Posted tagged ‘Roger Clemens’

The Drop Off to Second Best


This morning Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted, “Because of the difference between Rivera and others at his position, for me, he should be part of NYY’ Rushmore, with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio.” I find this an interesting claim in a lot of ways. First note the 4 players: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Rivera. I would without a second thought shove Mantle ahead of both DiMaggio and Rivera. Second, I take his claim to be that the dropoff from Rivera to others refers to all other relievers, not just all other Yankee relievers. That follows an earlier tweet which said, “The difference between Rivera and any other player at his position in history is the greatest of any position.” That is a more interesting question. To get a quick and dirty look at the drop from the best to the second-best at various positions, I’m going to do a bit of fiddling with WAR, as measured on Baseball Reference. I will also summarily exclude 19th-Century Players. (This means I excluded both Cy Young and George Davis.) The method is simple: Take the WAR of player 2, divide it by player 1, and multiply by 100. This gives the second player’s production as a percentage of the first player. So, is the dropoff from Rivera the biggest? Let’s turn to the stats.


Player 1 WAR 1 Player 2 WAR 2 Percentage Total Drop
Gehrig 118.4 Foxx 95.2 80.41 23.2
Hornsby 127.8 Collins 126.7 99.14 1.1
Wagner 134.5 Ripken 89.9 66.84 44.6
Schmidt 108.3 Rodriguez 105 96.95 3.3
Ruth 190 Aaron 141.6 74.53 48.4
Cobb 159.5 Mays 154.7 96.99 4.8
Bonds 171.8 Musial 127.8 74.39 44
Bench 71.3 Fisk 67.3 94.39 4
W. Johnson 139.8 Clemens 128.8 92.13 11
Rivera 55.8 Gossage 39.5 70.79 16.3
Eckersley 58.3 Rivera 55.8 95.71 2.5
Rivera 55.8 Hoffman 30.4 54.48 25.4

First, these are full career WAR stats, so Ruth has a serious bump from being a pitcher, and Walter Johnson gets a nice little bump from his hitting. Second, I calculated relievers three different ways. First, I ran Rivera against Gossage, the two highest pitchers who accumulated almost all their WAR in relief. Next I did Rivera against Eckersley, because Eck had the highest WAR of any pitcher who is in the Hall of Fame as a reliever. Nonetheless, his WAR is so high because he gets a giant boost from all of his years as a starter. Finally I compared Rivera to the next highest modern closer, that is the highest WAR from a reliever since the advent of the modern closer circa 1980. That would be Trevor Hoffman. So where does this get us?

First, the drop at shortstop is gigantic. Even adding George Davis back in doesn’t help much. That is the lowest percentage drop among position players. Next, the drop from Ruth to Aaron is impressive. It is the largest raw WAR drop, and the third lowest percentage. Quite a drop considering this is Hank Aaron we are talking about. Finally, relievers are tricky. First, if Eckersley is included, Rivera isn’t the best ever. Next, if you include higher inning relievers from the 1970’s, the percentage is not the lowest, but it is second. Finally, if you limit Rivera to his most comparable group, other closers, you see Buster Olney’s point in big numbers. Rivera is nearly twice the pitcher of any other closer, when measured by WAR. I find that fact astonishing.


The Best Pitcher of the Last 50 Years


Sometimes, I feel the need to ask big questions with no clear answers.  Today the question is, who is the best pitcher of the last 50 years?  For starters, let’s set a quick ground rule.  In order to qualify, a pitcher needs to have pitched the best part of his career in the last 50 years.  So pitchers like Warren Spahn, who pitched until 1965, are eliminated from consideration.  Second, my primary concern is career value.  Dwight Gooden had a stunning peak from 1984-87, but his career does not measure up.  The same will eliminate Sandy Koufax.  In his prime he may have been as good as anyone to throw the ball, but the prime is too short to measure up.  For purposes of this blog post, I’ll talk about primes only as they illustrate larger career value and dominance.

I think most fans would give one of three answers: Tom Seaver, Roger Clemens, and Greg Maddux. All are good picks, and you can’t go wrong with any of these answers. For my purposes, I want to set Clemens aside, because I don’t want the entire post to devolve into a discussion of steroids. I think if you can look past the steroids, he is the right answer. For purposes of this post, I am not looking past steroids. That leaves Seaver and Maddux. Who’s better?

Seaver 105.3 311 6.8 2.6 2.86 128 0.7 3 1.12
Maddux 96.8 355 6.1 1.8 3.16 132 0.6 4 1.14

This is a quick overview of each player’s career. By Wins Above Replacement, ERA, K/9, and WHIP, take Seaver. By Wins, ERA+, BB/9, HR/9, and Cy Youngs, take Maddux. Seaver also won a Rookie of the Year to even out the award debate. The closeness of these numbers reflect the closeness of the debate. Depending on which stat you weight the most heavily, either pitcher can be favored. Next, let’s consider dominance by era.

Wins ERA K K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP ERA+
Seaver 3 3 5 6 0 0 3 3
Maddux 3 4 0 0 9 4 4 5

The number reflects the number of times each led the league in that category. Again you see a close race. Seaver leads in K, K/9, and ties in Wins.  Maddux leads in ERA, ERA+, BB/9, HR/9, and WHIP, though the WHIP and ERA leads are minuscule.  This chart, I think, highlights the difficulties in comparing each player.  Seaver was an incredibly effective power pitcher, as the K totals reflect.  His three WHIP titles, I think, highlight his broader effectiveness by noting how few baserunners he allowed even without a  single BB/9 title.  Maddux, in contrast, is arguably the best control pitcher in major league history.  He led the league in fewest BB/9 an unheard of 9 times.  He rarely gave up the longball, and he allowed minimal baserunners.  Though not the strikeout pitcher of Tom Seaver’s class, he still had good K numbers.  So who’s better?

A final complicating factor is team quality. Each pitcher won a single World Series. Seaver’s teams made it twice, and Maddux made it 3 times. Maddux made the playoffs 13 times, in an era of expanded playoffs and smaller divisions, while Seaver made the playoffs only 3 times. Maddux clearly had better teams behind him, but the Braves were defined by their pitching, not their hitting. In this context, I am not sure how much Maddux’s stats rely on team quality. Andruw Jones is the only elite fielder who spent the bulk of his career backing up either pitcher, though each had a number of good fielders come through.

I lean toward Greg Maddux. My leanings likely are affected by how many more times I saw Maddux than Seaver, but I still lean that direction. The number of single season titles, I think, point to a slightly more dominant pitcher, and the career numbers are so close as to be indistinguishable. There is my case for Maddux. What do you think? Who is the best pitcher of the last 50 years? Please make your case in the comments, because I would love to hear it.