The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Felix Hernandez”

Best Pitchers of the 21st-Century: Part 2

This is the second of three installments in this series.  If you want to go back and read the criteria I used to compile this list, or to find out who the top ten pitchers of the 21st-century have been, here’s link to the first post.

In this second installment, you will find that some of the pitchers listed were household names in the late-20th-century as well.  This does not contradict my prior sentiment that the purpose of this list is to highlight those players who are of more recent vintage.

Although I don’t necessarily want this list to reflect a Hall of Fame ballot of retired players, the fact of the matter is that some of the players we might normally consider of pre-9/11 vintage actually spent around half or more of their careers toiling in our current century, performing at a high level.

Each pitcher included on this list, then, was chosen on a case-by-case basis.  This might satisfy some of you, and annoy others, but any list of this sort is going to include a certain amount of built-in subjectivity.  But I am confident that every player on my list deserves to be included, even if their particular ranking is open to debate.

Pedro's return!

Pedro’s return! (Photo credit: andrewmalone)

11)  Pedro Martinez – Like Cy Young straddling the 19th and 20th centuries, and, therefore, being one of the best pitchers in both centuries, Pedro’s accomplishments and career represented some of the finest pitching in both the 20th and 21st centuries.

Pedro’s career WAR of 86.0 is 9th best since the end of WWII.  It was almost evenly divided between his pre-2000 seasons (40.3) and his post 2000 seasons (34.0.)  Depending what you want to do with his year 2000 season, which was his best (11.7 WAR), either century can be viewed as his best.

So let’s split the difference and take half of 2000 and award each half to each century.  He ends up with around 46 WAR for the 20th-century, and 40 WAR for the 21st-century.  That 40.0 WAR ranks 11th-best which, in part, explains why he ranks 11th on my list.  His WAR in this century most closely resembles that of Justin Verlander, so Pedro obviously pitched to a very high level through about the year 2005.

Pedro won the Cy Young award in 2000, finished 2nd in the voting in 2002, placed 3rd in 2003, and 4th in 2004.  In 2005, pitching for the Mets, Pedro’s WAR of 7.0 was third best in the N.L.  In 2003, pitching for Boston, and despite pitching in the toughest division in baseball during a hitter’s era, Martinez surrendered just seven home runs all season.

In the 21st-century, (even if we exclude his superlative 2000 performance), Pedro posted  a win-loss record of 94-44 in 198 starts, striking out 1,336 batters in 1,249 innings pitched.  His 1.089 WHIP (slightly better than Kershaw’s 1.092) is the best this young century has to offer.   And his 3.23 ERA is most similar to Felix Hernandez’s 3.20.

A case can be made, once we figure in the era, the ballparks in which he pitched, and the quality of the competition, that Pedro Martinez was the greatest pitcher of all-time.  I certainly have no problem ranking him in the top five.

English: Mark Buehrle takes a sign during his ...

English: Mark Buehrle takes a sign during his 2009 perfect game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

12)  Mark Buehrle – In a way, Mark Buehrle is the very opposite of Pedro Martinez.  Where Pedro burned bright, Buehrle is a 60-watt bulb.  But we need lots of those 60-watt bulbs to get through the day, and no pitcher in this century has been more dependable than Mark Buehrle.

Buehrle is the only pitcher in the 21st-century to have pitched over 200 innings in each season.  His WAR of 54.0 is third-best, behind only Halladay and Sabathia.

In fact, Buehrle’s 54.0 is nearly identical to Sabathia’s 54.4.  Buehrle’s 2,829 innings pitched ranks first since the year 2001, as do his 426 starts.  His 182 wins rank third most.

Although Buehrle has never in any given season been the best pitcher in his league, he does have four seasons of over 5.0 WAR to his credit, including a career high of 6.1 in 2007.  Buehrle has also been named to four All-Star teams, and has won four Gold Gloves.

So why doesn’t he rate a bit higher?  His 3.84 ERA and his 1.276 WHIP are both among the highest of all the pitchers on this list, and he also has the most losses (141.)  Buehrle has been a reasonably valuable pitcher, and ranking him in the top dozen seems about right to me.

13)  Jered Weaver –  Jered Weaver of the Angels has been one of the more underrated pitchers of this century.  His 1.143 WHIP is 5th best among all active pitchers, and his ERA+ of 127 matches Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez (as well as Kevin Brown, Stanley Coveleski, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson).  In four of his eight seasons, he has posted an ERA+ north of 130.

