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]
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
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
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
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
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.
Red Faber is in the Hall of Fame basically because of a 18-month run of greatness that lasted from April of 1921 through September of 1922. Yeah, I guess you can add in an All-Star caliber 1920, but Faber is a strange combination of absolute peak to go along with long and low (11 seasons of 2.0-3.7 pitching WAR). On the other hand, Eddie Rommel, a contemporary in the AL, is largely forgotten despite what BBREF shows as a level of excellence infrequently attained by Faber on the mound.
Let’s look at the two without those 18 months for Faber.
Faber Rommel 5.8 7.4 4.1 6.0 3.7 5.5 3.6 5.4 3.4 5.2 3.3 5.0 3.3 4.7 3.3 3.6 3.2 2.6 2.8 2.1 2.7 1.7 2.3 1.3 2.0 0.1 1.8 1.3 1.2 0.8 -1.0
I know what you’re thinking. Or at least what you should be thinking. You can’t just lop off the two best years of a guy’s career and then compare him to another guy who’s much less well known. After all, Rommel probably should be less well known since he didn’t average 10 WAR over two seasons. Sure, sure.
The interesting thing about Rommel, at least to me, is that so much of his pitching “value” came out of the bullpen. He only made 30 starts in a season four times ever, and he never topped 34. Interestingly, at least to me, is that he’s one of only a dozen hurlers from 1901-1950 to post both 150 games started and 150 games finished. Only Charlie Root and Jack Quinn beat him in both categories. It’s interesting because it’s hard to know exactly how valuable Rommel’s relief innings are since we’re missing a ton of data from his career. BBREF puts him at 50 WAR, Fangraphs at just over half that. I don’t know what to believe, but I would like to see Rommel’s relief data so we could better assess his contributions.
#10 Herb Pennock: In relation to our decade leader, his 64% barely edges out Dolf Luque and Eppa Rixey. Putting him on the list is easy enough though, particularly when we consider his 5-0 record with a save in three World Series in the 1920s. The Red Sox should be ashamed of the trade that sent him to the Yankees for Norm McMillan, George Murray, Camp Skinner, and 50K. Pennock posted over 33 WAR for the Yankees while the trio in return was below replacement in Boston. Must have been the money.
#9 Eddie Rommel: I love that Rommel led the AL in wins twice while pitching a total of 42 games in relief. There have been 25 pitchers in history with 15 wins, 15 games finished, and 5 WAR in a season. Ed Walsh, Lefty Grove, and Eddie Rommel are the only three such players who managed to do so three times. Somewhat ignominiously, the guy with 70% of the value of the decade leader is the only one of the 25 to lead the league in losses.
#8 Burleigh Grimes: Remembered for being the last guy in big league history to throw a legal spitter, Grimes had an interesting career and just shy of a great one. He’s in the Hall of Fame, though he’s on the borderline at best. Eric and I haven’t seen fit to elect him, nor do I imagine we ever well. As I look at Grimes’ BBREF page, I’m struck by the back-to-back high placing in the MVP vote in 1928 and 1929. He was a very good pitcher in both years, so his high placing shouldn’t shock anyone. However, some other guys on the lists are shocking. Three people receiving support in 1929 put up less than 1 WAR in total. And the year before, six of the 23 total guys receiving votes were below 2 WAR. Anyway, Grimes was about 74% as valuable as the decade’s leader.
#7 Red Faber: Faber and Grimes had similar decades, though they got to where they are somewhat differently. And Faber was the last legal spitballer in the AL. Do you know when Faber started smoking? It was when he was eight years old. Faber’s value is about 75% of our leader.
#6 George Uhle: We hear so much about pitcher usage today. And we hear old timers wax poetic about days gone by when men were men and Nolan Ryan threw 400 pitches every three days, or something like that. There’s a reason we remember the guys who have thrown huge innings. It’s because they’re the best pitchers ever! Of course we’re going to remember them. Uhle was a very good pitcher, worth about 77% of our decade leader, but he wasn’t an all-time great. So we forget him. Here’s something we should remember. Twice in his career he threw 300+ innings, both times leading the league. And only twice from 1921-1930 did he throw fewer than 200 innings. Want to guess when those seasons happened? You got it – both times were right after he threw 300+. Sure, he’s just one example. But there are hundreds. Thousands. Pitching isn’t natural. Arms break down.
