By In Baseball

No. 53: Steve Carlton

Not too long ago, pal Michael Schur and I had one of our silly little draft podcasts— this is when we draft things that do not really fit the draft theme, like “abstract concepts” and “types of balls.” Anyway: We drafted sports nicknames. As much as it pains me to say, Michael made a pick with the second round that I powerfully envied.

He chose “The Great One,” which, of course, is the nickname of Wayne Gretzky.

There is nothing aesthetically great about “The Great One” as a nickname. It sounds like something a 4-year-old might call her favorite kind of cookie (“You know, The Great One”). But it is a fantastic nickname because … it could refer to just about anyone. The Great One could be Willie Mays, it could be John Unitas, it could Michael Jordan, it could be Pete Sampras, it could be Arnold Palmer, it could be Jim Brown. The Great One? Hell, it could be one of a 100 hockey players. It could refer to any great athlete.

But it doesn’t.

The Great One is Wayne Gretzky. And THAT is what makes it awesome.

In the same vein, there are a lot of people who have been called Lefty. There’s Lefty Grove, Lefty Gomez, Lefty O’Doul, Lefty Driesell, Lefty Frizell. But all of them required the last name. There have been dozens of bad guys in the movies named Lefty. Phil Mickelson is sometimes called left.

However, at the end of the day, this is only one.

Lefty is Steve Carlton.

* * *

Poor Rick Wise. In 1971, he was 25 years old, a first time All-Star and possibly on his way to stardom. He was coming off his best year … and he’d had one of the greatest games in baseball history. Back in June, in Cincinnati, he had thrown a no-hitter against the Big Red Machine (he was a Dave Concepcion walk away from a perfect game) AND he hit two home runs.

He wanted a big raise. Seems reasonable. He had his best year. He won 17 games for a terrible team, completed 17 games, threw four shutouts. But no big raise request was reasonable in 1971. Philadelphia’s general manager John Quinn began looking around to see if someone would trade for Wise. Nobody wanted to be traded to Philadelphia in those days. Curt Flood had been so upset when he was traded to Philadelphia that he fought it all the way to the Supreme Court.

But in St. Louis, another pitcher — similar age to Wise, similar 1971 statistics — was also trying to get more money.

Take a look at the two pitchers’ 1971 seasons:

Wise: 25 years old, 17-14, 2.88 ERA, 4 shutouts, 272 innings, 155 Ks, 70 walks, 123 ERA+, 3.4 WAR.

Trade bait: 26 years old, 20-9, 3.56 ERA, 4 shutouts, 273 innings, 172 Ks, 98 walks, 102 ERA+, 4.1 WAR.

Similar enough. Cardinals owner August Busch had fought with his pitcher over salary before … he decided enough was enough. He told his GM Bing Devine to trade the two grumbling pitchers straight up. Devine did what he was told. Rick Wise went to St. Louis. Steve Carlton went to Philadelphia.

And poor Rick Wise would always be known as the bad side of one of the worst deals in baseball history.

Should everyone have known that Philadelphia had just stolen one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history? Perhaps. Carlton had been a pretty fantastic in his young 20s. In 1969, he went 17-11 with a 2.17 ERA (second to Juan Marichal) and he set a major league record by striking out 19 in a game against the New York Mets. He had a remarkable fastball, an even more remarkable slider, and he looked to be the next big pitching star in baseball.

Then by all accounts — and for unclear reasons — Carlton stopped throwing his slider in 1970 and 1971. According to one story, recounted in Steve Bucci’s Drinking Coffee With A Fork, the Cardinals had told him to stop throwing the slider because it would ruin his curveball. In another version, Carlton told reporters (yes, he told reporters) that he had lost his feel for the slider and hurt his arm. In yet another version, Carlton gave up two massive home runs to Ernie Banks sometime early in that 1970 season, both on sliders, and decided to shelve the pitch.

Whatever the reason, he definitely stopped throwing the slider, and he took a significant step back.

Here’s an unrelated and unnecessary interlude: Look at Steve Carlton’s 1970 and 1971 seasons:

1970: 253 innings, 193 Ks, 109 walks, 111 ERA+, 4.2 Baseball Ref WAR, 4.5 Fangraphs WAR.
1971: 273 innings, 172 Ks, 98 walks, 102 ERA+, 4.1 Baseball Ref WAR, 3.7 Fangraphs WAR.

Which of those seasons was better? They are VERY similar but I suspect if you had to pick one you’d pick the 1970 season, right? A few more strikeouts, better ERA in context, yes. Except Steve Carlton’s 1970 season was viewed as a DISASTER while his 1971 season was viewed as AWESOME. Why? Right. The ol’ won-loss record.

1970: 10-19
1971: 20-9

Anyway, without his slider he was a different pitcher, good but not great. He was in fact very similar to Rick Wise; people in Philadelphia were NOT originally excited about the trade.

So if the Phillies had realized, “Hey, we just need to get him throwing his slider again,” then yes, they were absolute geniuses and knew exactly what they were doing when they traded Wise to get him. But I suspect the trade was more about some bitter feelings for Wise because he asked for $50,000. They certainly treated him badly after the deal. Wise had pitched for the Phillies for seven seasons — he signed with the team when he was still 17. But he said general manager John Quinn never even called after the trade was made. It was personal. It was all about the money.

Then: Steve Carlton began throwing his slider again. And he promptly had what might be the greatest pitching season in the last 100 years.

And everyone talked about what GENIUSES the Phillies were for the traded.

Poor Rick Wise.*

*Later, Wise was traded in a package deal to Cleveland for Dennis Eckersley. So he was traded for two Hall of Fame pitchers.

* * *

In 1972, Carlton faced the Cardinals in his second start. There was a lot of lingering anger. He was furious when the Cardinals traded him. He actually called Players Union head Marvin Miller to ask if he had any recourse after the Cardinals traded him to Philadelphia. Miller, blunt as ever, said he could show up in Philadelphia or, you know, he could retire. It was like that in 1972.

Carlton threw a three-hit shutout against his old team. Next time out, against San Francisco, he gave up a leadoff single to Chris Speier and did not give up another hit the rest of the game. Nine inning, one hit, one walk, 14 strikeouts. It looked like it was going to be a sensational year.

But — and many people don’t realize this about his extraordinary 1972 season — Carlton then went into a six-week slump. From April 29 to June 3, Carlton went 2-7 with a 4.02 ERA. He gave up four runs in San Diego, 10 hits in Pittsburgh, and in New York he was lambasted by the Mets; he didn’t even make it out of the fifth inning. In early June, Carlton was 5-6 with a 3.12 ERA, certainly not terrible but not great either. He was pitching more or less the way he had the previous couple of seasons.

And then, it happened. He went on a stretch for the ages. You could say it began June 7 against Houston when he struck out 10 in seven innings, allowed a single run. Or it could have been his next start, a complete game victory over Atlanta where he scattered nine hits, allowed one run, struck out nine. Then, it could have been his next start when he threw 10 shutout innings against the Astros (though the Phillies lost in the 11th).