Jered Weaver

Jered Weaver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Weaver’s career ERA of 3.24 in this century is about the same as those posted by Felix Hernandez, Pedro Martinez, and Brandon Webb.

Weaver has never won a Cy Young award, but he does have a third-place finish (20-5, 2.81 ERA) in 2012, and a second-place finish (7.0 WAR, 18 wins, 2.41 ERA) in 2011, along with a league-leading 233 strikeouts in 2010.

Weaver has been a key member of the Angels rotation for the past eight years, and has averaged over 4.0 WAR per year for his career.

A three-time All Star, Weaver currently ranks 8th in fewest hits surrendered per nine innings among active pitchers.

The reason he doesn’t rate a little higher is because his overall career value doesn’t quite yet match some of those pitchers listed ahead of him, and because he’s never won any significant hardware.  If, health permitting, he continues to pitch at his current high level of effectiveness, he will certainly move up on this list in the future.

14)  Curt Schilling – Yes, like Pedro Martinez, Schilling had greater value in this century than might be expected, considering his career began back when answering machines and VHS players were all the rage.

In fact, about half of Schilling’s career WAR of 80.7 has been accumulated since 2001.  In his 192 starts in this century (about 44% of his career total), Schilling posted a win-loss record of 106-51 (a .675 win-loss percentage) and an ERA of 3.50.  If that ERA seems a bit high, remember that his home ballparks included Arizona’s desert launching pad, and hitter-friendly Fenway Park.

In 2001, 2002 and 2004, he finished runner-up in the Cy Young voting each season.  Although he never led his league in WAR in any particular season this century, he did finish 2nd in each of those three seasons.  He also averaged over a strikeout per inning, striking out 1,377 batters in just 1,358 innings pitched.  His WHIP of 1.12 is also outstanding.

Schilling’s 41.3 WAR is ninth-best this century.  What keeps him rated lower than some other pitchers on this list is that, like Pedro Martinez, he made fewer than 200 starts, while most other pitchers on this list made around 270-350 starts this century.  In short, three or four highly effective seasons is not unusual among the pitchers on this list.

While I believe that Schilling had a Hall of Fame-worthy career, his overall career value isn’t entirely relevant to the purpose of this list.

As a side note, I wish Curt Schilling well in his battle against cancer.  The news came as a shock to me, and I wish him a full and speedy recovery.

English: Jake Peavy

English: Jake Peavy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

15)  Jake Peavy – During the first decade of this century, Jake Peavy was one of the best pitchers in the National League.  Four times he posted an ERA under 3.00, leading the league in that category twice, and four times posting an ERA+ between 133 and 171.

For three consecutive seasons, Peavy struck out over 200 batters, leading the league with 216 in ’05, and 240 in ’07.

In 2007, Peavy won the N.L. Cy Young award while leading the league in wins (19), earned run average (2.54) and strikeouts (240.)

While pitching for the Padres in his first eight seasons, Peavy posted a record of 92-68, with an ERA of 3.29.  If he’d continued to pitch at that high level, he would probably rate higher on this list, but other than his one nice season with the White Sox in 2012 (5.2 WAR) Peavy’s basically been a league-average pitcher for most of the past five seasons.

In his entire career, Peavy has a win-loss record of 132-98, and a career ERA in 305 starts of 3.51.

Peavy will be entering his age 34 season in 2014, so he’s young enough that he might still accumulate some additional career WAR, but his best seasons are probably behind him.  It would be in his best interests to return to the N.L. where he enjoyed his greatest success.

16)  Carlos Zambrano –  In some respects, Zambrano’s career is similar to Peavy’s.  Zambrano’s career record was 132-91 in 302 starts, with a career ERA of 3.66.  Pitching at Wrigley is certainly tougher than pitching in San Diego, which, in part, accounts for Zambrano’s relatively high WHIP of 1.331.

English: Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs p...

English: Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs pitching (cropped). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zambrano does have a somewhat higher career WAR than Peavy, 38.2 to 35.8, but Zambrano never won a Cy Young award.  He did, however, finish 5th in the voting three times.