#5 Stan Coveleski: He jumps a couple of spots because of a great 1920 World Series despite having just 75% of the value of our decade leader. In that year’s Fall Classic, Coveleski’s Indians took on the Brooklyn Robbins. Covey pitched the opener, leading the Tribe to a 3-1 win. In Game 4, now behind a game in the Series, Cleveland tied it with Coveleski getting the 5-1 victory. With the Indians up 4-2 after six games, they closed things out with a 3-0 shutout behind Coveleski, baseball’s best pitcher from 1917-1925.
#4 Urban Shocker: For some reason I’m a bit perturbed about the suggested weakness of the modern pitcher today. I can’t tell you precisely what’s gotten this bee into my bonnet as I write this decade’s profiles, but it’s certainly there. Shocker was a member of the 1927 Yankees, so were some other excellent pitchers. Only one of them topped 213 innings. That’s Waite Hoyt at 256.1. Only one of them topped 27 starts. That’s Hoyt at 36. Five guys started at least 20 games. Wilcy Moore, he of only a dozen starts, was second on the team in innings. Today’s pitchers aren’t weak. Yes, they pitch fewer innings and throw fewer complete games than ever in the game’s history, but there are plenty of examples throughout baseball history just like the 1927 Yankees. Oh, and Shocker is worth 79% of the decade leader.
#3 Dazzy Vance: Vance is about the 40th best pitcher ever, give or take, and he pitched only 33 innings in the majors before his age-31 season. While he did win 133 games in the minors, it’s not like he was ready so long before he got the call for good in 1922. Once the Dodgers promoted him, he rewarded them with seven consecutive strikeout titles, a 1924 pitching triple crown, and a 1924 MVP that he almost deserved despite 12.1 WAR from Rogers Hornsby that year. His K rate was remarkable. Of the top-47 pitchers of the decade in innings, Vance had a K-rate of 17.2%. Only Walter Johnson at 11.7% and Bob Shawkey at 11.6% topped even 9%. As great as he was, he only put up 81% of the value of our decade leader.
#2 Walter Johnson: By 1920, the Big Train wasn’t the best pitcher ever any longer. Sure, he had another three strikeout titles, two FIP crowns, and a pitching triple crown in 1926 left in him. But he had only 32.6 pitching WAR from 1920 on. Still, his formula actually puts him as the top guy in the decade, just ahead of Grover Cleveland Alexander. However, for reasons you can read below, I drop him to #2.
#1 Pete Alexander: The 1920s weren’t a great decade for pitchers. Alexander and Johnson were better a decade earlier. And we have a lot of guys lower on this list who were great but not elite, and good but not great. For the second consecutive decade, Pete Alexander comes up a bit short of first place on our list, this time with 98% of our leader’s value. However, were we not to include career value in the formula, Alexander would come out ahead. I really like the idea of career value having some impact. It helps to keep the riff raff out. But ‘ol Pete is no riff raff. So even though his total is only 98% of Johnson’s, I’m going to name him the pitcher of the 1920s.
In a week, we’ll tackle the 1930s where, unfortunately, I won’t have much opportunity to talk about Van Lingle Mungo, one of the best names in the game’s history.
Last week we looked at the best seasons ever by position players. In doing so, we focused primarily on the regular season. That was in part so as not to include the likes of Bill Mazeroski and Joe Carter. It was also because four or seven or even 20 games in the playoffs can’t give us a complete picture of a hitter’s season, no matter how great those few games. Somewhat differently, pitchers can absolutely control a series. In the last 30 years we can think about Madison Bumgarner, Orel Hershiser, and others, a World Series completely dominated by one arm.
There’s also another issue when it comes to pitcher WAR that’s different than for hitter WAR. Of the 117 pitcher seasons with 10+ WAR, 68 of them occurred in seasons without a World Series. Pitching has changed. Hitting has changed. The entire game has changed and keeps changing. I’m sticking to my thoughts from the last post that you must have won the World Series to have a claim to the best season ever, even though the largest WAR seasons are from the 1800s.