Whenever it began, for the next four months, Carlton — while playing for the worst team in the league — was otherworldly. You can just put the plain numbers out there: 22-4, 1.54 ERA, 208 strikeouts, 61 walks, 10 home runs allowed in 251 innings.

But the game-by-game recap of the stretch go even beyond those overall numbers. He threw a shutout in Montreal, back-to-back shutouts against the Dodgers and Cubs, back-to-back shutouts at St. Louis (again) and Pittsburgh, and another one in Montreal. He completed 23 games and had, 19 starts with a Bill James Game Score higher than 70.

In case you are wondering, that’s more 70-plus Game Scores than any pitcher has had in a FULL SEASON since Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens did it in 1997. Carlton did it in four months.

People were awed by his win total — 27 wins out of Philadelphia’s 59 total — and that still’s still a very cool stat all these years later. But it’s probably a little bit of an illusion; it suggest that if he had pitched for a great team like the Reds or Pirates he would have won 32 or 33 games. And that’s probably not true. If you look at his season, game by game, you see the Phillies actually scored a reasonable amount of runs for him considering how lousy they were. He got a couple of cheap wins, had four of five tough losses and probably would have won 28 or 29 games, maybe 30, for a really good team. But then that season might not have the aura it has now.

* * *

Carlton’s career after that 1972 season was shockingly spotty. He was preposterously mediocre in 1973 (leading the league with 20 losses), good in 1974, lackluster again in 1975. He was good in 1976, won the Cy Young again in 1977, was blah in 1978 and 1979, and was awesome again in 1980 when he went 24-9 with a 2.34 ERA and a league-leading 286 strikeouts.

He won his fourth Cy Young in 1982 — the award probably should have gone to Steve Rogers — and and he led the league in strikeouts again in 1983. He seemed to believe that, even though he was turning 39 the next year, his best years were still ahead. This had something to do with his training regimen and his philosophy of life. Whatever, he was wrong — he was never again a great pitcher and was only rarely a good one. He played for five different teams in his 40s in a desperate effort to prove what he believed — that he still had great pitching in him — and it was a sad but honest ending to his career. Carlton never stopped doing it his way.

* * *

Carlton’s silence became about as famous as his pitching after 1972. Carlton was a fairly accessible — if odd — interview before the silence began in 1973. That year, he stopped talking. Many think it was because of something written by outspoken Phillies writer Bill Conlin. But nobody knows for sure.

Even after he shut off the media, Carlton was not quite J.D. Salinger silent. He would talk to the Philadelphia radio crew for instance. He usually would talk briefly with the press after victories. And he would TALK with reporters at length too; more than one reporter would tell of conversations they had with Carlton about wine or something not related to baseball. But when the questions did come around to baseball, he would politely say: “I’m not talking.” When one reporter, a longtime acquaintance, made an impassioned plea for an interview, Carlton supposedly said: “I’d like to. But policy is policy.”

After he retired, he said that doing interviews had affected his pitching which is why he stopped. Reporters got in his head. You know, I can see this for a semi-mystical guy like Carlton. To play sports at a high level, I imagine, you have to in a strange way leave yourself. Think about a moment in your life when you achieved some kind of sports high — maybe you made a hole in one or you hit a bunch of jump shots in a row or you banged a perfect serve or came from behind to win a race.

In that moment, you probably weren’t FEELING anything. We often ask athletes: “How did you feel when …” But this is a silly question. You don’t feel the perfect slider in the biggest moment. You throw it. Carlton, who would have grueling training sessions in a vat of rice, and he would talk (when he talked) about far east religions, and he studied various martial arts. He had his own equilibrium, and he didn’t need it tiled by echoes of reporters asking, “Why’d ya throw him the 3-2 fastball Lefty?” and “What’s the deal with the elbow?” No, I can’t blame the guy for wanting his head clear.

But as it turns out … Carlton probably did himself and the game a great favor by not talking to the press. Years later, Pat Jordan went out to talk to Carlton. You might remember that story because of the anti-semitic flap that followed — Carlton made a remark about 12 Jews in Switzerland who control the world, and that was the one bit of crazy most people took from the story. But what Pat found was a guy who was ALL KINDS of crazy. This brilliantly packed paragraph is representative:

“He believes that the last eight U.S. presidents have been guilty of treason, that President Clinton “has a black son” he won’t acknowledge and that his wife, Hillary, “is a dyke,” and that the AIDS virus was created at a secret Maryland biological warfare laboratory “to get rid of gays and blacks, and now they have a strain of the virus that can live ten days in the air or on a plate of food, because you know who most of the waiters are,” and finally, that most of the mass murderers in this country who open fire indiscriminately in fast-food restaurants “are hypnotized to kill those people and then themselves immediately afterwards,” as in the movie The Manchurian Candidate. He blinks once, twice, and says, “Who hypnotizes them? They do!”

Carlton denied a lot of stuff in the article and a few of his teammates kind of stood up for him — Jordan will tell you they KNOW he’s crazy but ballplayers stick up for ballplayers. Anyway, it seems pretty clear that Carlton did himself and baseball a service by staying quiet during his career.

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113 Responses to No. 53: Steve Carlton

  1. AlbaNate says:

    I find those 1971 WAR stats for Wise and Carlton to be puzzling. In almost the same number of innings, Wise’s ERA+ is substantially better. Sure, Carlton has 17 more Ks–but also 28 more BBs. But Carlton has the higher WAR. I’d blame that on park effects, but shouldn’t ERA+ already take that into account?

    • invitro says:

      Looking at the components of b-r’s WAR:

      Wise had more team fielding support (RA9def): 0.05 to -0.38; ERA+ includes team fielding (except for some errors).

      Wise gave up more unearned runs: 23 to 12; ERA+ does not include skill at preventing unearned runs.

      I prefer WAR.

      The #52 ranking is as expected. I suppose it’s time to see if people still want to play the game of predicting the top 50 in order. Who wants to collect and score the predictions? I’ll post mine after someone else does.

      • Geoff says:

        I had suggested we submit predictions once we got to #51. This way, there’s a good chance we know exactly who the top-50 are. I’m happy to collect and score these.

        I’ve created an email for this:…if people want to shoot me an email in advance, I’ll send out a spreadsheet for people to fill in their picks once we get to the top-50.

        • invitro says:

          Will you be posting everyone’s picks somewhere so we can follow along?

          • Geoff says:

            Here’s what I’m thinking:

            If everyone e-mails me their picks, I can aggregate them in a single spreadsheet that calculates peoples scores automatically as we fill in Joe’s picks. I will send the final version out to everyone, so people can do this on their own, and do my best to provide up-to-date standings on a regular basis.

            Here’s the scoring system I suggested before:

            *Everyone starts with 1000 points.
            *For each spot in the rankings that a pick is off, you lose one point. E.g., if you have Al Kaline #50, and Joe ranks him #42, you would lose eight points for that pick.
            *Picking someone who isn’t on Joe’s list is a 25-point deduction

            If anyone has a better way of doing this, please let me know.