Zambrano was also that rare species of pitcher who was also a switch-hitter.  In fact, Zambrano was an outstanding hitter for a pitcher (or even when compared to many middle infielders.)  For his career, Zambrano batted .238 with 165 base-hits, including an astonishing 24 home runs.

If you add Zambrano’s 6.3 WAR he accumulated for his hitting, he becomes a 44 WAR player, which would rank him in the top half-dozen on this list.  For four consecutive seasons, from 2003-06, inclusive, he averaged 5.75 WAR per year.

Zambrano enjoyed some very good seasons, and he was a fine hitting pitcher.  His high career WHIP, his lack of one or two truly great years, and his relatively high ERA, along with a career that was effectively over by age 29, prevents Zambrano from breaking the top 15 on this list.

Chris Carpenter

Chris Carpenter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

17)  Chris Carpenter –  Chris Carpenter is a tale of two pitchers.  There was the Chris Carpenter who pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays from 1997-02, a pitcher who posted an unspectacular record of 49-50 with a 4.83 ERA in 135 starts.  His ERA+ during those years was just 98, slightly less than a replacement level pitcher.  He accumulated just 7.5 WAR over those six seasons.

Then Carpenter got hurt and missed the entire 2003 season.  It was the best thing that ever happened to him.  The Blue Jays, having grown weary of their once highly touted prospect, gave Carpenter his unconditional release.  Carpenter then signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, and an ace was born.

If you go back and take a look at the numbers I listed for Pedro Martinez in this century, you’ll find that Chris Carpenter’s numbers as a St. Louis Cardinal were eerily similar.  Carpenter made 197 starts of which he won 95 and lost just 44.  He recorded a very solid ERA of 3.07, including an ERA+ of 133.  His WAR was about 32.0 to Pedro’s 34.0.  Carpenter’s WHIP was a little higher than Pedro’s, but was still an excellent 1.125.

Carpenter won the N.L. Cy Young award in 2005, going 21-5, with a 2.83 ERA, and a league-leading seven complete games for the Cardinals.  He also struck out 213 batters, and had an ERA+ of 150.

The following season, he finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting, leading the league in shutouts (3) and WHIP (1.069.)

In 2009, he finished 2nd in the voting for that same award with a 17-4 record, a league-leading 2.24 ERA, and a spectacular ERA+ of 182.

At ages 35 and 36, he led the N.L. in starts each year with 35 and 34, respectively.  He averaged 231 innings pitched during those two seasons, winning 27 games while losing 18, with a cumulative ERA of a still solid 3.32.  Carpenter retired after his age 37 season with 144 career wins and 94 losses.

But Carpenter lost three full seasons due to injury, and was ineffective early in his career.  Still, Carpenter was one of the N.L.’s premier pitchers for about half a dozen years.  When healthy, from ages 29-36, he was a true ace.

Andy Pettitte

Andy Pettitte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

18)  Andy Pettitte – It may surprise you to learn that Pettitte was just 28-years old at the turn of the last century, though he’d already pitched for the Yankees for six seasons.  In fact, though, fully two-thirds of Pettitte’s 18 seasons occurred during the 21st-century.

In fact, Pettitte’s 156 wins are the seventh most among all pitchers since the year 2001, as are his 330 starts.  His 2,065 innings pitched rank 8th in the 21st-century.  His 98 losses are tied for tenth place. Surprisingly, he had but two complete game shutouts in his final twelve seasons.

Pettitte’s 35.6 WAR most closely resembles Jake Peavy’s, while his .614 win-loss percentage most closely resembles Roy Oswalt’s .615.  Pettitte did have the advantage, though, of choosing to pitch for highly competitive teams for the last nine years of his career, teams that usually provided him ample run support.  Thus, a moderately high 3.77 ERA during that span still resulted in far more wins than losses.

But Pettitte’s best season this century did not happen while pitching for New York, but, instead, in Houston.  In 2005, at age 33, he produced an outstanding 2.39 ERA (ERA+ of 177) in 222 innings pitched.  He won 17 games, and finished fifth in Cy Young voting.  He ranked 6th in A.L. Cy Young voting for the Yanks in 2003, with a record of 21-8, despite a 4.02 ERA.

Only once in this century did Pettitte finish in the top five in WAR for pitchers in any given season.  In the post-season, Pettitte posted an 11-6 record after the year 2000, with a 3.53 ERA in 153 post-season innings.  And no one ever had a better game face, especially in the playoffs, than Andy Pettitte.