So to come up with a list, I looked at every pitcher in the World Series era who’s had even 8 WAR in a season. Then I sorted for those who won the Series. That left me with 24 pitcher seasons by 23 different pitchers. The next step was to look only at the pitchers who performed well enough in the playoffs. Here they are, the best 15 seasons ever by pitchers.
This season doesn’t get the credit you might think when looking at Brown’s 2-0 World Series record. That’s because his first win came in just two innings of relief during which he allowed an unearned run. Yes, there was a three-hit shutout to put the Cubs up 3-1. But others have been better in both the regular and post-season.
Maddux and his Braves very famously kept winning the NL East but not winning the World Series. Except for 1995. And Maddux wasn’t generally not known as a great playoff pitcher, but in 1995 he certainly did his job. He started the first games of the NLDS, gave up three runs in seven innings, while his Braves eventually won 5-4 late. Maddux was so-so in the close out game against the Rockies, giving up four runs in seven innings in the 10-4 win. The NLCS brought a sweep of the Reds. Maddux took the third game and gave up just one run in eight innings. It was the Indians in the World Series. Maddux went the distance with a two-hitter to lead the Braves to a Series opening win. Disappointingly for his standing on this list, Maddux pitched Game 5 and gave up four runs in seven innings to lose.
Before the days of the Baseball Abstract, there was another Bill James. Actually, there were two. They were almost exact contemporaries, and I can’t really tell them apart. This one was awesome for the 1914 Miracle Braves. And that’s all he did. He pitched more innings that season than the rest of his career combined. His career batting WAR is higher than his pitching WAR outside of this campaign. He is absolutely the most shocking guy on this list or any like it. James didn’t get the call in the World Series opener. Dick Rudolph did. In the second he was glorious, outdueling Eddie Plank with a two-hit shutout in a 1-0 win. Up a pair of games, the A’s called on him in relief in Game 3. He pitched the 11th and 12th. His Braves scored, he got the win, and they completed the Series sweep a day later.
When someone mentions that Barry Bonds or Willie Mays is the best player ever, just ask them how their favorites fared on the mound. Let’s be clear – before Babe Ruth became one of the few best hitters ever, he was an outstanding pitcher. Nothing Bonds, Mays, or anyone else did could come close to Ruth’s early work with the Red Sox. With the Red Sox up a game, Ruth pitched and pitched and pitched. After allowing an inside-the-park home run in the first, Ruth got it back himself with a ribbie in the third. Then he won the game with his arm, pitching 14 innings. The Sox walked it off to go up 2-0, and Ruth cemented his status as a star. The Red Sox won in five games, so Ruth never pitched again, but it’s hard to ask for more than what he gave them.
I wish Lefty Gomez weren’t in the Hall of Fame. He was a fine pitcher whose best historical comp may be someone like Jose Rijo. And while he doesn’t belong in the Hall, he does belong on this list if you agree with my criteria. He won the pitching triple crown in 1937 while also leading the league in shutouts and ERA+. By themselves, those are some pretty amazing credentials. In the World Series, he got the call in the opener. His Yankees crushed Carl Hubbell, and he was very good in an 8-1 win. His next start was to close it in Game 5, which is exactly what he did. He drove in a run and scored one, as the Yankees won 4-2. Though he’s not a Hall of Famer, he did post one of the best pitcher seasons ever.
Before the Black Sox, Eddie Cicotte was one of the game’s best pitchers, and 1917 was his signature campaign, the one with the highest WAR on this list. When the World Series came, he was excellent. He opened things by allowing just one run to defeat Slim Sallee and the Giants, even adding a single himself. He started two games later, but the Sox couldn’t push across a run and lost 2-0. With the World Series tied at two games, the White Sox went with Reb Russell. He couldn’t record an out, to the Sox turned to Cicotte for an emergency relief performance. He pitched six innings, giving up just one earned, and Chicago won 8-5 to put them on the brink of a championship.