          • Andrew W. says:

            Hi Geoff,

            That seems like a pretty good scoring system. I’m wondering if there’s an easy way to give higher weight to the higher rankings (i.e. picking the top ten correctly is more important than picking 40-50). Is this something people would even want?

          • invitro says:

            “I’m wondering if there’s an easy way to give higher weight to the higher rankings (i.e. picking the top ten correctly is more important than picking 40-50). Is this something people would even want?”

            One easy way: have a multiplier of 1X for picks 41-50, 2X for 31-40, and so on. I want it but it’s no big deal.

      • Fin Alyn says:

        Yet the fact that he gets more fielding support, except his fielding allowed 11 more unearned runs, seems pretty contradictory.

  2. JC says:

    It is apropos that the bit on Lefty was posted from Russia.

  3. John Leavy says:

    This is liable to sound like a “gotcha” question, but it isn’t. I’d LIKE a serious answer, and I know Joe has given this topic some thought.

    In the past, when people have suggested that Don Sutton isn’t a true Hall of Famer like Steve Carlton, merely an “accumulator,” Joe has argued that, if you look at their lifetime stats, Don Sutton pretty much WAS Steve Carlton.

    I haven’t seen Don Sutton on the list yet. If he’s coming up next, there’s no problem. If he’s NOT in the top 100, I have to ask why not, if they’re really as close as Joe thinks.

    • invitro says:

      I don’t remember Joe saying this… do you have a link? They are not close in what I think is the career stat that matters, WAA, where Carlton has a 16.4-win lead.

      • Bill Caffrey says:

        Ditto. I’ve been reading Joe’s blog for years now (since before his book on the Reds came out) and I don’t ever recall Joe saying that about Sutton and Carlton. If you can find a place where he’s said that, John Leavy, I’d be interested to read it.

    • Steve says:

      Carlton was 329-244 with a 3.22 ERA. Sutton was 324-256 with a 3.26 ERA. That’s pretty close to identical, with Carlton a smidge better. But Carlton had 4136 strikeouts to Sutton’s 3574. And most importantly, Sutton spent the bulk of his career pitching in Dodger Stadium, so his ERA+ is 108 to Carlton’s 115. That’s a pretty substantial difference. The WAR advantage is 84 to 69.

      The career shape is also different, with Carlton having two titanic seasons that Sutton never approached. Carlton’s career numbers are also a bit weighted down by his 1986-1988 career end, when he pitched absolutely horribly for a succession of teams. He and his agent had blown all his money on bad investments so he needed big league paychecks as long as he could get them. He was still trying to come back for several years after the end, but could get no takers. Sutton’s decline was much more graceful.

      Despite some surface similarities, Carlton was a clearly better pitcher. Sutton is not making this list ahead of him. Which is not to demean him, as he was an excellent pitcher forever and a deserving HOFer.

      • In Steve Carlton’s historic 1972 season, when he led the league in just about every pitching category, the one category he didn’t lead the league in was shutouts. Lefty had 8. The league leader, with 9, was Don Sutton.

  4. College Wolf says:

    So much for 100 players in 100 days, lol. Oh well I’m seriously not complaining and like them spread out for the better discussions. Great stuff as always. Can’t wait for the book!

  5. HEL says:

    The Great One is Jackie Gleason, come on Joe.

  6. Anon says:

    Last man to throw 300 innings in a season

  7. Jonathan says:

    I recall Carlton’s record standing at 300 wins to 200 losses at one point. Despite the obvious flaws in using wins to define pitching performance, the cleanliness of this .600 winning percentage stood out to me as a teenager. As Joe says, post-age 39, Carlton was not the same pitcher. In my mind at least, he accumulated as many negative stats after that as positive ones.

  8. tombando says:

    Yeah was sorta hoping to see Don Sutton here, but no such luck. Lefty had one last goodish year in ’84 then it was craptastic time. Pitching wins are neat. Pitching wins also hold more water when you’re throwing 300 innings a year ala Lefty. So they do count more, if you will, back then, then now.

    Rick Wise being hurt in ’74 is one of the reasons the Sox blew that big lead late. Word.

    • NRJyzr says:

      I agree pitching wins can be kind of neat, but they never hold water, regardless of innings.

      Your teammates ability to hit a ball with a stick should never be part of the equation in determining how good you are at not letting other guys hit a ball with a stick.

  9. Cathead says:

    Further thoughts on Carlton’s 1972 season: The Phillies played only 156 games due to a strike, so Carlton missed one, maybe two, starts. Carlton pitched twice as many innings as the next highest pitcher on the staff. 30 complete games!! For what it’s worth, no other pitcher on the staff had a record over .500. No regular starting pitcher won more than 5 games. [Note: I would argue that W/L record is a lot more meaningful in the pre-Eckersly era.]

  10. George says:

    Invitro – I’ll probably regret posting this, but here’s my final 52. I’m no expert on Negro Leaguers, and only include the big three (Gibson, Paige, Charleston). Joe will probably have a couple more, in which case I could see Yogi and Anson missing the cut. Anyways, criticize away:

    1 Ruth, Babe
    2 Mays, Willie
    3 Bonds, Barry
    4 Cobb, Ty
    5 Gibson, Josh
    6 Wagner, Honus
    7 Williams, Ted
    8 Aaron, Hank
    9 Clemens, Roger
    10 Charleston, Oscar
    11 Musial, Stan
    12 Mantle, Mickey
    13 Johnson, Walter
    14 Gehrig, Lou
    15 Maddux, Greg
    16 Hornsby, Rogers
    17 Young, Cy
    18 Paige, Satchel
    19 Speaker, Tris
    20 Pujols, Albert
    21 Henderson, Rickey
    22 Rodriguez, Alex
    23 Robinson, Frank
    24 Schmidt, Mike
    25 Johnson, Randy
    26 Morgan, Joe
    27 DiMaggio, Joe
    28 Seaver, Tom
    29 Grove, Lefty
    30 Alexander, Pete
    31 Gibson, Bob
    32 Collins, Eddie
    33 Mathewson, Christy
    34 Mathews, Eddie
    35 Spahn, Warren
    36 Foxx, Jimmie
    37 Lajoie, Nap
    38 Martinez, Pedro
    39 Ripken, Cal
    40 Clemente, Roberto
    41 Boggs, Wade
    42 Ott, Mel
    43 Yastrzemski, Carl
    44 Bench, Johnny
    45 Brett, George
    46 Griffey, Ken
    47 Jenkins, Fergie
    48 Kaline, Al
    49 Rose, Pete
    50 Niekro, Phil
    51 Berra, Yogi
    52 Anson, Cap

    • Geoff says:

      (See my earlier post…let’s wait til we get to the top-50)

    • NevadaMark says:

      Ok, Geoff, I’ll bite (and by the way, thanks for the list). Isn’t Pete Rose a bit low, or are you factoring in his baseball suspension?

      • Geoff says:

        I think you’re asking why I have Rose on the near-locks list. I’m not saying that those four guys should be ranked 47-50. I’m just trying to highlight any players that could *conceivably* be left off the list altogether for one reason or another.