Overall, Pettitte was a very good, but seldom a great pitcher, in the 21st-century.  I would have no problem if someday he is enshrined in Cooperstown, though he would never get there if  his 21st-century numbers were the sole basis on which his career were to be evaluated.

English: Donald Zackary "Zack" Grein...

English: Donald Zackary “Zack” Greinke, an american Major League Baseball starting pitcher, delivers against the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, July 29, 2009, in Baltimore.

19)  Zach Greinke – Having just turned 30 years-old, Greinke should have a lot of baseball left in him.  And if his future performance is anything like some of his finest past seasons, he’s going to put together one very fine career.

Just last season, Greinke led the N.L. in win-loss percentage by going 15-4 for the Dodgers (.789.)  Since having been liberated after seven years in Kansas City, (where he was 60-67 despite pitching at least reasonably well in all but one season), Greinke has gone 46-15 over the past three years.

Greinke has averaged eight strikeouts per nine innings in his career, during which he has made 259 starts, tossed 1,670 innings, and posted an adequate 3.65 ERA.  Three times he has fanned over 200 batters in a season, and he’s always had excellent control, having never walked more than 56 batters in a season.

His finest season by far, and one of the very best of this century, occurred in 2009 while he was pitching for the Royals.  At the age of 25, he led the A.L. with a 2.16 ERA in just under 230 innings, brandishing an astonishingly high ERA+ of 205.

There have been only 37 seasons in baseball history where a pitcher has topped an ERA+ of 200, so that is quite an achievement.  His WAR for the year was a Pedro Martinez-esque 10.4.  For his efforts, Greinke won the A.L. Cy Young award that season, despite just 16 victories.

Health permitting, Greinke is now in the right ballpark and in the right league to finally run off a string of seasons, health permitting, that will allow him to move up much higher on this list over the next half-dozen seasons.  Even if he never tops his 2005 season (and he doesn’t have to), he should be able to further solidify his reputation as one of the 21st-century’s best pitchers.

cole hamels

cole hamels (Photo credit: artolog)

20)  Cole Hamels – As with Greinke, Cole Hamels is entering his age 30 season in 2014.  To this point, he’s often been a near-great pitcher, producing high-caliber pitching for the Phillies over the past eight seasons.

You can count on Hamels to make over 30 starts per year, pitch 215-220 innings, strike out over 200 batters (which he has done in three of the last four years), walk fewer than 60, and post a WHIP around 1.14.

On most teams, he would be the staff ace, but on the Phillies deep staff, he’s been their #2 or #3 starter to this point.  His 99-74 record masks his true value, and his 33.8 WAR is close to Pedro Martinez this century (though Hamels has made more starts.)

Hamels has averaged 8.5 K’s / 9 innings in nearly 1,600 innings pitched, so his stuff is among the best in the N.L.  He has received a reasonable amount of Cy Young attention, finishing in the top ten in voting three times.

With a little bit of luck, Hamels could be in line for his first Cy Young award and 20-win season as early as this 2014.  But even if he never quite pitches with the degree of luck and run support he might need to garner that hardware, he’s plenty good enough to continue to rate among the dominant pitchers in the National League for years to come.

I hope you have enjoyed this second installment of the Best Pitchers of the 21st-Century.  Next time, I’ll post the final five pitchers in this series.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Measure of the Man: Sabathia vs. Hernandez

Cy Young.

Image via Wikipedia

A recent article by a writer named Murray Chass called, “The Dark Side to Overtake Cy Young Award,” provoked me to write the following blog-post.

The ongoing argument between the modern stat-heads and the so-called traditionalists is getting old and boring.  The fact of the matter is, the stats the traditionalists use (Wins, ERA, Strikeouts) were all once ” new” stats as well.  Whether a stat is old or new isn’t important.  Any valid stat simply gives us a clearer, fuller picture of the objective value of a player, compared to other players.

I generally believe the modern stats have done a great deal of good for baseball.  Yet I suspect that the real, underlying complaint of many in the “traditionalist” camp is that they find many of the modern stat-heads to be insufferable, arrogant bastards.

As for this criticism, they have a valid point.