King Carl, the game’s best pitcher in 1933, led his Giants to the World Series against the Senators after leading the NL in most every pitching category during the season. He started the opener, gave up five hits, two unearned runs, and struck out ten, as New York won the game 4-2. Up 2-1 Hubbell again took to the mound in Game 4. His defense was again somewhat unhelpful, as he gave up an unearned run over 11 innings in a 2-1 win. The Giants also won the next day, so Hubbell didn’t get another start, but he had two hits and allowed zero earned runs over 20 innings in his two October outings.
Were it not for Guidry winning his 25th game of the season in a one-game playoff against Boston, he wouldn’t have had a chance to make this list. Born in another Yankee era, his numbers would have been enough to make the underrated pitcher into an overrated one because of undeserved induction into the Hall. In ’78, however, Guidry certainly seemed to be a Hall of Famer. After the win against the Red Sox, he needed a few days off. His only ALCS start was up 2-1 against the Royals. Guidry was great, allowing just one run in eight innings as New York closed things out with a 2-1 victory. When the World Series followed, Guidry again needed some time to rest. And when he came back, the Dodgers were up two games to zero. Again, Guidry was excellent, leading his squad to a 5-1 victory. New York won the next three, so Guidry didn’t get another start, perhaps somewhat diminishing his ranking here.
A great clutch pitcher may have done his best work in 2001. His playoff totals brought his innings and strikeouts over 300 and his win total to 26. He both opened and closed the NLDS against the Cardinals. The first game was a three-hit shutout. And he closed it out with a six-hit, one run complete game win. In the NLCS against the Braves, Randy Johnson did the work in the first and last games. All even in the series, Schilling got the Game 3 start. He scored as many runs as he allowed, and he struck out 12 while allowing only four hits and a run. In the World Series, Schilling won only one game, the first. He was great again – three hits and a run in seven innings. The Diamondbacks led 1-0. In the fourth game, he once again gave up three hits and a run in seven innings, leaving the game up 3-1, but the pen blew it. He got the call again in Game 7. This time it was seven and a third innings with two runs. Arizona was behind when he left, but they scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Yankees and Mariano Rivera. Schilling was co-MVP. His partner in crime remains to come on this list.
We all know that Carlton’s 1972 was his best regular season, but few remember 1980 as an amazing campaign despite its obvious quality. After leading the NL in wins, whiffs, innings, and ERA+, Lefty took the mound against an impressive Houston squad in the NLCS. His seven innings of one-run ball led Philadelphia to a 3-1 win in the opener. Carlton was less than spectacular in the fourth game, allowing a pair of runs in only five and a third innings. The Phillies would lose that game in 10 innings before closing out the NLCS in the fourth extra inning game out of five the next night. Carlton was better in the World Series. He started the second game, pitched eight innings, gave up 3 earned, and helped Philadelphia to a 2-0 lead with their 6-4 win. Up 3-2, he was called upon to close things out, and that’s what he did. After seven innings and just one run, Tug McGraw ended a run of 97 years of not winning a title.
Though he’s one of the most overrated pitchers ever, he’s the only one who appears on this list twice, and he did have one of the best pitcher peaks we’ve ever seen. He deserves to be here twice. In 1965 Koufax led the league in everything. His 2.04 ERA was his worst from 1963 until his retirement after 1966, but the guy still won the pitching triple crown with 382 strikeouts. The ’65 Fall Classic was a great one, and Koufax got his first call down one game against Jim Kaat. He would have gotten the call earlier but chose not to pitch the opener because of the Yom Kippur holiday. An error in the sixth by Jim Gilliam preceded a bunt, double, and single. Koufax had given up two runs and was lifted for a pinch hitter next inning. Down 2-0, Los Angeles rebounded. When Koufax took the mound again, the Series was tied. A weak hitter, he had a hit and ribbie, and he gave up four hits and no runs. The Dodgers were just one win away. And since LA couldn’t close things out the next game, they got to hand the ball to Koufax once again. And he delivered again, a three-hit shutout in Game Seven to cap off an unbelievable season.