        You *could* nitpick and say that Rose’s peak wasn’t that great and he really only had one MVP-type season. Yaz’s peak, while pretty much off the charts, was really only three seasons. Take away the WS rings and Berra doesn’t really look any better than Carter. How you judge Feller depends in part on how much credit you give him for the time he missed due to WWII (he’s not top-100 if he gets none).

        I think it’s obvious that each of these guys belongs in the top-100…I just think that of the 50 guys on the first two lists these are the four that you could make an argument against including if you really wanted to.

    • Herb Smith says:

      One quibble; ranking the Big Train at #13 seems low. Now, I know very well that WAR isn’t the be-all/end-all. But here’s a little thought excercise: according to WAR, Walter Johnson had more career value than Joe DiMaggio, Roy Campanella, and Sandy Koufax.


    • berkowit28 says:

      You really think Joe is going to omit Koufax from his top 100?

    • Clayt says:

      I’d trade Koufax and Jackie Robinson for Cap Anson and Phil Niekro. Fergie Jenkins might not make it, either. I’m curious to see where he puts Pedro Martinez or if he ranks him in the Top 100 at all. He should. But I dont know if he will.

      I agree with others in that Walter Johnson is too low. I think he’s a slam-dunk Top 10 and probable Top 5.

      Here’s a prediction: Joe’s Top 5 will be (in whatever order) Ruth, Cobb, Mays, Big Train, and Ted Williams. I could be wrong and that wouldnt be my Top 5, but we’ll see what Joe thinks…

  11. George says:

    Cool, works for me.

  12. Hey Now! says:

    In Joe’s own words…

    (1967-1969) pretty fantastic in his young 20s…
    (1970-1971) he took a significant step back… good but not great
    (1972) the greatest pitching season in the last 100 years
    (1973-1988) shockingly spotty

    (1973) preposterously mediocre
    (1974) good
    (1975) lackluster again
    (1976) good
    (1977) won the Cy Young
    (1978-1979) blah
    (1980) awesome
    (1981) [not specifically mentioned]
    (1982) won his fourth Cy Young (that probably should have gone to Steve Rogers)
    (1983) led the league in strikeouts again
    (1984-1988) he was never again a great pitcher and was only rarely a good one.

    So I have to ask… how does Steve Carlton, who, again, was “shockingly spotty” from 1973-1988, have any business being the 53rd best player of all-time? I’m not suggesting he isn’t an all-time great; it just seems his greatness comes under much less scrutiny than Nolan Ryan’s – am I wrong here? Again, according to Joe, he has 12 seasons that are, at best, “good” – with most of those being labeled below average. That’s more than half his career. Are the other eight years remarkable enough to more or less render those other 12 insignificant?

    • Steve says:

      It’s always hard determining whether players are underrated, overrated, getting nitpicked too much, getting nitpicked too little, etc. For one thing, there are a lot of people out there with views, and those views differ.

      That said, Ryan gets maybe a little more debunking from the analytic community because there’s a substantial fraction of fans out there who think Ryan is legitimately a candidate for greatest pitcher ever. And while he certainly is out there on an island of uniqueness, with his K’s and no-hitters miles beyond everyone else, his substantial flaws as a pitcher leave him rather far from the Johnson-Grove-Maddux-Clemens top tier.

      Carlton, I think, is probably more properly evaluated by everyone. Everyone thinks he was pretty great at his best, and also somewhat inconsistent. No one thinks he’s the greatest ever, because aside from all the other guys from different eras, Tom Seaver was his nearly exact contemporary and Seaver is considerably better.

      • Hey Now! says:

        Carlton’s going to rank (on what is a wholly subjective list) among the 15-20 greatest pitchers of all-time – that’s a fairly significant ranking given Joe, more or less, dismisses nearly 60% of his career.

        Granted, there aren’t a ton of pitchers ranked between Ryan and Carlton (two, I think – I scanned the list quickly) – but the 34-spot difference just seems to have a little too much bias for me; as if Joe went out of his way to prove Ryan wasn’t the greatest ever (to your point) while not holding Carlton to the same scrutiny.

        Case in point: Joe builds his Ryan article around his 1.247 career WHIP – which ranks 276th all-time. He uses the ranking to drive home how wild Ryan was – but care to guess Carlton’s career WHIP? 1.247. Yep. To drill deep into that and determine one being worse than the other seems like useless semantics, IMO.

        Again, 53 just seems incredibly high for a pitcher whose, well, WHIP ranks 276th all-time…

        • PhilM says:

          With over 5000 innings pitched and a career ERA+ of 115, Carlton is in Gaylord Perry and Phil Niekro territory, and just a shade behind Warren Spahn. That kind of quality longevity is nothing to sneeze at, and I would argue that Lefty is legitimately a top-20 pitcher. I calculate his “neutral” win-loss record (using annual ERA+ and negative binomial distribution) to be 334-239, which easily puts him in the top 20, a bit below Pedro Martinez (neutral 229-90) and just above Bert Blyleven (neutral 318-219).

    • SBMcManus says:

      Joe does seem to be giving a little extra weighting to peak performance levels. Carlton certainly flew very high at his best.

      • Herb Smith says:

        I think that nails it. Joe (like most people) is impressed with extraordinary greatness, titanic peaks. Nolan Ryan never had that truly great season. In fact, despite his colossal fame, he never won even a single Cy Young award; by contrast, Lefty won four.

        Bill James touched on this subject in one of his books. Milt Pappas was not happy that Don Drysdale became a HOFer, while Milt topped out at 1% of the vote. Milt claimed that their careers were almost identical, and a look at the raw career numbers suggests that this wasn’t an absurd suggestion:

        Pappas 209-164, 43 shutouts
        Drysdale 209-166, 49 shutouts

        Plus, Drysdale pitched for great teams, and pitched half his games in the pitcher’s paradise that was 1960’s Dodger Stadium.

        But James pointed out that Pappas was Sutton-like: pitched very well for many years. Big Don was alternately below-average or magnificent; according to James, this was a very big reason WHY those Dodger teams went to 4 World Series (and won 3) during his prime…when Drysdale was on his game, he was a total HOFer, and it tilted many a tight pennant race.

        Besides, I think it’s human nature to be dazzled by the Koufax’s and the Pedro’s of the world. A high peak practically stamps the word “greatness” on a player’s resume. And Carlton’s ’72 season wasn’t just a high peak; it was Mt. Everest.

        • Stephen says:

          Actually, James concluded that Drysdale had in fact pitched exceptionally POORLY in big games. His take was that higher peaks do matter, but only if they actually lead to more pennants–and in Drysdale’s case, they did not.

          Whether he would still espouse this view I am not sure, but he certainly did end the Pappas/Drysdale comp by concluding that Drysdale’s terrible record in important games meant that he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame

    • MCD says:

      The “shockingly spotty” period includes 2 Cy Young wins and a 3rd place finish. Damning the whole period isn’t accurate.

