans Committee found it wise to elect the Yankee and Indian star second baseman. As a short-career player, only eleven seasons, Gordon needed to have a great peak, which he had. He played well above All-Star level in every one of his full seasons from 1939-1948. A great hitter, it’s still his defense that puts him over the top. At #31 in history in Rfield, he looks quite impressive. In DRA, he’s #29 of players in our database. When different fielding metrics see a player as equally great, we can probably trust them. And that level of trust plus elite offensive contribution at his position make “Flash” a member of the HoME.

Tommy Leach: This is why the HoME exists. The Hall of Merit has done outstanding work. The Hall of Stats is fascinating, and the personal Halls of Hall of Stats founder Adam Darowski and other bloggers represent work that’s standard deviations better than that which has been done by the Hall of Fame. But not one of these experts puts Tommy Leach in the Hall. I’ll explain why we do – but first I’ll explain who he was. Leach was a center fielder and third baseman, who occasionally played left field and shortstop, for the Louisville Colonels, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Chicago Cubs from 1898-1915, with a few 1918 games thrown in. He didn’t have much Black Ink – a HR title and a 3B title in 1902 go with a pair of R titles in 1909 and 1913. That’s it. But he must be one of those WAR darlings, right? Nope. Until the second week of April when he’s passed by David Wright, he’s tied for #337 in history.

But that’s before we make adjustments. There are two key adjustments that pertain to a guy like Leach. First, we have to look at games played. Leach is tied in WAR with Miguel Tejada, whose teams routinely played 162-game seasons. Leach’s teams played in 149 games per year, on average. He needs to be compensated for that difference. But let’s face it, that difference is pretty small. The real boost Leach gets is on defense. According to Rfield, Leach was a good defender, but not a great one. His dWAR is relatively in line with his overall WAR, #310 in history. But we don’t feel dWAR captures Leach’s greatness. According to Defensive Regression Analysis (DRA), Leach is among the top ten defenders of all time – great at both 3B and in CF. Defense and schedule add about 18 wins to his value. Add to that the relative weakness of his positions compared to others, and you have someone within the top 15 at either position.

Eric will write more about Leach, DRA, and how we arrived at this decision in a week.

Jimmy Sheckard: Sheckard’s case is similar to that of Tommy Leach in a couple of ways. First, he’s acknowledged as a Hall of Famer by very few experts. And second, it’s his underappreciated defense that puts him over the line. A left fielder for 17 mostly NL seasons when left played a lot like center does today, Sheckard brought a wide array of skills to the diamond. Need power? He led the NL once each in triples, homers, and SLG. How about speed? He led twice in SB and once in R. He could get on base, as two BB titles and an OBP title suggest. And he wasn’t afraid to give himself up for the good of the team, twice leading the NL in sacrifices. All of that is well and good, but it’s elite defense, which may have been better than Leach’s, that gets him into the HoME.

Vic Willis: Although he had been on the ballot since 1916 and Eric had been voting for him all along, Miller didn’t deem him worthy until this election. By his new calculations, Willis is around #50 among starting pitchers. While he’s always been near this range, the confidence interval hadn’t been high enough before now. He really only had four great seasons, and those seasons were interspersed with less-than-greatness, so he wasn’t ever the game’s best. But he did win 20 games on eight occasions and finished his career with 249 in the win column. With only 150 seats in the HoME, he wouldn’t make it. With just north of 200, he’s deserving.

Every once in a while we change our minds on certain players. Eric voted for Jim McCormick for a while and then withdrew support. Miller did the same for Bid McPhee. And now, for the third time in HoME history, we have a player losing support. Miller is no longer voting for Three Finger Brown.

Mordecai Brown: Brown had always been a guy near my borderline. He’s still near it, just on the wrong side right now. As you may have read a couple of days ago in my methodology piece, I’ve begun to incorporate parts of fWAR. And fWAR hates Brown. Kind of. In his very best seasons, he allowed a lot of balls in play that the likes of Joe Tinker, Jimmy Sheckard, and Johnny Evers turned into outs. Ordinary fielders would have made a similar pitcher look far less great. While I can’t promise I won’t vote for Brown in the future, he’s out for this election.