He and Schilling were the 1927-1928 Ruth and Gehrig of the 2001 D’backs. Playoffs included, the amazing Big Unit struck out 419 batters in 2001. Albert Pujols took him deep in his NLDS start, and Johnson took the loss. It got better from there. He pitched a three-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts to give Arizona a win in the NLCS opener against Greg Maddux and the Braves. He then closed things out, pitching seven innings while giving up only two runs in a 3-2 win. Already up a game in the World Series against the Yankees, Johnson threw a three-hit, 11 strikeout shutout. His next start came in Game 6, down 3-2 in the Series. Johnson was good, giving up six hits and two runs in seven innings. Arizona crushed 15-2. And they called on him again the next night. He retired all four batters he faced to become the pitcher of record in the improbable Diamondback comeback. It was his third win of the World Series and his fifth win of the playoffs.
By WAR, 1963 was Sandy’s best season. He posted his first of three career pitching triple crowns while winning 25 of 30 decisions. And even though the 1963 World Series wasn’t as exciting as that of 1965, it was another Koufax showcase. He started the opener and struck out 15 Yankees to win 5-2. Up 3-0, Koufax tried to close out the sweep, and he did. This time he struck out only eight but gave up just six hits in the 2-1 Game 4 win. The Dodgers were champs, and Koufax was their superstar.
During the 1920 regular season, Coveleski and Jim Bagby were a pretty awesome two-headed monster. Bagby won 31 games, but the World Series showed Coveleski to be a better pitcher. If Bagby were better, he’d be on this list too. It’s not exactly the performance we’ll see at #1 on this list, but it’s incredible nonetheless. Coveleski, the ace, started Game 1. He allowed five hits and a run to get Cleveland the early 1-0 lead in the Series. Down 2-1, Coveleski drew the Game 4 start. Once again he gave up five hits and a run. This time he had a hit and run scored himself. And Cleveland tied things at two games each. They also won the next two games and called on Covey to close out the best of nine. That’s exactly what he did. He gave up five more hits, but this time it was a shutout. He scored a run in this one too, so he scored the same number of runs he allowed in the World Series. A truly incredible performance all year.
A winner of the pitching triple crown with a 230 ERA+, Mathewson was even better in the World Series. Yes, he was better. To open things up, he threw a four-hit shutout and had a hit of his own to put the Giants up a game. After losing the second game, they brought Matty back. Again, he pitched a four-hit shutout while singling himself. New York also won Game 4, so they brought Big Six back to end it. And he did. This was just a five-hit shutout with a walk and a run scored. So he scored more runs than he allowed. Zero runs in 27 innings. Three World Series shutouts. Amazing! And the best pitching season ever.
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.
Congratulations to the newest members of the Hall of Miller and Eric: Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Dazzy Vance, Jimmy Collins, and Stan Coveleski. With their 1941 induction, our HoME is now populated with 44 of the greatest players in the game’s history.
Per our rules, players have to be named on both ballots for induction. Here’s how we voted.
Miller Eric 1 Babe Ruth Babe Ruth 2 Rogers Hornsby Rogers Hornsby 3 Dazzy Vance Dazzy Vance 4 Pud Galvin Charlie Bennett 5 Jimmy Collins Elmer Flick 6 Red Faber Jimmy Collins 7 Stan Coveleski George Sisler 8 Mordecai Brown Vic Willis 9 Monte Ward Stan Coveleski 10 Jim McCormick
Babe Ruth: You know how announcers will sometimes, with the knowledge that they have nothing to add to the viewer’s experience, remain silent after a team has won the World Series to let the moment speak for itself?
Rogers Hornsby: Rajah’s list of accomplishments is as long as almost anybody’s. He won a pair of triple crowns, a pair of MVP Awards, nine OBP and SLG titles, seven batting crowns, and on and on. He’s second to Ty Cobb in career batting average, and he’s 12th on the all-time WAR list. He was decidedly disappointing in the World Series, but he did tag out fellow HoMEr, Babe Ruth, as the Bambino was attempting to steal to bring the 1926 Fall Classic to a close. Primarily a Cardinal, Hornsby was traded three times in his career and wound up having two of his best seasons outside of St. Louis, 1927 for the Giants, and 1929 for the Cubs.