      From ’84 on, Carlton average about 110 IP (compared to approx. 262, the previous 17 seasons). You can’t weigh all seasons equally when drawing the conclusion that “more than half his career” was average or below.

  13. I’m giving away my age, but I thought Jackie Gleason too with “The Great One” reference. Some nicknames just seem to come back with a new generation and new people taking them. And I think Lefty is now Mickelson’s as much as it was Carlton’s in the previous generation. That might make an interesting column, what other nicknames survive and get picked up by someone else…

  14. Chad Meisgeier says:

    My # 53 is Ken Griffey.

  15. Question Mark says:

    Wait, how is “Lefty” not Lefty Grove? That’s literally the name he’s been known by to baseball fans for generations. If you say ‘Steve Carlton’ people will know who you’re talking about, but if you say ‘Robert Grove,’ nobody has any idea. Plus, Grove was a better pitcher than Carlton, so in my view, he gets dibs on the nickname.

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      As Joe made quite clear, it’s all about the last name. Baseball fans for generations haven’t known Robert Grove as Lefty, they’ve known him as Lefty Grove. In contrast, nobody ever called Steve Carlton Lefty Carlton. It was just Lefty.

      • MCD says:

        I understand Joe’e point, but even though Gomez was known by “just Lefty”, I still don’t think Carlton is an accurate parallel to Joe’s own example. Unlike the case where you say “Great One”, and I think “Gretzky”, if you say “Lefty”, I think “Grove” (and Gomez would actually be second)

    • Patrick Bohn says:

      This reminds me of the “This is Sportscenter” clip where Andy Roddick keeps trying to get people to call him A-Rod, only to be rebuffed

  16. Patrick Bohn says:

    I’ll tell you one guy few (if any) people have mentioned who I now believe is going to be on this list: Mike Mussina

    Mussina, in 3,562 innings, accumulated 82.7 WAR according to B-R. He had a career 123 ERA+, Through 1980, when Carlton had thrown 3,789 career innings, he had 67.5 WAR according to B-R and a 122 ERA+. Overall, Carlton has 1.4 more WAR than Mussina in 1,700 additional innings.

    While Carlton had those 2-3 insane years Mussina didn’t, I think that his career as a whole, is not as good. Consider that, in seasons where they threw at least 175 innings, Carlton had five instances of an ERA+ of 150 or better, but had just six of an ERA+ that was above 120. Mussina had just two seasons with an ERA+ of 150, but had *11* seasons where his ERA+ was above *125*.

    Joe has stated he thinks Mussina is a Hall-worthy pitcher. While there isn’t room for EVERY hall pitcher on this list, I just don’t see how Mussina doesn’t make it if Carlton’s there.

    • Geoff says:

      I probably would have had Mussina in my top-100, but there’s no way he’s making the list at this point; just too many other great players.

    • nscadu9 says:

      Mussina doesn’t have near the peak Carlton had. Over 4000 ks to not even 3000. Not close. Mussina is very good, but not this high of one of the greats. Mussina lags behind Schilling in my books. I take peak over career consistency.

      • Patrick Bohn says:

        We can agree to disagree on peak vs. consistency, but the strikeout numbers you cite don’t mean much to me. Mussina struck out 19.2% of the batters he faced. Carlton struck out 19.0%. While K rates are higher for Mussina’s era, Carlton faced pitchers, so that probably evens out

        (Though I got Carlton’s pitching WAR wrong, it was actually 90.4. So perhaps it’s not as close as I originally stated, but again, Carlton pitched something like seven full seasons more than Mussina.)

        • nscadu9 says:

          I take your point on career Ks, but Carlton led the league a number of times including pre DH years and approached or broke 300ks in a season. If you say you agree things even out with Carlton facing pitchers and Mussina’s era, then look at each players top strikeout years. Carlton is well ahead every year to year comparison. Mussina was very good and had a couple great years and deserved a bigger hof %, but I really don’t think Mussina is close to Carlton.

    • Doug says:

      The number 100 player on the list is Curt Schilling. I think Mike Mussina is not as good a pitcher as Curt Schilling (it doesn’t prove anything in itself, but it’s interesting to point out: Curt Schilling comes in at 27 in JAWS for pitchers. Mike Mussina? 28) and he also doesn’t have the postseason heroics putting him over the top that Schilling does. Therefore it makes sense to me that Mussina isn’t on, as good as he was.

      In terms of comparing Carlton and Mussina, I don’t think the comparison holds up, because there was such a dramatic difference in their peaks. Carlton did have more seasons where he was insane that Mussina didn’t, and that really makes a difference especially if you care about the peak a lot. I mean, that 1972 season – not only did Carlton put up much better rate numbers than Mussina did in any season that he ever pitched, but he did it throwing 100 more innings than Mussina ever threw. I think that matters.

      • Andrew W. says:

        re: Mike Mussina and post season success.

        Poor Mike Mussina. The 5 years before he comes to the Yankees? 4 WS wins. His 8 years in NY? None. The year after he retires? Yanks win it again.

        (Please note that I’m not in anyway attributing this to him or saying “he just wasn’t a winner” or anything like that….I think it just speaks to some remarkably bad luck)

      • Patrick Bohn says:

        You’re using a pretty narrow range for peak. He had two years where he was dramatically better, but are we really defining a peak as two years? Because beyond that, there’s barely anything separating the two

        3rd best season by WAR: Carlton 6.8, Mussina 6.6
        4th best season by WAR: Carlton 5.9, Mussina 6.1
        5th best season by WAR: Carlton 5.5, Mussina 5.6
        6th best season by WAR: Carlton 5.5, Mussina 5.5
        7th best season by WAR: Carlton 5.5, Mussina 5.4

        You can keep going, but you won’t see much of a difference.

        I can’t dispute Carlton’s 1972 being better, or his 1980. I just think the rest of Mussina’s career is equal to (see above) or better (His worst years were a lot better than Carlton’s). That makes up for the peak, IMO, though I value peak slightly less than some.

        • nscadu9 says:

          But if you count all 7 of the best years, the difference is still dramatic. Double digit WAR is otherworldly, and I don’t think a bunch of mediocre seasons make up for that. Carlton definitely stuck around too long and I don’t think there is much value in judging players by their worst years or injury plagued years. Schilling measures better than Mussina almost across the board in the same era. Schillings 7 peak years top all 7 of Mussina’s. Top that off with incredible postseasons and Mussina falls short of the top 100. Maybe just difference if preference of career vs. peak, but I’d still rather have lights out greatness for a limited time than very good for a little longer.

        • Herb Smith says:

          But….not counting Lefty’s 1972 season is like saying, “You know, if you don’t count Roger Maris’s 1961 season, i don’t see what the big deal is about the guy.”

      • invitro says:

        Schilling is rather enormously too low on this list.

    • The guy Mike Mussina really reminds me of is Don Sutton. They were both smart poised right-handers who pitched for good teams. They were both excellent but were not the transcendent pitchers of their generations. They both had good fastballs which they controlled well, though they never hit 100 on the radar gun, with tight curveballs as their out pitch.