I can name a few prominent stat-heads who irk me at times not so much for their point of views, but for how they express their ideas.  In a sense, they appear to be more in love with numbers (and their reputations) than with baseball itself (again, not necessarily a majority of them, but enough of them to matter.)  They automatically dismiss any disagreement with their opinions as the delusional rantings of the ignorant rabble.

Still, the so-called traditionalists are often no less boring to listen to as they relate stories about how the best players demonstrated intangibles like guts, leadership and hustle that do not easily translate into cold, hard numbers.
The truth, of course, is that the vast majority of excellent players possess both the intangibles as well as the objective data to lay claim to their status as great players.

Regarding the Sabathia vs. Hernandez debate, I think both pitchers are worthy candidates to win the Cy Young award.

Of course wins matter.  How can they not?  Do we now believe that a 300-career win pitcher, for example, is not deserving of significant honor and respect?  A pitcher who wins 20 or more games in a season has had a fine year, and certainly deserves to be in the running for this award.

At the same time, if a pitcher has suffered from extremely poor run support all season but has pitched his way to an ERA title, led the league in innings pitched (indicating a true work-horse, which the traditionalists should admire), and is near or at the top in several other statistical categories including ERA+, WHIP, strikeouts, etc., then it’s nonsensical to argue that, if only he had pitched better, he would have “found a way” to have won more games.

From my standpoint, the best thing that could happen this year is for Sabathia and Hernandez to be co-winners of the Cy Young award.

This outcome is highly unlikely, of course, but it would demonstrate proper, measured, and sensible respect for the superior accomplishments of each of these two admirable pitchers this past season.

This isn’t a cop-out on my part.  And I am realistic enough to realize that few will agree with my proposal.

So think of this post, then, as my way of saying to the partisans on each side, shut up and pay proper respect to the opinions of your fellow baseball fans.

No one cares who is smarter or more passionate in their opinions.  If the game of baseball is big enough to contain both Red Sox and Yankee fans, (not to mention shell-shocked Pirates fans), then there is certainly room enough for multiple points of view regarding how to take the measure of a man who dons a baseball uniform.

Because the game itself is bigger than any one man, especially those who presume to measure the value of others.

Baseball Bloggers Alliance Walter Johnson Award Winners

Walter Johnson, Washington National baseball p...

Image via Wikipedia

Here is the official press release from the BBA regarding the N.L. and A.L. winners of the Walter Johnson Award for best pitcher in each league:

HALLADAY, HERNANDEZ OVERWHEMING WINNERS OF WALTER JOHNSON AWARD
2010 was often referred to as “the year of the pitcher.”  However, not all pitchers are created equal.

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance
announced today that Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay was the unanimous
selection for the National League Walter Johnson Award, receiving all
nineteen first place votes.  In the American League, Seattle’s Felix
Hernandez was almost as dominant, garnering all but four of the first
place selections from the BBA membership.

Halladay, who came over to Philadelphia in an off-season deal with Toronto,
wasted no time getting comfortable in his new league, posting an 2.44
ERA, striking out 219 batters, winning 21 games, and throwing a perfect
game to boot.  While only the regular season was considered for voting,
he also became only the second player to throw a post-season no-hitter
when he faced the Reds in the National League Divisional Series.
Halladay received 133 points, well ahead of the runner up, St. Louis’s
Adam Wainwright, who received 66.

Hernandez’s
win was statistically more impressive, due to more ballots being cast
in the American League and a wider range of pitchers receiving votes.
His 2010 season, where he put up a sparkling 2.27 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, and
struck out 232 in just under 250 innings pitched, led voters to bestow
upon him 137 points, with second place being New York’s CC Sabathia, who
received three first place votes and 62 points over all.

The complete voting results are as follows (first place votes in parenthesis):

American League
Felix Hernandez, Seattle (18) 137
CC Sabathia, New York (3) 62
David Price, Tampa Bay (1) 57
Cliff Lee, Seattle/Texas 41
Jered Weaver, Los Angeles 22
Jon Lester, Boston 18
Clay Buchholz, Boston 14
Francisco Liriano, Minnesota 13
Trevor Cahill, Oakland 5
Justin Verlander, Detroit 5

National League
Roy Halladay, Philadelphia (19) 133
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis 66
Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado 52
Josh Johnson, Florida 43
Tim Hudson, Atlanta 16
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco 7
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles 2
Mat Latos, San Diego 2
Heath Bell, San Diego 1
Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee 1

The
Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in the fall of 2009 to encourage
cooperation and collaboration between baseball bloggers of all major
league teams as well as those that follow baseball more generally. As of
this writing, the organization consists of 233 blogs spanning all 30 major league squads as well as general baseball writing.