Dazzy Vance: It’s quite possible that awkwardly raking in a pot during a poker game led Vance to a doctor, which led the doctor to clean out his elbow, which led the 31-year-old Vance to the big leagues, which led to Vance being inducted into the HoME. In a conflicting story, it’s told that Brooklyn, in need of a catcher, tried to get Hank DeBerry from the New Orleans Pelicans. DeBerry was available, but he wouldn’t go to Brooklyn without Vance. No matter which story is true, not really reaching the majors until age 31 didn’t hold back the righty from Iowa. He won a strikeout title in his rookie season and proceeded to win six more in a row after that. Vance was great, totaling 197 wins, adding a 1925 no-hitter, and striking out more NL batters in 1924 than the second and third best NL strikeout pitchers combined.
Jimmy Collins: There’s no doubt the Jimmy Collins was a fine hitter. He grabbed a home run title in 1898. He had a pair of 100-RBI seasons, and he scored 100 on four occasions. But it’s his defense that has him in the HoME. During an age when bunting was far more common, Collins would cheat in, and he’s be able to use his agility and baseball instinct to quell his opponents’ bunting game. A member of Boston franchises in first the National League and then the American, Collins was the first manager when in 1903, as player/manager, his Boston Americans defeated the National League’s Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three.
Stan Coveleski: There were no better pitchers in baseball from 1917-1926. Coveleski, a righty who spent most of his career with the Indians, owns a strikeout title, a pair of ERA titles, and five 20 win seasons. He became famous for his use of the spitball, and was one of seventeen pitchers whose use of the pitch was grandfathered in following its ban after the 1920 season. In the World Series that year, Covey dominated. He pitched three complete game victories, besting Rube Marquard in the first game, Leon Cadore in the fourth, and shutting out Burleigh Gromes and his Brooklyn mates in the seventh. Coveleski opposed Carl Mays on the day Mays struck and killed Ben Chapman with a pitch. And somewhat strangely, he married the sister of his dead wife only a couple of years after his wife passed away.
Each season, some guys are elected, while others receive votes from only one of us. Below we’ll explain our reasons for such votes
Pud Galvin: 365. That’s it, and that’s all.
Red Faber: Faber had a very big peak from 1921-1922. Throw in 1920, and he was the best pitcher in baseball over three years, not by a small margin. While that was it for his peak, he just kept producing solid seasons. His 12.3 WAR after age 40 is pretty impressive – it’s the kind of thing the career guy in me likes.
Mordecai Brown: From 1905-1911, he was more valuable than any pitcher in the game but Christy Mathewson and Ed Walsh. And he’s seventh in history in ERA+ among starting pitchers with at least ten full seasons in the majors.
Monte Ward: As a pitcher, he’s pretty much Johnny Podres or Eddie Lopat. As a hitter, we’re talking Cecil Cooper or Tommy Henrich. With the glove, think Ryne Sandberg or Jackie Robinson at second base, and think Alan Trammell or Pee Wee Reese at shortstop. We may well be looking at one of the 50 most valuable defenders as any position.
Charlie Bennett: The sound bite: He played more and played better at the game’s most grinding position in by far its most grueling era. The longer form: He had a good bat, outstanding defense, and more durability than any catcher in his era, and the shame of it is that because of the conditions he played in and perhaps his untimely demise, he’s a forgotten man in baseball history.
Elmer Flick: If you like sustained excellence, here’s a man to like. 10 years of excellence is a long time.
George Sisler: Sisler is a great what-if. Except that we actually know how great he was. His career is what a some really silly HOF voters think Mattingly’s was. Sisler blows Mattingly away. In reality, he’s a guy with an amazing peak and so much talent that after a beaning left him with double vision, he could still be an average player.
Vic Willis: In a tight-knit group that consists of Waddell, McGinnity, Coveleski, and Willis (and probably McCormick), Willis is the easy-to-overlook guy. No sexy strikeouts. No jillion-inning seasons. No spitball. His peak was a little longer but a little lower, and he spread a little more value into his less peaky seasons. He’s just another flavor of a type of pitcher we’ve already inducted twice.
Jim McCormick: McCormick : Coveleski :: Keefe/Radbourn : Vance
Please visit our Honorees page to see their plaques and to see more information about the HoME and those who have been elected.
Congratulations to our newest eight inductees: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Pete Alexander, Harry Heilmann, Paul Hines, and George Wright. With their 1936 induction, our HoME is now populated with 39 of the greatest players in the game’s history.