      Mussina led the league in Wins once, in Winning Percentage once, in Games Started twice, shutouts once and innings once. He won 20 games once in his career. He struck out 200 batters 4 times, with a high of 218. He was a 5 time All Star and received CY Young votes 8 times while never winning the award, once coming in second place. In the post season he was 7-8 with a 3.42 ERA

      Sutton led the league in ERA once, in Games Started once, in shutouts once, and WHIP four times. He won 20 games once in his career. He struck out 200 batters 5 times, with a high of 217. He was a 5 time All Star and received CY Young votes 4 times while never winning the award, once coming in third place. In the post season he was 6-4 with a 3.68 ERA.

      Modern metrics favor Mussina over Sutton, with an ERA+ of 123 vs.108, largely because of their eras and ballparks (without the adjustment, Sutton gets the edge, 3.26 to 3.68). Mussina’s high in ERA+ was 164, Sutton’s 162. Then again, Sutton averaged more innings per year, 235 to 226, and he pitched longer too, and so he had a longer decline phase (Mussina famously retired after his only 20 win season, at the age of 38, whereas Sutton pitched till he was 43, over 1700 more innings).

      Mussina might hold the edge in peak value, while Sutton holds the edge in career value, but for their respective generations, they were pretty much the same guy. Yet there are those who howl that Don Sutton doesn’t belong in the HOF who will also argue that Mike Mussina should be on the list of 100 greatest players ever. I think they both belong in the Hall, but neither belongs in the top 100.

  17. Geoff says:

    Here’s where things stand with 52 picks to go…

    Locks (46):
    Hank Aaron
    Pete Alexander
    Johnny Bench
    Wade Boggs
    Barry Bonds
    George Brett
    Oscar Charleston
    Roger Clemens
    Roberto Clemente
    Ty Cobb
    Eddie Collins
    Joe DiMaggio
    Jimmy Foxx
    Lou Gehrig
    Bob Gibson
    Josh Gibson
    Ken Griffey Jr.
    Lefty Grove
    Rickey Henderson
    Rogers Hornsby
    Babe Ruth
    Randy Johnson
    Walter Johnson
    Nap Lajoie
    Greg Maddux
    Mickey Mantle
    Pedro Martinez
    Eddie Mathews
    Christy Mathewson
    Willie Mays
    Joe Morgan
    Stan Musial
    Mel Ott
    Satchel Paige
    Albert Pujols
    Cal Ripken
    Frank Robinson
    Jackie Robinson
    Alex Rodriguez
    Mike Schmidt
    Tom Seaver
    Warren Spahn
    Tris Speaker
    Honus Wagner
    Ted Williams
    Cy Young

    Near-locks (4):
    Yogi Berra
    Bob Feller
    Pete Rose
    Carl Yastrzemski

    Also a near-lock (but shouldn’t be):
    Sandy Koufax

    Battle Royal for one (or two) spots (4):
    Gary Carter
    Al Kaline
    Pop Lloyd
    Mike Piazza

    Would take a major upset (9):
    Cap Anson
    Mickey Cochrane
    George Davis
    Carlton Fisk
    Fergie Jenkins
    Phil Niekro (biggest omission, by far)
    Ivan Rodriguez
    Mule Suttles
    Cristóbal Torriente

    • Stuart says:

      Two other pitchers I have in the mix (but probably will not make it), Eddie Plank and Tim Keefe.

      • Geoff says:

        For a while I thought Plank would be in the mix. Keefe (and John Clarkson, who may actually have been better) have no shot, although I’m not sure what makes Radbourn better than either of them.

        Maybe those guys need twitter accounts.

    • DM says:

      “Also a near-lock (but shouldn’t be):
      Sandy Koufax”

      Hey Geoff,

      Every time you present your predicted list of remaining selections, you keyboard consistently puts an extra “n’t” after the word “should”. You need to get that checked out…


    • Herb Smith says:

      Yaz is a lock.

    • invitro says:

      “Near-locks (4):
      Yogi Berra
      Bob Feller
      Pete Rose
      Carl Yastrzemski”

      I am curious why you don’t consider these to be locks, Rose and Yaz anyway. I can see Feller not being a lock, as he needs credit for missed war seasons to make the top 50.

      Anyway. I feel all of these, and the previous 46, and Koufax, are locks, making 51. Lloyd and Kaline are my near-locks, and I still think it’s more probable that Joe has a counting or other error coming up, than either of them missing the list.

      I think I will go with Carter as the biggest omission once it’s clear that he was omitted. Or Niekro, or Plank.

      • Geoff says:

        (See my response to NevadaMark.)

      • Geoff says:

        Kaline was #90 on James’ list, and Lloyd could reasonably be ranked just about anywhere from #20-150. I suppose it’s possible that Joe will have another tie or some other creative accounting, but I’m not counting on it.

    • Jordan says:

      Why do we think Wade Boggs is a lock? Good player, but clearly lags some of the guys you list in the battle royale and upset categories.

      • Geoff says:

        Wade Boggs is unquestionably one of the four greatest third basemen in baseball history, along with Schmidt, Mathews, and Brett. He had a monster peak, a long career, and his counting stats would have been even better if the Red Sox hadn’t foolishly allowed him to rot in AAA for two years.

        Who do you think he “clearly lags” behind?

        • invitro says:

          Sorry, but I’ve got a bit of a peeve for when people use “unquestionably” for something that is, you know, questionable. The ESPN 100 has Schmidt, Brett, Mathews, and Chipper as their top four 3Bmen. I won’t argue here whether they’re right or wrong, but those writers do question your claim. (I would probably have Schmidt and Mathews as the top 2, with Boggs, Chipper and Brett tied, unless I felt like using Clutch, which gives Brett a big lead over the other two.)

          You might get away with saying those five guys are “unquestionably” the top 5 3Bmen.

          Boggs is certainly a lock for this list, though. 🙂

          • Geoff says:

            I don’t think there’s any reasonable argument that Chipper Jones was a greater player than Boggs. But fine, Boggs is unquestionably one of the FIVE greatest 3B in baseball history.

            As you noted, my point still holds.

      • DM says:

        I’m a little late on the Boggs replies, as Geoff and Invitro have already chimed in. My contribution would be that when I think of Boggs, I think of really only 2 other hitters, and those, of course, are Gwynn and Carew. Well, I’m trying to think of the right way to say this……obviously, they’re not completely similar…..they all played different positions, Carew and Gwynn certainly offered more speed than Boggs, and Boggs walked more, but really those 3, I think are from the same mold, with their multiple batting titles, 3000+ hits, not much HR power, etc.. Their OPS+ metrics are in a very tight range (they’re all either 131 or 132). Gwynn and Carew have already made the list, of course, and given the similarities among the 3, and the fact that Boggs had the highest WAR (91 for Boggs vs. 81.2 for Carew and 68.9 for Gwynn), I’d have to go along with putting Boggs as a “lock”.