The
BBA is organized under a similar structure as the Baseball Writers of
America, where blogs that follow the same team are combined into
“chapters” and only two votes from the chapter on an award are counted.
The blog chapters that are focused on general baseball were allowed two
votes as well, which they could use both on the same league or split
between the two leagues.

Chapters
generally followed one of two methods when casting their ballot.
Either representatives of the chapter were given the ballots for voting
or a “group ballot” was posted, accounting for both of their votes.

Ballots
are posted on the respective blogs and for this award, were tabulated
on a 7-4-3-2-1 point scale for first through fifth place. In the
interest of transparency, links are given below for the ballots. Chapter
affiliation is in parenthesis.  Those chapters that decided on the
group method are noted with an asterisk.

American League
Camden Crazies (Baltimore)*
Boston Red Thoughts (Boston)*
The Tribe Daily (Cleveland)*
Motor City Bengals (Detroit)
Detroit Tigers Scorecard Blog (Detroit)
One Royal Way (Kansas City)*
Twins Target (Minnesota)
Bronx Baseball Daily (New York)*
Contract Year (Oakland)
Sodo Mojo (Seattle)
Tampa Bay Rays News (Tampa Bay)
1 Blue Jays Way (Toronto)
Infield Fly (Toronto)
Misc. Baseball (History)*
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)*
Blogging From The Bleachers (General)*
Victoria Seals Baseball Blog (Other)*

National League
Marlin Maniac (Florida)
Marlins Diehards (Florida)
Feeling Dodger Blue (Los Angeles)
The Eddie Kranepool Society (New York)*
Dugger’s Corner (Philadelphia)
Phighting On (Philadelphia)
Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? (Pittsburgh)*
Stan Musial’s Stance (St. Louis)
C70 At The Bat (St. Louis)
Friar Forecast (San Diego)*
22gigantes (San Francisco)*
Misc. Baseball (History)*
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)*
Blogging From The Bleachers (General)*
Victoria Seals Baseball Blog (Other)*

Prior Winners:  2009: Zach Greinke, Kansas City; Tim Lincecum, San Francisco

The official website of the BBA is located at www.baseballbloggersalliance.com.
The BBA can be found on Twitter by the handle @baseballblogs and by
the hashmark #bbba.  Members of the BBA may be heard at Blog Talk Radio
every Tuesday night with their call-in show, BBA Baseball Talk, which may also be downloaded as a podcast from iTunes.  For more information, contact Daniel Shoptaw at founder@baseballbloggersalliance.com.

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 20 – The Minnesota Twins

Rodney Dangerfield at the Shorehaven Beach Clu...

Image via Wikipedia

As with the late comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, twenty-win seasons just don’t get no respect anymore.  Case in point:  This season, C.C. Sabathia of the New York Yankees has 21 victories.

Meanwhile, a continent away, Felix Hernandez of the Mariners has just thirteen wins.  Yet many, perhaps most, baseball analysts / commentators are arguing that King Felix should win the A.L. Cy Young award on the strength of his peripheral numbers.

This is not the time nor the place to debate that argument, but it is worth noting that just a couple of short years ago, a twenty-win season was considered something special.

And despite my strong sympathies to the Wins-Are-Overrated crowd, I can’t help feeling that wins (as a measure of a pitcher’s relative effectiveness) have all too quickly gone from overrated to underrated.

While it is true that over the course of baseball history, some pitchers have won far more games in a single season than they “deserved,” (Storm Davis‘ 1989 season comes to mind), and others have won far fewer than they theoretically should have (Nolan Ryan in 1987), it has been far more common for outstanding pitchers to win lots of games, and for mediocre pitchers to garner average amounts of wins.

Which brings me to former Minnesota Twins pitcher Frank Viola.

Frank Viola, drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 1981 amateur draft out of St. John’s University, certainly was respected by most Major League batters for the vast majority of his professional career.