Each season, some guys are elected, while others receive votes from only one of us. Below we’ll explain our reasons for such votes.

Miller:
Pud Galvin: Undeterred by my new methodology, I continue voting for Galvin. As a career candidate, he stacks up well by any system. And have I mentioned the 365 wins and 6000+ innings?

Red Faber: No matter what measure I choose, I continue to find Faber a reasonable selection. While the shape of his career is different, his value is very much like that of 1966 HoMEr, Vic Willis.

Eric:
Bill Terry: In my system, Bill Terry is George Sisler 2.0 except that he has fewer crappy years at the end, but a little less peak. There’s so little difference between them, and they are far enough over the line that I’m comfortable putting Terry in to join Sisler.

Pee Wee Reese: While he was never a dominator, he was no slouch either. He had numerous All-Star level years and a few down-ballot MVP kind of seasons in that mix. In fact, he led NL SS in BBREF WAR in 1942, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, and 1954. Second in 1950, and 1953. He led all MLB SS in BBREF WAR in 1949 and 1954. He finished second in 1942, 1946 (tied with Appling), 1947, 1949, and 1953. I’m not usually the kind of voter who goes after long-and-low types, but what surprised me was that Reese wasn’t that low. He’s not a Jake Beckley at all. His absolute peak (5 years) and career value are comparable to Eddie Murray, Graig Nettles, Tony Gwynn, and Sherry Magee in my system. Actually, Murray is a great angle to take on Reese because Steady Eddie and Reese occupy a similar spot at their respective positions, just over the line. However, I think we’re likely to take a couple extra shortstops and maybe extra first basemen, so I’m not at all minding taking a lower-end guy whose credentials match mid-tier HoMErs at other positions. As an aside, this positional issue arises because shortstop is so stacked historically. Presumably this has to do with the fact that the best athletes and most talented men play short.

Urban Shocker: To my way of seeing things, Shocker is Stan Coveleski-lite but a little more attractive than Rube Waddell and Joe McGinnity. While Shocker’s peak isn’t quite as high as those two, he has more good shoulder seasons, enough of them, in fact, that he pushes decently far above them in my rankings. Shocker doesn’t have the glitz and glam of the strikeout titles and the doubleheader wins. He’s just a guy who got hitters out and was very, very effective. Just like Coveleski.

Please visit our Honorees page to see their plaques and to see more information about the HoME and those who have been elected.

Getting to the Heart of the HoME’s Standards

“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.
—Groucho Marx

“No one, I think, is in my tree—I mean it must be high or low.
—John Lennon

A Hall of Whatever is only as good as its worst member. The Hollywood Walk of Fame includes John Tesh. Seriously. Heart is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Heart?!  We aspire to better.weakest-link

“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?

“Magic Men

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:

C: Bresnahan
1B: Beckley, Chance
2B: Evers, McPhee
3B: Collins
SS: Jennings, Tinker, Ward, Wright
LF: Kelley, O’Rourke
CF: Duffy
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.

“Never

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.”

—Eric

Ye Olde Phillips Milk of Magnesia Relief Award?

Milk of MagnesiaHow do you spell relief?
M O R D E C A I  B R O W N
At least in the Deadball era, Frank Chance did. As has been chronicled elsewhere, Brown was both the Cubs’ ace and their closer. He led the league in saves four times, all consecutive. In 1910 he became baseball’s all-time saves leader with 1910 with 39. He extended that total to 49 before retiring and held the record until 1926 when Firpo Marberry broke it. He also held the single-season record (13, later tied by Chief Bender) from 1911 through 1923 until it was also broken by Marberry. He finished nearly every game he relieved in.

He wasn’t alone.

On the South Side of town, Big Ed Walsh led his league fives times in saves. Joe McGinnity led three times. Chief Bender and Bob Shawkey twice. Imagine Justin Verlander leading the league in saves.