        • Eli says:

          I dont know. I consider myself a stat head and a WAR guy. But I literally watched almost every game Boggs played with the Red Sox and I have a hard time putting him in the same category as Gwynn and Carew. He was a below average third baseman defensively. He hit for little to no power, and he was a textbook example of a Fenway Park hitter. I literally bleed for the Red Sox, but he developed a strategy of playing the Monster that was rarified – it is not a real stat, but I am certain he has more Monster-ball singles and doubles that would have been outs than any other Red Sox player in history. I think Boggs splits would be interesting.

          To my mind, Boggs was definitely inferior to Evans, Lynn, and Rice among his Boston contemporaries. I know that is provocative, and I like most of you, do not see Rice as a Hall of Famer. I would not consider Wade one of the 100 greatest to ever play baseball and believe he is several notches below Matthews, Brett, and Chipper Jones. He was largely a one-dimensional player.

          But this is why we have baseball to argue about.

          • Geoff says:

            There’s no question that Boggs benefitted from from playing at Fenway, but that’s already baked into his performance in the advanced metrics. And calling him a “one-dimensional” player is pretty silly.

            Boggs was *not* a below average fielder according the any of the metrics. He didn’t hit home runs (except in 1987), but he did hit 40+ doubles 8 times in 9 years, which counts as hitting for power. He also drew loads of walks, which made him a .450(!) OBP guy had his peak. If the Red Sox had had a clue, Boggs would have been around 10th on the career hits and doubles lists.

            There is literally nothing Jim Rice did better on a baseball field better than Wade Boggs, other than hit home runs. Arguing that Rice was better is like saying Mike Cameron was better than Al Kaline.

          • DM says:


            I agree with some of what you’re saying, and I’m with you that arguing (although I prefer to think of it as “discussing”) is part of the fun. Boggs definitely benefited from Fenway, although the same would certainly be true of the others you listed (like Lynn and Rice), not to mention Yaz. Yaz had BA/OBP/Slug of.306/.402/ .503 at Fenway vs. .264/.357/.422 on the road, a pretty sizable difference. Lynn hit .347/.420/ .601 in his career at Fenway, and when he moved from Boston to the Angels, he experienced a huge drop-off. Rice was .320/.374/.546 at home vs. .277 / .330 / .459 on the road. Evans, I’ll admit, didn’t have nearly as dramatic a split. Generally speaking, though, I would think Fenway gives a distinct advantage to most hitters. So, while Boggs benefited, I don’t know that he was unique in this regard.

            Here’s a few stats comparing them as batters (hope these line up OK). I think they compare pretty well:

            Player R H RBI BA OBP SLG OPS+ Batting Titles
            Boggs 1,513 3,010 1,014 .328 .415 .443 131 5
            Carew 1,424 3,053 1,015 .328 .393 .429 131 7
            Gwynn 1,383 3,141 1,138 .338 .388 .459 132 8

            It’s also interesting to note that, over the 25 years from ’73 to ’97, Boggs, Gwynn and Carew accounted for over half of the Major League (as opposed to NL or AL) batting crowns. Boggs and Carew had 4, Gwynn had 5. Madlock was the only other player with more than one during that time. This is another reason I tend to think of them as being “from the same” mold:

            1997 Gwynn (.3716)
            1996 Rodriguez (.3577)
            1995 Gwynn (.3682)
            1994 Gwynn (.3938)
            1993 Galarraga (.3702)
            1992 Martinez (.3428)
            1991 Franco (.3413)
            1990 Murray (.3297)
            1989 Puckett (.3386)
            1988 Boggs (.3664)
            1987 Gwynn (.3701)
            1986 Boggs (.3569)
            1985 Boggs (.3675)
            1984 Gwynn (.3515)
            1983 Boggs (.3608)
            1982 Wilson (.3316)
            1981 Madlock (.3405)
            1980 Brett (.3898)
            1979 Hernandez (.3443)
            1978 Parker (.3339)
            1977 Carew (.3880)
            1976 Madlock (.3385)
            1975 Carew (.3589)
            1974 Carew (.3639)
            1973 Carew (.3500)

  18. nscadu9 says:

    Best song about Lefty is Chuck Brodsky’s Lefty speaking of Carlton’s twilight. Gretzky will always be the only Great One to me, but the best nickname is The Canibal.

  19. Gebbelwetz Geggscew says:

    Rick Wise had a game against the Cubs in September 1971 in which he retired 32 consecutive batters. Pitched 12 innings.

  20. Andy says:

    Given the anti-semitic garbage he spewed out when he finally decided to speak to the media at the end of his career, my favorite quote about Steve Carlton is that “he finally learned to say hello when it was time to say goodbye.” Not sure who originally said it but I found it repeated in a Sports Illustrated article:

    • invitro says:

      Just from reading that paragraph, it seems more conspiracy-wacko than anti-Semitic.

      I usually enjoy it if star athletes say crazy stuff rather than just the usual cliches. But the stuff in that paragraph is just usual cliches for conspiracists. I’m sure he now thinks the US gov’t staged the 9/11 crashes, Obama was born in Africa, etc.

    • NevadaMark says:


      The first time I heard that phrase, it was in reference to Jerry Grote, the old Mets catcher. He had quite a reputation of being an asshole with the press. Played 18 years in the bigs, final year was 1981.

    • Michael Green says:

      Supposedly, the line was written by a wonderful old sportswriter, Frank Graham, about the great Yankee Bob Meusel. Ironically, Graham was known for not writing nasty stuff, but that line has survived.

  21. Keith says:

    One of those last teams he played for was the Giants and he was terrible.

  22. Personally, I never thought of Steve Carlton as the one and only Lefty, because there were so many of them, and he was so many more things than just being left-handed—from his up-and-down career, to his miraculous 1972 season, to his silence with the media, to his training with rice bags, to his crazy views—this was not an easy person to tag. He was a guy who struck out 19 men and still lost on a pair of 2 run homers by Ron Swoboda. He was the guy who popularized the concept of having a personal catcher in TIm McCarver—extending McCarver’s career by several years, and who, by serving as Carlton’s unofficial spokesperson, ingratiated himself to the media, where he would segue into far greater heights than he ever did as a player.

    McCarver could no longer throw, but catching Carlton he didn’t have to, because Carlton’s move to first was so good that nobody stole on him. Carlton learned from Jerry Koosman that the key was to extend your leg and show the sole of your foot to the runner, so he never knew if you were going to first or coming home with the pitch. There have been a number of left-handed pitchers over the years whose pickoff move was so good it became a weapon, almost like another pitch. Someone like Andy Pettite was a good pitcher whose pickoff move made him even more effective than his stuff might suggest, while Terry Mulholland was a mediocre pitcher whose pickoff move helped him last 20 years in the bigs. Carlton was a great pitcher whose pickoff move made it seem almost unfair at times, because if you did manage to reach first, you were anchored there, if you weren’t picked off. When ticking off the various things that make for a great pitcher—control, velocity, strikeouts, walks, ERA and WHIP—pickoff moves get overlooked, and Carlton had one of the greatest of all time.