Unappreciated by many baseball fans then and now, however, Viola averaged 18.6 wins per season for five consecutive years (1984-88, inclusive.) He also pitched at least 200 innings for ten consecutive seasons beginning in 1983, and tossed at least 230 innings in nine of those ten years.

Viola also enjoyed two twenty-win seasons in his career.  His first was in 1988 with the Twins.  He also won exactly twenty games for the Mets in his first full season with that franchise in 1990.

But Frank Viola’s Best Forgotten Season was in 1988 with the Minnesota Twins.

In 1988, 28-year old Frank Viola won the A.L. Cy Young award.  He did not lead the league in strikeouts, innings pitched, WAR, WHIP, ERA+, or even that hoary old stat, ERA (although he did finish in the top six or better in each of them.)

His primary claim to fame, however, was an outstanding 24-7  record, good for a league-leading .774 win-loss percentage. As for his peripheral numbers, teammate Allan Anderson won the A.L. ERA title (2.45) and ERA+ title (166), but he pitched fifty fewer innings than Viola.

Roger Clemens paced the league in strikeouts, Complete Games, and Shutouts.  Teddy Higuera of Milwaukee led the A.L. in WHIP.  Dave Stewart of Oakland led in Games Started and Innings Pitched.  Mark Gubicza of K.C. led in WAR.

When you have that many outstanding performances in one season, it is (or was) unsurprising that the Cy Young voters would notice the impressive number of wins Viola accumulated in a very solid season.

For the record, Viola finished third in the league in strikeouts (193), third in ERA (2.64), sixth in innings pitched (255), and fifth in WHIP (1.136.)

Viola retired after the 1996 season with a record of 176-150. His career ERA was  a decent 3.73.

It is also worth noting that, over the past 22 years, only three other pitchers have matched or exceeded Viola’s 24 victories in ’88:  Bob Welch (27) in 1990; John Smoltz (24) in 1996; Randy Johnson (24) in 2002.  Welch was a good pitcher.  Smoltz and Johnson are future Hall of Famers.

Meanwhile, you also have to go all the way back to Steve Stone of the 1980 Orioles to find a pitcher who exceeded (25 wins) Viola’s win total eight seasons later.

Clearly, then, a pitcher’s win total is not, as  some pundits have claimed recently, absolutely irrelevant.

It is a sensible, if imprecise and incomplete, benchmark by which we can gauge a given pitcher’s success to a reasonable degree.

After all, isn’t it more than a bit ironic that it is now argued that win totals should be irrelevant when deciding to whom the trophy for baseball’s best pitchers should be awarded, when that award just happens to be named after Cy Young, the pitcher who won more games than any other player in Major League history?

Surely, even Rodney Dangerfield would feel the implicit disrespect to Cy Young’s legacy.


Baseball 2010: An Old-Timer’s Game

It has often been said that baseball is a young man’s game.

And truth be told, major league baseball is in a transition period now, with many of the game’s stars of the ’90′s and the early part of this century giving way to a whole new crop of young and talented players.

Over the past couple of years or so, we have witnessed the retirements (or the virtual retirements) of Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson, NOMAR!, Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, and Pedro Martinez, to name a few.

Meanwhile, other former stars, such as Ken Griffey, Jr., David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez are clearly close to the end of the line.

In their place we have seen an enormous influx of exciting new players who are still just 27-years old or younger.  This group represents the vanguard of a new, (hopefully) post-steroids generation.  This list includes several young players who will some day end up in the Hall of Fame.

Most of these names are already very familiar to you:  Joe Mauer, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, Prince Fielder, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria, Felix Hernandez, Ryan Zimmerman, and David Wright.

Even younger players such as Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, Brian Matusz, Matt Wieters, and Ike Davis are also on the way, or have arrived within the past year.

Yet there is a group of graying players for whom Father Time seems to have given a free pass, at least as of this writing.  These players, all at least 36-years old  (which is like 65, in baseball years), show no signs of slowing down.

Actually, in some cases, they did show signs of slowing down, but appear to have caught a second wind.  Several of them are either obvious future Hall of Famers, or should, at the very least, merit some consideration regarding their Hall worthiness.

So here they are:

1)  Jorge Posada: Through tonight’s game against Baltimore, Jorge has produced some impressive numbers.  He is hitting .316 with five homers and 12 RBI, while slugging over .600.  At age 38, he keeps himself in excellent shape, and the Yankees are committed to giving him extra rest throughout the season.  For these reasons, I believe Posada will continue to produce at a high level throughout this season.