And time went on. John McGraw, Bucky Harris, Joe McCarthy, and other managers began experiments that eventually led to the emergence of relief aces such as the Yankees’ Johnny Murphy. But Connie Mack continued using aces like Lefty Grove and as bullpen stoppers well in the 1930s, and other managers even past World War Two. Grove was the active saves leader from 1937–1939. Hal Newhouser racked up 18 saves from 1942–1950. Bob Feller picked up 10 saves from 1946–1948. Virgil Trucks notched 13 saves from 1949–1956 while also finding time to start 194 times. In fact, when you think about the teams who dominated baseball after the War—the Yanks, the Dodgers, the Indians—they were mostly those who were on the leading edge of the reliever evolution.

Thanks to play-by-play data that currently ranges back to the mid-1940s, we have a very strong sense of how post-War managers leveraged their bullpens. There’s a descriptive stat called Leverage Index (LI) that measures the relative urgency each pitcher entered the game with. A starter always begins at 1.0, exactly average. Most closers today are used with an LI of around 2.0, meaning that their point of entry is twice as urgent as the first pitch of the game.

So what about Brown and Grove? Or Big Ed Walsh, Christy Mathewson, or Walter Johnson, all of whom were used in the hybrid starter/reliever ace way? Because we don’t have play-by-play information for them, we can’t say for sure what sort of leverage they pitched in. Which also means that value calculations aren’t capturing their full contributions.

Here’s what we can know. BB-REF has starter/reliever splits for most pitchers dating back to around 1916. I looked at starter/reliever splits for 42 pre-War pitchers for whom we currently have extensive splits. I chose only guys reasonably thought of as among the top 200 or so pitchers of all time. From Pete Alexander to Tom Zachary. They averaged about two and one-third innings per relief appearance. In other words, they usually entered in the sixth or seventh and pitched through the eighth or ninth (depending on whether their team came back or stayed ahead).

About 9 percent of their total innings came in relief. They finished three-quarters of the games they entered in relief and earned a decision or a save in about half of those appearances. Among the games they finished, they got a decision or a save 69% of the time. Their managers saved them for relatively high leverage situations.

I compared the information on these pre-War pitchers to a handful of well known relievers ranging from the 1950s through today. Let’s chart it:

NAME GROUP %DEC/SV %GF %GF DEC/SV INN/GIR %IP IN REL CAREER LI
TOP 200s PRE WAR

52%

75%

69%

2.3

9%

?

KINDER 1950s

48%

70%

68%

1.7

41%

1.9

PAGE 1950s

63%

76%

82%

2.1

65%

1.6

PAIGE 1950s

45%

71%

63%

2.1

66%

1.7

WILHELM 1960s

44%

64%

69%

1.8

83%

1.5

FINGERS 1970s

61%

78%

77%

1.7

88%

1.9

GOSSAGE 1970s

53%

71%

75%

1.6

86%

1.8

MARSHALL 1970s

54%

78%

69%

1.8

91%

1.7

SUTTER 1980s

66%

77%

86%

1.6

100%

2

ECKERSLEY 1990s

67%

81%

83%

1.1

25%

1.7

RIVERA 2000s

72%

86%

83%

1.2

96%

1.8

You can see all the strong historical trends at work here that lead to more specialization in relief pitching and our modern closer-centric bullpen. Fewer innings, higher leverage, more saves, more games finished. Not surprisingly, the relief appearances of pre-War aces look the most like Satchel Paige who came right after the War. Perhaps more surprisingly, they look a bit like Mike Marshall from the 1970s.

So what’s a nerd like me to do to give the pre-War guys something like approximate credit for their relief work? WAR has an LI component that’s used as a multiplier for any relief appearances starters get. For Play-by-Play era guys, it uses that calculation on runs given up in relief. Before that it defaults to 1.0 for all appearances.

That’s not real helpful.

For me, I make a rough estimate of a pre-play-by-play guy’s relief and starter innings. Then I allot his runs allowed to each role by the ratio of his estimated relief innings to his estimated starter innings. Then following BB-REF’s calculations, I use a conservative 1.5 leverage index for each relief appearance. If/when the heroic members of Retrosheet turn out play-by-play info for before the 1940s, we’ll update to the observed values.

To be honest, it doesn’t add up to a ton of value. On the other hand, for Mordecai Brown, even that little bit of value helps his borderline case. And for 1921 candidate Ed Walsh, it’s a little more icing on the top of his peak.

Institutional History

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