The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Dick Ruthven”

Pitching WAR Analysis: The First Seven Years

Using my previous post about Roy Oswalt as a jumping off point, I decided to analyze forty semi-random pitchers’ cumulative WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for their first seven consecutive years in the Majors.  Working under the assumption that Roy Oswalt would rate higher than the average Dick Ruthven, Roger Pavlik or John Burkett, I didn’t hesitate to compare Oswalt’s WAR for Seasons 1-7 against many of the best pitchers in history.

In some cases, I decided to skip a particular season for a starting pitcher who made just a handful of starts in an injury abbreviated year, and move on to his next full season.  For a handful of these pitchers, seven consecutive full seasons of pitching was about all they could muster.

As with all lists, it begins with the caveat that we are looking at a snapshot of a player’s career, as measured by just one of many available statistics.  So don’t (and I don’t really think there was a chance that you might have) wave this around as either evidence of my ignorance (which it may very well be) or as proof that could win you a bet in a pub argument (and why wasn’t I invited?)

In order then, from highest WAR to lowest, first seven seasons as a starting pitcher, since 1900, (leaving out about a million relevant pitchers):

English: Portrait of baseball player Christy M...

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1)  Walter Johnson (you were expecting maybe Buzz Capra?) – 57.0

2)  Grover Cleveland Alexander – 54.2

3)  Tom Seaver – 52.0

4)  Lefty Grove – 51.2

5)  Bob Feller – 49.5

6)  Roger Clemens – 46.9

7)  Robin Roberts – 46.3

8)  Ferguson Jenkins – 45.8

9)  Warren Spahn – 44.2

10) Pedro Martinez – 43.4

10) Christy Mathewson – 43.4

12) Rube Waddell – 41.9

13)  Johan Santana – 39.8

14)  Don Drysdale – 38.2

15)  Roy Halladay – 38.1

16) Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown – 37.6

17) Dave Stieb – (Yes, he really was this good) – 36.3

18) Steve Carlton – 36.0

19) Brett Saberhagen – 35.9

20) Dizzy Dean – 35.7

21) Phil Niekro – 35.4

22) Bob Gibson – 35.3

23) Nolan Ryan – 34.7

24) Randy Johnson – 34.6

25) Dwight Gooden – 34.4

26) Ron Guidry – 34.0

26) Sandy Koufax – 34.0

28) Mike Mussina – 32.9

29) Roy Oswalt – 32.7

30) Greg Maddux – 31.6

31) Curt Schilling – 29.2

32) Cliff Lee – 28.7

33) Jim Bunning – 28.4

34) Whitey Ford – 26.6

35) Don Sutton – 25.2

36) Jack Morris – 22.7

37) John Smoltz – 21.0

38) Kevin Brown – 20.8

38) Tom Glavine – 20.8

40) Catfish Hunter – 15.2

Keeping in mind that these numbers do not represent the final WAR totals of each of these pitchers’ respective careers, what does this data tell us?

For one thing, Oswalt’s first seven years measure up pretty well with pitchers like Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina, and are close on the heals of power pitchers like Gooden, Guidry and Koufax.*

*Incidentally, I love the synchronicity of those particular three pitchers, each of whom had a few great years, then burned out rather quickly.

It is also clear that if a pitcher is able to accumulate 40 WAR or better in his first seven years, he is very likely on his way to a Hall of Fame career.  On the other hand, if a pitcher accumulates 30-40 WAR in his first seven years, it is nearly impossible to predict if the rest of his career will buttress, or undermine, his HOF chances.

This list, which, let me remind you, is not meant to be comprehensive, also reminds us that our perceptions of baseball players are largely formed early in their careers, and that’s how we tend to remember them regardless of what they do for the rest of their careers.

Thus, some players like Kevin Brown never seem to get their due as excellent pitchers because the initial years of their careers were not terribly impressive.  Meanwhile, many, perhaps most baseball fans, are aware of the early greatness of Gooden, Guidry, Dizzy Dean, and others who didn’t last terribly long.

Finally, let this list be a cautionary tale that it is awfully difficult to accurately and objectively evaluate a pitcher’s career while it is still in progress.  It is not until he has tossed his final pitch and walked off the mound for the last time that we can begin to appreciate his contribution to baseball, and his place among the immortals.

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