Posada has played in parts of 15 seasons, and, aside from a few World Series rings, he has put up some nice numbers in his career.  He has hit 248 career homers, driven in 976 runs, hit 346 doubles, has a career batting average of just under .280, with a .380 on base average.

He is 7th all-time on the Yankees career doubles list, ahead of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey.  He is also 8th on the Yankees career home run list, just three behind Graig Nettles for 7th place.

Posada also has five Silver Sluggers to his credit, has played in five All-Star games (with a sixth all but assured this year), and he has finished in the top ten in MVP voting twice.

A serious argument could be made that Posada just might belong in the Hall of Fame.

For now, he will have to remain content hitting the stitching off of baseballs.

2)  Mariano Rivera: “Mo” has not allowed an earned run so far this season.  He is a perfect 6 for 6 in save opportunities.  His WHIP is 0.57.  He is now 40 years old, pitching just like he did back when he was 30.  An obvious Hall-of-Famer, there really isn’t any reason to spend time rehashing his career numbers.  The only question is, will his greatness ever end?

3)  Andy Pettitte: (No, I didn’t intend this to be Yankee night, but here we are.)

Believe it or not, he is off to the best start of his 16-year career.  Through his first four starts, he is 3-0, with 22 strikeouts in 28 innings.  His ERA is 1.29, and his WHIP is 1.07.  Clearly, the soon-to-be 38 year old Pettitte isn’t just hanging around waiting for the playoffs to begin.

That’s when he really excels.

Pettitte now has a career record of 232-135, a .632 win-loss percentage.  He has finished in the top 10 in Cy Young award voting five times.  And he has 18 career post-season victories.  At this point, his resume probably isn’t quite that of a Hall-of-Famer.  But if he continues to pitch this well for another 2-3 years, we’ll have to take another look.

4)  Jim Edmonds: Now playing for the Brewers, Edmonds was actually out of major league baseball last season.  But he earned his way onto the team this spring, and I’m sure the Brewers are happy he did.

So far this season, Edmonds (now approaching 40 years old), has hit better than .300, including a .340 batting average against right-handed pitching.  He has slugged almost .500, and he has scored 10 runs.  As part of a platoon, he gets most of the playing time, and he has made the most of it.

Edmonds would get my vote for the Hall of Fame as well.  His defense in center field alone would merit some consideration (eight Gold Gloves and several circus catches.)  But he also has 383 career home runs, 421 doubles, over 1200 runs scored, and nearly 1200 RBI’s.  Only a few center-fielders in history have combined his defensive prowess with his offensive statistics.

5)  Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez: Although recently side-lined with a back problem, when Pudge has played this season, he has been excellent.  In 56 at bats for the Washington Nationals, he is hitting a mere .410 with 23 hits, including 7 doubles and 10 runs scored.

Not bad for a 38-year old catcher who happens to be a life-time .300 hitter with over 300 home runs, 13 Gold Gloves, and 14 All-Star game appearances.  A first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, to be sure.

6)  Jamie Moyer: Pitching for the Phillies, the 47-year old (!) Moyer is off to a 2-1 start, with a respectable 1.278 WHIP.  He has fanned 11 in 18 innings.

Although Moyer now has 260 career wins, he is in the Tommy John-Jim Kaat class of pitchers.  That is to say, he has put together a fine career, but falls just short of belonging in The Hall.

7)  Ichiro Suzuki: Perhaps because of his physique and his unique style of play, it’s easy to forget that Ichiro, now at age 36, is not that young anymore.  But he is off to his usual start this season, hitting around .310 with six stolen bases and 13 runs scored.  Ichiro is in such great physical condition that, although he is slowing down a bit, he should remain a productive, above-average player for another couple of years.

Although I listed Ichiro as an overrated player in a prior blog-post, I still believe he will, and should be, elected to the Hall of Fame someday.

Each of these seven players not only continues to be highly productive, but they provide an invaluable link between the younger players, and all those who came before.  It’s how baseball’s greatness is continually perpetuated from one generation to the next.

If there are other worthy performers who you believe should be included on my list, please let me know.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Post Navigation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,263 other followers