Per our rules, players have to be named on both ballots for induction. Here’s how we voted.
Miller Eric 1 Ty Cobb Walter Johnson 2 Walter Johnson Ty Cobb 3 Tris Speaker Tris Speaker 4 Eddie Collins Eddie Collins 5 Pete Alexander Pete Alexander 6 Pud Galvin Charlie Bennett 7 Harry Heilmann Harry Heilmann 8 Paul Hines Paul Hines 9 Monte Ward Elmer Flick 10 George Wright George Wright 11 Jimmy Collins 12 George Sisler 13 Vic Willis 14 Stan Coveleski 15 Jim McCormick
Ty Cobb was one of the greatest batsmen ever to play the game, but the long-time Tiger was known for his less-than-gentlemanly attitude almost as much as his talent. Cobb terrorized pitchers, fielders, umpires, and even teammates with equal ferocity. With the bat, he put up the highest career batting average in the game’s history at .366. He added a triple crown in 1909 and eleven additional batting titles. On the bases, he would routinely slide into a base spikes up; fielders knew he was coming and acquired evidence that he’d been there. Cobb also holds the career mark with 54 steals of home plate. And he was among the original class of Hall of Fame inductees in 1936.
Walter Johnson is one of a select few pitchers with the claim as the greatest ever. He’s second in both wins and WAR to Cy Young. The Washington Senator righty was the all-time strikeout leader from 1921, when he still had more than 20% of his career remaining, until 1983. Six wins titles, five ERA titles, three pitching triple crowns, and twelve strikeout titles. His achievements go on and on. Lest you think he was only a great pitcher, he could swing a pretty mean stick too. Johnson holds the career record for triples by a pitcher, and he has the highest single-season batting average among pitchers, hitting a scintillating .433 in 1925.
Tris Speaker played just about as shallow an outfield as anyone, and he played center field better than just about anyone. His positioning allowed him to turn unassisted double plays, catch pickoff throws at second base, and make tag plays on runners taking the turn at second base after a bunt. It makes you wonder why more players don’t cheat in. But Speaker isn’t in the HoME just because he was a brilliant defender. He also smacked the most doubles in the game’s history among his 3514 hits, and he finished his career, mainly with the Red Sox and Indians, with a .345/.428/.500 line. The Grey Eagle also got to three World Series, all wins, and hit .308 all told in the post-season.
Eddie Collins was an outstanding second baseman for Philadelphia A’s and Chicago White Sox. He topped the AL in stolen bases four times and runs three times, and his 3315 hits are more than any second baseman in history. He was outstanding in the 1910, 1913, and 1917 World Series, all wins, hitting .429, .421, and .409 respectively. Measured by WAR, he is the greatest second baseman ever to play the game other than Rogers Hornsby.
Pete Alexander won 373 games in his illustrious 20-year career spent mostly with the Phillies and Cubs. The righty led his league in strikeouts and wins six times each and added five ERA titles. He also won the pitching triple crown four times, including three straight for the 1915-1917 Phillies. During the 1916 season, he tossed a record 16 shutouts among his 33 wins. And by WAR, he’s the fourth greatest pitcher to put on a uniform. Pitching for the Cardinals at age 39, he had some of his finest moments during the 1926 World Series. As if wins in games two and six weren’t enough, he pitched in relief in game seven. After loading the bases in the seventh, Jesse Haines ceded the mound to ‘ol Pete. Haines struck out Tony Lazzeri to end the seventh and then set down five straight Yankees before walking Babe Ruth and seeing the Yankee slugger get thrown out trying to steal second as Alexander’s Cards won the World Series.
Harry Heilmann may only be the third greatest Tiger right fielder of all time, behind Sam Crawford and Kaline, but he’s still one of the game’s absolute greats. Heilmann won four batting titles, including the 1923 crown when he hit .403, and he hit at a .342 clip for his career. The man they called “Slug” was quite a slow runner, but he was quick to react when it mattered, once saving a drowning woman in the Detroit River. And a career WAR total right in the neighborhood of Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter should say all that’s necessary about his HoME qualifications.