  23. DM says:

    A little late to the party, but thought I’d chime in on the Sutton/Carlton observations. Whenever I see those two mentioned together, I think of the comparison that Bill James did in his “Politics of Glory” Hall of Fame book. He commented on the similarity of their basic stats, but also concluded that the big seasons of Carlton gave that type of pitcher an edge in making a difference in pennant races.

    I know a lot of people also like to sift through the 10 “comp” players (using similarity scores) on bb-ref. It’s a popular thing to do around HOF election time, and it’s always interesting to see who’s considered “similar”. Of course, it has its limitations, as similarity scores pretty much stick to “basic stats” like W, L, Win pct, ERA, G, IP, etc. It does not look for similarity in popular “advanced” stats like WAR and ERA+ (although….I wonder if they will someday?). Anyway, just out of curiosity, I thought I’d see who’s on Sutton’s comp list.

    Turns out a decent one (no surprise, since it’s mostly 300 game winners):
    Gaylord Perry (945) *
    Bert Blyleven (914) *
    Steve Carlton (888) *
    Phil Niekro (881) *
    Tom Seaver (866) *
    Greg Maddux (862) *
    Tommy John (861)
    Warren Spahn (845) *
    Fergie Jenkins (840) *
    Early Wynn (819) *

    However, I think this is a case where, although these may be 10 pitchers similar in basic stats to Sutton, I think 8 of the 10 are distinctly BETTER than Sutton. As someone mentioned earlier, Sutton’s WAR is 67.3, and his ERA+ is 108. Everyone on the comp list has a WAR of 84.9 except for Wynn (61,3) and John (62.0), and an ERA+ of 115 or higher except for, again, Wynn (106) and John (110). Seaver, Maddux, and Spahn are way better, and Perry, Niekro, Blyleven, Carlton, and Jenkins are distinctly better. I think only Wynn and John, out of that list, are truly similar pitchers to Sutton.

    I definitely agree that Sutton has no chance be on Joe’s list. I think he has a case for (maybe) a top 40 pitcher, but that puts him more in line for a “top 150” player list. He certainly gets high marks for longevity, and he actually rates pretty decent on Fangraphs’ version of WAR, but overall, there are many better candidates than Sutton

  24. invitro says:

    A personal note on Carlton… my first favorite sports team was the Astros, and my first favorite player was Nolan Ryan. I had a ferocious love for those guys. After the 1980 playoffs, I hated the Phillies. It did not help that Schmidt and Rose were the favorites of my brother and several of the neighborhood kids. I hated them.

    But the one I hated most of all was Carlton. He was the first guy in sports, and anything else, I guess, that I really hated. And I really hated how he won those Cys, which I thought were because he had the most wins, which was really stupid. The pitcher with the best ERA was obviously the best pitcher. In 1981 this was Ryan, and Carlton finished ahead of him in the Cy vote, and this was such an injustice. Then he won again in 1982.

    When he had those crappy post-39 seasons while Ryan moved into godhood, it was such sweet revenge. When I became a teenager, I grew out of hating sports players and teams (except maybe Larry Johnson and UNLV), so Carlton is really the only guy I’ve really hated for an extended period of time.

    • Geoff says:

      Fernando Valenzuela won the 1981 NL Cy Young award. Ryan had a better ERA, but Fernando did throw an extra 40 innings and had a nearly identical WAR.

      • invitro says:

        I wrote that poorly. Anyway, in 1981, I was in on Fernandomania, and conceded the Cy to him. The war was Carlton vs. Ryan, and Carlton won every year, but Ryan got the last and best laugh.

  25. Herb Smith says:

    I think that nails it. Joe (like most people) is impressed with extraordinary greatness, titanic peaks. Nolan Ryan never had that truly great season. In fact, despite his colossal fame, he never won even a single Cy Young award; by contrast, Lefty won four.

    Bill James touched on this subject in one of his books. Milt Pappas was not happy that Don Drysdale became a HOFer, while Milt topped out at 1% of the vote. Milt claimed that their careers were almost identical, and a look at the raw career numbers suggests that this wasn’t an absurd suggestion:

    Pappas 209-164, 43 shutouts
    Drysdale 209-166, 49 shutouts

    Plus, Drysdale pitched for great teams, and pitched half his games in the pitcher’s paradise that was 1960’s Dodger Stadium.

    But James pointed out that Pappas was Sutton-like: pitched very well for many years. Big Don was alternately below-average or magnificent; according to James, this was a very big reason WHY those Dodger teams went to 4 World Series (and won 3) during his prime…when Drysdale was on his game, he was a total HOFer, and it tilted many a tight pennant race.

    Besides, I think it’s human nature to be dazzled by the Koufax’s and the Pedro’s of the world. A high peak practically stamps the word “greatness” on a player’s resume. And Carlton’s ’72 season wasn’t just a high peak; it was Mt. Everest.

  26. Sorry I haven’t been able to proof much lately; new job, new city. The big mistake is and and. Enjoying the series as always.

  27. Carlton’s first name is Steve. Grove’s first name is … I’d have to look it up. He’s Lefty, just like Young is Cy and Berra is Yogi.

  28. Ed says:

    I think Steve Carlton is only Lefty to people of that generation. I’m 30 and when I hear someone say Lefty I assume they are talking about Phil Mickelson. If you said Lefty in a baseball context, my first thought would be Lefty Grove.

    That’s not true for other, less generic nicknames.

  29. Clayt says:

    I think Joe should put Dale Murphy and Dan Quisenberry (sp?) in his Top 20 just for the hell of it =)

  30. Gretzky is pre-eminent, Steve Carlton is #53; thus his leftiness is specious at best. I’ve most often heard Steve Carlton referred to as Steve Carlton and when I hear “Lefty” in a baseball context I think of Lefty Grove, because he’ll always be higher than #53.

  31. That year, he stopped talking. Many think it was because of something written by outspoken Phillies writer Bill Conlin.

    Carlton’s feuding with Conlin doesn’t too shabby in hindsight, given how Conlin was accused — more than once — of child molestation.

  32. Hov34 says:

    Is Joe pulling a Carlton?

  33. […] Posnanski public una buena historia sobre la temporada de Carlton en 1972 aquí. Los Filis lo habían adquirido antes de la temporada por Rick Wise, en un cambio que obviamente le […]

  34. […] Posnanski public una buena historia sobre la temporada de Carlton en 1972 aquí. Los Filis lo habían adquirido antes de la temporada por Rick Wise, en un cambio que obviamente le […]

  35. […] Posnanski public una buena historia sobre la temporada de Carlton en 1972 aquí. Los Filis lo habían adquirido antes de la temporada por Rick Wise, en un cambio que obviamente le […]

  36. Davan Mani says:

    Very confusing on the part that he was 2-7 from April 29-June 3rd but 5-6 in early June. Steve didn’t throw the slider in 1970 and 1971 when he threw it in 1969 could be correlated to Tim McCarver being traded to the Phillies after the ’69 season and Steve joining him for the ’72 season?

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