Paul Hines received Eric’s vote in our very first election and every one thereafter, but it took Miller until the eighth election to properly understand Hines’ greatness. Fortunately for the HoME, justice delayed is not justice denied. Hines was primarily a center fielder for ten teams from 1872-1891. At 20 seasons, he had quite a lengthy career for his era, and he won the first ever triple crown in 1878. The reason for Miller’s conversion was a better understanding of 19th century schedules and their comparison to modern seasons. Even under-adjusting his schedule, it seems we’re looking at one of the dozen best centerfielders ever. Welcome HoME, Paul.
George Wright may have been the game’s first superstar, and he’s not fairly represented by just his National Association and National League record. Historians acknowledge him as the best player in the country during the three to five years before the organization of the NA, and we need to take that into account. As with Hines, Eric did from our first election, and Miller is doing so now. If we don’t consider the pre-NA years, we’re looking at one of the best two dozen or so shortstops. When we add those seasons, it seems clear that George Wright belongs in the HoME.
Each season, some guys are elected, while others receive votes from only one of us. Below we’ll explain our reasons for such votes
Pud Galvin: When completing a project like this, modern player analysis is necessary. It’s critical. If we simply used milestones, Jose Canseco and his 462 home runs might have to go into the Hall. But we can’t just ignore milestones either, particularly when they come with a WAR that comes smack in between Nolan Ryan and Robin Roberts among pitchers. The players within ten wins of Galvin either way are Pete Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Kid Nichols, and Greg Maddux.
Monte Ward: It’ll be interesting to see whether I stop defending my Ward pick because Eric votes for him or because I change my mind. He’s just so close for me. For now, I just can’t turn away from such a spectacular two-way player. I know I’m stretching here – and doing so on purpose – but it’s hard to thumb my nose at a player only one win behind Sandy Koufax and more hits than Hall of Famers Arky Vaughn, Johnny Bench, and Jimmy Collins.
Charlie Bennett: The research on catching conditions in the 19th Century supports the position that Bennett played the most physically demanding position in baseball at its most physically challenging time. He was a warrior, with excellent defense, a good bat, and wonderful durability for his position. The best pure catcher of his time.
Elmer Flick: Flick was just that good for ten years, then essentially done. That’s okay with me, ten years is a long time. One way to think of him is as Paul Waner’s best ten years and change.
Jimmy Collins: The best third baseman between Deacon White and Frank Baker, playing at another position that saw lots of attrition. As we’ve previously discussed, I believe this is a result of the aggressive style of play in his time. Spikes high! Lots of steals, triples, and bunts put third basemen into more types of contact plays than anywhere except catcher.
George Sisler: Sisler’s got a peak that doesn’t quit…until he got beaned in the head. Luckily we don’t have to ask What if… because we know exactly how great he was. At his best, he was a player of Rod Carew’s caliber, and perhaps even his style. In another way, Sisler’s career looks a lot like Ernie Banks’. Both careers are torn in half by injury. Sisler’s was more dramatic, but Banks hurt his shoulder, necessitating the change to first base. Upon moving, he became merely an average player. After his beaning, Sisler became an average player as well…which is amazing since he had issues with double vision afterward. Banks has a few more Wins of bulk value than Sisler, but they are eerily similar players in the shape of their careers. Sisler also sits in a clump of first basemen that includes Hank Greenberg, Dick Allen, and Bill Terry who are peak-oriented candidates. There’s nothing about any of them that screams one is significantly better than the other, and I can’t push Sisler down far enough in my worst case scenario to believe that he would be the one on the outside looking in.
Vic Willis: He’s a slightly less-peaky, slightly more consistent version of Joe McGinnity and Rube Waddell. His prime and career values are consonant with theirs and signal induction on their own merits based on our now-established standards.
Stan Coveleski: Coveleski is basically the fourth member of the Willis-Wadell-McGinnity triumvirate.
Jim McCormick: And he could be the fifth member of this triumvirate that became a quadumverate. All these guys are a slightly different rendition of the same pitcher—the good-peak, decent-career guy who had a relatively short tenure by number of seasons. These are the guys everyone thinks Addie Joss was. We’ll encounter more of them, for example Dazzy Vance and Johan Santana.
Please visit our Honorees page to see their plaques and to see more information about the HoME and those who have been elected.